Monday, July 25, 2016

And the winner is...

I'm happy to announce that, according to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of A CLATTER OF JARS and the paperback copy of A TANGLE OF KNOTS is....


Congratulations! And expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.

Come back next week for a guest post from debut author David Neilsen!

Monday, July 18, 2016

A CLATTER OF JARS by Lisa Graff -- and a Giveaway!

A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff (May 2016, Philomel, 224 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): In this magical companion to the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots, it's summertime and everyone is heading off to camp. For Talented kids, the place to be is Camp Atropos, where they can sing songs by the campfire, practice for the Talent show, and take some nice long dips in the lake. But what the kids don't know is that they've been gathered for a reason, one that the camp's director wants to keep hidden at all costs.

Meanwhile, a Talent jar that has been dropped to the bottom of the lake has sprung a leak, and strange things have begun to happen. Dozens of seemingly empty jars have been washing up on the shoreline, Talents have been swapped, and memories have been ripped from one camper's head and placed into another. And no one knows why.

With a camp full of kids, a lake full of magic, and a grown-up full of a secrets, "A Clatter of Jars" is a story of summer, family, and the lengths we go to win back the people we love.

Why I recommend it: I've been a fan of author Lisa Graff since Umbrella Summer and it's been awe-inspiring to watch her talent grow over the years. I love the magical realism of this perfect summer tale. And I adore how it all comes together in the end. You don't need to read A Tangle of Knots to appreciate this fun and sophisticated summer camp yarn, since it's about different characters, but it adds to your enjoyment if you're familiar with the first book and the Talented world Lisa Graff has created. And Cady makes a cameo appearance here!

Favorite lines: Memory is a curious thing. Some details stick in our minds like peanut butter on crackers, and refuse to budge, as much as we might wish they would. (from p. 51)

Bonus: Plenty of diversity among the large cast of characters. Plus... recipes! This time for refreshing summer drinks.

Giveaway details: Thanks to the generosity of the publisher, I have one hardcover copy of A Clatter of Jars to give away, along with a paperback of A Tangle of Knots (and if you're the lucky winner and you've already read A Tangle of Knots, I could substitute another Lisa Graff paperback). To enter, all you need to do is follow my blog and comment on this post. If you tweet about it or mention it on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is open to mailing addresses in the US and Canada ONLY and ends at 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday July 24. Winner to be announced on Monday July 25. Good luck!

Monday, July 11, 2016

On visiting the Highlights Foundation for the first time... and my impressions of the Novel in Verse Workshop from May 2016

Some of you have been waiting patiently for this post. Sorry it took so long! I was a tad distracted (see my previous post).

Some of the cabins at the Highlights Foundation.
Mine was the second from the left.

How to sum up my first visit to the Highlights Foundation?

In one word: magical.

In many more words: The entire experience inspired me, from the first Saturday gathering of 14 strangers (twelve attendees plus two faculty members) over wine and cheese to the last goodbye hugs with all my new friends on Wednesday. I couldn't imagine a more caring, encouraging group with which to share my first Highlights workshop. I'm honored to have spent time with these talented and creative people (many of whom already have books published!). By the last day, we felt like a family. 

Yet I had a somewhat rocky start -- emails going astray for months, a cabin mix-up the day I arrived... There's always a story behind the story, right? Do you know what it's like to wander around a big rural campus in search of your name on a door, hoping to find it and not finding it? Agh!  

The lovely Jan Godown Annino (check out her wonderful blog) tried to help me solve my dilemma that first afternoon.  I'm afraid I was (unintentionally) a little short with her. I'm a timid driver and I'd just spent three and a half hours driving on unfamiliar highways. Not my favorite thing to do. So I was a wee bit cranky when I arrived, only to find someone else in what was supposed to be my cabin! Indeed, I almost felt Highlights didn't want me there. 

Silly, I know.

Of course, all was not lost. The indomitable Jo Lloyd took charge and put all things right, finding my name sign and canvas welcome bag (containing the schedule, among other papers), and assigning me to a different cabin, which worked out perfectly. I fell in love with Cabin 9 and it became my home for 4 nights. 

Cabin 9: my writing cabin and my sleeping, reading, and day-dreaming cabin

Inside Cabin 9: rustic but charming, and always quiet.

As we must do when confronted with unexpected situations, I adjusted my attitude and rediscovered my sense of humor (and I'm happy to say I became great friends with Jan Godown Annino!). That evening, I enjoyed meeting and getting to know all my talented fellow attendees, along with our fearless leaders, Kathy Erskine (author of the National Book Award-winning Mockingbird, and of Seeing Red, Badger Knight, and other novels, along with the upcoming verse novel Hidden Power) and Alma Fullerton (author of verse novels Libertad, which I reviewed hereBurn, In the Garage, and others). 

On the third day, we were joined by guest author Padma Venkatraman (I was excited to meet her because I'd already read all three of her novels, Climbing the Stairs, Island's End, and A Time to Dance). 

By that third day, I'd had conversations with every single attendee, even the reticent (and gifted) Ray, the only male in our group. Ray's powerful picture book in verse moved us all to tears when he finally read it out loud at Group Critique. 

Group critique every afternoon at 4 was followed by wine and cheese at 5:30 and then a delicious buffet dinner at the Barn. 

Getting ready for dinner

Wine and cheese time in the Barn!

The food at the Highlights Foundation is worth the price of the workshops. It's true! Always fresh, local, and delicious, and prepared by the most talented chefs you'll find. They even take into account your dietary restrictions and bring you a special plate if needed. I'm sorry I didn't think to take more photos of the generous buffets. This one below is a simple lunch. There were always plenty of salad and veggie choices as well as comfort foods like lasagna. Ingredients were identified (writing with chalk on the black tablecloth: ingenious!) so you could avoid known allergens.

Eating this wonderful food made us all feel healthy-- and quite spoiled! No cooking, no clean-up. It's a writer's dream. Highlights even provided snacks and coffee, tea, or soft drinks in the Barn at any hour of the day or night, though I was usually too full to consider it.

When the rain finally blew away, we could play in the word garden:

An attempt at poetry

or take a brisk evening walk, led by Kathy Erskine, a walk which helped jump-start my brain for more writing that night.

My writing desk and reading chair

Our mornings were filled with informative workshops held in the classroom corner of the Barn. My favorite moments were mostly visual. I will never forget Kathy Erskine crawling around on the Barn's hard stone floor to demonstrate how she got into her character's head in the medieval tale, The Badger Knight, when Adrian hid under a pew at Carlisle Cathedral. And Alma telling us how she got into her character by huddling in a snow drift for hours with no coat or shoes. Wow! Talk about dedication. 

After Padma joined us, she described binding up her leg for a day and trying to walk around. That was how she got inside her character in A Time to Dance, her moving verse novel about a dancer who loses one leg in an accident.

Our afternoons included plenty of free time to write. And write is what I did. Inspired by my one-on-ones with Alma and Kathy, I managed to write four new poems for my verse novel in the time I was there, and many more since I came home. From my one-on-ones and from comments in Group Critique, I learned that I need to flesh out the minor characters more and add some humor to what has turned out to be a serious MG contemporary novel.*

I came away with a renewed sense of purpose for my novel in verse and a sense of lasting camaraderie with an amazing group of people. I'm sorry I don't have people pictures, but check out the Highlights Foundation site (at least, for now) and you may catch a glimpse of our group.

If you've never attended a Highlights Foundation workshop, please keep it in mind for the future. It's a must for any writer. And they do have scholarships. Just ask!

Personally, I can't wait to go back.

*Oh, you thought I was going to tell you what my novel is about? Sorry! That will have to wait.

Friday, July 1, 2016

When something unexpected happens...

I'm back from my blogging break and happy to be here. Revising my verse novel took up more than half my time (I'll be back to talk about my novel and the Highlights Foundation workshop on Monday, July 11th). The rest of my blogging break was spent on a river cruise with my husband in Europe.

Yes, I know, we're very lucky. Actually, you have no idea how lucky we are!

This photo pretty much sums it up (yes, that's our ship in the background, which we had to evacuate):

That's my husband with some very nice ladies from Texas
at about 6:30 am local time on Father's Day, June 19, 2016.
We all managed to keep our sense of humor about the situation.

You may have seen the commercials. ("Unpack once and spend more time being there.") An idyllic river cruise through Germany, Austria, and Hungary to see Europe's greatest treasures. Well, two nights out of a planned seven were actually spent cruising. Then we were awakened at 3:30 am on the second night by a loud bang, the ship shuddered several times and eventually started listing to one side. My husband said, "I think we're in trouble." I said, "Relax, they know what they're doing. We're probably in a lock. Go back to sleep."

Taken from our sliding glass door on the 2nd level at 3:54 am local time.
We are parallel to the bridge and not going anywhere.

But we never did go back to sleep.

And we weren't in a lock.

My husband understood right away that we were actually stuck next to a bridge. The muddy, churning water of the Danube River was rushing under the boat but we weren't moving.

By 4:30 am, we'd been officially informed that the ship had run aground. By 5:30 we'd packed our luggage but left it in our stateroom as ordered, and even had time for a quick buffet breakfast on board the ship (I miss you, Chef Solomon!). By 6:30, we were taken off the vessel in small rescue boats by a local German fire rescue crew and taken to a small dock, then by bus to the fire hall, where the equivalent of the Red Cross handed out coffee, tea, and water.

I can honestly say it's the first time I've ever had to be rescued from a ship that ran aground and the first time I've ever been taken to a fire hall for disaster relief. It was truly an adventure. I think having a sense of humor and a sense of adventure is the key here. More importantly, no one was hurt, everyone on the ship stayed safe, and the volunteers of the Kelheim-Stadt Fire Rescue company were all very calm and thorough and professional. They did a fantastic job of getting 186 passengers and 50 crew members safely off the ship.

Another view from our stateroom, around 6 am, just before we left it for good.

The volunteer fire rescue crew wrote numbers on our hands as we prepared to step into the rescue boat.
It was a little disconcerting, but led to a lot of jokes (and took three days to wash off),
Those are German 1's, so I was number 141

There goes our rescue boat, off to retrieve more passengers

More pics of our intrepid rescuers:

It certainly was not what we expected to happen. We expected, instead, plenty of this:

Half-timbered house near Nuremberg Castle, Germany

Our tour guide called this "Medieval color TV" --
clock tower in Nuremberg, Germany
with figures that appeared at noon, danced and played instruments

Worlds Oldest Sausage Kitchen, Regensburg, Germany.
The sausages were delicious and I don't even like sausage!

Thirteenth-century Patrician tower with Italian influence,
Regensburg, Germany

St. Stephen's cathedral in Passau, Germany.
We were treated to a magnificent organ concert.

Near Krems, Austria, looking down at the valley from Gottweig Abbey,
a 900-year-old working Benedictine abbey where they make a delightful apricot wine!

The church at Gottweig Abbey

Maria Theresa, Queen and Empress, who reigned in the 18th century,
also wife of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I,
Vienna, Austria

Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the former imperial palace,
and still the seat of government

This may look like a palace or cathedral but it's actually Parliament in Budapest.
And Viking gave us a one-hour river cruise to see the lights come on Thursday evening.
So we still got our Budapest river cruise. Thank you, Viking!

We were most impressed with how well Viking handled the entire situation. They tried very hard to get us another vessel, but it didn't work out. So our vacation turned into a bus tour. Not the worst thing that could happen! (And other ships were affected by the flooding that same week.) Everyone from the company was calm, professional, and hardworking and did everything in their power to keep us happy. Nikki, Ivan, and especially Daniel, my hat is off to you. (I don't think those three young people ever slept.)

Imagine finding hotel rooms for 190 people at short notice! And having to feed all those people. And bus them all to the next included excursion. How they managed, I'll never know. But we never missed a single city tour. So we still saw everything we were supposed to see, including an optional tour my husband and I had signed up for, to the Bavarian Village museum, also known as the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, near Passau. A delightful journey into Bavaria's past, with over 100 authentic buildings brought in from all over Bavaria and preserved.

Chapel in the Bavarian Village museum

The geese at the Bavarian Village were excited to see us,
as our group of 15 seemed to be the only people there that day!

The accident was certainly not the worst thing that ever happened to us on vacation. Curious about the worst? See my "About Me" page.

When something unexpected happens on vacation, how do you handle it? Do you keep your sense of humor?

I'd like to wish all my American friends a very happy (and safe) Independence Day weekend. And to everyone, whether you're heading off to the beach or the mountains or to somewhere farther away for vacation, may all your travels be safe and uneventful!