Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Wishes for a Joyous 2015

Here's to a creative, productive, and soul-satisfying 2015.
Happy New Year, friends! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Setting Those Writing Goals to 'Cruise'

     Since no National Novel Writing Month goals have been met here in the last three years, I decided to forego the formal challenge, and just write to my own self-imposed and less-demanding deadlines in November.  Working at a slow but steady pace, I'm at 31K for this novel. Pretty good for a month when subbing full-time in a pre-school class and a head cold have challenged my progress.
Meeting goals, yet taking it slow and steady this month
     A few articles I've enjoyed this week:
     It's inevitable that you will get asked to talk about your new book, so the 'Surviving Public Speaking' post over at Writers Helping Writers might be useful;
     I'm currently working on getting another manuscript ready for publication, so I loved the post on Book Cover Design at Creative Penn;
     Also, Sharon Creech's photo journal post at Words We Say about 'simmering' her second draft is especially timely. With NaNoWriMo and the holidays pulling us in all directions, isn't it time we all adjust the dial to 'simmer?'
     And finally, a favorite passage on the importance of reading for writers, from Ursula LeGuin, and found at Brain Pickings this week:
     'Beginners’ failures are often the result of trying to work with strong feelings and ideas without having found the images to embody them, or without even knowing how to find the words and string them together. Ignorance of English vocabulary and grammar is a considerable liability to a writer of English. The best cure for it is, I believe, reading. People who learned to talk at two or so and have been practicing talking ever since feel with some justification that they know their language; but what they know is their spoken language, and if they read little, or read schlock, and haven’t written much, their writing is going to be pretty much what their talking was when they were two.'
     So true. 
     Enjoy the rest of your week!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Discover New Authors in the Ultimate Reading Quest

I'm participating in a truly fun and engaging 'hop' of sorts starting yesterday (sorry, Sharon, I've been out of town!) called the The Ultimate Reading Quest. Sharon Skretting, author of The Ultimate Treasure Quest I, has developed an exciting reading challenge featuring loads of authors and their books for readers to discover. Start the quest by visiting the link above, then enter the Rafflecopter contest to win a free book. 

Meanwhile, the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop is still happening until next Friday, October 31, so enter the giveaways for that if you haven't already done so. Click on the badge at the right to see a list of the hundreds of blogs participating. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's Happening on Wednesday?

     It's been one of those days when a twin, a clone, or a productive doppelganger would have been nice. That's why I'm just now getting around to telling you I'm a guest on Jessica Bell's blog today for her Artist Unleashed Wednesday series. Check it out if you want to know my #1 pet peeve as a reader!
    Also, today is the first day of I Am A Reader, Not a Writer's Spooktacular Giveaway Hop. Over 300 blogs are giving away great prizes, so click on the link above or the hop badge in the sidebar to enter mine, and see the list of who else is involved!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Join the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!

     Thanks to I Am A Reader, Not A Writer, I'm joining in the fun through the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop again this year. What's in it for me, you ask? Here's the scoop:
a paperback copy of my middle-grade novel, BINGO SUMMER, with a bookmark;
a $10 Amazon gift card; and some surprise Halloween goodies. And please visit the other blogs participating. There are many fantastic prizes out there waiting to be won! Check out the Linky List below my Rafflecopter entry box.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 10, 2014

Showing Up

     My husband asked if I wanted to get up for the lunar eclipse the other night.
     I did. Everyone was talking about it. It was a big deal. Seeing it gives one bragging rights, like shopping at 2 a.m. does during Black Friday. And after all, it was the second of four consecutive lunar eclipses in 2014-2015, a tetrad, says NASA, which will occur 142 times within a 5,000-year cycle. A VERY big deal.

     Okay, but we'll need to get up around 5, he said.
     In the morning? But...
     I stumbled through a litany of excuses.
     A big portion of the task is just showing up, isn't it? Woody Allen said being present accounts for about 80 percent of accomplishing anything worthwhile, be it catching a lunar eclipse or writing a novel.
     While my excuses won out and I missed the eclipse, I don't often give in so easily when it comes to writing. I'm a list-maker. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals keep me focused, and I love checking them off one at a time. It energizes me. Morning e-mails answered, check. First 250 words written, check. Blog post written, almost.
     What will you show up for today?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Guest Post: Middle-grade author Shannon L. Brown on Creating Fiction from Life

       “I like chocolate.” Jessica licked her lips.
     Sophie grimaced. “I’ll work on the outdoors with you, and you can work on chocolate with me.” 
     Jessica shook her head. “I think it will be easier for you to love chocolate than it will be for me to love the outdoors.” 
                                                                                                             - from The Feather Chase

     As I created the two main characters for my Crime-Solving Cousins series, I realized that I was giving them some of my own interests. I then decided that having some of myself in these two twelve-year-olds might make spending many, many hours with them a little more fun, so I continued on that path. From the example, I love chocolate (dark, please) and spending time outdoors. Now, Sophie and Jessica are enjoying some of my favorite things in exciting adventures.
     This is a spin on the old adage, “write what you know.” With fiction that only works to a point anyway because the story takes place in a made-up world with made-up characters. Even if I set a contemporary book in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, I would be creating a fictional world inside the city I know. By necessity, writers have to go beyond what they know and venture into the world of make believe. 
     Taking “write what you know” up to another level though, a fiction writer can, and may even do so without realizing it, include parts of her personality or interests in the characters. Writers are always tasked with creating believable characters, characters who step off the page for the reader. Sophie and Jessica are all the more real to me because I know what it’s like to hike on a trail in pine trees or enjoy a piece of chocolate. While I can and often do write about things I don’t personally know about, beginning with things I already enjoy makes life more fun from the beginning. And I think writing should be fun for the writer and enjoyable for the reader.
     Could a villain incorporate parts of a writer’s interests or personality? Absolutely. A writer who loves donuts could have a villain who always stops for a donut after he committed a crime. Or a writer who loves healthy snacks could have a villain who always keeps carrot and celery sticks in his shirt pocket. (A fun idea I may have to add to my next book.) If an author was observant or impulsive, those would be easy personality traits to add. 
     Now, Sophie and Jessica may have some of my character traits, but only those that suit that character. Jessica loves shopping; Sophie hates it. It wouldn’t work the other way around and I have to be careful about that. Are the interests I gave them exactly as I would do them? No. Sophie loves camping, really loves camping. I spent a lot of time camping growing up, but never enjoyed it. Jessica wouldn’t leave the house without perfect nail polish. My nails are au natural. What they do have is the twelve-year-old life I wanted, a life of fun and adventure. 

Shannon L. Brown in the author of THE FEATHER CHASE, an adventurous middle-grade mystery for ages 8-12. Visit her at:
     Twelve-year-old cousins Sophie and Jessica don’t have much in common. Sophie loves hiking and her small town. Jessica would rather be shopping in a city. The only mystery is how they’ll be able to spend the summer together.
     Then they find a briefcase in the forest with a surprise inside. When they hear footsteps behind them and bad guys run after them, they have no choice but to work together to solve the mystery of The Feather Chase.
THE FEATHER CHASE is available in print and ebook from booksellers including:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Within the Pages: From the Magical Mind of Mindy Munson

I'm happy to review this middle-grade book, From the Magical Mind of Mindy Munson, by author Nikki Bennett. Authentic, funny characters and a magical setting provide a one-of-a-kind story perfect for intermediate readers.

From Amazon:
Every house has a history. This House has a mystery. When the orphaned Munsen kids move with their aunt to The House, Mindy Munsen discovers strange creatures living there already. Ghosts. Dragons. Leprechauns. And a scary Thing lurking in the basement. Mindy’s older sister Susie is determined to find out where these creatures came from and why they’re living in the Munsen’s house. With the help of the next-door neighbors and an old lady named Mrs. Wemberley, Susie, Mindy and their brothers unravel The House’s amazing secrets. And along the way, they discover some incredible secrets about themselves.
My review:
     Author Nikki Bennett has built a wonderfully-intricate setting that young readers will love in her middle-grade book, From the Magical Mind of Mindy Munson. Main character Susie has a very authentic, engaging voice, and readers are treated to her first-person account of how she and her siblings adjust to living in a large, rundown estate with their guardian, Aunt Julie. Through the imaginations of the younger kids, Tucker and Mindy, various make-believe characters such as The Thing in the basement, the Mulberry Dragon, the Leprechaun, and a purple fuzzy spider ‘inhabit’ the house, and cause a little tension for the Munson kids.
    In addition to the story, I especially loved the charming illustrations throughout the chapters. Also, Aunt Julie isn’t just a cardboard adult character in a kid’s book. Her indifference at the beginning of the book develops into genuine concern as we get deeper into the story, and the kids work through their grief surrounding their parents’ deaths. Though the dialogue between the younger Munson kids, Tucker and Mindy, sounds natural for their age, too, it was a bit distracting to read. Other than that minor point, The Magical Mind of Mindy Munson, is an enjoyable read for the middle-grade audience, and would make an ideal selection for a young reader’s book club. 

Visit author Nikki Bennett at The World of Nikki

Amazon  Also available at Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and Scribd

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Using Real-Life Role Models to Develop Middle-Grade Characters

     Her windup was fluid, almost effortless. She faced batter after batter, striking them out with her 70-mile-an-hour fastball. But when she walked off the pitcher's mound at inning's end, what amazed me wasn't her athletic ability as much as her poise and humility, even as the crowds chanted her name and reporters clamored for interviews. Then her story showed up in Sports Illustrated, which isn't exactly the same as a one-column story in the hometown newspaper. Again I admired that cool, unaffected demeanor that you don't usually see in junior high kids, much less from one that just landed on the cover of the world's most popular sports news magazine.
     Mo'ne Davis, the now-famous pitcher and infielder of the Taney Little League team of Philadelphia is exactly the kind of character I like to write about. She's a kid doing extraordinary things, but more importantly, she's someone who shows strength of character by who she is, not what she does. Yet those two ideas are intricately tied. Mo'ne excels on the field because of who she is off of the field.
     When I started developing main character, Summer Haas, for my middle-grade novel, BINGO SUMMER, I wanted a mentally-tough character who wouldn't be beaten down by the rapid changes happening in her young life. Her parents are divorced, she moves to a new community, she leaves her best friend behind. Through it all, she's determined to be a great softball player, but how did she get there? She focused on the goal, being the best she could be, yet kept her ego in check even when she beat an established player out of the coveted starting position.
     Creating three-dimensional characters, especially heroic main characters, is hard work. They have to be admirable yet not without fault, tough yet vulnerable. I wish Mo'ne Davis was playing ball when I wrote BINGO SUMMER. Using real-life role models like her to inspire characters makes the writing process a whole lot easier.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Back-to-School with BINGO SUMMER: An Excerpt and a Sale

     BINGO SUMMER, a funny, heart-felt middle-grade novel, follows 13-year-old Summer Haas after her family wins the lottery, and moves to a new town when the media attention gets too crazy. Summer finds that making new friends, keeping the lottery win a secret, and staying true to herself is the biggest challenge of all. 

"In my room, I found a half-empty notebook in my desk drawer and flipped to the first blank page. I got halfway through writing a letter to Dana, but then I reread it, and I got a headache from all the complaining I did. I didn’t want to give a headache to my best friend, too.
My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Bertram, once told us to write our troubles down on paper, to make a Worry List, and then get rid of those worries by throwing the list in the garbage.  I’d done that before, when Mom and Frank were divorcing and she was too distracted to pay much attention to J.C. and me. I’d felt like I was J.C.’s mom, that my own mom had gone missing. Every day, I came home and listed my worries. Then I tore out the page, crumpled it, and banked the shot off the wall and into the garbage can. Sometimes writing stuff down worked. So I flipped to a new page in the notebook and tore it out. Instead of complaining to Dana, I’d make a Worry List." - from Bingo Summer

"I found I couldn't put the book down all weekend until I knew how it ended. I am adding this author to my "must read" list!" - Goodreads review

Get 'tween' novel Bingo Summer for 99 cents
on your Kindle or Nook
Now through August 17th

Kindle  *  NOOK

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bingo Summer Back-to-School 99 cent E-Book Sale

Get 'tween' novel Bingo Summer for 99 cents
on your Kindle or Nook
Now through August 17th
during these last few weeks before school starts!

Kindle  *  NOOK

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Winning Over a Reluctant Writer

What does a giant chicken sculpture draped
 with Christmas lights have to do
 with reluctant writers? Absolutely nothing!
     Last week I spent five days in a community education classroom helping fifth- through eighth-graders with their creative writing skills. I taught a three-hour class before lunch, and the same class to another group in the afternoon. 'Tentatively hopeful' was the operative word for me before the first Monday morning session. I had spent weeks writing lessons plans, collecting supplies, and fretting that I hadn't enough variety of activities to keep their restless minds and bodies interested.
     Two kids readily admitted to me on the first day that their parents 'forced' them to take the class. One of them spent much of the first day sighing very loudly each time we tried a new writing exercise. When he hit a new level of frustration - a sigh AND an eye roll - after I asked for a volunteer to share his or her work, I silently vowed to help him see that writing could be tolerable, even fun (gasp!) by the end of the week.
     A quote - "Reluctant writers aren't born, they're made" - came to mind. Had he been frustrated by writing assignments that kept him from expressing what he really wanted to write? Had he been overwhelmed by the 'rules' of good writing? I told the class early that there were no rules for the week, other than the general 'no cell phones/no-talking-when-I'm-talking/be-respectful-to-your-classmates' variety. Creative writing should not be restricted by rules.
     The week moved along at a quick, energetic pace, and I'm a little biased, but they seemed to enjoy it. Everyone plotted an incident stemming from a time when they got in trouble. They made a character collage, filled out a bio sheet, then 'talked' to another character in the class when we studied dialogue. They had a tasting party, and used ALL of their senses to describe the foods. For ten minutes half-way through each class, they used a beach ball to play a word association game. They had so much fun with the game, we also opened and closed each of the following sessions that way. I let them take turns picking music on Spotify to listen to while we did our timed writing spurts. I was determined to show them the fun in creating characters, settings, and stories.
     By the end of the day on Tuesday, I counted only a handful of sighs from the reluctant writer.
     On Wednesday, he surprised himself by coming up with some pretty amazing observations when we did character exercises.
     On Thursday, he volunteered to read his work FIRST during share time.
     Before he left class on Friday, as his mother signed him out, I asked him what he had thought of the class.
     He smiled. "It wasn't so bad," he said.
     "What was your favorite part?" I asked.
     He didn't hestitate. "That I could write what I wanted."
     Mission accomplished? Yeah, I can live with that.


Friday, July 18, 2014

All Things Books: Mail, Signings, and Book Bomb 2014

   It's summer, right? Time for easing back from the crazy pace of the other nine months. To me, summer has always been a different kind of crazy. Gone is the predictable madness of school- and work-related routines. The kids are out of class, working new jobs, juggling sports camps and typical teen social stuff. The only constant in our house has been the LACK of anything routine.
     My consolation for coming home from vacation is always the pile of mail waiting for me at the post office, especially when it includes books. I was a lucky winner in Pam Torres's Goodreads giveaway earlier in the month, so her books, MADISON MORGAN: WHEN DOGS BLOG and IT'S NOT JUST A DOG, arrived while I was gone.
     I've also been busy planning a book-signing at my local library. I'm looking forward to visiting and celebrating with some of the readers who have already read BINGO SUMMER, and giving out some fun party favors for young writers. At this point, I think I'm focusing a little too much on cupcake flavors for the refreshments, but hey, priorities, right?
     Finally, if you're a middle-grade author, Ginger Lee Malacko has spearheaded BOOK BOMB 2014, which is happening this Saturday, July 19th. From her website:
     'You've heard of a photo bomb right? Well just like that stranger who pops randomly into your family vacation photos, our books could pop up anywhere, out of the blue. Surprise! Each year, on a saturday in July, authors from all over the map will leave a copy of their book somewhere for some lucky middle grader to find. It could be on a park bench, a mall food court table, a shop window ledge, a seat on the bus. It could even be stuffed inside a fire hydrant. Okay, maybe not a fire hydrant, but you get the idea. You can find out where authors have hidden their books by checking out the hashtag #mgbookbomb on twitter, the day of the drop.
     Sounds fun, doesn't it? Check out Ginger's blog for more information. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Writing Game: Surviving Those 'Off Days'

     It was a tough day for my son on the ball field.
     Playing right field, he couldn't get a handle on a couple of line-drive singles. He missed the cut-off man on another. Hitting-wise, the shortstop threw him out on two infield grounders. His coach took him out of the game after four innings.
     As we drove home, he was full of excuses.
     "It was hot."
     "The ball was hit too hard."
     "The sun was in my eyes."
     "I was bad, wasn't I?" he asked.
     His head wasn't in the game. I could tell by his slouchy posture, how he kicked at the grass, and watched a bird fly overhead while his teammates focused on the guy at the plate. I didn't say that, though. Instead I said, "Everyone has their 'off' days."
     "Maybe I shouldn't play next year."
     I shrugged. "That's your choice," I said.
     At the high school level, he'd have to make a choice between playing baseball or joining the track team since they share the same season. He threw discus in track and really enjoyed it. But at the time, he was in junior high baseball. And he was discouraged.
     "Everyone's better than me," he said. He slumped down in the seat, pulling the cap over his eyes. "But I love baseball," he mumbled.
      I looked at him, and something dawned on me. He sounded He sounded like me on the days when I wished that I could get an acceptance before I get another rejection. That my computer wasn't so slow. That I could write as lyrical and fresh as that shiny new author at Big Publishing House. Some days I complained more than I composed. It's all just so hard, I thought. Why bother?
     On days like that, I just want to wallow in self-pity. And nothing and nobody is going to stop me, by golly. But I love writing, so I'll be back at the computer the next morning if I'm not there the night before. I can't imagine a time when I won't be writing. It's just not possible. It's who I am.
     So go ahead and allow yourself an 'off' day if you feel one coming on. Embrace it. Wallow with chocolate, Ben & Jerry's, or whatever your vice.
     Then dust yourself off and get back in the game.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

First Days of Summer Flash Sale of Bingo Summer

Photo credit: Crosby's
 since it's officially SUMMER!! 

Starting today and through Sunday, I'm celebrating with a 99 cent sale of all
 e-book versions of BINGO SUMMER.

For those of you who've already read my debut middle-grade, the main character, Summer Haas, also celebrates her birthday on June 21st. If we could all share cake, that would be perfect, but since you're spread far and wide, a sale will have to do!

P.S. -  See that photo? It's Summer's birthday cake, which her mom whips up in Chapter 1! Molasses ginger cake with maple buttercream frosting - YUM!


     Also be sure to enter my Goodreads Giveaway if you haven't already. It's still happening until June 30th. You could win ONE of TEN FREE paperback versions of the novel, too!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Within the Pages: Caught Between Two Curses

It's my pleasure to have author Margo L. Dill visiting the blog today, talking about her new young adult paranormal romance, CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO CURSES. 

First, a summary of the book:

 Seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson is cursed. So is her entire family. And it’s not just any-old-regular curse, either—it’s strangely connected to the famous “Curse of the Billy Goat” on the Chicago Cubs.
Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive to her all the time.

Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family’s future, and her own love life—and time is running out!
Published 2014 by Rocking Horse Publishing

Now, for a little Q & A time between Margo and Here's the Story:

Here's the Story: So, let's start with the initial inspiration for the story. Where did the idea come from? 

Margo L DillTwo news stories in 2003 finally inspired me to explore a question I had always wondered: why do some people survive accidents or tragedies and others don’t? Are the survivors supposed to DO SOMETHING before they die? The two news stories were when Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball at a Chicago Cubs playoff game, and everyone blamed him for the Cubs not making it in the World Series. I thought, It’s not Steve Bartman’s fault (of course); The Curse of the Billy Goat strikes again. The second story was about a little girl who had survived a car crash where her parents died. She was actually in the car for a few days before the police found her, and she ate snacks from her diaper bag. So I created 17-year-old Julie whose parents both died under mysterious circumstances in a fire when she was three. When the novel opens, Julie thinks her only problem is that her boyfriend wants to have sex, when she’s not ready. But it turns out she seems to be the one in her family destined to break two curses that are killing her loved ones.

HTS: Who was your favorite character to write? Was there a character you most identified with? 

MLD: My favorite character to write was GRANDMA! She is eccentric and says funny/crazy stuff, and I could really stretch my imagination whenever she was in a scene. I mostly identify with Julie, which I think is common for so many writers--right? A little bit of us is in our main characters. I struggled with some of the same issues as Julie when I was growing up, although not in the same way. And the chemistry class scene--straight from my senior year of chemistry. Egads--that's when I knew I was not cut out for any sort of career in science. 

HTS: What was the most challenging aspect of the book to write? 

MLD: The book is a blend of realistic, paranormal, romantic, and historical fiction. Not letting the curses plotline take over the characters. I wanted Julie to have a huge problem to solve, but within her world as a teenager. So that meant she still had teenage stuff--friends, school, boyfriend, dances--to deal with. So, I would be writing the curse stuff and think--WOW! Julie hasn't even talked to any friends for two days. She hasn't sent a text. Then I had to go back and rewrite. 

HTS: What kind of research did you do for this novel? 

MLD: I researched the Cubs curse and some general information about curses, but the rest came straight from my brain or knowledge about baseball, teens, and Chicago. I used to live in Champaign, IL, and so I went to Chicago a lot. 

HTS: Speaking of magic, do you have any objects on your desk that inspire your work?

MLD: I don't even have a desk! My desk is either the kitchen table or an end table in the living room. When my husband got transferred to St. Louis (from IL), we decided to rent for a while and our house is small! But that's okay. 

HTS: What's your go-to snack food/drink while you write?

MLD: Now, food and drink--well, during the day, coffee and I love Werther's Originals hard candy or some fruit like strawberries or blueberries. At night--wine or hot tea (depending on the day!) and popcorn. LOVE POPCORN! 

HTS: Can you give us a hint about what you're working on now? 

MLD: Sure, I have two projects--one should be going out into the big, wide world soon (trying to query agents) and is a middle-grade mystery book about a super sleuth who has trouble solving his own mystery when his trophy is stolen. I also have a YA in beginning stages which is about a community shooting and how it affects two teens whose fathers were involved in the shooting. 

HTS: From one Cubs fan to another, I'm tired of the 'curse' being an excuse for perpetually lousy seasons. What's your prediction for when the Cubs might finally win the Series? 

MLD: I don't know. I don't think it will be this season--but maybe there's a real-life Julie in the world somewhere who can work on breaking the curse. 

HTS: The team definitely needs some good magic for once. Thank you for stopping by, Margo! And readers, if you'd like to follow Margo and CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO CURSES, visit her other hangouts!

A few links:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gratitude in the Digital Publishing Age

     The last month has been filled with enough anxiety to fill the entire span of my writing career. And by 'career', I'm reaching all the way back to eighth grade, folks. That's when I first went public with my stories, beyond the gushing remarks of family and teachers.
     What created the monster migraine has been the process of self-publishing. Admittedly, I'm a big baby when it comes to learning new technology. I don't have patience for  HTML, formatting, or even downloading pictures from my camera onto iPhoto. Give me a keyboard and a blank document, show me the cut, paste, and delete  commands, and I'm good to go. All right, I'm exaggerating in a big way here. But, really? I've never been known for my techno-savviness.
     This mini whine leads to a sense of gratitude. I'm immensely thankful for the people who helped me get my debut novel into decipherable shape and out into the world. With their patience and professionalism, they made the experience a not-too-terrible one. Looking back, with clean, pretty digital and print copies uploaded and selling, I might even call it a pleasant one.
     So thank you, Heather at McCorkle Creations, for your design expertise on my cover and promo materials, and Rae at Metamorphosis Books for your endless patience, talent, and advice. You ladies are the BEST!

(This post was inspired by the Celebrate the Small Things Blog Hop, hosted by Scribblings of an Aspiring Writer)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

When Writing Journeys Begin

I'm decompressing after a morning of interacting with junior high students during their career fair. I love talking to kids about writing because not only are they the audience I write for (and don't most writers like connecting directly with readers?), but also because it brings me back to the very age when I started writing. And coincidentally, when I came home a while ago, and started browsing the Internet while I ate lunch, I read a very timely post at Smack Dab in the Middle about the journey of becoming a writer. It really started for me in junior high, too, after I got positive feedback from my literature teacher on a writing assignment. How many writers were born because of the encouragement and support they got from a teacher? Many, I'm sure.

A few more mentionables:

A HUGE thanks to Shelley Sly for featuring me on her blog, Stories in the Ordinary, this morning. Shelley's own middle-grade novel, WISHING FOR WASHINGTON, releases on June 18.

There's a FANTASTIC giveaway opportunity happening at Adventures in YA Publishing. The prize is a mystery box from Martina's trip to the BEA conference (full of books & fun swag, maybe?). Enter and hopefully you'll find out!

Also, my giveaway over at Goodreads is going strong. Check it out and add your name to win ONE of TEN paperback copies of BINGO SUMMER!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bingo Summer by Dawn Malone

Bingo Summer

by Dawn Malone

Giveaway ends June 30, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Goodreads Giveaway for BINGO SUMMER Begins Tomorrow

    Paperback copies have arrived! And just in time for a FANTASTIC opportunity to win ONE of TEN FREE COPIES of my contemporary, middle-grade novel, BINGO SUMMER!
     Starting tomorrow, Goodreads is hosting a giveaway of PAPERBACK copies. Pop on over to GOODREADS tomorrow or any time throughout June for your chance to win!
     If you don't want to wait until the end of the month to find out if you're a winner, and want a copy now, visit Amazon.
     And THANKS TO ALL who have already purchased BINGO SUMMER, sent congratulations, and/or added it to your 'to-read' list on Goodreads. I appreciate every one of you!

     Now I'm off to do battle with the Ugly Garden for a bit before the tomato and squash plants are overcome by the weeds.
                                                                  HAPPY WRITING!        

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Road Trip Essentials - Books!

     It's almost that time of the year when some of my to-be-read pile shifts from living on my nightstand, and takes up residence in the car. Whether en route to a writing conference, ballgame, or a cross-country road trip, books have always been the must-have travel accessory for me and the rest of my family. I'm happy this habit has caught on with each of our kids, but, geez!, sometimes we're literally a library on wheels when we hit the road.
     I can remember one vacation two years ago when the five of us read through our stash, and found a great place to restock, Square Books, in Oxford, Mississippi, with three separate store fronts on the historic town square. I love supporting independents, and I'm sure they appreciated the armload of books my daughter brought to the front counter.
     Vacation plans this summer include a 10-day trip to Sheridan, Wyoming, with a 20-mile hike to complete over three days. Even though we'll be carrying our own food, clothing, water filters, and sleeping gear, saving room in the backpack for at least ONE book is a given
     A tallish stack of books sit on the book shelf in my study now, ready for summer reading. Here's a few:
  • See You at Harry's, by Jo Knowles
  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein
  • Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos
  • The Probably Future, by Alice Hoffman
  • The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham
     What's on your Road Trip Reading List this summer?


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thank You, Giveaway Entrants

Just a quick THANK YOU to those who entered the Children's Book Week Giveaway Hop. I appreciate each of you stopping by to enter, and for commenting, Tweeting, and adding BINGO SUMMER to Goodreads. Even if you didn't win, I hope you found some exciting children's books to add to summer reading lists.

Thanks again, and happy reading!  - Dawn
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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A middle-grade debut: Bingo Summer


Winning the lottery would make life a whole lot simpler, right. 
At least that’s what thirteen-year-old Summer Haas and her family thought after Summer scratches the instant lottery ticket
 she finds in her birthday card, and the family wins big.

But when Summer, along with her eccentric mother and younger sister, J.C., leave their small southern Illinois town to escape the unwanted attention that the lottery win attracts, Summer’s life changes but not exactly for the better. Will Summer ever find a new best friend like Dana, whom she left behind? Will anyone even want to be her friend when they find out her family gambled their way to riches? BINGO SUMMER is a humorous, coming-of-age story about Summer’s struggle to fit in and be true to herself, two ideals that do not always mesh.

The eBook is available on KINDLE * NOOK 
and KOBO (coming soon!)

Blog: Here's the Story,

Also, don't forget it's CHILDREN'S BOOK WEEK! Enter my GIVEAWAY to win a paperback copy of BINGO SUMMER and a $10 Amazon gift card. Thank you to Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews for hosting this. There are almost 100 blogs participating this week.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Books, Cash, & Swag: Celebrating Children's Book Week

     It's Children's Book Week, and what better way to celebrate than to win fabulous books, gift cards,  cash, and other prizes? Thanks to Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews, you'll have plenty of chances since they're hosting the Children's Book Week Giveaway Hop 2014.
     Enter my giveaway below, then visit other blogs for more chances to win. There's a free print copy of my debut middle-grade novel, BINGO SUMMER, and a $10 Amazon gift card waiting for you if you're the winner. Good luck!

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Friday, May 9, 2014



If I said we were down to our last five bucks and two days’ worth of frosted corn flakes when my family became millionaires, it wouldn’t be exactly right. But we were that close to desperate. 
The truth was that Ruth Hennessey from the Stanton New Covenant Community Church was on her way with two bags of groceries from the food pantry and a check from the women’s guild to tide us over until my mom got her paycheck. 
The truth was that my mom was whipping up a molasses ginger cake with maple frosting for my thirteenth birthday. Of course, all the ingredients weren’t edible until mixed together and baked, so I wasn’t counting the flour, eggs, and other stuff that went into it. Until the cake was finished, all we had were corn flakes. No milk either. Just the cereal.
“Did we win anything yet?” asked Mom. A halo of flour dust surrounded her as she dumped cupfuls into a mixing bowl.
      I scratched off the second number on the Bingo Birthday Bash lottery ticket. “Just started,” I said. 
Swiping at the sweat drops tickling my eyelid, I studied the grid of twenty numbers to use on the four bingo cards. It was hot for June. The small kitchen with its one window facing east drew in the early morning sun and all the heat that radiated off the Super Pantry parking lot next door to our house. 
“That’s what I like about those things,” said Mom. “They take forever to scratch. Like you’re getting your money’s worth.” Her back was to me, so she talked over her shoulder, while her whole body shook with the effort of mixing. She stood on her tiptoes while she scraped the sides of the bowl free of batter. 
I scratched away, my new charm bracelet clinking on the tabletop. Mom made it for me, a bracelet with baseball charms — a bat, baseball, a bear cub.
Across from me, my little sister, J.C., sighed. “I’m going crazy with all that scratching and jangling.” Her hand shot out, trying to swipe my lottery ticket, but I pulled it away just in time.
“Calm down,” I said. “It’s always all about you, you, you.” I leaned on the wobbly table to keep scratching. That made J.C.’s pencil dash across her workbook, ripping the page.
“J.C., go to your room if you need quiet,” said Mom. 
“It’s too hot in there.”
Mom glanced at me as she slid the pan into the oven. “Just think, if that ticket’s a winner, maybe next year we could rent one of those party rooms − what do they call them? SkyBoxes, that’s it − at Wrigley Field for an early birthday present on opening day? How’d that be?” 
“That’d cost a zillion dollars,” J.C. grumbled.
Mom gave her a look. “She’s worth it. Just like you.”
“I love being queen for the day,” I mumbled loud enough for J.C. to hear. She narrowed her eyes at me and looked ready to pop a vein.
“Scratch quieter, or I’m ripping up that ticket.” Her long hair fell like a curtain as she leaned over her library book again, trying to shut me out. 
The lottery ticket had been tucked inside my birthday card when I opened it, a family tradition. “I’ll only allow it a few times a year; anything more than that is the start of a bad habit,” Mom always reminded us. Never mind that she had no business buying a ten dollar lottery ticket this year, considering how broke we were. But things have a way of taking care of themselves, she said.
The ticket was as big as a postcard. There were four different bingo games on the card; so if I bombed one game, I could always win one of the other three. A long, vertical box marked ‘Player’s Numbers’ on the left of the ticket hid all of the bingo numbers. Lucky me if the number appeared on more than one game.
I checked the first couple of numbers. Nothing. So I set the dime’s edge on another spot in the box and scratched away the pink coating. It was 17 and showed up in the I column on three of the four cards. Yessss!
The top prize was ten million dollars, but the chance of getting that was 28,000,000 to 1. I was hoping for a $10 prize, so Mom could get her money back. The odds of that were only 12 to 1. Then we could buy milk.
“You’re still being noisy,” J.C. said. She tried kicking me under the table, but caught the table leg instead. My corn flakes spilled onto the table. I stuck my tongue out. She did the same. Mom washed the mixing bowl, none the wiser.
    “Do you remember why I decided to name you Summer?” Mom looked over at me when I didn’t answer right away. I’d only heard this story every year for the last hundred years. She reminisced on every birthday.
“I do and I don’t want to hear it again,” said J.C. She rested her forehead on the table.
“Hush up, J.C.,” Mom said. 
“Then let me tell it,” J.C. said, suddenly animated. She stood up on her chair. “It was the first day of summer, June twenty-first,” J.C cooed. She almost lost her balance, and her hand shot out to grab the back of her chair. I laughed. What a dork.
“And I was twenty-one that year,” Mom said. “A lucky number, that twenty-one.”
    J.C. continued in a sing-songy voice. “It was a sunny day, and the baby was shining like a new penny with the sun coming through the hospital window. Mom thought a shiny, new baby should have a shiny, new name.” J.C. sure was a storyteller.
“I thought it was a happy name,” added Mom.
J.C. jumped off the chair. “I think it’s dull and boring.”
Mom shook her head and sighed. “Sometimes, I wonder how I could have had two wonderful, but totally opposite, daughters. I sure wish you two got along.”  
Impossible. My eleven-year-old sister opened her mouth without thinking, couldn’t sit still unless there was a book or math problem to hold her attention, and liked glitter, the color pink, and any type of music except country. She also looked different. Mom and I could be sisters, we were told, with our copper-colored hair. My dad, who died before I was born, did pass his brown eyes onto me. J.C. looked like her father, my step-dad, who was still very much alive but who-knows-where. She was tall as a fence post with green eyes and a long face, framed by a lot of straight, black hair. My sister reminded me of a young horse, bony and full of the devil, like my step-dad.
I started scratching again. The number 21 showed up on all four games in the N columns. Three of them had B7. I kept scratching while J.C.’s chatter filled the hot kitchen. I wasn’t tracking my progress, but I noticed that I had a bunch of the Bs scratched on all four grids. A fair number of Gs already. Hardly any Ns.
I was concentrating so hard on the game that I jumped when the doorbell rang.
Mom slid the bowl into the cabinet with a clatter. “Come in!”
Mrs. Hennessey balanced a grocery bag on each hip as she eased into the kitchen.  
“Hey, girls. Give me a little hand here with these bags. One’s starting to rip. Be careful now,” she said, wiping her neck with a paper napkin after I took a bag. “There’s a few more in the car, too.”
We knocked into each other trying to help Mrs. Hennessey through the door with the groceries. J.C. went for the other bags. 
“Oh my,” she huffed, leaning against the counter, out of breath. Mrs. Hennessey smoothed the pink sundress that fit her a little too tight around the middle.
     “Happy birthday, Summer,” she said, glancing over my shoulder after I sat down again. “What have you got there? A lottery ticket?”  
“We get one every year for our birthday,” I said. I saw a sheepish expression cloud Mom’s face when she looked at Mrs. Hennessey, then at the grocery bags on the kitchen table. She brushed back a wisp of hair that was sticking to her neck and set to unloading the bags. 
Back to the ticket.
     N23. Got it on three games. 
     O67. Got that, too. 
    N27. Cool, I was rolling. 
“Summer’s going to win us ten million dollars,” said J.C. in a monotone as she set two more bags onto the counter.
I scowled at her. “I’m not sharing with you if I do.”
Mrs. Hennessey fanned her face with both hands. “Well, until you get your millions, here are a few things to keep you fed.” She pulled two boxes of macaroni and cheese and a family-sized can of ravioli out of the other bag and handed it to Mom. “Any word on when you’ll get your check, Maggie?”
“It was supposed to come yesterday, but no luck. I haven’t checked today’s mail yet,” said Mom, looking into her bag. “Trina Laskos got hers. She talked to our manager who said the bank definitely foreclosed on the place. No chance of them opening back up anytime soon.”
Mrs. Hennessey shook her head. “Any other job leads?”
“Got an interview at the Food Mart tomorrow for a checker position.” 
Mom and Mrs. Hennessey gabbed on and on. I stopped listening as I rubbed off the last number, then turned the ticket over to read the “How to Win” paragraph.  Excitement rippled in my stomach. I knew we had won something since a lot of the pink coating was gone. Exactly what, I didn’t know. 
Diagonal, vertical, and horizontal lines were the usual patterns. Then another diagram showed that a four-corner pattern could be a winner. That one was pretty uncommon. Even greater odds was the “X” pattern. I flipped the ticket over again to see if there was an  “X” pattern on any of the games. That was the big winner. Wishful thinking. 
“And Summer, I hear you’re going to be. . .”
But I didn’t hear the last part of Mrs. Hennessey’s question.
    I checked the pattern again on the back. Flip.
    And then the ones on my games. Flip.
The air was suffocating, like the kitchen was an oven cranked up to four hundred degrees. My whole face felt flushed. I blinked, thinking the heat was playing tricks with my brain.
There was an  “X” on each of the four games. 
Suddenly the oven timer went off.
“Cake’s done,” J.C. crowed.
“We won,” I said. I could barely get the words out.
Everyone shut up.
Even the timer stopped buzzing.
“We won.” I said it again. “Ten million dollars.” 
Mrs. Hennessey dropped a carton of eggs. Yoke splattered onto Mom’s bare toes, but she didn’t even notice.
“Say that again?” Mom whispered. 
But I couldn’t. I just nodded.

     Be sure to visit on Sunday to enter the Children's Book Week Giveaway, sponsored by Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews, for a chance to win a print Copy of BINGO SUMMER and an Amazon gift card!

   And BINGO SUMMER officially goes on sale beginning Monday, 5/12, on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo! 

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