Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Revolution by Deborah Wiles


I recently heard Deborah Wiles speak at the SCBWI Orlando Conference, and was thrilled to get an autographed copy of her latest novel.  This is from the book jacket:

It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded. Or at least that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi, are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They're calling it Freedom Summer.

REVOLUTION has an unusual format. It's part novel and part scrapbook. In my opinion, that's the book's greatest strength and greatest weakness. I can absolutely see that the black and white photos make a great tool for classrooms. On the other hand, stopping to read a nine-page essay about Cassius Clay, (Muhammed Ali), took me out of the story at hand.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. But with this caveat: Skip all of the photos and essays and read the novel straight through. Then go back and study all of the extra material. It really is fascinating and worth the time, just not when you're trying to become engrossed in a novel.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl Featured on SCBWI Blog

Lee Wind posted a very nice interview with me about winning the Crystal Kite Award for the southeast region. You can read it on the Official SCBWI Blog:


And in case you missed it, I wrote an article for Writers Digest called Writing Historical Fiction Based on a Family Story. You can read it here:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Remembering Cynthia Chapman Willis

Cynthia Chapman Willis


I worried when Cindy died about what would happen to her stories. Over the past couple of years, I had critiqued two novels that she had been working on, but never got the chance to finish. I shouldn't have worried. Cindy took care of her manuscripts by leaving them to her dear friend and  colleague, Wiley Blevins. Wiley got right to work using Cindy's notes and his long history of collaborating with her. When Wiley finished, he gave me the privilege of being the final person to critique Cindy's manuscript. I had such a good time doing so. It was like being given the opportunity to spend one more day with her. Cindy's voice spoke to me on every page. I remembered our many conversations about her love for animals and wanting to write a high concept book. I truly believe that A Fighting Chance has evolved into the manuscript that Cindy envisioned. Wiley shared with me that Cindy said, "One of the things I mind most about dying is that I have so many stories yet to tell." I hope she has the opportunity to tell at least one more.

In addition to working on Cindy's manuscript, Wiley himself has a new novel out called, The Healing of Harold Lily. He describes it as a "hillbilly Romeo and Juliet." I recently purchased a copy and can't wait to read it.



Best of luck to Wiley on selling Cindy's manuscript and in garnering sales for his new book!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview With Author and Musician Joni Klein-Higger


Joni Klein-Higger is a children's book author, songwriter, and musical theater playwright. Her children's musical Recycle was just released by Guardian Angel Publishing.



Joni, How did you first get into writing musicals?

I grew up in a musical home. Between my parents, my three brothers and me there was always someone singing, whistling, playing the piano, strumming a guitar or squeezing an accordion. Even my bedtime routine as a young child was based around music. Instead of reading me a picture book, my father serenaded me with Irving Berlin songs and Broadway show tunes, only to be followed by a Broadway show album to help me go to sleep. It’s no wonder my brain to this day is constantly filled with music.

After graduating with a BA in Speech Communications from Ithaca College, I attended a variety of songwriting workshops in New York City. My love for songwriting and theater eventually came together when I enrolled in a musical theater workshop, and next thing you know, I was hooked!

Give us your "elevator pitch" for Recycle – The Musical

In this fun, educational musical about recycling, a “nutty professor” transports four modern day kids back to the 1950’s. Together they compare the lifestyles of today’s “disposable generation” to kids living in a time before plastic bags, aluminum cans and water bottles became a part of our every day life.



Before listening to your musical, I'd never thought about the amount of disposable products we use today as compared to the 1950's. What inspired your concept?

I’ve been writing children’s musicals for over thirteen years now. Several years ago, one of the elementary school teachers I worked with requested I write a musical about recycling for her classroom. I jumped at the opportunity to create a musical for kids involving a subject matter near and dear to my heart. The only catch was this teacher requested that we re-use the “50’s-style” costumes from a show I wrote for her that previous year. In the words of Professor Rosco, “What better way to help our future than by revisiting the past.” And so, Recycle – The Musical was born.

My favorite song from your musical is "Rock N Roll With Me." It has a real 50's vibe. What were your musical influences for writing it?

This song was written to introduce the time traveling kids to the 50’s kids while capturing the essence of the 50’s decade. The way I see it, you can’t have a “50’s musical” without a fun, hopping, 50’s dance number. My goal when creating “Rock ‘N Roll With Me” was to combine the high energy of  “Rock Around The Clock” with a song that had motions the kids could easily perform, like “The Locomotion," written by my favorite songwriter, Carole King. I loved watching the kids perform this production number—they were so into it!

How does marketing children’s musicals differ from marketing children’s books?

With children’s books, the world is our oyster for marketing our products—school visits, online promotions, book readings, etc., but for musicals I mostly target educators, summer camps and theater programs. My publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, also markets to home schoolers, religious schools and children oriented organizations.This particular musical, however, is different in that I can market it as a book as well as a musical due to its story and subject matter.

What can fans of your work look forward to seeing next?

I currently have three more works that will soon be released by Guardian Angel Publishing. 

First is A Rainbow of Friendship, which is a rhyming picture book about a girl who moves from the comforts of her “little red town” to Rainbow Row City. On her journey she discovers that friendship comes in many colors, shapes and sizes.

Next is I Have A Voice, a children’s picture book I co-wrote with Dr. Flora Zaken-Greenberg, a licensed PhD.  It is the story of a five-year-old girl who is afraid to speak and learns to overcome her problem with the help of a “Feelings doctor.”

And finally, another musical, RED, which I co-wrote with Jane Tesh.  In this musical Red Writing Hood, with the help of her magic pencil, changes fairytales and turns Fairy Tale Land upside down.

You can learn more about Joni Klein-Higger at her website joniworld.com, and copies of Recycle - The Musical can be purchased at Guardian Angel Publishing.


Friday, August 1, 2014

What Is A Text Set And How Can Having One Benefit An Author?

A text set is a collection of materials to supplement the study of a topic, a picture book, or a novel. A good overview can be found here.

Emily Roderique, M.Ed. English III Teacher, recently developed a text set to be used in conjunction with my book, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. A text set gives a book an advantage with educators because some of the prep work for using it has already been done.


My text set is divided into four categories: I. Tuberculosis, II. North Carolina Sanatoriums, III. Famous People Affected by TB, and IV. NC History, Culture, and Geography. Under each of these categories, Emily listed nonfiction books, websites, articles, documentaries, even blog interviews, and Pinterest boards. All of these resources supplement understanding the world in which my protagonist lived.

My favorite nonfiction book included in my text set is Jim Murphy's INVINCIBLE MICROBE.


And perhaps the most famous authors to die from tuberculosis are the Bronte sisters. Catherine Reef's wonderful biography is also included.




THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL'S text set is available for free download. Leave any questions you might have in the comments. Both Emily and I are available to answer them.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summertime's Calling Me!

My writing life has been derailed this week by a visit from the Crown Prince, aka my son, Alex.


Alex came home to get his wisdom teeth extracted, and I've been his chauffeur, nurse, cook, and maid. As you can see, I haven't been doing a stellar job on the maid part.

My blogging will be pretty spotty for the rest of July. I am planning to do some of this:


And this:



IT'S DIFFERENT NOW THAT SUMMERTIME'S CALLING ME!





Thursday, June 12, 2014

Orlando SCBWI Conference Review


The Orlando conference was held on Disney property at The Dolphin. I snapped the above picture just outside my bedroom window.

I took a Middle Grade Novel Workshop with author Deborah Wiles and Candlewick editor Carter Hasegawa. Deborah's presentation was about excavating your life for stories. She shared how her life has influenced her books. Deborah asked us lots of questions to start us mining our pasts for stories. For example:
  1. When you think of home: what does it smell like, sound like, taste like?
  2. When was your life derailed?
  3. What scares you?
  4. What breaks your heart?
  5. Who are your heroes?
Answering those questions often provides ideas to enrich your stories.

Carter told us that he's read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card about fifty times. So if you write that type of book, I'd say Carter would be a great editor to send it to.

Carter also led a discussion about writing diverse characters. The thing he said that made me think the most is, "What gives you the right to write the other?" We have to earn the right to write stories about people that aren't like us. That reminded me of my friend Nancy Bo Flood and her book Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo. Though Nancy isn't Navajo, (at least I don't think she's Navajo), she does live and work on a Navajo Indian Reservation. Her life experience has earned her the right to tell this story.



One last tip from the workshop is to check out Deborah's Pinterest boards. The way she collects historical images and videos would help any writer, but especially those of us who write historical fiction.

Rumor has it, we'll be back at The Dolphin in June of 2015. You can't beat the setting, or SCBWI Florida. You're invited...come on down!