Sunday, July 29, 2012

People Who Have Helped Me

I was reading an article by Robin Roberts in Guideposts magazine called, "My Mom, My Inspiration." In the article, Robin talks about giving a commencement speech she thought had gone quite well. When her mom didn't offer compliments, Robin asked what was wrong. Here's what she said:

You forgot to mention all the people who have helped you. We never do it just on our own. There are all those people behind us, our teachers, coaches, pastors, mentors.

That gave me pause because so many people have helped me along my writing journey. So many people over so many years that it would be nearly impossible to name them all.

I learned how to write by taking correspondence courses through the Institute for Children's Literature. After graduating from ICL, I continued to make progress due to The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and to Highlights Foundation Workshops. I owe special thanks to former NJ Regional Advisor, Kathy Temean, to Florida Regional Advisor, Linda Bernfield, and to editor Carolyn Yoder.

Without a doubt, the person who has helped me the most is fellow author Cynthia Chapman Willis. When I first decided to try writing a novel, Cindy read the novel chapter-by-chapter and gently pointed out my beginner's mistakes.

When I finally had a first draft, teacher and mentor Joyce Sweeney helped me refine it.

Over the years, I've belonged to three critique groups. Each member of those groups strengthened my writing and provided needed encouragement. Jeannine Norris became more than a critique group leader...she turned into a dear friend.

Many authors further along in the process have shared their knowledge with me. Richard Peck critiqued the first chapter of my novel at an SCBWI conference. He then generously gave me his address and asked to read the completed manuscript. Though he didn't think it was quite ready for publication, he offered advice and encouragement. So I kept revising it. Augusta Scattergood, Barbara Krasner and Joyce Moyer Hostetter have all shared marketing tips with me.

If not for my husband's financial support, this journey would have been nearly impossible. And my son has shown patience and humor when I'm lost in a story.

After my agent resigned, her partner Deborah Warren stepped up to represent me.

But in the end, I owe the biggest debt of gratitude to Stephen Roxburgh. I still remember what he said to me. "This novel really is delicious and exactly the kind of thing I'm looking to publish." To which I now respond, Hallelujah!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is a haunting book about a little known piece of history, the attempted genocide of the peoples of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Under Stalin's rule of terror, these countries were wiped off the map, their male inhabitants thrown into prison, while the women and children were sent to Siberian work camps. That anyone survived such extreme conditions is nothing short of miraculous. 

Author, Ruta Sepetys is the child of a Lithuanian refugee. To recreate this story, she traveled to Lithuania, interviewed survivors, visited a Soviet prison, and spent time in one of the train cars used to transport prisoners. The authenticity of her research makes this novel an exceptional work of historical fiction.

The book begins, "They took me in my nightgown." Fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and younger brother, Jonas, are rounded up along with many of their neighbors and thrown into cattle cars. Thus begins their journey.

It's a journey of starvation, scurvy, dysentery, backbreaking work, and bitter cold. But it's also a journey of kindness, forgiveness, and first love. 

I can't do this story justice, but the author has recorded a book trailer that does. Listen to it here and I'll bet you'll be inspired to read this book.