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Taking Things for Granted

hamilton.jpegToday I read an article in Time about author Ron Chernow. The hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, was based on his book, Alexander Hamilton. I just put a copy of it on hold at my local library.

After I finish this 832-page book (no promises on when I’ll finish – I’m a middle grade author, remember, and I enjoy short books), I hope to read Chernow’s latest tome, Grant.  This 1,104-page book comes out today. Reading it, Chernow promises, “is going to affect how you respond to a lot of different contemporary issues” (Time, Vol. 190, No. 15, 2017, p. 50).

How can this prize-winning author make such a claim? Because he doesn’t see his job as political, but rather as one that offers facts on which people can build informed opinions. That seems to be a novel concept these days in a world of “fake news”, sound bytes and emotional rhetoric.

Grant imageSMl.jpg

“Politics boils down to the stories we tell ourselves,” Chernow says. “And unfortunately we tell ourselves different stories. Unless we know where we’ve been as a country, we don’t know where we are or where we are going” (Time, pg 51).

Do you know where you’re going? I hope to scrutinize my path a bit more carefully and to not take my current knowledge of history for granted.

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Reunion and Research Trip

CA Room MLK library SJI’m back in CA for a short trip to attend a reunion, and thought I’d do some more research for my next novel while here. Yesterday I spent several hours at San Jose CA’s MLK library in the California Room. I hunted down more information regarding one of the historical characters that will appear in my next novel about the gold rush – Jim Savage. He led the battalion that routed out the Yosemite Indians from Yosemite in 1851. The men in this battalion were the first whites to witness the majesty of what we now call Yosemite National Park.

Reed street namesMy young fictional character travels with Jim Savage on a wagon train West in 1846. On this wagon train he also meets 13-year-old Virginia Reed. She and her family broke off from Savage’s group, resulting in her party spending the severe winter in the Sierras. My fictional character later meets up with Virginia again in San Jose, CA. Stay tuned!

Pics of San Jose streets named after Reed family members. In 1849, Reed purchased a square mile of open acreage south and east of  San Jose’s market plaza. Margaret Keyes Reed was Virginia’s mother, wife of James Reed.

Margaret Keyes ReedReed_Margaret_St_pic

Reed street very sml

Reed_Keyes_St_SJ

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Value Lessons More than Successes

I recently heard a speaker say, “Value lessons more than successes.” The presenter also emphasized that there’s no failure, only feedback (Derek Doepker). I needed to hear that.

Over the past eighteen months I researched facts and then excitedly began to write my next novel, tentatively titled, All That Glitters. The project, about two orphans accompanying their guardian West on a wagon train just before the California gold rush, has morphed several times. Now, two-thirds of the way through, I recently paid a writing coach to provide feedback. The input I received made sense but implementing the critique will almost put me back to square one.

stomachpain4.jpegAs I allow the truth of the coach’s comments to sink in, the sickening pit in my stomach threatens to paralyze me. I had the same feeling when the middle school band I taught several years ago worked hard to get a Superior rating at a music festival. We performed well but only received a second place score. What more could we have done? I realized then to value lessons more than success.

Perspective – At first Band1.jpegI felt as though all the writing I’d done on All That Glitters was for nothing. Then I remembered that as a band teacher I always had students warm up on scales, arpeggios, rhythm exercises and chords to listen for intonation. I’d never have my students play those warm up drills for a concert, but they served as an important rehearsal technique that, in the end, helped to create a beautiful performance.

So with my writing. If I take my coach’s comments as feedback not failure, If I view my present word count as rehearsals and warm ups rather than a concert, then I’m that much closer to creating a well-tuned piece that will soon grace your shelf with a well-crafted, gripping story that you’ll find hard to put down!

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New Beginnings

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Here’s a pic of Grandpa enjoying his time with Noah after helping Noah’s dad (our son, Daniel) put his new swing set together. I thought moving to Texas was the next chapter in our lives. As it turns out, it’s more like a whole new book in our lives!

Saying goodbye to family and life-long California friends was more difficult than I thought it would be. So was moving all our belongings to a new State, buying a new home, and getting settled in a new community, time zone and weather environment. But as you can see from the look on Noah and Mark’s faces, starting a new “book” is worth all the effort. We love spending time with our grandson and having a chance to build into his life. We love being able to live only eight minutes from Daniel and Meredith to support them, and to also have them support us.

Come and visit any time! Besides having a pool for those hot Texas days (I hear there are a lot of them!), we have an extra guest bedroom and bathroom waiting just for you. Our new address is: 7337 Timberidge Drive, North Richland Hills, TX 76182. Our phones are the same. I’ll end with a few pics of our new home, and that cute little guy we can’t get enough of!

noah-with-his-toys

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Home of the Brave – An Immigrant Story

home-of-the-brave

“In Kek’s story, I hope readers will see the neighbor child with a strange accent, the new kid in class from some faraway land, the child in odd clothes who doesn’t belong. I hope they see themselves.” Katherine Applegate

These words, found on the inside flap of the Katherine Applegate’s first standalone novel, Home of the Brave, convey some of the emotion behind her powerfully written story. Although it took me about two chapters to fully engage with Home of the Brave, I later found that I couldn’t put it down. News images flashed across my mind as Kek’s story unfolded, causing me to engage on an emotional level when faraway scenes of immigrants fleeing their homes flashed across my digital screens. syrian-kurds.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x719.jpg

Before reading Home of the Brave, I knew Applegate as the author of Animorphs – the only series my younger son ever wanted to own. That was back in 1996. Here’s what one review says about this relatively more recent (2008, reprinted 2014) release. “The evocative spareness of the verse narrative will appeal to poetry lovers as well as reluctant readers and ESL students.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. If I were still in the classroom, I’d definitely read this book with my students. Kek’s story not only provides students with empathetic, sometimes humorous glimpses into an immigrant’s life. It also touches on the basic human need we all have to feel like we belong – to find a place we can truly call home, making it a perfect middle grade book.

I also found Home of the Brave a great study in honing my writing craft. Our MG Lunchbreak group has looked at novels through the lens of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and I found Home of the Brave’s pacing in stride with Snyder’s beat sheet. For example, the “B Story” occurs after breaking into act two when Hannah asks Kek, “How about your mom?”

I’ll wait here for her.
Waiting is hard too, Hannah says,
and I can see that she also knows sad places.

Then there’s Snyder’s Midpoint when, as Snyder says, “the main character either gets everything they think they want (great) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (awful).” Applegate does both at the midpoint when she brilliantly locks hope and despair together in a deathhold embrace through the plot, the environment, and her metaphoric prose. It occurs when spring comes, Kek has a pet cow, and Kek and Ganwar have jobs on the farm.

Something strange is happening to the world.
I hear birdsong now, where only silence filled the air before.
Tiny green hints dot the trees and bushes.
The snow is getting smaller and grayer,
like an old person whose time is past.

I highly recommend this book to writers wishing to improve their craft, teachers desiring to promote empathy and cultural understanding, parents wishing to broaden their children’s worldview and to my most favorite people of all, middle grade students!

View Katherine’s video about Home of the Brave.
Listen to her audio about how she came to write it and her reading of chapter one.

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Turkey’s Border Crisis

This week I’ve continued work on the third book of the Ancient Elements series, The Phoenician Coin, as the main character, Sam, nears his goal of finding his Uncle Zim in Tyre. Sam’s father, Dagon, also takes further steps toward his goal of seeking revenge on Sam and Sam’s uncle (Dagon’s brother) for the misfortunes Dagon believes they have caused him. As I completed a chapter that saw Dagon and his Babylonian caravan travel west and then south from the area now known as northern Syria, drawing closer to his destination of Tyre, I included the caravan’s course on this map, as seen below.

Dagon'sRoute

Then, just this morning, I saw the geographic area I’m writing about come to life as I viewed the news. Today’s news took me to a picture from two weeks ago that shows a man carrying a girl as Syrians fled the war in their town of Tal Abyad in northern Syria and tried to pass through a broken down border fence to enter Turkish territory illegally. This occurred near Akcakale’s border crossing (Akcakale forms a divided city with Syria’s Tal Abyad) on June 14 (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images). If you look at the modern-day map of this area and compare it with Dagon’s caravan route, you can see that the towns of Tel Aybad and Akcakale are just north of Dagon’s route.

Map_of_Akcakale_and_Tell_Abyad

Here’s an image of Syrians from Tal (Tel) Abyad trying to cross over into Turkey two weeks ago

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This morning, I viewed a VOA news clip showing that, as of June 25, these refugees began to return to Tal Abyad, since coalition bombings and fighting from the Kurds and Syrian rebel forces helped to oust ISIS from Tal Abyad. (The pic from the video is not a hot link. Here is the video link: http://www.voanews.com/media/video/syrian-refugees-return-to-tal-abyad/2837176.html).

Syrians returnI miss teaching social studies to middle school students, especially when current events relate to areas covered in the curriculum. Students study ancient civilizations, including this area of Ancient Mesopotamia, during 6th grade social studies. Since I’m not in the classroom anymore unless I get to do an author visit, I relish the opportunity to write books for this age group, such the Ancient Elements series.

If you haven’t read book one of the Ancient Elements series, The Bronze Dagger, we’re having a drawing of three free books July 25 for those who enter below. If you’ve read it, send the link and encourage a friend to enter. Book two, The Alabaster Jar, is now in the design stage as the publisher works on the cover. Hopefully The Alabaster Jar will be out by the end of July. Book three, The Phoenician Coin, should wrap up its writing stage by mid-July, then move on to the editing stage, with a possible publication date by the end of the year. Sign up below to enter the free drawing, and encourage friends to do the same!

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Free Books for School Libraries

books in library

A friend recently emailed me with this picture taken in her school’s library to show that Rising Hope and The Bronze Dagger were available for their students to check out. I decided to offer a book of one or both titles to the first eight schools that  request them for their school libraries. Just send in a request to sign up for my newsletter and I will contact you to obtain the necessary information.

Sign Up Now

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Bringing the Past to Life – Attack on the Ancient City of Palmyra

Friday, 5/15/15

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning when I read this news post, I felt like someone punched me in the stomach:

Islamic State fighters on Thursday reached the outskirts of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural heritage sites in the Middle East.

“If I.S. enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, told Agence France-Presse. “If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe.”

Palmyra lies at the crossroads of several ancient empires, and is packed with the ruins of 1st and 2nd century temples…”

Six months ago, the name Palmyra meant nothing to me, but, since December, I’ve so entrenched myself in researching this area that my visceral reaction took my breath away.

The final book in my Ancient Elements middle grade historical fiction series (The Silver Coin) follows the main character’s adventures from Egypt (the setting for book two, The Alabaster Jar, coming this fall), to Tyre in Phoenicia as he searches for his uncle. In book three, Sam, now fifteen, sails from Egypt to Crete with his friend Keret where they must escape the clutches of King Minos. Sam and Keret then sail to the island of Cyprus and finally on to Tyre. Meanwhile, Sam’s father, Dagon, recently released from a Babylonian jail, joins a caravan traveling to Tyre in hopes of finding his brother, Zim, and his son, Sam. Unknown to Sam, Sam and his uncle hold the keys to a treasure box that promises to make Dagon an extremely rich man.

That’s where the city of Palmyra comes in. In researching the route I wanted Dagon’s caravan to take, I considered having them travel through the ancient city of Palmyra. I learned that some caravans in 1780 BC took this faster, shorter desert route through Palmyra as they travelled from Babylon to Tyre, but others chose the easier trek that followed the Euphrates River north from Babylonia through the kingdoms of Mari and Yamhad, and then west to the Mediterranean Sea and south to Phoenicia. I opted against the desert trek through Palmyra, but not until I had researched this ancient crossroads from the east to the west. Here’s a map I created of Dagon’s route. Notice Palmyra located in the kingdom of Qatna, an oasis in the desert crossroads between Babylonia and the Phoenician coast.

Dagon'sRoute2

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows the sanctury of Baal in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning as I read the article on modern-day Palmyra, I studied the article’s photo of the ancient temple of Baal for several minutes. Having existed for over 3,000 years, historical gems like this may soon be destroyed. Dagon saw these sites as he traveled. The juxtaposition of this current image with what I’ve seen in my mind’s eye while writing The Silver Coin gave me pause. No, it gave me more than pause. That punch in the stomach evidenced the ache I felt for the people who live there now, anger over those who wreak such destruction, and a sense of loss for future generations that may never see these sites in their lifetime. It also pushed me to finish the last few chapters of The Silver Coin so students can read about these places in historical fiction before we humans obliterate such archaeological jewels from the face of the earth.

shot of destruction

 Go to http://www.dw.de/nimruds-cultural-heritage-destroyed/av-18300712 to see the above video showing ISIS members destroying artifacts in Iraq.

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He Brought the Past to Life for Me

RH_coverMy writing tag is “Bringing the Past to Life”. That’s my passion, and I do it through historical fiction. Last week, however, I got a call from Julian Kulski, a man now well into his eighties, who was a Boy Scout in Warsaw, Poland during WWII and helped fight against the German occupiers of Warsaw at the age of twelve.

Dr. Kulski generously agreed to read my book’s manuscript and comment on it before publication. He was a great help. The book came out last month, so I sent him a copy, and, kind man that he is, called last week to thank me for the book and encourage me in writing the next two books in the planned trilogy. I was so thrilled. Dr. Kulski definitely brought the past to life for me through reaching out and making a personal contact. I want to remember that as a writer. As much as I love historical fiction, personal contacts also play a huge part in bringing the past to life!

You can see a trailer for the book at youtu.be/_AwZhJ9pGBY.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 6.26.20 PMkulski

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Dreams Are Like Hard Boiled Eggs

unpeeling eggI had the privilege of speaking to students, parents and teachers at Holy Spirit School in San Jose, CA last week for their annual Author’s Night. I talked about having dreams, and how they can be like a hard boiled egg. They are hard to crack, messy to unpeel, but worth the effort. I shared how it’s always been my dream to be a writer, how it can be a difficult profession, messy, but worth the effort. Brian3_15HS

It was fun to meet Brian, one of the students, who heard about The Bronze Dagger from a friend who had come to one of my book signings earlier this year. He told me he loved it and can’t wait until the next one is out.  I told him The Alabaster Jar should be out around July of this year, and that he can read the first chapter of it on my webpage. I relished the excitement I saw in his face. This is why I write!

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That Ranch Life

A Donkumentary of City-Turned-Country Livin'

Blissful Scribbles

Musings through the journey of writing my first novel

ACFW - DFW CHAPTER a.k.a. DFW Ready Writers

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Bay Area Writing Group

Northern California Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

Letters to Noah

Spoken words are fleeting, but written words last beyond a lifetime.

Sontag Writing Dreams

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

marsha ottum owen

I make Children's Books

Under His Wings

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Cathleen Armstrong

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant

That Ranch Life

A Donkumentary of City-Turned-Country Livin'

Blissful Scribbles

Musings through the journey of writing my first novel

ACFW - DFW CHAPTER a.k.a. DFW Ready Writers

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Bay Area Writing Group

Northern California Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

Letters to Noah

Spoken words are fleeting, but written words last beyond a lifetime.

Sontag Writing Dreams

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

marsha ottum owen

I make Children's Books

Under His Wings

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Cathleen Armstrong

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant