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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book Reviews

I have the unique opportunity of being a writer and a book reviewer. Every month I write a column for FamiliesOnline.Com, and I also write book reviews for Jewish Book World. The experience of writing reviews has helped me in numerous ways. First, it keeps me an active reader. I'm reading books that I might not have sought out on my own, many of which I thoroughly enjoy. I have learned to read more carefully, to take note of beautifully crafted sentences and the significance of word choices. Most importantly, I have learned to focus on my emotional connection to a character. Sometimes I instantly bond to a character - the voice is so strong and the presence so real. Some characters slowly nurture a connection - pulling me in as the story progresses, so that by the end of the book I am longing for more. Being able to identify what makes a book "work" for me has helped me become a better writer, too. I learn from each book I review.

I also believe that being a writer makes me a better reviewer. I understand that every book, whether it is a picture book, chapter book, or novel, represents the lifeblood, the heart and soul of the author. I know what it takes to produce a publishable manuscript - and it is a long and arduous road. For this reason, I will never publish a negative review. I ascribe to the philosophy of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." If I write a bad review , it disrespects the work of the author, and could discourage a reader who might enjoy the book. Maybe I'm not following the proper "reviewer etiquette," but I just don't see the purpose of insulting someone's art, when I could be celebrating a book I want to share with readers. I know others may disagree - but that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it!

Happy Writing!

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Finding Inspiration in All Places

Yesterday I attended the California Reader's Luncheon. It was a lovely event bringing together librarians, educators, young students, authors, illustrators and book lovers. California Readers is an organization that supports school libraries through grants which provides selected schools with books and author visits. The generosity of spirit in the room was palpable. These are all people who understand the gift of reading, and aspire to place good books in the hands of children. The bonus was seeing the beautiful multi-media displays created by schools who won grants last year. What an incredible inspiration! As a writer, I was reminded of the significant role that books play in the lives of children - and the importance of school libraries and librarians and those who support them! Many thanks to the California Reader's for their contributions to our community.

On a completely different note, I arrived home after the luncheon to find my son and his "garage band" friends playing their loud music in my cluttered garage turned amateur music studio. My daughter, a book lover like me, was upstairs seeking respite from the noise, I mean music, after her "Hello Dolly" rehearsal at the high school. Of course there were dishes in the sink, empty pizza boxes, the dogs were jumping on me, and my husband bless him - was hanging out in the garage with the boys who were practicing for the Battle of the Bands this coming weekend. Part of me wanted to retreat back to my car - to the solitary confinement of my velour interior. But then I took a deep breath - between the dogs and the teenaged boys it didn't smell so great - and I realized that the greatest source of inspiration was all around me. I have a virtual stockpile of story ideas and cast of characters right in my own backyard! I've got four long-haired boys who love the Red Hot Chili Peppers and eat pizza like it's a magic elixir. I've got a sweet, sensitive teenaged girl who is a vegan, devours books, writes from her heart when no one is looking, and has a penchant for collecting coupons! I've got three dogs - all of whom are obedience school drop-outs. I haven't even mentioned teen angst or sibling dynamics! If I really need inspiration - I need to stay home!

Now that I think about it, I have no reason for writer's block. On the other hand - I could use a little peace and quiet!

Happy Writing to us all!

PS - I case they ever make it big - you heard it here first - my boys' band is called Hydro Hot and the Hybrid Buffalos - no, I am not kidding!

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Secret

Oprah is talking about it - so everyone is talking about it! It's THE SECRET - the newest motivational-spiritual program that is changing lives all over the place. Hey - I am all for anything that can improve your life, so I decided to check it out. Here's the gist - the secret is based on the Law of Attraction - the energy that you put out into the Universe responds with like energy. So, negative energy results in negative return, positive energy has a positive return. Of course, I was defying the whole principle because while watching the video, I was feeling guilty for not working on my manuscript. After watching the video, I thought, WOW there really is something to this. Only when we can truly appreciate the goodness in our own lives can we begin to reach our personal goals and ultimately reach out to others.

That got me wondering about my weakness - procrastination. My newly found positive outlook shifted my thoughts. If I can let go of my doubts and just WRITE the manuscript I am meant to write - maybe, just maybe, it will reach someone who needs to read it as much as I needed to write it. So with renewed gratitude - off I go to work!

It might be a SECRET - but pass it on!

Happy Writing!

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

What would you ask your favorite author?

With the popularity of school visits, web sites, e-mail, and blogs, authors are much more accessible to their readers than ever before. Bringing authors and readers together is a win-win situation. I love responding to questions from enthusiastic readers. Kids enjoy the opportunity to ask authors questions about the stories they love. Back in my day, I never considered the possibility of personal contact with one of my favorite authors. So - here are my questions to you all - I'd love to hear your responses. Please don't be shy!

1. If you are an author what is your favorite question from or for a reader?

2. If you could ask your favorite author from childhood a question, what would it be?

Happy Reading and Writing!

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Magic of School Libraries

Since the launch of Like a Maccabee, I have been blessed with invitations to do school visits. Whether I am doing a book talk, reader's theatre, or writing workshop, the experiences have been fabulous. School visits are no doubt the highlight of being an author. Like everything else, I have a theory about this - my own personal spin on the significance of events in my life!

First and foremost, it's about the kids. They are open, honest, and welcoming. They listen with respect and participate with enthusiasm. But there is more. I have discovered something wonderful - no, magical. Something I knew as a kid, but had long forgotten in the complicated process of becoming an adult. There is a place like no other - more opulent than Oz, more thrilling than a theme park - The SCHOOL LIBRARY! It is a warm and cozy place, run by an ever-twinkling fairy, more commonly known as a librarian. Everyone is welcome in the school library. It is a gentle and loving space, with worlds of wonder waiting on the shelves. Book-lined shelves envelope readers like a blanket. The feeling of choosing just the right book - like choosing an ice cream flavor - is pure bliss! From generation to generation, the magic of a library is everlasting.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Book Reviews from Families Online Magazine

In my day job, I am a freelance writer and a book reviewer. I have a monthly column in www.FamiliesOnlineMagazine.com, which is a terrific web site for parents and kids. From time to time, I will share portions of my column with my blogging friends. This month I wrote about books that will appeal to 'tween and teen boys. If you enjoy the reviews, check out the web site.

BOYS READ, TOO!
Some parents find it challenging find books for adolescent boys. Here are some book ideas that will keep your boys reading!

DEAR MR. HENSHAW by Beverly Cleary is written as a series of letters over several years, from young Leigh to Mr. Henshaw, his favorite author. The letters reveal Leigh's struggles and heartaches, from his stolen lunch to the pain of an absent father.

HOLES by Louis Sachar is a perfect blening of mystery, adventure, and fantasy. HOLES is an testiment to the strength of the human spirit. Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake detention center for boys when he is falsely accused of stealing. Being accepted by the other boys is tough going, but the greatest challenge is facing the evil warden.

THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton is a classic teen novel with lasting appeal. A member of the "greasers," Ponyboy experiences teenaged angst. The significance of the social struggles of teens, and society in general, is revealed when tragedy hits Ponyboy's group.

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry will thrill lovers of science fiction fans, but is compelling enough to engage fantasy skeptics. Jonas, a 12-year-old boy, lives in a "perfect" world, devoid of sickness, sadness, and other undesirable human emotion. Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memory, the truth is revealed and Jonas must face the limits of his life and the possibilities beyond his world.

Keep Reading!

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Secrets, Torment, and Abandoned Manuscripts

My writing friends and critique group members all know a secret about me. It's hidden in the back of my drawer and it haunts my dreams and torments my psyche. No, it is not a letter from the IRS or an arrest warrant. It's a manuscript. Not just any manuscript, but the manuscript that is the heart of my heart, the soul of my soul. The one that has been written and re-written a dozen times over the same number of years. Characters have been killed off before the ink is dry, and others have had name changes and personality transplants. The problem is, despite our rocky relationship, I love the story. I love the characters like they are my children.

This is the story that friends ask me about at conferences. "How's your historical fiction coming along ?" "Did you ever finish the one about the girl who sings in the Yiddish theater?" ARG! With the urging (OK gentle push!) of my critique mate Tina Nichols Coury, I officially announce that I am returning into the abyss of research and wiping the dust off the pages - if anybody is looking for me, I'll be in 1890's Russia looking for primary sources!

PS - There nothing like a research shot in the arm than a presentation by Carolyn Yoder (Caulkins Creek). She spoke at our last SCBWI Writer's Day and made me realize the importance of doing research right!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Jewish Literature for Children Conference

Yesterday I attended the Jewish Literature for Children Conference in Los Angeles. Many thanks to Linda Silverman and Suzi Dubin for this wonderful, star-studded event! It was a relatively small group, which fostered lots of interaction between and among writers, librarians, and book lovers! One of the benefits of this event is that librarians have the opportunity to share with writers what they would like to see on their library shelves. Writers and librarians are kindred spirits and it is great to have the opportunity to get together.

The opening panel included Sarah Littman (CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC), Dana Reinhardt (A BRIEF CHAPTER IN MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE), Simone Elkeles (HOW TO RUIN A SUMMER VACATION) and Debby Garfinkle (STORKY). The authors spoke with candor about their personal writing journeys. I attended a session on writing for teens. Debby Garfinkle spoke about writing humor, story arcs, and plotting. Dana Reinhardt spoke about using your writing to find answers to your own soul searching questions.

During lunch I sat among old friends and new, as well as (pinch me!) Sonia Levitin, Susan Goldman Rubin, and Debby Garfinkle. While talking with Debby Garfinkle, I mentioned that I belong to the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI. Of course she knows and adores our regional advisor, Alexis O'Neill. Next to Harry Potter, I believe that Alexis is the most famous person in the children's book world!

My magic moment was in the lunch line when Linda Silver, author of JEWISH CLASSICS FOR KIDS, approached me and said "I just reviewed LIKE A MACCABEE and I loved it!" I was so excited I could barely eat my tuna salad.

What a way to spend SuperBowl Sunday! I can't wait until next year!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Passion

The writer's path is not an easy one. The challenges are great, the rewards are more intrinsic than financial (don't start with Harry Potter - JK does not count), and the heartbreak almost a certainty. What keeps us all going? How do we fuel our writer selves? I always believed that having a community of other writers was the key. Other writers can provide the checks and balances we need to stay on track with our writing goals. But there is more. In order to live the life of a writer you need passion. Passion for the process - for dreaming up ideas, writing, rewriting, dealing with rejection, and rejoicing in acceptance. It doesn't mean we love every minute task, it means we feel an emotional connection with everything we do as writers.

Last night I went to a teen musical that my daughter and niece performed in. I watched this group of 25 kids put on a show that was just delightful. They were full of spirit and song and pure joy. Some of these kids hope to have careers in the performing arts, others were involved simply for the love of participating. At the end of the show, I was overcome by a familiar sense of wonder - the same feeling I experience when I have had a successful school visit or a meaningful critique session. It's all about the passion. Whether writing, performing, playing a musical instrument - passion is the lifeblood that supports the pursuit. Passion is the reason we do what we do.