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My Summer ‘To Read’ List

This year I was lucky enough to go to the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference and hear the fantastic Nancy Lohr speak about writing for children. One of the first things she asked the group was “who here has read a children’s book recently?” More than half of us raised our hands.

She was happy with our response, and told us that she’d spoken to a number of groups – writers’ groups – in which no one had read a children’s book in the past year, five years, ten years. How can you write in a genre you don’t read?

If you’re a children’s writer, you have to read children’s books. And there’s plenty of incredible ones out there to soak up. Here’s a list of a few that are on my list for the summer months.

Anne Ursu’s Cronus Chronicles  Breadcrumbs 

I adored “Breadcrumbs” and “The Real Boy,” for their wit, the dialogue that’s grounded in reality while playing in a fantasy world, and simple, beautiful characterizations.  I’ve been itching to read the Cronus series for a while.

 

Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff

Story of a ten-year-old boy with learning challenges who changes schools and becomes the target of a bully.

 

Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed, by Matthew David Brough

Full disclosure – I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Brough at Blue Ridge, and was intrigued by how he described the heroine of this series. Del Ryder sounds like a character I could cheer for.

 

For Animal Lovers, by Kim Cano

Three short stories about animals (including a special needs swordfish obsessed with aliens), with a portion of the proceeds going toward the ASPCA.

 

What’s on your list? Tell me in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

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For Fun

Saturday Morning

It’s as reliable as the rise and set of the sun.  Monday through Friday, getting our son out of bed for school is fraught with as much drama as an episode of “The Hills.”  I slog my way into his pre-dawn room, trip over an errant action figure or race car, kneel down by his bedside, and let my eyes adjust.

He’s beautiful when he sleeps,  I don’t mind saying, and when my eyes are sludge-free and I can stare at him at will, it’s not uncommon for me to swell up with tearful love for the kid.

Then I glance at the clock and there it is- the cold hard crack back to reality, and it’s time to yank the little cherub out of his rest and plunge him into the morning.

The drama usually begins like this:

Me:  Good morning sweet boy.  Time to wake up.  [*gentle smooch on cheek*]

K:  {thrashes from one side to the other, swinging an arm and smacking me in head/face/neck or upper torso} Mom.  NO.  I’m sleeping.

Me:  {rubbing the injured body part}  I know honey.  It’s time to wake up.  School day.{reaches over and turns on bedside lamp}

K:  {hoisting blankets over his head} Mom!  Stop it!  I’m SLEEPING.

I should point out that  this is where the direction of the dialogue goes one of two ways, one of them far more appealing to me than the other.  He either dives headfirst into frustration and angst and temporarily becomes a junior Rumplestiltskin, and I drag him step by step through breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, loading into the car, shuffling to class.  (hint – not my favorite)

Or, he shakes off the early daze and becomes my absolute favorite, Happy Morning Boy, and he wants to play ninja battle force or – my personal favorite – racing tag – all the way to school.  All this before 7 a.m., and usually all this before I’ve had a single sip of coffee.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  Five times.  Enter Friday night.  I say a fervent prayer, knowing that my dearest husband will very likely let me catch up on my zz’s in the morning and get up with K  whatever the crazy hour it is.  But I say my earnest prayer anyway, because I hold fast to a fantasy of a lazy Saturday morning, sunlight streaming in the windows, birds chirping, and a gradual easing into the day.  Sort of like a zero-entry swimming pool.  Dear, dear, gracious and kind Lord.  Please let our little angel sleep in tomorrow.  Let him rest.  He’s still growing.  I’m not asking for noon, just maybe 7:30.  Let me know.

It’s Saturday morning.  Or at least, I think it is.  It’s pitch black.   Could be Friday night.  A tiny hand clutches my shoulder in the dark, and I have to take a deep breath to keep from snarling.

K::  Mom?

Me:  (breathing in…) Yes dear?

K:  I had a bad dream.

Me: You did?

K:  (tearfully) Yeah.  Can I cuddle with you?

And there in the dark, with his warm little body molded to my side, I think about what kind of dream might have driven him here.  I wonder what monsters my mommy-arms keep at bay.

I  realize that someday in the not so distant future, I will have plenty of lazy Saturday mornings.  There will be far more time than I probably want to listen to chirpy birds.  I can comfort my boy now, but all too soon there will be tears shed that try as I might, I won’t be  able to dry.

So I cuddle him close, listen to the day begin, and just hold on.

For Writers

Branding

 

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Say the word “brand” and what image comes to mind? A particular fruit? A can of soda?

Companies invest major money in creating brands, and for good reason. They want to claim a portion of your mind and heart so you’ll feel good about spending your hard-earned money on them.

Does this mean, as a writer, that you have to take out a second mortgage to hire high-powered advertising agencies to create a brand for you?  Of course not. But you do need to spend a little time thinking about some things. Make no mistake: you are, with every decision you make and every action you take, crafting your own personal brand. Let’s make sure that it’s the one you want to build.

What is a brand, anyway?  A brand is:

  • a  promise
  • an emotional connection
  • actions that deliver upon both

You may be wondering  whether or not this is really important right now, especially if you  haven’t published that much or are pre-published. Branding is important for writers for the same reasons it’s important for businesses. Readers have plenty of options to choose from, and they are more likely to choose books by authors they’re either a) familiar with or b) recommended by their friends.  You have a better chance of being read if readers recognize your name. That’s where your branding efforts come in.

Good branding starts with understanding the business – in this case, you.  First you need to answer these questions:

  • What do you write?
  • For whom?
  • What value do you bring (what makes you special)?

Stuck?  Keep it simple. Let’s practice with R.L. Stine, creator of the Goosebumps series.

  • R.L. Stine writes scary stories
  • for kids
  •  that make kids laugh out loud.

Once you’ve got answers to those basics, you’ve got the basics of the brand promise.

Let’s tackle the emotional connection next. Using R.L. Stine as our example, think about what kind of connection you want to have with your reader. Whether you write scary stories for kids or bible studies for senior citizens, think about how you want to be perceived by your readership. Do you want them to count on you for a dose of silliness in a stressful world? Your adventurous spirit and imaginative tales? Maybe you want them to trust you for faithful testimony or insight?

Whatever your desired connection with your reader is, you need to bring that goal into focus and let it guide a) where you brand and b) how you brand.

We’ll cover those two topics next week.  Questions?  DM me or post in the comments, I’m  happy to answer!