Fall Book Fair 2017: Roping In Young Readers

Book Fair Fall 2017Yee Haw! It’s my favorite time of year again—BOOK FAIR! This year’s theme for the Fall Book Fair is the Wild West. So here we are trying to rope in young readers.

The kids love the Book Fair. Even the older kids who pretend they are too cool to care will sneak their peeks and then come back later to buy books. The little kids are the best, though. They stare in awe at the shelves of books that must seem as tall as skyscrapers to them. Some kids will run around like crazy, grabbing armfuls of books to put on their wish lists. Others reverently and silently move from shelf to shelf, gently taking down one book at a time to add to their lists.

We had a good selection this year, with a lot of diversity in the titles. Something for everyone, really, from fantasy to gemstones. I worked mainly with the younger kids, and there’s always one title that catches fire. This year’s hot title was Thelma the Unicorn.

Book Fair Fall 2017Book Fair Fall 2017





Our fantastic volunteers make this possible, and we had a large bunch of dedicated parents this year. We helped the younger kids write wish lists, and then when they came back a few days later with money, we helped them buy their books. The little kids don’t fully understand the value of a dollar, so trying to explain why you can’t buy a $10 book with a $1 bill even though they both start with the number 1 can be hard. But our volunteers are great and all the kids went home happy.

As I say every time I write about the Book Fair, the proceeds from this constitute ALL of the budget for buying books and supplies for the library. Our school pays nothing toward curating the collection. So having success at the Book Fair is vital to our school. This may be the case at your school, too, so please support your Book Fair even if you can only afford one book.

Book Fair Fall 2017Book Fair Fall 2017But the Book Fair is not all about us. Last year we collected donations for a school in Louisiana that had lost their library in the Mississippi River floods, and this year we are collecting for a school in Houston, Texas. We turn it into a competition, with each grade getting a jar to put their money in. Much to our surprise last year, the older grades got very competitive last year, with the 5th grade coming out on top. Their prize? Our Principal sat in a dunk tank at the local fair and let the kids dunk him. He was an awesome sport, since he was sick and it was a chilly day. This year, whichever class wins gets to duct tape the Vice Principal to a wall. I wonder if the now-sixth graders will cough up enough dough to win 2 years in a row?

This Fall Book Fair was a success on many levels, but mostly because we roped in some young readers. Seeing their eyes light up as they hug their books is the biggest triumph of all.

Book Fair Fall 2017



Trippin’: Where I’ll Be When

Summer seemed to last FOREVER this year, and now all of a sudden we are halfway through September and my life is frantically book-busy. My first event has snuck up on me!

This Saturday, September 16th (weather permitting), I will be at the New Providence Book Festival, from 9 AM to 3 PM. I will have a reading and Q&A at 10:30 AM.

Then I will have a whirlwind week helping out at the Book Fair at my daughter’s school, which isn’t at all related to my personal book business, but is still a book related event and a great deal of fun.

The next Saturday, September 23rd, will see me at Eastampton Day (unless the New Providence Festival gets rained out, then I’ll be at that rain date), from 12 to 4:30 PM.

I get a bit of a break until October, when I am booked into 2 events. The first is the Collingswood Book Festival on October 7th from 10 AM to 4 PM. Hopefully it will not rain this year, as I want to experience the festival in its full outdoor glory.

The second event is River Reads on October 15th from 10 AM to 4 PM. I was at the inaugural event last year, and it was a lot of fun! This year they have added a River Reads Workshop as well, so if you are a writer, check it out!

Another event for November is in the works, but nothing has been finalized yet.

So that’s my busy book schedule so far. All these events felt so far away, and now the first of them is right on my doorstep! I thought with my daughter back in school, things would get a little less crazy for me, but it seems things are simply going to be crazy in a different way.

Any of you going to be at cool events in the next few months?

When Surnames Die

Over this long weekend, I dove back into genealogy with a frenzy. I expanded my tree in several horizontal directions, I cleaned up some of my files (but many more to go!), and I sent emails to potential “cousins” to see if we could find our common ancestor. Much of my work this weekend has pushed the surnames Campbell and McFarlin, and has springboarded off of DNA results suggesting possible matches.

DNA can be amazing, when you figure out the connection. One of the reasons I have done the DNA is to try and connect with other family members who may have information on my “brick walls” where I am stuck. One of the DNA tests you can do (if you are male) is a Y-DNA test. This test looks at the Y chromosome, passed from father to son in a direct line, and therefore allows you to trace back your surname. While it is handy for confirming surnames, it is not always helpful if you don’t know what surname you are looking for (such as if you are an adoptee).

Obviously, to do this test, you have to be a male descendant of the surname in question. Which leaves me out, but I have done Y-DNA tests on Campbell, Gans, and Douglas surnames from relatives. If I wanted to trace any other family surnames, I would have to find living male descendants. This can prove problematic, as surnames died out more often than I would have thought. I have found this twice in my recent research, once in the McFarlin lineage, once in the Sutton lineage.

First, we have the McFarlins, who may not be totally gone, but are very rare if they still exist. Keep in mind that I am only speaking of my particular “line”—the McFarland Clan is still going strong. My McFarlins started with Edward and Jane. After Edward died in Ireland, ALL of the children and Jane came to America. I wanted to see if I could find a living McFarlin, so I traced down.

Edward of Ireland had 3 sons: Robert, Edward A., and John. A promising start. Robert had no children, Edward A. had 3 sons, and John had 2 sons. So now we’ve got 5 carriers of that Y. Edward A.’s 3 sons broke the chain—William had no children, Edward A. Jr. had 3 girls, and John H. had one daughter. So that leaves the elder John’s 2 boys to carry the torch: John Robert and Henry Francis. John Robert had no children. Henry Francis had 2 sons who are possibly still living, and at least 3 grandchildren of unknown gender. If there are any McFarlin males out there, they are a literal rare breed.

The Suttons are completely gone in my line. Once again, the entire family came over to America and from there lost the surname. James Sutton had 4 sons in Ireland, one dying as a child. The remaining 3—Nicholas, John, and Patrick—all came to America. Nicholas had 2 sons, but one died in infancy. John had no children, although he raised Nicholas’ children after Nicholas died. Patrick had 2 sons. So in that generation, we have 3 Y-carriers. Nicholas’ son Gilbert had no children. Of Patrick’s 2 sons, James had 1 girl, and Nicholas had no children. In my Sutton line, the name went extinct in my grandmother’s generation.

While this dying of surnames stinks for Y-DNA purposes, it got me thinking about how this could play out in fiction. There is some pathos in the idea of a character being the last of a name (not necessarily the last of a lineage, as the women’s lines may have continued). If this was the last of a royal name or a founding father lineage, it could be sad—the end of an era. Perhaps this character would fight to pass the name on. Or perhaps, in a twist, he wants the name to die with him, because of some curse or evil deed in the past. It’s an interesting concept to play with.

Do family names play a role in your story?

School Library Time! How books get from bought to shelved

My daughter starts school next week. I spent the day today in the school library, helping the librarian get everything ready.

Books towers swayed on the circulation desk. Books crammed onto carts. They lay in boxes, ready to be unpacked. And all around us a sea of books filled the shelves.

It was heaven.

For those who don’t know, stocking a library isn’t as easy as buying books and then sticking them on the shelf. Here are the steps that have to be taken:

  1. The librarian buys books, balancing the interests of the children and the needs of the teachers. Funds for these books come from various sources, but in our school the only funding for library books comes from our Book Fairs.
  1. Unpack all the books when they arrive.
  1. Enter each copy of each book into the system. This means also giving a unique barcode to each book, which is then written in the front of the book. It is often at this point where the librarian decides exactly where to shelve the book. This is not as much of an issue in an exclusively elementary or middle school, but in our K-8 school making sure material is placed in the proper area to avoid a too-young child from picking up a book they are not ready for is a vital part of the process.
  1. Print out both barcode labels and spine labels for each book.
  1. Put the labels on. Also, put our school name/address stamp in 3 places in the book, in case it gets lost.
  1. Cover them. Hard covers, dust jackets, and paperbacks each have a separate covering protocols.

Only when all those steps are completed, can put the book on the shelf.

I got about 20 books on the shelves today (considering my on-going war with contact paper covers, that’s pretty good). The librarian got some more. Many other books sit waiting only for the final step of covering. The librarian is planning a “covering party” after school starts to get us caught up.

I love working in the school library. It suits my skills and my interests,  and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing kids hugging their books, with glowing smiles on their faces.

I think I am more excited to go back to school than my daughter!

Goodbye to Sonja: A Cosmic Sendoff

Sometimes life doesn’t happen the way you expect.  A couple of weeks ago, my family went up to Long Island to visit family. On the way up, we had lunch with my aunt Sonja, spending several pleasant hours with her before heading farther out on the island.

We had several perfect days with my Aunt D on the island. She’ll be 89 this week, and has health issues, but she’s still a sharp, strong  lady in every way that counts. Naturally, though, we worry about how much longer she will be with us.

So when we got the call from New York the next week, we were shocked to hear that Sonja had passed away. We had known of several health concerns she’d had over the winter, as well as ongoing pain from knee and hip replacement surgery, but she had seemed okay when we saw her.

So this past Sunday and Monday, we gathered to say goodbye to my aunt Sonja. She loved car racing, traveling all over the circuit with my Uncle Edward and her daughter. My aunt was always fashionable and put-together, not a hair out of place. She filled her glass with Pinot Grigio and the room with her smile and laughter.  Her wanderlust was epic–she wanted to fly off to someplace new as soon as she came home.

But as far as she might roam, her heart was always with her family. When she lost her husband 30 years ago, she made it on her own. But lightning struck twice, and she found a second partner to adventure through life with, a man who stood steadfast to the end.

The treasure of Sonja’s heart was her daughter, who shared her mother’s roaming spirit. Although her own adventures kept her away often, she and Sonja remained close, and their love will never die.

Our unexpected goodbye to Sonja occurred on the date of the eclipse–a cosmic sendoff if ever there was one. As a cousin said, it seemed only fitting for a woman whose nickname was “Sunny”.

Godspeed, Sonja. We are so glad we got to see you one last time. We will miss you.

Charlottesville: Haunted by the Hate

I try not to get political online, but the events in Charlottesville are haunting me.

Honestly, racism should not be political. It’s not a political issue, but rather a moral one that goes to the very heart of what America stands for. Either all men are created equal, or they are not.

I cannot believe that in 2017, we are still fighting Nazis.

What haunts me about Charlottesville is not just the brazenness of the Nazis, but their age. These were not the literally “old” South hiding behind their hoods. These were young men in Polo shirts boldly showing their faces as they shouted for genocide.

There is strong implicit racial bias in pretty much everything in America. This is something that needs to change, but it is a different topic from this post. From this implicit bias, many people have ingrained prejudices, believing stereotypes and lies about others. For most of us, though, these prejudices don’t flare up into outright, genocidal hatred.

So what pushes these people over the edge? Where are they being taught this vile mindset? We blame certain mosques and religious leaders for radicalizing Muslim youth, but are there equivalents here in America? We already know the names of some of the white nationalist “imams” radicalizing our youth—David Duke, Richard Spencer. Who else is poisoning our American youth? Is it simply in the home, a proud “heritage” passed from father to son, or are they getting this dreck from a larger, more structured entity?

Perhaps the vast majority of these people have something in them that makes them feel deficient in some way–most of us do. Perhaps with these people, someone found them and twisted the knife in their wound, opening it wider, then told them their deficiency wasn’t their fault, that these OTHER people were at fault. And these wounded people were so desperate to believe that they weren’t deficient in the way they feared that they believed the rhetoric and instead became deficient on a whole other level.

Why do I feel certain that there was someone in their lives that taught them this vile ideology? Because it is absolutely clear that hate is LEARNED. My daughter has been in school for 5 years now, and I can tell you with certainty that these young kids DON’T CARE about skin color. It means nothing to them—they’re just friends.

Adults often claim to be “colorblind” when it comes to race. While this is not accurate—anyone raised in the USA has been acculturated to the racism here—what those adults mean is that they are aware of the implicit biases that pervade all of our thinking here and try not to let them influence their actions and judgments.

Young kids my daughter’s age truly are colorblind. Why? Because they haven’t learned that skin color is used as a criteria for judgment. They haven’t learned the prejudices, the stereotypes, and the lies. They judge each person as an individual, just take them as they come.

Hate is absolutely and unequivocally learned. So we need to find the education centers and shut them down. Equality and acceptance can be taught in its place. It is the easier mindset to teach, since it is the natural state of mind in early childhood.

The white supremacists marching in Charlottesville make me sick. The murder of Heather Heyer at the hands of Nazis on American soil brought me to tears. We Americans stand at a crossroads today. We need to decide who we are as a country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” ~ Declaration of Independence, 1776


The Nazis and KKK in Charlottesville and across the USA do not find these truths “self-evident”. If you do, then stand up, speak out, be counted—and teach equality in word and deed.

Hate has no place here.

Working Vacation

Writing for a living is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you can do it anywhere. At swim practice, sitting in a waiting room, in a traffic jam. You can relocate anywhere and still write. But writing is a curse because you can do it anywhere. Even on vacation.

So while I am up here on the Long Island Sound, my blogs are still due and my book revisions still call and what minimal marketing I can do awaits. Still, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place to write.





Like many writers, I rarely take a vacation from writing. My brain is always churning, the characters hovering at the edges of my mind. In truth, I often get MORE work done when I’m on vacation, because there are other people around to keep my daughter occupied. When it’s just us at home, she always wants my attention. But when she has grandparents, cousins, or Daddy, Mommy gets ignored. And that’s okay by me.

So I am soaking up the sun, sand, water, and serene scenery to recharge myself…even if it is a working vacation.






How about you? Do you ever have vacations where you put the writing completely aside?




Summer Brain

It’s that time of year again. The time when I start suffering from the dreaded summer brain. An unproductive, fuzzy, and often lazy mindset that afflicts me about this time every year.

The first few weeks of summer are not bad. My daughter attends a day camp that mirrors school hours, so our schedules don’t change much and we tick along as usual.

But at the end of July, day camp ends and summer sets in full throttle. Days where we don’t have much on the calendar. Days where we can actually sleep in. Nights where bedtime is rather loosely enforced.

That’s when summer brain sets in. Some days I don’t remember what day of the week it is. Many days devolve into spur of the moment plans. As a person who thrives on schedules and does not do spontaneity well, this can cause anxiety, which can further fog the brain and scatter my focus.

My writing definitely suffers during summer brain. When I do find time to work, I find it difficult to focus. Because I am constantly awaiting an interruption, I am often reluctant to begin working during the day at all and end up wasting chunks of time. If I flip-flop between writer hat and mommy hat too much, it can make my head spin and make me irritable.

So how do I cure summer brain? I don’t. Only time cures it. Eventually school resumes and a work schedule emerges and I am able to think clearly again. Until then, I just ride with it and do what I can and try not to beat myself up for not getting more done. My daughter won’t be little forever. So maybe missing a few work days to go swimming, or out for ice cream, or browsing through the library, or hanging out at the park isn’t really time “lost.”

It’s memories gained.

Raising the Dead: Giving an old manuscript new life

Every author who has written for any length of time has novels in the drawer that didn’t quite make the grade. They are “almost” there, but sometimes we can’t quite figure out what’s missing the mark. For the moment, they are dead novels.

The novel I am raising from the deadI have one such novel, The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas. It’s a YA contemporary fantasy that made the query rounds a few years ago. I had a few requests, but ultimately no one took it. The feedback I got pointed to a confusion on the reader’s part on the character’s goal, the driving force behind the action.

I didn’t know how to fix it, so I put it aside and moved on. Now, though, I am ready to raise it from the dead. I have learned a lot on the past few years, and have new ideas on what might help move the book from “almost” to “ready”.

One tool I am using with this review is Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Her book is meant to be used before you start writing, but can be used to revise. Her exercises focus on the “why” that drives all the character’s actions–and thus the plot. Since the feedback I got from the agents who looked at the manuscript was that they didn’t understand the main character’s driving motivation, Cron’s exercises seem tailor-made for bringing this to the front.

Hopefully my revamping under Cron’s guidance will move the manuscript from “almost” to “there”. I am having fun viewing this story through a different lens. Even at this early stage of revision, I see my protagonist more clearly, and I can hear her voice in my head more precisely than ever before.

Do you leave your dead manuscripts buried? If you do raise them from the dead, what methods do you use?





How Writing is Like Swimming

Swimming as analogy for writingMy daughter’s swim season is drawing to a close. After 3 months of breathing chlorine fumes and sweating through sunscreen, I can see many similarities between swimming and writing.

Technique & Form

Technique is important for swimming. The way your hands enter the water, the precision of your kicks, how you position your head, all combine to power you smoothly through the water.

Technique is equally important in writing. The choice of words, precision of punctuation, flow of elements such as dialogue and metaphor, all combine to bring your voice to life and give the readers a smooth experience.

Technique can also be called “form”. Writing has different forms as well, from poetry to novels. Writers need to master the structure and expectations of their form and genre.

Stamina & Muscle Memory

Incessant laps in the pools increase a swimmer’s stamina. Hours of repetitive practice ingrain the techniques in muscle memory, enabling swimmers to swim faster without having to concentrate so hard in their movements.

Writers who practice their craft also build up stamina, so they can plow through the tough times to get to the end of a novel. Careful study and repetitive practice of techniques store them in a writer’s subconscious so they come easily, allowing the writing process to flow faster and the writer to seamlessly weave the elements together.


Swimmers who don’t master breathing will run out of oxygen before the end of a race. Similarly, writers who don’t step away once in a while and recharge risk burning out on longer projects.

Like swimming, mastering writing takes hours of practice to build up those creative muscles, coaches to help you perfect technique, and a cheering section to get you through the hard times.

So pick up your pen, stroke out boldly, and don’t forget to breathe.


WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien