It's time! I've had all of these covers ready for a while now, but I've been waiting to share them with you. As you see, I've got a lot going on this summer. Two new books and two audiobooks are all coming out one right after the other.
And to think, I auditioned to be in a musical this summer. So glad that didn't work out. Sometimes my desire to sing makes me abandon my common sense. I mean, I can always sing in the car or the shower, right? Do people really have to hear me?
I'm a teacher, but I work at the kind of school that doesn't shut down for summer break. So, I've taken this coming week off to get all of my plans for these releases in order. I hope you will join me in reading or listening to these books, leaving reviews, and encouraging your friends to read them too.
BTW, I'm on the lookout for early readers who are willing to leave a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads the day the books are released. If you'd like to be one of those people, shoot me an email and let me know which book you're interested in reading. I'll put you on my list and let you know when the ARCs are ready.
I'll start off with the biggest project first! If you're a fan of the movie Stand By Me (based on Stephen King's short story "The Body") or you're looking for a good campfire read this summer, you'll enjoy my YA novel Lost on the Water, A Ghost Story. It's scheduled to release on July 17th!
This story is about a girl from California who has to spend a couple weeks with her grandma near a lake in rural Tennessee. She sneaks out to try to join an 'all boys' campout on an island in the middle of the lake (where legend says a ghost shows up every summer) and soon gets horribly lost.
You'll enjoy this adventurous and sometimes spooky tale. Learn more and read an excerpt.
Lost on the Water is published by Fire and Ice Young Adult Books (an imprint of Melange Books). They also published my Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy and Passing Notes. The cover design was by Caroline Andrus. My last blog post features an interview with her about her work at F&I and as an author.
In keeping with my revision theme of this blog, I'll share with you that this book has been through so many rewrites since its original draft in November, 2009 that the only thing that has never changed in the story is that there is a grandma, a lake, and a rowboat. Ha ha! I hope you like the way it finally turned out. I've worked very hard on it, and I think it's a lot of fun.
It's been a fairy tale year for me. Well, in real life not so much. But in my imagination, yes.
In January I published The Royal Deal, which was the first book of my series of original fairy tales called Chasing the Romantics. In April, I had another fairy tale "The Hallway of Three Doors" published in the Fellowship of Fantasy anthology Mythical Doorways. And now, finally, I plan to release my second fairy tale novelette The Tomato Quest this summer. (I'm aiming for late June).
I've had to put it on the back burner a few times to work on other projects, and the revision from its original short story version was a little more extensive than I had planned.
I think the end result is worth it.
This story is about Dash and Lillian who are forbidden to marry because he is the son of a gardener and not of the noble class. Dash is given a ridiculous and impossible challenge by Lillian's father, and even though he can't possibly succeed, he is going to try. Lillian plays her part by striving to stall her engagement to someone else in order to give Dash time. There is some adventure, romance, and a fair bit of magic in this sweet story. I hope you'll enjoy it. Learn more about my fairy tales here.
Getting a book published is a feeling unlike any other. Holding a finished print copy in your hands for the first time is a joy that never fades. I have to admit, I have now found an experience with publishing that has brought me a new thrill - hearing my book read to me by a talented voice-over narrator. Wow. Getting audiobooks produced is so much fun!
This summer I'm releasing audiobooks of two of my novels.
*5/29/18 update - this audiobook is now live at Audible.com
The first is my award-winning middle grade novel No One Needed to Know about autism acceptance and school bullying. The narrator/producer is Allie James. The recording is complete and approved. It should be releasing within the next week or so. This book is targeted toward 8-13 year old readers. You can learn more about No One Needed to Know here.
The other audiobook I'm having recorded this year is Cry of the Sea, the first book of the Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy. The book is being narrated/produced by Courtney Parker. I've heard the first chapter so far, and it's terrific. The audiobook is scheduled to be released in August, so we have a bit of a wait still. Courtney is a popular voice over artist, so I had to wait my turn to have access to her talent. If you're interested in learning more about this novel and the Juniper Sawfeather series, visit this page.
So, that's what's going on with me this summer. I'd love to know what you think of these cover designs and if they get you excited about reading (or listening) to these books. Leave a comment below.
Please take a minute to sign up for my newsletter or follow me on facebook or twitter to stay up to date as the books get released and find out what other projects I'm working on. If you do, and you leave a message that you read my summer cover reveal post, I'll send you a free ebook copy of Passing Notes.
Welcome to day 3 of the Peace YA/NA Blog Tour! Today I'll be sharing an interview with author Caroline Andrus and a review of her young adult contemporary novella Peace in Flames.
I've known Caroline for about five years now. She is the head of acquisitions at Fire and Ice Young Adult Books (imprint of Melange Books) and does the majority of the cover art for their titles. She has personally selected all of the books and stories I've published through them and done all of the cover art for my books.
I knew that her dream was to have her own work published eventually, and she has been working hard to write her own material. We both had stories published in the Satin Romance anthology Second Chance for Love, and hers was one of my favorite stories in the collection. So, it wasn't a big surprise to find that I enjoyed her new novella Peace in Flames. I'm looking forward to reading her other book Summer of Peace as well.
I'll start with the interview, so you can all get to know her a bit better. Stick with this blog post, though, because I do have a review below, links to get your copy of the book, AND there's a rafflecopter with prizes!!!
D. G.: How did you get involved with the Peace novella series?
Caroline: In fall of 2016, author S.H. Pratt came to myself and two other writers via Facebook group chat with an idea for a multi-author novella series. She had written a contemporary romance novella set in a fictional town in Montana called Peace. She asked if we would be interested in being a part of this project. I've never done anything quite like this before. I'd never even written anything as long as a novella worth publishing. I thought this could be a really great challenge for me. So, I signed on.
D. G.: Did they give you parameters for your story? Character names? A bible of the other stories? I saw on the website there is a map of the town.
Caroline: Most of the guidelines were voted upon by the members who initially agreed to participate in the series. There were a few that S. H. Pratt set in stone from the beginning, such as no scene breaks, no F-bombs, and no graphic intimate scenes. (Behind closed doors was totally okay, just nothing "on camera".) And, of course, every novella title had to have the word Peace in it.
Each participating author created their characters and listed them in a group file on Google Drive. If one author wanted to use a character that another author created, they just had to talk to the original author to make sure they were portraying the character correctly. As each story was written, more locations were added to the town map. I personally created Generic Eric's Sandwich Shoppe and Soda Fountain as well as The Craft Corner. Eric's plays a big part in Peace in Flames and both locations show up numerous times in my follow up story, Summer of Peace.
D. G.: Are there characters in your novella that overlap in the other books?
Caroline: Some stories have more character overlap than others. In Summer of Peace there's a cameo by Jim Harwood, who is the star of Love in Peace by Krysi Foster. Dray Parker appears in both of my stories as well as numerous others, he's a sheriff's deputy created by S. H. Pratt. I also name drop Kadaisha in both my stories. She's the celebrity pop star alter-ego of Lynn Dyer who stars in Peace and Harmony by Lisa Ann. I honestly don't know if my main characters appear in any of the other stories! (I haven't had a chance to read them all yet!) I know the waitress at Eric's, Tammy, makes an appearance in at least one other novella in the series.
D. G. : Peace in Flames can be read as a stand-alone. The website suggests reading the books in order of publication. Does that make a difference? Are there things I would know more about if I read the whole series?
Caroline: The books truly do stand on their own. We suggest reading them in order simply because there may be minor spoilers to the previous books. The only spoilers in mine are events from Peace in Flames are alluded to in Summer of Peace, but nothing is spelled out. We all really tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum.
The benefit of reading the whole series would really be to have a clearer view of this little Montana town.
D. G. : You have second Peace book releasing. Tell me about that. Will we see these characters again? I really love Liam.
Caroline: Yes! Summer of Peace is my follow up to Peace in Flames. Flames takes place during Valerie's senior year and focuses on her and Liam. Fast forward about eight months and it's the summer after graduation. Summer of Peace is Valerie's best friend JoJo's story. JoJo is featured in Flames, but in Summer she gets to shine. While Valerie is preparing to leave for college at the end of summer and spending most of her free time with Liam, JoJo isn't quite sure what she's doing with her life. Add in the return of Valerie's older brother, and the one guy JoJo has been in love with since boys stopped having cooties, and things get interesting. Summer is a much more straightforward romance. I've labeled it New Adult, but honestly, it's right on that edge where it could be YA or it could be NA. It is clean, though, so upper YA readers could totally read it.
D. G.: In your author note at the end, you wrote that you didn’t intend to write about sexual harassment. At what point did you decide to take the dark turn with Chris’s character. That scene is terrifying, by the way.
Caroline: I wish I had the answer to that. Chris is definitely a dark character, he has a lot of issues going on. I think he has a narcissistic personality and no moral compass. He's a big bully and nobody saw him taking things as far as he did. I think as I started to write the events, I just thought, here's this guy who is used to getting everything he wants. Throw some alcohol in him and how far would he really take things?
Is it wrong that I'm glad the scene is terrifying? It was very emotional to write. I second guessed everything, but if other readers feel the same, I think I've done it justice.
D. G.: Nope, not wrong to feel that way at all. The theme of my blog is revision, so share a little about your revision process for this book? Were there any scenes you had to rewrite? Is there an editor for the series? Do you use beta readers?
Caroline: This particular book didn't have a whole lot of rewrites. I actually started writing this one, got stuck, then wrote an entire 20k draft of Summer, hated that draft and scrapped the entire thing, then went back to what I had started for Flames and just wrote. The only thing I remember going back in the end and adding were a few details that I'd left out that really needed to be there for the whole arson-angle.
Each author was responsible for their own editor for their book. My editor is always Nancy Schumacher from Melange Books. Before the book even gets to her it goes through beta readers and multiple reads on my own. For Peace in Flames I think I had five readers. I received some really good insight from those beta reads. I specifically put a call out for a sensitivity reader who had been sexually assaulted herself. I didn't feel comfortable putting a book of this nature out without hearing that opinion first. She was extremely helpful. One of my readers also gave me a list of "watch words" - words that are weak and can easily be changed to make my writing stronger. Wow, that list has made a world of a difference in all of my writing since Peace in Flames!
D. G.: Nancy Schumacher is the best! She just finished proofreading my newest book. You are a book cover artist. Did you do your own book cover? Do you do book covers for others in the series. (I did notice that your chapter headings use the same font as the covers of my Juniper Sawfeather novels).
Caroline: I did design both my covers for the Peace Series. I also designed the cover for Peace of Work by Rachel Walter, and Peace and Harmony by Lisa Ann. (Rachel and I worked together to create a great cover, Lisa told me exactly what she wanted and I did it.)
We were given specifications for our covers so that text-wise they were all uniform.
I actually didn't even have the Peace font (which is called Digory Doodles) until I got involved with this series, and it looked so good when I tried it on the Juniper Sawfeather novels I couldn't not use it for those!
D. G.: You are the head of acquisitions at Fire and Ice YA Books, head cover designer for Melange Books and its imprints, you hold two jobs, and you have a family. How do you make time to write? What do you have to sacrifice?
Caroline: I write very, very, very slowly. Most of Peace in Flames and the first draft of Summer of Peace (which, as I mentioned above, was scrapped entirely!) was written last summer during my kids swim lessons. I had about half an hour while kid #2 was in her lesson, then I had about another 45 minutes during kid #1's lesson. At that time, I would sit with my little Bluetooth keyboard in the stands overlooking the pool and write using Dropbox on my Kindle. I've since moved to writing on my iPhone using Google Docs. Sometimes I use my Bluetooth keyboard, sometimes I just type on the screen. Whichever is most convenient. I also make use of downtime at work when there's absolutely nothing else to do (or when I've been working my butt off and have earned a break!) If I’m waiting for an appointment (doctor, dentist, orthodontist, etc.) I'll pull up Google Docs and write on my phone. When I'm caught up or, dare I say ahead with my work for Melange, I'll "slack" a little and spend some time working on my own books. I'm trying to train myself to not feel guilty for working on my own projects. Fortunately for me, I'm not the kind of person who enjoys going out and doing things. My idea of a good time is a night home writing or reading. (Or binging Netfilx while doing work for Melange!)
D. G.: That's funny. I wrote the first draft of my YA novella Passing Notes during my daughter's swimming lessons. Many people ask me why I choose to publish with a small press instead of self-publishing. I often tell them it is because of my relationship with you and Nancy and the other Melange authors. There is definitely a feel of ‘family’ to this group. Why do you think authors should choose small indie presses as opposed to self-publishing? What do you see as the benefits.
Caroline: That's a great question! When you self-publish you are responsible for everything! You need to find a quality editor and pay them, you need to hire a cover artist and pay them, you need to do absolutely everything yourself. You're footing the bill outright and there's always a chance you'll never recoup that investment. When you work with a publisher, whether small-press like Melange or traditional, you're covered. They're going to take care of the cover art and editing. All you need to worry about is marketing. (HA! As if that's not enough work, am I right?!)
Some people have the funds available to hire everyone needed to publish a book. Others don't, and it's beneficial for them to give up a percentage of their book sales royalties. I don't think one way of publishing is right for everyone. Every author is different and has different needs.
I do think that working with a publisher does give you that awesome relationship with other people in the business, not only with the publisher but also with your fellow authors. You can definitely get that self-publishing, but you have to find them, they're not just thrown at you like with your publisher. (Melange has a great private Facebook group for both the staff and our authors where we invite all of our authors to ask questions and advice. I'm not sure if other publishing houses have this, but I personally love it!)
D. G.: As head of acquisitions for Fire and Ice YA Books, what’s on your MSWL right now? Do you have any advice for submitting authors?
Caroline: Omigosh! I'm so in love with YA contemporary romance right now, I can't get enough! It seems like we mostly get submissions for fantasy and paranormal, which is great and there's definitely a place for them, but I'd love to see something different. I'd also really love to see some more New Adult submissions.
If I had to make a wishlist, contemporary romance both YA and NA is at the top of the list. I'd also love to see more fairy tale re-imaginings and superheroes. My advice for submitting authors, no matter where you are submitting, is to make sure you're following the submissions guidelines for that particular house. If they want the first 3 chapters in an attachment (as we do), do not copy and paste it into the body of the email. There is nothing more annoying than trying to read in email. I send all of the submissions to my Kindle and read there. BUT, before you even GET to the point of submitting your manuscript, edit and revise. Then edit and revise again. Run it through spelling/grammar check. This is your first impression, don't be sloppy. Take pride in your work and show you're serious.
D. G.: Well, I've been working on a YA contemporary romance, so it sounds like I better get it finished. I also need to start reading Summer of Peace, because it sounds yummy!
Obsession and jealousy can be dangerous.
The Peace High School date auction is supposed to be fun, but Valerie Todd is dreading it. She knows who will win her date—Chris Burkeholder, the boy who’s been obsessed with her for years.
New in Peace, Liam Sloan doesn’t know that Chris is used to getting his way. When Liam outbids Chris for Valerie’s date in the auction, life gets more dangerous for the new couple.
Will Valerie and Liam survive Chris’ anger and jealousy?
My review of Peace in Flames
This is a short book packed with action. Caroline Andrus has written a novella that keeps you turning the pages to see what happens next. It starts out as a simple teen romance - new hot boy moves to a small town, and he's a bit mysterious. The local rich kid/stud has made his claim on Valerie, but she doesn't want him. Oh, but the book turns dangerous after this point, and the plot keeps you on the edge of your seat right to the end. I will admit, I got angry with Valerie for not coming forward about what happens to her. It's important to the plot, but in this time of "me too", I wanted her to nail the guy right away. I think this book is a great choice for people who have read Speak or Faking Normal and are looking for something else with a similar themes about teen sexual harassment. This novella is one of a series about the town of Peace, all written by different authors. I'm interested in learning more about this series as a whole and Caroline's follow-up novella Summer of Peace. I think the concept is fascinating. I recommend this book for readers 13 and older.
About The Author
Caroline Andrus was born and raised in the St. Paul suburbs where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and Henry McCoy—a wild cougar trapped in the body of a house cat.
She divides her time between writing, Facebook, designing, and managing her household. Since 2011 she has been second in command for indie press Melange Books. She is head of acquisitions for their YA imprint, Fire & Ice Young Adult books, as well as web designer, formatter, and head of their cover art department. In her minimal spare time she enjoys reading, rocking out to the radio, and binging TV shows on Netflix.
She is passionate about both reading and writing teen fiction, and is pretty sure she will forever be eighteen at heart.
You can find her online at:
Newsletter sign up: http://eepurl.com/c8q8OP
So, if you're not rushing off to grab a copy of one of her new books (as you should be) or prepping your YA or NA novel for submission to Fire and Ice YA Books, please take a moment to leave a comment below. You're also always welcome to browse through previous posts, sign up for my newsletter, or visit the other pages of my website. Thanks for visiting!
Author Laurel Wanrow and I met through an online group for novelists of young adult books a few weeks ago. She announced the publication of her newest novel, Witch of the Meadows, and that it had an environmental theme. We discussed that we both had eco-fiction/contemporary fantasy novels and decided it would be fun to do a blog swap for Earth Day 2018. I interviewed her for this blog, and she is interviewing me about The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy for hers. Here's a blurb for Laurel's novel:
For months, seventeen-year-old Fern has been sneaking out on her mother—really sneaking out—through a magical portal to an island halfway around the world. There, the grandmother Fern never knew existed needs her help rejuvenating their ancestral land. She has always been good at growing things, but that’s not magic. And magic is what the island needs.
With its energy running out, the land is breaking apart, and the caretakers demand a real witch to take over the Meadows, not a teenager with a green thumb. Elbow-deep in dirt, Fern confronts a splintered community, unsure who to trust, but grateful for the support of a Scottish boy who looks at her with green eyes shining with magic—and something more powerful.
Caring for this land is Fern’s birthright, one she longs to claim. But to take her place in this magical world, Fern must first figure out how to use her unique gift.
THE WITCH OF THE MEADOWS begins the journey of a generation of magic-wielders as they restore their connections to nature and community.
That cover is gorgeous! I love the colors so much!
Here's my interview with Laurel Wanrow about The Witch of the Meadows.
D. G. : From Colorado to an Irish isle is a massive change of scenery for Fern. How did you decide on the two locations for your story? Is the island based on a real place?
Laurel: I’m originally from Colorado and have many connections to it, including a family property very similar to Fern’s cabin in the mountains. I admit to choosing the isle because it was far-flung and romantic sounding—who doesn’t wish they could travel somewhere in a snap? It instantly gave Fern an ordinary world—one I know very well—and new world to explore and learn about. I had to do that, too. The magically hidden Isle of Giuthas—which means the Isle of Pines in Gaelic—is patterned off of the Isle of Man. For the most part, I used Manx flora and fauna, but took liberties, particularly with the ancient stands of Scots Pine the islanders are protecting—they are a native species to the British Isles, but don’t reach that size today.
D. G.: Fern is a witch with magical powers that help the land become more fertile. How did you come up with this interesting concept and magical gift?
Laurel: Some people would like magic to do things like fly or ace an exam. Fern’s love is growing plants, and in The Witch of the Meadows, she wants more than anything to help her Gran. Her magic is simply making that wish come true.
D. G.: Is Fern aided by other magical creatures besides the winged wizards? When I think of Ireland, I’m thinking of leprechauns, elves, or fairies. Do they play a part in this nature story?
Laurel: Sadly, no mythical creatures live on the isle. However, several of the Windborne wizards have an affinity for wildlife and are able to communicate with the isle’s native animals…and Fern, being descendant from them, might just share that ability.
D. G.: Fern is a very appropriate name for a girl whose magic is connected to nature? How did you decide on this name?
Laurel: As readers delve deeper into the story, they’ll discover that Fern isn’t the only one who has been named for a natural element. * grins * I specifically chose a plant-related name because of Fern’s affinity for plants…though how a parent would know that upon seeing a newborn would be…magic.
D. G.: Are you interested in gardening or farming yourself? Tell about your relationship with nature and how it affected your writing this novel.
Laurel: I love nature. I’m a life-long camper and hiker, love plants and animals and frankly find any wild place I go fascinating. Nature has been around me my entire life since I grew up as a kid of a National Park Service naturalist. I followed in the same career, earning an Outdoor Recreation degree and working at a number of parks and nature centers ‘before kids’ and a bit afterwards. While homeschooling my son, I turned to writing as a creative pursuit, and naturally my interests and background in teaching environmental education crept in.
I do garden. I’ve never been a super-successful vegetable gardener but, like Fern, I grow flowers of all kinds, sticking mainly with natives. I think of it as more of an extension of exploring nature—experiments to see what I can grow and what those plants will attract: insects, salamanders, birds, snakes, frogs, raccoons… I’m always thrilled to find an animal in our garden.
(A side note: While I haven’t farmed, I really like the dream of living on a farm, so much so that my other series, The Luminated Threads, takes place on a farm—in a valley of shapeshifters and magic-wielders, of course!)
D. G.: This is the first book in this series. Do you know how many adventures Fern will have?
Laurel: Fern has a major role in the second novel and will appear in a number of other planned stories. That said, I’m a ‘panster’ writer—I write by the seat of my pants—meaning I don’t yet have the entire series plotted out. This is a community of wizards, each with special gifts used for working with different habitats on or around the Isle of Giuthas. As the series unfolds, stories will feature different teens who are working with the isle’s various habitats. Fern cannot specialize in everything, and I think it’s important to note that no one gets things done alone. We need to work together within our communities of like-minded people to make things happen, in this case, to save a special island—which I hope readers understand represents saving the earth, our island home.
Thank you, Donna, for having me on your blog!
D. G.: You're so welcome. I'm looking forward to reading The Witch of the Meadows.
You can find The Witch of the Meadows in ebook and print at the following vendors:
Amazon Kobo iTunes Nook
And please visit Laurel Wanrow's Blog to read my interview with Laurel about my YA fantasy series The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy.
Before kids, Laurel Wanrow studied and worked as a naturalist—someone who leads wildflower walks and answers calls about the snake that wandered into your garage. During a stint of homeschooling, she turned her writing skills to fiction to share her love of the land, magical characters and fantastical settings.
When not living in her fantasy worlds, Laurel camps, hunts fossils, and argues with her husband and two new adult kids over whose turn it is to clean house. Though they live on the East Coast, a cherished family cabin in the Colorado Rockies holds Laurel’s heart.
Visit her online and sign up for her new-release newsletter at www.laurelwanrow.com.
Follow Laurel Wanrow at:
As always, I welcome your comments. Feel free to roam around my website and read some excerpts from my books. Happy Earth Day! Remember to recycle and reuse.
It's Down Syndrome Awareness Day! I wore mismatched socks to show my solidarity, and now I want to share a little excerpt of my novel No One Needed to Know with you - a scene that includes an adorable high school girl with Down Syndrome.
But before I do...
I've written here and on other blogs a lot about how my novel was inspired by the relationship I had with my oldest brother when we were kids. I haven't written a lot about how some of my experiences as a teacher shaped the book as well.
To supplement my acting career after I graduated from college, I became a substitute teacher in Special Education classes. I started with preschool children, then worked at a school with blind autistic children, and ultimately got a full time job at a private school for children with learning disabilities. When I went back to work after my daughter was born, I worked with special needs children at an elementary school in Tennessee and eventually got hired at an inclusive child development program in Nashville for children birth through 5 that helps special needs and medically fragile children alongside their typically developing peers. I've been there almost 13 years now.
In other words, I've worked with a lot of children from 6 months through 12 years old with challenges, including several sweet Down Syndrome babies that I have loved with all my heart.
In No One Needed to Know, my main character Heidi attends a dance at a bowling alley that is a fundraiser for her brother's high school special education program. She meets his friends and learns a lot more about them and her brother during this experience. (My brother used to be in a group that went bowling regularly, and this scene is based on that.)
Heidi is inspired by the dance to figure out how to teach the rude and mean-spirited kids at her own school more about kids with special needs in hopes it'll make them kinder. The setting and characters of the final chapters of the book are stolen straight out of my earliest teaching memories.
This is from Chapter 12 "The Dance", well over half-way through the story.
Due to the fact that everyone in the group was so different from each other, I was desperate to know which disabilities Donald’s friends had. My mom told me I wasn’t allowed to ask that. She said it was rude. “Just talk to everyone like they’re no different from you or me.”
“But Mom, I just want to know the condition—”
“I’ll make you sit outside on a bench all evening if I hear you asking anyone,” she said. Dad backed her up with some extra warnings of his own.
I thought they were being pretty ridiculous, and the questions burned on my tongue all evening with each person I met. Donald’s best friend (whom I didn’t know existed) was a guy named Peter. Even though he had the ability to recite the first five pages of The Hobbit by heart, I had to walk this hulking, six-foot-three boy to the bathroom because he couldn’t understand the directions. I also had to keep him from biting his left hand, which was permanently scarred from his front teeth. What kind of disability was that? Was it like Donald’s but way more intense?
Then there was this other boy named Kincaid. He was on the small side, almost as short as me, so I took him to be a freshman. This boy twitched, barked, and swore alternately, particularly when he got nervous. What caused a person to do that? I met a few kids who looked like some characters I’d seen on TV. Their faces were round and their eyes small. One of them, a girl named Kathryn, was very cheerful and was excited about the e-reader she recently got for her birthday. In a thick voice that was sometimes hard to understand, she told me several times that she could enjoy all the popular books now because she could make the font big enough to read.
When I knew my mom wasn’t in earshot, I asked her, “Do you have trouble reading because of your. . .?” I let it dangle on purpose, hoping she’d finish my sentence for me.
“Oh, yes,” she said, nodding enthusiastically. “My Down Syndrome makes my eyes have trouble.” She pointed at another girl who was walking by. “Claire has a hard time reading, too, but that’s because she’s mentally retarded.”
“Wait. You actually called her ‘retarded’?” I whispered the last word, afraid to say it all the way out loud. It didn’t matter, though. Claire heard us anyway.
Claire stopped in her tracks and began to shout at Kathryn and me. “I’m not retarded! I’m not! Shut up, Kathryn! I don’t like that!”
Ms. Anderson, my brother’s Life Skills teacher, rushed over to us, put her hands on Claire’s shoulders, and led her out of the party room. Kathryn and I followed her out to the main lobby where we found Ms. Anderson saying some quiet, soothing words near Claire’s ear. It took a minute to calm her down because Claire kept shouting things like, “She’s not supposed to say that! You said she couldn’t say that!”
Their teacher said some more things that I couldn’t hear over the music playing, but after a moment Claire quit raging and lifted her tear-streaked face to Kathryn. “Say you’re sorry.”
“I’m sorry,” Kathryn said easily enough. “Want to go bowl?”
Then they took hands and strolled away together like nothing happened.
I imagined going up to Cathy and ordering her to say she was sorry for blabbing about my brother to Jackie and the others and ruining my life. How awesome would it be if she just did it and then we wandered off from the other girls at recess to play handball and laugh with each other like old times?
Ms. Anderson was about to walk away, and that snapped me out of my ridiculous daydream. I skipped up beside her and touched her shoulder to get her attention. “Why did Kathryn call that girl retarded? Isn’t that a bad word?”
Ms. Anderson smiled gently at me. The lines around her eyes deepened in a way that let me know she smiled more than she frowned. I would think her life would be very hard working with these special needs teenagers all the time, but her bright eyes and laugh lines suggested otherwise. “We’re all pretty sensitive about that word being used incorrectly. There is, in fact, a condition that goes by that name, but we prefer to say ‘developmentally disabled’ or ‘developmental delayed’. A little more eloquent, don’t you think?”
I liked the way she spoke to me in a light voice that made her words very clear but didn’t make me feel like she was treating me like I was a baby. How long did it take her to perfect that style of speaking? I wondered whether that was how she talked to my brother and his friends. It would be hard to talk to them like normal teenagers, wouldn’t it? So many of them sounded like little kids.
I agreed. “My mom said I couldn’t ask about what’s wrong with everyone here.”
She winced. “We’re also pretty sensitive about saying something’s ‘wrong’ with our friends here.”
“Look, I see that you’re interested in learning something, but I can’t go into specifics about everyone’s different diagnosis. There are confidentiality laws . . .”
“I understand,” I told her.
Right then I heard a cheer from one of the bowling lanes. I followed the sound to find Donald, Peter, and two other boys cheering about someone’s score with their arms raised over their heads. Donald and Peter did an awkward high five. I wondered what the score could be.
“Great job, Donald!” Ms. Anderson shouted.
I guess the shock in my voice came out a little more than I expected because Ms. Anderson patted me on the shoulder and said, “Your brother is a pretty good bowler. The best in the group by far.”
“Really?” I could hardly believe it. My awkward brother? “I can barely pick up a bowling ball, let alone score well.”
“Donald just might surprise you sometimes, I think.”
I hope you enjoyed that little piece of my story. You can learn a more about No One Needed to Know by visiting the page on my website.
It's available in print at Amazon.
The book shares some insight on several kinds of special needs, although the main focus is autism. If you order a copy today, you'll have it in plenty of time to read in April - Autism Awareness Month!
I'm always happy to read your comments or answer your questions. All the best to you!
My life is full of princesses at the moment. And that’s okay with me. Last weekend, my 16-year-old daughter starred as Princess Fiona in her high school production of Shrek the Musical. I adore this musical, and I love the spunky, silly role of Fiona. I know I’m her mom, but I swear my daughter was perfect in the role. She was beautiful and hilarious all at the same time.
(BTW, if you’ve never seen Shrek the Musical, the Broadway version is on Netflix).
While she was busy rehearsing her show, I was busy cleaning up an old fairy tale of mine about a feisty princess who makes a dangerous bargain with her father to escape an arranged marriage. Her name is Faith, and her story is called The Royal Deal. I wrote this story back in my twenties along with several other original fairy tales. I decided to pull these stories out of their hiding spots on my computer hard drive and revise them. My plan is to release them (and write a couple new ones) as a series of novelettes every few months over the next year or so. I had a version of The Royal Deal on Wattpad for the last couple years, and it got a lot of votes and positive comments. I think people liked it because Faith is not your average princess.
This brings me back to the point of this post. Here’s the thing about princesses in fairy tales: typically, they aren’t very self-sufficient or strong. They’re often kind of trapped or stuck in hopeless situations and don’t know how to get out of them. (I’m writing all this as a BIG FAN of fairy tales, mind you.) If you look at the most famous ones from the Grimm Brothers tales – or Disney movies – what you’re mainly seeing is a bunch of really sweet, kind, lovely young ladies doing their best to remain so despite their circumstances.
When my daughter was little, I used to tell her things like “Cinderella would never yell at anyone” or “Snow White would keep her room clean” or “Belle would always say please and thank you” or “Sleeping Beauty would go to bed without arguing.” See? I’d use them as role models of good behavior. Princesses had manners. They were clean. They were helpful.
This worked pretty well until my daughter turned eleven and got a mind of her own.
I don’t care for the argument that all princesses do is wait for a prince to rescue them. I find that to be a very simplistic way to explain these old stories.
Cinderella stayed kind-hearted and worked hard despite her dismal treatment, and that is why she was honored with the gifts from the fairy godmother that allowed her to attend the ball and meet the prince. Meeting and marrying the prince wasn’t ever Cinderella’s goal. She just wanted to survive and maybe have the nice night out at the ball that she deserved. Having a prince fall for her was a bonus.
Snow White, according to the Disney version, did dream of marrying a prince. Big deal. Lots of girls hope to have a great boyfriend or a husband one day. This is a pretty universal feeling for teen girls. However, Snow had bigger and more immediate problems. The biggest was surviving in the woods after her stepmother sent her there to be murdered. Getting married to a prince wasn’t on her mind when she was earning a place to live by helping the dwarves.
Beauty (or Belle in the Disney version) traded places with her father to stay in the Beast’s castle. Obviously, she didn’t know he’d wind up to be a handsome prince if only she fell in love with him. Marrying a prince was never a goal of hers. She was a peasant, after all. This is another story about how a person with a good heart gets the happy ending she deserves.
Sleeping Beauty (Aurora in the Disney version) thought she was a peasant. She'd been raised as one. Yes, as she wandered through adolescence she ponders how nice it would be to meet a prince (or any man, she’s not specific about it being a prince in her big song) and not have to live in the woods with her crazy aunts anymore. I don’t think she believed those dreams would come true for her. She thought she was stuck. Yes, we can put 2018 ideals on her and say she should've figured out her own way to escape the woods (and the curse she didn't know about) and lead her life, but this story wasn’t written in 2018, was it? Plus, that story isn’t really about her. It’s about the prince’s adventures to rescue her.
Oh, and Ariel. You know I love my mermaids, but of the princesses Ariel is the one who is most true to the “I want to marry a prince” form. Let’s be clear, though, at first what she wants is just to be human and have a different (perhaps more exciting) life than the one she’s living. The prince thing comes later. Heck, she doesn’t even know the man she rescued from drowning was a prince at first. All she knows is that she loves him, and she will go through all kinds of pain and horror to be with him. Our 2018 ideals attack this way of thinking, but it still makes for good fiction. We want her to get her man after everything she goes through. Spoiler, it actually doesn’t work out for her in the original Hans Christian Anderson story. Disney made it a bit sweeter.
Now, Fiona from Shrek is a parody of the princess stories. Fiona doesn’t wind up with a prince. She longs to be rescued by a knight or prince and is certain they will fall in love. They will be wed and have a happy ending. Of course, her rescuer winds up being an ogre, and all her big plans are dashed. Fiona isn’t the strongest of characters. In fact, she’s a bit whiny at the start. But when she falls in love with Shrek, you realize she has something all princesses in fairy tales possess – a good heart.
In the way back time of my early twenties, I had the wonderful job of doing traveling children’s theater, and I played lots of princesses in fairy tales. One of them was the princess from The Frog Prince. She’s the opposite of all the princesses listed above, because she’s a snot. Selfish and mean to that poor frog. Still, in the end, she kisses him, and guess what? She ends up marrying a prince. Let me remind you that marrying a prince was not the point of this story. She just got lucky.
Since I toured with Lilliput Players in the early nineties and the movie Shrek was released later in the decade, there have been so many retellings of fairy tales both in movies and especially in books. I see new ones all the time. I think these stories keep happening because people want more of our princesses than to be rescued by princes.
One of my favorite authors, Tracy Barrett, (author of fairy tale books The Stepsister’s Tale and Marabel and the Book of Fate) said at a recent book signing, “The old fairy tales are so short that they lack motivation. They don’t tell why the characters behave the way they do. A villain is just evil. A princess is just kind.” That’s why she writes novels that are either re-visiting a tale like Cinderella or playing with the tropes of the genre – to fill in the holes. That all makes sense to me. In fact, I’ve even written my own re-telling based on the lesser known Grimm fairy tale King Thrushbeard. (It will be in my Chasing the Romantics series later on.)
The Royal Deal is an original fairy tale - not a retelling. I wanted Princess Faith to have a lot of the typical trappings of a princess. She’s kind. She’s thoughtful. Despite being pampered and having lots of servants, she tries to be helpful. Unlike the princesses mentioned above, she's fully aware that she’s a princess and that she’s destined to marry a prince. She wants to marry the prince she’s been told her whole life would be her husband, but he’s gone missing and is presumed dead. Now she must marry the younger brother, whom she despises. What can she do? She decides to take matters into her own hands by making a deal with her father. If she can survive for three months in the woods by herself with no help, then she can choose her husband.
So, I’ve written a fairy tale about a princess who doesn’t want to marry a prince.
I’ve also written a fairy tale about a princess who puts herself into peril rather than having it done to her.
You’ll have to read it to find out how it all works out.
Well, that book is in the world now, and I’m starting work on revising the next story for the series, The Tomato Quest. The young lady in this story is not a princess, but she is the daughter of a wealthy nobleman. She’s in love with the gardener’s son. Right now, the story is completely in the point of view of the gardener’s son as he goes on a quest to seek his fortune in order to earn the right to marry the girl he loves. My plan is to add this noblewoman’s point of view to the story as well. She’s not a princess, but she has a lot of the same qualities of one so I shall treat her as such. I’ll make her sweet and charming, but, because it’s 2018 and not 1818, I will make her a little spunky and fiery, too. I hope in the end, readers will be happy with the way this novella ends.
If you love fairy tales (which if you’ve read this far into my post, I’m assuming you do), I have another fairy tale called “The Hallway of Three Doors” coming out in a new book later this month called Mythical Doorways. You can find an interview I did about that by clicking on the book cover image. This fairy tale does not have a princess, but it does feature one determined female protagonist and a rather charming prince.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to leave a comment below. Sign up for my mailing list, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with my new releases.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Last April I had the great honor of being on a panel with author Lois Sepahban at the Southern Kentucky Festival of Books. We were discussing authenticity in middle grade fiction. I was enthralled with the concept of her debut children's historical fiction novel Paper Wishes. I bought it from her that day so I could get it signed and add it to my collection. When I read it, I knew it would be the book I reviewed for Multicultural Children's Book Day.
Paper Wishes is the story of 10-year-old Manami, a young Japanese American girl put in an internment camp with her family during WWII. They are taken suddenly from their homes in Bainbridge Island in Washington and forced to live in barracks built in the desert in California. They are allowed to bring some things with them but not a lot. For example, they can bring some dishes, clothes, and her mother is able to bring some seeds and roots to plant. However, they are not allowed to bring their dog Yujiin. Manami tries to sneak her precious pet in with them, but he's taken away from her. A lot of the book is about her worries about what happened to Yujiin and blaming herself for him not being in a good home. She hopes ceaselessly that Yujiin will somehow find her again, and she thinks if she writes letters to him and sends them out on the breeze that constantly blows, he will see them and come to her.
The writing style is succinct, with short paragraphs. It reads quickly and easily. Manami is the most innocent of characters. She can't fully comprehend why her dog has been taken from her and won't come back or why they have been taken to this place. She is so distraught that the dirt of the California desert chokes up her neck and she can't speak the entire time they are in the camp. It is touching how the family becomes closer throughout the years of their internment. She has a wonderful teacher who inspires her to draw and paint - this is my favorite part of the book.
Being that the story is told from Manami's point of view, the scope of this tragic event comes across much smaller and maybe even kinder than it really was, but I liked how the tough topic was handled so delicately. The loss of Manami's pet is something all children can relate to, and I think that commonality helps young readers get pulled into understanding what it is like to have your life and home taken away unfairly.
I highly recommend it for 3rd-5th grade classrooms as a starting point for a unit on this sad and often overlooked piece of American history.
Lois Sepahban has a wonderful classroom guide on her website for teachers interested in teaching their students more about the Japanese Internment Camps of WWII. http://www.loissepahban.com/pdf/PaperWishes-Classroom-Guide.pdf
More about Multicultural Children's Book Day 2018
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.
2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors
HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild
PLATINUM:Scholastic Book Clubs
GOLD:Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies
SILVER:Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press
BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal Bowe, Gokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press
2018 Author Sponsors
Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina
Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan Bernardo, Author Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne Broyles, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports Queen, Author Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and MFL Publishing Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham Author Natasha Yim
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.
Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/
Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.
I am also an author sponsor for MCBD2018. It is my 3rd year participating. There should be several new reviews of books from my Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy in the linky today. Juniper is a teen environmental activist who discovers mythical creatures tied to her American Indian heritage while trying to protect the natural world. You can learn more about the whole series on my home page www.dgdriver.com. Book one, Cry of the Sea, is currently only 99 cents at all ebook vendors. There is also a box set of all three ebooks for only $6.99 (which is like getting one book free). In addition, there is a prequel story to the series called "Beneath the Wildflowers" in the free anthology Kick Ass Girls of Fire and Ice YA Books. I hope you'll take a moment to check them out.
My husband and I were reflecting on the year last night. It was our most expensive year since we’ve been together. We had some struggles with unexpected medical expenses and car repairs that have really added up. But we had good things that cost money too: our youngest daughter’s extracurricular activities with band and drama, our oldest got married, and we took a trip to California for my high school reunion. Things in the news brought us down week after week, and we’ve relied a lot on Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert to try to find a light edge so we could sleep at night. It’s easy to look at the last year and feel down, but I am an optimist. I try to focus on the highlights.
As an author, there were definitely some highlights. I published two books: my middle grade novel No One Needed to Know and my 3rd and final Juniper Sawfeather novel Echo of the Cliffs. These books haven’t been big sellers, but they have garnered great reviews, and NONTK has won four awards for its Special Needs Awareness theme. I honestly believe Echo of the Cliffs is the best of the 3 Juniper books, and I hope with the new Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy box set that’s available more people will read through the whole series to get to it.
In addition to the novels, I’ve had stories about Juniper Sawfeather published in the anthologies Kick Ass Girls of Fire and Ice YA Books (April) and Winter Wonder (December). I did a few personal appearances related to my books. My favorites were speaking on panels at the Southern Kentucky Festival of Books and at Nashville Comic Con. I also did a lecture and workshop at the MTSU Youth Writing Camp this last summer, which was a blast. Fingers crossed I get to do more of that kind of thing and school visits in 2018.
I didn’t finish writing the novel I started at the end of 2016. I was interrupted for final edits on Echo of the Cliffs, writing those short stories, and I did a big clean-up of an older work and submitted it to Fire and Ice YA Books. They have accepted On the Water (a young adult contemporary adventure with a ghost story) and it will be released in summer of 2018. I just submitted a story to another Fellowship of Fantasy anthology (publishers of Fantastic Creatures), so fingers crossed. I've also just started auditioning narrators for an audiobook of Cry of the Sea.
I did get back to working on my newest book this week while on winter break from work. It should be finished soon. (Sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Twitter or Facebook to keep up to date with publishing info.)
Another distraction from my writing was that my husband and I got involved in theater again after taking a full year off. We did To Kill a Mockingbird last May with a fairly new theater company in town. (He was Atticus and so amazing). Later, they talked him into playing the lead in Father of the Bride, and I wound up taking over a small role during dress rehearsals. Right after that show opened, we started rehearsals for Miracle on 34th Street, which I directed. (My last post was about that experience.) I know of some great shows happening in the next couple months, and I’d love to participate. But won’t. I want to focus on writing again for a while. I’ve got some cool ideas brewing, including a possible book for grown-ups. We’ll see what happens. My years never end the way I plan them.
As far as reading goes. I’ve read about 45 books this year. I’ve continued to be addicted to audiobooks and tend to get through the better known books and authors that way. I still primarily read indie on my Kindle or hardcovers signed by local authors. I’ve also continued to read mostly middle grade and young adult titles. I discovered Patrick Ness in 2016, and he still reigns as my new favorite author. I read two of his books this year. Many of the best books I read were contemporary dramas rather than fantasy. I also noticed when writing this that I favored thrillers this year, too.
Here are my favorites of 2017.
Best Book I Read All Year: The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon. I listened to this as an audiobook and found myself driving extra blocks or slowing down so I could keep listening. This story is amazing. It’s about love and fate. It features diverse characters and celebrates their unique traits. It’s both heartwrenching and heartwarming. I loved it so much, I'll probably check it out again. It's YA but will appeal to adults. The audiobook narrators are extremely talented, too, so I recommend listening to it if you can.
Best Book from a Big Publisher: Wonder by R. J. Palacio. This isn’t a new book, but I decided to read it before the movie came out (which I still haven’t seen). I love the way family is portrayed in this book. I love how this story is told from several points of view. I love how friendship is portrayed. It is a book about inclusion, love, and respect. All kids, all grown-ups, everyone should read this book.
(And I will point out shamelessly that if you like this book, you'll like my book No One Needed to Know, which has similar themes.)
My runner ups in this category were: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, More than This by Patrick Ness, The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle.
Best Book from a Small Publisher: Before I Left by Daisy White. This is a new adult thriller. This book was mysterious and frightening with a wonderful look at England in the 60s. I highly recommend it.
Best Self-Published/Indie Book: Mercy’s Prince by Katy Huth Jones. This is an epic romantic fantasy, the first of a 5-book series. I didn’t know what to expect, but it is wonderful with well-rounded characters, danger, adventure, and dragons. I’m eager to read more of her books.
Best Local Author Book: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. If you want a good cry, read this book. It’s so moving, with an incredible message about surviving grief. It is one of four young adult novels I read this year about teens dealing with the death of someone to a car accident. This was, by far, the best one. I will point out that Zentner is a bestselling author. We have a lot of these here in Nashville. I keep hoping I’ll catch the magic from one of them.
Best Audiobook: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This wasn’t my favorite story of the year, although it is a very moving romance between two complicated and wounded young people. The narration, however, is fantastic. I’m sure commuters around me saw me gasping, laughing, and crying in my car.
Best Series: The only complete series I listened to this year was Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. It definitely drew me in so I would keep listening one book after the other. At times I thought it was a bit over-written and drawn out. I’m about to finish the second book in Stephen King’s Jim Hodges Trilogy, and even though I won't finish the series until 2018, these thrillers have got to take the prize. I’ve been on pins and needles through both books so far. The audiobooks are read expertly by Will Patton (Remember the Titans, The Postman).
Best Grown-Up Book: Shadow Man by Alan Drew. Okay, I’ll confess, I went to high school with this author. But that aside, this is a fantastic thriller. It takes place in a fictional version of my hometown in the 80s and is about a detective trying to find a serial killer and stumbling on a second crime that is much more personal. If you haven't discovered it yet, go out and get a copy. It’s intense, and I highly recommend it.
What were some of your favorite highlights as a reader or author this year? I’d love to hear from you. Have the happiest of New Years!
Whatever her motivations were, Lucy was right when she told Charlie Brown that a great way to get into Christmas spirit was to direct a Christmas play. This year I was asked to direct a stage production of Miracle on 34th Street for Centerstage Theatre, a fairly new community theater company here in Middle Tennessee. I had previously performed with my husband in their productions of To Kill a Mockingbird and Father of the Bride. I like this theater’s mission of being a true community theater, open to performers whether they are just starting out or have been performing for years. I also like their commitment to diverse casting.
We started rehearsals the week after Father of the Bride opened in October. This was not a musical, but I added songs for the store elves to sing and wrote a little “Elf Theater” show for them to do. The elves were played by 12 and 13 year old kids, I had six other children, in the show between 7-11 years old, and two of my "grown-up roles" were played by 17-year-old boys. I have directed shows before but not many. It had been five years since my last time at the helm, and that was a play I wrote myself (Don Coyote).
We had a lovely cast of people who got along brilliantly. I purposely cast several women in roles that had been played by men in the movie version: our judge, the prosecuting attorney, and Kris Kringle’s doctor. Yes, it is easier to find women for community theater than men, but I liked the idea of all these professionals being women from the get-go. If you don’t know the story of Miracle on 34th Street, it is about a divorced mother who is a manager at Macy’s department store in New York. She has taught her daughter not to believe in Santa Claus or fairy tales. But then a man shows up who believes he is the real Santa Claus, and he changes their lives.
I told my actresses that in my mind all of them were different versions of Doris, the mother. The attorney was the hardcore disbeliever, the judge was the one trying to find the sense in it all and make the right choice, and the doctor was the believer. It was fun working it all out. I’m a writer, so sometimes I get caught up in the motivations behind my characters’ actions. I applied a lot of this to my directing of the play. Sometimes I think my actors liked this, and sometimes they cocked their heads and wondered what point I was making.
In the end, the show was quite lovely, and I was very proud of it. It was a lot of fun. Doing a Christmas play is a great way to get into the spirit of the holidays. Sometimes you get a little tired of Christmas by the time it finally rolls along, especially if you start rehearsing early. (I did a blog post a couple months back about how, for me, most of this year has been about Christmas). This year, as the director of a show, my Christmas spirit thrived with each performance. I got to sit back and watch the performances instead of having the stress that comes with being onstage in live theater. It was a nice experience to just enjoy this story coming to life night after night, watching it evolve and take on a life of its own.
I wrote a director’s note for the program. I’m a bit wordy (if you haven’t noticed, ha ha), so they put it in this teeny-tiny font to fit it in, and I’m pretty sure no one read it. I thought I’d share it here on my blog. My thoughts about Santa and belief in magic just in time for Christmas.
I have always loved Miracle on 34th Street, with a particular fondness for the 1947 black and white version. However, this movie always bothered me a little as a kid. I couldn’t fully get my head around whether or not I believed Kris Kringle was, in fact, Santa Claus. Like little Susan, I wanted to believe, but it just didn’t make sense to me that real Santa would be milling about New York in December and didn’t have more important things to do like being in the North Pole making toys with the elves.
Not surprisingly, I became a very practical-minded grown-up, and despite juggling careers as a teacher, entertainer and children’s book author, I don’t allow myself to have many flights of fancy. I relate to Doris and her efforts to shield her daughter from a life of believing in things that can’t possibly be real because I too have been disappointed and let down at times. And yet, is that really the right thing to do? Shouldn’t children be allowed to cling to their innocent imaginations as long as possible? Imagination leads to dreams; dreams lead to hope; hope leads to positive action. So much of childhood disappears so quickly nowadays. We saw that at auditions when I asked every child what they wanted for Christmas, and only one of them asked for an actual toy.
Thirty years ago I played Peter Pan and encouraged all the children in the audience to clap and shout that they believed in fairies so Tinkerbell wouldn’t die. Today, I ask you all of you to open up your minds and believe in Santa Claus. Believe in magic. Believe in goodness and selflessness. Believe in pure joy. I know it’s silly, but believe.
Thank you to the cast and crew here at Centerstage Theatre for taking this journey with Kevin and me. Everyone has worked so faithfully. We’ve done many Christmas shows over the years, and this will always stand out as a favorite memory.
Now I must get back to cooking Christmas dinner. If you have time, please leave a comment, scroll down to read some of my other posts, or poke around the website. I have lots of excerpts of my work posted. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and wonderful holiday season.
As is tradition, the night my family decorated our Christmas tree we listened to holiday music. “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” came on, and my 23-year-old stepdaughter launched into a cynical rant about how that was the WORST Christmas story ever. “Everyone bullies Rudolph because he has a birth defect, and Santa allows it to happen. Then Santa USES Rudolph because of his deformity, and that’s why everyone likes him.” Granted, this criticism was said with a fair bit of wry humor. Still, I balked at her assessment of this Christmas classic.
But over the next few days her cynicism wormed itself into my brain. Was that story really about someone being exploited rather than being celebrated?
Last weekend, I went to see my older stepdaughter perform in a live production of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. This staging was identical to the old cartoon version, complete with live music. All my nostalgia was satisfied.
However, the cynicism from the previous weekend still nagged at me. With skeptical eyes, I watched poor Charlie as Violet informed him that she would never consider sending him a Christmas card. Was Lucy setting Charlie up to fail on purpose when she asked him to direct the Christmas show? Was she anticipating how poorly he’d be treated, between the kids ignoring him while they danced and teasing him when he picked the wrong tree? He mopes away and abandons his little tree. We all think it’s a happy ending because the kids gather around and fix up the tree and then sing Christmas carols, but what is really happening here? They fix the TREE? “All it needs is a little love,” Linus says. But… But… What about poor Charlie? Does anyone ever say sorry to him? Do they hug him and make him feel better. Nope. Not even his dog.
Of course there are bullies in the comedy movie A Christmas Story. It's a large part of the plot. That movie is a poking fun at the Christmas season in an era gone by so we don’t take it too seriously. Still, Ralphie ‘wins’ by beating up the bully. We cheer for him. It’s about time, we think as we watch this happen. Ralphie doesn’t get in trouble because his mother is forgiving and understanding. She doesn’t tell Dad. She’s a good mom. I love this movie so much, but what is this teaching kids? Do we need to have a sit-down with them after the film and talk about the right way to handle bullies? Punching them in the face is probably not the correct solution.
So, now that I’m looking at the world through this lens, I take a moment to consider the Christmas story I wrote this year “Sharing the Spotlight” which is based on characters from my children’s novel No One Needed to Know. In this story, Heidi (12) and her brother Donald (16) have holiday programs at their schools on the same night. In the second half of the story, Heidi has finished her program and is now watching her brother in his choir performance. The choir is doing a medley of carols, and it appears to her that her brother, who is autistic, is being made fun of by his choir teacher. It infuriates her.
Excerpt from "Sharing the Spotlight"
The medley switched from “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, which had featured all the weird figgy pudding lines, to “12 Days of Christmas”. This was my very least favorite Christmas carol. I never understood it. Why were there twelve days of Christmas? Plus, I could never keep track of anything in the list after six geese a-laying. The choir sang it ridiculously fast, and the audience loved this double-time rendition. People smiled and chuckled around me. I shrugged and decided it was all right. I had to admire the choir for what they were doing. I sure couldn’t sing that song that fast. How did they remember all the words? They must’ve rehearsed a lot.
I focused in on my brother, watching his mouth fly over the lyrics. He was getting it. All of it. He wasn’t lagging behind one little bit. Peter had completely given up and was back to staring at his fingers. I turned to Russell, about to point this out to him, when all of a sudden I heard “Five Golden Rings!!!” sung so loud by my brother it was like he was trying to be heard outside.
The audience erupted in laughter and applause. The song paused for a moment. All the blood in my body rushed to my face. I was so embarrassed for my brother.
“Oh no,” I moaned quietly, sinking down in my seat so I could barely see over the head of the man sitting in front of me.
The laughter ebbed. The choir started up again, singing those last four lines even faster than before, as if to make up time. This was the craziest song I’d ever heard. Oh, and then the next verse began. “On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
The girls sang, “Six geese a-laying.”
Then Donald. Again. “FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!” All by himself. As loud as possible.
More laughter. More applause. My parents laughed and applauded. Russell and his parents laughed and applauded. Everyone in this auditorium was having a good chuckle at my brother’s expense. Did Mrs. Ambrose plan this? What kind of teacher was she, making a spectacle of my special needs brother?
Next verse. All the boys sang, “Seven swans a swimming” followed by the girls singing “six geese a-laying”.
I dared to peek over the man’s head. Everyone in the choir, including Peter, was smiling now. They were having a grand old time. Their bodies pivoted toward my brother. Mrs. Ambrose gestured to him. He raised his right hand and pointed his finger toward the ceiling like a politician making a point in a debate, and warbled “FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!” As the audience laughed and clapped again, he put his hands together as if to clap for himself.
I put my hands over my face. This was the worst.
Thankfully, the medley shifted after that verse to “Good King Wenceslas”. I’ve always hated that song, too. For this song, the choir made a big thing out of saying “Wenceslas”. The word went back and forth from the boys to the girls, being pronounced different ways, until Mrs. Ambrose stopped them. She didn’t say anything out loud, but her hands gestured the syllables of the word. All the kids said “Ohhhhh” in unison. Mrs. Ambrose began conducting again, and now they got it correct.
“Good King Wence-las once looked down…”
Everyone was laughing again. I just stared at the choir, my mouth hanging open. Was it supposed to be funny?
Heidi eventually finds out that everyone loved what her brother was doing and celebrates him after the show.
Have I written Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Is the teacher like Santa and using Donald to make her show more entertaining? Does everyone love Donald because he’s been exploited in this way?
Or is it the way I intended – Donald is being given a chance to shine. Mrs. Ambrose isn’t taking advantage of him, or making him the object of ridicule, but is giving him a genuine moment to revel in the music and be highlighted for who he is. Heidi’s brother may have some quirks and ticks, but he is all joy. It shows during his performance. Heidi comes to realize that her brother’s spotlight moment in the show isn’t about showing off or being the center of attention, but rather about a pure, honest love of celebrating Christmas.
Two nights ago my youngest daughter’s high school band performed their Winter Concert. She and several of her friends have been volunteering all semester with United Sound, an organization that makes it possible for kids with special needs to learn how to play an instrument. Caylin helped teach a young man with Down Syndrome to play the saxophone. The United Sound group joined the band for one number of the concert. None of them had solos, but they were visible and a big part of the piece. It went great. We gave them a standing ovation, and I was so proud of my daughter and her friends for being part of this great, inclusive experience.
The concert made me think of my older brother who has developmental disabilities and how his friends in the high school choral and drama departments accepted him. It made me think about Heidi supporting her older brother at his choir concert in my story. It made me think about the reindeer welcoming Rudolph to help light the way (not to mention the fact that it was Rudolph who convinced Santa to find homes for all the misfit toys). It made me think about the fact that someone needed to hug poor Charlie Brown and thank him for being the first one to see that that little broken tree could be something special.
My cynicism has fled, and I am once again full of Christmas spirit. This is the time of year to be hopeful for the future and see the good in each other. I hope that you have a wonderful holiday season.
Please comment below if you enjoyed this post. I’d love to hear from you.
“Sharing the Spotlight” is featured in Winter Wonder, a collection of nine stories for readers 9 and older, now available for only $0.99 at Kindle and Nook. It's also available in print.
No One Needed to Know, my novel about autism acceptance and bullying, just won its 4th award – the Gold Medal for Special Needs Awareness from the 2017 Human Relations Indie Book Awards. It’s available in print through Prime at Amazon, so you still have time to order it as a gift for a young reader you know for Christmas.
A couple weeks ago I was on Facebook and Twitter grousing about a bad week. I was dealing with a massive headache that actually caused my right eye to turn blood red, and on top of it I got four rejections in a row: one for an elusive Bookbub ad, two from agents, and one from writing job for which I’d written an audition sample. Needless to say, I was down in the dumps.
I got lots of sympathy from my sweet FB friends, and then I got one reply on Twitter that went, “I like to think that every time I get a rejection someone else is getting an acceptance.” That made me pause and reflect. I like the positive spin. Taking something that makes me feel bad but hoping that it’s something good for someone else. This is the way I want to be as a person. Truly. Not being sarcastic at all.
Now, I know in reality there are far more rejections than acceptances in this business. It’s not realistic to think that every rejection out there for creative types leads to someone else getting their shot. However, someone eventually gets through that golden door of success – and yay for them. I mean it. That’s awesome.
I’m very used to the word “no”. I’ve been a performer since I was a kid and a writer since my early twenties. Clearly, I’m not in the movies or on TV, so you see how that Hollywood stint went for me. I could wallpaper my house with rejections from publishers. Even here in Nashville I occasionally lose out on roles in community theater shows. There are just a lot of talented people who like doing fun things like acting, singing, dancing, and writing. I know so many extremely talented not-famous people.
The theme of my blog is revision, so I’ve decided to revise my position on rejection. Where has rejection taken me? Well, if I’d gotten the movie or TV roles I’d auditioned for back in my twenties, I might still be in Los Angeles. I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have been there for my step-daughters when they needed me. I wouldn’t have become part of the theater community here. I wouldn’t have become part of SCBWI Midsouth. I might not have ever published a book.
If I’d gotten one of my earlier writing works picked up by an agent or major publisher, would it have been any good? Would it have been panned by critics or failed to sell? Would I still be writing today? I’ve looked back at some of my earlier work. It wasn’t great. Time, education, and hard work have made my writing stronger over the years. I hesitate to write this, but I confess that the quality of writing in the last book of my Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, Echo of the Cliffs (written in 2016) is much stronger than the first book, Cry of the Sea (written and rewritten between 2000-2013).
It does hurt to open that email from an agent and read that my work “is not what we’re looking for at this time.” Weirdly, it’s harder when the agent writes nice things. My latest rejection read, “This is definitely the kind of project I'm interested in.” Yay? No. It was followed with “I’m just not passionate about this manuscript, and I have to be passionate about what I take on.”
How do I deal with that? My book is good, it’s “right”, but it doesn’t rise to the top. I’ve come across that “passionate” word from agents, publishers (and directors) many times. It doesn’t make me feel like I’ve come so close, my book has to be good! It makes me feel like Are you serious, right now? What do you want from me?
I take a deep breath. I consider my options. Do I keep trying for the agent? Do I look to smaller publishers that don’t require agents? Do I remember that it’s 2017, and I can publish it myself if I really want to? What is my goal? I’ll take a moment to look through the book again while wishing one of these nay-sayers could at least tell me what was keeping the book from making them passionate about it. Maybe I’ll get a beta reader or two to help me out.
Then I’ll remind myself that I have been accepted by publishers, received reviews that made me smile, and even gotten a couple awards. I’ve got two stories in a brand new book, Winter Wonder, that came out this month. I’ve got another new young adult novel coming out in 2018. I work with a publisher that is very enthusiastic about my writing. I’m directing a sweet Christmas play with my husband at a local theater full of enthusiastic children and adults just starting out on this acting adventure. My daughters are in a good place – busy with their own shows, jobs, and school. My family is close by. The babies I teach at my day job are fat and happy.
And maybe somewhere out there in the world an author with a great children’s book for boys full of adventure and fantasy got picked up by an agent and is going to make it big. Maybe someday when my book Dragon Surf finally gets its chance, I’ll point to that other book and say, “If you liked -----, you’ll like this too!”
I wish all you writers a happy holiday season and great success! Face down those rejections and write on! I don’t know what the ending to this career looks like, but it’s not over yet.
Please leave a comment if you’d like, scroll through my prior posts, or enjoy my website. It’s full of excerpts from all my published books.
D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.