Posted in children's books

Old Magic, New Dangers


       I am holding an advanced copy of Henry H. Neff’s upcoming middle grade thriller, Impyrium, in my hands.  As press contact for Media Masters Promotions, I have the distinct pleasure of reading and reviewing this work, called a “rare jewel..A new classic in the fantasy genre,” by bestselling Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer.  The book came to me like a gift, boxed and wrapped with an autographed poster inside.   How could I resist?  How could anyone resist?
     Neff weaves together magic and mythology with elements of modernity to create a richly detailed and utterly unique world that readers will delight in exploring.  From the Muirlands, where commoners work the land, to the mist-shrouded Sacred Isle where sorcerers hold court, Impyrium  is populated with a diverse cast of fascinating characters.  Told in the alternating points-of-view of bookish, albino, magical twelve-year-old Hazel and daring, witty thirteen-year-old Hob, readers can explore this world both familiar and strange from all sides.  Hailed by Kirkus as “an indulgence for readers thirsting for a futuristic cloak-and-daggers plot with magical creatures..an adolescent version of a Game of Thrones-like plot,” the press release promises an enthralling tale of adventure, court intrigue, and secret societies will appeal to boys and girls of all ages.
          The book beckons to me in the wee hours of the morning, and I eagerly slip into its other-worldliness. There are magical human beings, demons – he calls them rakshasas, which is just fascinating because that has Hindu roots.  What?  It’s long — over 500 pages —  but, soon, I promise to share the magic with you. Impyrium is set for publication by Harper Collins in early October.
Posted in about childhood, children's books, fairy tales

Fairy Tales and Disney: Fake News?

NPR recently interviewed dashing NYC – based author Soman Chainani about his hot new series, “The School for Good and Evil,” and it does sound beguiling.  Book #4, “Quests for Glory,” comes out today, but apparently Universal Pictures bought the rights to the series as soon as the first book was published.  Impressive!The School for Good and Evil Map

The book trailer is thrilling and magical, and resonates with an Arthurian legend kind of vibe.  Chainani loved Disney movies growing up in Miami, but felt shocked and betrayed when he delved deeper into the fairy tales those movies were based on, in a freshman seminar at Harvard.  He could see the darker, more complicated side of those tales than Disney lets shine through.  That shock gave birth to a desire to write for kids from a deeper, more real place.

Thus “The School for Good and Evil” was born.  All in all, it looks fabulous.

Before I let you go, though, I do have to gently protest his despair about the Disney movies.  I do not think it is fair to equate them with fake news. At the time many of them were made, Christopher Vogler was story consultant for Disney, and he is no slouch.  His work on archetypes, myth, and story structure is legendary (no pun intended).  It became, and remains, the standard for movie making of almost all genres.  His book, “The Writer’s Journey,” has been the fiction writer’s Bible and best friend for over thirty years. I’m not sure I agree about Disney misleading kids about the nature of reality.  Those movies were based on solid mythic structure.  I think it has more to do with how we perceive childhood; the 80’s and 90’s must have held remnants of a romantic viewpoint, where innocence and happy endings are prized.

I can see how creating a more “unstable” feeling, as Chainani  set out to do in his books, could resonate with 21st century  children.  Life has an urgent, uneasy feeling these days. The modern child is independent and exposed to worldly affairs; better to address them with honest fiction that reflects the state of things, even if it is steeped in fantasy and magic.   And why not?  That is the beauty of the fairy tale.  It is flexible, able to express itself in the ways of the world in which it is re-born.

Good luck, Soman.  Can’t wait to see the movie!

You can read more about NPR’s interview with Soman Chainani here.



Posted in about childhood, children's books, fairy tales

Beauty and the Beast, Ages 2-102

Have you seen the new live action Beauty and the Beast? The chances are good that you have; according to Forbes the film earned $6.9 million on its second Monday alone. This isn’t really surprising. The landscape of fairy tale is a map we all know so well. Close your eyes and you will see the contours laid out clearly, at times lovingly spiritual in its universality, at others chillingly human in its earthy specificity. There is the castle, shining in the background, flags flapping in the wind. Then there is the dark and murky wood, where wolves and bears and other frightening creatures roam – and where you must go to face your destiny. Upon this landscape live the many stock characters that breathe life into the tales: the cruel witch, the fairy godmother, the lonely Beast, the despairing princess, the courageous prince.   In this land Magic runs rampant and injustice is fought until finally the balance of life is restored. Our collective unconscious stores this map, these characters, and their stories. We seem never to tire of recreating them time and time again.  Most of us were introduced to fairy tales in childhood, some of us reading large heavily illustrated books ourselves, or having them read to us.

To continue that tradition, Silver Dolphin Books has come out with a series of board books for very young children, called “First Stories,” from which I had the pleasure of reading three fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. Each one is a little gem, charmingly illustrated in bright colors and adorable, detailed illustrations.

Chunky and sturdy, the board books are interactive, with tabs to push, pull, and slide. Pull up on one tab and Cinderella’s rags are transformed into a beautiful ball gown; pull down on another, and the Beast appears in his castle door. You can shimmy the witch up Rapunzel’s hair as she leans out of her tower, or push Cinderella back and forth as she sweeps the kitchen – and then, a few pages later, slide her foot up to the glass slipper! This is Exciting stuff.

Amazingly, each tale is pared down to only four rhyming couplets. Silver Dolphin did a good job picking out those plot points, and somehow the stories manage to come across, in no small part because the illustrations by Dan Taylor are richly detailed, in a deceptively sophisticated way.  And not to worry about being too frightening for little ones; while there are scary moments — these are fairy tales we are talking about — the colors are bright and there is a cheerful atmosphere maintained throughout. The iconography of the fairy tale landscape is all there, giving your toddler the means to start their very own map of the enchanted world we all love.

For the older child, or just the young at heart, comes a gorgeous coloring book of Beauty and the Beast, with quotations from the original story by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, first published as a novel in 1740 and later abridged and rewritten into the tale we know by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Ornate and lavish, the exquisite drawings, based on the wonderful work of English artist Walter Crane, are reminiscent of 18th century France.  Once I saw it I immediately went out and bought a set of colored pencils. It will take a while to get through the whole coloring book, but who’s complaining? Any girl –big or little –, who loves to color, will sigh with happiness when they get their hands on this one. Just make sure you have colored pencils or crayons at hand – they won’t want to wait to get started.

Beauty and the Beast Coloring Book put out by Silver Dolphin Press
Beauty and the Beast Coloring Book
Posted in children's books

How the 20,699-word iTunes T&Cs became this year’s hottest graphic novel | Books | The Guardian

Witness the growing form of the graphic novel. I love the originality of this project!

Snoopy contemplates pre-orders and the Hulk navigates iTunes Match … here Robert Sikoryak discusses his ingenious take on Apple’s Terms and Conditions

Source: How the 20,699-word iTunes T&Cs became this year’s hottest graphic novel | Books | The Guardian

Posted in children's books




This is my first post after the long, delicious, deep and richly emotional holidays with my big and boisterous family.  Ah, to write again.  The above link will take you to a review of the movie Hidden Figures (with a nod to the book on which the film is based).  I found it moving and inspiring.  It resonates with the national conversation on so many levels – and left me feeling hopeful, that our higher selves can and will triumph, even as we shimmer and shake on the edge of despair on our way to making this world a better place.  Again, the world of children’s literature; with its books, blogs and reviews, holds — at least for me — an unwavering candle up to the heavens.

Gonna have to see this movie, and soon.


Posted in children's books

The Single Largest Secret to Success

The holidays have me flummoxed and distracted (ok, it is fun to eat stuffing for breakfast) but there is always a little time to flex those writing muscles. I invite you to read this awesome post by Kristen Lamb. Have a great day and remember to Guard Your Muse!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Steve Snodgrass Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

All of us start out writing for different reasons. Perhaps we have dreams of seeing New York Times Best Seller or USA Today Best Seller in front of our names. Perhaps we long to be a household name like Stephen King or even a legend like J.K Rowling.

Some of you might want to see Winner of the Pulitzer Prize on the cover of your books or see your books made into television or major motion pictures. Some writers simply want to finish that one novel and publish it so they can say they wrote a novel.

Every dream is equally noble. There are no right or wrong goals only your goals (and goals evolve as we do). Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the level of sacrifice and self-discipline required to Write a Novel in…

View original post 2,417 more words

Posted in children's books

Interview with Henry H. Neff



I had the good fortune to take a master writing class with Henry Neff at this year’s 2016 SCBWI Carolinas Conference, “The Power of Story.”  The class was on world building, and boy is he a master at it.  His much-anticipated latest novel, “Impyrium” came out in mid-October, and Henry was kind enough to agree to give me an interview in the midst of what I am sure was a whirlwind of a month.  I loved the book, and will be reviewing it as soon as NaNoWriMo is done 🙂  In the meantime, please enjoy this interview.  It gives honest insight into this very successful and relevant author, who also happens to be a really nice guy.

Q: You are such a wonderful world-builder.  Where does your affinity to this come from?

Thank you. I think it’s a combination of having loved immersive fictional worlds while growing up, and later acquiring a history teacher’s perspective on how to analyze civilizations at specific points in time. The former fueled my interests and imagination; the latter gave me tools to start building worlds of my own.

Q: Why do you write fantasy?

A variety of reasons. First and foremost, I really like fantasy. No one should write a genre that they don’t enjoy. The other reason is that fantasy presents challenges I find fun and engaging. It’s one of those genres that fools people into thinking it’s easy (I can just make stuff up!) but it comes with traps that make it difficult to write well. Two of the biggest are magic and, funnily enough, world building. If you’re not careful, magic can be overdone and lose its impact, unbalance the world, or create gaping plot holes. With world building, many writers invest considerable time and energy in their worlds. That’s not a bad thing, but it can cause some writers to become Tour Guides from Hell where they insist on showing the reader every aspect of the world they’ve so lovingly created. I enjoy the challenge of writing fantasy that’s got some grit, realism, and leaves you wanting more.

Q: How important is it to you to follow your own instincts as a writer?

You never want to ignore your instincts but it’s important to recognize not all your instincts are good ones. We all have blind spots when it comes to our writing style, character development, and plot structure. In my case, I have a tendency to lean too dark, to make things too bleak for my characters, etc. There are times when that makes sense, but I’ve come to realize that I tend to veer in that direction like a wonky shopping cart. Being aware of that tendency helps me keep it in check. That said, I do think it’s important to trust your instincts in situations where you’ve heard conflicting feedback and need to make a decision. I try very hard to listen to my editors, digest their suggestions, and act upon them. 95% of the time they’re right. But there are situations where I simply don’t see it the same way—particularly when it comes to quieter scenes that focus on character development rather than plot advancement. In those scenarios I trust my instincts and I’ve never regretted it.

Q: What was your favorite childhood book?

Ack! So many to choose from! Some that come to mind include: The Ant and Bee books, Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Fourteen Bears, The Spooky Old Tree, Charlotte’s Web, Danny the Champion of the World, The Soup books, Tales from a Fourth Grade Nothing, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Dark is Rising, and Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I realize that answer is a cop out 😉

Q: If you were on a train going across America at midnight, conversing with your favorite authors (from any time period)  – who would those authors be?

Tolkien, Maurice Sendak, Patrick O’Brian (author of my favorite historical fiction novels), Ursula LeGuin, and Susan Cooper

Q: What is your writing Kryptonite?  

Momentum. Once I lose it, it’s difficult to get back—particularly on rough drafts.

Q: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal (homunculus J?)

Ooh! I’d choose a lymrill (a creature from my books). They’re tough, lovable, and demanding — the perfect muse.

Q: There is a spiritual undertone to the magic in Impryium. Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

I think there’s something spiritual about finding your passion and acting upon it. To some degree, I think that’s true of magic within IMPYRIUM. Part of Hazel’s journey is understanding herself, embracing who she is, and that does play a role in her ability to tap and channel the magic within her. So, yes, there probably is a spiritual/reflective component of magic within my stories. It’s definitely not just supernatural science—it comes from somewhere deeper and soulful.

Q: Hazel is a very well-developed character. What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

I wanted Hazel’s character, persona, and dialogue to resonate as authentic. We’ve all read stories where the author’s attempt to portray a character or demographic fell short. I didn’t want that to be the case and really tried to put myself in Hazel’s shoes—particularly in situations where I thought her reaction (both inner and outer) would differ from someone like Hob’s. Her relationship with her sisters really helped bring that out — the dialogue between them flowed very naturally.

Q: Dàme Rascha has a very human dimension somehow to her character.  Was she based on any real person or persons in particular?

I enjoyed writing for Rascha. She might be cranky and demanding, but she also loves Hazel like a daughter. Ironically, I think Rascha’s “human” characteristics are heightened by the fact that she’s not human. Vyes look like wolves, like some sort of fairy tale monster and there are times I make a point of emphasizing that they have a feral quality that can be unsettling. But when we see that “monster” speaking quietly with Hazel or giving a grudging laugh, it registers as surprisingly human. Rascha isn’t based on any one individual, but I’m sure she’s an amalgam from people in my subconscious. I think most characters are.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Write rough drafts quickly. To this day, I take too long with mine and I really don’t think there’s much benefit. Just get the story down, step away from it, and start revising. It’s always easier to react to something that exists than to try and pen perfection as you go. The latter takes too long and it doesn’t result in better writing—just slower submissions.

There you go.  (I can totally use that last piece of advice.) Thanks so much, Henry.  We look forward to to more of the series, so hurry up — I’m not sure I can wait too long for the next installment.