Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Author Interview: Jenny Ferguson, Author of BORDER MARKERS (Plus Giveaway!)




Today I'm chatting with Jenny Ferguson, author of BORDER MARKERS. Jenny happens to be one of my Pitch Wars 2015 classmates (and a fellow 2016 Pitch Wars mentor!), so I have first-hand knowledge of what a lovely human being she is. I'm so excited to have her on the blog to tell us more about her debut novel! So, without further ado, here's what Jenny had to say about her book, the inspiration behind the story, and her opinion on metaphorical snacks.





First of all, what is BORDER MARKERS about?

I am not good at this question. How about I let you read the blurb, something a group of skilled people came up with!

After the accidental death of a high school-aged friend, the Lansing family has split along fault lines previously hidden under a patina of suburban banality. Every family's got secrets, but for the Lansings those secrets end up propelling them away from the border town of Lloydminster to foreign shores, prison, and beyond. 
Told via thirty-three flash fiction narratives, fractured like the psyches of its characters, Border Markers is a collection with keen edges and tough language. It's a slice of prairie noir that straddles the line between magic and gritty realism.

See, I feel better knowing you read that and I didn’t mess it up by trying to do something I’m terrible at. I’m a storyteller, not a story-summer-upper.

What inspired you to write this book?

Through one of those silly acts of fate, I ended up living in Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan, Canada, for two years in the middle of my high school career. A rough move, to say the least. It gets cold that far north in Canada—the kind of cold where you need to plug cars in so that they’ll start in the morning. Once, I drove half way across town with a 50 foot extension cord trailing behind me on the icy roads—but that’s another story.

The other act of fate that turned me into the woman who would write Border Markers was that my parents enrolled me in the local Catholic high school so that I could continue my French Immersion studies, and not the public high school, where I would have been a lot more comfortable. But after all, I’d been studying French since kindergarten: I probably shouldn’t quit just because we moved to what I considered the frigid, middle-of-nowhere.

In the end, I really ended up loving Lloydminster, the people and the places, despite the town’s many problems.

And now we’re going to time warp a few years: I’m back in Toronto, and I’m working as a clerk in a busy maternity ward, and I get an email that sucks the air out of the room.

A friend of mine has been attacked on the street.

My friend dies later that night.

For a long time, I’m wrecked. For a long time, I don’t know how to process. When I can, I know that the town of Lloydminster, this place I thought I didn’t belong to, was the right place to go back to in order to move forward.

Of course, Border Markers is fiction. But the emotion and the weight of life in the pages comes from the town, from its people—and yeah, I’m one of them even if I don’t live within those borders today.

Places imprint themselves on you, and you imprint yourself on those places, as it should be.

I love that—life's imprints. So beautiful. What imprint do you hope your book leaves on your readers?

Always, always, always I hope that my book—and any other books I publish—hit a reader in the feels. Literature, in my heart, is always about transmission of emotion and experience. And by experiencing these things, we change. This is something I believe: Books change people, and by changing people, they change the world.

Okay, re-reading that, I come across as someone who has lofty goals. But, hey, that’s not a bad thing, right?

Do you have any writing rituals when you're penning all the feels? Beverages, snacks, walking three laps around the room counter clockwise before you sit down at your desk?

I have to write alone. I guess you could say that I can be alone in a room full of people, but I need to feel isolated, and I need to feel empty.
That doesn’t mean I don’t snack. The empty feeling is more metaphorical. You know writers, we like metaphors. But not metaphorical snacks. That’s not cool.

The last three books you read:

Other than my Pitch Wars slush pile? Haha. Okay, then we need to wind back to my lovely vacation to Croatia/Montenegro this past June:

Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS
Louis Carmain’s GUANO: A NOVEL (translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins)
Matthew Heiti’s THE CITY STILL BREATHING

Coke or Pepsi?

When I’m bad, coke with a squirt of lime, over ice. When I’m good: water with the same lime over the same ice. 



What's your best piece of advice for writers?

You have to love the process, even when you hate it. Because the process is writing. Publishing isn’t writing. It might be part of writing, but it’s not the whole thing. Oh and I’m going to add in a second, but related, thing: mental health breaks. Take them when you need them. Enjoy the time away from writing, from the process, so you can come back to it and still love it.


Jenny Ferguson lives in a log cabin (without an internet connection) and names her pets after (dead) American presidents. She is Métis, French-Canadian, a feminist, and an activist. BORDER MARKERS is her first novel.

Twitter: @jennyleeSD




Thank you so much, Jenny, for being on the blog today! Congratulations on your debut!

BORDER MARKERS is now available to order on Amazon. And starting today, you have a chance to win a copy! Enter Jenny's Goodreads Book Giveaway by clicking on the widget below! (Also, I've been told if you visit Jenny's website, there just might be another surprise giveaway.)



Goodreads Book Giveaway


Border Markers by Jenny Ferguson

Border Markers

by Jenny Ferguson


Giveaway ends October 06, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.


Enter Giveaway

Saturday, May 14, 2016

In Which I Serve You a Smorgasbord of News

If you've been reading my posts for any amount of time, you know this blog is nothing if not sporadic. When you're a wife and mom and you're homeschooling your kids and driving them to ballet and soccer practice and writing another novel and still doing graphic design work on the side...personal blogging tends to get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. As much as I wish I had eight hours every day solely dedicated to writing (and reading!), that's not likely to happen any time soon. (Also, is it summer vacation yet?) So consider this a catch-up post and enjoy this smorgasbord of news and goings-on...

First up: Pitch Wars 2016!

On a scale of 1 to Kristen Bell Meeting a Sloth, I'm like...


...SO EXCITED to announce that I will be a middle grade mentor for this year's Pitch Wars! That's all I can say at the moment (you'll have to wait until the mentor blog hop in July to get my full wish list) but now is the perfect time to think about entering! As a Pitch Wars 2015 alumn, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you dream about signing with a literary agent and seeing your book published, Pitch Wars is a great opportunity to make sure your manuscript and query are at their best before you hit send. You can learn more and find the contest rules and dates to be aware of here on creator Brenda Drake's website.

Next: To the Shelves!

If you're interested in hearing (slightly more often) from me, I'll be contributing occasionally to the 2015 Pitch Wars Mentees' new blog, To the Shelves, where we'll be sharing encouragement, tips, and tricks with all you wonderful writers out there. (Turns out blog posts are much more likely to get written when there's a deadline attached!) You can read my pep talk, A World of Endless Insecurities, and check out some of the other posts up now--more to come soon!

Lastly: Books!

I've read some super great books recently and, rather than try to blog reviews for each individually, I thought I'd share a few quick thumbs up (ups? upses?):


Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban and Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre are two very different books that both address a theme that I think is so important, especially in the current climate: racial prejudice. In Paper Wishes we get a glimpse at what happened during WWII, after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, when thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced to leave their homes and live in prison camps. Ten-year-old Manami's story is told in beautiful, heartbreaking prose and is an important reminder of what happens when a country becomes controlled by fear. And in Last in a Long Line of Rebels we get an incredibly fun read, filled with humor and mystery, even while it tackles tough social issues. Tyre does a fantastic job of showing the importance of fighting injustice in all the right ways as twelve-year-old Lou works to save her family's Civil War era home and grapples with prejudices, both in her family's past and her community's present.



If you're looking for a fun summer read (for yourself or the kids), might I recommend this adorable book? Fenway and Hattie is by my agency sister, Victoria J. Coe, so I may be slightly biased, but I'm pretty sure it's impossible for anyone to read this book and not love it. Told from Fenway's perspective, we see life and its changes through the eyes of a spunky Jack Russel terrier as he navigates squirrels, the super-slippery Wicked Floor, and the suddenly strange behavior of his favorite short-human, Hattie. The fact that we adopted a dog just a few weeks before I read it made it even better.



I'm currently reading A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and I'm only about 28 pages in, but let me tell you IT'S SO PRETTY. And I'm reading Because of Winn-Dixie to the kids for school (confession: it's my first time reading it, too) which is some of the most fun I've ever had reading aloud, probably because the voice is amazing and my southern accent is way better than any of my english accents (you should hear me reading Harry Potter to my son and trying to do Hagrid). Despite all of my recent reading, however, my TBR list is still ridiculous.

So...yup...that's about it folks.

Ending random, unfocused blog posts is so awkward.






Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Yes, I Let My Daughter Bring a Screen to the Dinner Table

Yes, you read that correctly. I let my daughter bring an electronic device to the dinner table. And you know what? I don't feel the least bit guilty about it. (Okay, I admit, it's slightly less scandalous when I clarify that said device is neither iPad nor iPod, but her Kindle.)


I've managed to turn both of my children into voracious readers, and while my 8 year-old son still prefers for Mom to read to him, my daughter is a super independent reader. When she finds a book she loves, she hates to put it down. So on the occasions when she comes to the dinner table with Kindle in hand, I let her. Why?

Because my parents let me.

As a kid, I took my books everywhere. I read in my room, on the couch, outside, in the car, and at the dining room table. Sure, there were nights where my mom would smile and tell me I needed to put it down - just for a few minutes - to participate in conversation and, you know, actually look at what I was eating (something which I sometimes tell my daughter as well). But, more often than not, I only put my books down to shower, sleep, or do schoolwork.

I don't know about you, but I miss the days when I could just sit around and read, and the nights when I could snuggle up with a book until 2am and sleep in until 11 the next morning. I still bring my books to the table (but only for the occasional lunch-time read) and I'm no stranger to midnight (because JUST ONE MORE PAGE), but it comes with a little more guilt now. After all, there's so much that needs to be done in a day that I practically have to schedule reading time.

I'll forever be thankful that I grew up in a house where reading was encouraged, and where I wasn't often told to put my book down or turn my light off and go to bed (perks of being homeschooled). It's a huge part of the reason I'm a writer today. My love of words started early and was nurtured by parents who saw it as a good thing. Too soon my daughter will be dealing with the highs and lows of middle school. She'll have more responsibilities and more commitments. There will be friends and phone calls and boys and all sorts of other distractions. And one day, she might be a mom herself, who has to cook the dinner and dish up plates and she won't have the luxury of ignoring the rest of her family while she reads. But hopefully, through it all, books will still be a constant in her life.

So now, while she can, I'll gladly let her indulge in excessive amounts of reading, even at the dinner table.

Besides, she's reading Harry Potter. How do I tell her to put that down?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How to Wait Well: Get Out Your Pom-Poms

Confession: I don't always wait well. When I was a kid and I had to wait for something, I would just make a paper calendar with elaborately doodled pages and mark off the days until the SUPER EXCITING THING arrived. But give me a wait without a specified end date, and waiting well quickly turns into waiting cranky. I don't think anyone has ever died from waiting, but dang it if it doesn't feel like a real possibility some days.

Ask a writer what it's like to write a book and you'll get all sorts of answers. It's fun...it's challenging...it's fulfilling...it's exciting. And it's all those things. It's an amazing experience in which we sit at our computers and populate the blank page with words, bringing to life the vibrant world inside our heads as our characters whisper their stories in our ears.

...

Yeah, mostly it's this:


But honestly, I think the hardest part of writing comes once the book is finished, because if there's one thing all writers can agree on, it's that pursuing a career in the book world involves a whole lot of w-a-i-t-i-n-g. In fact, if I were to make a pie chart to illustrate life after writing a book, it would look something like this:


(If my agent is reading this, I promise that "write next book" slice is a lot bigger than it looks.) 😉

And the waiting comes with every stage of the journey. First you wait for agents to reply to your queries, then you wait for them to read your manuscript. Then you countdown the hours until THE CALL, and the moment you can officially announce I HAVE AN AGENT! And once you've waited for your agent to finish reading your revisions, guess what?

YOU WAIT SOME MORE!

Because once you're on sub, then you're waiting on replies from editors and eventually, if you're lucky enough to get a publishing deal, there's more announcements to wait for and more edits to complete, the countdown to publication day, and by then, you've hopefully finished another book and get to start the entire process all over again.


So, how does one survive? How do we wait well and not end up a hot mess, clutching our manuscripts and begging PLEASE JUST LIKE THESE WORDS I WROTE while consuming an entire pint of triple chocolate cookie dough ice cream? "Write the next book" is the suggestion I hear most often (for good reason). And of course, there's always the distraction of that never ending pile of books waiting to be read. But I've found that one of the best (and most fun) survival techniques is cheering on my fellow authors.


A great way to stop focusing on your own wait is to support someone else in theirs. And let's face it. It's super easy to fall into the comparison trap in this business. No matter where we're at in our own journey, there will always be someone who reaches the next stage ahead of us. What better way to beat down the green-eyed monster of jealousy than by celebrating others' success? (Something I need to remember not just in writing, but in life.)

I'm fortunate enough to have a great group of writing friends, both locally and online (looking at you, Pitch Wars 2015 crew) and they've been incredible examples of what it means to wait well and root for one another. My time in the waiting trenches would be ten times harder if not for their camaraderie. The writing world is such an incredible community precisely because of the support we lend each other, so...

Obsessively checking your email? Send an encouraging note to a friend who's in the midst of a first draft. Are the aisles of Barnes and Noble silently mocking you with their rows of bestsellers? Offer to CP or beta read for a fellow writer who desperately wants to be on those shelves, too. Procrastinating on social media? Retweet that deal announcement, blog post, or book trailer. 

While you're waiting for your own time of celebration to arrive, LET THAT CONFETTI FLY.


And, hey, a little retail therapy never hurts, right?


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko

What do you do when, just days before Christmas, you're forced to walk out of the emergency room and leave your five-year-old daughter behind? Only she isn't really there anymore, only her body is.

How do you survive such impossible pain?

In his book, Pastor Levi Lusko shows with heartbreaking honesty how to face impossible pain and find incredible power. But Through the Eyes of a Lion is more than just a manual for dealing with grief. In Levi's words, it's "a manifesto for high-octane living." Those words couldn't be more true. I've never experienced the level of pain that Levi and his wife Jennie did the day their daughter Lenya left this earth. But I have struggled with fear, anxiety, and defeat, and I walked away from this book encouraged and empowered to change the way I view the challenges in my life.

Posing questions like "How do you live out an extraordinary calling while doing ordinary things and living in a world that is all screwed up?" Levi uses his real life experiences to teach you how to hurt with hope, look past what you can see, and let go of fear to become the you you were meant to be. And he does so with a mix of authenticity, brevity, gravity and humor that makes this not only a powerful read, but one you can easily engage with. From "cue the eagle" to "pain is a microphone" and "run toward the roar" the pages are full of tidbits of wisdom and key phrases that will stick with you long after you finish reading. Whether you're struggling under the weight of seemingly unbearable pain, or facing the everyday difficulties of life, this book offers renewed hope--for both your present and your future. 

"When you have hope, gale-force winds can blow and tsunami waves can smash into the hull of your life, but you are buoyed by the belief that the best is yet to come, that brighter days are ahead. Hope quietly tells your heart that all is not lost, even as storms rage."

Available today at a bookstore or online bookseller near you! Grab a copy for yourself and one (or two or three or four) for anyone in your life who needs to hear more about the power of hope.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

If You Give a Pig a Pilot's License (Or the Day I Bought a Kindle)

Yes, you read that title right.

After years of staunchly defending the paperback, I, Ashley Martin, have purchased an e-reader.

And I love it.

I feel like I should mumble that last statement into a cough and then smoothly change the subject to something that will distract everyone from such a shocking admission.

How 'bout them Seahawks?

......

YES, OKAY, I LOVE IT. Are you happy? Some of you are gloating right now. The rest of you no doubt are doing something like this:

Who are you?

I've actually been secretly considering an e-reader for a while now. I did a ton of research and determined that the Kindle Paperwhite was definitely the one I wanted...if I ever decided to buy an e-reader...which I wouldn't....because REAL BOOKS.

Oh, how a substantial amount of Christmas cash can change a person.

I can blame thank my husband, really. He was the one to suggest the idea. And since my "they're just so expensive" excuse was no longer an issue, resistance proved futile. I ordered the Paperwhite on the final day of the post-Christmas sale (in addition, I went for the one that comes with special offers for $20 cheaper) and was cautiously excited. Honestly, I still wasn't totally sure if I would like it, but once I had it in my hands, I couldn't deny its awesomeness.

I also couldn't deny my feelings of guilt. It was like cheating on all my beautiful hardcovers. And what would this do to my street cred?

Just a couple days after my Kindle arrived, I was faced with the harrowing choice I'd feared for so long: Did I purchase the ebook version of the new Flavia de Luce novel, or buy the hardcover? To pass the time while making this difficult decision, I linked my Kindle to my Goodreads account, downloaded and devoured the newly discovered Flavia de Luce short story (available only in ebook format), purchased a children's book for bedtime reading at the insistent pleading of my seven-year-old, and checked out a book from the library without having to wait until I had time to go to the library.

At which point I decided guilt be damned. I SHALL READ ALL THE BOOKS.

And to answer your question, of course I ordered the hardcover. Psh. What kind of crazy person do you think I am?

Pigs may be flying, but you-know-where hasn't frozen over yet.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Hilary Westfield dreams of being a pirate. But there are a few minor problems standing in her way, such as The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates' refusal to allow girls to join their piratical ranks. Instead of heading out to sea, Hilary, along with her dearest friend, the gargoyle, finds herself being shipped off to Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. In an effort to escape a life of waltzing and crochet hooks, Hilary answers an ad for a pirate crew and is soon swept up in a seafaring adventure involving a rather secretive map, a magical treasure that may or may not exist, a rogue governess, and the most treacherous--and unexpected--villain on the High Seas.

Pirates, magic, a talking gargoyle...what's not to love? If you're looking for a story that is everything a children's book should be (fun story, fast pace, perfect voice, vibrant characters, AND it's hilarious!), The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is very definitely it. It's the type of book that insists you read a snippet out loud every five minutes to whoever happens to be in the room--the brilliance MUST BE SHARED. Best of all, in a book that could have been filled with cliches, I found a refreshing array of unexpected characters and plot turns. The perfect end to my 2014 list of books read, this one shoots right to the top of my favorites for the year. And if the grin on the face of my nine year old is any indication, she's enjoying it just as much as I did.

Verdict: If you're looking for a great start to your 2015 literary treasure hunt (for you or your kiddos), consider this the X that marks the spot.


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Magical Land of the Used Bookstore

This week, my husband and I went out on a date. And because I have the best husband in the world, part of that date involved a bookstore. But not just any bookstore. While I'm quite fond of Barnes & Noble (and would love it if the closest location was less than 90 miles from my house), my heart belongs to the independent bookstore.

And then there's that even more magical place...the used bookstore.


Richard Van Nice Books occupies a weathered little house that sits on one of the busier streets in our town. One in a short row of random houses-turned-businesses, it's easy to ignore--or simply miss--as you drive by. I often wonder how many people don't even know this little gem exists.

Inside smells of paperbacks and pipe tobacco. The books are stacked precariously, more heaped than orderly lined. Although the mystery section is *mostly* alphabetized.


To most, it looks like a mess. To a bibliophile like me, it's a treasure hunt. I mean, where else are you going to find things like this:

The Bible in a Southern accent. In which Mary (Jesus's mama) is made pregnant by
the Holy Spirit before she and Joseph (a.k.a. Joe Davidson) have relations.
I don't think we'll be seeing this one on YouVersion anytime soon. 

And this:

From How to Live With Cats. This one came home with me.

But I think my favorite thing about Richard Van Nice Books is Mr. Van Nice himself. He's pretty much exactly who you would expect to find behind the piles of books that surround the tiny counter.


A disabled Vietnam vet, his hands are gnarled, his fingers permanently clenched, yet he somehow handles each book with ease. His passion for books is obvious--he's not just a collector, he's a connoisseur. Despite the seeming chaos, if he has the book you're looking for, he knows exactly where it is. He found me a copy of Watership Down in about 30 seconds flat. And his disappointment was evident when I told him I hadn't found any Laurie King books in the mystery section. I have no doubt it pains him not to have every book ever written.

Browsing also has an added bonus. Like his books, Mr. Van Nice has some tales to tell. They go something like this:

     "My greatest goal in life is to win one of the major lotteries. Then I'll go to the Strand Bookstore in New York City. There are 2.5 million books in the Strand. I'll walk up to the counter and when the clerk asks, 'Can I help you with anything?' I'll say, 'Yes. One of each, please.'"

And then he continues...

     "I used to have a dream of being kidnapped by a group of women starting a book commune. They'd carry me off and make me their book God. I've given them 30 years and they haven't come for me. I don't think they're going to do it. It's too bad. I could just see myself sitting comfortably on my throne, looking down into their adoring faces, and saying, 'Now fetch me some light fiction.'" 

I handed him my three books. He charged me three dollars.

I would have happily paid a whole lot more.


Friday, August 29, 2014

10 Books That Have Influenced Me

My friend Jennifer challenged me on Facebook to list the ten books that have impacted me the most. While I typically avoid Facebook challenges, being the bookworm that I am, I rather liked this idea. Instead of posting an excruciatingly long status, I thought I'd take the opportunity for a blog post. So, here are some of the books that have shaped me--as a reader, a writer, and a person.*

*Disclaimer: This will in no way be an all inclusive list.

1. The Bible. Think me cheesy for including it if you will, but I wouldn't be the person I am today if not for this one. Favorite book of the Bible: John (because of all the gospel authors, John was truly a writer at heart).

2. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. An honest conversation about Christianity--that is totally not boring. This book (and the movie) had a huge impact on my life and really cemented my desire to interact with people--and life--in a different way. There were many moments while reading this book that I wanted to shout its pages from the rooftops. Or at least tweet as many <140 character lines as possible.

3. Love Does by Bob Goff. I wrote an in-depth review of why this book is so amazing (you can click on the title right ^ there to read it). In short: Say yes to life and love people. Seriously, JUST LOVE PEOPLE. No strings attached. The stories of how Bob has lived out this ideal are crazy awesome. It will change your world.

4. The Mandie Books by Lois Gladys Leoppard. My first book love. I bought many a book in this series with my hard-earned allowance money. Mandy, her friends Joe and Celia, and Snowball the cat get into all sorts of trouble and solve mysteries. With a little bit of history thrown in. Seven-year-old me was in heaven, and knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: A writer.

5. The Wind in the Willows. I can still vividly remember the moment I pulled this one off the library shelf. I was immediately charmed and quickly fell in love with Mole, Otter, Toad and Badger. Years later, it would be the inspiration behind the styling and adventure-filled pages of my first children's novel, The Fantastical Adventures of Pinkletin Frog.

6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I've talked before about my inability to make it through certain classic novels, but classic children's literature makes me swoon. And Alice is most certainly my favorite in that category. So much so, that my current work-in-progress has an awful lot to do with that magical world down the rabbit hole. Obviously classics are my muse.

7. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. When I was a preteen/teen, Young Adult fiction wasn't even close to the caliber it is today. Thank goodness for Anne. She saved me from the stacks of angsty, gag-me-with-a-spoon teen fiction and introduced me to the beautiful world of literature. Anne and Gilbert will always be my favorite literary couple.

8. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins. I've never cried so much while reading a book series. I was completely unprepared for just how much I would love these novels. Suzanne Collins has some mad, mad writing skills, y'all. Everything about these books, from the use of first person, present tense to the balance of victory vs. tragedy, is storytelling done right. And I'll have you know I was team Peeta all the way.

9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. My very first foray into the world of epic high fantasy, I didn't read these (or The Hobbit) until I was 25. I'm so glad I did. And even more glad I read them before seeing the movies. I think the fact that I can't get through the wordiness of a Jane Austen novel, but I devoured these books is pretty telling about my personality...

10. The Circle Books by Ted Dekker. I can't describe how mind-blowing these books are. Part contemporary thriller, part epic fantasy...you just have to experience it for yourself. Plus, Ted will always be my hero for pushing the boundaries of faith-based fiction and refusing to allow people to tell him what he is and isn't allowed to write.

Runners-Up. You didn't seriously expect me to stop there, did you? I have to give a quick shout out to Jane Eyre, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Flavia de Luce novels, and Watership Down. Also, my current obsessions: The Meaning of Maggie, and The Beekeeper's Apprentice. (If you need something to hold you over until Sherlock returns, I highly recommend that last one.)

Your turn! What is one book (or two or three or five) that has influenced you or your life's journey? Have you read and loved--or hated--any of the books on my list? Share in the comments!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stranger Things by Erin Healy

This last December, I had the honor of hosting best-selling author Erin Healy on my blog to promote her new book. I've been a long time fan of Erin's books, and I'm happy to say Stranger Things is yet another inspiring, thought provoking, and impactful novel.

Serena Diaz's life is suddenly torn apart after a troubled student accuses her of sexual misconduct. In an effort to escape the inevitable fallout, Serena retreats to the comfort of the woods, only to stumble into the middle of a criminal operation. And she almost pays for this discovery with her life, until a man she's never met steps in front of the bullet meant for her. Haunted by mysterious visions and the question of why a complete stranger would die for her, Serena's search for answers reveals an evil she never expected. Caught in a tangle of false accusations, Serena is forced to confront the darkness and step into a world of terrifying danger where she soon realizes her life isn't the only one at stake.

Among the fun stories and the easy reads, the classic novels and the favorite series, there are a handful of books on my bookshelf that have done more than just entertain me. They've impacted me in a big way and changed the way I look at the world around me. This is one of those books. In her latest novel, Erin not only weaves a captivating and suspenseful story, but she also tackles the very serious--and very real--topic of sex trafficking. In the midst of the beautiful writing and masterful storytelling I've come to love so much from Erin, the import of the truth behind the fiction began to haunt me. As I was caught up in the characters' stories--each with their own unique, powerful, and emotional layers--the realization that their stories are, in some places, closer to fact than fiction was heartbreaking. And then I came to the line that completely wrecked me:

"And then she thought she didn't really want to hear this story. She wanted the sordid tales that involved fourteen-year-old girls to stay at arm's length the way they did in the papers, or in her parents' safe house. She wanted them to remain trapped at a safe distance on digital screens, where she didn't have to look a victim in the eye and find she had no idea what to say."

Wow. Can we say "hard truth"? I saw myself in those lines, and the more I read, the more I wanted to do something to offer the hope woven into the pages of this story to the real-life women who so desperately need it. And that is what makes this book so amazingly wonderful--its power to defeat apathy and inspire change. If you're a fan of emotionally charged, well-written suspense, I hope you'll put this book at the top of your to-read list, then spread the message: We're in it to end it.

If, like me, stories like these--whether fiction or real life accounts of those exploited--have inspired you to take action, the End It website is a great place to start. There you'll find ways you can show your support and take a stand against modern-day slavery, and links to organizations that are leading the fight against human trafficking. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where nothing exciting ever happens. Until the day the Green Wind shows up at her window with his flying Leopard and whisks her away to Fairyland. There she encounters all manner of things she could never have imagined, both marvelous and dangerous. When she takes on the task of retrieving a witch's stolen wooden spoon, it falls to September, a book-loving dragon, and an almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish a tyrannical Marquess and restore order to Fairyland. But this adventure won't just threaten September's life. She might just lose her heart as well.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is quite possibly the most fun I've ever had telling people what book I'm reading. How so many words manage to roll off the tongue so beautifully, I'll never understand. How can I properly convey how wonderful this book is? There's so much to love! Just reading the cast of characters on the opening page is enough to tell you the story is going to be magical. (Witches, Wyverns, Spriggans, Numerous Velocipes...Do tell!) Reading this book is like being transported to a modern version of Alice's Wonderland. I found myself constantly amazed by the imagination of the author and the vast and varied cast she created inside the enchanting world of Fairyland. The narrator is perfection, stepping in at just the right moments with all the wit and poetic speech that is to be expected from the teller of such a tale. The writing is fantastic, the kind of stuff you'll find yourself constantly wishing you could fit into a tweet, in order to share the brilliance with the rest of the world.

"Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble."


"It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor."

See what I mean? 

Most of all, I love that the author isn't afraid to mix humor with seriousness, the light hearted with a darker edge. I love the way that September, dear, brave girl, grows throughout the story. I came to many passages that, as I was reading them, seemed as if they were trying to teach me a very important lesson in some wonderful, mysterious way. The whole book is like that, wonderful and mysterious and enchanting. Including the ending of the second to last chapter that, just when I thought I had it all figured out, snuck up behind me and surprised me one last time before it disappeared and left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

If you're at all interested in traveling to a fantastic world filled with fairies, lovable dragons, terrible Marquesses with very fine hats, and a bathhouse where you can wash your courage clean, I don't think you'll find a better book for the job.

Then again, I am a novelist and not to be trusted. Perhaps you'll just have to make your own judgements.

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Apology to My Bookshelf



Here's what my current to-read list looks like (in no particular order). And these are just the ones that currently live on my bookshelf. After reading this Buzzfeed post on 16 Books to Read Before They Hit Theaters I think my list just got longer. Unfortunately it seems like my reading list is a lot longer than my reading time. I've been working on the same novel for about 5 weeks now...pretty sure my Bookworm card is going to get revoked now that I admitted that. *Hangs head in shame* It's a fantastic book, but I've had such a hard time allowing myself the down time to read. Right now I have six graphic design jobs going (good for the bank account, questionable for my sanity), and children and a husband who expect to be fed, and a state who expects me to educate my children, not to mention the laundry and house cleaning, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera... Every spare second I have left over is being focused on writing and editing, which I've somehow been managing to squeeze in daily (even if it's just 30 minutes) and that's a great thing--especially since I eventually want it to turn into a full time career. So of course what gets sacrificed? Reading. Which I know is horribly backwards, I mean, you can't write great books if you don't read great books. I've been seriously considering making myself a daily schedule and penciling in reading time. Yes, the situation has become that dire.

To all the books (and authors) I've been neglecting: It's not you, it's me. I'm sorry. I love you. I promise I'll be back

What about you? Do you read when you have a spare moment, or are you more intentional about picking up whatever book you're currently reading? What's on your 2014 to-read list? (I'll probably regret asking that last question.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Literary Gifts for Book Lovers

The turkey has been carved and the pumpkin pie vanquished. Now comes the fun of checking off that Christmas shopping list. Maybe this is the year to get the writer/and or bookworm in your life something besides notebooks and bookstore gift cards. Here are some of my favorite suggestions for doing just that...


1. Modcloth.com
Modcloth is one of my favorite online stores. Not only do they have a ton of adorable, vintage inspired clothing, they also have an amazing selection of giftable items. Just search "books" and you'll be treated to a plethora of choices...unique and hilarious coffee table books, notecard sets, literary themed apparel and accessories...seriously, my wishlist is ridiculous.
Pictured: Live Up to the Type Necklace and Mermaid for Each Other Bookends.

2. Vintage Books
Chances are, your literary inclined friend or family member has a favorite classic book, whether it be a current favorite or one from their childhood. Get a list of their most treasured titles and then hit eBay, or your local antique shop, secondhand or thrift store. You'll be surprised at how affordable they can be (unless of course you have your heart set on a signed first edition). I have my own collection of antique and vintage books and I've paid anywhere from about $8-$40 per title. This is a great way to make this Christmas an extra special one.

3. Outofprintclothing.com
Out of Print celebrates the world's great stories through fashion, with products featuring iconic and often out of print book covers. They have everything from phone cases, to tote bags, to t-shirts (for every member of the family). And to make it even better, for each product sold, Out of Print donates one book to the organization Books for Africa.
Pictured: Nancy Drew: The Sign of the Twisted Candles Women's Tee and The Great Gatsby iPhone 5/5S Case

4. Give Back
Speaking of donations, making a charitable contribution in your book lover's name can be a wonderful gift with a lasting impact. Especially if your giftee is already involved with a particular organization--for example, those crazy friends of yours who participate in NaNoWriMo each November. There are lots of great literary charities out there, like First Book, which provides books to kids from low-income families, or United Through Reading, which allows deployed military parents the opportunity to be video-recorded reading storybooks to their children to help ease the stress of separation. 

Do you have any favorite gifts you love to give to the readers/writers in your life? Or do you have your own literary wishlist? Share in the comments!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's On My Bookshelf

Today's post is part of a link-up happening over at Anne Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. I love Anne's blog. She's one of those bloggers who has the ability to make it seem like you're just having a chat over coffee. Her blog has such a great variety of posts on books, beauty and fashion, and just...LIFE.

This week Anne asked her readers to share their bookshelves. If you know me (or if you've ever taken a gander at my "No Place Like Home" Pinterest board), you know what a perfect prompt for a blog post this is for me. I believe a home without books is no home at all, and someday I pledge to have at least one wall of floor to ceiling shelves. So, without further adieu, a peek into my living room...



These guys get the highest shelf, partly to be out of reach of small, dirty fingers, but mostly because it's my favorite shelf. This one holds all my vintage books, including some of my favorite classics. (Alice in Wonderland has a bookmark in it because it's inspiration for the NaNoWriMo novel I'm working on this month.) The best ones have inscriptions on the first page. You can read the most darling inscription in this Instagram photo.


What it looks like when you have more books than shelves. Confession: There's a book on this shelf that I bought this summer and still haven't read. But this shelf also holds the series I've read and re-read the most times: The O'Malley Chronicles by Dee Henderson. I met my husband, who was a firefighter at the time, right after reading The Protector. Needless to say, it's my favorite of the series.


This shelf holds some of my favorite, most magical children's/YA books, plus (randomly, I know--I'm surprised the cross in genres doesn't drive me crazy...) Blue Like Jazz and Start--two of the books I most often, and most highly, recommend. My Flavia deLuce novels get special attention with their poison bottle companion. And the thing that really makes this shelf awesome? The manilla folder you can just make out in the shadows to the right. That's my children's book manuscript, in all its printed glory.


And lastly, the overflow stacks. My bookshelves have pretty much reached their max capacity, so several books have wandered to the half wall between the living room and kitchen. As you can see, they don't always stay between the bookends. This is where the currently-being-read books (and a few favorites) live along with the novels visiting from the library and the pile of Relevant magazines.


Okay, one more (then I promise I'm done). My kids have their own shelves in their room, filled to overflowing. (Plus there's a basket tucked in next to the bookshelves in the living room that holds another pile of picture books, chapter books, and easy readers borrowed from the library.) One of the biggest goals I have as a mom is to pass on my love of reading. Yesterday my daughter finished one book she'd already started and then went on to read an entire Ivy+Bean novel. Mission accomplished.

Thanks for checking out this little peek into my world! Want to see what other bookworms are reading? Visit the link up post at Modern Mrs. Darcy and browse their shelves!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Poetry and Such

Since this is a blog mostly featuring literary themed ramblings, and since I'm an author always bothering you with talk about writing, I thought it might be nice to share some actual, well...writing.

It's a little different from my usual work, since it's a poem. Most of the verses I've penned happened during my childhood, when it was my go-to Mother's Day gift. I wrote this particular poem as a Language Arts exercise for my daughter. I set out to use her spelling words in a story (making it her job to read it and circle the aforementioned words) and this is what came of it. Now, I'm by no means a professional poet, so all you rhyming masters out there will have to forgive me if my meter isn't perfect.

We Are the Books

We are the books,
We have something to say.
A story to tell,
If you say that we may.
Now if you read fast,
Or if you read slow,
It doesn't matter,
We're ready to go.
So come take a trip,
Come along and you'll see,
You can go anywhere,
See any sea.
Fly a hot air balloon,
Sit on a train.
Cut through the jungle,
Sail around Spain.
Meet lots of people,
Some happy, some sad.
Some at their best,
And some horribly bad.
Find a lost treasure,
Wish on a star,
Have an adventure,
Wherever you are.
And when you are done,
You'll love where you went,
And be ready to go,
Where you haven't gone yet.
So open us up,
And soon you will see,
A book is a door,
And you are its key.

So there you have it! I'm attempting to learn more about writing poetry, since I do have a picture book series in the works that is written in verse. I've always written by ear, so I've never really paid too much attention to the technical side of things. So if you have any advice, or links to articles or books that might help simplify things for me, please share in the comments!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Small Things {September Edition}

Now that the month is nearly over, here's my September happies. :)

The Goodness of Baked Things

Summer + no air conditioning = no baking, so once the weather starts to cool to a tolerable temperature I happily return to my cookie sheets, bread pans, and muffin tins. In my opinion, coffee/tea/chai without some sort of baked good is just plain wrong and should only occur in the most desperate of circumstances. Sometimes the only thing that gets me through this time of year's crazy days of homeschooling, design work, ballet, and soccer is that golden moment in the afternoon when I can brew a cup of coffee or tea, grab a treat and pretend for ten minutes that I have absolutely nothing else to do. Thankfully the weather has been rainy and chilly and wonderfully fall-ish so I've been able to keep up a steady stream of baked delights to satisfy my mid-afternoon cravings. You can visit my board of deliciousness on Pinterest for some of my favorite recipes.

Watership Down

I'd never heard of this book until one day I was Googling "anthropomorphic animal novels" (say that three times fast) and it popped up on a must-read-classics list. I tried to borrow it from my local library, but it was checked out. Then, in a fantastic turn of events, I stumbled upon a copy in a little used bookstore we visited while on vacation back in August. Typically I'm a very fast reader and a good book lasts about as long as Captain Jack's rum, but I found this book to be a lovely one to just meander through, picking it up here and there to read a chapter or two as I found time. It was absolutely delightful and I can definitely see myself returning to the world of Hazel, Fiver, and their stalwart band of bunnies for many years to come.

Star Wars

Now that I'm done waxing poetic about bunny books, it's time to get my geek on. Or would that be nerd? (According to this article, I could be both, honestly). This month marked a very significant point in my children's lives--their introduction to Star Wars. My five-year-old son is already obsessed, thanks to his love of Angry Birds, which turned into a love for Angry Birds Star Wars, which turned into a love for anything and everything related to Star Wars--especially if it involves Chewbacca. This was his reaction when he finally got to bring home the coveted Angry Birds Star Wars bedding...

Of course my husband and I have strongly encouraged him and decided he was ready to experience the wonder of the real thing. So off to the library we went, where miracle of miracles we were able to snag Episodes I-VI (with III reserved for mommy and daddy only, much to the boy's disappointment. He has now added "...and help me grow faster so I can watch Star Wars three" to his bedtime prayers). I have now heard Darth Vader's theme song being enthusiastically hummed at least three times a day for the last two weeks.
The force is strong with this one.

Be sure to check back in next week...I'm very excited to be introducing some special posts for the month of October!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Recommends (aka my 6am fail)

This week has been one of those weeks where I've been lucky to have ten minutes to do anything that wasn't part of my URGENT MUST DO RIGHT NOW list. Which means after repeated late nights, my attempt to get up this morning at 6am to compose a blog post utterly failed when I turned the alarm off and immediately fell back to sleep. However, since having only one blog post this week makes me feel really, really lame, I've decided to share a few of my favorite recent internet reads and finds...

I love reading @AnneBogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. Not only is her blog title awesome, but we share the same love of indie bookstores, and she's a fellow homeschooling mom. (She's also a pro blogger and huge inspiration.) Last month, her post The Book Isn't Better Than The Movie sparked one of the most interesting discussions I've ever been a part of and it goes to show how varied people's tastes can be when it comes to literature and film. Check it out and then do yourself a favor and browse the rest of her site!

J. Kent Messum's How I Got My Literary Agent feature on Writer's Digest was a huge encouragement to me this past week. His story of determination, audacity, and victory in his journey to publication gave me hope as I face the insanity inducing process of querying. Plus, he ends it with a Hans Solo quote. 

Sometimes it's really easy to get incredibly frustrated and angry over the state of the world. When we're constantly bombarded with stories of people hurting one another and spreading hate (like the recent horrible and ignorant reaction to the newest Miss America), it's no wonder we sometimes fall into the jaded opinion that people are mostly just jerks. Then there's stuff like this, that reminds us how many awesome people really are out there.




Want another video to warm your heart and--unless you're much more stoic than I--bring tears to your eyes? Look no further. You may have seen this video of a foreign cell phone ad pop up in your social media feed. If you haven't watched it yet, you should.





Have a great weekend, folks! I promise to be back next week, even if it means waking up while it's still dark outside. (Hold me to that, will ya?)



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book + Dice = Learning Fun!

Let's be honest. Our kids don't always think "fun" and "school" can coexist. As a homeschool mom, my kids are quick to let me know when they're not having fun. While they may not be brave enough to complain to a teacher outside of our house ("Would you talk that way to your ballet teacher, young lady?") they certainly have no qualms about whining to Mom when they're less than excited about the day's assignments.

So today I thought I'd share a project we're currently doing as part of 3rd grade History/Geography that has actually earned my almost-eight-year-old's approval. I figure any teachers out there--home or public school--can always use some new ideas! All it takes is one of Sleeping Bear Press's State Alphabet Books and an alphabet die. (By the way, I love these books! They're such a great resource for learning about the 50 states. Each one contains fun facts, from A-Z, about the individual state. And it's not just a sentence or two. Every letter has a short rhyme accompanied by a solid paragraph or two detailing the letter's subject.)

Note: We're using the die from our travel sized Apples to Apples game, but you could use one from another game like Scattergories, purchase one like this one from Amazon, or even use an iPhone app. Another free option would be to draw letters from a bag, or deck of flashcards.

B is for Big Sky Country: A Montana Alphabet

My daughter's assignment is to compile a folder filled with reports, pictures, maps, etc. on our home state. I couldn't wait to show her my own Pennsylvania folder (thank you Mom, for saving it all these years) that I put together in the fourth grade, and which would eventually become the inspiration for my first ever publication. I want my daughter to have as much fun as I did with this assignment, so I decided to make it even more interesting by turning it into a game.

Each week, she gets to roll the die. Whatever letter it lands on, she looks in the book and finds out what that letter stands for. Then it's her job to find out more information about that particular subject and write a report. For example, this week she rolled "N". N stands for Native Peoples. To help her narrow down the subject for her report, I asked her what she would like to know more about regarding Native American culture. She decided she wanted to learn how Native Americans used to hunt buffalo. It's been so awesome to see how proud she is of all the notes she's collected so far! It's also been a great lesson on researching and learning more computer skills. And as an added bonus, we'll be making buffalo burgers for dinner next week. Home Ec, anyone?

Check out the list of books (there's one for each state + Washington D.C.) and the accompanying FREE teacher's guides on the Sleeping Bear Press website. I'll definitely be picking up more from the library as we move on to study individual regions and states throughout the school year.

What about you? Any fun tips, tricks, or projects that have been successful in your classroom? I'm always looking for more new ideas, so I'd love to hear from you!


Monday, September 2, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Library}

I always said I wanted to instill a love of reading in my kids. The fact that the library is one of their favorite places makes me very happy.


Friday, August 23, 2013

The Small Things {August Edition}

My end-of-summer happies...

Family Vacation

This August marked our 2nd annual trip to church family camp. We had a blast heading to the beautiful Flathead Valley for a relaxing week filled with sunshine, great teachings from a hilarious couple visiting from across the pond (the Irish accents were glorious), and plenty of sightseeing and shopping. We made stops at all our favorite places, like Red Caboose Frozen Yogurt + Coffee, and Whitefish Beach. We also discovered some new favorites in Sweet Peaks Ice Cream and the best used bookstore I've ever been to: The Bookshelf (seriously folks, I could spend all the time and buy all the books). We also got to hang out with some awesome people, including our friends Jeremiah and Rachel, who besides being a really cool couple, are also amazing photographers (you should click on their names right there and check out their stuff). We wrapped up the week with an evening at Fresh Life Church and a stay at the charming and wonderful Kalispell Grand Hotel. All in all it was a wonderful way to spend one of our last summer weeks.

The Mason Bar Company

In our house we unashamedly use mason jars as our drinking glasses, so when I found out about these mason jar tumblers, naturally I had to have one. I picked up this beauty at the Red Caboose while we were on vacation, but no matter where you happen to be, you can snag one from their etsy shop. Today I tried infusing my water with fruit for the first time, with a combo of strawberry and lemon slices, and I must say, the result was delightful. It's also great for iced coffee. Who am I kidding...it's great for everything.


School Supplies

School is back in session next week, and for us that means the Martin family schoolbooks have arrived. As a homeschool graduate myself, I can still remember the excitement of thumbing through the year's worth of textbooks as soon as the mailman delivered them. I'm glad my kids continue the tradition and are always eager to find out what they'll be learning. I give it about a month before the newness wears off and they're no longer quite so thrilled at the prospect of school, so I'll enjoy their excitement while it lasts. I'll also bask in the joys of cheap notebooks, index cards, and post-it notes. And don't forget the bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils...