Monday, January 31, 2022

January Baby (Holly Schindler)

I'm a January baby. We're supposed to be driven and ambitious. When I was younger, I certainly fit the bill. Classic over-achiever. 

When I started writing full-time, I approached my work in the same way I'd approached my schoolwork:

I wanted to get it right. 

I was driven to get it right. 

But now, after fifteen years in the publishing world, I can tell you this: 

There is no right or wrong. 

It's creative, after all. One person's right is another's worst book on the planet. I had to learn that the hard way, of course--I got the worst professional review of my life the same week I got my first starred review in PW...for the same book.

Now, I approach my WIPs differently. I ask, How can I learn? What can I try? What challenges do I want to give myself? Where will this take me next? What can this project lead to?

It'll never be right. There is no right. There is no final grade. 

Am I still driven? Sure. But now I'm chasing my own challenges. And that feels better than any A+ ever could.

~

Holly Schindler is an author of books for readers of all ages. Her debut MG The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky was a Mark Twain Award nominee.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

In With The Old!

 By Charlotte Bennardo

What goes around, comes around. 

What's old is new again! 

Reuse and recycle!

These sayings all declare that not everything old is bad. This month's theme is In With The Old, Out With The New! This could apply to everything from vintage clothing to classic cars to... old manuscripts!


Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

Many writers have early manuscripts from our beginning days which never quite made it to the submission stage or even past revisions, and some were never finished. We have notes and pages, even books of half-baked ideas, scenes that are floating around looking for a novel to slip into, and pictures in our heads of characters waiting for their moment of fame. For whatever reason, all were left to languish.

As I'm working on my MFA, I have to write short scenes in various genres and my final thesis is a 70,000 word novel, ready for submission to agents and/or editors. (Or for immediate publication via the indie route.) I can take an old idea that's a simple sentence and develop it into a scene. This neglected idea is now giving me a fresh opportunity to release its potential. It's new again. I could create a shiny new idea for the novel that will be my thesis, but I want to take an idea where I've made some notes on events, conflicts, and characters, and use that. For whatever reason, this poor 'baby' had been neglected, abandoned. I want to reclaim it and make it work. The end of this term requires an outline with specific plot points and protagonist characteristics for my thesis and by using an idea I've previously ruminated on, even though I got nowhere with it, now I can look at it with what we call fresh eyes. Experience and time have taught me to look at things differently, see alternate middles and endings, to love this idea again. I'm thrilled over the fact that while there seemed to be no place for the idea or scene or character or novel in the past, its 'oldness' can now be new. 

Plus, I get to clean out my idea file and put a checkmark that the idea has come to if not publication fruition, at least a drafted product that can be refined. No sense wasting good words, and as my professors, other authors, and even I can attest, no writing is ever wasted. What text is cut in one novel may well appear in another- eventually. Just because it's old doesn't mean it's not good. 


Charlotte writes MG, YA, NA, and adult novels in sci fi, fantasy, contemporary, and paranormal genres. She is the author of the middle grade Evolution Revolution trilogy, Simple Machines, Simple Plans, and Simple Lessons. She co-authored the YA novels Blonde OPS, Sirenz, and Sirenz Back in Fashion. She has two short stories in the Beware the Little White Rabbit (Alice through the Wormhole) and Scare Me to Sleep (Faces in the Wood) anthologies. Currently she is working on several novels for both children and adults. She lives in NJ with her family, two demanding cats, and a crazy squirrel couple who just moved into her backyard oak tree.

Friday, January 28, 2022

I Forced My Seventh Graders to Read TOM SAWYER and I Have No Regrets

Back when I taught middle school, I required that my students read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I knew that in high school, they'd be required to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so I thought of this as a way to introduce them to the characters and Twain's style ahead of time. 

Also, Tom Sawyer is just a really, really good book.

Everyone seems to know the story of Tom Sawyer, but I feel like few people have actually ever read the book. We've seen the movies or the homages or heard about whitewashing the fence, but the book itself (and not just an abridged version) is really worth the read.

One of my favorite passages is Chapter 5, wherein Twain describes a church scene with a fly, a beetle, and a "vagrant poodle." It's hilarious, and I urge you to give the whole chapter a read. But it's also a fantastic example of description done amazingly well. Just look how Twain describes the fly: 

"In the midst of the prayer a fly had lit on the back of the pew in front of him and tortured his spirit by calmly rubbing its hands together, embracing its head with its arms, and polishing it so vigorously that it seemed to almost part company with the body, and the slender thread of a neck was exposed to view; scraping its wings with its hind legs and smoothing them to its body as if they had been coat-tails; going through its whole toilet as tranquilly as if it knew it was perfectly safe."

The smug fly tortures Tom as if he knows Tom dare not swat at him during a prayer. And we, thanks to Twain's mastery of language, are tortured right along with poor Tom.

Along the same lines, my high school English teacher made us read the entire Don Quixote, and though we groaned at the time, I found the book to be quite wonderful. There's so much more to it than just the windmills scene. Cervantes was a funny guy, even when translated into another language!

What do you think? Should we still read the old texts when everyone already knows the plot? Or should we focus on more current literature instead given that time is limited?   

Ginger Rue's current book, Wonder Women of Science, is co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission. The book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields.


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Smack Dab in the Fires of Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Here in the dark Pacific Northwest winter, I long for color. January’s gemstone is the welcome fiery red of the garnet. For me, this winter hasn’t been a time of stillness and sleep. Living in a rural area, in the isolation of covid, and in the dark days of winter have turned my energy inward. Energy usually spent dealing with the outer world has to go somewhere. I’ve had a flare of creativity on the second draft of a book I’ve been working on--on-again-off-again--for the past two years. Think writing from the deep places. Think fiery red fissures in the earth. Think Persephone in the underworld. 

Garnet, from the Latin “granatus" means a grain or seed, which may relate to the pomegranate. The deep red of the garnet resonates with the heart, blood, and according to some sources, wounds and sacrifice. In older versions of the myth, Persephone chose the descent. I'm not sure I have, but I'm grateful to have been swept somehow down in the red heat of descent. I'm writing with more passion than I've felt in some time. And I'm writing fearlessly. 

Long may the creative flare last—or at least until I bring this book back up from the underworld with the daffodils of spring. Look for me then.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

All the Revisions

January marks a new time, a fresh start, new dreams for empty pages. 

I’ve been working on revisions for my agent the last five months. Back and forth we go. She is single most challenging of this particular piece of my work, and I appreciate what she’s sees in me and my work. This manuscript. It’s not my usual style. It was not meant to be a manuscript at all. It was a few pages of characters who kept me company during a brutal winter. 

It grew, though. And grew. And grew. My critique partners told me it was "...the best thing I'd ever written."

Somehow, those characters won out. They say "...write the book you love and want to see..." Because, yes. You will read this over and over and over and then some more. Indeed, I’ve spent more time on these than any other of my manuscripts. I see the potential and direction my agent is pushing me in. So despite a new year, it’s still evolving from the past. 

As writers, we all must shove aside the doubt and fear. We have to believe in ourselves and our work. 

I look forward to writing something new after this - after I’ve done my best work here. Writing keeps building. It keeps building me. 

I’ve got the foundation. I just don’t know where all the rooms go. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Patricia Gable on Writing & Publishing The Right Address


Welcome to The Right Address! It’s my new novel, set in the 1980’s, about two children who run away from a foster home. When Annie, the oldest, hears that she may be separated from her little brother, Willie, she knows this can’t happen. Their adventure begins! In the middle of the night, they trudge through the snow to a small town. They hide in an alley, not noticing a man watching them. How will they survive? How does this strange man help them? But most importantly, will they find their forever home?

 

In 2005, I entered a 24-hour short story contest. The contest began with a few sentences and the writers had to springboard from that. My entry earned honorable mention. I moved on, but the story always intrigued me. When my sister suggested that we take a novel writing class, I decided to resurrect that story.

 

Because I had only written short stories and non-fiction articles, this was an ambitious learning experience. I needed to add more details (I can still hear the instructor’s voice saying that.)

And POV…what’s that? I was determined to get through it. And now I love it, and am working on a sequel to this novel.

 

Booklocker is the company that published my book.  The hardest part was the paperwork:  deciding on the format, the key audience, the kind of cover, and so on. I worked with the cover designer, who did not have a vision of what was needed. So, I used photos from DreamTime.com to enhance the cover. There are no pictures inside the book.

 

Holding the book in my hands, when it was first delivered to me, made me cry with joy. And when the glow wore off, I found out that it was time to market the book! So, now I am absorbing all I can about marketing. I can’t rely on friends and family to buy up all the books! But networking certainly helps.

 

As I mentioned, I have already started on the next book in the series, The Right Choice. The main character, Christopher, struggles to fit into the same small town. When he helps Willie, who has an accident, will his opinion of the town change?

 

You can find The Right Address on Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, Books a Million, and other book sellers including Booklocker.

 

Patricia Gable

patriciag.net

 

 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Historical Fiction and the Living Past

 As you know, I write and talk a lot about  historical fiction, focusing on American history. (I also write  American historical fantasy, but that’s another discussion).  I’ve written before that history is more than dates. History is people, too. In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over her situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate. For my  first post of the new year, I revisit my thoughts on the matter, and reinforce my belief that  all history is a story.

“Historical fiction helps young readers develop a feeling for a living past, illustrating the continuity of life,” says Karen Cushman, a  master writer of historical fiction. Historical fiction, “like all good history, demonstrates how history is made up of the decisions and actions of individuals and that the future will be made up of our decisions and actions.”

 But, historical fiction defies easy explanation. For some, historical fiction is first and foremost fiction, and therefore anything goes. Others condemn the blending of invention with well-known and accepted facts, and consider the genre a betrayal.

Nothing about history is obvious, and facts are often open to interpretation. Once upon a time, it was considered factual that the world was flat, that blood-letting was the proper way of treating disease, that women were emotionally and physically incapable of rational thought. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he didn’t discover America. In fact, some would say he was less an explorer and more of a conqueror. History tends to be written by those who survived it. As such, no history is without its bias. The meaning of history, just as it is for the novel, lays “not in the chain of events themselves, but on the historian’s [and writer’s] interpretation of it,” as Jill Paton Walsh once noted.

For these reasons, writing historical fiction can be very challenging. I explore my own process in researching and creating  a protagonist living during the Revolutionary War:

“In order to understand [the protagonist’s life] , I had to explore the larger contexts of her story: as the daughter of a royal military officer, living on the (then) frontier, during the time of a profoundly changing political and social upheaval that ultimately led the revolutionary war. Some facts, such as dates of specific events and troop movements (and so on), are fixed points in time. Much of what happened has been glossed over, reduced to dates in a textbook. Other facts have been ignored. But history is more than dates. History is people, too… Staying true to the times and the people, I did imagine discussions, often extrapolating from their own writings if I could find them. Also, I didn’t want to oversimplify the contradictions of a [the times]  that focused on independence for some, but not for others."

Writing historical fiction is an act of defiance, according to Elizabeth Partridge at the Horn Book:

“To write about ordinary people caught in times of huge, historic change, I inhabit an oddly transparent double-world: there is my ordinary, rather mundane life, and then there is the world of the book I am working on. I’m immersed in a time of conflict and bitterness, digging in and sorting out as best I can, to raise up the stronghearted who help make the world a little better. These days I’m working on lives as different as Frederick Law Olmsted and his tireless efforts in the nineteenth century to create open, free, public parks in our cites; and Hung Liu, a contemporary Chinese American artist whose paintings focus on society’s outcasts.

Setting word against word, I’m rubbing flint against stone, trying to set off sparks. I’m looking for readers I know are out there: kids with courageous hearts, who know things aren’t right. Kids who want to make things better, but don’t know how.”


Crystal King at Literary Hub introduces ten authors, focusing on why historical fiction is more important than ever:

“Famous essayist and diarist Anaïs Nin used to say, We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.’  Nowhere is that more true than in historical fiction, which allows readers to step inside the minds of those who have shaped the world we live in, and to imagine the all-too human side of history.”

Justin O’Donnell at Publishers Weekly makes an argument why historical fiction is here to stay:

“… history isn’t really about the past. It’s about human nature. We use the genre as a lens to see ourselves in a different age. To write on the human condition is to write with a reliance on history. Elements such as political consciousness, large-scale conflicts, revolutions, opposing factions, questions about government, economy, society, culture: all of these contribute to that theory…

“Kerney wrote that “history is all around us, a continuum on which the past, present, and the future interact constantly.” It is precisely this interaction—this conversation between past and present, and present and future—that is driving this “new” trend in literature. Historical fiction is not vanishing at all, but changing for the better.”

Ellen Klages, at Brightly: Raise Kids Who Love to Read, explores the many reasons why reading historical fiction is more important than ever:

“Good historical fiction opens a dialogue between the past and the present. The attitudes of the past, from the more enlightened perspective of a present-day reader, may seem wrong-headed, even ugly; many social norms were not questioned, not then. There are no warning labels on history. People smoked and didn’t know it was bad for them. Women and minorities were treated like second-class citizens and denied fundamental rights. Unfortunately, that same racism, sexism, abuse of power are all part of today’s headlines... I think it’s important for kids to be aware that the past was often less than savory, that they learn about what actually happened, not what some would like to pretend it was like."

David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote, “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by and large historically illiterate…We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed…If you don’t care about it –if you’ve inherited some great fortune, you don’t even know that it’s a great work of art and you’re not interested in it – you’re going to lose it…” 

 History is literature, McCullough says. And our history is full of amazing stories.

-- Bobbi Miller


Friday, January 14, 2022

Ambitious versus Practical in the teaching world by: Jennifer Mitchell

 As a teacher when a new year rolls around I feel like I always have great ambition to try new things, make a bigger difference, and obviously change the world with my students. :)  Over time I have learned that trying new things can be exciting and engaging for kids, but at times shiny and new isn’t always better.  One of the areas that in my opinion doesn’t have to have a new and ambitious approach is writing.  This year my students seemed to struggle with the whole idea of getting their thoughts on their paper, and I realized that going back to the basics, and getting them comfortable with writing, was what I needed to do.


At times I think writing is overwhelming for kids (it can be for adults too!), and we just expect them to know how to get started and make sense of their thoughts.  For me I seemed to have more success this year when I had my students start at the basics of writing complete sentences, move to paragraphs, and then multi-paragraph writing.  We accomplished some of that by having a daily writing journal.  We had a topic, created four boxes with ideas/ pictures, and then wrote the four ideas in sentence form learning how to create a paragraph.  Once we had that mastered we moved into specific areas of writing – examples are personal narrative, opinion, persuasive and report writing.  


I wanted to be ambitious and move at a faster pace with my students, and their writing, but being practical and slowing down and building on a solid foundation was the way to have more success.  I feel like with the daily practice and feedback, my students have gained confidence in their writing ability and are more willing to engage in the writing process.




Jennifer Mitchell-- teacher in the Kansas City area


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Out With the Old Ideas by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 It's small, made of wood, with two drawers. Functional, unassuming, and some might even say institutional.

But make no mistake. Inside those drawers are the hopes, dreams, and plans of a writer. 

                            Early drafts from pre-publication days.

                                Small press short story successes. 

                                File after file of failed manuscripts.

                            All saved with the thought that maybe they can be 

                                                        reworked

                                                        reimagined

                                                        reanimated

Into what exactly has never been clear or to the point. The point is they showed the efforts of putting pen to paper. Failures though they may be, they were a foundation this writer used to build success.

                                But maybe success can be found in other ways. 

                                        In a favorable review of our work

                             In a workshop to teach want-to-be-authors the craft

                       When someone's enthusiasm for our books get passed along. 


File by file, piece by piece, I am going through these relics. As I read each one, I appreciate the struggles, and earnest hopefulness of a writer who wants to share her stories with the world. 

                        Savoring the memories of how the stories were inspired

                                        smiling at a lovely turn-of-phrase

               recognizing a character with potential who might shine in another time and place 




Tucking these bits aside, out with the rest.
 

The result may not be a completely empty file cabinet, but it will definitely lay to rest the notion that everything needs to be saved. In case. 

The dead manuscript boat has sailed. But the hopes, dreams, and plans of a writer are still on shore, ready to board another boat.

                    casting into new waters, 

                    searching for new ideas,

            unanchored and unburdened by the old.


Won't you set sail with me? There's a whole new world to wonder and write about.

May all our voyages be ones of discovery.


Darlene Beck Jacobson has had more than a few laughs and groans reading some of her old, abandoned manuscripts. She is working on new projects from her home in NJ.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Out with the Colosseum; In with the Orbs

 by Jody Feldman

Rome, Italy 2015



For seven months running, the Colosseum greeted me every time I turned on my computer. Yes, it was a beautiful, wonderful, so-much-fun trip, but I set the picture on my home screen for an entirely different reason: to taunt me. "Get back to work, Jody! You have a book to write! A deadline to meet!" (Not coincidentally, Rome serves as the backdrop for my YA thriller coming this August.)  

Museum of Dream Space,
Los Angeles 2021
But now that NO WAY HOME has left my control, another picture is kicking my butt into the chair. This one. Also not coincidentally, orbs play an important role in my middle grade work-in-progress, a story that may have more potential than anything I've ever written. That should be enough to draw me back to my revision, but the pressure of crafting the sentences and scenes to match the vision is often intimidating. The truth is, my home screen pictures also work like cheerleaders to help power me through those times when I’m doubting my ability to put the right words in the right order.

So, new year, new picture, yes. New month, new picture, sometimes. In fact, I'm hoping that by the time you read my next Smack Dab post, the orb-filled MG will be out of my hands and into my agent's. 

After that...

Buffalo Bull, Grazing on the Prairie
by George Catlin

Jody Feldman, author of The Gollywhopper Games series is cautiously booking school visits (elementary, middle, high schools) for April and after. She can’t wait to get back and talk to readers in person! You can reach out in the comments or more directly at jody@jodyfeldman.com

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Cleaning House -- by Jane Kelley

It's revision time!

In the life of a writer, it's almost always revision time. For the rest of the world, the month of January is when we try to look back at the past -- and try to figure out what needs fixing so that we can progress to our beautiful futures.

The simplest way to do that is to shed some pounds, whether they're dust or clutter or actual flesh. Marie Kondo would have us discard anything that does not spark joy. 

Writers are often advised to "kill our darlings." That doesn't just mean cutting the really lovely description of a crow flapping its ragged wings. Sometimes, sadly, that means jettisoning the entire novel in which that sentence appears. 

Pounding away at a project that isn't going anywhere is frustrating. It also takes us away from working on a project that has a much greater chance of having a life. But I would advise us all to take care. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 


Or, Das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten, as Thomas Murner cautioned readers in his 1512 book titled Appeal to Fools.

The warning makes a little sense. In the days before indoor plumbing, after the whole family had scrubbed themselves clean in the same tub, the water was so dirty that it was hard to see the baby. 

The question I ask myself when I revise is:  was it a bad idea or just bad writing? (I also ask myself if I really want to be a writer. But I know the answer to that is really yes.)

So go ahead. Clean that closet. Kill those darlings. And remember the saying means check first. It doesn't mean don't throw out the dirty water. And it certainly doesn't mean don't take a bath. 

Jane Kelley is the author of the unpublishable novel with crows and many other middle grade novels, including The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, in which many other birds did take flight.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Interview with Ted Neill, author of the new Mystery Force Series


Welcome to Smack Dab! Give us the elevator pitch for Mystery Force.

Mystery Force is about three kids who love mysteries (actually they hate mysteries, but they love solving them). They go on adventures where they take on evil doers and monsters while shattering the misconceptions and expectations of people who make the mistake of underestimating them.

Tell us a bit about the inspiration—your site indicates a friend of yours is a big part of why this book exists!

My friend Macy who uses a wheelchair and has an animal companion invited me out for ice cream a while back and said there needed to be more illustrated books featuring kids with disabilities as protagonists, so kids living with disabilities could see themselves as heroic.

What was is like to work with an illustrator?

I don’t know if my experience is representative, because I was so lucky to work with Suzi Spooner, one of the most amazing illustrators—maybe THE most amazing EVER, (I might be biased). It’s been amazing to see the characters brought to life along with her own interpretation, which always surprises me in the most pleasant way. I was lucky because I quickly felt I could trust her instincts, intuition, and imagination.

What was the writing process like? I’m always interested in how authors balance writing a book with writing a series.

This took me way back to writing for television—which I had not done since some of my college writing classes. Each book felt like it’s own episode, which I had to consider how it fit into the arc of the series, which in turn felt like a whole season that I had to conceptualize. The text was also very dialogue driven and had minimal exposition, as I knew I would be able to rely on Suzi to draw. So that felt like writing for T.V. as well.

What was the most surprising part of publishing?

The learning curve on this project has been how to represent and integrate the kids’ disabilities in a way that would feel “right” to kids living with disabilities. In earlier drafts I found myself trying to explain the kids’ disabilities, but my beta readers, like Macy, told me this was unnecessary and felt like I was falling into the trap of defining the kids by their disabilities. We didn’t want to do that.

The hardest?

For me the hardest is never the writing, it’s the marketing, in other words, how to we cut through all the noise and help readers discover these books.

Early on in the book, you say, “Kids in wheelchairs like sports too.” I love the simplicity and straightforwardness of this. I also love that you incorporate magical creatures. It seems (in part, at least) a way to show how we’re all the same—kids in wheelchairs like sports AND can have wild adventures. Is that why you incorporated these creatures?

The choice if these particular creatures such as karkadans, feather serpents, kitsunes, etc. . . . was for two reasons. One: I wanted to draw on mythologies outside western European (white) culture, in an effort to represent the wide variety of cultural traditions in this world. Two: as the series progresses, we wanted these lesser-known creatures to have to face discrimination from the more well-known mythological creatures, e.g. dragons, unicorns, which would be already well established in society. This way we hoped that the kids themselves could coach their companions on how to deal with stigma and discrimination. Instead of making the kids victims, we’d give them agency to help their friends overcome adversity.

What’s the young reader response been so far?

Young readers always surprise me with the things they like the most, and I love that. One reader told me she loved how wolpertinger venom makes its victims laugh uncontrollably for hours. Another, who uses a wheelchair, said she was so happy the first chapter wasn’t all about how sad and lonely Rasheed, the character who uses a wheel chair, is. Parents of kids with disabilities appreciate that these characters don’t have to “overcome” their disabilities.  

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to young writers or authors trying to get that first book down?

I never struggled trying to “get that first book down.” I always loved writing. My challenge was I wanted it perfect the first time. The best advice I got from a writing professor was: let it be messy. That freed me to make messy first drafts and has been some of the best advice I ever received.

Can you give us some sneak peeks or insight as to where the series will go next?

For sure. The next book will be introducing a peryton thief. If readers don’t know what a peryton is, well I’d urge them to look it out. There will be 12 books in this series in all . . . but I’m already planning a spin off. So Rasheed, Jonathan, Jojo, and their friends have many adventures to come.

Where can readers find you—even get involved in GoFundMe, etc.?

My website: https://tedneillauthor.com/

Mystery Force page: https://tedneillauthor.com/mystery-force-series

Mystery Force GoFundMe: https://gf.me/u/ywrhdw

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/therealauthortedneill

 
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Monday, January 3, 2022

AFRICAN TOWN: A Cast of Ambitious Characters

 January's traits include: ambitious, practical, fiery. I'm the mom to a January baby, so I know these traits well! And they also show up pretty heavily in my new book AFRICAN TOWN, co-written with Charles Waters. (It releases tomorrow from Penguin Random House.)


AFRICAN TOWN is an historical verse novel in 14 voices chronicling the story of the 110 Africans who were kidnapped and smuggled to America in 1860 aboard Clotilda, the last slave ship. 

Timothy Meaher, the shipping magnate responsible for financing the venture was certainly ambitious...

and the Africans themselves were amazingly ambitious, practical, and fiery. In spite of the losses they endured—the brutality, the heartbreak—they not only survived, they thrived

Unable to return home to Africa, the community of shipmates post-Emancipation saved their money and purchased property (some of it from Meaher). They maintained cultural traditions, and they built for themselves homes, a church, and a school. 

Spending time with these characters, getting to know them so intimately, changed us, moved us, transformed us. 

What strength and resilience! 

What love and friendship! 

What hope and inspiration!

We're humbled to join the descendants in bringing to more readers this important, powerful story about their courageous ancestors.

Learn more about it in our interview with Betsy Bird and this National Geographic article. Thank you.

Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Welcoming 2022

 

The other day I gave away about 150 books. It’s only a fraction of the books in my house—no one in my family is especially good at giving things away—but it was cathartic. I have a book blog, where I post Q&As almost daily, and thus have the wonderful privilege of receiving free review copies in the mail. But of course I can’t keep them all.

 

I tend to downplay the start of a new year—whether on Jan. 1, or in September, when I observe Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. It’s too much pressure. I have too many things I’ve left undone, and the idea of making huge changes is daunting. Especially during this ongoing pandemic, now entering its third year.

 


Some people tend to make lists, and often I try. Admirable friends attempt to tackle the hardest thing on the list first, but I reach for the low-hanging fruit. Posting something on my website? That’s much easier than researching and writing an entry for the reference book I’m updating. Throwing in another load of laundry? Much easier than sending more queries into the void where, maybe one day, a literary agent will recognize that my manuscript is exactly what they’ve been looking for. Reading the latest awful headlines on the Washington Post website? Well, that’s not easier. But knowing as much as I can about the pandemic and the threats to our democracy is something I feel I need to do.

 

So, getting back to the 150 books…maybe more things in my cluttered house can be given away this coming year. Marie Kondo’s principles will never reign here, but if fewer things could spark joy, surely that would help.

 

As we leave behind another unsettling year, I wish everyone a healthy 2022.

 

--Deborah Kalb