Saturday, May 6, 2017

Children's authors reveal secrets


In one week, I listened to three different authors of children’s books and decided to share some of the information each presented.

The first two authors spoke as part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Carroll County’s Battle of the Books, which is supported by the Learning Advantage partnership between the Carroll County Public Schools and the Carroll County Public Library. More than 300 people (primarily children) attended this event.


Kate Hannigan wrote The Detective’s Assistant, an historical novel about the first female detective. Pinkerton detective, which is a Black-Eyed Susan Award nominee.

Alan Pinkerton hired Kate Warne when he realized that she could worm secrets out of the wives and friends of those he was investigating. Her fictional niece, Cornelia, is the kid on the doorstep, who wants to belong somewhere. Eleven-year-old Nell Warne starts helping her aunt solve mysteries, one involving a plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

Hannigan spoke about the dark underbelly of children’s literature. – the parents have to be out of the picture, so the child can solve the problem. She handled the family problem all at once on page 6 of the book.

It took her two years to write this book that includes "history, mystery, fact and fiction.” She wanted to get it right for the real Kate Warne, who was buried near Pinkerton, along with other agents.

Hannigan ended her presentation dramatically, as volunteers from the audience helped unroll 65 feet of taped together rejection letters.

“That’s 65 feet of pain,” she said. You don’t give up if you want to succeed. Hannigan also is the author of the Cupcake Cousins series.


The next author to speak was Dave Roman, of the Astronaut Academy series. Drawing as he talked, he admitted he has always been a doodler. When thinking of writing a book, he thought about things he liked, such as outer space and a special school like Hogwarts. These led to his idea of the Astronaut Academy.

For him, the images and words come together at the same time. He enjoys puns, such as a sketch of the students “putting their heads together.”

He chose children to draw suggestions from the audience on a blank paper to demonstrate how he writes his books with graphics (or doodles).

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity was the 2015 winner of the Black-Eyed Susan Award and Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry is a current nominee. Roman also is a writer of graphic novels Teen Boot! and Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery.

Moderator for the evening was Ted Zeleski, who asked questions of the authors. Later there were more questions from the audience.  lined up at the microphones. One child’s question led to Dave Roman revealing that he was already writing a third Astronaut Academy book.

This was an interesting and informative evening. I was impressed with the confidence and knowledge of the students who participate in the Battle of the Books program. I hope my young grandson is part of something like this when he is old enough.


The Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association also hosted a children’s author that week. Sue Reifsnider, writes as Wendi Hartman. She talked about what she knew and how she used that knowledge in her books, such as in The Amish Impact from City to Farm, A New Season and The Letters.
“Start with what you know,” she said, but  additional research can add depth to your story. Whatever you do, pull your life into your books.

Raised in a rural area, she went to a small Christian college, worked on farms in Amish country, was a teacher, has a nursing background and strong ties with fire departments. She uses this information in her books.
During her talk, she used puppets and balloons. Kids are hurting, she said. It is important to get them to read and write.

I was impressed with her sense of humor and the knowledge she shared. You can find out more at Wendi’s Works & Writings.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

HarperCollins celebrating 200


A focus of the March 6, 2017 issue of Publishers Weekly (PW) is about the 200th celebration of HarperCollins Publishers.
J & J Harper, Printers (later Harper Brothers) was started in New York City by James and John Harper in 1817. Two years later, in Glasgow, Scotland, Chalmers & Collins Bookshop & Printing Works opened and published a book by Thomas Chalmers.

Both Harper and William Collins survived and evolved. They merged in 1990 to form Harper Collins (HC), which is now the thirteenth largest book publisher in the world, according to PW.

The magazine includes several pages of publishing history, achievements, key transactions and other interesting facts. From the beginning, HC has published classic works by such authors as Charles Dickens, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nora Neal Hurston, Henry James and many others.

Among their publishing milestones are:
Collins:

·         1839, license to publish the King James Version of the Bible

·         1924, Agatha Christie joins and later publishes her first Hercule Poirot novel

·         1958, publishes the first English translation of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

·         1973, secures the rights to Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago
Harper & Brothers:

·         1848, publishes the first American edition of Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte’s books

·         1927, signs Aldous Huxley, later acquires the rights to other books including Brave New World

·         1956, publishes Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957

·         1970, publishes the first English translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The sidebar about Harper & Brothers’ relationship with Mark Twain and Herman Melville was especially interesting.
The PW article emphasizes that Harper Collins Publishing is not just about the past. The publisher’s current roster of authors includes Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Barbara Kingsolver and Amy Tan.

They also published a piece of the world by Christina Baker Kline, which was the subject of my previous blog. It is historical fiction about Christina Olson, the woman who inspired Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting Christina’s World.
Congratulations to HarperCollins Publishers on this anniversary and best wishes for the future. We look forward to more great books from this publishing house.

For more information, check out www.publishersweekly.com or hc.com/200. You can join the conversation at #hc200.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Christina's World painted again in novel


After spending An Evening with Christina Baker Kline on March 28 at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster, I knew I had to write something about her recent novel, A Piece of the World. I felt as if I had visited Christina’s World, as well as that of Christina Baker Kline.

This historical fiction is about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olson, the subject of the famous painting Christina’s World.  Kline used slides to let us see and understand more about the book and her connection, the famous painter, his masterpiece and the real life subject of the painting.

After moving to Bangor, Maine in the 1970s, Kline’s parents wanted their children to know Maine. They took field trips, and had a picnic on the grass where Christina was lying in the painting. The author’s mother and grandmother both were also named Christina. Her grandmother was around the same age as Christina Olson and was raised in similar conditions.  

Kline was thinking of another book topic, when a friend told her she looked like the woman in the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. The painting depicts life in the early to mid 20th century America. Kline realized this was the subject she had been looking for and began to immerse herself in Christina Olson’s world.

As part of her research, she visited the Olson home and received help from tour guides and docents. They know their subject and are happy to share information, she said.

Christina Olson’s ancestors included a judge of the Salem Witch trials who never recanted his decisions. Gradually, most of his family moved away from that area to get away from the name, including Nathaniel Hawthorne. Christina’s family settled in Cushing, Maine, on a hill by the sea, named Hawthorne’s Point.

She showed sketches by Wyeth as the painting progressed. The painting shows Christina Olson alone in a sea of dry grass, looking toward the old, sad house.

Wyeth became good friends with Christina and her brother Alvaro. He used their eggs for his tempura paints and painted in the second floor of their house. She was 46 and he was 22 when they met, but seemed to have much in common. Both liked good conversation and silence. He added to their lives, Kline said.  Wyeth is buried in the family graveyard beside Christina, instead of with his family.

Interestingly Kline talked about how much a teacher or someone else can influence someone, during a Q&A session at the end of the talk. I also remember a teacher who put a large A+ and comments “short, concise and to the point,” on my paper. I felt as Kline did. Someone thinks my writing is good and like Kline, writing became a major part of my life.

She felt a responsibility to get the book right, because she was writing about real people; people who are famous and some who are still alive.

She drew on connections with her grandmother and the strength of Christina’s relationship with Andrew Wyeth. “He could see her in a way no one else had done,” she said. Reading this book could change the way someone looks at the painting. A woman, who didn’t let her light shine, became immortal through the painting.

 In her book, Orphan Train, Kline used information she had researched, but she created her characters. Also there was literally a train that helped keep the novel moving forward. In this novel, the movement is internal.

When asked what she hopes readers will take-away from the novel, Kline said that even an anonymous life has meaning.

What I learned at this author talk let me see so much more in Wyeth’s painting than I had previously. Still curious later, I found an article online by Jacqueline Weaver for the EllsworthAmerican.com, Arts & Living Lifestyle. She included the quote, “When you write a literary novel you start with character and from character comes motivation. Motivation leads to action and action leads to consequences.”

My friends who attended with me, Betty Houck and Lois Halley, also were impressed with the presentation. We had our books signed and enjoyed cake, decorated with an edible copy of the painting.

Lynn Wheeler, Executive Director of the Carroll County Public Library, said the event was possible thanks to Harper Collins Publishers and members of the Artworld Bound Book Club of Carroll County Arts Council.

Kline’s 2013 novel, Orphan Train, spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list. She also wrote four other novels – The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand and Desire Lines and several non-fiction works.

For more information you can check out christinabakerkline.com and andrewwyeth.com

Comments are always welcome.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Historical Fiction Hints

An American woman is captured by Barbary pirates and sold to the Visier of Morocco, escaped to Gibraltar and returned to Florida. She had a grandson, David Levy Yulee, who became Florida’s first Senator. This sounds like complete fiction, doesn’t it?

But it's not. The Shadow of the Rock by Author Eileen Haavik McIntire is based on a real women’s life. Speaking recently about historical research, she used examples of what she did for this historical fiction.

Eileen learned early that her main character was Jewish, which led to other areas of research.  She verified that her character was a real person and about the influence this woman’s family had on Florida history.

Research is a creative process that requires imagination and persistence. You can start with libraries and Google, check bibliographies and indexes, maps and books about your subject or area.

Local historians and cemeteries are helpful and interviews with people in the area of interest. Also seek out related subjects that might her you develop scenes and atmosphere such as costume design books, memoirs, etc.

Eileen found old books from around the time her character lived and discovered helpful information in them about the culture, dress, and what was happening in the world at this time.

Travel if possible, she recommended. Her research took her to Gibraltar, Morocco, St. Thomas, Florida and other areas. She rode a camel in the Sahara. She toured the frigate Constellation in the Baltimore Harbor. Places she visited often became scenes in her books.

She recorded a lot of detail and background information she was able to use in her story and in another book, In Rembrandt's Shadow.

Like Eileen you may amass a huge amount of information for a book. But remember not to use it all. You don’t want an information dump. Writing is a matter of choices. The most important thing is to write a good story that people will want to read.

Eileen also writes a mystery series, The 90s Club. A few years ago, I enjoyed reading The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase. Now I look forward to more of Nancy Dickerson and her friends in the 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement Village.

Eileen McIntire currently is President of Maryland Writers’ Association. She also is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

If you want more information about Eileen and her books, check out ehmcintire.com. Also, if you are interested in writing or reading more books by area writers information can be found at www.marylandwriters.com

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Art in black and gold


You still have an opportunity to visit the Scott Center at Carroll Community College and study the Stay Gold, Portraiture by Tyler Farinholt.
Stay Gold explores themes of masculinity, anxiety, isolation and identity. This body of work focuses on the faces of young black males, Tyler said. Gold add a richness to the portraits and a feel of optimism for the future.
Tyler Farinholt
This was an appropriate exhibit for Black History Month. As we think of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights marches.
I also attended several events Tyler curated during the past several years. One especially impressed me. It was a Jeffrey Kent exhibit, held at the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum. You can read what I wrote about that exhibit in See or Hear, Write or Preach at josobservations.blogspot.com, posted on 3/7/2013. His exhibit focused more on the past, such as slavery, black culture and equal rights.
Both visual artists used their creative instincts to communicate - to share experiences, thoughts and dreams with others. Tyler and Jeffrey Kent both communicate some of the black experience through their art. Writers do the same with words. Both arts require creativity, looking at the world the way it was, is and could be. Both try to stir emotions and create discussion.
Tyler is an artist, educator and curator based in Baltimore. Educated at MICA, he teaches art to disadvantaged youth in East Baltimore as a member of MICA’s Office of Community Engagement.

He is a graduate of Westminster High School. Previously, he worked with the education department at the Walters Art Museum He has curated exhibitions with the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and Area 405.
Betty Houck and Lona Queen viewed
Tyler's art at the opening reception.

Tyler also has been featured in exhibitions at Hillyer Art Space, the Columbia Art Center, CCBC and Artspace Herndon. He was a recipient of the 2016 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Visual Arts.

You can see more of his work at www.tylerfarinholt.com.  The Carroll County Times ran a front page story on  February 18, about Tyler’s exhibit in the Gallery in the Scott Center and that of Jinie Park’s mixed-media exhibit, “Observations in Paint” in the college’s Babylon Great Hall. Parks also studied at MICA, but prefers working with fabric and abstract creations.
Jessi Hardesty, curation of collections and exhibits at the college was thrilled at the number of people who attended the opening reception for the artists. She told me she had first seen Tyler’s business card in a coffee shop. She was excited about the power in his portraits.
When planning the exhibit, she thought of the difference in the approaches of the two MICA educated artists and decided their different styles would be a good match. I agree. The exhibits are different but both seem to ask you to study them, to think about what you see and to just enjoy the artistry.
The exhibits at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster, Maryland are free. The exhibits will run through March 24. You can check the college website, www.carrollcc.edu for gallery hours.




Sunday, February 26, 2017

So Many Books, So Little Time


This is going to be another double treat blog. At least I think of it that way.

I was reading So Many Books, So Little Time, A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson and was making notes since I thought it was interesting enough to blog about. I even decided to use the title for this blog.

However, before finishing it, I found My Ideal Bookshelf at the library and peaked inside. I knew immediately that I had to write about this also. The subjects were so similar they could be combined into one blog.

My Ideal Bookshelf was edited by Thessaly La Force with art by Jane Mount. It was published in 2012 by Little, Brown and Company.

I haven’t finished it yet, but have read enough to recommend it to people who like to read. It is fun to see what other people read, why and what they have enjoyed the most; especially if you are nosy (excuse me – curious) like me.

This is not just a list of books. Each of the contributors comments briefly on why they chose these books for their ideal small book shelf.

Contributors included many writers, but also artists, chefs, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, humorists, producers, architects, dancers, illustrators, doctors, musicians, photographers, singers, app designers and many others. They are in alphabetical order, so it is easy to find people who interest you if you don’t want to read them all.

I skipped most chefs since I am not too interested in cooking at this time. As the book says, our tastes in what we read changes often depending on what is happening in our life.

LaForce stressed that this is just a snapshot of the person, a moment in time. What someone choose in the future could be very different than what they choose today.


In So Many Books, So Little Time, author Sara Nelson stressed that she wasn’t going to write 52 book reviews, but was trying to get on paper what she had been doing in her mind, matching up the reading experience with the personal one.

Her book reminded me of a blog I wrote in March of 2015 about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, My Year of Magical Reading by Tina Sankovitch. For 365 days, she read, often until late at night as a way to overcome her grief. The project and published book were in memory of her sister Anne-Marie Sankovitch. It was published in 2011 by Harper Collins Publishers.

Both books are similar in that the authors share their love of reading and their personal feelings about the books they read, but both are very different.

My attention was captured by a sentence in the chapter Great Expectation, when Nelson said, “I’ve already decided to take one biggest book instead of the usual three or four I often pack as insurance against being caught – can you imagine? – with nothing to read.”

She chose a book to take on vacation to a lodge in Cavendish, Vermont. Not a normal lodge, this was the compound where Nobel Prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his family had lived. Once there, Nelson found the humorous book she was reading no longer seemed appropriate. There she found Solzhenitsyn – Soul in Exile, which became her first book for this project.

Discussing by Anne LaMotte she said, “Bird by Bird is without a doubt the single best self-help guide I’ve ever read,” calling it funny and wise.

Reading this book, she felt she was in the presence of somebody who knew what she was feeling every time she sat down to write.

Bird by Bird was a book about “what it’s like to be stuck and how to get unstuck.”

I read this book years ago and it is still one of my favorites and is on my bookshelf.

There are many other books and authors I enjoyed reading about in this book, but I will let those interested make their own discoveries.

So Many Books, So Little Time was published in 2003 by G. P. Putnam & Sons. Sara Nelson is an editor, reviewer, wife, mother and a self-admitted compulsive reader.

Nelson said her goal in 2002 was to chronicle a year’s worth of reading, “to explore how the world of books and words intermingled with children, marriage, friends, and the rest of the ‘real’ world.” I found the book and the books she mentioned thought-provoking.

Both books provide insight into why we like certain books we read and dislike others, plus give us ideas about other books we might want to read. I’ve added quite a few to my reading list, agreeing with Nelson that there are so many books and so little time to read them.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Rainbows Come and Go


Anderson Cooper’s book Dispatches From the Edge was so interesting I had to take notes. I wasn’t  doing much blogging at the time I read that book, so I just filed my notes.

I learned in November that Cooper had another book published in cooperation with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. The Rainbow Comes and Goes, A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss was published in 2016. I read it and decided it was good, so here is my
blog about both books.
I enjoyed it, but personally preferred his first book. I might be prejudiced, since I was a journalist although I was never in the same league. However, I could understand some of what he was talking about and his feelings. Both books are well worth the reading, but I will start with my favorite.


My notes stated that I found Dispatches From the Edge very moving. “The world has many edges and it’s very easy to fall off. Keep moving in order to live. Keep cool, stay alive.”

Cooper had been a journalist for 15 years when he wrote that. He had covered wars in many areas, including Sarajevo, Baghdad, Soweto, South Africa. He wrote: “Every war is different, every war the same,” and “I set up barriers in my head, my heart, but blood flows right through them…”

After covering wars and disasters throughout the world, he found Katrina harder because it was home, in the USA. This shouldn’t happen here.  He mentioned seeing bodies left on the streets, tied to lampposts. They were people, not just bodies or corpses, he wrote.

He questioned the lack of planning and lack of quick response, as well as the question of race. I was in New Orleans this past year and as we drove past the Astrodome, those questions came back to me. I hope they are being addressed. New Orleans is a beautiful and exciting city.

“In the midst of tragedy the memories of moments, forgotten feelings, began to feed off one another. I came to see how woven together these disparate fragments really are: past and present, personal and professional, they shift back and forth, again and again.” Writing about the Day of the Dead, he says “There is so much laughter, even in the midst of all the loss. It’s the way it should be – no distance between the living and the dead. Their stories are remembered, their spirits embraced.”?

Interspersed with his stories are questions about family and fears. Cooper was constantly moving, filling the hours, “feeling but not feeling.”

Glad he was a Cooper and not a Vanderbilt, he let few people know who his mother was during his early career. His father died when he was 10 and later he lost his brother.  How these early personal events affected him is revealed in this new book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes.


The lovely title comes from a poem by William Wordsworth. It was quoted by Gloria Vanderbilt when discussing how her life had so many ups and downs. Approaching 92 years old when this book was being written, she said that she looks for and appreciates the rainbow times.

 The mother and son, who had not shared much personal information in the past, started communicating more on her 91st birthday. This changed their relationship and bought them closer together.

The book cover says that this is a revealing glimpse into their lives. Yes, it was. Sometimes, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. I was a little confused at the beginning of the book, as the conversation goes back and forth, without any he said or she said. But soon I was able to easily tell who was speaking.

Mother and son talked about her childhood and the famous custody case. She was referred to during that time as the “Poor Little Rich Girl.” They discussed their mistakes, successes and losses.

They talked about how they were alike and yet so different.

“We like to think we are our own people, but sometimes it seems we are just playing out a script that was imprinted in us long ago.”

 “The rainbow comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t be surprised by its departure, and rejoice when it returns.” Vanderbilt wrote. Her son liked the image, but wanting more security prefers to prepare for when it goes, to be able to survive until better times come again.

Both Cooper and Vanderbilt are writers. He is anchor on Anderson Cooper 360’ and a correspondent for CBS’s 60 minutes. She is an artist and designer and has written eight books and many magazine articles.