Friday, December 30, 2016

Dark and Sweet books

Arthur Houghton III, who wrote the novel Dark Athena recently spoke at a meeting of library supporters, about writing, culture and the art world. Although the book is fiction, it was based on factual information and made more interesting by his questions of “what if?”

“The investigation of a statue’s provenance by museum director, Jason Connor takes him into the darkest corners of the art world to unravel a dangerous conspiracy involving stolen art, fakery and the tradecraft of intelligence , and raises profound questions about who should own mankind’s cultural heritage.” (from information provided at the event)

Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock said, “a good story is just life with the dull parts taken out.” Dark Athena sounds like a good story. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but have added it to my “To Read List” and am looking forward to entering (temporarily) the darker side of the art world.

Houghton has published four books and more than 60 articles about art, ancient history and economics. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art from Harvard University, and a master’s in Near Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut.

He served in the US Foreign Service station in the Middle East from 1966 to 1979, was acting curator of antiquities at the J Paul Getty Museum from 1982 to 1986, and the foreign policy coordinator for the White House Office on National Drug Policy from 1988 to 1996.

Also, Marcia Leiter of New Windsor, MD, the author and illustrator of the Sweet Pea series of books for children, talked briefly about the books with a focus on gardening.
The first book by the artist, gardener, writer was Sweet Pea’s Tale of Too Many Tomatoes. Her second book Sweet Pea’s Christmas was published recently by Birdberry Press. She mentioned that she had other books written and being prepared for publication.

I always enjoy being with others interested in reading and recommend supporting your local library, whether through volunteering, donating or using its resources . You can find out more at https://supportccpl.carr.org.


As 2016 draws to a close, I wish a Happy New Year to everyone.  Read more, write more and enjoy life.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Books for Christmas


Anyone looking for the appropriate book to give as a gift for Christmas, should consider suggestions from Books Sandwiched In, an annual event at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. It is too late for you to attend this year, but I will share a few suggestions.
First, congratulations for McDaniel College. This year Books Sandwiched In celebrated its 25th anniversary. Attendees enjoyed cake, as well as the usual cider, tea, coffee and cookies. As usual, the room was full and there were extra copies of the 2016 list of Books for Holiday Gifts. The fact that this event is held during a lunch time in November led to its title.

Jane Sharpe, librarian emeritus at McDaniel College, has been recommending books for the past 20 years. She tries to include books from various genres to help people who want to give the appropriate gift for Christmas. She includes fiction and non-fiction books, historical and humorous, children’s and How-To books, such as those on cooking and gardening.
Jane reads many books during the year to choose her favorite 25 to 35 books from that year. She rejects many books.  Others are replaced on her list by books that, in her opinion, are better.

I was pleased to see I had read several of the books on her list, plus some of her top five favorites. Quite a few of her recommended books for 2016 have been added to my list of books-to-read, including The civil wars of Julia Ward Howe, a biography, by Elaine Showalter. I’ve read and given books she has recommended in the past and have never been disappointed.
My friend Betty Houck had read and (like Jane) would recommend Glory over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Now she is looking forward to reading Kathleen Grissom’s prequel, The Kitchen House.

In The book that matters most by Ann Hood a woman, struggling after the end of a 25-year marriage, joins a book club for companionship as well as her love of reading. Members think of the one book that  mattered the most to them. This might be an interesting discussion for book club member.
My sister-in-law might be interested in Belgravia by Julian Fellowes. Jane said it helped her get through Downton Abbey withdrawal. Beginning around in 1815 on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche,

Jane speaks with an attendee
of th2016 Books Sandwiched In
at Mc Daniel College
A friend’s granddaughter will be receiving The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan, about an orphaned 11-year old girl, who goes to live with her Aunt and discovers how she can help. Her aunt is (based on) Kate Warn, the first American female detective, who worked with famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. I think I want to read this one also.
Next year, my new grandson will receive Can I tell you a secret? by Anna Kang, with illustrations by Christopher Weyant. I look forward to reading it to him in the beginning since he will still be far too young to read it himself.

To help commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service, former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager, created Our Great Big Back Yard . This picture book is a tribute to our national parks and the importance and fun of connecting with nature. It is written for children approximately four to eight years old. Colorful illustrations are by Jacqueline Rogers.
I plan to buy Our Great Big Back Yard in the future for my grandson, as well as Jane’s recommended National Geographic Kids Almanac.

Other books for children include Chris Gravenstein’s Mr Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. In fact, she was pleased with all the Mr. Lemoncello library books. Other recommendations for very young children include Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Christmas; Drew Daywalt's The crayons book of colors  (with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers) and Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard (illustrations by David Slonim).
Usually she usually avoids mentioning books of poetry, but liked Billy Collins The rain in Portugal, which, like the other books mentioned here, was published in 2016He was the US Poet Laureate from 2001-2003) and was often considered the most popular poet in America.

Some light Christmas reads recommended were Joanne Fluke’s Christmas Caramel Murder and Debbie Macomber’s Twelves Days of Christmas. Macomber’s coloring book, Come Home to Color, also made the list.
My Day in the Garden by Carolyn Seabolt is for children two to seven years old. The story is from her cat’s point of view in the garden behind Carolyn’s Cat Tracks Studio, Westminster, MD.
Jane also recommended Mark Luterman’s Abe’s Final Masterpiece: a symphony of lessons for business and life. Mark is an entrepreneur in Reisterstown, MD. Another business book on her list was How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000 for children 10 to 14 years old. It was written by James McKenna, Jeannine Glista and Matt Fontaine.

There are many other wonderful books on her list, including The Rainbow Comes and Goes: a mother and son on life love and loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt and If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Green. Unfortunately, I can't include them all on this blog.
She includes others on her list, including cookbooks, gardening and coloring books. If you want to discover what other books Jane recommended, just let me know.

Other thoughts on gift giving 
The holidays have begun and we are besieged with ads informing us of gift ideas. One thing I am disappointed about is that (except for bookstores and websites) most ads primarily stress toys or electronic gifts for children and teens. Both are fine, if they help children use their imaginations and explore their world.

As you can tell from reading the above, I love to give books as gifts. Besides books for children, these have included books on sports, “How-to” books, sewing or craft books or magazines and books by local authors.
Online sites are wonderful, but don’t forget to support your local bookstore. Often they have a wide variety of books available at the last minute. The gift of a book encourages children to read and use their imagination.

I often give a child a book and then maybe some tie-in, such as a small toy.  Digger, Dozer, Dumper plus a small bulldozer; a Calvin & Hobbes book with a stuffed tiger; an American Girl book with an appropriate doll or accessories if the child already has the doll, or some Legos with a Lego book.

Also, look for different types of gifts for adults and children from your local art store, hardware store or craft show.
Have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season and keep reading.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Writing a book in a month (or two)


Recently I read the book, Write-A-Thon: write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it) by Rochelle Melander. This book gives detailed suggestions for writing a novel in 28 days.

Since it was almost November and I was planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month, (nanowrimo) I thought this would be good preparation.

Melander refers quite often to Nanowrimo, but she gives hints that should help you complete a basic novel in less than a month. Amazing! Remember though, that this does not include the editing and rewriting after the month. She gives tips, exercises and inspirational quotes.

Much of the information is similar to books such as No Plot? No Problem! The low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days by Nanowrimo founder Cris Baty; Book In a Month, a foolproof system for writing a novel in 30 days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and The Extreme Novelist, the no-time-to-write method for drafting your novel in 8 weeks by Kathryn Johnson.

Product DetailsMelander stresses planning your novel ahead of time and knowing what genre you want to write in. Each genre has its own set of conventions.

“Knowing the genre you are writing for can help you structure and write your book,” she writes. ““What do you love or hate about books you read?”

She recommends keeping a story bible, such as that used with screenwriting. It holds notes on all the planning for the novel, so it is easy to find what you need. Organization is necessary if you want to finish in a short amt of time.

To get ideas, start with what you know. This is advice that we have heard for years, but it is important to consider your experience, knowledge, training, hobbies, interests and possibly family secrets.

What do you wonder about: People, places, issues, events, facts and idea or everything? Do you prefer true stories or fiction? Other questions you should be thinking about include: What If? If only? Why? Why not? Wouldn’t it be interesting if….?

Remember, your characters must want something, have a unique point of view and they should change. You can portray them through description, self-portrait, appearance, actions, behavior, their habits, reactions of other people to them. You can reveal more through dialog and thoughts.

Decide where you are going to set your story. Setting provides the where and when of the action. It also creates atmosphere and mood, supports plot, and reveals character. Setting also can function as a character.

She recommends having some sort of outline. Details give you a road map for writing. Having a skeleton provides the broad strokes of plot. Before starting the month, consider: What am I writing about? Who am I writing for? Why am I writing this book?

This Write-a-thon book also includes information about planning for your non-fiction book. Many non-fiction works have less than 50,000 words, such as memoirs, How To books, essays, lists and quote books and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff books.

She recommends keeping a project binder to help stay organized. You want as much information at hand as possible.

Again think about who you are writing for, why you are writing this book and what you are writing about. What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? What do you know about? Once you discover your passion, find your purpose. You have something to say. You have a unique point of view. You need credibility which you can increase by blogging, teaching, building a better platform and more. (read the book)

Design your book structure. An outline can help. Think of it like building a house, with plans for the foundation and framing.  Design your marathon schedule and prepare your environment, including clearing your work space.

Melander said it helps to monitor yourself. Since I am participating in Nanowrimo, I have been doing that and now that I have more than 45,000 words, I am encouraged and am determined that I will complete the 50,000 word challenge.

For more information about the other books I mentioned check out my blogs of October 21, 2015 and October 2013 and January 2015.

Melander quotes Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” That is good advice for writing a book and a blog, so I will end here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Devens, Dobson and Fall recap


In October, I wrote three different blogs and now have a little more to say about each of them.

I mentioned Autumn Glory in the blog about Fall. Happily, I was able to go to Garrett County with my daughter, grandson, son-in-law and his parents for that weekend. We rented a house on Deep Creek Lake, so were able to enjoy the changing fall colors, the peacefulness of the lake (off-season) and the festival activities in Oakland.

My daughter and I enjoyed returning to Dottie’s CafĂ© in Englanders, Our Town Theatre, Traders’ Coffee Shop, and many other past favorites of ours. Everyone watched the parade. My five-month-old grandson loved seeing and hearing the old putt putt tractors.

Garrett County, Maryland’s fall foliage has been drawing visitors to the area for years, especially for the Autumn Glory Festival. I have been to that event numerous times and am never bored. The entire weekend includes musical entertainment, plays, quilt and antique shows, and turkey dinners. There is something for everyone in the small town of Oakland and surrounding areas. Maybe in the future, my grandson will be able to take part in the Sundae Ice Cream Eating Contest. I love the Creamery’s ice cream and you can get to it by boat, as well as by car.

**

Recently I read Barefoot Beach by Toby Devens, Penquin Random House author, and really enjoyed it.  She mentioned “A writer is a witness to the world,” and she showed how to portray some of that in this book through the different people and situations.


Details, such as Old Bay seasoning and seagrass, took me back to wonderful times in Ocean City. Besides the wonderful stories about the lives of these three friends, it was interesting to learn a little more about therapeutic dancing, prosthetics, and turkish food an customs.

You can find out more about her at her website: www.tobydevens.com.

**

Author Sharon Dobson spoke about National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). Writers try to write an average of 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 by the end of the month.

Writers can prepare for Nanowrimo ahead of time by deciding on their story, making an outline and a timeline, but they don’t start writing until the first of November 1. At least I have made it more than half way there so far, but I need to keep those fingers moving faster if I am going to succeed in meeting the 50,000 goal.

Write-ins are held at various times and places during the month, such as libraries and coffee shops. I had my largest word count from the write-in at the Taneytown Library. I am heading for another one now.

The weather is about to turn cooler, so enjoy the fresh, crisp air and what remains of the colorful trees and flowers. Thanksgiving is coming so think of the people and things you are thankful for. I am thankful for many things, including the opportunities I have to write and for those who read what I have written. Thank you.
Jo

Friday, October 21, 2016

Use What You Know


Author Sharon Dobson spoke about National Novel Writing Month and writing about what you know at the October meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association.
Sharon used Hershey kisses to illustrate how writers can take a thought and a brief sentence and build on it to create a story.

She gave us a six word sentence. Then used information about how Milton Hershey built his business and about his world-famous candy kisses (which she distributed to entice us more into the story. Yum) and increased it to 130 words and enhanced her story.
Added information helps draw readers into your story, she said. You want to give them something more than quick details.

Using methods like this can help those writers who participate in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) which is in November. Writers try to write an average of 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 by the end of the month.

Writers can prepare for Nanowrimo ahead of time by deciding on their story, making an outline and a timeline, but shouldn’t start writing. Actual writing of the novel has to start on November 1 and end by November 30.

Sharon said she would encourage writers to participate in Nanowrimo and recommended using methods such as above to expand sentences. Think of connections, she said. When you are painting a picture with words, you need more.
Use day to day experiences. Tell your reader about the blade of grass that you know and feel it under their feet. Have them eat with you. Smell and taste the food.

Develop a personality for your characters. Search for the human aspect of each story and scene. Write in people you know, but first ask them if you can use them.
Don’t edit while you write during Nanowrimo, she said. Just get the words down. The first draft is always bad. Editing comes later, but writing so quickly during November will give you a good start to your novel.

Do the best that you can and have a critique group of someone else read your story, comment on it and then make any last minute changes you feel are necessary before publishing.
“When you push that button to print, you open yourself up to criticism,” she said. “Don’t sweat it.”

Sharon was raised between Monkton, Maryland and Chincoteague, Virginia. She uses details from those locations in her books. Each book addresses a social problem, she said.
Her first novel was Murder at Swan Cove. The fictional murders in this book revolved around child sexual abuse.

The idea for another book, Witness to War, was based on stories her great grandmother used to tell. “I am sorry we caused the Civil War,” Sharon remembered her great grandmother saying.
Years later she discovered that was at least partially true. It started when an escaped slave fled north to Pennsylvania in 1881.That action led to Pennsylvania’s Fugitive Slave Act.
You will have to read her book or do some research to learn more. The social problem in Witness to War is mental illness.

Her newest book, Middle Plantation, will be coming out soon. The social problem in this book is connectiveness and the difficulty of getting unconnected.
You can find more information about Sharon’s books through Goodreads and Facebook. Also, if you are interested in National Novel Writing Month, check out http://nanowrimo.org

Friday, October 7, 2016

Autumn Inspiration



Temperatures have dropped, leaves are turning, pumpkin pie and apple cider are on the menu. It is Fall.
Opportunities abound to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and festivals.

I love Westminster’s Fall Fest, the Eldersburg Apple Festival and the Carroll County Farm Museum’s Fall Harvest Days, as well as others. One of my favorites is the Autumn Glory Festival.

Garrett County, Maryland’s fall foliage has been drawing visitors to the area for more than 50 years. I have been to that event numerous times and am never bored.
For locals the festival starts on Wednesday night with a Chamber of Commerce dinner. Other activities begin on Thursday. Chief among these is the Firemen’s parade and Octoberfest in downtown Oakland.

The entire weekend includes musical entertainment, plays, quilt, craft and antique shows, art exhibits, yard sales and turkey dinners. There is something for everyone in this small town of Oakland and surrounding areas.
Saturday afternoon there is another large parade with area marching bands and creative floats. My children marched in this parade carrying wooden leaves to emphasize the autumn theme.

You can enjoy the beauty of Maryland’s mountains and Deep Creek Lake while in the area.

Nearby are other festivals in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I particularly like the Kingwood, WV Buckwheat Festival. Lots of fun and lots of buckwheat cakes in those wild, wonderful WV mountains.
Friends and family enjoy fall’s corn mazes, pumpkin chuckin and apple dumplings .

If you want to recommend other fall festivals in the surrounding area, please do. I always like to explore.

Below are a few poems I wrote while I lived in the mountains.

(These and others can be found in my chapbook Mountain Musings, available on Amazon.com.)
     




                                   
AUTUMN GLORY
by Jo Donaldson

The streets are empty now,
waiting for the rhythm of the marching bands.
The sidewalks soon will have little room
where anyone can stand.

The merchants busily arrange
their seasonal wares,
While the trees flame briefly.
before winter strips them bare.

                                     
AUTUMN'S FIRE
Jo Donaldson

The mountains are on fire, autumn's fire.
The trees flame with color.
They burn into my soul,
Scorching me with their beauty.

Later,

when winter's barren landscape follows,
with snow to soften, or ice to reflect,
that flame will still burn.
Autumn's fire, branded on my memory.

Autumn’s Glory!

                              
AUTUMN
By Jo Donaldson

A brilliant flash of color
 before the barren landscape of year’s end.
  Reds, golds, yellow, oranges,
    among the brown and still green garments of mountain life.
     an extravagant coat to catch and please the eye.

The mountain dresses in her finest
  to dance in the cold autumn breezes,
    before winter snow and ice blankets her,
       bidding her  sleep until Spring.

                                       


Friday, September 30, 2016

Toby Devens research


“A writer is a witness to the world,” said Toby Devens, Penquin Random House author, at a recent meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers Association. “We see connections.”
Speaking about reseach, she mentioned details, such as Old Bay seasoning and seagrass, early in the story to set the mood for her newest book, Barefoot Beach, which was just released this spring.

The book is about women finding themselves, the immigrant experience, and friendship.

Editors and agents like to see books that are well researched and offer one or two interesting new insights, but facts must be authentic to the genre. Readers are willing to suspend belief (especially with science fiction and fantasy), but incorrect facts in any genre, can stop a reader cold.
When writing, you can weave what you learned from your research into your story.  For one of her books, she talked to a gynecologist about details and then attended a surgery, so details in the book were authentic. Readers must be able to trust what is in the story, but it may take a lot of research.
To Toby, research is fun, an adventure.

I agree, to a point. I love to learn new things and meet new people. That is what I liked about being a reporter. I made sure my facts where correct and tried to give my readers description and emotion. I don’t think I like research as much as Toby, but do find it fun if the subject is interesting and necessary to the story.

Back to Toby’s recommendations, details make a story more interesting, but not too many. You don’t want to stop the eye of the reader. If adding facts, that add texture to the story, make sure they are correct. even the smallest error can cost you credibility.
For a book that included Korean/Americans, she read blogs and spoke to people to get the accent, words and traditions are correct.

One fan wrote and told how much she enjoyed the book and so did her mother.  But her mother said that it included too much insider information for the author not to be Korean. They both loved all the specifics about Baltimore.
You need to make an emotional connection with the reader, she said. A book may be fiction, but first, it must be authentic and accurate.

However, be careful your book isn’t too realistic. When using details, remember a little goes a long way. Too many can distract your reader from the story or make you look like a show off.
“You are casting a spell,” Toby said, “making a compact with the reader. You want to get it right.”
Her book, Happy Any Day Now, was selected as a New American Library Accent Novel.

Toby was busy this summer promoting her Barefoot Beach, but is already working on her next book.

She also recommended being part of a critique group. Such a group can be helpful, but make sure your group members are supportive of each other. She has been in her critique group for the past 35 years. There are still 11 or 12 active members.

Don’t be unkind,” she said of critiquing the work of others, “but tell what you think is true about the piece.”

“People inspire me,” Toby said. “Usually they are happy to talk to you and help you.” She also likes to help other writers. If you get an opportunity to hear her, take advantage of it. She shared a lot more information than I presented here.

You can find out more about her at her website: www.tobydevens.com .