Monday, October 30, 2017

MiddleGrade Wonders, a column by Danica Flotten, coming soon, plus a few fun photos to view!

We had a fun weekend in Rochester, Minnesota, visiting with lots of family for darling six-year-old Janessa's birthday party. My husband and I enjoyed the day at a pizza place with our daughters, their spouses, our highly intelligent grandchildren, and a whole lot of fun kids. Janessa, of course, is
wearing the princess crown.

One of the unforgettable attendees was DANICA FLOTTEN (left) , a cool Wisconsin sixth-grader and our new columnist for upcoming posts, MIDDLE GRADE WONDERS. Watch for them (planning the first and third Mondays of each month) and read the random thoughts of Danica F., along with great reviews of awesome middle grade fiction. Please tell all the middle graders you know to stop by for Danica's thoughts and reviews.

Me with my hair clipped up while
concentrating on my art.

Danica is the camera-happy girl
taking photos of the birthday girl.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


PIANO TIDE by Kathleen Dean Moore

For Readers:

Piano Tide is a beautifully penned novel set in a fictional town along the Alaskan coast. Thanks to the author, Kathleen Dean Moore, the mental picture of the place downloads into your readerly perspective at the first encounter:

From the distance, Good River Harbor looked like a string of gulls flying along the water below the mountain range, or a rim of barnacles just uncovered by the tide. One thing it did not look like was a town, but the town fathers could be forgiven for that. The wilderness was desperately steep; the only place to put a building was on a tidal flat that flooded twice a day. So the worthy fathers raised a boardwalk fifteen feet above high tide, a long wooden pier parallel to the shore, and along its length, built their houses on pilings. 

The tiny town's rich ecology epitomizes the sort of location tourists and opportunists are drawn to, and in that element lies the story: a virgin land being raped for its natural resources, its only protection a handful of inhabitants whose jobs and livelihoods depend upon a capitalistic endeavor they've come to hate. It's a brewing storm brought to life by an endearing bunch of characters who include their newest neighbor, Nora, a young woman who steps off the ferry and asks for help moving her piano up and into her new home.

Piano Tide goes beyond providing a good story, it is also a reflection on nature and those of us who strive to protect and preserve what can't be replaced. The descriptions of wildlife and native plants are vividly drawn and presented in remarkable number. The author, Kathleen Dean Moore, is an award-winning naturalist, philosopher, and activist. A triple punch of talent that pays off for readers in this deceptively simple look at the extent we will go for the things we cherish. 

Reviewed by Sue Ellis.

Counterpoint, 2016
ISBN 978-1-61902-791-6

For Writers:

Sometimes a cast of characters come along who fit so well into a plot that they seem to exceed even what the author might have hoped for them. There are revelations about personality, ambition, wisdom (or lack of), and the capacity for love. When it's well done, it leads to a genuine acquaintance with what is human in all of us. As I read Piano Tide, I couldn't help but think of Brian Doyle and the good-hearted magic he worked with the folksy characters in his coastal novels, so I wasn't surprised when I read, on the acknowledgment page at closing, 

To Portland writer Brian Doyle, who grins at the mysterious chiming of our novels; we are born, he says, of the same “salt and song.” 

Certainly a strong plot is at work, certainly a moral lesson is at stake, and clearly heroes emerge. But to experience it all while we lean back and gratefully breathe in the spirit and tenor of the thing—that's magic to make a writer proud.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Problem with Sticking to a Time-Management Plan…

Last night I made a plan to be extremely efficient and productive today. And every day, really, but I would start with today. That said, I tucked my energy into bed last night with the care of a doting mother, pulled the blanket up high and patted it tight around the edges. Had to make sure my energy was fully rested and ready to go this morning.

And sure enough, it seemed to be. Crossed the first thing off my list at 6 AM – have coffee. By 6:30 I was at the computer, answered a couple emails, then put my eyes to the first paragraph of last week’s work. That went smooth. The second paragraph wasn’t bad either. An alien must’ve come in and traded third paragraphs with me, but no problem, I said. With so much bright-eyed energy at the ready, I could stick an hour into that paragraph and not get behind schedule, or I could simply highlight it and save it for another day.
I chose the latter and checked out paragraph four.

Oops. Seems like aliens not only took over that paragraph, they inserted a few characters or words from another planet and left it as some sort of puzzle for me to decipher. That called for another coffee break.
Recharged and on to paragraph five. Good heavens.

On to paragraph six. Forget it.
On to paragraph seven. I’ll just highlight that one with paragraph six, five, four, and three.

On to paragraph eight – lately my lucky number (I won $15 at bingo last week with my last number being B8.) But the Irish gods were not with me today, because eight was actually worse than seven, which was worse than six, but honestly not quite as bad as five. And I’m not looking any further.
Time for another cup of coffee to calm my writer’s nerves.

I guess number nine must be my lucky charm this week, because paragraph nine had a little zing to it. There was a sequential order to the thought process, too. And no alien words!
I zipped along with reborn confidence, paragraphs 9, 10, and 11 hitting me like a sunny day. To my surprise, paragraph 12 practically waved at me with a pleasant greeting, and paragraph 13 put to rest all my suspicions about how nasty the number 13 could be.

Then came paragraph 14. Ugh.
Paragraph 15. Double-ugh.

Paragraph 16. Geez, seriously? What was I thinking? Too many donuts that day? Too much grease in my system, clogging any thought waves from coming out of my brain?
Paragraph 17. Thank God for coffee. Mug in hand, I answered a few more emails. Checked Facebook, “liked” a thing or two while sipping my coffee as though it were my last cup, then diligently set myself back at the computer.

Was that the noon whistle? By gosh, it’s lunchtime.
An hour later, whining to myself that so much of the day was gone already, I remembered I have a class at 1:30. Time to get ready for that––would hate to waste it by being unprepared. But first, my schedule says I was supposed to post a blog article this morning on Time Management and Productivity. But I don’t really have time to write anything unique other than to recount how my first day went on my new schedule, after lovingly tucking my energy into bed early last night so that I could conquer the world of writing today.

That’s it! Happy writing! It’s class time for me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Analyzing Picture Books--CREEPY PAIR OF UNDERWEAR!

A quick study of the picture book written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Caldecott honor winner Peter Brown. This wonderful little gem is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
A short time ago, I posted a brief spiel about turning your negatives into positives. Around the same time, I had attended a writers’ group (of which I’ve been a member for years).
A fellow writer brought up the subject of a picture book she wasn’t crazy about. She said it was too creepy, this book about creepy green underwear. Imagine that––a picture book about underwear.
But the fact that they were creepy, that they glowed, intrigued me. So of course, I read the first few pages on the Amazon “look inside” feature. That’s what convinced me this was a book for my shelf. So I bought a copy.
It just goes to show that one person’s nightmare is another person’s dream. Anyway, I was a little leery I might not like the book after the first few pages. After all, I do trust the judgment of my writing friend. But then there’s that little warped part of me that she probably doesn’t have. The side that thinks glow-in-the-dark underwear would be cool.
And they really are, when you think about it. At least in the context of the book, where the little boy rabbit character is afraid of the dark, and yet trying to act like a big boy. He thought the underwear were awesome during broad daylight at the store. But he wasn’t so crazy about them when they glowed in the dark of his room. A creepy, ghoulish green glow. So he tries repeatedly to get rid of the underwear, but those creepy things keep mysteriously coming back.
That was a cool aspect of the book, but that’s also what I wasn’t sure about it. There is never an explanation as to how these underwear traveled from place to place, but I can see where a little kid would definitely believe it. I couldn’t help but wonder, did some crazy witch cast a spell on them? Or were they underwear left behind from Chucky? How could they just come back by themselves?
I really wanted an explanation to this. Not that I wouldn’t buy into the cursed underwear or magic spells stuff. Of course I would. I just wanted to know what gave these underwear the power to reappear every time the boy got rid of them. They were purchased in a store, not a haunted old castle. A store, so they were made by a manufacturer. So how did the manufacturer make these underwear magical? (Yes, I know I’m over-thinking it, but that’s me.)
Regardless, I’d still recommend the book to anyone for the sheer enjoyment of the story. It’ll make you laugh if you’ve ever been around a child a wee bit afraid of the dark, and yet one who, despite his fear, wanted to act grown up. Maybe that was you, once upon a time.
The thing is, Jasper, the little rabbit, fails again and again to get those creepy underwear out of his life, but he does finally manage it. I’m not going to tell you how. You’ll just have to read the book. Trust me––you’ll love it.
And then as the story goes, once the underwear are gone and Jasper is comfortable back in his plain, white, boring underwear, he goes to bed. In his dark, dark, bedroom. A bit too dark, he thinks. So now he wants the “glowing” underwear back. But it’s too late.
His solution––he goes to the store and makes a major purchase. Now he has oodles of green glowing nightlights all through his room, and so he’s no longer afraid of what might be hiding in the dark. So this little boy turned a negative, creepy underwear, into a positive––a cool night light.

The book runs a couple spreads longer than the standard 32-page picture book, but it’s mostly illustrations, and wonderful ones at that (adorable expressions). My guesstimate is that it’s between 600 and 700 words.
Get the book Creepy Pair of Underwear!  

Happy reading!

Monday, October 16, 2017

We made it through our last show for the year!

It was a very busy craft show, at least in the morning.
Here are a few
items we had displayed. The canvas paintings were taken down early due to downpour after downpour, but it was still a good show. Most other items--coffee boxes and snowman boxes-- are painted with exterior paint and sealed, so a little rainwater was no problem, plus they were under the canopy. With the landscapes hanging on the sidewall, we didn't want to chance rain sneaking down the side.  This first painting is shown without a frame, but you can see it framed on the wall a couple photos down. I guess these landscapes will give me a head start on the next show, and hopefully it won't rain.





Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Rabbit Cake
by Annie Hartnett
For Readers:
After reading Rabbit Cake, you'll wonder how your perspective could have been so narrow. The shining star of the novel is Elvis Babbitt, ten-year-old girl and one third of the survivors grieving the loss of her mom. Eva Babbitt sleepwalked into a river and drowned. 

The Babbitt family was dysfunctional before Eva died, so it's a given that death couldn't make matters any better. Somehow the author, Annie Hartnett, presents their world as gracefully as if they were like anybody else, humanity intact, even as Dad wades through the house wearing his dead wife's bathrobe and her lipstick because, “they remind me of Eva.”

Older sister Lizzie sleepwalks (it runs in families) and worries Elvis with her penchant for eating things that are not food. And Lizzie has taken possession of her mother's favorite cake pan, setting a goal of baking 1000 rabbit cakes for a Guinness World Record. Dad rents extra freezer space in town.
The task of herding the family through eighteen months of healing (per a school counselor's guideline) seems to be left to Elvis, a girl whose habits most resemble normal—if you don't count her detective work into her mom's illicit affairs, or her fascination with the naked mole rat, the longest living rodent. 

There's a lot of healing to be found in this brave and goodhearted novel, and along the way you'll pick up on a little zoology—a win/win. One caveat: Rabbit Cake is most appropriate for adults.

Reviewed by Sue Ellis.

Tin House Books
ISBN 978-1-9410-4056-0

For Writers:
You can't not love this book. My gut feeling is that the author is capable of writing with great kindness. Pair that with a talent for keeping the story on its edge, page after page. It's hard not to read it in one sitting. Just lovely, intelligent, and perceptive stuff, all of it, and funny to boot.

Monday, October 2, 2017


The simple phrase, Turn your negatives into positives, is advice most of us have heard many times, and for good reason. It’s excellent advice to use toward any goal or aspect of your life––painting, writing, snowplowing, self-esteem stuff, marriage, or parenthood.

For instance, when you drop a brush slathered in the darkest paint on your palette (think burnt umber, a deep brown), and it lands on a still wet cerulean blue canvas, don’t panic. Just tell yourself, Now I know exactly where my tall tree will be.

In another direction, if you think you’re coming up shy meeting your writing goals, try this out––I’m so glad I didn’t manage to write a single sentence today, because it’s good to let yesterday’s work simmer in my brain before I go further. I’m grateful that I’ve been blessed with willpower.

Find something good to say no matter the situation, even when you glimpse a side view of yourself in a mirror. Handle it like this: “Oh good. My stomach finally sticks out further than my rear does. My butt doesn’t look so big anymore.”

Parenting and marriage are other areas of life that little negatives like to sneak into. If they do, try these on for size: 

Oh great, my kids won’t get out of bed for school. Those sweet little darlings have given me the task of pulling the blankets off of them and screaming into their ears. It’s nice to feel needed.

Oh look, hubby left his soda cans and popcorn bowls on the coffee table again. I thought I’d have to wake up to an empty house today, but he’s managed to fill it quite well.

Sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it. Life hits us with boring, difficult, or time-sucking obligations. You might simply wake up in a crappy mood for no reason at all, and how do you get anything done like that? 

That’s when you need to trick yourself. Stroke your imagination with affirmative statements until you believe them. Trust me––it works.

If you’re at a grueling get-together, smile and act like you’re having a great time. Fake it to the max. After a while, you’ll enjoy faking it so much that your mood will actually shift and you won’t be faking anymore.

So, on those days that you wake up and it looks like a perfect day to go sailing, shopping, or riding––anything to take you away from your duties––talk to yourself: “What a wonderful day to get to work. To sweat and ache. I’m so blessed.” Then remember, fake it until you make it.

Happy day!