Cover Reveal for Venetian Lullaby

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Venetian Lullaby, my picture book love letter to Venice, is due to release on January 19, 2021 with Page Street Kids.

Here’s a quick rundown on my history with Venice:

I first met La Serenissima when I went on a five-week educational tour of Europe with several high school friends after graduation. We had three days in Venice and I knew for sure I’d have to come back and spend more time there.

Venice gondal

Eventually I did. I’ve visited several times with my husband and once with my younger sister. Venice georgie

For three days of that visit, I was on my own. I learned I do not like traveling alone.

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On that visit, I also took a private art lesson (www.nacasona.net/l-artista/) with a Spanish Venetian (above) who has become a friend. My husband and I stayed in her apartment for one of the visits.

Three of my favorite general loves about Venice:

  1. Water, water, everywhere. I love water! Venice water 5
  2. Cars are only allowed in one tiny parking lot section at the edge of the city. The rest is carless. So much quieter and slower! So serene! Venice water 2
  3. Beautiful buildings everywhere you look. So much history! venice st marks

Venice locks

I love this city.

Interview with Mary Ann Steinke-Moore

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My friend and critique group buddy has a debut book out! It’s called Mandy’s Song, published by Watershed Books.

Here’s the teaser: High school senior Mandy Thorpe has two great hopes: to nudge her friendship with Erik Andersen into romance, and to step up her singing dreams by winning the lead in a musical. She has other dreams, too. Since childhood, Mandy’s prophetic dreams have called her to action. When those dreams become nightmares about Erik that grow ever more terrifying, Mandy is determined to do something about it. With God’s help, she must find the courage to make a difference in Erik’s life before her nightmares become reality.

I asked Mary Ann a few questions about her writing journey, especially with this book.

Could you please give a brief overview of your writing journey?

 A brief overview of 50 years is challenging!

The first book I remember making was for my older brother, who was hospitalized for traction on the elbow he broke playing basketball. A long palomino horse starred in the illustrated, 3 by 4- inch, stapled booklet. I was about eight years old. During grade school I had a lot of vivid daydreams, but didn’t write them down. In high school, for fun, I turned children’s books into plays for the neighborhood kids, and for one dressed my pet guinea pig up as Jiminy Cricket.

In college I majored in English because I wanted to become a writer. One professor noticed that when I wrote about memories, my language would simplify to the age I was in the memory. She wondered if I might be good at writing children’s books. This felt right to me, because Children’s Literature had been one of my favorite courses.

After college I took the Institute of Children’s Literature Writing Course. When my children were young, I wrote Christmas programs for our church and wrote short stories for the annual Highlights for Children magazine contests. In the middle of this, I started researching and brainstorming a novel.

I began attending Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conferences. On my third try I won a scholarship to the Highlights Foundation Children’s Writing Workshop at Chautauqua, which was one of the most joyful weeks of my life. I continued working on the novel, getting critiques from editors at SCBWI events and from a Highlights Foundation young adult novel workshop. When discouragement derailed me, I’d remember the scholarships from Highlights, and try again.

After an Indiana SCBWI conference in 2005, a group of us formed a critique group, which we later named the Taleblazers. Having writing friends helped when rejection made me despair, and the meeting deadlines helped push me into writing when no editors were interested and it all seemed pointless.

In 2007 I won a Midwest Writers Workshop Fellowship and had an intensive revision weekend that renewed my hope for Mandy’s Song. Here and there, editors began writing nice things about the novel on their rejection letters. While sending out Mandy’s Song, I began work on a middle grade novel.

After major revisions, where I updated Mandy’s Song, changed it into first person, and emphasized the Christian aspects of the story, the novel finally found its home at Pelican Book Group: Watershed Books, and was released April 3, 2020. During the Covid 19 pandemic. It figures.

Do you remember what prompted you to write Mandy’s Song?

I kept seeing headlines in the paper about how teen suicide rates were increasing. This touched a chord in me, because at a low point when I was nineteen, suicide was a tempting option. I wanted to show that there is a path away from despair to a better time, that while “weeping may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

What is your history with singing and musical theatre?

 I’ve loved singing as far back as I can remember, and enjoyed church and school choirs all through grade school and high school. In 4th grade I started playing the violin, and my first experience with musicals was playing in the pit orchestra for West Side Story and Finian’s Rainbow in high school. When I was a senior, I auditioned for a singing part in Fiddler On the Roof. The drama teacher asked us to scream as part of the audition. Apparently I screamed well, because I got the part of Fruma Sarah, the screeching dead wife of Lazar Wolf. Yelling “Pearls!” into that auditorium and singing at the top of my lungs was so much fun! I also got to ride on a rolling ladder swathed with white cloth, pushed by another student, with my hair frizzed out.

In college I took five semesters of voice lessons, even as an English major, because Indiana University let you take ten credit hours outside your school.

Once I married and had children, church choir was my main outlet for singing—except that after lullabies I would continue on warbling show tunes to our daughters.

When I was almost 40, I took part in a group that studied Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. One of the exercises helped me rediscover old passions, and I remembered how much I’d loved being part of those high school musicals. A local civic theater met less than a mile from my house, and I summoned the courage to audition for a revue they were having. I got a couple of solo parts and more fun chorus parts, and was hooked. I did several musicals with them, and a few more with other groups after that troupe disbanded. The funniest one I did was Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? as a gym teacher nun, and the last one I did was Fiddler on the Roof, again, as one of the mamas, in 2015.

Is Mandy’s Song the original title of the book? Or did you have a different working title?

For the first few years it was titled “Song of Sorrow, Song of Joy.” At one of my SCBWI critique sessions, the editor said, “No, no, no! You do not give away the ending of the book in its title!” So I came up with Mandy’s Song.

What do you find to be most challenging about writing a novel?

Sticking with it when it feels like it’s a big mess—like cleaning out the basement after years of hoarding. And like the basement, you have to choose one corner and start. I’m excellent at procrastinating on both of these projects, which is why I’m not an author with 20 novels, and why I have a cluttered basement. Somehow by tackling one scene, or one technique, like changing it over to first person, at a time, I eventually got the whole book in shape. Overall plotting strategies, like the hero’s journey, or thinking how the character’s weaknesses and strengths move the story forward, can help with untangling the mess.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I’m working on a middle grade novel, titled “The Secret of the Forgotten Chapel.” Twelve-year-old Deirdre’s life is disrupted by her parents’ separation and the resulting move away from her dad in Chicago to rural Indiana. She finds refuge in a deserted chapel in the woods, but struggles to discover any friends who truly understand her loneliness.

It’s currently in the “big mess” stage, so I’m happy to avoid working on it while ordering bookmarks for, or answering blog questions about Mandy’s Song. Is it primarily a family story, a friendship story or a mystery adventure? Or all three? That’s what I’m trying to sort out.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your writing?

In mid-March I planned to go to a Chicago museum to research, and be inspired by, Tiffany stained glass memorial windows, to help move forward with “The Secret of the Forgotten Chapel.” The day I planned to go, the museum closed for the lockdown, and I’d already realized traveling on the train was probably not a wise idea. The exhibition was supposed to end March 21st, but I’m hoping it might be extended into a time when travel is possible—and safe—again.

For the first week my thinking was scattered, with the usual structure of teaching school, going to choir, attending church, gone. The next week I got the email that Mandy’s Song was being released in eight days, and I had to regain focus, fast. In the middle of learning to do selfie videos and zoom meetings for school, I had to finish my website, answer marketing questions for my publisher, and ask people to help announce the release, etc.  I actually forgot to eat until my stomach growled, quite unusual for me.

I still have times of being foggy, sad, and disoriented, watching too much T.V. or Facebook, but this week some hope and energy has returned, and I’m feeling more organized. Between school projects and marketing projects, it may be another couple of weeks before I return to “Forgotten Chapel,” but I’m starting to note ideas for it again, which is a promising sign.

What are some of your favorite books from your growing-up years?

Little Women. In 6th grade I knew the first chapter by heart. I was middle-aged before I realized, “Duh, Jo was a writer. No wonder I liked it.”

A Christmas Carol. My mom read it to us many times.

A Wrinkle in Time. The Lord of the Rings. Heidi. Black Beauty. The Black Stallion.

I didn’t read The Secret Garden until I was grown up, but I would have loved it. Mary Ann Portrait small 2.jpgMary Ann Steinke-Moore

 

 

 

Book Blitz and Giveaway/ The Fever King

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The Fever King
Victoria Lee
Published by: Skyscape
Publication date: March 1st 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

About The Author:
Victoria LeeVictoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey.

Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her partner.

For exclusive updates, excerpts, and giveaways, sign up for Victoria’s newsletter at https://victorialeewrites.com/newsletter/ 

Follow Victoria Lee:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | InstagramRafflecopter GiveawayTheFeverKingBlitzBanner

 

Interview with author Shari Green

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Shari Green is an award-winning MG author who lives on Vancouver Island in Canada. She was also my Pitch Wars mentor for 2017 and I am in awe of her generosity and insight. Her third novel, Missing Mike, is being released in the U.S. on September 14, 2018. Canada already had the pleasure this past spring. Below is an interview so you can get to know her better before you buy her book(s).

Could you please give a brief overview of your writing journey?

After dabbling in nonfiction for several years, I heard about NaNoWriMo* late in 2005 and dove into fast-drafting my first fiction manuscript. I was hooked! I wrote a couple more novels (all YA), attended conferences (SiWC) to learn more about writing, started a critique group, met amazing writer-friends, and rode the publishing roller coaster. In 2014 my first MG manuscript was selected for PitchWars. I worked with a terrific mentor, and the book eventually sold to Pajama Press and was published in 2016. Since then, I’ve published two more MG novels with Pajama Press.

(*NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete a 50000-word first draft in 30 days. Crazy-making, fun, and possible!)

Do you remember what prompted you to write Missing Mike?

I’d been wanting to write a dog story for a while, and last summer, I was daydreaming possible storylines, but meanwhile, British Columbia (my home province) was having its worst-ever wildfire season. Fires were bad in Alberta, too, and in California. Every day the news had stories and images of the fires, and of course I was impacted and influenced by that. My story became the story of 11-year-old Cara, whose family is evacuated due to wildfires, and her dog Mike, who gets left behind.

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Do you consider yourself a dog person? Or do you like cats the same amount?

Absolutely a dog person. I like cats, too, but I’ve never had one in my family – it’s always been dogs.

Tell me about the dog that informs the character of the dog in your book.

Mike’s sweet, loyal nature is a reflection of my dear Mac – a Brittany Spaniel who owned a big piece of my heart for all of his 13 years. But the similarities end there, really. Mike is fictional. He’s a rescue dog, a mutt that was injured in a fight with coyotes. He had a loving family once, and after some time building trust, he and Cara fell madly in love. (That love part? That wasn’t hard to imagine. 😊)

Is Missing Mike the original title of the book? Or did you have a different working title?

My working title was One Hundred Words for Home, which stuck until final edits.

Have you ever experienced an uncontrolled fire? 

No. The BC wildfires weren’t particularly close to where I live, although my family has a tiny cabin in the central BC wilderness, and as we kept tabs on the fires last summer, we knew we might lose it (we didn’t). Since I fortunately didn’t have first-hand experience to help make Cara’s story realistic, I relied on the stories of others who went through evacuations and loss.

Pajama Press is a Canadian publisher, so it’s only fair that Canada gets to have Missing Mike sooner than the U.S. Is there another reason for the later U.S. release? Are any of the words changed?

No changes! 😊 As for the release date, my understanding is that the U.S. publishing machine just takes longer because it’s so big. So while Canada was ready to roll out the book for Spring, the U.S. team required a longer lead-up for promotion, catalogs, reviews, etc., so it was planned as a Fall title there. (This may be a not-quite-accurate explanation, lol.)

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

It’s still in the early stages, so I don’t like to say too much, but I can tell you it’s a contemporary middle grade novel that includes friendship and hockey and mental health issues and… Never mind, that’s all I’m saying, haha.

What are some of your favorite books from your growing-up years?

I loved Anne of Green Gables (still do!). I read all the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew and Little House books. I loved A Wrinkle in Time and Narnia and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and I loved The Diary of Anne Frank, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Outsiders. So many good books!

How do you have time to be an author who’s put out three books in three years and also be a nurse, a mother, a wife, a friend, a mentor? (Because I think that’s amazing…!)

I kind of can’t believe the three-books-in-three-years part. It’s been a whirlwind! I think there are a number of factors that help make it possible for me to keep writing at this pace. First, I’ve got a supportive partner. (And further to that, I’ve got a wonderful network of writer-friends. Find your tribe, people! It makes all the difference.) Second, I’m fortunate to only work my “day job” half-time. (I love being a nurse, but it’s a demanding profession, for sure – working half-time still helps pay the bills, while allowing me the energy and time to write.) Third, as a mom of four now-grown kids, I learned over the years to make use of snippets of time between kids’ activities, nap time, etc., and to work in less-than-ideal surroundings (noise, clutter, and interruptions). And finally, deadlines! Whether self-imposed or contract-imposed, deadlines help me get the work done.

I think we all need to find whatever helps us actually write, whether it’s bribes, rewards, deadlines, losing the wifi password, writing dates at a coffee shop, an accountability partner, goal-setting, vision boards, or what have you. We have to do what it takes. That being said, I also believe in giving ourselves grace – instead of beating ourselves up when our writing is lagging or we fail to reach a goal, we need to forgive ourselves, pick ourselves up, and try again. Mostly, we need to keep showing up.

Such great questions, Judy! Thank you so much!

Thank you, Shari!

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If you’d like to pre-order Missing Mike, Shari encourages you to order from your local indie book store. It’s also available on Amazon, and you can review it on Goodreads here. (Clicking on any highlighted words will connect you to links telling you more about each subject.)

 

Not a New Year’s resolution

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After the intensity of Pitch Wars, I need to refocus on new writing.

I’ve started a new middle grade novel that may be cast as The Borrowers meets non-fatal Romeo and Juliet. I’m barely into the actual writing. But I made a decision today to get back on the horse of the sequel to Serendipity & Me as well. I’m going to do it by applying the magic of discipline.

When I was preparing for my senior recital at college, practicing the piano regularly was no longer just important, it was imperative. Somehow the discipline of practicing became easier the longer I did it. The discipline itself became enjoyable. So when I decided to start exercising regularly, I put the same idea into motion until exercising became enjoyable and something I didn’t (and don’t) want to miss.

I am ready to implement Project Discipline onto Serendipity & More. No matter what else I’m writing. I plan to write one poem a day, five times a week, to add to the manuscript. Surely this will move the novel into readiness. I’m sorry, readers-who-have-been-waiting, that it’s taken me this long to get this novel written. I vow to do better.

Feel free to check up on my progress. Accountability is a good thing.PICT1774

 

Author duties

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Part of being an author these days is promoting your book. Writers are often the sorts of people who spend long hours alone and like it that way. It can feel like a shock to come out of one’s quiet writing room and meet with people. But it gets easier with time.

Sitting at a book signing table, lonely with your books while passersby try not to catch your eye, ends up being harder to do than putting on a presentation. School visits, while initially scary, usually turn out to be energizing and inspiring. All those kids! All those sweet, smart kids!

Here I am at a recent author’s fair in a library in South Bend. In the background (center top) is my friend Kathy Higgs-Coulthard, with her book of the fantastic title–Hanging with My Peeps. (Hint: There are chickens involved.) She had a great idea of having an activity for kids as they passed by. My librarian friend, Tracy, has come to say hello and lend me some literary support. All it takes to make an author smile is to smile at them while they’re waiting with their books. Try it sometime and see if I’m right.

Deconstructing

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IMG_1918Recently, I’ve been tearing down hundreds of soccer pictures  from my son’s room. I’ve left them up for years because I’m sentimental. He is the inspiration for my not-yet-published novel about a soccer-obsessed kid, and these walls are a visual reminder of how obsessed he was (and still is).

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Yes, those are players on the ceiling…

But now my son is coaching university boys. And in a few weeks he’ll be a father of his own (he hopes) soccer player. So it’s time for the room to transform.

It feels like I’m ripping down his childhood.

Sometimes it feels like this when I’m revising a story. My carefully cut and pasted words get torn down so the fresh future can be realized.

Not easy to do.

But easier when there’s a baby on the way.

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