Interview with Author Brian Farrey

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian FarreyWhile it probably seems like I’m a blogging no-show, I’ve actually been blogging quite a bit, just over at two other bookish sites I’m a part of: The Winged Pen and From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Today, in fact, I celebrated the amazing Brian Farrey’s release of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse at Mixed-Up Files with an interview and a giveaway of the book, so be sure to check it out!
In fact, this has been a great month for book birthdays. Not only did we get a new Kate diCamillo this month (Raymie Nightingale), but a few amazing debuts came out including Brooks Benjamin’s My Seventh Grade Life in Tights. And of course, don’t miss my interview with local author and friend Mark Holtzen about his wonderful new picture book, A Ticket to the Pennant.

I could promise all types of things in terms of more regular posts, but jeez, I’ve got some reading to do with all these great releases, not to mention writing of my own to do.

Happy Spring!

Gather Here: History for Young People is Live!

History for Young People - Seattle's first "Crapper"

Using toilet humor–this is Seattle’s first “Crapper” a toilet made in England by Thomas Crapper.

In August, I posted a news item on my web site about a middle-grade nonfiction project I started with my friends Valerie Stein and Mark Holtzen. Today, I’m pleased to announce that it’s available to the public for educational use! Gather Here: History for Young People contains a collection of four articles and a historical fiction short to bring Pacific Northwest history alive to students ages 8-12.

I’ve enjoyed diving into the regional history of our new home and have more topic ideas than I have time to write. My contribution to the collection introduces The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 and the efforts to rebuild Seattle after the majority of the city’s wood-built downtown area burned. Other topics covered in this collection include the history of Seattle’s playgrounds, the history of baseball, and the story of George Washington Bush.

This first collection is available free of charge for educational use while we gather feedback on the content, format, and topics with hopes of launching a subscription model in the future. So if you are an educator, please check it out. Use the collection in your classroom and send us feedback! We’d love to hear your thoughts, and plan to base our next collection on topics suggested by the educators who will be using our materials in the classroom, so speak up!

We presented Gather Here to a group of teachers, librarians, and other authors this past weekend at nErDcamp Bellingham 2016. The level of enthusiasm for the project was encouraging. As grade 3-8 children work through the local history that is now part of the Washington State curriculum guidelines, we’re excited to provide relevant, age-appropriate content to support their learning journey. Please check out Gather Here: History for Young People today!

The Winged Pen – A New Blogging Adventure!

FOWP_logoI am so pleased to announce that my amazing critique partners and I have started a blog all about books called The Winged Pen. Take twenty-four writers of children’s and young adult books, add an obsessive love of reading and dedication to living the creative life, and you have The Winged Pen. I hope you’ll go over and check it out, get to know some amazing emerging voices, and load up your to-be-read pile with some amazing book recommendations!

A Valentiny Story – Olivia Ruckus, First-Grade Grump

Olivia Ruckus grumbled and grumped every day from 7:03 when she awoke with a “ROAR” to 8:15 when her Mom tucked her in, even though Olivia said, “I-don-wanna. I-don-wanna.”

“She’s grouchier than the green guy in the trash can,” her little brother Baxter said.

“She’s meaner than a junk-yard dog,” Daddy sang in his funny voice. Olivia pulled the covers up over her head.

“If she had a mustache, she could be Groucho Marx,” Mom said.

Olivia rolled her eyes from under the covers.  “I can hear you.” She pushed out her lower lip. “And I. Don’t. Like. It.”

What Olivia did like? Marshmallows. Peeps. Hot cocoa with mini-mallows. S’mores warm from the campfire.

That gave Baxter an idea. The next day, he got to work.

When Olivia got home on February 14, she found a string taped to the front door.

“Follow me,” it said in Baxter’s messy handwriting.

“But I don-wanna,” she said. Then she tugged the string. A marshmallow skittered across the floor. She followed the trail, collecting sweets as she went, until she found Baxter’s Valentine above a bowl of marshmallows.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Olivia!”

Olivia stuffed a big, fluffy marshmallow in her mouth, which suddenly, finally, properly, tugged up into a grin as Baxter watched with a smile.

 

See more Valentiny stories on Susanna Hill’s blog.

Diverse Middle Grade Book Recommendations

Algonquin Young Readers is hosting an #ILoveMG week on Twitter this week and of course I couldn’t resist playing along. Today’s theme is diverse middle grade book recommendations. Although I talked about my two-week massive Middle-Grade Reading Holiday last month, I want to focus in on some great diverse reads that you should check out (and share with your children). Only good things can come from the books on library and bookshop shelves representing the diverse people we see outside those bookshops and libraries every day.

Diverse Middle Grade Book Recommendations

So here are just a few of the diverse middle grade book recommendations I’ve accumulated over the past year. These recommendations show us exactly why we need (even more) diverse books:

This breathtaking and magical account of a young girl’s fight to survive Hurricane Katrina should be required reading. It poignantly capture the devastation of the neighborhoods in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, but it does so while maintaining what most middle-grade readers crave in even the scariest stories: Hope.

 

 

 

 

This is the first book I’ve ever read told from the point of view of a transgender middle-grade girl. Eye-opening, heart-felt, and containing a beautiful hat-tip to one of my all-time favorite books, Charlotte’s Web, this is definitely one to read and then discuss with your children.

 

 

 

 

A novel in verse with absolutely astonishing voice, PLUS basketball? Yes, please! I particularly enjoyed listening to this one on audiobook because it made Kwame Alexander’s stunning characters come alive even more!

 

 

 

 

One thing I love about the We Need Diverse Books campaign is that it doesn’t just focus on a  particular race, religion, or ethnicity. It includes those who are neurodiverse as well. Ali Benjamin recounts how one neurodiverse girl deals with the unraveling of a lifelong friendship and a terrible tragedy. The sprinkling of science throughout this stunning book made it one of my favorites last year (and my daughter Lily’s too!).

 

 

 

 

This story of how a Jewish family deals with chronic illness and death is on the darker side of the middle-grade books I read last year. But the characters are drawn so beautifully that it’s worth letting it break your heart.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m currently reading Hoodoo and within the first few pages, Ronald Smith drew me completely into the world of 1930s Alabama. Fans of the creepy and supernatural will love this scary, but beautiful, story.

 

 

 

 

 

This award-winning book contains several stories in one as the author recounts a fairy tale based in part on her Mexican grandmother’s experiences in an American labor camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many more that I could have listed. What were your favorite diverse reads of 2015? Any you are looking forward to in 2016?

Pain-Free Coffee Detox

WP_20151007_07_58_23_Pro Ever since my daughter, affectionately known as The Amazing Non-Sleeping Baby, entered the world, I’ve started my day with coffee. Although I love the stuff, especially now that we live in the land of Stumptown, it doesn’t love me. Between tension headaches, insomnia, and lactose intolerance, I can’t enjoy the coffee without some pretty serious side effects.

So I decided to start the new year with a big old detox, Whole30 style. One catch, though. Recent studies showed the risk of heart-disease increased because of Ibuprofen (which I take like candy when I’m in the throes of the tension headache/insomnia/overcaffeinating cycle) made me want to add Vitamin I to the detox list too. And with a writing deadline looming, I really couldn’t afford to have all fifteen of these nasty caffeine withdrawal symptoms for two weeks while I let my body adjust to the lack of caffeine.

If you’re looking for information on why caffeine is bad for you, read this Forbes article that summarizes a John Hopkins report about how caffeine affects cognitive function or this article on caffeine withdrawal being reclassified as a mental disorder. I fall into the category described in this Mayo Clinic article as “caffeine sensitive,” so I get the jitters and can’t sleep with a much lower dose of caffeine than some people. I estimate my daily consumption (which varied based on whether I drank espresso or press-pot, and whether my pot of tea was green or black tea) to be in the 170-220mg per day range. Safe according to Mayo Clinic, but not working for me personally.

There are oodles of plans out there from stopping cold-turkey (which I’ve tried before and found really painful) to step-down plans that take three weeks to wean the body off of caffeine. Yeah, I’m too impatient for that. So I basically did a 7-day plan based off of the detox steps outlined here. And I promise you, it works! I’m now on day 3 with zero caffeine AND zero headaches. Note that I am downing tons of water, taking a multi-vitamin, as well as taking L-Tyrosine and DLPA amino-acid supplements for mental clarity and alertness, which I believe helped me with the detox.

Here’s what it looked like for me:

New Year’s Day – Coffee. Because champagne and staying up til midnight the night before. Duh!

January 2 – One cup of coffee (instead of the two, plus an afternoon pot of tea I usually drink) in the morning.

January 3 – No coffee, but started the morning with black tea. At this point, I didn’t really notice a difference.

January 4 – Started the morning with a pot of green tea (only one tea bag). Felt a little sluggish, to be honest.

January 5 – Repeated previous day since I didn’t feel great the previous day. Glad I did because I went to the dentist that day, which always gives me a massive headache.

January 6 – Waited until lunch to have a pot of tea. For me, the two signs of physical dependence on caffeine I have are being fuzzy-headed in the morning and having an energy slump in the afternoon. So I thought I would tackle the morning fuzzy-headedness first by making myself start my day with no caffeine.

January 7 – Waited until lunch and had a pot of tea. I had a busy, out-of-the-house day planned, so I couldn’t afford a major afternoon slump.

January 8 – Waited until lunch, had a kombucha. FELL ASLEEP FOR 20 MINUTES AT 11am. I consider this the biggest fail of the detox because I was supposed to be working, not napping. But overall, not bad.

January 9 – present – Caffeine free. *confetti cannon*

I’m alert, head-ache free, and getting productive work done this week so far. Oh, and I haven’t murdered anyone in my immediate family. So I’d call that a success, wouldn’t you?

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll stay off of caffeine for the rest of my days. But for at least the next month, I plan to. After that, I may go back to green tea in moderation, but I think my coffee-drinking days are going to be extremely limited. Sorry, Stumptown!

Screen-time Detox and Other Goals

I’m not big on resolutions because I’ve usually forgotten them long before I reach the end of the year. But I am big on starting new habits at special times (the first of the month, the first of the week, the first of the year, the first of the season) because then it’s easier to say “I’ve been doing it for x weeks/months” and keep plowing onward.

So we’re doing a variety of what I’m calling detoxes to start the New Year. Some as individuals, some as a family. Gabriel and I are doing a Couch-to-5k (and if you haven’t checked out the app, do! It does all the timing for you!). Matt and I are doing a Whole30 (although I think he’s close to accusing me of spousal abuse). I’m doing a very gradual, head-ache avoidance caffeine detox, and man, let me tell you, that is rough for this coffee-drinking girl.

And as a family, we’re doing what is perhaps my favorite detox: a screen-time detox. I’m not banning screen-time for the month because I think the minions would rebel. But I am suggesting other things (mainly books, art, and games) each time someone asks me if they can watch TV or play Xbox. Youtube is also banned for a month because too often the kiddos are watching videos when they’re supposed to be reading.

Anyhow, as part of this effort, Lily found an old “Birds of the US” memory game that I hadn’t thought about it ages and the four of us played it. It’s been a hectic first week back to school/work after a lovely restful holiday and I think we were all pretty tired and cranky when we started playing. Gabriel even tried to quit when he fell behind in the beginning. But by the end, we were all laughing together a lot more than we would have been if we’d spent the time doing our usual, watching Cutthroat Kitchen or Mythbusters, or Agents of SHIELD.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re all anxious for the return of Agents of SHIELD and I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing the kids to the older Star Trek TV shows, so we’re not going media-free by any means. Just trying to be a little more intentional about it and make sure we’re spending the rainy winter days doing something more than staring at a screen. So far, so good.

Are you trying to start any new habits in the New Year? 

Kugelhopf Recipe (Alsatian Sweet Bread)

WP_20151224_14_56_45_ProNever share a foreign-language recipe on social media unless you’re prepared to offer the translation to your friends 😉 For all who asked, here is my (translated) Kugelhopf recipe.

  • 500g white or cake flour
  • 150g softened butter (you want this pretty soft!)
  • 100g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 25g fresh yeast (or 5t dried yeast)
  • 250ml warm milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 50g slivered almonds, plus whole almonds for top
  • 50g raisins, dried currants, or a mix
  • 3T Kirsch (cherry brandy) or other brandy
  • powdered sugar
  1. Mix the yeast into the warmed milk and set aside.
  2. Pour kirsch over dried fruit to rehydrate.
  3. Add flour to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add beaten eggs to the yeast mixture, mix, and add to flour.
  5. Mix until flour is moistened, then add butter and sugar to the dough.
  6. Knead until the dough comes together—it will be wet, but should come away from the sides of the bowl a bit. You may need to add a bit more flour if it’s too sticky.
  7. Dust dough with flour and leave under a damp towel to rise for one hour.
  8. Then mix the kirsch, almonds, and fruit into the dough and knead to evenly distribute.
  9. Butter a bundt pan, place blanched almonds around the bottom of the pan, and arrange the dough evenly in the pan. The smoother you get the top of the dough in this step, the nicer the kugelhopf will sit on the plate.
  10. Cover and leave to rise 90 minutes or until the dough fills the pan.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped.
  12. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with mimosas 😉
This brioche-style bread is delicious on its own, but leftovers also make a mean French toast.

This brioche-style bread is delicious on its own, but leftovers also make a mean French toast.

Where do stories come from?

The cover of Mauri Kunnas' <em>The Canine Kalevala</em> In 2010, my husband, two preschool-aged kids, and I packed up our house and our geriatric cat and moved from Colorado to Helsinki, Finland. Not long after we arrived, a colleague of my husband’s brought my children a copy of Mauri Kunnas’ The Canine Kalevala. She explained that The Kalevala was a very old epic poem about the creation of the world, and, more specifically, Finland.

Having always been a mythology geek, I looked up the full version of the poem (in translation, since my Finnish never quite progressed from ordering off a menu, buying bus tickets, and very basic conversational small-talk). I read in the introduction that The Kalevala was one of Tolkien’s influences as he created Middle Earth and right then I knew I had to write a story about it.

But shiny new story ideas catch my eye like tinfoil attracts a crow, so I ended up writing another novel before I finally came back to The Kalevala in late summer, 2014. And my inspiration for the two heroes of my story, siblings Kai and Freya, had nothing to do with Finland or magic or obscure epic poems. In fact, Kai and Freya were originally Henry and Lauren Rollins, because what led me to their family was a “what if?” question: What would happen if a guy obsessed with Henry Rollins (of Black Flag and spoken word fame) named his son after his hero? Although I’ve expunged every kooky Black Flag reference from the manuscript (because, come on, I write for kids and most adults don’t even know who Henry Rollins is), Kai and Freya’s Dad still hangs on to the punk rock glory days of his youth and I always picture him in a faded band tee.

Kai and Freya’s dynamic, which is central to the plot of the story, is based on my little brother and I, who are great friends now, but who tortured each other regularly when we were Kai and Freya’s age. Unlike my main characters, my own kids are best pals and filled with horror at the idea that one of the more violent moments of the book–a vicious fight between the siblings–is based on something that really happened between my brother and I thirty years ago.

We returned to the United States in December 2014, just as I was finishing up my first draft of QUEST FOR THE KALEVALA. So I like to think of my story as a love letter to a country we happily called home for just over four years. Some of my favorite haunts, from Cafe Tintin to the children’s international school, to gorgeous Lapland in the far north, have roles to play in the story, and through it all, I’ve woven in details from The Kalevala in hopes that kids and adults alike will move beyond the ever-popular Norse and Egyptian mythology to read what Finns had to say about magic, creation, and the songs of power.

If you’d like to read more origin stories from the amazing writers participating in Pitch Wars 2015, visit Vanessa Barger’s blog.

GRUDGING by Michelle Hauck – Cover Reveal & Giveaway!

cover_reveal_rockstar

Today Michelle Hauck and Rockstar Book Tours are revealing the cover for GRUDGING, Birth of Saints Book One series which releases November 17, 2015! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to win a copy if the eBook!

On to the reveal!

Grudging

 

GRUDGING by Michelle Hauck

is published by Harper Voyager Impulse and will be released November 17, 2015

 

Find it: Amazon | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Goodreads

 

A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power.  And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

michelle_hAbout Michelle:

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.

She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, and Sun versus Snow.

Her epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer’s Double Edge. She’s repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

Website | Twitter | Facebook page | Tumblr | Goodreads

And now, for the giveaway!

3 winners will receive an eBook of GRUDGING.
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