Monday, June 30, 2008

Michigander Monday: Boni Ashburn

Today begins a new feature on Jumping the Candlestick: Michigander Monday. Each Monday (or every other Monday some weeks), I will be posting a Q&A with a different Michigan children's book writer or illustrator.

The talented and delightful Boni Ashburn, who lives 500 miles from my doorstep (I toss in that mileage tidbit to give you non-Michiganders an idea of the scope of our state) has graciously agreed to be the first featured author.

Debbie asks: Tell us a little about yourself.
Boni replies: I'm a married mother of four who never planned to get married or have kids. I live in a place I loved visiting as a child, but never expected to live in. I'm a middle-aged writer who never thought she'd ever be middle-aged OR a writer. And I'm doing what I love to do more than anything (write children's books) and I never even considered it a possible vocation when I was planning out my life. Which, as you can tell, didn't turn out as planned, but is exactly what I wanted and didn't know it - ha!

Debbie: And of course we want to know all about your book!
Boni: My first book, Hush, Little Dragon, just came out in March from Abrams Books For Young Readers. It's illustrated by Kelly Murphy, whose work is magnificent. The whole experience has been great from beginning to end. The book is a new twist (some might say a twisted twist!) on the Hush Little Baby lullaby: Mama Dragon finds various castle-dwellers (a princess, a mean old queen, three musketeers and others) to fill her Baby's tummy before he settles down for bed and drifts off to sweet sleep. It's a little bit dark, a little bit funny (I hope) and a little bit sweet. I had a blast writing it and am so glad it turned into my first book!

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?
Boni: I have two other books under contract with Abrams. One is a follow-up to Hush (more of a companion book than a sequel) called Over At The Castle. And the other one, for the time being, is top-secret. As soon as I find out who the illustrator for that one is, I get to tell the world. And believe me, I'll be shouting it from the rooftops (and on my blog and on my website...) - I love this particular manuscript and it's very different from Hush, yet I had just as much fun writing it. Other than that, I have irons in various fires that I am blowing on patiently (or at least as patiently as I can!)

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan (or places, if you can't settle on just one)?
Boni: Well, until a couple of weeks ago, it was two, but now it's three! I have lived in the Upper Peninsula for the last 13 years and came up here to vacation as a child living in Illinois and Colorado. We always stayed at our family cottage on Agate Beach and I have SO many good memories that I have to make that Number One. I love Agate Beach! Even now that we are so much closer to it and get there more often (though not as often as we'd like with all the "city" activities we have all the time), it's what I immediately think of when I hear "Michigan.
Number Two would be Isle Royale. Possibly the most beautiful place on earth. When my kids were young and, um, overwhelming, my parents took me several years in a row for a birthday trip to "The Island" on their boat - just me, Mom and Dad for a few days of relaxation while hubby watched the kids. Wonderful! Lately, life has been too busy for it, but I think everyone should experience The Island at least once.
Number Three (the newest addition) would be Mackinac Island. I just went there for the first time ever and I loved it! When I'm rich and famous, I'm totally summering there on even years and Isle Royale on odd years :)

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?
Boni: When the SNOW MELTS!! We get over 300" a season up here, and I like snow as much as the next person, but by May, enough is enough :)
[Sidenote from Debbie: I cribbed the photo to the left from Boni's blog. It's from Michigan Tech's Winter Carnival. For a bit more about this snowy celebration, see Boni's blog entries about snow. Then, go ahead and read the rest of her blog. It's a good one.]

Debbie: And a few fun Michigan people we should all know about? Boni: One of the children's writers I admire most happens to live here: Lisa Wheeler! She's a children's book-writing genius! Meeting her and "hanging out" with her on a few occasions has been a highlight of my career so far and probably happened because we both live in Michigan. Otherwise I never would have had the nerve to even say "Hi!" to her.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state.
Boni: The Upper Peninsula is not even IN the mitten, but it's definitely the "better half".

Debbie: For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?
Boni: I'm a Michigander, but my kids are Yoopers!!

Debbie: Thank you, Boni, for being the debut author on Michigander Monday!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Drop What You're Doing!

Whatever you're in the middle of, this is better: Ruth McNally Barshaw's new book, Ellie McDoodle: New Kid In School, is now out. RUN, don't walk, to your favorite bookstore or library and get yourself a copy! Your kids will love it and you'll love it and the world will be a better place.

If you want more info on the book, Lori's got a full review of it over at her blog; but really, just take my word for it. It's a great book. Ruth is fabulously talented and wonderfully imaginative, and her books reflect that. Her previous book, Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel is a favorite in our household, and New Kid is every bit as good.

Those of you in the Lansing area, stop by and see Ruth this Saturday at the Eastwood Towne Center Schuler Books. It's an Ellie McDoodle Release Party, starting at 11 a.m., and will include a drawing lesson. And treats, too.

And best of all: Ruth's book!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rhyming Dictionaries

If a rhyming dictionary isn't part of your day-to-day life, you may think all rhyming dictionaries are the same. Actually, they're not. Different rhyming dictionaries group and organize entries in different ways, and some are arranged more intuitively than others.

As time permits, I'll be reviewing the rhyming dictionaries in my collection, and offering up the pros and cons of each. In the meantime, I'll share with you the fact that the rhyming dictionary I've used most over the years is The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary by Sue Young.

A question for the rhymers in my readership: what's your favorite rhyming dictionary?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Writing Advice #1

I don't feel qualified to dispense writing advice, but I will occasionally pass on bits of wisdom I glean from others. Today's installment comes courtesy of my elder son, who observed:

"A story without a good ending is like a boat without a bottom. It won't float, and it won't displace any water."

So when you're writing, make sure that you have a boat-bottom of an ending!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Poetry Friday

In the blogosphere of writers, Friday is usually "Poetry Friday." Bloggers share a poem -- sometimes an original work, sometimes not. It's a nice tradition, and though it's not one I'm likely to follow through on every single week, I hope to occasionally.

For this week, I offer up one of my own, written yesterday at the park.

Ready Or Not

Count to ten with your eyes closed
and they gallop away,
those boys of mine –
their legs like a herd,
their bodies tall and taller.

But they are small enough, still,
to fit behind a tree
during hide and seek,

and only some days too old
to give themselves away
with their laughter.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Guilty As Charged; Or, Why I Sometimes Get Funny Looks From Strangers

From an exchange between my son and me today:

Son: “You’re thinking about a new rhyming story, aren’t you.”
Me: “How can you tell?”
Son: “You’re mumbling words to yourself again.”

Coffee: Capstone of the Food Pyramid

Those of you who know my love of coffee, be reassured: it wasn't me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Goals, Schmoals

Over at Write Brainers, the blog of my writing group, Lori asked us all to post our summer writing goals. So I'm cross-posting my blog entry from there to here.

Generally speaking, in life I'm more Eeyore than Pollyanna. But for some reason, when I sit down to set goals, my dormant inner optimist comes to life and takes over. She has a tendency to craft grandiose plans formatted with headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings. Little surprise that I never make it even half way through these unachievable checklists of delusion.

So, for my summer goal-setting, I've given my inner optimist a wallop. While she's out cold, here's my pragmatic side setting some simple, do-able goals:

1. By the end of July, finish a first draft of Face It, a project I'm working on with April.
2. In the waning days of July, blow the dust off Grand Canyon, my YA novel manuscript. Work on this manuscript during our August writing group retreat. Continue to work on it during August.
3. Finish and revise Gonna Make It Through, a rhyming picture book manuscript I'm currently working on.

That's it. Now I'm off to wave the smelling salts under Pollyanna's nose.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Contemplating Those Lazy, Hazy, Occasionally Crazy Days...

I'm looking forward to some steamy hot days this summer, and I don't intend to complain (much) about either the heat or the humidity. I actually look forward to both. I'd much rather have 95 degrees and humid than snowy and gray. I do like spring and fall, but in a summer v. winter match up, heat beats sleet, mittens down.

Over on my writing group's blog, we're setting summer writing goals. Haven't set mine yet, but I'm contemplating it. Maybe a popsicle will inspire me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

As Luck Would Have It

Here's what I happened upon at the park today:




I've always had a knack for finding four-leaf clovers. I'll be walking along in a grassy area, minding my own business, when I happen to glance down -- and a four leaf clover pops out, as clear to me as a purple penguin on ice. Once one catches my eye (clover that is, not penguin), there are always more to be found.


As talents go, four-leaf clover finding is not a particularly useful one, but it's fun. My ability to find four-leaf clovers has to do with an aptitude the name of which I have forgotten. (Obviously, it wasn't "memory...") In graduate school, I took a course in which we studied different learning styles, and we all went through a series of tests to learn about our own. One test had to do with the ability to make out forms and shapes amongst different backgrounds. Though I am generally-speaking not a visual person, and though my artistic abilities could fit in a thimble and leave plenty of room for a thumb, apparently the aptitude-that-I-don't-remember-the-name-for is one that I do have, and it allows me to pick a four-leafer out of a crowd.


What do I do with all the four-leaf clovers? I'm not a true believer in them as a talisman of luck, but I either give them away or I squirrel them away in my dictionary, each clover placed next to a word that needs some luck or good wishes.


If you're in need of a little luck, go ahead and leave a dictionary word in the comments section, and I'll see if I can score you some. :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

News for you Mystery Fans

When I'm not reading kids' books or rhyming dictionaries, my favorite genre of reading is mysteries. Mostly I favor what are called "cozies," and I can't stand thrillers or novels of suspense, but occasionally I venture into mysteries that are darker or more realistically written than cozies. One not-what-I'd-call-cozy-mystery-though-some-do author whose work I enjoy is Julia Spencer-Fleming. She has a series of mystery that began with In The Bleak Midwinter. Some time ago, I signed up for email alerts from her site, so I received an email today:

[from Julia Spencer-Fleming]

I Shall Not Want officially goes on sale Tuesday, June 10.

To celebrate, St. Martin's Press is offering FREE ebook editions of the first two books in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. These free downloads are available right now, through Thursday, June 12. So act fast!

You can download the .pdf versions of In the Bleak Midwinter and A Fountain Filled With Blood at the I Shall Not Want book page of St. Martin's Press/Macmillan.

At the Sony eBook Store, you can download the Sony Reader edition of A Fountain Filled With Blood.

And finally, Amazon is offering Kindle editions of In the Bleak Midwinter and A Fountain Filled With Blood at the attractive price of $0.

Ebooks not your thing? I hope you'll pass this email along to a friend or paste it into your favorite online book discussion site.

Monday, June 9, 2008

If You See This Woman Today, Reassure Her That Yes, She Can Buy Those Green Bananas And Still Be Around When They're Ripe


Happy birthday, dear April.


You're hip, spry, and sporty,


And so young at heart --


Who would guess that you're...

...er, a very young age that just so happens end in a big ol' zero.


If you don't know April, go find her today and meet her; you'll be glad you did. If you know her already, please spend the bulk of your day showering her with birthday good wishes. In addition to being the finest friend I've ever had, April is a topnotch terrific writer and an all-round wonderful human being. She deserves nothing but the best, today and always.

Happy birthday, my friend. Here's to your best decade yet.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Start of a New Season

Being a parent of school-aged children, today is a significant day for me: it's the last day of school. The kids are excited, and we're all looking forward to a new routine and some summer adventures. But I've also had a few maudlin moments today as I've reflected on just where we're at. This past school year was my younger son's first and my elder son's fourth, and each school year that I've experienced as a parent has seemed to go more quickly than the one before.

Life sure scuttles past in a hurry. May this summer hold more than its fair share of lemonade.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Just FYI

Nicola's Books, an independent bookstore in Ann Arbor that I visited for the first time in May, has a nice two-page monthly newsletter. It's available in the right-hand column of their web page, or can be received via email.

Monday, June 2, 2008

It Really Is Just A Number

At the playground today, I overheard this exchange between two kids, both of them approximately the same age:

Child A: "Just so you know, I'm four years old."
Child B: "Well, I just turned one hundred."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Here I Could Write A Masterpiece (er, well, maybe not...)

In early May, I had the unique pleasure of spending the night aboard the docked WWII submarine U.S.S. Silversides, along with a pack of Cub Scouts. Onboard, there were many things I expected, but this room was a surprise: a tiny little office. Being old enough to wax nostalgic for the days of the typewriter, this room struck me as being a not-half-bad writing spot. It was to my credit that I didn't sneak off from the Scouts and have a go at it.

Perhaps the U.S.S. Silversides has a future as a writing retreat locale (though lack of plumbing is probably a major drawback...)