News and Updates
Many of you who have just started following me because of my recent book, More Than A Thief, might not know I wrote another historical fiction book several years back. Best Friends Forever: A WWII Scrapbook sprouted from a childhood connection my mother had with Japanese American friends, shipped off to live in an internment camp. As a child, hearing the story of Mother’s friends who, one day, just ‘vanished,’ I mistakenly took the story as a fascinating mystery. It was only later, as an adult, I recalled Mother’s story and realized the truth. Having never been taught about the internment of our Japanese American citizens, I set out to educate myself. Being appalled at what I learned, I then set out to educate our youth, and began writing a book aimed at middle grade readers.
By this time, unfortunately, my mother was far down the Alzheimer’s road, so I reached out to others to help with the story she’d originally inspired. First-hand knowledge is best, so I interviewed those who had lived in the camps. Not only did they provide invaluable insights and information, they were also able to vet my finished story. Among loads of other research, I also visited the site of Camp Manzanar, now declared a National Historic Site in California. It was a very moving experience and really brought home the desolation and isolation of life in these camps.
Pictured are graves of those who died in the camp, paper cranes left by visitors, and the last remaining guard tower. The barbed wire and barracks are gone, though some of building foundations are still visible. I would urge any and all to pay a visit to this historic site.
German-American Louise Kessler, fourteen, starts a scrapbook when her best friend, Dottie Masuoka, leaves for the Japanese internment camps. Louise’s scrapbook includes items from her life “on the home front” as well as Dottie’s letters and drawings from the internment camp. Together, their intertwined stories tell of a friendship that even war cannot tear apart.
When I was in school, history meant maps, dates, wars, and old dead people, none of which interested me. Then my teacher had us read To Kill A Mockingbird. I became so engrossed in the story, I had no idea I was learning about the Great Depression and the South’s attitudes towards race, class, gender, and the law. Sneaky? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely. Humans learn and teach through story. We forget a list of dates almost immediately after memorizing them. But we will never forget how it feels to be fighting for one’s life aboard the Titanic (Iceberg, by Jennifer Nielsen) or trying to survive the plague (Fever, by Laurie Halse Anderson).
Here are a few books that teach various aspects of history (but, shhhh! Don’t tell the kids!)
As disaster looms on the horizon, a young stowaway onboard the Titanic will need all her courage and wits to stay alive. “Distinct supporting characters… demonstrate the harrowing choices people made to survive, encouraging readers to consider what they would have done if fate and history had cast them into the story.” SLJ
Topics: Titanic, class system, Industrialization, women’s rights
Disease sweeps the streets, destroying everything in its path and turning Mattie’s world upside down. At her feverish mother’s insistence, Mattie flees the city with her grandfather. But she soon discovers that the sickness is everywhere, and Mattie must learn quickly how to survive in a city turned frantic with disease.
Topics: epidemics, medicine, slavery, women’s rights
19th century YA tale of social status, mystery and murder in which 16-year-old Victoria Robbins goes to extraordinary lengths to give up her kleptomania, a penchant she shares with neighbor and accused murderess, Lizzie Borden. In her quest to not become Lizzie Borden, Victoria loses old friends, makes questionable new ones and finds her fiercest enemy resides within her own skin. Sprinkled throughout the text are actual newspaper clippings of the infamous Borden case and trial.
Topics: Women’s rights, mental health, crime investigation, society and class differences.
A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay.
Topics: Sudanese Conflict, Global Water Access, refugees, immigration, and social activism
When Alex rescues a stray dog as a birthday gift to himself, he doesn’t think his life can get much better. Radar, his new dog, pretty much feels the same way. But this day has bigger things in store for both of them. This is Eleven: the journey of a boy turning eleven on 9/11
Topics: Twin towers, 9/11, Heroes, American Symbols, Terrorism, Antiterrorism
True crime lover, please meet my friend, Historical Fiction Fan. Historical Fiction Fan, let me introduce True Crime Lover. You two have a lot in common! You both like facts. You both enjoy learning something when you read. You both seek to understand, whether it’s an individual, a motivation, an event, or a certain time period in history. Here are a sampling of excellent books you could read together, and both enjoy!
Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery. At age 15/16, Grace Marks was convicted of killing her employer and his mistress with a fellow member of “the help”, James McDermott. Grace’s trial was highly publicized across Canada, the US, and Europe – “the Amanda Knox of her time.”
A dazzling work of historical fiction, based on true events, about two women who seem the most unlikely to ever meet: Alice, a Korean war survivor and translator for the American forces in Seoul and Marilyn Monroe, who is visiting Korea on a four-day USO tour. Moving and mesmerizing, The Starlet and the Spy is a beautiful portrayal of unexpected kinship between two very different women, and of the surprising connections that can change, or even save, a life.
A 19th century tale of social status, mystery and murder in which 16-year-old Victoria Robbins goes to extraordinary lengths to give up her kleptomania, a penchant she shares with neighbor and accused murderess, Lizzie Borden. In her quest to prove Lizzie Borden innocent, Victoria loses old friends, makes questionable new ones and finds her fiercest enemy resides within her own skin. Sprinkled throughout the text are actual newspaper clippings of the infamous Borden case and trial.
When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her back to her own sheltered world. The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.
A thrilling novel of love, loyalty, and espionage, based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States.
1963: Reeling from the death of her mother and President Kennedy’s assassination, Catherine Gray shows up on Elizabeth Bentley’s doorstep demanding answers to the shocking mystery she just uncovered about her family. What she doesn’t expect is for Bentley to ensnare her in her own story of becoming a controversial World War II spy and Cold War informer…
I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that 85% of writers are introverts. We’re in our own heads, our own worlds, and we spend an inordinate time alone – and we like it that way!
Then our books get sold and publishers start mentioning the “P” word. PROMOTION. As in, “What kind of plans do you have to promote your book?” Ummmm. Does crossing my fingers count?
Promotion is so uncomfortable. First it entails authors telling friends and family about our book, making us feel like big braggers. Then, it’s asking complete strangers – bloggers, podcasters, book reviewers, other authors – to read and promote our book. Then, if one does review it favorably, we need to post this news on social media. More bragging! Ugh!
Each time I reach out to one of these influencers, I am back in junior high, going house to house asking neighbors to sponsor my speed skating team. In return for their money, they’d get a flimsy sticker of a flying skate. Not surprisingly, most turned me down. Reaching out to book reviewers feels like going door-to-door, a nervous smile pasted on my face.
This also brings to mind comedian Sebastian Maniscalco’s bit on answering your door. It’s HILARIOUS:
While you enjoy that, I’m off to ring more virtual doorbells.
Had a wonderful time at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL last night. A few new faces mixed in with some familiar ones! Bloody axe cookies were a big hit! As were the “Red herrings” aka Swedish fish:)
There are loads of B&Bs to visit, all over the world. But did you know Lizzie Borden’s home, where the unsolved murder of her parents still hangs in the air, is one of them? True crime lovers will enjoy visiting the home and town where the famous murders took place, and they can decide for themselves if our girl was guilty or innocent.
The dress Elizabeth Montgomery wore portraying LB in the movie Lizzie Borden
The stove where Lizzie burned her dress (if you know, you know. If you don’t, read my book!)
And what visit to the Lizzie Borden B&B is complete without a pic of yourself laying on the (replica) sofa where Mr. Borden met his demise?
In writing MORE THAN A THIEF, I tried various ways in to the story. One of these attempts was a diary format, which, for various reasons I won’t bore you with, I eventually abandoned. However, I thought you might enjoy this brief outtake – a peek into my main character’s diary and state of mind, from an earlier version:
“In telling a perfect stranger my story, I would have to tell them that:
- I am a thief, but not your normal, run-of -the-mill kind. Most of the items I take are worth mere pennies at best.
- I don’t use anything I steal, but keep everything together in an old hat box in the garden shed
- I am immediately ashamed and remorseful
- I can’t seem to stop. Even now, as I write this, I have that familiar buzzing in my ears and fingertips, gnawing away at my resolve. And truly, I hadn’t even thought about quitting – it seemed such a harmless pastime, really – until I found out about Miss Lizzie…”
Poor Victoria. What’s a thieving debutante to do?
Feel free to preorder MORE THAN A THIEF to find out!
The day I found out I was losing my agent was also the day we got an offer on my latest book! It was heaping plate of Sweet and Sour Pork, served steaming hot. Joy and sorrow combined under one silver dome. And I’m not great with chopsticks.
The journey with More Than A Thief started in 2010, after my book Best Friends Forever: A WWII Scrapbook came out. Marshall Cavendish (the original publisher) was interested in another historical scrapbook. Having always been fascinated with the Lizzy Borden case, I decided to set the story in Fall River, Massachusetts and got to work. The story started out as a contemporary novel with the main character keeping a scrapbook about the Borden murders. There was a ghost/graveyard element too, and a very tragic yet handsome ghost boy. I wrote a chunk and sent it to the lovely Robin Benjamin, my editor at Marshall Cavendish. We talked, we planned. I wrote more. It was grand.
And then. Marshall Cavendish was bought by Amazon and Amazon was not going to be publishing historical fiction. Also, somewhere in there, my first agent (let’s call her Agent A) and I parted ways. I wrote on, and looked for a new agent. Fifty-some rejections later, I found two agents who loved my story. Hooray! I picked Agent B. One very frustrating and silent year later, I realized I should have gone with Agent C. I let Agent B go and signed with Agent C, who, after one more year, was the one who finally sold this book. Hooray!
But then Agent C left the business and I am now feasting on the aforementioned Sweet and Sour Pork. But that is life, isn’t it? Taking the good with the bad, the sweet with the sour. The sour? Back on the hunt for Agent D. The sweet? The wonderful and talented people at Owl Hollow Press who are hard at work on my book! They have been a joy to work with and I cannot wait to see the magic they do with MORE THAN A THIEF. If you’d like to get a behind-the-scenes peeks at cover design, advanced reviews, and whatever else the future holds for this crazy journey, jot down your email and I’ll keep you in the loop.
Until then, stay well. And look for the sweet!
When the good people at Owl Hollow Press sent me a handful of cover designs to choose from, I was bowled over.
Me? Choose a cover? Eep! With my other books, I had no input, so this was a huge change. And a little intimidating.
Each sample was beautiful and arresting in its own right, making it difficult to choose. I showed the samples to my husband and kids, then to my trusted writing buddies. Their comments were varied and fascinating, each person having a different takeaway from the images. Keeping their opinions in mind, I went with my gut and chose, indicating some changes I thought would make it better. Then came time for the font! Ei yi yi. Back to my family again, and also to a very accomplished artist. Still more interesting takes. Here is why I chose what I did:
Photo: The darkness and partial view of the girl invoke a feeling of mystery. The spot of color is the hand, almost red from the heat of the candle – what better way to symbolize a thief than emphasize the hand that steals?
Font: Unusual, maybe a little menacing, and surprising on a historical fiction cover. Will it make a potential reader pick it up? I hope so!
Here are a few covers whose font and artwork combinations I found evocative:
How about you? Do you have a favorite cover that caught your eye? Please share!
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