My Mustang doppelgänger

Most of my local writer adventures come courtesy of the Oklahoma chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I love this group! I try to not miss any of their events, and I find myself looking forward to each activity.

I’ve met a few other writers in different ways. One in particular is Regina Jennings, author of SIXTY ACRES AND A BRIDE and LOVE IN THE BALANCE.

I first came across Regina because of a twitter post from Writer’s Digest, pointing to an article in the ongoing series, “How I Got My Agent.” I usually click on those stories, and since we share a first name, Regina’s story in particular caught my eye, so I read it.

That was where I found her bio, and started making comparisons.

Regina Jennings is a homeschooling mother of four from Oklahoma. Really? I’m a homeschooling mom of three from Oklahoma. That’s interesting. She enjoys watching musicals with her kids, traveling with her husband and reading by herself. Well, yeah, who doesn’t like those things?

I went on and found out that she’d worked at the Mustang News and the Baptist church there. I’ve worked at the Tuttle Times and I haven’t been employed at my Baptist church, but I’ve volunteered there for years. And she lives in Mustang? That’s the next town over. We’re practically neighbors.

And she writes. And she’s published. Well…I’m working on that one.

And she’s awesome. We follow each other on Facebook and Twitter now. I ran into her outside of the Mustang library, and even though she seemed as cool and collected as she appears in the above photo and I believe I looked about as frazzled and frumpy as I could possibly get, she did not run shrieking to her car, or call security after I fangirled a little. She was nice. It was comfortable. Not awkward.

She was passing out information to the librarians about her upcoming release of LOVE IN THE BALANCE. I about passed out. (Inside. I played it cool on the outside. I think.) A real author doing real author things. My kids were there. They weren’t impressed. They never are.

Anyway. This amazingly long introduction of Regina Jennings is leading up to the fact that I got another chance to meet her this week, at a presentation at the Mabel C. Fry Library in Yukon. I don’t frequent this library, but Regina mentioned it on her Facebook page, so I got signed up. The topic was Getting Published: How to Sell Your Book to a Publisher. Sounded good to me!

It was fun. My mom helped with the younger kids; they came along and enjoyed a different library setting during the session. The turnout wasn’t bad, but I was surprised that not many had finished books.

It was funny at the beginning, when the librarian was introducing Regina. When she was saying how Regina was a wonderful writer, and somehow finds time to squeeze in her writing while homeschooling her children, I just kind of leaned back and pretended it was me. Someday.

Many of the things she spoke about were topics I had already learned through the Internet and through the SCBWI and OWFI (Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc.) conferences. The others in the room were scribbling furiously, so it was good info – I’ve just obsessively researched it already. That was okay. Still good to refresh.

I really enjoyed the “behind the scenes” look at what happens at the conference sponsored by her writer’s group, ACFW, (American Christian Fiction Writers) and the steps her books go through prior to publication. I also liked hearing about what she’s working on now, and what’s currently being developed.

I also plan to look into a book she mentioned that was written by her friend and convention roommate, Stephanie Landsem, called THE WELL. She told us how the protagonist in the book was originally a certain age, but the author had to eventually change that age to get the book published, even though it was hard for her. That is something that I have been curious about, due to an issue in one of my novels. I am not at a point where I feel like I need to make a drastic change in age, but I am interested in reading a book by another person who faced something similar.

And…I badly need to read LOVE IN THE BALANCE! I enjoyed SIXTY ACRES AND A BRIDE very much (see my brief review with other Oklahoma authors here) but I’ve been focusing on young adult lately.

I’m currently in Tara Hudson’s HEREAFTER series, and I have two Anna Myers books sitting on the table next to me that I really need to return to the friend who lent them to me… (and my own writing…don’t forget my own writing) but soon!

Too many good Oklahoma authors!

Business and pleasure at the Teen Author Talk

Today I mixed business with pleasure when I visited a library in the next town over and listened to three Young Adult authors talk about their books and careers.

Oklahoma authors Sonia Gensler and Tara Hudson were in attendance, along with Tessa Gratton, who lives in Kansas. That’s pretty close.

My homeschooled trio came with me, along with my mom, who lives in Blanchard. We picked her up on the way and headed for the library in our van ‘o fun.

A class of high schoolers were already there, and they were joined by a pack of kids from the middle school. My oldest daughter is 13, and she was really interested by the whole thing. She loves reading but has never been into writing, but after the talk, she said she might try writing some short stories and see what happens.

All three of the authors talked about their books and the paths they traveled to publication. They were asked numerous questions by an audience that was a lot more attentive than I thought they would be – the speakers were that good.

We stuck around for a few minutes after and said hi, but I didn’t want to keep them, and we had to get back home for dance lessons and things like that, so with thoughts of short stories and autographed bookmarks, we filed back to the car.

It was good. I’m glad we went.

This was one stop on a big tour they did with all of the Pioneer Library system. They’ve been all over – to schools and libraries in Norman, Moore, OKC, Shawnee, etc. Sonia’s blog says they’ll be at Noble tomorrow night, and that’s the last one. It’s worth it if you’re in the area. Check out the details here.

And now I’m ready to get busy on a new Oklahoma author review for this blog – I just added Tara Hudson’s trilogy to my Kindle!

My darling daughter with authors Tessa Gratton, Sonia Gensler and Tara Hudson.

My darling daughter with authors Tessa Gratton, Sonia Gensler and Tara Hudson.

Golden Kite, Golden Dreams

One of the neat things about being a part of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is that it not only provides a fantastic support base and introduces me to new friends, it also opens the world of illustration.

If not for SCBWI’s inclusion of both writers and illustrators, I would have never met many of the interesting artists in our local group. I also wouldn’t have attended a beautiful art show.

The OKC part of our state’s SCBWI generally meets once a month at a magical, old-fashioned, wooden-shelved, rolling laddered(!) bookstore called Full Circle Books. Local people, it’s at 50 Penn Place, and if you haven’t been there, please go. Please.

But this month, we were invited to attend a special art show at Oklahoma City UniversityGolden Kite, Golden Dreams: The SCBWI Awards. We were hosted by Mike Wimmer, Department Chair and SCBWI member.

The different pieces of art were fascinating. Pictures representing winners from each year of the Golden Kite awards were on display, along with information about the artists and the books they appeared in. It was interesting to see how styles have changed over the years.

It also struck me how each illustrator truly has their own style. You hear it again and again – how each artist must find their own voice – but when the art was all lined up like that, it was apparent how true it really was. There was so much beauty in those pictures, and each person told it in their own personal way.

The exhibit will be on display at the Nona Jean Hulsey Art Gallery, on the Oklahoma City University Campus, through October 20, and is well worth a visit. The gallery is open 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Golden Kite, Golden Dreams: The SCBWI Awards is presented by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.

Looking at all the beautiful artwork made me think of some of the beautiful scenes I remember from books. My mind immediately goes to the work of Garth Williams – his black and white drawings in Charlotte’s Web and the Little House on the Prairie books still tug at my heart when I see them – and the deceptively simple beauty of Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I know there’s more that I’ve loved and admired, but for some reason, those two illustrators are the first in my mind when I think about art that’s touched me in children’s literature.

Who are some of your favorite children’s illustrators?

The Dark Between

When I was focused on newspaper and the small town I covered, I didn’t read much, excepting each newly released Stephen King novel.

Now I’m back to reading a lot – and most of my attention is on Young Adult novels. I don’t read too many new ones, since I’m trying to play catch up on all the great ones I’ve missed over the years.

The Dark Between, by Sonia Gensler, was released August 27, 2013.

I did get the opportunity to read a very new book this month, however, when I received a copy of THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler.

Sonia is an Oklahoma author. Her first book, THE REVENANT, was published several years ago, but I read it in the spring and mentioned in on this blog in April.

Here’s the blurb about THE DARK BETWEEN, from Sonia’s website, soniagensler,comAt the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

Spooky, right?

And I’ve got to say – the three characters are all so well defined that I’m still thinking about them. The writing was crisp; the story was direct and clear. I really, really enjoyed this book.

And when I got to the end, I turned the last page and wished there was more. I hope she writes a sequel, because I’m not ready for story to be done.

To get your copy, on Amazon, click this right now! THE DARK BETWEEN

And there’s a trailer!

Disclaimer: I received my copy of THE DARK BETWEEN absolutely free(!) but not for review purposes – it was because I follow Sonia’s blog (even though I don’t really like tea) and she had a contest back in February for a free copy of Maurissa Guibord’s book, REVEL, plus a pre-order of THE DARK BETWEEN, and I entered on a whim, and amazingly won! REVEL was fantastic, and then, after all those months, having THE DARK BETWEEN appear in my mailbox was almost like Christmas. What luck that reading the books was just as enjoyable as winning them! Thank you, Sonia!

The Princess and the Pee

Thanks to my lovely critique partner Gayleen, I have several books by Oklahoma authors to read and review. Of course, I’m taking forever on it, but I really have the best intentions of reading the books and getting them on here.

The latest one I’ve pulled out from the bag was a short children’s book, The Princess and the Pee, by Oklahoma author Susan A. Meyers. Admittedly, my first thought was Ew. Pee. I don’t like the word pee. Of course, with small kids, we use it sometimes, but I much prefer the daintier sounding “pee-pee” or even “tinkle.”

But besides that.

The book is about Princess Pia Scarlet, who wants to sleep on the top bunk so she can see the fireflies outside. Her sister refuses to switch bunks until Pia Scarlet stops wetting the bed. (The sister says “peeing the bed,” which the Fair Queen says is a rude term. I have a few things in common with the Fair Queen!)

Anyway, the girls made a bet. Since the sister understandably doesn’t want to be peed on, she tells Pia Scarlet that if she doesn’t wet the bed for a whole week, she’ll switch with her.

The book is very cute as it goes through Pia Scarlet’s seven nights of attempted dryness. The illustrations (by Manelle Oliphant) are lovely and add to the story.The book is fun, never preachy, and has been enjoyed by my six year old.

Susan is also a member of the Oklahoma chapter of SCBWI, and I’ve gotten the pleasure of starting to get to know her. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more or her and enjoying the rest of her books. She’s a good writer and nice person too!

To learn more about Susan A. Meyers and her work, visit her website:


Anna Myers

So, after reading Assassin by Anna Myers recently, I went on an all-out Myers binge.

I read Time of the WitchesTulsa Burning, Stolen by the Sea, Graveyard Girl, Flying Blind, Fire in the Hills, and When the Bough Breaks.

I read them one after another. Some took me one day. Some took a little more.

I enjoyed them all, but my favorite, hands down, was When the Bough Breaks. I liked the complexity of the book. Instead of one storyline, there were two, woven together – and I liked both of them. Sometimes when I read a book from multiple points of view, I prefer one character and want the other to shut up and let me get back to my favorite. This time, both were intriguing. Both had terrible secrets – and both were satisfying to discover.

I also still love the little things you find in a book written by a person you actually know in real life. One of the storylines – the one featuring teenager Ophelia – includes a scene at the cemetery, which is across the street from the school. I’ve been to Myers’ hometown, and the cemetery in that town is indeed right across from the school. I was driving around, killing time before a SCBWI Oklahoma workshop, when I went by the school and noticed the cemetery nearby. I thought it was a little creepy and strange, and wondered what the students though. Later, when I read the When the Bough Breaks, I was delighted to see the school and cemetery put to use in literature.

Myers’ books are such a good way to combine fiction with historical events. We homeschool, and I think her work will be a great way to supplement history when we are doing studies this year. My oldest daughter doesn’t care for history, but I think that’s just because she hasn’t had it come alive for her yet. She enjoyed Assassin. Now I just need to add more historical fiction to the curriculum.

Time of the Witches – This one focuses on the Salem witch trials and the effect on the life of an orphan named Drucilla. She is separated from her bff, Gabe, and moves in with a crazypants woman and her weird family. After she and her foster sister start visiting the servant of the town’s new reverend, several girls, including Drucilla, start claiming they are being attacked by witches.

Tulsa Burning – A story of a boy named Noble who lives in the small town of Wekiwa and faces the Tulsa race riot of 1921. His friend is trapped in Tulsa, and Noble (nicknamed “Nobe”) goes into the burning city to find him. Wekiwa had a lot of twists with who was related to who – I would have liked to have seen a dossier on all of the people who lived in the town!

Stolen by the Sea – A girl named Maggie rides out the Galveston hurricane of 1900. I didn’t even know about this event before reading the book. According to Wikipedia, the Galveston hurricane is the deadliest natural disaster to ever strike the United States. An estimated 6,000-12,000 people died. In the book, Maggie stays in her home, struggling for survival with the help of Felipe, a Mexican boy from the orphanage who works for her father.

Graveyard Girl – Another new event for me – the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in 1878. I loved the newspaper quotes at the beginning. I also adored a quote from Grace, the Graveyard Girl, about life and death. This was a library book, and I meant to write it down before I returned the book yesterday, but of course I didn’t. Figures. I did not really love the artwork on the front, and I was surprised at how that colored my view of the title character. It reminded me of someone, and that was hard to shake. On Amazon there’s a different cover for the paperback, which obscures Grace’s face. I wish I’d seen that one first.

Flying Blind – Told from two points of view – a young boy named Ben and…wait for it…a macaw named Murphy! I enjoyed it. This book looked at the problem of plume hunting in Florida at the turn of the 20th century. The line between right and wrong isn’t so clear when Ben learns that two of the plume hunters are orphans that use the sales of feathers to survive. Plume hunting took a terrible toll on birds, with millions being killed every year just for fashionable hats for women.

Fire in the Hills – This one was about a girl in a tiny Oklahoma town who loses her mother and cares for an ill military deserter during World War I. I liked the main character, Hallie, quite a bit and wouldn’t have minded this story going on a little longer.

All in all, eight enjoyable books. I probably should have spread them out a little more so I could give each one a post. Or maybe I should get back to writing my own novels.

When you find an author you like, do you rush and read everything by them that you can get your hands on? What authors have inspired you to race through all their books?


Even as a kid, I always loved Oklahoma authors.

We didn’t buy a lot of books, but read every S.E. Hinton and Bill Wallace book at the school library. I read “A Dog Called Kitty” when I was pretty young. One of the librarians probably turned it face out, so I noticed it. Then I read the blurb about the author. Bill Wallace…from Chickasha? Chickasha, Oklahoma? That was our county seat. It was only half an hour away. And a real-live author lived there?

Didn’t get to S.E. Hinton until later – junior high or high school. Probably high school would have been the first time they would have had her books available for us. But still. Published as a teenager? From Tulsa? What?

I understand how kids like writers to be accessible on Twitter or blogs nowadays, because that’s how I felt about Wallace and Hinton. The fact that they lived in my state – saw the things I saw and knew the places I knew – made them more accessible to me…more real to me. I felt a kinship with them. I almost felt like I knew them. Reminds me of Twitter.

I think it’s unfortunate that I missed so many other Oklahoma authors, and I’m sure there’s more. I’m trying to find them all now.

I like to think that my librarian would have pointed me to Anna Myers, had she been published then. Her first book came out in 1992, the year I graduated from high school. I apparently missed its release.

I met Anna this year. She’s the regional head of the Oklahoma Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and she’s fantastic. I liked her so much, in fact, that I sought out her books. She’s had nineteen (19!) published.

I started with her first, Red-Dirt Jessie. I enjoyed it, so I picked up the next one, Rosie’s Tiger. That one was good too. They were both middle grade, which really isn’t my favorite genre, but they were well-written and had good ideas and storylines.

And then I was in the library the other day, looking at the YA section for something new, and her books caught my eye. (They’re on the top row in my library, and I don’t even remember seeing them before!) Assassin looked good. I grabbed it, and a couple others, and checked out. Went home and cracked it open.

Oh, My. Word.

So good. So very good.

Assassin tells the story of Bella, a young girl who finds herself between John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln. The handsome, charismatic Booth uses her to help him with his plot to kidnap Lincoln. Even though Bella knows what’s she’s doing is wrong, she helps Booth anyway, endangering the president and causing her to lose the trust of the boy who’s always loved her.

This is spot-on good historical fiction. I read every word and sped through the book. I haven’t read a lot of YA historical fiction, but you can bet I’m going to keep reading these! I also recommended it to my 13-year-old daughter. I know she’s going to enjoy this story too – and even learn a little more about the time period to boot, like I did.

I’ve moved on to Time of the Witches, and it is proving to be as mysterious and exciting as Assassin.

Now I can’t help thinking of what else I’m missing.

I wish the library would have a list of all the books by Oklahoma authors. Full Circle Bookstore in OKC does a pretty good job of identifying books by local writers, but it would be nice if the library would do it too. I know that reading a book by someone from my state meant a lot to me as a kid (and now). I imagine there are other young men and women who would feel inspired and encouraged by these writers, just like me.

Do you have any ideas on how to raise awareness of local authors and their work?


S.E. Hinton and Taming the Star Runner

When I was a teenager, our high school library had four S.E. Hinton books: The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, That was Then, This is Now, and Tex.


Guess which four S.E. Hinton books I read as a teenager.

I didn’t even know there were any others. That was the only library I got to visit very often, and that was pre-Internet. We had a copy of Books in Print, but it wasn’t that much fun to peruse.

And S.E. Hinton is seriously awesome. She wrote The Outsiders when she was in high school. High school! It was published her freshman year of college. And she’s from Oklahoma. Tulsa…but that’s still close enough to me to be incredible. She was a teenage me’s dream – a young writer of amazing books from the same state I was in. It was almost too much to be believed.

She’s still active in the writing community and interacts with fans online. She is on Twitter (and has replied to my tweets – bliss!) and did a big Q & A on Goodreads this week. She’s done some books for children and adults that are in my To Be Read pile.

ANYWAY! S.E. Hinton wrote one more young adult book – Taming the Star Runner, which was published in 1988.

I was at the Mustang Library the other day, being a grown-up creeper in the young adult section, as usual, when I saw Hinton’s young adult books. I saw the original four, and then I spotted Taming the Star Runner.

My mind puzzled at the name. Taming the Star Runner? I wondered if it was sci-fi and pulled it off the shelf. Even with the horse on the front, I still figured it was going to be in the future or something.

Well, that was wrong. The Star Runner is a horse. Not a space-ship-y thing.

It’s about this kid named Travis, who loves to write but doesn’t love his stepfather, and gets sent to live with his dad’s brother in Oklahoma. The uncle has horses and kids come out for lessons, and people board their horses there. The instructor, Casey, owns the Star Runner, this wild-acting stallion. Casey also becomes Travis’ love interest.

I liked this book for several reasons.

First, I really connected with the horse aspects of the story. I know Hinton loves horses, and it’s obvious she knows her way around a barn. My daughter actually has a horse and we board it near our house. My daughter also takes lessons there. Having this experience really let me see the books’ horse stuff clearly in my mind. There was even a horse show in the story, and we’ve done that too. I still feel awkward at the barn and at shows, but it was neat reading about it in the story.

Second, Travis is a writer, and he has sent his book off to a publisher. Now, I’m sure that Travis’ experiences are not exactly S.E. Hinton’s, but I imagine she let some of her life shine through these pages. Travis’ thoughts and emotions during the submission and revision process felt almost like a mini-biography of Hinton’s life during publishing of The Outsiders. As an aspiring author, that was a real gem tucked away in the book.

Third. Dang, just reading a S.E. Hinton book again was good. She’s a great writer. Taming the Star Runner was different than a lot of the books I see today. Young Adult books today seem to really have to be quick paced to make the cut. Every page is just go, go, go, go, go! Every plot line and action is sharp and purposeful. Taming the Star Runner feels more like real life. There’s not always a huge incredible climax. Sometimes life just happens, and it’s not whiz-bang capers all the time. This book is more about feelings and emotions and less about action – although there is a big action scene at the end that was almost too fast for me to keep up!

I’m a little sad that unless she writes another, I won’t be reading another young adult book by S.E. Hinton again (at least for the first time.)

She was the person who first taught me that a kid from Oklahoma could be an acclaimed author, writing books she loved. She planted the seed that allowed me to start work on a first novel when I was in high school. That book was never finished, but I still think about it sometimes. Maybe I can do something with it in the future.

S.E. Hinton still provides inspiration to me today.

Do you have a favorite S.E. Hinton book? Who inspires you?