Book Launch by Ellen Wittlinger: Provincetown fun!

Watching a seasoned pro pull off a book launch with grace and hospitality is such a joy. That was the case yesterday in the beautiful Provincetown Library, when Ellen Wittlinger celebrated the publication of her latest YA novel, LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY.

Wittlinger book cover

I’m a fan of Ellen’s writing, I love the Provincetown Library, and I look forward to the day when my own novel will be published, so I enjoyed this event on a lot of levels!

First, watching Ellen…she warmly greeted all guests as they entered the room. A bookseller from Provincetown Bookshop was in the back of the room with a stack of LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY for sale.

Chatting to guests before the reading
Chatting to guests before the reading

Ellen chatted with guests informally before the presentation began in a very relaxed and genuine way. She showed how much she appreciated each person being there. It was also fun to see Ellen’s family members there, including her adorable granddaughter!

Ellen set up the novel well, explaining the inspiration for it (a long-ago event in Provincetown). She read Chapter 1 and a small bit from the middle of the book. They were the perfect excerpts to get the audience wanting to know more about this teen story set in Provincetown.

Wittinger reading

Ellen acknowledged the turnout (about 20 people), and said she was happy about that– she said she once had a reading where one person showed up! It was a reminder to me that even for a very seasoned and very published author, public readings can be a bit of a crap shoot. But this one had positive energy and a good number of people!

Wittlinger cake

Finally, Ellen ended with questions, a cake, and signing her books.

I was so happy to see Ellen!
I was so happy to see Ellen!

Again she warmly expressed gratitude to people for attending. It was over in an hour and we all left, books in hand and big smiles on our faces, happy to support this amazing author!

Ellen will have a few other local readings where you can meet her, hear her read, and buy this juicy Provincetown mystery:

Reading at Truro Public Library, Standish Way, Truro, MA, July 1, 3 p.m.

Reading at Straw Dogs Writers Guild, The Basement, Center Street, Northampton, MA, July 5, 7 p.m.

Reading/signing at Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA, August 5, 7 p.m.

Congratulations, Ellen!

Gay Pride & Orlando: Never Going Back Again

I stare at the photo of a long-ago Gay Pride march. In it, I march with my girlfriend (now wife) and a bunch of young lesbians. I recently posted it on Facebook with the caption “I’m remembering my first gay pride, when my flamboyant 80’s shorts conveniently distracted from the fact that my knees were shaking…Cheering on the next generation who proudly claim who they are (and have a great time doing so!)…meet you on the corner of Beacon and Joy.”

Gay Pride 1988

I was telling the truth about participating in that Gay Pride march; my knees were shaking. I’d only been “out” a year. It was 1988. People were dying of AIDS. People stayed in the closet, at work and from their families, out of fear. I remember looking up at Boston rooftops and wondering if a gunman could be up there, ready to shoot at gay people. Then I chided myself for being paranoid.

silence=death

Now I’m taking in the news of today’s massacre in Orlando, the news of the attempted violence at the Pride celebration in L.A., the news of armed guards stationed outside the Stonewall Inn in NYC. 

Stonewall Inn
I remember how agitated I got last year when one of my college students wrote a descriptive essay about Provincetown, mentioning gay couples who held onto each other in the street “as if that was the only place in the world they could do that.” If you’ve never felt safe holding the hand of your loved one in public, never felt safe kissing that person on a sunny park bench, or felt free to dance with abandon with your loved one in a nightclub– you understand how sacred those spaces are. These are not just bars or clubs or cute, artsy destinations; they are sanctuaries.

I’m also conscious of the safety that has been ripped away from so many other people by gunmen: people going to bible study, health clinics, movies, first grade. Now there are 50 dead in Orlando, and some of the names and faces are becoming public: vibrant men with beautiful Latino names.

Our flag rainbow

We’ve been celebrating so many advances in LGBT rights these past few years, but this is a horrible reminder that we have a way to go. The biggest difference I can see now is that we have so many more allies, and so much more openness. 

rainbow flag candle

We’re not hiding, and we’re never going back again.

Writing Middle Grade fiction with LGBTQ-parented families

Have you seen the Project Mayhem middle grade blog? It’s devoted to crafting middle grade fiction, and it’s chock full of resources, book reviews, author interviews, craft tips, and more. I’m part of the Project Mayhem team, and I recently shared some ideas from my presentation at the New England SCBWI conference.

Mary E. Cronin & Bonnie Jackman present at the New England SCBWI conference.
Mary E. Cronin & Bonnie Jackman present at the New England SCBWI conference.

Many writers want to present a variety of family configurations when they are crafting middle grade fiction, but they’re not sure how to do it well.

Here are some tips on writing about middle grade characters with LGBTQ parents that I shared on the Project Mayhem blog to help!

FPB rainbow flag

Enjoy, and happy writing!

Writing abt Characters w/LGBTQ Parents- our presentation!

Lively conversation and great questions added rocket fuel to our presentation yesterday on Writing about Characters with LGBT Parents.

SLIDE 1.nescbwi

The New England SCBWI* Conference is broad and deep– 700 attendees, many workshops on all aspects of the writing life, and powerful keynote addresses. I co-presented with my wife Bonnie Jackman, an LICSW and middle school counselor.

Can you tell we've been together 29 years? Active listening! :)
Can you tell we’ve been together 29 years? Active listening! 🙂

Here are a few points from our presentation:

**In a diverse country such as ours, with LGBT rights and protections shifting in real time, SETTING is critical to any story with LGBT characters. Setting can be an antagonist, a support, a mix of the two– think about where your character/family lives and consider the political/social climate for LGBT people there.

**LGBT adults have had to make their peace with living outside the  margins of dominant culture/mainstream paradigms of relationships. Where are their children in this process? Age is critical here– a kindergartener may love having her two moms come in to the classroom for a celebration; an older kid might ask to be dropped off two blocks from school.

**Kids of LGBT parents have to explain their existence all the time. Who’s your real mom? Where’s your dad? What do you mean you don’t have a dad? Wait, what? There are many dissonant moments our kids just deal with as a matter of course. How does this affect their character, their quest, their relationships, their school experience? This is rich material for character development.

Famed New Yorker cartoon by Harry Bliss, beloved by lesbian families!
Famed New Yorker cartoon by Harry Bliss, beloved by lesbian families!

I’ll post more soon… in the meantime, I’m enjoying the post-conference glow. A few people have asked if we’d consider presenting with workshop elsewhere– the answer is yes!

*SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Radio interview: Instilling a love of reading in children

“Never the leave the house without a book.” That’s one of the tips we discussed yesterday on The Point, a morning program on WCAI-FM, the NPR station for Cape Cod and the Islands.

WCAI radio, overlooking the water in beautiful Woods Hole, MA
WCAI radio, overlooking the water in beautiful Woods Hole, MA

Host Mindy Todd and I discussed how to instill a love of reading in the home, creating an environment where reading with children happens naturally. We talked about creating a diverse book collection in the home, the power of board books, reading poetry to children, and more.

We had a fantastic conversation, and were later joined by a reading specialist who is knowledgeable about kids who have reading difficulties.  Listen here if you want to hear the program!

I couldn't leave Woods Hole without having a delicious scone at Pie in the Sky!
I couldn’t leave Woods Hole without having a delicious scone at Pie in the Sky!

Writing about characters with GLBT parents

“Who’s your real mom?”

“What do you mean you don’t have a dad/mom?”

“Please bring these permission slips home to your moms and dads.”

Life is just different for kids of GLBT parents. They navigate awkward questions, tricky social situations, and heteronormative language on a daily basis.

That’s just some of the territory we’ll be covering in our presentation at the New England SCBWI conference at the end of the month in Springfield, MA. My wife Bonnie Jackman and I will be discussing sparks for inspiration as well as seeds of conflict in Re-imagining Families: Writing about characters with GLBT parents – a morning workshop on Sunday, May 1.

Bonnie and I presenting at the 2015 NESCBWI conference
Bonnie and I presenting at the 2015 NESCBWI conference

We’ll offer insights and strategies for writing about families with same-sex and single parents, focusing on gay and lesbian-led families as well as those with bisexual and transgender parents. How can writers realistically portray characters with parents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? How will these various family structures affect our characters (from early childhood to middle grade through adolescence)?

Our flag rainbow

Bonnie is a seasoned therapist and school counselor, with lots of anecdotes, developmental info, and insights to share. I’ll bring the craft perspective to the conversation. It should be a fun and lively session. Hope to see you there!

Read more about the conference here.

How it’s done: author James Howe presenting to Middle Schoolers

I had the privilege of watching author James Howe present to Nauset Regional Middle School today– the whole school. (I have an inside advantage: my wife Bonnie is a guidance counselor there!) He spoke at two different schools today, and will give an evening presentation, too.

THE MISFITS by James Howe
THE MISFITS by James Howe

I was taking in Jim’s presentation on three levels:

  1. Enjoying the ethnographic research of being in a middle school– the drastic differences between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders… the ways of dressing, the height differentials, the hair.
  2. As a writer, it was delightful to hear Jim Howe talking about his writing process, the way he develops character, and his motivations to write.
  3. As someone who does school presentations and writing workshops, watching the ease and charm with which Jim presented was inspiring.

Some observations:

**Jim read a few pages from THE MISFITS first, to set the scene for his conversation. Many of the students had read the book and were familiar with the others in the series.

**Jim showed slides– but not too many. His commentary was relaxed, conversational. He showed some pictures of his own childhood, pet pictures (a big hit), photos of his process (spreading out his manuscript pages on a large table, the three-ring binder approach, and more). He shared a picture of himself and his daughter when she was at middle school age, and said that her struggles in middle school inspired THE MISFITS. He demonstrated a real empathy for how difficult middle school is– something that must be so powerful for his young audience to hear!

Jim Howe and his daughter. "A seed for a book is very often a question."
Jim Howe and his daughter. “A seed for a book is very often a question.”

**Jim talked openly and easily about being gay, about being married to a woman earlier in his life, and why it took him so long to come out. It was disarming, simple, direct, and related to his books. His books are responsible for the creation of No Name Calling Day across the country, and he spoke about being very proud of that. I kept thinking about the kids in the audience who were out, or coming out– how powerful to have this author and role model up there, being himself in such a natural and comfortable way!

Howe GLSEN

**Jim spoke about “interviewing” one of the characters in his books in order to get to know to the character more deeply. He showed pages of his interview notes and how they ended up as backstory in the novel TOTALLY JOE. He finished with a Q&A.

Totally Joe

Finally some kid notes:

**The middle schoolers weren’t playing it too cool. “There he is!” a boy stage-whispered as he entered the auditorium. Another boy literally jumped up and down with excitement as he had his books signed by Jim.

**Blue hair. Purple hair. Green hair.

**Wedge high-top sneakers are apparently a thing.

**Best middle-schooler’s shirt, in my estimation: hand-lettered with a Sharpie, “May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor.”

Meeting Jim Howe was delightful!
Meeting Jim Howe was delightful!

All in all, a perfect experience of a great author visit!

 

 

 

 

 

Raising a Reader: my class for parents/early educators!

Raising a Reader! I’m offering this community education class in May 2016 at the Cape Cod Campus of Bridgewater State University.

Stack of bks

Raising a Reader is a non-credit course aimed at parents and caregivers who want to infuse a love of reading and books into their children’s lives. Preschool teachers and home daycare providers may also enjoy this course.

Topics covered in Raising a Reader include: reaching a wide range of learning styles; early literacy skills; book selection; overview of genres and types of children’s books; anatomy of a picture book; putting together a diverse and rich home library; boosting literacy skills during read-aloud; and engaging reluctant readers of all ages.

PBs

Participants will also come away with literacy resources, book lists, and on-line resources. Raising a Reader is open to the community (participants do not need to be registered college students or college graduates).

Poetry

The class will meet on four Wednesday evenings: May 4,11,18 and 25, 2016 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Bridgewater State University/Cape Cod Campus in Yarmouth, MA. Cost: $149.00

Mother Goose

It’s going to be fun!  Register here. GOOD NEWS: Bridgewater-Cape Cod has just announced a “bring a friend” special. Register for the class ($149) and you can bring a friend. You can split the cost!

 

MARY LIB PHOTO

Author and educator Mary E. Cronin teaches Early Childhood Education, Children’s Literature, and Creative Writing at a wide array of institutions including Cape Cod Community College, Bridgewater State University, Barnstable County Correctional Facility, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, and more. Mary is a passionate advocate for children’s literacy and the joy of reading. Read more about her at www.maryecronin.com, or on Twitter at @maryecronin.

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewing an Irish MG Novel

“You can’t survive if you only see the darkness, if you cannot laugh and love and if you don’t have hope in your heart.”  ~author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

 

When I was asked to review an Irish middle-grade novel for the Project Mayhem Middle-Grade blog, I felt like I hit the trifecta.

I had already read the book THE APPLE TART OF HOPE last year, and loved it. Now it’s being published in the U.S. by Holiday House.

APPLE TART COVER

I now had the chance to spread the word about a hopeful, complex, and wonderful middle-grade story set in a place I love, Ireland.

Plus, I had the chance to interview the author, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, and learn more about her work.

To put the cherry on top, reading and writing about apple tarts put me in mind of my relations in Cork, Ireland– the place where I first sampled this deceptively simple Irish dessert.

APPLE TART slice

All in all– writing this book review was a pure delight. You can read it here.

 

 

Advice from an Agent/Editor Combo!

“Don’t be self-deprecating. Come at me with some confidence.”

That was the bracing advice on queries from agent Heather Alexander yesterday at the Whispering Pines writing retreat in Rhode Island, hosted by the New England SCBWI.

If “Whispering Pines” sounds bucolic and restful… well, it is a beautiful setting. (It’s touted as one of the best children’s lit. writing retreats by Betsy Bird in School Library Journal.) But inside the conference rooms, all brain synapses were firing as children’s publishing professionals shared their wisdom and insights.

Whispering Pines fireplace

I was a one-day participant, dipping into the retreat on Sunday. In addition to Heather Alexander, I got to hear Simon & Schuster Executive Editor Christian Trimmer speak about what he looks for in picture book acquisitions.

First, Heather: An agent at Pippin Properties, she spoke about the querying process, dispensing wisdom such as “Keep it simple… query letters get over-thought all the time.”

Agent Heather Alexander
Heather Alexander

“A query letter should have some of your voice in it. Show off your writing skills. It’s a business letter, but keep it conversational.”

“Avoid the wall of text,” Heather stated (a big block of text). Keep paragraphs and the letter brief. “Hit the main points and get out.”

She stated the query letter should have three main components (paragraphs):

  1. What is the book (genre, title, word count) and why are you sending it to that particular agent?
  2. What the book is about
  3. A bit about you, the writer

Heather was funny, disarming, and direct. Her advice about querying was extremely helpful! You can find her on Twitter at @HeatherAlexand and her blog here.

Executive Editor Christian Trimmer is also a picture book author. He spoke about what he looks for when acquiring a picture book at Simon & Schuster.

Christian Trimmer
Christian Trimmer

Some of the factors he mentioned include:

Promotional opportunities: When we think of big shopping times for children’s books, we generally think of larger holidays like Christmas or Halloween. But Christian also mentioned several other times in the year when book stores are looking to provide topical children’s books. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Earth Day, Black History Month, Chinese New Year, and Back to School were a few options he mentioned that may spark an idea for a picture book.

“Perennials with a twist.” There are certain topics that are perennial favorites in picture books: new baby, bedtime, mommy, daddy, dragons, grandparents, construction site, dinosaurs. Christian encouraged us to think about creating stories that incorporate these perennial favorites in a fresh and exciting way.

Christian talked about how these factors and more were present in recent books he has acquired. So many of his presentation points applied to middle grade and beyond, in addition to picture books. He is attuned to aspects of diversity such as biracial identity and addressing GLBTQ bullying. He was warm, funny, and insightful. You can find Christian on Twitter at .

I bought Christian's picture book SIMON'S NEW BED- so perfect for young children!
I bought Christian’s picture book SIMON’S NEW BED- so perfect for young children!

I drove home from Whispering Pines full of inspiration and the fellowship of the children’s lit. writing community. If you are looking for a small conference with stellar people– this is it!

Whispering Pines in RI
Whispering Pines in RI