Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Magic of Storytelling

Sparkles & Butterflies Book
I come from a family of storytellers.

When I was a little girl, my grandfather lived with us, and he was a storyteller. He often spun tales about his past as a cowboy on a ranch in Texas, and, as children, my siblings and I loved hearing his stories. He had a way of telling the stories that made us listen closely and wonder at all of the things he experienced. Even though he had immigrated to the US from Germany as a small child and moved to California in his later years, he had a slight Texas accent from spending so much time there.

My brothers, sisters and I felt an almost hero worship for him and believed every word of the stories he told us, despite the rolling of eyes that some of the adults displayed when he started telling one of his stories. One thing I learned from these stories my grandfather told was that stories are a wonderful way to learn about people.

My grandmother was a storyteller too. Her stories were about the different plants she grew and the animals around her home. She told us stories about the squirrels in the garden who would come and eat nuts from her hand and the hummingbirds who would flit to and fro right in front of her face as they came to visit and feed from the hummingbird feeder she had out in her garden. As an animal lover, I loved hearing about the animals in her garden and their frequent visits. One thing I learned from the stories my grandmother told was that stories helped us to learn about our surroundings.

My other grandmother told me stories about my relatives and ancestors, and I had a great-uncle who once took me on a drive from San Jose, California to Bakersfield, California to visit my cousin, and he spent the whole trip telling me stories about the "old highway" trails (even pointing them out to me along the way). He pointed out things of historical significance and would explain how things had changed, both from progress and from earthquakes that had moved mountains and rockfaces. From both of their stories, I learned that stories can teach us about history.

I grew up to have children of my own, and one thing that my children loved was our bedtime routine, because they got to choose a story for me to read to them. Sometimes, they asked me to tell them a "made-up" story, which was a story I would think up on the spot and tell them, usually about children like them with their names and with different adventures they would get into. They loved these "made-up" stories more than the ones I read from books. I hope these stories helped to spark their own imaginations.

Storytelling is magical in that it can teach and inspire. It can create emotion in the listener. It brings our past and our present together and even opens windows into new realities. History is relived. Worlds are built and worlds fall. New creatures are created and extinct creatures are brought back to life. Anything can happen in a story. A storyteller weaves a magic unparallelled.

Do you have storytellers in your family?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Guardian - contest entry for the OUAT flash fiction contest

My friends Anna and Susi are running another flash fiction contest, the Once Upon a Time flash fiction contest. The challenge is to write an unexpected fairytale within 350 words.


The Guardian

Cassie found a fluffy orange cat in the bushes outside her bedroom window. He was growling and hissing and looking very grumpy. He was huddled under her bushes and he looked as if he’d been through a fight. He had some small cuts and he was dirty with lots of twigs and leaves stuck in his fur.
She couldn’t leave him like that, so for the next hour, she coaxed and cajoled, trying to get him to come out to her. Finally, with the help of a can of tuna from her kitchen cupboard, she managed to get the dirty and hurt cat to come out from the cover of the bushes. She left him eating the tuna and was surprised when she got up to go inside her house and he followed her right in.
Later that night, as Cassie slept, her window flew open and the dark creature entered. It had been watching her for days.  She was destined to fight his kind, blood suckers, evil fae and demons alike; her birth had been foretold centuries ago. But he would stop her before she ever even came into her power.
A cat lay at her feet and he pushed it aside as he closed in on her. He leaned in close over her, preparing one long, sharp fingernail to slice her throat. That’s when he felt the burning pain of the silver sword pierce his heart. He turned, surprise on his face and saw a boy standing behind him, sword in hand. “Where did you come from?” he whispered as he fell into eternal sleep and his body crumbled into dust.
The boy put the blade back into its scabbard. He leaned over, giving Cassie a gentle kiss to her cheek, and slowly shifted back into the rough orange cat he had been moments before. He jumped back onto the bed and settled against Cassie’s leg. He would protect her. It was his duty.
327 words

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Interview with Author Genevieve Petrillo and Cupcake the Blogging Dog


Genevieve Petrillo is a wonderful and inspirational friend who I met in the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. She recently turned 60 and has an adorable 5 year old dog named Cupcake. Genevieve is not the only writer in her home as her dog Cupcake writes for her own blog. We are fortunate today as, not only has Genevieve kindly agreed to answer our interview questions, but her sweet little dog Cupcake is also taking part in this interview.

Tell us a little about yourselves.

I was born, grew up, played and worked within the same few towns in northern New Jersey.  I was an elementary school teacher for 34 years.  I LOVED being a teacher, and feel very blessed to have spent my days working and playing with kids and actually getting paid for it!  Being around children day in and day out was inspirational!


Since I retired, I keep busy supervising student teachers for Bloomfield College, reading books on tape with Ocean County Volunteers for the Blind, and as part of a therapy dog team with TheraPet.

I lived all over the place till Mom found me and brought me to our forever home.

When Mom brings me to the Veterans Home, I
make disabled veterans smile and remember happy times.  I cuddle and snuggle and get treats. We also work at the public library where kids read stories to me, and I cuddle and snuggle and get treats.

Do you use a pen name? 

No pen name for me! I waited WAY too long to see my name - on a book - on a shelf - in the library – at the bookstore.  

Before I was rescued, my name was Ka-Ka.  Mom named me Cupcake because I’m so sweet.

Do you have any writing accomplishments to share with us? 


My first (and hopefully not last) picture book, Keep Your Ear on the Ball (Tilbury, 2007), earned a Moonbeam Award and recently became part of the IBBY Documentation Centre of Books for Disabled Young People.  It’s the story of Davey, a blind 3rd grader, and his sighted classmates, learning an important lesson about interdependence.  The story is based on the year I spent in a sighted classroom learning from David DeNotaris, a blind boy who changed my “view” of life, teaching, accomplishment, and acceptance. There’s a link to his website on my website.

Cupcake: Mom wrote a story about ME, and I’m hoping it gets published so I can go along on Author Visits.  Then I won’t have to look out the window all day.


My stories, poetry, teaching ideas, kiddie recipes, and craft activities have been published in lots of children’s and teachers’ magazines, including: Spider, Highlights, Ladybug, Turtle, Creative Classroom, and Instructor.  One of my poems appeared on the NJ ASK, standardized test, and I recently sold a poem to the publishers of an English language textbook in Belgium!

Once I ate a piece of ham.

What type of writing do you do? What genre do you write in? 

I consider myself a poet and picture book author.  I am not at all snobbish about submitting my stories to magazines.  Would I rather see them as picture books?  Of course! Is it exciting and thrilling to be in a magazine, knowing thousands of kids are reading my words? OF COURSE! 

I don’t know how to write, but once I chewed a pen and some colored pencils. Mom helps me write my blog where I tell about my life as the pet of a children’s author.


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was it about writing that drew you to it?
Genevieve: I was always a pencil and paper kid, “making books” every time I found a piece of scrap paper around the house.  As a teenager, I created countless unfinished “novels” filled with teen angst. It was in college that I started thinking I’d really be able to be a published writer.  When I was teaching, the ideas were EVERYWHERE, but I only wrote in the summer, because teaching is a full-time job and 65 part-time jobs combined.

One night, I typed QQQQQQQ when I fell asleep with my ear on Mom’s iPad.)
What books/authors have influenced your writing?

I can’t say there are books/authors that have inspired me – well, OK – Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, Cynthia Lord, Treasure Island, The Wizard of Oz.....but it was really my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Nelson who read stories to us every single day right before the bell rang, and always left us wanting more.  In 5th grade we were certainly too-cool-for-school, but Mrs. Nelson immersed us, pulled us in, and made us love words, stories, language, learning, listening, and imagining.  It’s why I became a teacher, and it’s why I became a writer.  I wanted to make kids feel the way she made us feel.

Cupcake: My favorite stories have dogs in them.  My least favorite story is The Cat in the Hat.  I don’t like cats and I don’t like hats.

What are your current writing projects?

I’m always working on multiple projects.  Right now, I’m part of 12x12in’12, so I am creating a new picture book manuscript each month, which is easy to say in February.  Check back with me in October, when I may or may not have lost my mind.

Cupcake: I’m learning to fetch. Apparently, there’s something about bringing the ball BACK involved.  I don’t get that “coming back” part.)
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you get through it?

I don’t feel writer’s block.  I actually set a timer and write for exactly an hour a day. I stop writing after an hour, even if I’m in the middle of a word.  This ensures that I will know what I’m doing when I sit down to write the next day.  I also work on many projects at once, so if one story turns to a rock, I work on something else.

I am afraid of soccer players.  When I see them playing in the field by my house, Mom has to carry me because I turn to a statue and forget how to walk.)
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

The most challenging thing about writing is getting the work to the right place at the right time, and having somebody say, “We LOVE your work and we want to buy it!”

I was in the right place at the right time when Mom adopted me.  I was smaller than she wanted and older than she wanted, but it was love at first sight. She said, “I LOVE her! This is my new dog!”)

What do you love most about writing?

I love visiting schools to read my book and talk about being a writer.

Cupcake: Mom also loves going to “work” in her pajamas!

Is there anything that you have learned about yourself through writing/pursuing your career as a writer?  
Genevieve: I used to think that after 100 rejections I’d give up the idea of being published.  I’m well past the 100 mark, and I’m still going strong.  I guess I’m more determined (relentless) than I thought I was.
Cupcake: I love wearing cute dresses.

If you could become one of your characters for a day, would you? (and who/why?)

I’d like to be Chrissy from my story Chrissy’s Terrific Sneakers.  She’s an imaginative little girl who uses her old, outgrown sneakers for everything from a hermit crab cave to a tree house elevator to a water dish for her kitten.  I like how she thinks out of the box, and what writer wouldn’t want to be overflowing with ideas!?

I am already a character in one of Mom’s stories! Cupcake Learns is about how I went from being naughty to being a good girl and a therapy pet.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I would tell writers to say YES to everything.  Say yes to ideas that you don’t think will develop.  Say yes to submitting to unlikely places, like online poetry sites, and small magazines.  Say yes to entering contests. And say yes to invitations, which are marketing opportunities.

I would tell writers to always have a dog in every story they write.

Please thank Genevieve and Cupcake for sharing a part of their writing journeys with us by leaving a comment below.