Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Crafty Interview with Author & llustrator Hannah Holt

Hannah Holt crop

Author/illustrator Hannah Holt is favoring us today with a craft and interview. She blogs about healthy kid's snacks and crafts over at her Lightbulb Books blog.

First up, the craft: DIY Oval Chalkboard

Create your own oval chalkboard for under $10.

Hannah Holt Picture 1

What you'll need:

a 12” by 9” wooden board (sanded, about $4)
black acrylic or wood paint (to prime, $2)
chalkboard spray paint ($2)
a sheet of paper torn from an old over-sized book (free)
½ inch rickrack ($1)
white glue sponge brush
a plastic card a paper towel
this oval pattern (Click "download file" on bottom right.)

Step 1) Prime the wood by painting the entire surface black. Use the sponge brush to create a smooth finish. Let the paint dry.

Step 2) Spray a thin coat of chalkboard paint onto the wood. Let this coat dry and then spray at least one more coat. I recommend 3-4 thin coats. Let dry for 24 hours.

Step 3) Cut your over-sized sheet of paper to fit the board. Then download and print the oval pattern provided here and use this pattern to cut an oval out of the middle of your paper. Be sure to center the oval before you cut. Sadly the pattern is not perfectly centered within the page. My pdf writer was giving me grief today.

Hannah holt Picture 2

Step 4) Using chalk and the cut out sheet of paper, trace an oval on the center of your wooden board.

Step 5) Mix white glue with water in a 1:1 ratio. You'll need about 2 Tbl of white glue and 2 Tbl of water for this project. Paint around the outside of the circle with the diluted glue.

Hannah Holt Picture 3

Step 6) Place the paper with the oval cutout over the glue and smooth with the side of the plastic card. You'll want to remove ALL the bubbles.

Hannah Holt Picture 4

Step 7) Paint diluted glue over the top of the paper. Dab off excess glue with a paper towel.

Hannah holt Picture 5

Step 8) Put a stripe of undiluted glue around the interior of the oval, and press the rickrack into the glue. Let the glue dry overnight, and you're all done!

And now for the interview part of this post!

Hannah Holt

Me: Thanks Hannah! With so many kid's craft blogs out there, what made you decide to do one?

Hannah: Well, it's something I love. Also most of the crafts I post on my blog are originals. You can't find them anywhere else. Creativity provides me with a small monopoly that way.

Me: Is it true you provide all your own artwork and photography for your website?

Hannah: Yes. I think that's pretty standard stuff for artist/illustrator sites. Most creative people understand the importance of not using of someone else's material without permission.

Me: With four kids six and under, where do you find the time to make all your creations?

Hannah: We do a lot of drawing together as a family. Most days my kids and I crowd around our big kitchen table with papers and pens to compare doodlings. Just the other day my four year old asked, “Mom, would you make me a maze?” He likes it when I make activity pages because he gets to try them first.

Me: And the babies? Do they like to draw?

Hannah: No. They sit under the table and eat any papers that fall on the floor.

Me: Art scavengers?

Hannah: Exactly.

Me: When do you write your picture books?

Hannah: I haven't been as diligent about writing picture books since my twins were born last year. That's one reason I'm excited about Julie Hedlund's 12x12 challenge. The challenge is forcing me to get stories out on paper. So far the stories I've written haven't been very good. I'm hoping with enough pump priming, I'll have a few decent ideas by the end of the year.

Me: Anything else my readers should really know about you?

Hannah: I suffer from chronic foot-in-mouth disease. I have a lot of strong opinions, and I'm all too happy to share them. If I've offended anyone, please know I don't intend it as a personal attack. I love meeting new people with differing ideas. Don't worry about offending me. I have a pretty thick skull skin when it comes to taking offense.

Me: Thanks so much for answer my questions today.

Hannah: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Princess Parade Flash Fiction Contest


I'm running a little contest on one of my other blogs, Princess Parade.  It is the Princess Parade Flash Fiction Contest. There is a prize for 1st place, bought and sent by me. It's in protest against some of the drivel published as stories about princesses for little girls. It can be written for adults or kids but needs to be family-friendly. Find out more about it and the details of submitting over here.

Don't you want the chance to write something that paints its female protagonist as stong, confident and ready to take on the world?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Join the Chapter Book Challenge 2012!

Chapter Book Challenge

Those of you who have been following this blog know that I have been joining challenges and submitting my writing to competitions quite often lately. The most recent challenges I have joined are the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge and the Picture Book Marathon. Well, I am adding to that list now, and I want you to come and join me.

As you already know, I am currently working on three different YA paranormal novels,  and many children's picture books. There is another type of book that I have been wanting to try my hand at, in part, because I have children who are the right age for this type of reading - the children's chapter book.

Yes, I know and have read about what a difficult market it is to break into, but I don't really care about how difficult it is to be successful at writing and publishing a chapter book. I just want to write one of the chapter books that have been sitting in my mind whispering "write me" whenever I have a quiet moment.

During NaNoWriMo last November, I managed to write 50,000 words in 14 days and finished with 75,180 words for the month. A chapter book uses considerably less words than that, and so I am hoping that I will not only be able to finish a complete chapter book by the end of the month, but also be able to do a serious amount of editing on it. This will also be a learning process for me as writing a chapter book is a far different process tha writing a novel for an older teen or adult.

And that, in a nutshell is what the Chapter Book Challenge is all about. The goal is to write a complete chapter book in the month of March, starting on March 1st and finishing on March 31st.  I am running this challenge, but be kind to me as I have never run one of these before. I already have some prizes ready to be awarded during the challenge, and will be setting up the terms for being in the running to win the prizes soon.

I've even lined up a published children's chapter book author for a guest post/interview on the Chapter book Challenge blog. I am working on getting guest posts and interviews from more professionals in the industry to help all of us along during this challenge.

I would love for you to sign up for the challenge. The official sign-up form can be found here. (You need to be signed up through the official form in order to be eligible for the prizes.) You can also sign up for the Chapter Book Challenge Facebook page where I will post useful links as I come across them and our Chapter Book Challenge Facebook group where we can all help each other out with ideas, tips and general conversation about our chapter books.

Now that you know about the challenge, I dare you to join us! You won't regret it!

If you are a published chapter book author already or an agent who deals in chapter books or has in the past dealt with them, then I am asking you to please join us and offer your help with a guest post and/or interview.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Faeries' Dance

I was reading from some friends and found out that my friend Tonya submitted an entry to a writing contest. About Fairies. Some of you know that I also have a blog that is all about fairies. I just couldn't pass this flash Fiction writing contest up! So I’m posting it here as my entry to The Fairy Ring Writing Contest. (You can read Tonya's entry here.)


fairy with dove

The moonlight filtered through the trees to my right as I walked along the well-worn path. I loved walking here at night.  This park was more natural than some of the over-cultivated parks closer to my home, and I preferred it to them. It was quieter her too.  Leaves crunched under my feet and a cool breeze lifted my hair gently. I shivered, but it wasn’t because I was cold. I just had an odd feeling settle in the pit of my stomach, like something wasn’t quite right in the air around me.

That’s when I heard the laughter. It was carried on the breeze and just barely tickled my ear with its gleeful sound. It sounded like children were playing on a distant playground, but I knew it was too late for children to be out. My steps faltered. I suddenly wondered if it was safe to be out alone tonight.
But the soft laughter continued to tickle my ears and then I saw the lights. There must have been dozens of them, in every color imaginable. They floated in the air towards me and began to swirl around me, making me almost dizzy as I tried to focus on them. The lights grew and expanded and soon I could see shapes taking form within them. In moments, I was surrounded by dozens of dancing men and women. They all had a faint glow about them and wispy glittery wings on their backs.
They were beautiful and graceful and I felt myself pulled with a wild abandon into their dance. I felt like I could dance forever. The dancing was sensual and energetic and I could feel the movements singing through my veins as if I was catching fire from the inside out. I woke on the forest floor.

word count: 300 words
I must admit that I struggled a little with keeping my entry to 300 words. You can read my first, slightly longer draft here.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Valentine's Day Chance (Short Poem)

My friend Susanna Leonard Hill from the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book challenge has started a little contest on her blog. In it, she gives us:
A children's story, poetry or prose, maximum 200 words, about unlikely Valentines, posted on your blog (or in the comment section of mine) between Saturday February 11 and Monday February 13 at 5 PM EST. Add your entry-specific link to the link list on my blog so we can all come read your entries! There will be no new post on Monday so the link list will stay up. Instead, I will have a hitherto unheard of Tuesday post to celebrate Valentines Day, and that post will list 3 finalists (or possibly a couple more - you know how bad I am at choosing :)) for you all to vote on. The winner will be announced on Friday February 17 and will receive his/her choice of a copy of Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation To Publication or a picture book ms critique from yours truly.
So I whipped up this short poem as my entry. I used to be better at writing rhyming poems, but I am out of practice, and today my brain is also a little bit fried as I am just getting over the flu. But nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this brief entry. It was inspired my animal-loving daughter Isabella.
A Valentine’s Day Chance
It was almost Valentine’s Day,
A day meant for love and romance.
But poor Isabella had no one at all
To partner with for the Valentine’s dance.
Isabella felt alone and sad.
She really felt down and blue.
She would have continued feeling this way
If she hadn’t thought of something to do.
Who was it that she trusted the most?
Who was it that she loved most of all?
Who was it that she liked to be with?
Who could she dance with at the ball?
There was only one being on this Earth,
With whom Bella decided was of worth.
So Isabella made her way to the dance
With her most beloved of friends,
Her adorable puppy named Chance.

FCG #1: Thinning Of The Veil: The Escape

#1 Challenge

Challenge: Write a short story from the third person POV.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1500 words
Judges: Jodi Cleghorn & Christopher Chartrand

Please go and vote for my story in the Form and Genre Challenge.
Thinning of the Veil: The Escape

How did she get into this? Bella didn’t know how she had ended up in this predicament. Just last week, she was a normal 15 year old girl with a normal life. She talked about boys with her friends and worried about her grades and what to wear to the Spring Dance.

How had things come to this?

“Are you ready?” The voice sounded soft but assured. Bella looked up at the girl who had spoken to her. Gabby was petite. She had died her brown hair jet black and had dark eyeliner outlining her eyes and her very dark purple lipstick accentuated her lips and matched the purple streak in the front portion of her hair. Her expression was serious.

“Yah. Let’s do it,” Bella was as ready as she was ever going to be.
This was the night they were going to escape.


Bella had arrived here at the Brogden Mental Care Institute scared and unsure. The orderly, sensible world she had known all of her life had seemingly changed overnight.

It all started last week. A sound had woken her from her sleep. At first, she thought the eerie howling sound was just the wind moaning against the windows. But as she sleepily blinked the sleep out of her eyes, she noticed a shape across her room, not two feet from her bed.

As her eyes focused, she decided she must be dreaming, because what she was seeing could not possibly be real. The creature before her was standing about 6 feet tall, covered in a combination of scales and fur, and had a feline snout with the fangs to match. It was making an odd sound that was a cross between a howl and a moan. Long, sharp claws stretched out from its fingers. Its wide eyes looked frightened, but it’s appearance was ferocious. Bella was about to leap from her bed and run, but at that moment, the creature blurred from her focus and slowly disappeared.

A bad dream. It must have been just a bad dream.

Or at least, that’s what she told herself. But it had only been the beginning.


Later that day at school, Bella had been sitting through a particularly boring math lesson when she heard a strange hissing noise. She peered behind her but didn’t see anything. When the hissing noise returned coming from the right, she looked over only to see another freakish creature. This one looked like someone had patched together pieces from a man and a lizard and had come up with something that didn’t quite match. A scaly, green arm with claws on one side was accompanied by a very human arm on the other side. The head was a lizard’s, but with all-too-human eyes and a human intelligence peering out from them. A lizard’s tail swished side to side from a human torso and lower half, but like the arms, one leg was lizard, one was human. A snake-like tongue flicked from the mouth and a slow, hissing noise emitted from the creature.

Why was no one looking towards it? Couldn’t anyone else see it?

The clawed hand rose up as if to strike Susie Mayfield who was sitting to Bella’s right. Before she could even think about what she was doing, Bella leapt from her seat. “No!!!” she shouted as she reached up to block the strike. The clawed hand came down and scratched Bella’s upraised arm. Three gashes appeared where the claws had torn her skin, but they weren’t as deep as they felt.

Bella screamed in pain, and the entire class, at last, looked her way. The lizard-man raised its arm again but was already starting to fade away. In seconds, it was completely gone.

Everyone was staring at her in complete silence, and she recognized the surprise and fear in their faces. She also saw confusion and she knew then that no one had seen what she had seen.


The school nurse cleaned up the scratches on Bella’s arm. And that’s when the questions began. Had there been any trouble at home? Anything she needed to talk about? Was she feeling any stress lately? How was school? And many more questions were asked in this vein. She answered honestly. Everything was fine at home. Her grades at school were good. There wasn’t anything to talk about, because she knew if she mentioned the two creatures she would only sound crazier than the nurse already thought she was.

Throughout the week, more creatures kept appearing to her, and she was the only one who seemed to see them. She even saw one of the strange creatures (and they all seemed to take on different forms) attack a boy at school, but it had just gone through the boy as if it had been a ghost with no physical presence at all. But then, she wondered, how had the lizard-man actually scratched her? The wounds were not as deep as they should have been with those razor sharp claws, but they had still pierced her skin.

Several times, she had confronted or run from the creatures she had seen, and people had started to talk. She could see the looks in her own parents’ faces. They thought she was crazy.


It had only taken one week for her to end up here at the Brogden Mental Care Institute. Her parents were scared for her, not knowing what all of her outbursts had been caused from and fearing for her mental health. The doctor at the center had told them she was having a mental breakdown, and they had admitted her to the center.

One good thing had come from being forced into this virtual prison. She had met Gabby.

Gabby had been in and out of mental institutions her whole life. She was a daughter of a senator and his wife. She had two brothers. She had been having visions her whole life. And her very respected-in-the-community father was embarrassed by her.

Gabby wore black clothing and black make-up, and, even when she wasn’t having visions, she never seemed to be altogether present. Bella thought that, if Gabby’s visions were real, then it must have been all the years in mental institutions that had finally driven Gabby a bit insane. But Gabby was sweet, and Gabby had been the first person to believe her.

Isabella had begun to believe that she really was going crazy and that the things she kept seeing were just a product of an overstressed mind, but, from the moment she met Gabby, having been put into the same room with her at the Brogden Mental Health Institute, Gabby had believed her.

Gabby had asked her why she was there, and when Bella, a bit unsure of herself, had cautiously described what she had been seeing, Gabby had told her, “What you see is real. I know because I’ve seen them too.” And from that moment on, their friendship had been firmly established.

And the two of them knew immediately that they had to get out. Something in the world was changing, and if they were the only ones who could see it, they were the only ones who could stop it. And the Brogden Mental Care Institute felt like a prison, but more importantly, it did not feel safe.

And that's why they were breaking out, tonight.


This is my entry to the Form & Genre Challenge #1. It is very rough. I hope you enjoy reading it despite it being a rough draft! If you like it, please let me know. It's the beginning to a much longer story that has been calling to my writing instincts. I think I might have already missed the date it was due for the challenge, but I decided to take part in it anyway, even if I'm late!

I Was Awarded the Liebster Blog Award!

Liebster Blog Award

I have won the Liebster Blog award from a new friend from the 12 x 12 in 2012 group, Anna at Green Tea & Toast.

As part of the award, I have to share five things about myself, then pass the torches on to five other worthy bloggers. So here goes:

1. I have lost more weight than I weigh and will never, ever gain it back. I'm actually a bit OCD about my eating and exercise habits now.

2. I am incredibly insecure, not just sometimes but ALL THE TIME. But I try and ignore it and get on with putting myself "out there" regardless.

3. My favorite color is blue, but my favorite color to wear is green (due to it looking better with my red hair and freckles.)

4. I feel closer to some of my Facebook friends whom I have never met in person than I do with most of the friends I see every day.

5. Robert and I met on-line nearly thirteen years ago. We recently celebrated our 10th anniversary.

The Liebster Award is designed to help drive traffic to blogs with fewer than 200 followers. It's a tough decision with so many fabulous ones out there, but without further ado I’m awarding them to…

1. Donna Martin's blog On The Write Track

2. Barbara Mack's blog Barb's Bookshelf

3. Kayecee Spain's blog Life Over Here

4. Kriss Morton-Weekley's blog The Cabin Goddess

5. Marie Patchen's blog Mynx Writes

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Interview with Author Jamie Rowell

Jamie Rowell

I met Jamie Rowell during my region's National Novel Writing Month meet-ups and we are now both part of the same writing and critique group called Swindon Free Writers. He is 24 and is a very talented writer.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I come from a family which has been fairly creative, given that a few of my relatives were artists of one form or another, like a screenwriter, or musicians, and I did a degree in journalism at university. I also go on a forum, the Roleplaying and Fanfiction forum of GameFAQs, which is noted to be one of the best forums online for writing, as the criticism is harsh and fair. I also meld my writing with my music at times to create a unique experience for me.

Do you use a pen name? If so, why?

I don't use a pen name any more, though I have written under different aliases in the past. I think that I did so as a way of expressing myself in different ways without losing parts of the identity I had created for myself at the time, so I guess it was like shedding my old identity, putting a new one on and then shedding that one. I've stopped doing that now, because I'm fairly confident in my identity and in what I'm writing on, and having gone through my period of Old Shame, as the trope goes.

What are your writing accomplishments?

I've had some of my poetry published in a book years ago, and I've had a few newspaper articles published. I've also finished NaNoWriMo 2011, and kept a writing project on the RP/FF going for about two years nearly and it has an end in sight. Considering most RPGs on there die quickly or don't finish, I'm proud of that.

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

I tend to write fiction, and meld genres a lot. I've got a soft spot for sci-fi, though I don't tend to write that much in it any more, preferring a sort of gritty realistic fantasy setting, if that makes sense - like magic married with the modern world. I have been known to write in stereotypical fantasy before, and horror as well.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was it about writing that drew you to it?

I'm not sure exactly when I wanted to be a writer, as I've always been writing for as long as I can remember. I do remember though reading Lord of the Rings when I was 8, and thinking that I wanted to go and live in a world like that, and then later realising that the only way I could would be through my imagination, and thus, writing to try and explore my imagination.

Where do you get your ideas for your writing?

This is gonna be weird, but I get my ideas from virtually everything. For example, I'll listen to a piece of instrumental music, and start to think “Yeah, this would fit this kind of scene perfectly”, and then usually run off to scribble stuff down. Film soundtracks work well for me, as does the music of my labelmates on the mrsvee record label, as everyone's music on there usually helps jog the idea process. At other times, I'll be walking outside or doing something fairly mundane, so whilst my body is doing that, my mind will go into overdrive and start thinking about stuff and imagining scenarios and whatnot, and from there, ideas will spring forth.

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

Three authors mainly. Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Brooks influenced me by showing that you can write archetypal fantasy well, and even though his work is clichéd, it would be fair to argue that pretty much everything is nowadays, so yeah, his influence on writing clichéd stuff and growing from writing the clichéd into developing your own style is a big thing of mine.

Robert Jordan paved the way for a living, breathing world for me. Whilst I've yet to reach the heights that the Wheel of Time series does in terms of making such a creative world, that influence seeps through a lot.

Brandon Sanderson is the newest author on my list, but the man really is phenomenal. His way of making magic systems that work and that are logical is impressive, as is his work ethic. The fact he also takes a lot of existing tropes and subverts them in quite unusual ways and plays with them a lot influences me a lot at times.

What are your current writing projects?

I've currently got my NaNoWriMo 2011 project to edit, as well as the RP/FF Orphans project that is currently ongoing. Those are the two major ones, though I occasionally write short stories and stuff that takes place in the Orphans universe as well as random other stuff, and I think me and a friend are going to try and do a fantasy story that subverts virtually every trope known to mankind soon.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you get through it?

I do experience the dreaded block, and I find the best way to get through it is to just write out a basic scene, like for example, a guy walking down the street, into a restaurant, ordering takeaway and being attacked by something as he walks home. Writing down that much usually allows me to continue the story, both on paper and in my mind, as I'm past the difficult part, and can go back and flesh things out later when I'm happy with writing again.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

It'd honestly have to be mixing a sense of realism with magic. Not just in the sense of breaking the laws of physics on a regular basis, but the smaller things, like the accuracy of firearms and how easy it would be to break them, or the reactions of normal people being told that magic does exist, and so on. I also find it challenging at times to write about the magic system I've made, as I've made rules for it and it would be really easy at times to just ignore the rules I've set out, but then that begins the descent into deus ex machinas being used whenever necessary. So it's challenging to have written myself into a box and then find the way out as well without resorting to ignoring the box.

It's also challenging at times to find a decent soundtrack that I've not listened to a hundred times over and over whilst writing. So sometimes I'll have Celldweller, Clint Mansell, the Resonance Association and a load of soul music on the same playlist, for extra variety, and it does work in a really weird way.

What do you love most about writing?

For me, what I love most about writing is the exploration of everything. The exploration of a new world, if I'm inventing one, the exploration of that world's history, the events that shaped it, and its prominent figures. The exploration of why a character does something, whether it's something good or stupid, the exploration of their feelings and personality, and the exploration of their journey ultimately. That's why I'm not too fussed if I spoil crime thrillers for myself whilst I'm reading, because whilst I may know who the killer is, I don't know the journey how we got there, and that exploration for me is a major thing that I love.

Is there anything that you have learned about yourself through writing/pursuing your career as a writer?

Yeah, I've discovered that writing can be really cathartic at times for me. Though that may be because I tend to put my characters through the grinder at times and have them come out the other side damaged in one way or another, which is oddly cathartic, probably because I can then go “Yeah, I'm not the only one who suffers from stuff like that.” That's probably really weird, but writing really is cathartic.

I guess I also discovered that I love exploration, and can finally put a name on it, as I was always wondering as a teenager and adult why I liked certain things and not others, despite links at times. It's why I can like stuff like World of Warcraft and Mass Effect 2, to cite two random examples, and hate Call of Duty games, because for me, there is no exploration of any kind in Call of Duty games. So yeah, writing has allowed me to put a name to that, finally.

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

Funny you should mention that. One of my characters, Jamie Kindred, originally started out as a more interesting version of myself that was gifted with magic. I was a teenager when I came up with him, and I've had his character all that time, but he has evolved a lot as a person over the years to the point where him and me only barely intersect nowadays, so I guess it'd be somewhat cool to be him for a day. Well, up until the point where he was attacked by demons.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

As tired and clichéd as this advice is going to be, it really is the best I can give for other writers. Write what you know, or at least, do the research a lot before writing. If you're going to have gigantic explosions caused by guns, try and make sure that they're done realistically, like with tracer bullets or similar, because as a reader, unless you're deliberately aiming for the rule of cool all the time and you're deliberately avoiding realism, stuff that is badly researched and shows it is massively jarring for me, especially if you're trying to be realistic. Even if you're not trying to be realistic, still do the research beforehand so it's believable.

Set yourself writing goals. It may not be for long every day, but as long as you're writing a bit a day, you can increase your output slowly and at your own pace. We're not all Brandon Sanderson, we can't all put in 10-12 hours a day of writing, but an hour or two a day is respectable, and more than that is more than respectable, especially if you're holding a job down at the same time.

Lastly, you should never try to critique your own work and edit it by yourself unless you really have no friends or anybody to show it to. If you can afford to, get a professional editor to look your work over. If you are like the majority of us, get a friend or relative to read it through. It's better than going through yourself, as you'll either not recognise enough flaws, or you'll recognise too many flaws and decide to delete everything. Both extremes are bad, and unless you've worked as a professional editor or proof-reader, you can't help but slide into one extreme or the other. So yeah, get someone else to read it first if you can.

Win a Kindle Fire or Amazon $200 Gift Card

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