Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Classic Canine Books

I suppose I've been on something of a pet-theme lately with my reading habits, particularly with the two latest books. But it wasn't exactly on purpose.

I re-read Where the Red Fern Grows because it is set near Tahlequah, Oklahoma and I'm working on a feature article about Tahlequah for Ozarks Magazine. I say "re-read" because a long, long time ago, we read - or were supposed to read - Where the Red Fern Grows in school. As I went through the story, I had vague recollections of Ole Dan and Little Ann, but for the most part, I felt like I was reading it for the first time. Wilson Rawls was an incredible storyteller and a true Oklahoma treasure. He was able to weave a picture of life in the Ozarks during the first half of the 20th century that is whole and complete. And although I would never consider coon hunting, I was inspired by Billy's ability to set a goal and chip away at it over time. If only we could all be that disciplined. I did notice that this novel is much more graphic in descriptions of violence and bloodshed than contemporary middle grade novels.

I also attempted to read The Incredible Journey. For some reason, I just wasn't able to get caught up with this story the way I was with Red Fern. Perhaps I've been tainted by the Disney adaptations of this book that allow the animals snappy dialogue. But I really don't think that was it. Rawls animals didn't talk either, but still I was engaged and cared about what would happen to the hounds next.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Book Report

About a month ago, I joined a book club. It's fairly informal, but there's a great synergy that's created when a group of people read the same book at the same time.

The book we just finished was Marley and Me by John Grogan. The subtitle of the book is "life and love with the world's worst dog" and that aptly sums up the whole thing. Grogan did an excellent job of structuring the book with short, compelling chapters that wove his life events into the story of a rambunctious lab. A movie based on the book is currently in production and stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson as the Grogans. Despite his destructive tendencies and bad manners, the Grogans kept Marley - a choice too few pet owners make, based on the overflowing animal shelters across the United States.

For several years, I devoted all of my volunteer time to a local animal shelter. I spent every Saturday at adoption fairs, hoping to find homes for unwanted canines. When my youngest daughter was born, I stopped volunteering and as the girls grew older, school volunteering began to fill my schedule.

But, I have a large, furry reminder of those animal shelter days - my 10-year-old Irish Wolfhound mix, Grindl. Fortunately, he shares few traits with "the world's worst dog" from Grogan's book. He will steal food, given half a chance and thunderstorms do make him quite nervous. But he is never destructive and is not a digger or a chewer (he won't even play with chew toys!) He's a gentle soul that is utterly patient with the kids and is never aggressive. But, just like Marley, Grindl is a Great Dog who is loved by our family.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Triumph of Hope

On Sunday, Ron and I traveled to Tulsa to see The Singing Revolution. It is a superb documentary film about Estonia. (yes, in case you were wondering, Rabakukk is Estonian) For those of you who don't know, Estonia is a Baltic nation that was brutally taken over by the Soviet Union in 1940. Then the Germans invaded, only to be pushed back again by the Soviets. This tiny country has been a pawn in the world game of chess for centuries. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, Estonia nearly vanished as the Soviets attempted to assimilate them into the collective of Socialism.
But Estonia would not have it. Against astounding odds, the Estonians maintained their identity and their national heritage. And when the time was right (late 1980s - Mikhail Gorbachev) they took a stand and raised their voices for the cause of freedom. Imagine 200,000 people in traditional Baltic dress spontaneously singing the banned national anthem. What's a media-conscious world leader to do?
Most Americans have no idea how truly blessed we are to have such enormous freedoms.
I am currently working on a piece about Estonian Independence for a children's magazine. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Writing News

I met my self-imposed deadline and put my manuscript in the mail to Emily Mitchell at Charlesbridge Publishing today. Now the waiting begins.
A critical part of this deadline I'd devised for myself involved the post office and their rate increase that goes into effect on Monday. Over the past week, as I was double checking on spelling, page breaks and other pesky revisions, I realized that I'd probably only be saving 10 or 15 cents. In retrospect, I'm grateful I was able to beat the increase - even at today's prices it cost me $7 to mail my manuscript - and it's only 150 pages. That's lunch! Woe to the aspiring fantasy and historical fiction writers toiling away on 600 page works - you have my deepest sympathies.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I have two articles in MetroFamily this month. The other one is my monthly character column. This month's trait is wisdom. And yes, I think I've learned how to strategically place the hyperlinks within the post. I feel accomplished. One of the best parts of writing the character columns is that I get to interview young people who are "doing the right thing." These are the Character Spotlight winners One of this month's winners is raising money for the American Lung Association and has held several Kool-Aid sales in the parking lot of his church. Currently he is about half-way to his goal of $500. You can read more about Christopher or donate online (thus missing the strange taste of Kool-Aid and its permanently staining dye.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

May Articles

I am extremely priviledged to have two pieces in MetroFamily Magazine this month.

I'm proud of both of them, but writing one of them really touched my heart: Mothers Don't Always Start at the Maternity Ward can be read here It's the story of Rose Harper, a truly amazing person. She and her late husband were foster parents for two dozen children over the years. That's a picture of Rose on the left.
The Harpers also started Citizens Caring for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides support for children in foster care. For more information about what they do, check out their website They are the real deal and worthy of your support.
I'm optimistic about writing about Rose and CCC again for other magazines - maybe national magazines. I love the opportunity to write stories that make a difference and this one definitely falls into that category. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

So Many Books, So Little Time

I've had a whirlwind time since my last post - both literally and figuratively.
Namely, this is spring in Oklahoma. It seems like every time I turn around the tornado sirens are going off. One of the local television stations even dubbed this "Tornado Week." It started out as a marketing plan, but I wondered if they felt any misgivings about it since there actually were tornadoes last night...

But the weather is not the most exciting news I have. Last weekend, I attended the Oklahoma Writers Federation Conference We had a fantastic line-up of speakers with J.A. Jance giving the keynote. She was witty and inspiring.

Also on the lineup was Emily Mitchell, senior editor from Charlesbridge Publishing . She gave great tips on developing your voice as a writer. I also had a 10 minute appointment with Emily. I wasn't my most articulate, but she graciously encouraged me to send her my manuscript. Since then I've been frantically reviewing and revising. I've set a deadline for myself to get it in the mail on Saturday and I'm going to make it happen.

The highlight for me (okay, pun intended) was the speaker I was assigned to shepherd - Judy Burke from Highlights magazine Judy is very upbeat and energetic and we got along fabulously. What's more, her sessions were outstanding. One was an idea workshop where she had us make several lists and then explained how the things we wrote down could be used to develop articles. Needless to say, I'm now working on several queries for Highlights.