Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Fierceness

by Kris Kahrs

(The following will be performed at the Listen To Your Mother Show, May 1st, 2011, 3pm at The Rosenthal Theater, Inner City Arts, Downtown Los Angeles.)

When I became a mother, I had an epiphany. The epiphany was that mother-love is fierce. I want to say strong or powerful, but that’s not right. It’s not just strong. It’s not just wicked strong. It’s not just “lift-a-car-over-your-head” strong. It’s fierce. The second definition of fierce in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: marked by unrestrained zeal or vehemence. Bingo.

Mother-love transforms me. It is my Fierceness. My son is the catalyst. Like the Hulk, transformed by extreme emotion, I become something unrecognizable to myself. The fierceness opens up depths in me I never knew existed. Every feeling I have is exponential to the power of 10. Like a superhero, I have x-ray vision. Babies, kids, toddlers all looked ordinary before. When I look at a toddler now, I see **God** sitting there in the pink tutu, shoveling sand into her shoes. With the runny nose, jelly in her hair and shirt on backwards, she is flawless. 

My desire to protect my son (Hulk want to smash) can be overwhelming and hard to repress. When I see him struggle to join a playground group or his offer to play is ignored by another, I want to swoop down and save the day. Knowing I can’t do this, knowing that I must indeed watch him do it on his own, hoping somehow this will ultimately be character building, is the most exquisite of tortures. 

The Fierceness comes with a superhero heart. It swells to impossible sizes. It cannot be possible for a human heart to stretch with this much love. There are times when I look at my son and I know my heart will burst and I’m glad I signed the organ donor card in my wallet. But it does not. He puts his so-small hand in mine and says in that voice that still sounds more like a baby’s than a boy’s, “Mommy, hold my hand” and I feel it stretch even further. My son says to me, “I love you more” and in a moment of creepy truth, I think to him, I would die for you, but instead, I pick him up, inhale his soft smell and croon, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Until he says, “o.k., you’re hurting me.”

The Fierceness has imbued me with super strength. I am stronger than the bleaching action of Crest Whitestrips and I kick more butt than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My son was born 6,083 miles away from me. When he came here, he had two holes patched: one in his heart and one in his abdomen. Now he lifts the Death Star in one hand. He is mighty. This makes me strong. I throw myself in the path of oncoming school administrators who complain about the way he talks, the way he writes, the pictures he draws. I shield him with my body to protect him from their pre-occupation with his coloring outside the lines. I even perform my anti-judgment Jedi mind trick saying, “Relax. It’s only Kindergarten and it’s kinda a miracle he’s here.”

Yet at times, despite all of these super powers, I doubt. I think this is a huge responsibility. One for which I may not be entirely prepared. It seems this is a job better suited to a weird clone thingy of Word Girl and Supernanny than a woman who thinks her cat needs glasses. How will I ever do this? He is a gift. He is so fresh from God. At my best, I will never be good enough. Then I hear, “Moommmmyyyy, I peed on the floor” and The Fierceness grabs some paper towels to go clean it up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shocking Footage of The Espresso Book Machine

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for this special bulletin.

Not-So-Secret inner workings of the Flintridge Bookstore Espresso Book Machine is exposed!

The Management would like to thank Anne Speirs for providing the video.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog in progress.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Espresso Book Machine Is Here

by Lupe Fernandez

Sorry, the Espresso Book Machine doesn’t make cappuccino mocha lattes with skim milk. The EBM, manufactured by On Demand Books, prints books. The Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada uses an in-house database to access 3 million titles from Google Books and Lightning Source. The EBM downloads a title, transmits the pages to print on either cream or white paper, and then binds and trims the resulting book.

The Flintridge Bookstore has had the EBM for 8 weeks. Grant Paules, the in-house technical expert, has been taking time to get the EBM into a “comfortable state” of readiness. At a demonstration on Sunday, April 10th, Grant downloaded Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine by William Carew Hazlitt, via the Mac Mini, transmitted the file to the Kyrocera printer.

The 166 cream colored pages - nicer and thicker, though paper choice depends on the type of book spine – shot through out of the printer via air pneumatics into the EBM where the pages and color book cover were bound with hot glue heated to 349 degrees Fahrenheit. 

After gluing, the book was trimmed to its dimensions of 9.2” x 6.14”. The finished product was deposited into a plastic bin. The time from download to completion was 8 minutes, including several minutes for Grant to allow the demonstration attendees a proper view. The pages were warm to the touch. The noise was similar to a low humming copy machine.

Currently, the EBM prints only black and white, however, Grant said the Flintridge Bookstore may acquire a color printer within the year, depending on demand. 

The titles from Google Books are out of print or in public domain and all titles have to be on the bookstore’s database. The bookstore pays royalties for the book and no titles are obtained off Amazon, yet. Since Google originally scanned their books for digital archiving and not printing, many of the pages retain fingerprints, handwriting, smudge and other marks.

The Flintridge Bookstore has several price options for self-publishing authors. Among the services are proof copies, formatting, obtaining ISBN, store placement (in the Flintridge Bookstore), and cover design.

“We’ll tailor the package to the customers’ needs,” said Grant. There is no minimum for the number of books printed.

Eventually self-published books will be attached to the bookstore’s website, so customers can buy self-published books from the Flintridge bookstore on demand.

Right now there are 12 to 15 machines in the United States. Only two EBMs exist in California. One machine is in Los Angeles and the other at UC San Diego.

The Pen And Ink Blog would like to thank Grant Paules for demonstrating the Espresso Book Machine and answering numerous questions.

If you have questions about the printing books or self-publishing on the Espresso Book Machine, contact Grant Paules at

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Pen And Ink Blog Travels The Amazon


"And instantly the figures were made of wood. They looked like men, talked like men, and populated the surface of the earth. They existed and multiplied; they had daughters, they had sons, these wooden figures; but they did not have souls, nor minds, they did not remember their Creator, their Maker; they walked on all fours, aimlessly. They no longer remembered the Heart of Heaven..."

- The Popul Vuh/Creation of the Quiche Maya

The Pen And Ink Blog brings you the cutting edge in content delivery. We present our first E-Book via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. The Wooden Men is a chilling tale of a boy lost in the woods, written by that Mexican Muse, that Homeboy of Hyperbole, that Vato of Verb, that Latino of Letters, get the idea.

It's only 99 cents.
"The deuce you say!"
It's true! It's true!
"99 cents is almost a dollar!"
But it's not.
"Doesn't self published mean it's crap?"
Come on, give the kid a break. 
He doesn't get out much.

The Wooden Men - You'll never think of Show & Tell the same way again. 
Now available at Kindle Store

No Kindle? No problem.
To download a free Kindle app for your: Windows PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, iPad or Windows Phone7 - Journey down The Amazon

I got mine. Now you get yours.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Conversation with Sherri L. Smith

by Hilde Garcia

Flygirl, a YA novel by Sherri L. Smith, tells the story of Ida Mae Jones, a girl with a passion to fly. There’s only one problem. She’s a light skinned black girl and isn’t allowed. So when the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) is formed during WWII, Ida Mae Jones faces a fork in the road. Does she sign up and pass for white? Or does she stay in Slidell, New Orleans and continue to clean the Wilson’s home?

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Smith at The Mother/Daughter Book Party at The Flintridge Bookstore this past January, where 11 fabulous YA/MG authors came and chatted with young ladies and their moms about books, writing and life. 

Sherri, when you heard the NPR broadcast about the WASP, how did you know you were meant to write Flygirl?

That's an interesting way of putting it. I don't think of it as "meant" to be, but rather "wouldn't that be interesting?" I start out hoping to write a story, but you don't know whether or not it will end up being what you intended to write. Listening to the Radio Diaries piece, there was a line that sparked my interest—about farm girls and heiresses being thrown together for training. I thought it, "What a great story." And then I put my own ideas into it—what it would mean for an African-American girl in the same situation, and went from there. 

How did you balance all the facts we needed to know without losing your strong fictional voice of Ida? 

I have a funny way of researching projects. I start with picture books on the topic, because they give the straight scoop. Then I read the bibliographies on those books and sort of work my way up the reading levels. If I've got my story ideas, I'll write them first. I knew Ida's story, so I outlined it, wrote the parts I knew, then researched until I knew more, and kept going back and forth between writing and more research until the book filled in completely. But I always knew Ida Mae. 

What kind of research did you do? Did you fly an airplane? Have things changed for black female pilots in today’s world? 

Most of my research was secondary sources—books, documentaries, museum exhibits. There was not as much available on the WASP when I wrote the book as there is today. So I did a lot of WWII research in general, and went to airplane museums. I spoke to friends that are pilots, but I didn't fly in any vintage planes myself. (No, I am not a pilot!) I don't know the stats on black women in aviation today, but I'd say things have changed for female pilots in general, if not by the leaps and bounds. According to the American Airlines website, of the 115,000 commercial pilots in the US in 2007, only 7,100 are female. That's what, 6%? Not a lot, but considering the first female pilot wasn't hired until 1973, and men have been flying since the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright, I guess its progress. 

Tell me about your thesis project and how Flygirl became part of it. 

I was working on an MA in Humanities with a concentration in Creative Writing from CSU Dominguez Hills and I knew my thesis was going to be a novel. In fact, it's part of a novel and includes a scholarly analysis of young adult literature, which really informs my philosophy on writing YA. At the time I had two ideas I was developing, which became Flygirl and my third novel, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. My thesis advisor, Dr. Abe Ravitz, had served in WWII, so it seemed like a natural fit. 

You mentioned that Flygirl was developed as a thesis project. Was this part of an MFA program? Do you think Flygirl would still be grounded if it weren’t for the program? Is there anything unique about the project that ensured the completion of FG? 

While I believe Dr. Ravitz' input was invaluable, there's no way I would have not written this book, degree or no degree. It was more a matter of when I would write it. Where Dr. Ravitz really helped was in encouraging me to make the book as complex as it is. There were times when I thought the WASP story was enough. I didn't need to add the racial element, even though that's what made it sing to me personally. Sometimes it takes a cheerleader saying you can do it to help you get it done. 

I noticed the long list of accolades for Flygirl. Is there any of them that really surprised you when you received the honor? 

All of them. When I write, my goal is to do the best job I can with a book and not "muff it up" as we used to say when I was kid. Then it's to send it out into the world and hope it does well. Any time an email or a letter shows up saying "hey, we liked this," I'm thrilled. Books are like my kids—I'd like to think I'm raising fools, but you never really know until someone from the outside says "Well Done!" 

When you visit schools, how do the boys react to Flygirl? Do they seem shocked that women flew the planes during the World War II, as well, if not better than most men? 

I actually think that's a prejudice reserved for older generations. Boys like the airplane stuff—the details of flight, but so do the girls. I think the sense of adventure in the story speaks to both genders. I've heard from a lot of girls that want to be pilots (grown women too!), and older men who are WWII buffs. I'd say that's the biggest compliment, when a white-haired gentleman in an army green flight jacket and WWII commemorative baseball cap comes up and asks me to sign the book. That's priceless. 

The reader never knows if Ida will be caught passing for white. The reader doesn’t expect what happens to her friends. And what if she is caught posing as a white woman? What would have been the consequences? Did you and your agent consider a different ending for the book? 

The consequences could have been quite severe, especially depending on who caught her. She's breaking military law and social norms. That could be a court marshal, jail, or violence if she was caught by civilians. I never considered a different ending for the book because I think of Ida's situation as being that of all of the women in that period. Once she finds where she belongs, she can still be so easily ousted, as so many women were once the war ended and the men needed their jobs back. It's a terrible position to be in, and I wanted the reader to be there with her. 

Passing as white is still a controversial topic. In your NPR interview, you said that “it’s not glorious, it’s just factual, it’s part of life.” Do you think African-American people today still “pass for white?” How have perceptions changed? 

Absolutely, people still pass today, and not just for white. People pass for the "not persecuted" group, if they think it's safer or more beneficial. They pass for religious in the Bible belt, or not religious in the agnostic big city, for rich, for poor, for gay, for straight. I was in college during the first Iraq war and I very clearly remember hearing an Iranian girl describe herself as something other than Iranian for fear of reprisal. Consider "don’t' ask, don't tell" in the military. That's government sanctioned passing! The world has not changed as much as we might like to think. 

How did race affect your selection of subject matter? Were you particularly drawn to it because of your ethnicity? 

I was drawn to the story of the WASP because of the classic underdog narrative, and the strange bedfellows it made. As I said, the idea of farm girls and heiresses bunking together just grabbed me. The ethnic element came about because I was riffing on the idea of rights, expectations and the second-class citizen. Stories my mother told me about her childhood in the South came to mind, and the rest grew from the marriage of the two. 

Was your ethnicity an advantage for you as an author? Is this bicultural trend here to stay? 

The word "bicultural" makes me angry. What does that mean? There is the American culture, and if you want to break ethnicity down into cultures, then there are certainly more than two. As long as there are as many different types of people in this world as there are, we will write about them. That's not a trend, that's just life. As far as the advantages of being a black writer, I'm not sure what they are. There is a tendency in the publishing world to think that black writers should "write black." My main characters are people from all walks of life. I have to do my research to make them sound authentic, but the world is my palette. I don't believe in sticking to monochromes.

Tell us about your fifth novel. It also takes place in New Orleans, but present day. Now, according to your biography, you have lived all over the country, but not in New Orleans. Any reason you seem to be drawn to this area? 

The novel you are speaking of is actually set in the near-future, not the present. It's speculative fiction that takes place in a possible New Orleans. I'm drawn to New Orleans because my mother is from there and it is a fantastic city. I visited my grandparents in the house my mom grew up in every summer of my childhood. I'm not a native, but it's a part of me as much as any other city in which I've lived. 

During the event at the Bookstore, we discussed a high school writing program for students that would span all four years, beginning with their freshman year and an idea for a novel and ending in their senior year graduation with a completed novel. Do you think it is possible? 

Actually, I think four years is almost too long. I would love to do something along these lines over the course of one year, at least for the first draft. I do think this is possible, but the question is whether the curriculum would allow for it. We live in a test-taking age, and that would have to be considered. Still, wouldn't it be fantastic to have a novel-writing track at school? What would that do for the book world—readers and writers alike! 

The young ladies at your table were excited. Both of them were very good short story writers, but their biggest fear was how to make that into a whole book.  Do you think this type of program could give birth to a new generation of young and strong writers? 

Undoubtedly. We're told that books are a fading form that people don't want to read, but I disagree. Everyone loves a story, whether it's gossip, news, a movie or the printed word. Video games are so compelling in part because they involve the player in the world of the game. If we gave kids that sort of access, by having them create the world and invent the story, I think it could lead to an exciting new wave of creative intelligence and engagement. 

I’d like to thank Sherri for this interview. For more about Sherri L. Smith, visit her website at

Friday, April 1, 2011

Quacky Baseball -- Blog Tour Day 5

In conversation with Peter Abrahams
by Hilde Garcia

Peter Abrahams has written 25 novels for adults and children. The first book in his Echo Falls series, Down the Rabbit Hole, won the 2006 Agatha for Best Children’s Young Adult Fiction. His upcoming middle grade suspense novel with a bit of paranormal, Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street, will be released next January. Peter’s YA thriller, Reality Check, won the 2010 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Novel. His newest YA thriller, Bullet Point, was released in April of 2010. As Spencer Quinn, he's also the author of the Chet and Bernie Mysteries. Written from the point of view of Chet, a dog, they are fabulous stories from a fresh perspective. Quacky Baseball marks his first hit in the picture book game.

I know you covered this in the piece you wrote on the evolution of Quacky Baseball for Corey Schwartz's blog, but what the heck! Peter, the $64,000 question, why a picture book? And why about baseball? That’s a double of a question!

A double question to which there’s no satisfying answer. The truth is the idea – picture book about baseball, all participants ducks – just popped into my head. I believe at the time I was in the middle of writing Behind the Curtain, second in the Echo Falls series.

What was the most significant difference for you in creating the picture book text vs. one of your YA or MG stories?

Well, as for text, there isn’t much, for the same reason a screenplay adaptation of a novel is shorter than the novel itself: we’ve got pictures to carry the story-telling burden! Bonus: I didn’t have to make the pictures myself! 

Was your picture book text longer when you began the process? 

No. It was about the same, although some bits were edited out and other bits inserted. I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to prose. I’m a maximumist when it comes to some other things, such as sleep and breakfast.

So, Thumby can’t stop sucking his thumb, but he manages to do so for the game- winning catch and then for the spectacular bottom of the ninth homerun! Isn’t that too much pressure for the rookie?

Lots of pressure, but thumbsucking helps him handle it, kind of like self-medication. Maybe the world would be a better place if adult thumbsucking were in vogue. And, more likely, maybe not. 

And then you give the tip, “Keep your eye on the ball,” but Thumby hits the final smack of the game with his eyes closed! Was it a lucky smack or the skill of a duck from the wrong side of the marsh? 

There’s always the inexplicable and the unforeseen in baseball, part of what makes it great. I got into this in a much darker way in a book I wrote some years ago called The Fan

I coach T-Ball. This book is a wonderful introduction to the game. I can’t wait to read it to my team at our next practice. Did you envision Quacky Baseball becoming a teaching aid for coaches of the littlest ducks in the league?

I wrote it for entertainment purposes, pure and simple, but it’s important that the baseball be accurate. A very nice thing that came my way after publication of The Fan was a letter from Buzzie Bavasi, longtime Dodgers GM, thanking me for getting the baseball right. 

How did the collaboration with an illustrator affect or enhance your writing of this picture book? After your submitted your text, what level of input were your afforded, if any, with the illustrator? I mean, can you have two coaches on the field? 

The collaboration was a three-step process. I wrote the initial text. Frank made accompanying sketches. I made some textual changes to better match the art. Plenty of room for two coaches – plus the editor and art director are also on the field. 

Was it your idea to include the scoreboard throughout the story? Were the tips you include in the book part of your original picture book text? And why start at the bottom of the ninth? Why not at the beginning when Thumby isn’t doing well or maybe how he got on the team? 

Scoreboard: yes
Tips: yes
Bottom of the ninth: that was where the drama was. In a form this short there wasn’t room for anything else.

Ok, I’m now in love with Chet the Dog, (just visited your site). He’s so smart and sassy. I can’t believe he also speaks German. How many of your works are translated in other languages? Do you see Quacky Baseball having the same trek? Baseball is an all-American sport, so how effective can a translation be for a country that might not even play baseball?

I believe the Chet and Bernie novels are in 18 or 19 languages now. One important thing about Chet: he doesn’t talk. He has no non-dog powers. But all dog people know that a dog has some sort of life-narrative going on internally, and that’s what’s on the page in the Chet and Bernie books (Number 4, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, comes out in September). Baseball does well in Japan and in certain parts of the Spanish-speaking world. 

Do you find it easy to write for any voice? You have Chet the Dog and Thumby, the Webbies' secret weapon, but then there’s also Ingrid, a girl. Gasp! And you seamlessly go from one age group to the other from the youngest reader to those of us on the older side. Come on, confess, do you have a super power?

Unsatisfying answer # 2: I never think about this at all.

I noticed the book cover for Quacky Baseball says “ages 3-8.” Why is that there? Was it the editor’s idea? I don’t usually notice the age range listed on the book cover and this book has a timeless quality whether you are 3, 8 or 38. I read it and enjoyed it. Why not put 3 to infinity? 

You’re right. I like 3 to infinity better.

Now that you dove into the pond of picture books and hit one out of the park, do you see yourself continuing this season in the picture book game? If so, will Thumby make it to the World Series and follow the fate of Casey at the Bat? Or will he remember to keep his eye on the ball and swing, swing, swing?! (Unlike mighty Casey who didn’t swing at the first two pitches). 

I actually do have another picture book idea, but right now I’m pretty busy with Chet and Bernie, and also the new Robbie Forester middle-grade series.

I want to thank Peter Abrahams for this fabulous seventh-inning stretch of an interview, giving us a behind the scenes look at a fuzzy player that we are going to love for a long, long time. 

My pleasure!
Check out Peter’s works, from every ballpark you can think of YA, MG, adult, at - and

Please visit the other stops on the Quacky Baseball tour: 
  • Monday, March 28 - Megan Frances Abrahams - On Beyond Words & Pictures - interview with Kristin Daly Rens, Senior Editor, Balzer & Bray
  • Tuesday, March 29 - Julie Musil Julie Musil - interview with Thumby Duckling - the main character - via author Peter Abrahams 
  • Wednesday, March 30 - Corey Schwartz - Thing 1 and Thing 2 - author Peter Abrahams on the genesis of Quacky Baseball 
  • Thursday, March 31 - Diane Browning - Out of the Paintbox - interview with illustrator Frank Morrison
  • Saturday, April 2 - Lori Walker L.H. Walker - book review/synopsis with input from Lori's children
Comment on this blog (see upper right column) -- or on any blog along the tour -- and you could win a signed copy of the book!