Monday, May 28, 2012

In Conversation with Nancy Stewart

by Susan Berger
I don’t know how many of you saw A Dolphin Tale, a movie based on a true story about Winter, a young dolphin who lost her tail in an accident. Winter not only inspired a movie. She’s inspired people around the world to reach for new horizons.

One of these people is thirteen year old Katrina. Author Nancy Stewart took her story and created a lovely narrative non fiction book called Katrina and Winter Partners in Courage. The photographic illustrations are the perfect compliment.

Nancy, how did this book come about?
 It came about in a circuitous way. My husband and I bought a condo on Clearwater Beach, Florida, four years ago. One day I happened to drive by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter, the dolphin. I’d never heard of her so decided to have a look. I visited Winter and went in to see the video they were offering about her. Featured in the video was an eight year old girl, Katrina Simpkins, who had to wear a prosthetic leg. It told the story of her journey from being a shy, withdrawn and bullied child to one with more self-assurance and determination. About a year later, I received a phone call from a woman called Maria Simpkins. I knew I’d heard the name but couldn’t place it. Martie is Katrina’s mom, and she called to see if I’d be interested in writing a book about Katrina.

I’m delighted to say the book has been on Amazon’s Hot New Releases and on their Bestselling List as well.  It was a long route from there to here but worth every step of the journey.
Could you talk about the style of narrative non fiction?
Narrative non-fiction offers up a true story written in a style much like fiction. This genre in some forms has been around awhile. People have written memoirs and autobiographies for many years, but the emphasis has not been in a narrative style. The person credited for bringing narrative non-fiction onto the mainstream is, of course, Truman Capote and his journalistic book In Cold Blood. The book describes the murder of the Cluter family, subsequent trial and hangings of the two accused men.  Capote wrote the book in the style of a journalist, researching and interviewing countless people. Added to this, he is the narrator of the story and allows his bias to show through.

Are there any criticisms of such a genre? 
Indeed. The problem often sited is no stringent standards or guidelines. The reader wants to know what is fiction and what is not. Sometimes the lines are blurred, leading to confusion and even rejection of the work. 
There are some wonderful narrative non-fiction books for kids.  I’ll give two examples:  In The Librarian of Basra, Jeanette Winter tells the story of Alia Muhammed Baker, the chief librarian of Basra, Iraq, who saved 30,000 books from Basra's library before it burned during the US invasion of Iraq. 

 Another fine example is Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust by Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun.
This genre has become a powerhouse in the book market.  If it is done well, accurately and is interesting to kids, it has real merit.  Narrative non-fiction is full of teachable moments and can make such an impact on a child's life.
Do you have a critique group?
Yes, actually I am in two critique groups, one in St. Louis and the other in Tampa.  I am maniacal about them both and only miss if I really must, depending upon which place I am, of course.  Writing in a vacuum is not a good idea, and I would urge every writer, seasoned or novice, to join a group.  To me it is pivotal!

What made to decide to write Children’s books (as opposed to adult books)
Children’s books were always what I wanted to write.

Your first published book, One Pelican at a Time  which was illustrated by Samantha Bell was about the Gulf Oil Spill. Was that the first book you sold?

There's a story behind Pelican. The first story I sold in the Bella and Britt Series was Bella Saves the Beach. It was almost out when the Gulf Oil Spill happened. My publisher, Lynda Burch of Guardian Angel Publishing, thought a book had to be written about the disaster and wanted the Bella and Britt Series to do this. As you know, it takes months to write a book and up to two years to get it into print. I wrote Pelican in six weeks (not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this admission ), and it was the first children's book on the spill published in the US. I'm also happy to mention that Pelican was on Amazon's Bestseller List for Children for 18 weeks, won a Literary Classics Seal of Approval, a Readers Favorite 5 Star Award and was nominated for a Global eBook Award. And as for Beach Bella? Next one out the gate!
One Pelican at a Time, illustrated by Samantha Bell, is  also available on Kindle.
Do you feel that social media has helped sell any books for you?
This is an interesting question.  I know the social media has helped get the word out about my books.  No question of it.  Whether it, and I use them all, helps actually sell books is another matter.  I am finding more and more that it is rather a combination of ingredients, such as virtual tours, blogging, facebook, getting on lists such as Amazon, all in concert with each other.  The first ingredient, though, is still writing a great book that has appeal to the trade audience.  There is nothing more important than that.
What do you do to help sell your books?
I do school visits and attend and speak at national and regional conferences.  I never refuse speaking at events within the community.  I blog at least three times a week and work at getting new followers of my blogging community.  I carry business cards at all times and give them out whenever and wherever I can.  It becomes a way of life, really, where marketing is a constant for you.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I am just finishing a middle grade novel called “Lost on the Skeleton Coast.”  It is an adventure set in the African country of Namibia in the Namib Desert where a brother and sister, Olivia and Andy, are on an archaeological dig with their Uncle Blake.  The kids get swept up in a kidnapping and getting lost in the desert where they contend with diamond smugglers and lions who may be ready to attack.  It was fun to write, and I hope it’ll be as much fun to read!

I look forward to reading it.Thank you, Nancy.

Katrina and Winter: Partners in Courage is now Available from Guardian Angel Publishing,, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound Books

Visit Nancy on her blog Nancy Stewart Books

Monday, May 21, 2012

Unique Book Promotions

Lupe Fernandez

I have admired the promotion work such as book trailers, websites, swag, book readings, art shows and parties from such authors as:

Lisa Yee
(Read her amazing interview)
(Sorry, we haven't interviewed her yet.)
(Nope, not her either. Our Mexican in Residence missed Bosworth's Book Launch Party - The Management.)

So I've given some thought as to what I might do when my time comes to promote a book.

Sandwich Board Outside Independent Bookstore:

Sky Banner over Major Cities:

Offer Date with Literary Sex Symbol:

Other promotion ideas include:
  • Illicit Activity Tape
  • Mug Shot
  • Marriage to Celebrity
  • Saving school children from a burning bus or at least a slightly warm, yet uncomfortable bus.
If you have any unique book promotion ideas, please share.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day
May 15, 2012


Hilde's Killer Cookie Recipe
for all our fans
Las Galletas del Diablo

    "I'm not reading your manuscript until you send the damn cookies"

                                                          -- Allyn Johnston, Editor, Beach Lane Books

                                             (Editor tested, writer approved.)


1 cup of unsalted butter or organic shortening (I use Earth Balance to make this vegan).
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of sugar (I use cane juice sugar)

1/4 cup of Vanilla Silk Soy Milk (not regular- the vanilla is key)

1 teaspoon of vanilla

2 1/4 cups of unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of cinnamon- my secret ingredient

12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips- I personally use more like 16 ounces or 20 depending on my mood- usually 20.

2 kids- preferably cute


1- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, put two chairs in front of oven for proper viewing or kids can sit on floor.  In order for this recipe to work, you must have noise, kids running around in the kitchen and the dog barking.

2- Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Slowly add Silk, cream well, then add vanilla.  Kids will stop running to be part of this step.  Use can use a mixer on low speed and kids as manual labor.

3- Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, then fold in the chocolatechips. Answer the phone and trip over the dog. (I find that when I do this, my batch turns out magnificent).

4- Freeze dough mixture for about 30 minutes.  Then make small balls on cookie sheets.  Kids will be on hand to help with this step, every time. When I don't use them, the cookies aren't as yummy. (Yours were a quite yummy because both twins helped.)  The recipe says to line the sheets, but I don't.  I also use my Pampered Chef scoop for perfectly shaped cookies.  (Medium scoop makes larger cookies. Small scoop works great for mini bites, like when you have kids and you want to limit the sugar overload).

5- Recipe says to bake for 8-10 minutes, but I keep a close eye on them because you don't want to burn the bottoms, and you want them gooey on the top without becoming "crispy."  So, I plop the kids in front and they watch the cookies.  Way more effective than a timer.  The phone must ring at least 6 times and usually I answer about 3 emails, do the dishes and throw a load of laundry in between freezing the dough and watching it  3 to 4 cookie sheets bake.

6- Now, the most, most important part- make sure you have milk- any kind on hand, the two kids, and lots of napkins. EAT as many as you can.  You know it's a good batch when there are none left or when a potential Editor won't open your MS until she gets the recipe.


You must double the recipe (not the kids).  No matter what, you will never have enough cookies.  People can smell them from miles away it seems and somehow everyone knows when I'm baking.

Do not use the electric mixer to mix dry and wet ingredients together or you will get cookie crumbles and want to pull your hair out. (Been there, done that and it wasn't pretty.)

You must freeze dough for perfectly looking cookies. (But don't forget the dough. I once found it three days later.  Don't remember why. I think the phone rang and then I had to go and write a book or something).

Use as many chips as you can get away with and you can do any type of chip: semi-sweet, dark, peanut butter, white chip or even carob. My best friend calls them a bunch of chips with some cookie.

In fact, I will often separate batch into two halves and add different chips depending on the crowd.  My husband is hoping to make partner one day with my cookies because his boss loves dark chocolate chip cookies I make for him, but for my husband who has dairy, nut and chocolate allergies, I make carob cookiesand he says they are exquisite.

If you aren't multi tasking, the recipe doesn't work as well.  It seems that I bake while emailing, washing dishes and feeding family at once.

This recipe was on the back of the Silk Soy Milk Container 12 years ago and it is my signature baking item and most requested by everyone who knows me or even strangers that just met me at a conference, like you...  Seriously, we had a fundraiser at my kids' school and I got pimped out to sell cookies and once someone posted on Facebook that they were really good and someone in New Zealand replied that they agreed. Yes, they had made it to NZ with my tupperware.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Celebrating Teachers, Books and Mothers

by Susan Berger
May is full of interesting and wacky holidays. (Do visit Brownielocks. It's a blogging gold mine. I have a special fondness for No Sock Day, No Diet Day and National Laughter Day)
This week’s celebratory events include, among other things, Teacher Appreciation Week.


Children’s Book Week,  and  Mothers Day.

I am going to steal a quote from Peanuts' Author Charles Schultz.
1. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winner for best actor and actress.

2. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?
Now try This
1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
2. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care.

Right On! 
I went to 19 schools and met many wonderful teachers who instilled in me a love of language and the written word.  They shine in my memory.  To me, teachers are the real stars.
I remember my second grade teacher reading To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street  to our class.(Dr. Seuss' first book)  I fell in love with rhyme and the story.
Then in third grade, my dad gave me a book, Louisa May Alcott, Girl of Old Boston  - One of the "Childhood of Famous Americans" series and I fell in love with the process of reading on my own. I became a bookoholic.

That led to me writing books. But I began writing when my children were nine and thirteen, so I had some occasional free time. I stand in awe of the authors who raised small children, and managed to write at the same time.

Sonia Levitin, my writing teacher at UCLA, wrote Journey To America when her children were young. She said in class that sometimes her books took several complete.
Judy Blume  wrote The One in The Middle is a Green Kangaroo  when her children were in preschool. (Click on the link to read her account of that.)

I think everyone knows about J. K Rowling and I know there are many others who started writing when their children were still in diapers. 
There are also mothers that raise children, hold down a full time job, do the housekeeping and still manage to write. I do NOT know how you do it.

This category includes my critique partners, Kris, mother of six year old Tommy, writer blogger, full time financial consultant and author of three picture books that are going out and about,
Hilde, Victoria and Sam

and Hilde, mother of six year old Sam and Victoria, full time teacher and student, baseball coach, superb cookie maker, and author of a kick ass YA novel, Wet Foot Dry Foot. You both have my awe.

So here's to all of you: The Authors, The Teachers, The Mothers.  You are the ones we remember the most. Thank you for everything wonderful you brought into our lives.

These are not Hilde's Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies, But I wish they were.
How about you, Dear Readers - Who taught you to love reading?  What was the first book you fell in love with?