Sunday, December 28, 2014

Interview with Michelle Houts

Michelle Houts by Hilde Garcia

MICHELLE HOUTS is the award-winning author of The Beef Princess of Practical County and its sequel, The Practical County Drama Queen.  Her current releases are Winterfrost and Kammie on First: Baseball’s Dottie Kamenshek, and her first two picture books will be out in the near, near future.

Also, as the result of excellent networking at SCBWI’s 2010 Summer Conference (if I can do it, you can do it), Michelle is also my dear friend.

HG:  Michelle, you’re a mom, a speech pathologist, and a farmer's wife… how did writing fall into your not-so-busy life?

MH:    Writing fell into my busy life before any of those things fell into my life because I loved writing as a child, and I loved to write as a teen, and I loved writing when I was an adult.  I just never thought I could make a go of it as a career.  So I waited until I was married and had three children before I attempted to write a novel and submit it for publication. 

HG:  What made you write it?

MH:    The Beef Princess of Practical County was my first published novel, and I was inspired to write it because I watched my own daughter and other young people showing and selling their livestock at our county fair. 

I submitted it to the Random House Middle Grade First Novel Contest and no winner was chosen that year.  They did, however, pull my manuscript as a finalist and asked me if I was willing to revise it. 

And of course I said, “Yeah.”

And after revising it, they made me an offer.

HG:  When we met at the 2010 SCBWIConference and I kidnapped you into an evening of networking, what was going through your mind?

Oh, my gosh! I was so grateful to meet someone from California who knew people and wasn’t afraid to go up to them and say hi.  You introduced me to so many people. We’ve been buds ever since.

HG:     Well, I know that you were thrilled that someone not related to you bought your book.  And I knew you were a kindred spirit from “howdy.”

MH:    That was a pretty exciting night.

HG:     Yes it was.  Especially because I didn’t find out you were the author until after I had purchased your book!

MH:    No, what was cool was your Principal’s Book Club.

HG:     Oh yes, my principal wanted to start a book club and she asked me for advice on possible book choices.  I suggested your book, and she read it and agreed!  It couldn't have been a better launch.  We had over 100 kids sign up, from Kinder through 6th grade.

MH:    I remember you calling me and asking, “How would you like to come to LA and meet all the kids in the Book Club?  And it’s next week, but I’m pretty sure I can convince the PTA to fund it.”

HG:     Never mind that this wasn’t on the PTA’s agenda, and we were having this conversation the midnight before the PTA’s meeting was scheduled.

MH:    I was floored when you told me you had pulled it off and the expenditure had been approved.

HG:     Me too!  What did that feel like?  To have an entire elementary school gasp when you filled them in on what was coming down the pike in the Practical County sequel?

MH:    That was fantastic. It was the first school visit where the whole school had read my novel, so the enthusiasm was incredible. And then the excitement for the sequel was the inspiration I needed not to give up and get it published.

HG:     I remember you didn’t have a publisher at the time, and I said I would publish it myself if someone didn’t jump at the chance.  I wanted the sequel.  All your readers did.

MH:    Yep.

HG:     And I told you when you got it published, I would help you get it sold.  The orders poured in from the whole school.

MH:    My local bookstore was thrilled with the orders.

HG:     You now have two other novels out.  What inspired you to write Winterfrost?  

Winterfrost is based on Danish folklore.  I lived in Denmark for six months when I was younger, and I loved its Christmas traditions, especially the ones that center around the Nisse, the little Christmas gnome.  And so came the inspiration for that story.

HG:     Of course, in your whirlwind tour of LA, you had to make a stop at my kids’ little league game and you couldn’t say no, being a baseball fan.  Well that, and that I had the car.  So tell me about Kammie on First.

MH:    Kammie was such an exciting project because she is an Ohio girl and I am an Ohio girl.  She was a Cincinnati Reds fan, and I was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  She was one of the people that inspired the Geena Davis character in A League of Their Own and of course that’s one of the best movies in the world.

HG:     Agreed.

MH:    And when it came time to pick a subject for a middle grade biography, she stood out for many reasons.  She played 10 years for the Rockford Peaches and she was a leader on and off the field.  Not only a great player, but a great person.

HG:     But why a biography?  All your titles thus far had been fiction.

MH:    I was approached by the Ohio University Press to write a biography, the first in a series of middle grade biographies they were going to publish. We got to talking and we both agreed on Dottie [Kamenshek].  I couldn't refuse!

HG:     Just so you know, I was secretly jealous.  What an amazing opportunity…  I was also snooping around your website and I clicked on the Mark Boney Promise.  
Mark Boney

WOW.  I think as writers, we have a responsibility to make a difference in the lives of young people and the young at heart.
(Click on the link to see what happened to Mark.)

MH:    Mark was my classmate from elementary through high school.  When we were small, others began to pick on and tease Mark.  Back then, we didn’t use the word “bully” much, and if we did, we used it as a noun to describe a really rotten, mean-spirited person.  We’d never heard it used as a verb – to “bully” someone.  But there’s no doubt, Mark was bullied.  He was picked on for nearly everything – the way he talked, the way he dressed, for being the smartest student in the class, for asking questions.

Sadly, when our class of 25 or so left elementary school for a larger middle school, life for Mark didn’t get any better. Others continued their taunting and teasing, and as high school approached, his classmates were rude and disrespectful. But Mark stuck it out.  He endured.  And he graduated with the rest of us.

HG:     So, were you that way?  Did you pick on Mark Boney?

MH:    I’ve thought about this often over the years. And, to the very best of my ability to recall, I believe the answer is no.  I didn’t fling the insults.  I wasn’t one who taunted and teased.  I never pointed out Mark’s differences.  I never tried to see if I could make him cry.

But I did something far worse.

I stood there.  I just stood there when a girl made fun of his clothing.  I watched and did nothing when the boys made him cry.

HG:     Unfortunately, this is what I see far too often at my own school:  students who simply stand around and do nothing.  They don’t get involved.  If they only knew the difference they could make.  I plan to share The MarkBoney Promise with my students.

MH:   Please do.  If we taught kindness from a very young age and modeled it as adults, we would impact today's youth.  We should teach how doing everyday little things can make a difference.  Like letting someone else go first in line, and giving something to someone who doesn’t have it.  Lessons like these learned during early elementary school years will stay with you.

HG      Indeed they will.  What's next on your horizon?

MH:    Well, I have two picture books coming out.  The first one is about Emma Gatewood, the first woman to solo hike the Appalachian trail.  That title will come out in 2015.

And the second picture book will be announced in a week or two.  I can’t say anything about it, but look for the announcement in Publisher’s Weekly.

HG:     That is so cool.  The best $5 I ever spent was buying your book almost 5 years ago and getting to meet you.  I definitely consider your friendship worthy of a blue ribbon.  

And for everyone that says they are busy, like me, Michelle's on her 6th project in 5 years and she still holds all of her other titles- mom, speech pathologist, farmer's wife.  Michelle.  I'm so proud of you.  You must return to LA before too many of the original book club members at my school promote to middle school.

MH:    That would be wonderful!

HG:     And “Please,” says my daughter, who held the phone during this interview.

MH:    Yes, tell her that it is definitely on the horizon.

HG:     Thank you for this interview.  If you haven’t visited Michelle’s site or checked out her blog, please do.  And if you haven’t read any of her titles, they are a must for all middle grade collections!  And please share The Mark Boney Promise every where you can.

From all of us here at The Pen and Ink Blog, 
we wish you the happiest holiday season and a successful 2015!  

Best wishes from, 
Hilde Garcia, Sue Berger, Lupe Fernandez, his lovely wife, Angel, 
and Kris Kahrs; 
our junior Inkies- Sam and Victoria Krol- 
and our silent, but technical advisor- David Krol.

Thank you for your continued support.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Twas the Night

by Susan J Berger

 Twas The Night.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,

Each creature was reading. Yes, even the mouse.

In a nest made of cotton that used to line pills,

he read Mouseman Saves Christmas and shivered with thrills.


 Miss Padpaws turned pages of  Elf off A Shelf 

And purred as she read it aloud to herself.

Bad Dog, on the hearth, was devouring a book.

He'd chewed up five chapters and turned them to gook.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

reading books, with the covers pulled over their heads.

Mamá was engrossed in her latest romance.

I nodded o'er Dickens and fell into trance.

Not one of us heard jingle bells on the roof.

No prancing and pawing of each tiny hoof.

Santa slid down the chimney and only Bad Dog, looked up

and woofed softly at the man on the log.


"Good Bad Dog," said Santa, and opened his pack.

He pulled out a bushel of books from his sack.

Picture books, YA, some Midgrades for Simon,

Thrillers, romances and even Neil Gaiman.

Geronimo Stilton, he gave to the mouse.

A copy of Archie, he left for the louse

He patted Miss Padpaws and handed her Cats.

For Bad Dog, a cake book that tasted like Brats

 He filled every stocking with poems and prose.

Then ate all the cookies; brushed crumbs from his clothes.


On Prancer! On Dancer!"  Sleigh bells jingled bright.

"Happy Reading to All and to All a Good Night".


I couldn't think of a post so I decided to play with The Night Before Christmas. With humble apologies to Clement Moore. If you follow the links, you may find some book's you'll like.

PS Christine Brallier is over at Seven Impossible Things showing how she did her stained glass mosaic illustrations of A Night Before Christmas. I linked to the post and the book.

 Hilde, Next year, you do Hannukah.

Happy Holidays from Pen and Ink




Monday, December 15, 2014

Dispatch #31: Violence

by Lupe Fernandez
“It’s catching isn’t it, violence.”
- Jack The Ripper in Time After Time

“Balthazar is a good man. 
But until all men are like him, 
we must keep our swords bright.”
- Sheik Ilerim in Ben Hur

How do I portray fictional violence?
Let’s start with a scene.

Third Person:
“The mall blew up.”
- Anonymous Witness

Police Report:
On May 5 at 1:03pm, we were dispatched to Portola Shopping Mall in reference to a report of a Bomb Blast. Upon our arrival we met with EMT’s Jamie Hu Lee and Franklin Washington of the Portola Fire Department. EMT’s Lee and Washington stated that the Portola Fire Department received a 911 call from mall security personnel and along with Engine Co. 37 responded to emergency call and commenced triage on causalities. Estimated death toll is fifty-two persons.

After inspection of debris field, we consulted with Bomb Squad personnel on site and determined an explosive was detonated at a one location inside the Mt. Portola Mall. We conducted multiple on-site interviews with witnesses and reviewed facility surveillance video.

Preliminary evidence indicates one suspect carrying concealed triacetone triperoxide attracted a crowd and detonated device to achieve maximum damage. Motive unknown. Whether suspect acted alone or in concern with other suspects is unknown. Pending further investigation by FBI and Homeland Security, we recommend increased security at places frequented by the public.

- Detective Carol Reyes #3702
- Detective Arturo Wiseman #4582

First Person:
“There’s a big crowd in the mall, right outside Flynn’s Clothing. I think it’s a performer or something. I hear a little girl crying and then somebody screams ‘bomb bomb.’ Then heat and fire and bodies and glass everywhere. I’m covered in blood. My legs won’t move. I mean it’s a mall for Christ’s sake. Who does that? Who does that?”

Third Person:
She stands alone in the Mt. Portola Shopping Mall and wails. “Help me. Please help me.” A crowd of adults gather and ask, “What’s your name little girl? Where’s your mother? Where’s your parents? Don’t cry? Are you lost?” She’s bundled in a thick jacket with her hands tucked in the deep pockets. “Somebody call security.” The girl takes her hand out of her pocket and grips a switch in her tiny hand. Before the next breathe, she releases her fingers and a vest lining the inside of her jacket blasts the spectators to bloody shards.

First Person:
My name is Esmerila Whitehall De Vida. Today I go into the place where the Devil buys souls. I make a lot of noise to get the Evil Ones around me. My jacket is really heavy and my hand hurts from holding the trigger. I’m thirsty and I wish I had a Cherry Soda. May La Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Monte Portola take me in Her arms.

"Americans, it's an outrage that these people our allowed into this God-fearing country of ours and allowed to practice paganism. That's right, folks. I said paganism. They dress it up to resemble Catholicism, but it's idol worship. Imagine, a statue of Virgin Mary in your living room. Not Jesus Christ. Not a quote from the Good Book. Not even a cross. No Americans. These people pray to this statue. The most shocking aspect is they are not worshiping the Mother of Our Savior. These pagans are worshiping the other Mary. Mary Madelaine. The whore."
- Author Ferdinand Porfirio Díaz, Excerpt of Podcast Transcript

"I was saying my Rosary at Saint Portola like I do every Sunday. Then a bunch of those people came in. You know what they're like. Those...animals. They smashed all that statues of The Virgin Mary. All of them. I shouted at them to stop. They laughed and defiled Her name. May God have mercy on their souls."

Third Person
Esmerila is Wai Ming Lee's best friend. They sat next to each other in Mrs. Turline's fourth grade class. Then the bombing. Classmates ask Wai Ming when Esmerila turned into a terrorist. Is Wai Ming a terrorist? Fights at recess. Graffiti on her locker. Wai Ming bears the insults, threats and punches. "I don't understand," she says of Esmerila. "She was nice and loved everybody."

"My Son cried unto his Father, 'Forgive them, for they do not know what they do'. I do not forgive them."
- Non-canonical Gospel According to La Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Monte Portola

What happened? Who is to blame? Who can we blame? Who should we blame?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Now what?

Now What?

by Hilde Garcia


I hate deadlines.

The panic that ensues when I know one is fast approaching.  How I start to stress because of all the stuff in my way, mostly the laundry.

And yet, I seem to meet them all, even the late Sunday night scramble to post.

I have no excuses now.  The house is quiet.  Everyone’s asleep, even the dog.  The laundry is done.  My desk is cleared.  No dishes in the sink.  Today, I spent the whole day avoiding this post, so the garage and office are spotless of clutter, as a result, and I finally put away the Halloween decorations.

Talk about a now what!  I should be jumping at the chance to post, to write, perchance to say something of substance, but sadly, I am more blocked than if I had put 8 loads of laundry in my way intentionally.

And why is that?  I will tell you.  Because I finished my novel.  I revised it several times.  I locked myself in a hotel room for 4 days to get through the edits and the polish and then I sent it off and I met my self-imposed deadline.  

And then I found myself asking myself, “Now what, lady?  You are out of excuses.”

Yep, I am.  I did what I said I was going to do and then I hit a slump.  The waiting place.

Sigh.  The clutter in my mind doesn’t go away.  It only makes me crazy because I can’t seem to find any type of organizational system from The Container Store to make it neat and tidy, like my novel ended up being when I finished it.

I know I should be writing something else.  I do have some ideas of what that topic could be, but none of them have grabbed me like my first novel, my first love.  My biggest fear is that I am a one hit wonder.  I will be a hit, no question, my novel is good, but is that all I have?  What is next for me? How do I even start anew?

Beats me, if I know.

 Is it because this story hasn’t flown the coop yet and I am waiting for some type of validation that may never come?  Or if it comes, what does that mean to me?  Do I revise more and focus on that book before I can move on to a new one?

All my author pals tell me they understand and feel the same, but they have tons of ideas in the works, several published books out, and are always writing.  I can't see that being my reality.

I teach.  I manage the household.  I drive kids to cheer and football, but I do write a lot in my head… while I drive… don’t worry, I watch the road.

So let’s start a conversation.  I am pretty sure I have some soul mates out there who understand the panic.  

What DO we do when we finish a novel and have to move on?  How do we do it?  How do you get the hook that gets you going?  How do you conquer the pre-published blues?

To quote Frasier Crane, “I’m listening…”

And check out some sites/ blogs I read tonight to help me figure out what to do.  Seems that I have many kindred spirits.  But now I must go because I have a cupcake waiting for me.  (#10 of 10 Ways to Stay Sane.)