Friday, September 29, 2017

Playing by Heart Book Birthday Giveaway

Hello, all!

Tomorrow, Sept. 30, is the release date for my new young-adult historical romance, Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing)! We're celebrating here by giving away an autographed copy to one lucky reader! (You'll find the giveaway details at the end of this post.) This post is also the first in a three-part series related to the novel. And since today is Poetry Friday, I'm including below a poem with a connection to the book, too.

If you've been following our blog for some time, you may recall my post over two years ago about a novel I'd put in the proverbial "drawer" because I'd been told it wasn't marketable enough. Well, that novel was Playing by Heart. Fortunately, as I announced in January, I found a small publisher who liked the novel enough to take a chance on it. On Monday, I'll introduce you to Dawn Carrington, the editor who acquired Playing by Heart. She'll share a bit of Vinspire Publishing's history, as well as advice for aspiring authors on how to get published.

The editors and agents who rejected Playing by Heart told me it was because "young-adult historical is a tough sell." After studying the market, I realized that the YA historicals that sell well seem to incorporate fantasy, witches, secret societies, or a murder mystery. Playing by Heart has none of that. I'd thought my sales "hook" was that the novel is inspired by two amazing 18th-century sisters who were far ahead of their time, one a mathematician, the other a composer. (I've talked about those sisters, composer Maria Teresa Agnesi, and her older sister, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, here before.) I'm still hoping that fact will help draw readers to the novel and that once they start reading they won't want to stop. 😊

Here's a brief plot summary:
Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the 'second sister' means she'll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia's only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father's quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams for her future but her sister's very life.
At its core, Playing by Heart is the story of two sisters struggling to follow their true callings at a time when women had little autonomy. And even though the novel is set over 200 years ago, the Salvini sisters face issues modern readers can relate to, such as coping with the pressure of parental expectations, living in the shadow of an older sibling, and finding true love.

Any of you who have your own novels or picture books sitting in a drawer can imagine how thrilled I am to see Playing by Heart finally published. (I was so excited when my copies arrived that I had my husband take a picture!) Someone recently asked me how long it took to write the novel. That's hard to answer because I didn't work on it consistently. I started the project in 2008 but I kept getting bogged down by research. Then, in January 2009, I banned together with a group of fellow SCBWI members to create our own version of NaNoWriMo, what we called our New Year/New Novel project, or NYNN, which rhymes with "win." (I blogged about that experience here.) Thanks to the support of the NYNNies, I managed to complete (a pretty horrible) first draft. But I don't think I had a polished manuscript until September 2011. That's when I started submitting it. As the rejections came in, I kept revising and submitting, sending the novel to editors and agents, and entering it writing contests (which I've also blogged about). But I eventually gave up and put Playing by Heart in a drawer sometime in 2014.

As excited as I was to finally sign a contract with Vinspire Publishing last year, I also had some misgivings about going with a small press. In particular, I was worried the trade journals wouldn't review the novel, which meant libraries would be reluctant to purchase it. I'm happy to report that the novel has been reviewed by Kirkus and Booklist. I'm especially pleased with what Booklist had to say. Copyright rules prohibit me from sharing the whole review here, but I can tell you that the reviewer called it a "sweet and pleasurable read," saying also:
"Martino's romantic read features lovable characters
and is vibrant in setting and detail."
My publisher liked the Booklist review so much, they featured it in the book trailer they created:

(If you receive this post via email, you can find the video on YouTube here.)

I've got lots of other lovely review excerpts on my website, if you're interested.

Now, it's time for the book-related poem I promised. I've blogged here before about how Playing by Heart grew out of my research for a nonfiction biography of linguist and mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. At one point I considered telling Agnesi's story as a series of poems. Today, I'll share one of those poems, written in the form of a tetractys. A tetractys is a five-line poem in which the syllables per line form the series 1, 2, 3, 4, 10. Agnesi was known for being fluent in seven languages, some said by age eleven. I haven't been able to verify that, but I wrote the following tribute anyway.

Finally, before I share the Giveaway Instructions, I want to invite you to two upcoming events celebrating the release of Playing by Heart:
Now for the Giveaway Instructions:
To enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing), use the Rafflecopter widget below. If the widget doesn't appear for some reason, click on the link you'll see in its place.

If you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of the message to access the entry form.

You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.
Please note: our options are slightly different this time. To enter via option 1, you need to use the link provided to subscribe to my creativity newsletter, which I typically send out once a month. The newsletter contains info about my publishing news, class offerings, and creativity tips/inspiration. After subscribing, be sure to watch for an email to confirm your subscription. If you already subscribe to my creativity newsletter, simply enter your subscription email address. You can see a sample of a recent newsletter here.

If you choose option 3, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us why you'd like to win Playing by Heart--is there a particular aspect of the story that interests you?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW.

The giveaway runs through Oct. 16 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

Don't forget Poetry Friday. This week's roundup is hosted by former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

Remember, always Write with Joy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 25, 2017

That Thing with Feathers

Carmela started us off with Two Things My Students Have Taught Me; Esther followed with My Storied Treasures Treasured Stories! April discussed 2 Poems, 2 Lessons Learned from Teaching .

What we know is that writing is hard, messy work. The business of writing is even harder, and messier.

We have heard all the clichés: Inspiration comes through perspiration. Quality comes through quantity.

“Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing dirt away from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”Amy Poehler

Rejection is the very nature of the business. Lord of the Flies by William Golding was rejected 20 times. Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle was rejected 26 times. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling was rejected 12 times.

Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before finally having one published.

And despite all the advice not to take rejection personal, it is personal. According to Rowling, one editor told her to keep her day job. Alice Vincent reports (here) that one of the 15 publishers who didn't think The Diary of Anne Frank was worth reading, offered his wisdom: "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."

Herman Melville's novel about the white whale was rejected by editor Peter J Bentley, stating "First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? ...While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?" 

Ironically, Richard Bentley of the same London publishing house offered him a contract in 1851. Moby Dick was published 18 months later, when Melville arranged at his own expense for the typesetting and plating of his book to speed up the process. Young, voluptuous maidens never made the final edit.

So what do writers who teach writing learn from our students?

Because students have that thing with feathers, eternal hope.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all –“ 
-- Emily Dickinson (For the complete poem, see Hope is a thing with feathers)

Students inspire us to keep trying.

Bobbi Miller
P.S. Photo by Pixabay

Friday, September 22, 2017

Tribute to Dad

"To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase ‘terrible beauty.’ Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.”Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Recently, our own Mary Ann Rodman lost her father. Our hearts go out to her and her family during this time of grief.

Roy F. Rodman lived such an amazingly interesting life. He served as a clerk with the FBI before joining the Navy in 1942. He was a cryptographer in the Signal Intelligence Service, where he met and married the love of his life, Frances C. Smith. They were married for 62 years. After the war, he worked as an FBI Special Agent for 37 years. He was one of the original FBI agents sent by President Johnson to investigate the "Mississippi Burning" case. After retiring from the FBI, he worked as Chief Investigator for the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance. O, the stories he could tell! For more information about his amazing life, see his obituary here.

We all know that life is short, no matter how many years we are given. And when we lose someone we love, it is infinity shocking to our very core. It is a sadness so profound, we feel we may never breathe again. Death is an ending, true enough, but it can also be a beginning, says Marc and Angel:

“… endings like these often seem ugly, they are necessary for beauty too – otherwise it’s impossible to appreciate someone or something, because they are unlimited. Limits illuminate beauty, and death is the definitive limit – a reminder that we need to be aware of this beautiful person, and appreciate this beautiful thing called life. Death is also a beginning, because while we have lost someone special, this ending, like the loss of any wonderful life situation, is a moment of reinvention. Although sad, their passing forces us to reinvent our lives, and in this reinvention is an opportunity to experience beauty in new, unseen ways and places. And finally, of course, death is an opportunity to celebrate a person’s life, and to be grateful for the beauty they showed us.” -- Marc and Angel

As teachers, we are often faced with students who have lost a loved one. As Samantha Darby suggests, “There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to helping children grieve, cope with, or process their feelings in difficult circumstances. Instead, you simply have to be there for them in any way possible—to listen to their stories, help maintain normalcy, and to be willing to talk to them about what’s happened in a way that makes sense to them.” Darby offers a list of books to help children cope with the loss of a parent here

With my father

by Kobayashi Issa

With my father
I would watch dawn
over green fields.

Photo by Pixabay

Our love to Mary Ann.

Bobbi Miller

Monday, September 18, 2017

Digging It, Out and About

Last week I made another trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon—for a graveside remembrance of sorts. 

As part of the research for my new book BURIED LIVES: THE ENSLAVED PEOPLE OF GEORGE WASHINGTON’S MOUNT VERNON, I participated in the current archeological dig on the grounds of Mount Vernon.  It is taking place in the cemetery where some of Washington’s enslaved people are buried.  During the dig, they are not disturbing any remains.  The goal is to find out how many graves are on the site.  I am working on revisions on my book which will include my experience in the dig.    

This isn’t my first experience volunteering on an archeological dig.  This is my third time as an amateur archeologist.  Real archeology does not resemble an Indiana Jones event.  The real thing is back-breaking work.  Mostly it consists of shoveling, lifting heavy buckets of dirt, sifting…and then repeat.  But it is a thrill because you never know what will be in this bucket of dirt.

I write about real people, so it is necessary for me to bond emotionally with them.  If I don’t care about them, neither will my readers.   So I felt I must go and join the dig in the cemetery at Mount Vernon.  And I did need to go.  For me.  For the book.  For the enslaved people I’ve written about and come to know. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

I'm using a trowel to uncover one of the grave shafts in the cemetery for the enslaved people of Mount Vernon.

I loved every minute of this experience.

The archeologists are finding a lot of Native American artifacts.  This 5000 year old arrowhead had just been uncovered!  Wow, what a treat to see this pulled from the ground.

Friday, September 15, 2017

2 Poems, 2 Lessons Learned From Teaching

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday!  The link to PF is below.

Our topic, this orbit around Planet TeachingAuthors, is: Something I learned from teaching or from my students. 

Carmela started us off with Two Things My Students Have Taught Me; Esther followed with My Storied Treasures Treasured Stories! Now it's my turn; what I'm about to share echoes my first post on this blog in 2009. (For info on my up-coming UCLA Extension Writers' Program Picture Book Class, see below)

Two Lessons I've Learned From Teaching:

1) I am a snowflake. creative commons

I've been teaching in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program since 1999. When I was planning my first class, I was petrified. My mantra was: I am a snowflake. When they are in my class, they will learn my snowflakeness. When they take another class, they will learn that teacher's snowflakeness.

It helped.

by April Halprin Wayland

You take your seats
looking up
with puppy eyes

wanting me to be
the exact snowflake
you hoped for.

I explain how I drift,
I explain my six sides,
I explain my melting point.

If I am not what you wanted,
not what you expected,
not what you'd hoped for,

there's different snowflake
down the hall
named Bruce.

poem © 2017 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

 * * *
2) Wheels are good.

by April Halprin Wayland

 Years ago I learned to pack
 everything I need for the first day of class
 into a suitcase
 rather than that big plastic box I used to schlep.

 Wheels are so much easier.

 So last night I packed
 the roster,
 my updated syllabus,
 red, blue, green and black dry erase markers,
 clear mailing tape to stick quotations on the walls,
 the book I’ve read aloud in the first class for eleven years,
 and 25 copies of the “tell me about yourself” handout on lavender paper.

 My body is buzzing.
 I am slightly nauseous.
 This happens every year.
 There are no vaccination shots for it
 as I roll this suitcase into a new country

poem © 2017 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

My next class, Writing The Children's Picture Book begins October 3rd. (and if you can't take my on-site class, consider taking UCLA Extension Writers' Program online Picture Book class from author Terry Pierce.)
Thank you, Michelle, for your own poetry and for hosting Poetry Friday at
Today's Little Ditty,
and for promoting the U.N.'s International Day of Peace Day (September 21st)

posted by April Halprin Wayland (with help from Eli, who is also a snowflake)

Monday, September 11, 2017

My Storied Treasures’ Treasured Stories!


I am 100% certain: I learn as much if not more than do my students and writers with each class I teach and each coaching session I facilitate.
And I’m pretty sure I’m incalculably smarter, thanks to my storied treasures as I labeled them in my TeachingAuthors THANKU launch in 2011.

Like Carmela’s students, my students and writers remind me daily of the requisite hard work writing demands and the ultimate joy writing delivers.
Like my Newberry Library students whom I labeled new berries in my 2013 THANKU, they also feed me and juice my batteries.

This past year, courtesy of my students and writers,
I’ve been to Latvia, Mississippi, Detroit and Idaho (twice!),
traveled back in time to 1908, 1948, 1953 and 1967 (twice!),
hung with chipmunks, Scotties, warthogs, abandoned kittens, a heroic mosquito and an opera-loving Gila monster.
Their works-in-progress taught me about dyslexia, lambing, simple machines, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and jump rope jingles.
With each manuscript I learn something new – about a format, a genre or an element of narrative, a subject matter, a readership, a relevant book or author.
And if I’m lucky – and I usually am, I learn my writers’ Back Stories, their treasure, and where it resides in the story he or she is telling.

All of those gifted learning opportunities together REconfirm an important Truth: each of us has a story worth telling.


So what if a theme has already been spoken for?  So what if a plot or incident or time period or famous character already claims a book?
The New Baby. Moving Away. Desire for a Pet. Civil Rights.  The Holocaust.  Someone-or-Something lost, then found.
"There’s only one you,” I remind my students and writers, “with your head, your heart, your feelings, your experiences.  No one can tell your chosen story your way.”

Oh, how my storied treasures prove me right with their treasured stories again and again!

Here’s to your story and the treasure it holds!

Esther Hershenhorn