Monday, December 17, 2012

capturing the family moment

with my best men
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Every year we try for a family photo, but someone either looks mad or is squinting or makes bunny ears behind his brother or fakes being the tallest by standing on tiptoes. Usually it resembles a police line-up.

But this fall during a rainy evening in Seattle, while our son's kitchen smelled of supper cooking, we captured "us." It's my favorite.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

inspiration from rockie the fishing dog

Rockie is very proud of her rainbow trout
Yesterday on the Boise Greenbelt a friend and I met a little white dog named Rockie. She had just jumped into the river and fetched this rainbow trout [PHOTO, above] for her owner as he tried to reel it in.

Readers often ask where ideas come from, and the answer is, "all over the place!" Real life dogs find their way into my stories, and Rockie is one example. She's so cute and proud, and obviously takes her job seriously, I think I'll give her a role. In the meantime, my next CABIN CREEK MYSTERY [#7], The Phantom of Hidden Horse Ranch stars Reesha the cattle dog and Buddy the Rottweiler, due in January 2013. They're real friends and I can't wait for you to meet them!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

thankful for libraries & readers

my reading nephews
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! My list of things and people for which I'm grateful is long. It grows daily.

Today I'm thinking of libraries and teachers and parents who encourage their kids to read. This photo was taken by a 4th grade teacher who continues to inspire and encourage me. He's a great dad and a wonderful friend, and I'm his proud big sister.

My nephews love their neighborhood library. And lucky me, they love showing off my books! I'm thankful, and hopeful about the future. Great things lie ahead in a world with children who love to read.    

Saturday, November 10, 2012

solitude in the driveway

hard at work in the driveway
In a recent search for solitude, I thought our neighborhood library might be a good spot. I gathered my coat, keys and computer and went out to the car, which was parked in our driveway. Though it was just 28 degrees, the sun had warmed our Prius into a perfect solarium. I sat for a moment thinking, this is about as cozy and quiet as it gets. I took off my coat, slid over to the passenger side, opened my laptop and got to work.

It felt sort of like a drive-in movie, being parked and not going anywhere. The mailman gave a puzzled look, but I soldiered on, in a typing bliss for a solid hour. An hour! This is HUGE. Sixty minutes of productivity in my distracted life is rare and gave the boost I needed to finish a chapter. The only things missing were my golden office assistants!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

happy hallowe'en

      Our Not-A-Critique-Group-Writers met for our monthly lunch yesterday at Gloria Skurzynski's.  The cool kids came in costume. The slacker in the blue vest came as a "Procrastinating Author" with a briefcase full of distractions: LL Bean catalogs, Vanity Fair, Italian espresso, dark chocolate, laptop for internet cruising & reading blogs, TV remote, newspaper, Netflix guide, cellphone, binoculars for watching the neighbors, and a writer's notebook, which was empty.

Don't worry, they're just props. I  would never spy on my neighbors!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

sorting out old friends

sorting out old friends
This afternoon, as a random way to procrastinate writing, I counted our bookshelves--seventeen!--and decided to start downsizing.
       Our home is a modest single-story, but somehow we've managed a flowing library, that is to say, books are in every room and on every surface, along with assorted magazines and newspapers. They're like old friends, especially the volumes I used for research, whose pages are marked with post-its and colored pencils. It's probably time to donate these to the library for others to use.
       Novels read twice and thrice should go, too, but wait, those are best friends (Little House on the Prairie, Treasure Island, etc.). Can't get rid of these. Ditto the picture books from when my boys were little, and copies signed by author friends. These stay. Same with my favorite dictionary that sits in the kitchen among neglected cookbooks. My sons say they can google the definition of a word faster than the "old way," but they're mistaken. I'm fast. I have an eagle eye at the top of each page, trained by Mountain Bell as a Directory Assistance Operator in the '70s. Back then we used real phone books and practically had them memorized. So the dictionary stays. I want to keep the lads on their toes.
       Now as for downsizing, I'll give it another try tomorrow.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gold Medal for YA Mystery: STALKED

For Immediate Release
October 15, 2012
Literary Classics

Literary Classics Announces Youth Media Top Book Winners

Gold Medal, YA Mystery
SOUTH DAKOTA - Literary Classics announced its 2012 selection of top books for children and young adults today.  Award recipients were selected from entries received throughout the world.  The Literary Classics selection committee is proud to recognize the following titles [] in children's and young adult literature which exemplify the criteria set forth by the Literary Classics Awards committee.
         Literary Classics, an organization dedicated to furthering excellence in literature, takes great pride in its role to help promote classic literature which appeals to youth, while educating and encouraging positive values in the impressionable young minds of future generations.  Judging is based upon the criteria set forth by Literary Classics' highly selective awards committee which honors books promoting character, vision, creativity and learning, through content which possesses key elements found in well-crafted literature.
       The Literary Classics judging committee consists of experts with backgrounds in publishing, writing, editing, design, illustration, and book reviewing.   To learn more about Literary Classics, visit their website above; and here's the Amazon link for  Stalked: Danger and Fury, Ellis Island 1912.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

office assistants with furry heads

helpers Poppy & Daisy
It's a beautiful fall day in Idaho; leaves are golden and the sun is warm. I've been outside all afternoon, working in a beach chair with my laptop. My office assistants nap in the shade of our picket fence, and every so often lift their heads to check on me [PHOTO, right].

Meanwhile, letters arrived today. As always, young readers are encouraging and sincere. An 11-year old in Colorado wrote passionately about the importance of historical fiction: "Children aren't learning enough about history," she said. They "need to know more about our nation's past." I look forward to writing her back and telling her I couldn't agree more.  

letters from young readers
Well the afternoon reverie has suddenly come to an end: my assistants are up from their naps! They are staring at me with time-for-dinner eyes. If I do not get out of this chair VERY soon to feed them, they will come over and rest their furry yellow heads on xjyrb this keyboard apxz x[/cd,xzlznfss=lm

Thursday, October 4, 2012

STALKED, finalist for Literary Classics award: author interview

2012 award finalist
I'm exited that STALKED is a finalist for the Literary Classics International Award! They did this cool interview (see if you can guess the famous movie star ha ha):

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING?: My first historical novel, Jenny of the Tetons, was published in 1989 by Harcourt, but before that I was a book reviewer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and a newspaper reporter.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BEGIN WRITING?: At age ten I loved to make up whoppers, but my parents helped me channel that imagination into story-telling. My first rejection was at age eleven from Whitman Publishing Company for my poem, "Valentine's Day," which had been pencilled on notebook paper during math class. Now that I look back on it, hoping to get published was pretty brave for a kid! I had no idea it was to be the first of many hundreds of rejections.  

WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE, STALKED?:  When I learned that my Danish great-grandfather spent much of his life in an insane asylum in Wisconsin, my mind raced. How did this young man hoping for a new beginning in America end up "criminally insane?" What was he like when he stepped off the ship from Copenhagen and how did he get by the strict medical examiners on Ellis Island?  
      After visits to this Island of Tears and several years of research and writing, my story is finished. This young adult novel didn't turn out as I had originally planned.  --Fellow writers, I know you understand this!  --But it was birthed by those questions of how and why. Coupled with family lore that my great-grandmother worked in the Danish royal palace before immigrating to America, well, here we are! The setting is 1912, in the Lower East Side tenements of New York City. Cover art and interior illustrations are by my son, Cody Rutty.


I'm finishing #7 of the Cabin Creek Mysteries series, for readers ages 7-10. The Phantom of Hidden Horse Ranch will be available early 2013. Details will be on my Amazon author site.

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF: I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California two blocks from the ocean but have lived in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and now Idaho, so you could say I'm a Western girl. My husband & I have been married 31 years and we have two adult sons, two golden retrievers, and a ton of books! Every morning I read the Bible in French. My website with more info is:

TELL US SOMETHING FUN THAT OUR READERS MIGHT FIND FASCINATING ABOUT YOU: When I was a ski bum in Mammoth Lakes, California, early 1970s, I was an extra in the movie, "The Other Side of the Mountain," which was being filmed in part on the sunny ski slopes there. My girlfriend and I were eating dinner in a restaurant bragging to a nice man about how we were in the movie and blablablabla. He bought us some drinks and listened to our boasts. The next morning when she and I showed up on the set, we saw this same gentleman talking to the film crew. He was the star, Beau Bridges! 

WHAT DO YOU MOST ENJOY DOING IN YOUR SPARE TIME?  Hanging out with family and friends, walking our big furry dogs, reading, daydreaming. I'm a swimmer, too.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOW OR MOVIE?: Favorite movies: "Amadeus," "Dave." TV series: "West Wing," "Doc Martin."

WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE AS AN AUTHOR?: Loneliness and discouragement. Now and then I muse about life as an author here.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OTHER ASPIRING AUTHORS?: Every person has a unique story that only s/he can tell. If it's in your heart, write it down and don't give up.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?: Writing every day is like a musician practicing scales. The daily effort hones the craft, ultimately--and hopefully--creating a work of beauty.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

two horses came by, an artist's inspiration

wandering around town
It's alway an inspiration to learn how writers and artists come up with ideas, especially when ideas happen to appear out your window.

Last week two horses wandered along a dirt road in rural Idaho. They stopped to graze in front of Cody Rutty's studio, just as he looked outside. He snapped this photo [left] then started painting. His time-lapse video of the process is really cool:  

Photo: with time-lapse :
acrylic on canvas 36"x48"
Cody's illustrations are in several of my books, and he'll be doing my latest. Meanwhile, I can't wait to see his next inspiration!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

watching golden retrievers play--one of life's small pleasures

My family and I call them LSPs: Life's Small Pleasures. Sometimes it's hard to muster enthusiasm for the day but watching dogs in the park always makes us laugh. They're stoked to be outside and goofing around, no problems or worries. LSPs super-sized!
Poppy meets Oliver for the first time.
A pair of 4-year-olds have a great time!
4-year-olds, Oliver  & Poppy, meet in the park for the first time ...
Take down and pinned.
... and become instant friends

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

prairie river series & fun interview with blogger

Leah Good

Leah Good interviews me about A Journey of Faith, #1 in the Prairie River series, recommending the books as "good, clean and entertaining reading." Yay! So here's her blog!  /

Kristiana, hard at work!

~~What made you want to write the Prairie River Series?
Scholastic wanted to branch out into the Christian market, so they asked me to come up with a series featuring a young girl who relies on her faith to get through tough times. I was thrilled by the challenge and opportunity to create Nessa Clemens and all the other characters who become her friends.
~~How much research did you have to do for the Prairie River series?
My mom and I traveled to Fort Larned, Kansas, to interview rangers and historians. There’s a wonderful ‘living museum’ at the fort, recreated to resemble the mid-1800s, which was the era for Nessa’s adventures. A cool gift shop had additional resources, books, maps & music (and chocolate!), so I loaded up my suitcase and brought everything home to Boise where I could study in depth. It was wonderful seeing the miles of open prairie and the tall sky, then writing about it from Nessa’s perspective. I was impressed by the constant wind and I kept seeing signs that said, “Welcome to Kansas, where the wind always blows.” Of course, I weaved this fact into all the chapters!
~~What is one personal lesson you learned from writing these books?
It was really hard to end Book Four because I became so attached to the characters. They’d been in my mind and heart for a few years, so when Scholastic cancelled the series I felt empty and sad. Apparently readers did, too, because the outpouring of letters was phenomenal. I learned that fictional characters can feel like real friends.
~~Now that you’ve branched into self-publishing, you should try to get permission to continue the series on your own! I’d buy the book(s)! :) 
~~What is your goal or mission as a writer?
To encourage kids to read. Also, to provide parents and teachers with stories they’ll enjoy reading aloud to their children and students. I like to knit a moral into each novel without preaching, and to show a world where parents are respected and where kindness is a virtue despite tragedy or hard
~~Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
I’ve recently branched out on my own, and have published a young adult thriller on Amazon, as an e-book and paperback. My artist son did the cover and interior illustrations so it’s a real labor of love–as are all my stories–but after 30 books with traditional publishers, I finally have creative control. Exhilarating!
STALKED is set in 1912 in the tenements of New York City and was inspired by my great-grandmother who immigrated from Denmark. When I learned that the Dane she married–my great-grandfather–spent much of his life in an insane asylum in Wisconsin, my mind raced. How did this young man hoping for a new beginning in America end up “criminally insane?” What was he like when he stepped off the ship from Copenhagen and how did he get by the strict medical examiners on Ellis Island? Anyway, the novel was birthed by those questions, coupled with family lore that my great-grandmother worked in the Danish royal palace before her voyage across the Atlantic. So that’s my most recent adventure with writing!

~~Thanks so much for this interview, Kristi!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

not-a-critique-group writers

hanging out with Gloria, 2nd from right
We meet once a month at Gloria Skurzynski's place, a shaded deck alongside the Boise River and Greenbelt. Lunch is brown-bag but she spoils us with a pretty table set with fruit, cookies, nuts and lemonade. It's a friendly feast where we share our writing woes and joys, and specifically do NOT critique manuscripts. We just want to laugh and gab and hang out.

It's a comfort having Gloria as our friend. She's a mega-award winner of more than 60 children's books and she's been married to Ed for 60 years, so when she encourages us to keep going, to keep learning and to never give up, it means something.
 ( photo clockwise L-R: Elisabeth McKetta, Neysa Jensen, Amy Cook, KG, Leslie Gorin, Gloria, Christine Bender)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

e.b.white would understand distractions of social media

from a letter by E.B.White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web:

North Brooklin, Maine
May 7, 1961

Dear Miss B.,
... Cathy, as I recall it, asked me why I had not written another book for children, so I told her. (I don't always tell the exact, whole truth to children, but my tendency is to do just that.) Then I made what I considered was a little joke: I suggested a movement in America called "Don't write to E. B. White until he produces another book." In all this I see nothing ungracious or cruel. I do see that I raised a question that should be of interest to librarians and school teachers, namely, should they, in their zeal to put children in touch with books, also attempt to put them in touch with authors?

The practice of having youngsters write to authors is now widespread. It is an innocent, and perhaps laudable, diversion; but it has arithmetical consequences that teachers and librarians seem unaware of. The author is hopelessly outnumbered. You, as a librarian, tend to think of your exhibit as an isolated case, but it is one of thousands. The result is the author swamped with mail. Letters now come to me faster than I can answer them. Many of the letters contain requests—for an autograph, for a dust jacket, for an explanation, for a photograph. This to me presents a real problem. I have no secretary here at home, and if I am to deal with my mail I must do it myself; if I am to mail a book I must find the wrapping paper, the string, the energy, the right amount of stamps, and take the parcel to the post office up the road. This can occupy a whole morning, and often does.

I haven't solved this problem and don't really know what I shall do. I may give up answering letters, or, as some writers do, throw them back on the publisher—which seems to me evasive and unsatisfying.

About four years ago, I had an idea for a story for children. It seemed like such a pleasant idea that I spent my spare time for several weeks doing research and making notes—the raw material of a book. I put everything in a folder and there it still lies, awaiting a spell when I feel enough caught up with life to tackle the writing. Every once in a while I take this folder out and examine it, hungrily. But then I look at my desk where the unanswered letters and the undone things lie in accusing piles, and I stick the folder back in its corner.

When I was a child, I liked books, but an author to me was a mythical being. I never dreamed of getting in touch with one, and no teacher ever suggested that I do so. The book was the thing, not the man behind the book. I'm not at all sure that this separation of author and reader isn't a sound idea, although there are plenty of teachers and plenty of writers who would disagree. It is somewhat a matter of temperament, I guess. A lot of writers thrive on a rich diet of adulation and inquiry and contact; they like to read from their works, sign their name on flyleafs, and take tea. Other writers are very anxious to do anything that will promote the sale of their book, and they spend much time and energy fanning any spark of public interest. As for me, as soon as I get a book out of my system, I like to forget about it and get on with something else. So in the long run, although I'm not immune to praise and to friendliness, I get impatient with the morning mail, because it is, in a sense, my enemy—the thing that stands between me and a final burst of creative effort. (I'm sixty-one and working against time.)

Margaret Mitchell once remarked: "It is a full-time job to be the author 'Gone With the Wind.'" This remark greatly impressed me, as being an admission of defeat, American style. (Miss Mitchell, incidentally, was not overstating the matter—she never produced another book.) I don't want being the author of "Charlotte's Web" to be a full-time job or even a part-time job. It seems to me that being an author is a silly way to spend one's day ...

E. B. White
Source, via The Passive Voice: Letters of E. B. White

Saturday, August 25, 2012

checking in

Hard at work, Le Café de Paris, Boise
It's been three years since Scholastic published The Secret of the Junkyard Shadow, #6 in the Cabin Creek Mysteries. Since then, a mountain of mail from teachers, parents and young readers has encouraged me to write more of the adventures, featuring the sleuthing cousins Jeff, David, and Claire, and their loyal dogs Tessie, Rascal and Yum-Yum.

David's map of Cabin Creek with Lost Island & Fog Island
I'm delighted to report that Scholastic has now given me permission to continue the series with a new publisher, so I've started #7: Danger on Fog Island. The funny part is that I've forgotten most of the stories and am re-reading them, pencil in hand. Keeping straight who had brown hair or green eyes, and the name of tattle-tale parrot ("Ringo") is all on a yellow pad so I can refer back to everyone. It made me smile to be reminded that the kids get in plenty of trouble and have to figure their way out. So that's where we'll pick up: a bit of trouble, a mystery, the dogs of course, and perhaps a saucy parrot.

If you have ideas for more adventures, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, August 10, 2012

sometimes a kind word makes you feel like an Olympian

 Payette Lake w/ my hiking buddies
We just drove down from the mountains after a week in the pines and swimming the dogs in Payette Lake. It was refreshing without computers or Facebook but--confession here--we binged on TV! Yay for the Olympics! I'm always inspired by the athletes' years of toil and self-discipline, and feel a kindred spirit with their hopes. So it was particularly meaningful this afternoon when I opened my laptop and found this thoughtful review of STALKED. It's from Children's Literary Classics and they call it "historical fiction with a thrilling twist." Sometimes a few kind words can make you feel like an Olympian.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Harvard English professor: "5 stars for STALKED"

My guest today is Dr. Elisabeth Sharp McKetta, English professor at Harvard University in Boston 

Elisabeth invited me to comment on my journey from traditional publishers to self-publishing for her blog today:  -- then she was kind enough to post some encouraging words for my YA thriller, STALKED. Thank you Elisabeth! Her review, which also appears on Amazon:

      "When exiled from her home after being framed for theft, Rikke - the fifteen-year old dressmaker to the Queen of Denmark - pretends to be the "bravest girl in Denmark," telling people that she is going on an adventure to see her papa, even though inside she feels terrified at leaving her home and going on a ship to a place she doesn't know. Aboard the ship, things are not what they seem: the nice man who her mother asks to chaperone her turns out to be a criminal who has chosen Rikke as his next prey. 

       "When arriving at Ellis Island in 1911, all Rikke has are fifteen dollars and the sewing skills she has worked to learn. When the ocean wind blows her dollars overboard, Rikke finds herself dependent on the kindness of strangers and her real adventure begins...
   "Through a combination of third person narrative and Rikke's letters to family and friends, we see an impeccably researched immigrant story of loyalty, love, and desperation unfold through Rikke's eyes: the friends she makes from a melting pot of nationalities, the job she finds working as a seamstress, the younger sister she adopts from negligent parents, the impact of the Titanic crash on the families in New York who were awaiting their loved ones on the ship, and Rikke's growing awareness that she is being stalked by her "chaperone" from the ship ride to America.
    "Through these events, Rikke must learn to count on herself, her own skills and ingenuity, to survive and find her way back to her family. Indeed it is her very own craft, her sewing, that enables Rikke to pull herself up stitch by stitch and make a life for herself in early-century New York. From start to finish, Stalked is a well crafted and suspenseful story in which all of the threads are woven shimmeringly into place."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

a warm summer evening in Idaho

90 degrees at 9 pm
Another warm summer evening in our garden. We have a fountain and there's a symphony of birdsong in the trees. Since the sun sets late in Idaho, we're able to read outside until 9:30.

I'm making progress on my neglected novel, but it's REALLY hard staying away from the Internet and Facebook.

I miss seeing friends' updates & photos! Soon, soon I hope to return.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

taking a break from social media

Payette Lake--McCall, Idaho
I love summer in the mountains, especially by a lake and with a book.

A couple weeks ago when I was hiking in McCall, I realized an addiction: Facebook! It wasn't enough to enjoy the cool air and scent of pines, to watch a bald eagle soar on an updraft, noooo I had to interrupt this solitude by posting it on my home page, thanks to the i-phone in my backpack. Then later while at the lake reading--contentedly, I had thought--I kept checking my cell see if anyone had "liked" my post or commented.

What a wimp! I never used to be so needy.

One of my best-selling Dear America books with Scholastic, The Winter of Red Snow, was written in 19 days (after months of research). We had moved to a new town and had no friends yet, no TV or Internet, no daily newspaper. Our sons were in 4th & 6th grades so after I walked them to school I had a chunk of time. Also, it snowed a lot. I stayed inside and wrote. Two-dozen books later I'm still trying to duplicate that lovely, productive isolation, to no avail.

Fast forward to my current middle-grade novel. I've been at it for more than a year, with a self-imposed deadline of yesterday, but am barely at the half-way mark. Aaaack! What happened? I blame myself for diluting my days with happy interruptions and distractions, but I also realize that trying to be hip with social media (Twitter, Goodreads, etc.) has taken a toll ... at least for me. I spend more time thinking and talking and posting about writing, than actually writing.

Maybe it's not possible to find the same solitude as those 19 days, but I'm going to try to regroup, to tighten the belt so to speak. I'll miss seeing everyone's news, updates, and photos on Facebook, but will check in now and then on my author page:

Friday, June 8, 2012

my youngest reader

Emmett likes dogs and books, 7 mos. old

 I'm a proud great-aunt, not just because Emmett is a ray of sunshine, but he's already tackling historical fiction! He conked out on STALKED, but at least the paperback makes a nice pillow. My boy!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cannons at Dawn, audio, helps visually impared readers

The School Library Journal understands that not all readers can see, so I really appreciate Deanna Romriell's friendly review of CANNONS AT DAWN, audio book (Scholastic). I'm guessing the kaboom of cannons at the beginning was a hit!

Gr 4-8–Kristiana Gregory’s sequel (2011) to The Winter of Red Snow (2010, both Scholastic) continues the adventures of Abigail Jane Stewart during the Revolutionary War. After losing their home to fire, Abigail, her mother, and her younger siblings follow Abigail’s father and the Continental Army from one battleground to another, often facing harsh conditions, dangerous situations, and great loss. Spanning the years from 1779 to 1781, Abby makes several new friends, falls in love with one of the Continental soldiers, gets married, and is expecting her first child by the end of the story. Listeners learn about the daily events such as finding and preparing food and the terrifying moments of battle. Illyana Kadushin does a nice job of capturing the maturing voice of Abigail over the course of the diary. This title can stand on its own, and fans of the first title will not want to miss this sequel.–Deanna Romriell, Salt Lake City Public Library, UT

Thursday, March 29, 2012

new Curiously Odd Stories!

Volume 1

I'm happy to announce another set of short stories available on Amazon's Kindle, each set for $2.99 with an Author Note. Just for fun I've given a bit of background, explaining the origin of my ideas. The notes might be of interest to teachers and new writers. 
Volume 2
Mr. Hooper and His Wife is about a mysterious neighbor with an unfortunate secret, based on a real neighbor in my past.

In The Last Jar of Applesauce, a farm wife--whose specialty is homemade applesauce--has a nefarious plan that backfires with chilling results.

I had fun watching my son, Cody Rutty, come up with new covers using his art and fractals. I really like them because they're curiously odd! In the meantime, thank you for reading my stories and I hope you enjoy them!

Amazon links:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

kids' letters are funny, confessional & sometimes disturbing: answering fan mail Part 3

This stormy afternoon in Idaho, I've been sitting with a mug of decaf at the kitchen table. It's cluttered with note cards, postage stamps, pens and a friendly stack of fan mail. Getting letters from kids is one of the quiet perks of being an author. They can be sweet, funny, and irritable--as in being forced to write for a class assignment.

For example, a 5th grade girl in Texas began her letter about the Cabin Creek Mysteries by saying, "I love all your books." I can picture her at her desk, pencil in hand, erasing the misspelled words and carefully starting over because her handwriting is very neat. Then I picture her ducking down out of the teacher's sight, hunched over her lined notebook paper as she wrote this confession: "p.s. I didn't really read all your books." Ha! I laughed out loud! Good for her, being honest.

Catherine from Florida wrote that the reason she liked Catherine: The Great Journey was because "it was her name." Actually, I've received a lot of letters from kids who read a book merely because of a character's name. That's cool. At least they're reading.

However, a middle-school girl from Wisconsin has given me pause. She "loved" Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie and sounded sincere with her praise. It seemed she had been paying attention to the plot and characters. Her questions were thoughtful except for the last one: "Is the book based on your life or career?" 

Let me mention that this Dear America diary is set in 1847 on the Oregon Trail. We're talking covered wagons, Indians, buffalo. I came this close to answering her letter with, "Are you kidding me? Do the math!" But I didn't. I figured out a graceful response, which in itself worries me.

I'm worried kids aren't learning critical thinking. I'm worried that my being polite and not wanting to hurt a student's feelings might instead be a detriment in the long run. I don't know.

If you have thoughts on this, whether an author should be more forthright when answering fan mail, please leave a comment. I would really love your feedback. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

from a writer's sanctuary, R.I.P. stately trees

majestic pines coming down
For many writers, our sanctuary is our home. I know mine is. I spend hours daydreaming and staring out our windows at the beautiful trees and lush quietude. Squirrels are wildly funny with their chasing games and we keep a bird book in the kitchen because of all the interesting visitors: Woodpeckers, Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, Mountain Bluebirds, Lazuli Buntings and the other day a Cooper's Hawk. I can sound like a park ranger with my enthusiasm for our local wild life.

But for the past three days we've been hearing the high-pitched buzz of chainsaws and the roar of a commercial shredder parked on our street.

Three of our next-door neighbor's beautiful trees are being destroyed because their landlord wills it so. The trees are not diseased. "We always hate to cut down the ones that are healthy like these," one of the sawyers told me, "but I want to keep the client happy." In other words, he needs the job. That part, I understand.

No more place to play
 A flowering crabapple is gone and now two beautiful 40-year pines. Birds' and squirrels' nests have fallen to the street. There will be no shade this summer and it can be blistering hot in Idaho. As you can see from the photo, no more tire swing.

Boise boasts that it's the City of Trees, but there's something wrong when any ol' homeowner can shave a neighborhood just because he's tired of raking leaves or wants a landscaping project. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

kids with e-readers: kindle vs nook, Part Two

On Friday my hairdresser and I had a good discussion about e-readers for kids. As I posted here in January, her 11-year-daughter had received a Kindle for Christmas. Initially thrilled, the sixth-grader was soon envious of her friends who had Nooks because they could read and play games.

Now six weeks later, it seems her peers are mostly playing games. With one click it's easy to fool a parent that comes into the room. It's easy to fool people at school. Her teacher organized a reading-for-fun pajama party. I didn't get all the details, except that the students with Real Books and Kindles were actually reading. Those with multi-use devises were just goofing off with games. Cheating. It's sad but the teacher canceled the program.

My friend said she's thankful this "1st generation" Kindle is for books only. She has three children. Like other good parents she's trying to be vigilant supervising TV, Internet, video games, and cell-phones.

"At least when my eleven-year old daughter goes to her room to read, I know she's reading."

Friday, February 24, 2012

writing obituaries as a young reporter & a haunting story

In the late '70s I worked for a daily newspaper in a small coastal town in California. One of the things I loved most was the cacophony of the newsroom. The teletype machine was always clacking in the background with breaking news from the wire services. Phones rang and editors yelled. Reporters were at their typewriters, mostly black Underwoods that dinged when you hit the return bar and had a satisfying clickity-swoooosh when you pulled the finished story out of the inked roller.

"Today it's news, tomorrow it wraps fish," an editor told me when I was laboring too long over a lead paragraph. Usually there was only time for one draft before an article appeared in print.

At first I wrote weather reports, wedding and anniversary blurbs and---most interesting of all--obituaries. By 8 a.m. the funeral homes would call with the death notices and I would then try to make the nicest stories out of the grimmest details. Sometimes I called family members to learn more about their loved one so that the obit could have a little warmth. It might sound macabre, but I really enjoyed writing these short stories, as I called them.

Sometimes, however, calls from the mortuaries were upsetting. One morning I took a page of notes before realizing the person I was to write about was my next door neighbor, a young man who had always waved hello, but had suffered a heart attack in the middle of the night.

The call that has haunted me the most was from a funeral director telling me about his cousin. I was sympathetic of course, then asked my usual questions. When I hung up the phone and set my pencil down, I felt numb. To this day I don't remember what I wrote. This is what he told me:

Sometime in the night his cousin, a middle-aged man with an undetermined illness, decided to end his life. Not wanting to inconvenience anyone with a mess or an ambulance bill if he were to have been found alive, he drove himself to the mortuary and shot himself. His cousin came to work the next morning and discovered his childhood friend on the steps with a note explaining all this.

As I said earlier, I don't remember what I wrote.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

traditional vs. self-publishing: my experience

For the past 35 years I’ve been a professional writer and have published more than two-dozen middle-grade and young adult novels for traditional houses: Harcourt, Scholastic and Holiday House. And as of last November, I’m also a self-published author. From big signings and national tours to now managing the whole thing myself, I can say there are joys and stresses to both routes:

Time: With several books I’ve waited at least two years between acceptance and seeing them in print, and often have already turned in the final manuscript before receiving the contract. With self-publishing you just click a button. It’s instantly gratifying to publish right away, but the time it takes with a traditional house isn’t for naught (points below:).

Support: Editorial, sales and marketing is a huge plus with regular publishers as is Production. This is the cover design, copyediting, formatting, and adding the title to their catalogue. It’s a team effort getting a book out to libraries, schools and stores. When you’re on your own, all this is up to you.

Economics: Okay, here’s the money part. An advance with traditional publishers is actually a loan against your future earnings, which may or may not blast out of the park like J.K. Rowling. If your works don’t sell, the advance is it, probably gone by Christmas, and it’s time to start the process of submitting and waiting—and waiting—all over again. Publishing with, say, Amazon Kindle, there’s no up-front money but you’re guaranteed 70% of sales if your title is priced at $2.99 or above.

Royalty statements:
Traditional publishers send these in the Spring and Fall, reflecting earnings from the prior nine months. I spent two years writing and editing my recent novel, STALKED, then my artist son did the cover. I published it on Amazon Kindle in November and have already received a check! Monthly royalties, wow!

Trends: Success with traditional houses often depends on fads and inflated expectations for profits. I was invited to create two paperback series for young readers, which the publisher initially loved but soon cancelled. The reason? Despite mountains of fan mail from kids, parents and teachers, sales weren’t as brisk as hoped for. Now out on my own, I can directly reach my readers with new adventures.

All this to say, there are benefits to both approaches. I’m deeply grateful to my former editors and publishers. They put my stories into the hands of so many children, many of whom are now adults reading to their own kids—and many of these kids have e-readers! What a great time in history to be an author.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

at a tavern where Abe Lincoln slept

Abe Lincoln was 'here': New Salem, Illinois
Happy Birthday to Abe Lincoln!

When I visited Illinois for a library talk in Champaign, friends drove me on a side-trip to New Salem. They knew I'd love this reconstructed village where Lincoln spent his early adulthood and earned his living doing odd jobs: boatman, rail-splitter, shopkeeper, surveyor, and post master. For a while he owned a general store, but apparently not his own home, so at night he slept in this store or in a tavern. For meals, he boarded with families in the village.

My friends were right. I loved wandering through these shops and houses, taking in the humble beginnings of our 16th president.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

fun interview with Kindle Mystery Authors!

An interview with Kristiana Gregory, author of Stalked

KMA: Welcome, Kristiana. Stalked has something to do with Ellis Island, I understand. Can you explain to our readers the significance of Ellis Island?

Kristiana Gregory: From 1892-1954 it was the busiest inspection port for millions of immigrants coming to America, including my Danish ancestors.

KMA: Why did you set the book in the past rather than the present day?

Kristiana Gregory: Stalked is inspired by my great-grandmother Maren Kristine Sorensen who sailed from Denmark in 1893. I made several trips to Ellis Island and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, fascinated by what it must have been like to arrive in this new country not knowing a soul or speaking the language. I imagine that the stress, fear and excitement is similar to what modern immigrants and refugees must experience.

KMA: How did you go about creating an interesting cast of characters?

Kristiana Gregory: One family story is that my great-grandmother worked in the royal palace in Copenhagen. While doing research with my cousin however, we learned a different story, a true one: Maren Kristine married a Dane who ended up spending much of his life in a Wisconsin insane asylum and dying in his bed there of an infected carbuncle. This filled me with so many questions! How did a young man full of hope and dreams go crazy? If he’d been unstable during immigration, how did he pass the strict medical inspectors at Ellis Island? It made me wonder about psychopaths and sociopaths. Since they can be such good actors, how can a 6-minute exam weed them out? This is a good question for today as well.

KMA: Will any of these characters return in a future story?

Kristiana Gregory: I would love to continue Rikke’s story. The turn of the 20th Century was such a fascinating era, especially for a 15-year old girl.

KMA: Whom do you see as your ideal reader?

Kristiana Gregory: Ages 10 and up, but I get a lot of letters from adults who appreciate my stories because they’re easy to read. Gosh, I hope that’s a compliment!

KMA: When you’re not writing, what would we find you reading?

Kristiana Gregory: Usually non-fiction & biographies, news articles. This might sound weird, but as a child I spent hours & hours reading our family’s World Book Encyclopedias, and National Geographic when I could find copies. I love Ray Bradbury and Mark Twain.

KMA: What did you learn from writing this story?

Kristiana Gregory: I was surprised to learn that many immigrants were found “unsuitable” on Ellis Island and returned to their countries, usually at the expense of their original ship captain. Also I learned that summer heat in the tenements was unbearable, driving many to the rooftops at night. Sometimes a poor soul would roll of the edge in his sleep, to his death.

KMA: Who has been your biggest supporter?

Kristiana Gregory: Definitely my husband and our two adult sons. Since the boys were little they have read every manuscript and aren’t afraid to give an honest opinion. There is nothing like a child to tell you your story is tooooo long, for an author to make some swift edits! And my mother has been my cheerleader since I first was learning to put a sentence on paper.

KMA: How are you promoting your work?

Kristiana Gregory: Since Stalked is my first venture with self-publishing on Kindle, I’m trying to figure this out as we ‘speak’. I’m on Twitter [@kgregorybooks], Goodreads, have a fan page on Facebook, a website []; also I write a blog, Notes From the Sunroom, A Writer’s Journey[]. And I’m grateful to be talking to you!

KMA: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Kristiana Gregory: 1) Write your heart’s desire and don’t give up. 2) Don’t read reviews of your books: if they’re negative they hurt your feelings, and if they’re positive they give you a big floaty head. It’s better to just keep going forward.

KMA: As you know, our website is centered around Kindle novels. Can you tell us why you chose to publish your book for the Kindle, or give other authors advice about the process?

Kristiana Gregory: I have 30 children’s books with traditional publishers – Harcourt, Scholastic, Holiday House – and thought it would be fun to try something different, though I really miss the friendship and support of my editors. Stalked took two years to write and edit then my artist son, Cody Rutty, did the cover. Instead of waiting another year for a contract and publishing schedule, it was exhilarating to upload my manuscript in a matter of minutes and have it available to e-readers in a snap. Wow, it was a thrill! I’m still learning how all this works.

KMA: Where can our readers find a copy of the book?

Kristiana Gregory: It’s on kindle, here.

KMA: And finally, as an author, do you have any quirks or habits that help you write the story?

Kristiana Gregory: Quiet mornings and strong coffee then I’m ready to go! Actually, I’m fastidious about freshly sharpened pencils—long ones, no stubbies—and before I start a story I’ve GOT to have a title.

KMA: Thanks for talking to us. We wish you the best of luck with your writing.

Kristiana Gregory: Thank you so much. I’m really happy to be part of Kindle Mystery Authors.