Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writers on the River 2013

The Monroe County Library System hosted its annual Writers on the River book sale on November 10. I enjoyed meeting area writers, and talked to several writer friends about their new works.

Jean Alicia Elster said, "My recently released book, The Colored Car, is based on real events in my maternal family’s history. My grandparents came to Detroit in 1922 and my grandfather started a wood business, the Douglas Ford Wood Company. My grandmother was an integral part of that business—taking orders, keeping the books—but she also managed the household with canning food, sewing and caring for their five children. 

"My grandparents were also central to the stability of their neighborhood. This story explores their relationship within the community during the summer of 1937 while we witness their oldest daughter, twelve-year-old Patsy, as she experiences events foreign to the world as she knows it.

"I enjoy transporting readers to another era and helping them connect with a way of life that may seem foreign to them now. This form of 'time travel' offers an important historical backdrop to many of the social issues we face today."

Shanda Trent was there with Farmer's Market Day. She told me, "Because I worked on this piece for the SCBWI mentorship contest, I worked relentlessly. I liked working with a deadline because it forced me to sit down and polish...Having a critique group makes the book so much better. The story was just a leisurely trip through the farmers' market. The group said, 'Where's the tension? Where's the story arc?' I could have self-published it, but it wouldn't have been nearly as good. The illustrator brought so much to the story that it makes the book."

Cynthia Furlong Reynolds brought a wide variety of books--alphabet books and other stories for young people; a history of Chelsea, Michigan and the Jiffy Company; and her latest offerings, a manual and workbook on writing. Several people stopped to talk about their writing aspirations. "I have always felt that my role was to help people tell their stories," said Cindy. "I write life stories. I write oral histories. My children's books reflect stories from my family as well as my friends. For my MFA in creative writing, I produced a manual called Writing S'mores, because I get so many questions from would-be writers about how to choose a topic and structure a story.

"I took two and a half years to do the MFA and I dropped out of everything but writing. Now I'm  back to the action--signings, school visits, and helping others write. The world of publishing children's books is a very different place than when I started in 2001. I think it's ever more important to have a group these days to help you critique and study the craft, telling a story the most effective way."

Jean Alicia Elster and her new novel for young people

Shanda Trent's debut picture book celebrates the farmers' market.

Cynthia Furlong Reynolds with her books for all ages

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bridges to Somewhere

Wind warnings were in effect at the Mackinac Bridge when we started north on Friday morning--20 m.p.h. and escorts for certain vehicles--but by the time we crossed the straits, it was a breeze. We made for Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, just short of another important bridge, to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. We were able to see that international crossing from Lake Superior State University Saturday, home to the Superior Children's Book Festival.

The Bayliss Public Library and numerous other community groups brought activities for the families, including a book giveaway and a tall tales contest. (I got to sample the food groups that The Very Hungry Caterpillar ate as he got ready to become a butterfly.) Chillers author Johnathan Rand told the audience about getting a radio job, and writing. I told stories of sheep, raccoons, and humans. Festival coordinator Janice Repka, Carrie Pearson, and Gretchen Preston shared their experiences as authors in a panel on children's-book publishing. Michigan writers--with an emphasis on Upper Peninsula writers--displayed their books. The festival was a bridge to somewhere--to connections with stories, and with the place we call Up North.

Carrie Pearson, author of A Warm Winter Tail

Chillers author Johnathan Rand