Thursday, December 30, 2010

Resolution Time


Here comes another new year. I usually don’t make New Year's Eve resolutions. Instead, I try to fix as I go. However, for the last few months, I’ve been too involved in revising a first draft of a novel. I have neglected any and all necessary changes (a.k.a resolutions). So, this New Year's Eve, I’m going to break away from my own tradition and set forth a few resolutions for 2011. Here they are (and no, they have nothing to do with diet or exercise):

To begin with, I'm going to clean up my email boxes. Ugh, this is what I call “a project,” meaning a time consuming pain in my tail. Am I the only one who keeps an email in the box until the event or whatever the email is about has been completed or resolved? For the last few months, I haven’t deleted anything. And I have four email addresses. Imagine the fun.

Next, I really must pay more attention to my Facebook pages (one for me and one for each of my novels). I’ll admit it: I've been focusing on Twitter and neglecting Facebook. I need to get back in the Facebook game.

Also, I resolve to finish the novel in progress. I’m not sure completing this project counts as a true resolution since this has always been my plan, but listing this goal inspires me. After all the chaos of the holiday season, I’ll take all the inspiration I can get.

I will read more wonderful books, too. Once again, because I’ve been all about the work in progress, the height of my To Be Read pile is starting to rival the Empire State Building. I really miss snuggling up with a great book. This resolution should be easy to keep.

Okay, I think that’s about it for me. How about you? Do you make new years resolutions? Care to share one or two?

Happy, happy new year to you all!

Cheers to 2011!

Let’s make it a great year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Quotes


The holiday chaos in the Willis household is shifting into a high gear. So, today I will leave you with a few wonderful holiday quotes before I disappear for a few days. Enjoy!

“Summer fading, winter comes—

Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,

Window robins, winter rooks,

And the picture story-books.”

~ Robert Louis Stevenson


“I heard the bells on Christmas Day,

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

~ AESOP


“I will honor Christmas in my heart, 
and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens


From Home to home, and heart to heart, from one place to another. The warmth and joy of Christmas, brings us closer to each other. 


~ Emily Matthews


I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and

to all a good-night!"

~ Clement Clarke Moore


Wishing you all a very merry Christmas! Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope your day is merry and bright.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Few Favorite Things


Raise your hand if you’ve been hearing festive holiday music everywhere. I crawled out of my car the other day to the tune of “My Favorite Things” wafting through the parking lot. Yes, the parking lot. Kind of cool. You know this Rodgers and Hammerstein song, right?

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things


Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels

Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings

These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes

Silver white winters that melt into springs

These are a few of my favorite things


When the dog bites

When the bee stings

When I'm feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don't feel so bad”


This song always inspires me to consider a few of my favorite things. And yes, I adore whiskers on kittens and cream-colored ponies (any ponies, really), but here are a few more things that lift my mood when, say, a bee stings:

Books (I know, what a shocker). Some of my treasured holiday reads include The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol might be my most favorite holiday story EVER. I’m a little embarrassed to share that I read this story almost every year. I should have it memorized by now.

Christmas cookies. Here is one of my favorite recipes--Russian Teacakes (cookies, really):

1 cup butter (or margarine) softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely chopped nuts

1/4 teaspoon salt

powdered sugar (to coat cookies)

caramel cubes cut into quarters

Heat oven to 400 degrees

Mix the butter, the 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and the vanilla. Stir in the flour, the nuts and the salt until the dough holds together. Roll dough around each piece of caramel to form a small ball. Place these balls about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake them for 10-12 minutes, or until set and a very light golden, but not brown.

Roll each cookie in powdered sugar while still warm. Let them cool. For those with a sweet tooth, roll cookies a second time in powdered sugar.

Seeing DOG GONE and BUCK FEVER out in the world. Spotting my books here, there, and everywhere still rocks my world. Here’s DOG GONE at a book fair in Virginia.

Writing I’m pretty sure that writing books is the greatest job in the world, at least for me.

Last but not least: family, friends, all creatures great and small (except, maybe, bedbugs and spiders), and chai lattes also belong on this list of my favorites.

What about you? What are some of your favorite things?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reminiscing, a Contest, AND an Event


Deer season is here again. Where I live, trucks are parked in the middle of fields and pushed up along the sides of roads. I’ve passed more than one person pulling on a florescent orange vest over a camouflage jacket. This takes me back to when I was immersed in research--interviewing hunters, expanding my knowledge of deer, and deepening my understanding of all the issues that surround hunting and deer hunting in particular.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since BUCK FEVER came out into the world. A year full of wonderful interviews, school visits, and bookstore events. In the interviews as well as at the functions, I’m often asked the same question: How did you come up with the idea for BUCK FEVER? I love this question. It gives me the opportunity to talk about how the many different viewpoints about deer hunting inspired the premise of the story. Because I found all of these perspectives fascinating, the story was born. So, happy belated birthday, BUCK FEVER.

Speaking of happy, I am thrilled to share that there is a contest going on at http://lindabenson.blogspot.com/2010/12/meet-cynthia-willis.html If you or someone you know would you like to win a signed copy of DOG GONE or BUCK FEVER, head on over to Linda Benson’s blog.

Also, authors (including me) from the KidLit Authors Club will be in the Exton, Pennsylvania Borders Express this coming Sunday, December 12th, from 1 pm until 3pm. Come on by! We'd love to see you!

Good luck, happy reading to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Elf or Two

Raise your hand if you’ve written your letter to Santa. You know, that letter requesting what you might like from the big guy and his elves at this time of year. Since I don’t believe there is an age limit on these requests, I thought I’d share the first draft of my letter:

Dear Santa,

I hope you are well. I’d love to tell you that I’ve been very good this year, but that would be a lie. Okay, I have been pretty awesome in terms of working hard-- on the new novel as well as promoting Dog Gone and Buck Fever. But as you probably know from those spying elves that work for you, my language during the blood, sweat, and tears of the first draft has been, well, somewhat creative and flamboyant at times behind the closed door of my office. Sorry, but writing can be frustrating. And yes, I did almost throw my laptop out a window a few times. But I didn’t, so that should count for something, right?

Anyway, unless you’ve already decided that I am getting coal in my stocking, I’d like to put in a request for something I could really use this year. If it’s not too much trouble, I’d love to borrow one of your elves until the new year. What better gift than to have someone to assist with the holiday shopping, errands, decorating, gift-wrapping, holiday cards, cookie baking, etc. (phew, I’m worn out just listing the things to do). If I had a helper, I’d get more revising done in addition to more reading, blogging, tweeting, and promoting. I might even finish my work-in-progress with less fluorescent language and without Frisbee-throwing my laptop. A finished manuscript under the tree would be awesome!

I’ll leave cookies (store-bought since I’m short on time these days) on the table in case an elf or two arrives while I’m writing at my favorite cafĂ©.

Thanks, Santa. You’re the best! Even if you can’t spare an elf.

Very truly yours,

Cynthia Chapman Willis

I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who could use an elf or two at this time of year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ultimate Holiday Party Guest List

The holiday season has arrived. And you know what that means—parties and gatherings of all sorts. Lots of fun, lots of opportunities to meet and greet people. So, this started me thinking: Who would you most like to meet at a holiday party if your options were limitless? Keep in mind, though, that some guests (I'm thinking George Washington, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, to name a few examples) would probably attract crowds that might make any kind of conversation difficult. With that in mind, here are a couple of my picks for the ultimate holiday party guest list:

The legendary Ursula Nordstrom--a famous editor. Known for her wicked sense of humor, which would probably make her big fun at any party, she is also famous for her ability to recognize and foster talent. Wouldn't that be interesting to chat about? Also, she was devoted to children’s literature. She edited E.B. White’s Stuart Little (love that book), Charlotte’s Web, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, just to name a few phenomenal works. Wow, right? If you’ve read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Dear-Genius/Leonard-S-Marcus/e/9780064462358/?itm=1&USRI=dear+genius) or you have any interest at all in children’s literature, chances are you’d like to meet the amazing Ursula Nordstrom at a party, too.

Mark Twain is another guy that would probably be pretty fun and interesting at a holiday party. He popped into my head because I recently read, in the December issue of The Writer, that after trying to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, he wrote of the author: “I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shinbone.” I honestly believe that if someone wrote that about one of my books, I would be laughing as well as crying. So, although Mr. Twain would probably be one of those guests with masses of people around him, it might be rip roaring fun just to be at the same party with him. Something tells me he'd probably have a booming voice, too.

How about you? Who would you like to meet at a holiday party?

And speaking of parties, check out all the winners of Kidlit Critterpalooza: http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/2010/11/kidlit-critterpalooza-winners.html

Congrats to all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010



All in a Word



by Aileen Fisher

T

for time to be together,

turkey, talk, and tangy weather.

H

for harvest stored away,

home, and hearth, and holiday.

A

for autumn's frosty art,

and abundance in the heart.

N

for neighbors, and November,

nice things, new things to remember.

K

for kitchen, kettles' croon,

kith and kin expected soon.

S

for sizzles, sights, and sounds,

and something special that abounds.

that spells THANKS--for joy in living

and a jolly good Thanksgiving.

- Aileen Fisher

Wishing you all a wonderful and cozy and very happy Thanksgiving!



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kidlit Critterpalooza!

Who remembers our friend CRITTER? I introduced you to CRITTER way back in August. He came to visit me about a month later. Well, for over a year now, CRITTER, the creation of artist Ian Sands, has been travelling the world, meeting many talented writers and authors and exploring where they live. At each stop he learns more and more about KIDLIT and the importance of literacy and creativity. This journey was the brainchild of Christy Evers, who got her hands on Critter after an interactive art project of Ian’s, where 500 Critters were hidden all over her city for people to find.

Critter has visited PJ Hoover (and the Texas Sweethearts!) in Texas, Beth Revis in North Carolina, Christina Farley in Korea, New England with Nandini Bajpai, Illinois with Kelly Polark, MG Higgins in California, Rena Jones in Montana, Cynthia Leitich Smith in Texas, Bish Denham in the Virgin Islands, Jacqui Robbins in Michigan, Tina Ferraro in California, me in New Jersey, Jill S. Alexander in Texas, Ellen Oh in Virginia and finally, Alberta Canada with Angela Ackerman.

Critter has been to college, rock concerts, national landmarks, a palace, attended his first SCBWI conference, walked among giant redwoods, and met the world famous artist, Robert Bateman. Now that his journey is coming to a close, it’s CRITTER’S hope that you will help him celebrate over at The Bookshelf Muse. His new hosts, together with old hosts, have teamed up to create the Kidlit-inspired event, Critterpalooza! and you’re invited!



There are many AMAZING prizes to be won, all in the spirit of helping Critter celebrate the wonderful creativity & support within out KIDLIT community, and to also raise awareness for his charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

If you would like to donate a few dollars to Critter’s charity, just click on the I Love St. Jude button. Children’s lives are saved every day thanks to the support of people like you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happiness Is a Great Picture Book (Or Books)


I’m not sure what came over me, but the other day, when I paused from the grueling job of writing a first draft, a young adult story, I glanced over at the bookshelves in my office. Not only did I glance, but I reached--for the picture books. I love picture books. Some of my favorites are shelved in my office. So, before my inner disciplinarian could stop me, I grabbed a few of these books.

I wrapped my fingers around Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. In this hilarious story, as a bus driver goes on break, he asks the audience to keep an eye on his vehicle. As soon as he leaves, though, a wacky pigeon starts begging the audience to let him drive the bus. The pigeon is relentless and this is really funny. I love that pigeon. In fact, I worry that I relate to the cheeky bird a bit too much.

I picked up Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Betsy Lewin. Another hilarious picture book. Cows start leaving Farmer Brown typed notes with their demands for better working conditions. Fabulous. Clearly the message here is that one should never leave a typewriter in a barn.

Of course my hands reached for Go, Dog. Go! By P.D. Eastman This is one of those classic books that I adored as a wee one and still cherish. Dogs in all shapes, sizes, and colors are all over the place in this silly, but adorable book. My favorite part is the ongoing disagreement about hats, but I also love the dog party at the top of a tree. Who doesn’t love a good dog party at the top of a tree?

And then I re-read The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (a great book to read when one is trying to finish a first draft), Fox In Sox by Dr. Seuss (to be honest, I love all the Dr. Seuss books), The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (the version illustrated by Michael Hague is my favorite), and The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (I have always loved all of the Beatrix Potter tales).

Last but not least, I grabbed an obscure and out of print book that I cherish: Heaven by Nicholas Allan. This is a touching story about a young girl, Lily, who finds her beloved dog packing. She grills him about where he is going until a couple dog angels show up to make his destination clear. He takes a moment to explain that she shouldn’t be sad because Heaven will be wonderful—full of bones and lampposts and “whiffy things to smell on the ground.” Fantastic. Eventually, though, Lily’s dog must go. The dog angels have a schedule (but of course they do). Lily is very sad, as we all are when we must let go of a pet, but eventually she comes upon a stray puppy that needs a home. Awww.

Do you have a favorite picture book or picture books? I hope so. They are special, even if you are all grown up.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lost and Found Dogs

I recently read an amazing book. The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant is not my usual read--not fiction, not a middle-grade novel, and not a young adult novel. However, The Lost Dogs is an important book that I found very hard to put down once I started reading it. Anyone not familiar with Michael Vick, the National Football League quarter back currently playing for the Philadelphia Eagles--a man who abused and murdered animals in the most horrific of ways--should read The Lost Dogs. Yes, some of the facts and details are brutal. In particular, some of Vick’s actions and the descriptions of what goes on when dogs are forced to fight. However, the author handles these parts well and only as necessary to tell the story of the dogs. The heart and soul of this book is about the dogs—the victims. The Lost Dogs chronicles the journeys of many of these dogs. The reader gets to know them by their names and their personalities, which are endearing and often hilarious. The horrors that Michael Vick inflicted upon these animals are outweighed by their abilities to love and trust again. The rehabilitation of them is amazing and heart-warming and inspiring.

Also heart-warming is the tenderness, the nurturing, and the patience that many wonderful people devoted to the rescue and redemption of these dogs. Very special people guided the transformation of the pups from terrified, abused animals into loving pets, therapy dogs, and companions. Of course, some of the dogs still have fear-based issues, but the love and patience and nurturing continues. This is what makes The Lost Dogs a fulfilling read—the hope and the love. There is evil in the world and it takes many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it, apparently, wears an NFL jersey, but The Lost Dogs is a story of triumph. What could be better?

For more information about the Michael Vick dogs, where they are and how well they are faring, check out these links to the organizations that helped are still helping lost and found dogs:

Best Friends: http://www.bestfriends.org/vickdogs/

BadRap: http://www.badrap.org/rescue/index.html

Monday, November 1, 2010

Writing Creepy

I’m still in Halloween mode. This may be a direct result of stuffing too many caramels and Starbursts into my face.

Anyway, with Halloween still flowing through my veins, I’ve been considering the art of writing creepy. By creepy, I mean that down-to-the-bone chill that sometimes comes from an eerie basement, a spooky house, or (once in a while) a person. A repulsion that has no rational basis, but can’t be denied. Sure, it’s easy when a basement is dark and dank, strewn with cobwebs and corpses of rats, or if a house is falling apart and abandoned with winds whistling through the decomposing walls, or if someone resembles a zombie and drools bile colored goo on you while trying to chew on your elbow. But what if the crawl of that warning inside you is subtle? What if the basement is a cheery playroom but something feels beyond wrong about it? What if the house has a picket fence and rose gardens, but an inner fear blares within your gut every time you stroll past the house? How about if the person is clean and well dressed, but when he or she stares at you, you turn to ice?

When there is something unsettling about a place or a person, something that triggers a gut reaction that is not quite fight or flight, but amps up awareness and turns nerve endings electric, how does a writer translate this into type? Making use of rich details, back-story and character development are useful techniques, but I find that trying to explain the unexplainable can come across as awkward or clumsy. And simply describing someone as creepy isn’t very fair to that place or character, nor does it give the reader anything to work with or understand. The character with the intuitive warning who stamps another place or character as odd or creepy may risk being labeled as unreliable. Tricky business, I think.

If you are a writer, do you find writing creepy to be a bit challenging?

If you are a reader, do you have a favorite depiction of characters going through the heebie-jeebies for no rational reason? Can you think of a scene or scenes that gave you goose bumps as you read?

Now, excuse me while I go for another caramel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Superstitious?

Boo! Yes, Halloween is creeping up on us. All the decorations and costumes floating about have me thinking about superstitions (in addition to ghosts and goblins, tricks and treats). I don’t consider myself superstitious, but in honor of Halloween, I thought I’d share some confessions that might prove me wrong.

To begin with, I rarely discuss what my work in progress is about. Okay, a few people close to me know what I am writing, mostly because they have to listen to me rant about the snags and tangles that I encounter. In general, though, I keep the subject matter hush-hush, especially while the first draft is under construction. I suppose I am superstitious that I will jinx the work if I blab about the topic.

Also, I won’t revisit a manuscript once it is in my agent’s hands. Partially because I know that I will want to tweak and rework the thing. Also, though, I wonder if fussing with a work being submitted is bad mojo.

And, I don’t read my novels cover to cover once they make their debut into the world. I live in fear of finding a mistake that I can no longer fix. This may be more paranoia than superstition.

Finally, I always carry a flash drive with me. Mostly because I back up my work every time I type more than five words. I have never lost a manuscript (knock on wood), but there’s always the potential. And I’m pretty sure that this potential for catastrophe quadruples if I don’t have my trusty flash drive with me. Call it my good luck charm.

Enough about me. How about you? Do you have any superstitions?

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 18, 2010

DOGSLED DREAMS

Recently, I had the privilege of reading a fantastic middle grade novel: DOGSLED DREAMS by Terry Lynn Johnson. Terry and I share a love of dogs and writing, so I was honored and thrilled when she asked me if I would be willing to read an ARC (an advanced reader copy) of DOGSLED DREAMS, due out in January of 2011. What a treat reading this novel turned out to be!

I loved Terry’s writing, to begin with. Crisp and vivid details pulled me right into her story about twelve-year-old Rebecca and her hopes of becoming a famous dog sled racer. And the first chapter includes an event that propelled me right into the second chapter despite the fact that it was long past my snooze time and I’d had a crazy schedule waiting for me the next day. Let me assure you that reading past my bedtime, especially when I know that the nasty alarm will be screaming too early, is an indication that I am very much into a story.

DOGSLED DREAMS kept me interested and flipping pages until the very end. I found this novel to be engaging, often exciting, and really funny at times. It is full of fascinating information about dog sled racing and some of the dogs that are a part of it. Rebecca and her wonderful pups came alive and brought me along with them on their adventures. What could be better? I loved it!

You can read more about Terry Lynn Johnson and DOGSLED DREAMS at http://www.terrylynnjohnson.com/

Happy reading!