Winner – The Industrial Revolution for Kids!

My sincere apologies for the defunct rafflecopter link. Thanks to my ongoing struggle with technology I had to pull out a hat for this draw.

ID-10043359And the winner is…

Rosi Hollinbeck!!

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy the book. Thanks again to Cheryl Mullenbach for joining us!


Industrial Revolution for Kids The (2)

Renewed Love of Middle Grade

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Hope everyone has been well since my last post, which was actually less than two months ago. I’m not sure just how long I can keep going at this dizzying pace they have me on now, but I do appreciate the confidence they’re showing by putting me up so often.  So, with that being said, it’s time to once again dive into my spot.

As always, I had to think about what to write about, but this time I didn’t have to think too long. In the past, I’ve written about fresh starts, but this year, at least for me, really did feel like one. You see, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a teacher, and for the most part I’ve taught high school, but this year, with much trepidation, I started teaching middle school. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect, though I do have to say that the one thing I was looking forward to, was the chance to cover Middle Grade books now. Not that I didn’t like the books I did with my High School students, but my heart and my sensibilities have always leaned toward Middle Grade, so this definitely does feel like a brand new start. And I’m using that opportunity to go back and read books which I enjoyed and started with Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. I always found Hoot a fun book. It is about a middle-school boy’s efforts to stop a pancake house from being built over land which houses nests of burrowing owls. The book is funny and raises issues for kids to be aware about. And for the most part, this is what I enjoy about Middle-Grade books. They do make you think, but I think they are a lot of fun to read and for me at least, to write as well.

hoot book

And that’s the thing that got me the most, even more than the book, and by the way, it is a good book. But, the thing that did get me, is how much I enjoy Middle-Grade. How much I enjoy being around kids who read it. Seeing it through their eyes. I think being around that, will help me more as a writer. I know the advice given is to always read what you write, and I’ve done that, but when the majority of your day is spent discussing the darker aspects of most YA novels, it has a tendency to seep into your mind and thus your writing. Not that there aren’t some dark MG books out there, but usually there is a differentiation of subject matter between the two.

This year, I do have a sense of newness and rediscovering myself. I’m hoping, as many other writers do, that this is my year. I’ve gotten very close a few times, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. This year I hope it will be different. And to that end, I’m actually having fun with my current story. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy writing before, since that wouldn’t be true, but writing has the last few years become something of a refuge for me. Whenever things have gotten rough in my life, it’s writing that helps me escape. Right now, it also has a renewed sense of fun for some reason and I think a lot of it does stem from teaching that age range now. I love introducing some of these Middle Grade books that I love to my students. Seeing their reactions. And quite honestly, that’s now fueling me. They ask me about my writing and actually get interested about what it is that I write. I love my when my own kids get the same way. Asking me about my stories. My kids also are finally at the age of which I write for and I know that also has helped me have some fun with it. I now get to talk with my kids about my stories and that’s a lot of fun.

middle school students

So, inside I have to believe that this is my year. Hope and belief go hand-in-hand for me. And once again, I also hope that that all others who have been close and haven’t yet managed to get over the top, that it happens for you. Leave a comment and let me know about your writing and how it’s been going. I might actually make my students leave comments, since I think I had zero last time, so I’m hoping to at least double that.

And that is why I teach Language Arts and not math.

Good luck everyone!



Put down those arms… and strike a pose!

So, yesterday I did something kind of fun – I finally got an official “author chickenauthorsheadshot.”

I know, I probably should have done this a couple of years ago. But I’m weirdly superstitious at times. And I never really wanted to get one until I actually needed it.

(As it turns out, this may not be the best strategy. Especially when your agent asks for a high res photo and the only recent ones you have are your Facebook profile pictures and a collection of selfies from the Pitbull concert you went to Saturday.)

Luckily, my very talented photographer friend Jennifer Smetek was available on short notice (and also kindly didn’t insist I pose with a pimp cane).

Instead, she had the cool idea to do our photo shoot at the Workhouse Arts Center, a former prison site in Lorton, Virginia. Lots of neat distressed brick, overgrown vines, inmate-painted murals, etc., to use as backdrops. I’d highly recommend it. (Heck, even if you don’t need a headshot, it’s worth checking out — in addition to now housing dozens of working artists, the site has a fascinating history, including the (in)famous imprisonment and force-feeding of more than 70 hunger-striking suffragists in the early 1900s.)

Anyway, after spending an hour and a half posing all over the former prison grounds (and thankfully not getting kicked out… or jailed), I made a few stray observations about what to do should you ever find yourself standing awkwardly in front of a camera:

  • Put your arms down… Yeah, it’s really hard to know what to do with your hands when there’s a camera in your face. I found myself desperate for some pockets to stuff mine in. Or maybe just the opportunity to detach my arms for a few minutes. They felt weirdly in the way. All. The. Time. I spent a lot of time swinging them around like a monkey until I settled on crossing them, keeping them at my sides or putting them behind my back. Having something to lean on helps, too. But for Pete’s sake, don’t look like you’re trying to flap yourself airborne.
  • Put your true self forward. Me – I cannot pull off a serious face. At. All. While some people look great all thoughtful and brooding, I look like I just sat in something cold and wet. Or was given a very uncomfortable wedgie. I’m going to stick with smiling because I don’t look like a serial killer that way. Or, at least I look like a very nice one. Do what makes you comfortable.
  • Photo editing software is AWESOME. I know, I know — it’s really annoying when magazines photoshop a model’s arms right off (although, now that I think about it, maybe they were swinging them like monkeys…). But seriously, I don’t want to add a “thigh gap.” And I don’t need to look like Jennifer Lawrence (though that would be nice). Really, I just want to look like my best self. Not the one that’s been drinking too much coffee and hasn’t slept more than five hours a night for a week. A good photographer can do this without making you look like someone your own mother wouldn’t recognize.
  • Have fun! The best pictures we got were the ones where I was relaxed (and smiling and not flapping my arms). It may have taken a little while — poor Jenn probably had to discard the first 100 shots. But hey, that’s the beauty of digital.

Jan Edit 5095 CroppedNow that the pictures are done, I’m not really sure what I was waiting for. It’s kind of nice to have a professional portrait. So if you haven’t had yours done, go for it! And in case you’re curious, here’s how mine turned out. I may not be JLaw, but I’m happy… At least my arms aren’t waving around and I’m smiling. Really, all that’s missing are some laser beams and a cat and it would be perfect:)