Monday, September 25, 2017

Another Highlights Inspired Post

by Paula Gail Benson

Okay, I have to admit it. Since I had the opportunity to visit the Highlights editorial offices in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and attend a Highlights Foundation workshop, every time I go to a doctor’s office, I scan the stacks of magazines to see if the children’s magazines are there. The other day I hit the jackpot. I arrived extra early for a routine appointment and at the top of a stack were Highlights for Children (ages 6 to 12) and High Five (ages 6 to 8). I picked them up for closer study, glad to see that I wasn’t keeping them from a member of their true audience, since there were only adults in the waiting room.

Although I glanced at High Five, my focus was on the issue of Highlights because I had an idea for a submission. Both magazines were dated November 2014 and labelled as sample issues, which I decided must be the company’s advertising campaign. A savvy idea.

During the workshop, my classmates and I had discussed what a good marketing strategy it had been for the magazines to have been distributed to doctors’ offices with perforated subscription forms that allowed immediate mailings to a child and later billings for the giver. No wonder they maintain a million subscribers to each, even in this digital age. As our guide at the editorial offices told us, “Children love to get something of their own in the mail.”

I enjoyed reviewing some of the regular features, but focused upon the fiction. A contemporary story about Thanksgiving had a young girl protagonist trying to convince her parents to prepare only foods that would have been served at the first feast. The family quickly realized the idea was impractical in that several dishes now considered traditional would be missing (like pie, cranberries, and potatoes) and that others would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain (lobster, eel, partridge, and–horrors!–eagle).

The second story that drew my interest was a historical one, set during the depression. A young boy, Chet, resented that hoboes (or askers—a term I had not previously heard hoboes called) kept frequenting his grandmother’s house and eating the best portions of their meager meals. From listening to the group of hobo visitors, Chet learned that his house has been marked by the depiction of a cat, meaning to other hoboes that a nice woman lives there. Chet asked if there was symbol for danger and the hoboes showed it to him. After the hoboes left, Chet replaced the cat with the danger sign. When his father returned after having lost his job and riding the rails, Chet realized his selfishness and replaced the welcoming signal. The story was beautifully told as well as revealing a fascinating, little known history.

Although the Highlights editors buy all rights to a story, they pay generously and display the stories to their best advantage. The illustrations are beautifully created and reflect the true nature of the stories, drawing in readers as well as contributing to the enjoyment of the story.

So, the next time you’re in a doctor’s waiting room, scan those stacks of magazines. See if you can find a Highlights or High Five and delight in the paths they lead you. Just be sure to share them with any younger readers who might have an appointment there, too!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Apples and Honey - My Wish for You

Apples and Honey – My Wish for You by Debra H. Goldstein

For more observant Jews, today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  Reform and many conservative practitioners concluded celebrating the holiday last night. Besides its celebratory new year’s translation, Rosh Hashanah is also referred to as the Day of Judgement or Day of Remembrance because it is the first day of ten that Jews review their relationship with God and reflect on their actions during the past year. For on Rosh Hashanah one’s fate is determined and inscribed in the Book of Life, or not, but that fate is not sealed until the end of the ten days when the most important Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, is observed.

Other than Yom Kippur, which is a day of fasting, most Jewish holidays have food traditions associated with them. Rosh Hashanah is no exception. On that day, we dip apple slices into honey as a way of expressing our hope for a sweet new year.  Traditional commentators have said that this practice represents the Shekinah, the feminine side of God, and our belief she is watching us and evaluating our behavior of the last year. We eat the apples and honey hoping the evaluation will be kind – touched with sweetness. Another viewpoint is that the apples are eaten because of their association with health and healing.

I like to embrace the first interpretation. As my family says a blessing thanking God for the apples, eats the apples and honey, and concludes with a final prayer asking God for renewal and blessing in the new year, I take stock of my many blessings. Family, friends, health, and the ability to follow my passion are not lost on me. I am well aware of those devastated by wicked turns in life, ravaging storms, and major disappointments.

Although many of you reading this are not observing my holiday, I cannot help but take this moment, as I partake of apples and honey and observe my family doing the same, to wish all of you a year of apples and honey.    Debra

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Series and Standalones

Series or Standalone? 
By Cathy Perkins

Hitting today’s Frustration Meter - getting to the end of what you thought was a really great standalone novel and stumbling onto the words "END OF BOOK ONE."  

(Yes, First World Problem.)

Worse yet - ugh - a serial novel.

Or the flip side - you reach the end of a story, and the ending is so perfect... 

...or you're like a food addict and someone just took away your cake. 

"How am I supposed to live without these characters? What happens next? How could the author be so cruel?"

Which begs the questions: Series or Standalone?

Probably the single biggest advantage to a series is if you like the characters, you can get more of their story. After a while it becomes comfortable, like hanging out with friends.  I know these people! I like them – what’s happening?

Over the course of the series, the characters can change, hopefully improving for the better, over a more realistic, longer period. As a reader, it’s easier to commit time and money if the book in a series. If you like the first one, you figure you’ll like the next one in the series, rather than chancing another random book, even another book by the same author.

The down side is, if each book in the series doesn’t have a complete and satisfying story arc of its own, you may feel you’re left hanging while waiting for the next book. Books aren't like TV shows. You don't get the next episode a week later. Also, depending on the overall story arc of the series, there may be significant threads left unresolved. This can bother a reader who has to wait for the next book.
Writing a series means every installment has to be as good as or better than the last. No rehashing of a theme. No cookie cutter plots. No formulas. Readers deserve to feel their appetite for the adventure was satisfied, and they can’t wait for the next in the series.
Another challenge is backstory. Can the reader pick up a book in the middle of the series and get enough backstory for it to make sense? Or do they have to start with book one? How much backstory does the author include in subsequent books without boring the dedicated series fan or confusing the mid-series pick-up reader?
Finally, what if a series goes too long? What if the protagonist keeps falling into the same old danger time after time? This can result in the B word: boring. You don’t want to go there.
The advantage of writing a standalone is trying new ideas or themes without the confines of your established setting and characters. Your readers can discover a new side of your talent. A standalone for a series author is like an experimental science lab. Just don’t blow up the place and go so far over the line that your fans don’t recognize you.
What do you think? 
Do you prefer reading or writing a series or standalones?

Cathy Perkins
After publishing three standalone novels, I’m easing into the series idea. DOUBLE DOWN (presale available here) features several of the characters from So About the Money (JC speaks! He finally gets a point of view!) with events right after “book one” ends. 
I’m working away on Book Two, so hopefully readers will jump on board with this new story and series.

Keep in touch at my website or sign up for my newsletter.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Literary Boston

by Paula Gail Benson

I’m going to follow in the footsteps of my blogging partner Dru Ann Love and write about my experiences on a recent trip to Boston. It’s a city I’ve always found captivating in books.

When I was young, I read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain and was enthralled by the young apprentice studying Paul Revere’s workmanship. Later, I discovered Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based, single-named detective, Spenser, through a television series. I avidly read Linda Barnes’ mysteries featuring cabbie and sometimes investigator Carlotta Carlyle. Not to mention Hank Phillippi Ryan’s novels about Boston investigative reporter Charlotte McNally and her Jane Ryland thrillers; some of Toni L.P. Kelner’s Laura Fleming series; and Dana Cameron’s Anna Hoyt stories that take place in colonial Boston.

In Boston’s Public Garden, a line of bronze ducks represent the characters from Robert McClosky’s Make Way for Ducklings. A plaque explains that the story made the Garden familiar to children around the world and I have read that the ducks’ bronze surfaces never need to be shined because so many little bottoms come to sit on them.

Emerson House in Concord
Growing up, I found Boston’s neighboring town of Concord fascinating for its collection of literary figures. In high school, I read about the three Peabody sisters: Elizabeth, an educator and book store operator, who introduced her sisters to their famous husbands (artist Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary became Horace Mann’s wife). Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in Boston and Concord, and Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord and wrote of its local Walden Pond.

As far as I was concerned, the most famous Concord resident was Louisa May Alcott, whose Little Women had been a constant companion for me and seen me through good times and bad.

I was extremely fortunate to find a tour that went to Lexington and Concord, showing us not only the Revolutionary War significant sites, but also the homes of Emerson, Hawthorne (Wayside Inn), and Alcott (Orchard House).

Orchard House
Seeing Orchard House, made even more real Meg’s garden wedding and the attic where Jo wrote her novels. Yes, this was the place where the four March girls grew to become Little Women, and I rejoiced in seeing a spot that had so long filled my imagination.

Fortunately, our tour guide was experienced enough to make a story of the journey. He traced the route that Paul Revere had taken, showing us the monument at the place where Revere was captured, and even pointing out the house that belonged to the Merriam family (of Merriam Webster fame).
Revere Monument near Concord

I also learned also that a large portion of modern day Boston was created by years of immigrants (many of them Irish) working to fill in habitable land around the harbor. The hotel where I stayed was in the Back Bay. I thought the name unique, but quickly learned it was used to describe many of the area’s buildings. An Amazon search led me to discover a William Martin novel titled Back Bay, which traces the history, and is now on my reading list.

Probably the most invigorating thing I discovered about Boston was the pride in the sense of history so clearly exhibited among its inhabitants. Everywhere I went, from Fenway Park to the TD Garden to the harbor to the theatre district, people told stories about the past and pointed to monuments that commemorated important persons and events. The city was vibrant with memories of the past and hopes for the future.

I walked near the end of the Boston Marathon course and thought of the bombing victims. May we all continue to hear and tell the stories of Boston and to remain “Boston Strong.”