Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hopping With Lili Saki for the Alien Attack

Two Posts ago, I participated in the "Next Big Thing Blog Hop" and answered questions about my book.  The Next Big Thing, was big and a lot of people were participating, so I got asked to participate again by a few other people.  I said yes to one special author, a 12 year old girl with a book called, Alien Attack.  Lily Saki answered questions on her blog at the following link

and you can see more about her at her website

The following is a bit from the website about this young writer

About the Author
Author Lily Saki is twelve years old and lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her parents and two brothers. She was born in Ghana and immigrated to America when she was five and has loved to write stories since entering kindergarten. She has a huge passion for writing and has continued with it throughout her years. Lily is an Honor Roll student at Pierce School and is well known for being a great writer.
Alien Attack is her first published story, and she is very enthusiastic about it. Lily has drawn a lot of inspiration from her father, who is a physician, and her mother, a graphic designer.

I can not review the book, as I have not yet read it, but I can tell you I know the dedication required to complete and publish a novel, and this young lady has my admiration for her accomplishment.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why Duffy Has Cerebral Palsy

I was recently asked to explain a little about what led me to choose to have the main character in my "Duffy Barkley" books be a young boy with Cerebral Palsy.  The answer caused some serious looking back over my life and brought me to the following chain of thought.

I was in school in a time before the public mainstreaming law, when kids who were "slow" might be put in the "retard class" sorry, I hate that term but when I was in grade school that is what we all called it. We never even heard another word suggested. These kids were in a separate class and never even came out on the playground for the same recess.  By Jr. High it was common to see them being tripped and called names and to see thing like smoke bombs put in their lockers. Kids who had any more severe problems than a learning disability, never showed up at our school at all, they were put "in an institution" in another county, and never mentioned again.

When I was 12, I wanted to be a marine biologist and a writer and study marine mammals and write about them.

Then we were told that my Mom's ulcer had a heartbeat and that a baby would be here in 4 months.  Everyone was excited, until he was born with Down's syndrome, and that experience opened my eyes and taught me how to really love, and most of all, made me furious at the way handicapped people were labeled and locked away.  I wrote about my brother at

I was in 9th grade when the mainstreaming law suddenly meant that people with more serious handicapping conditions were allowed in our school and suddenly I found out that one of my best friends had a twin brother who was blind since too much oxygen as a premie, and her twin and several other kids our age were suddenly in school with us.  And because her twin walked him with us every day, we became friends too.

my brother and I
 Then my brother was old enough to start school and I volunteered in his class and worked with him in special olympics and got comfortable with the other kids in his class and suddenly my goals were different. I wanted to be a teacher and work with the kids who tended to be overlooked because all anyone saw was the labels.  Of course, I thought I mostly wanted to work with kids with Down's syndrome.  But I was hired by a small, remote county and the class was a preschool Severely handicapped class with every kind of handicapping condition. I had deaf kids, and kids in wheelchairs, emotionally disturbed kids and kids with autism and kids with cerebral palsy and a few really rare syndromes I'd never heard of.  I had not worked with kids with CP much before, just one two week term as a counselor at an Easter Seals Camp in Northern California Mountains.  I hadn't known what CP was, or that it can be caused at any time in your life if you are oxygen deprived. I hadn't known the huge range of severity that the condition covers, from bedridden or wheelchair bound to able to walk and run, from normal intelligence to profoundly impaired. But Soon,  as every class I worked with had some children with cerebral palsy, I began to see them as what they were, not Cerebral Palsy kids, but kids first, Kids with some effects from Cerebral Palsy and a lot of individuality.

I found that the kids in my class that I loved the most, were the defiant, determined ones who argued every time they were told "NO."  But I found I didn't love them or dislike them because of their handicaps, I loved them or disliked them because of their personalities and their choices, just like normal kids. Because they were just another kind of normal.

Sure, the ones who ignored the word "No" were not easy, but they never gave up, and if they were told they couldn't do something, they just tried harder.  In later years, I have found myself a lot less patient with kids who could do anything easily but are too lazy to try.

So I love teaching.  I still do, but I also wanted to be a writer. Fortunately I could do both.  My first book was Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog

 and I wanted to make it a fantasy story to share with my kids, one like Narnia, Oz, Neverland or a Wrinkle in Time, where there was a chance to create another world and use my imagination.

My Brother and my sons
 But I wanted my hero to be someone my sons would love and be able to respect, and yet someone who could teach them love and courage and kindness. So I chose Duffy Barkley, and made him 9 years old, and gave him Cerebral Palsy, and normal intelligence but the need to use leg braces and crutches.  Then I made him bullied and called "Duffy Bark Bark" because he looked like he walked on four legs, and I made horrible things happen so he would have to show his strength.  I love the ending and the way Duffy treats the villain and I love that he learns, what I learned most of all from my brother and my students. That you are not defined or handicapped because of a condition, that you are the only you this world has and the only one with your strengths and gifts.  That maybe, even probably, you might not want to give up your condition to be "normal" if it meant not being you.

So then I wrote this book, and the sequel, set two years later, when Duffy returns to the other world, Uhrlin.  Duffy Barkley: Seek Well

and it has given me a lot of chances to talk to students about bullying, and differences, about never giving up, and about loving who you are.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Next Big Thing _ Blog Hop

Due by Wednesday, December 5, 2012

but since I wanted to post today and let you know that Duffy Barkley is not a Dog is available for free on kindle through Dec. 2nd. I am jumping the gun and posting now .

 The Next Big Thing--Blog Hop

Thanks to  at and author of
 The Ninja Librarian for tagging me for this one!  She's answered the questions, and now it's my turn.  Then I'm supposed to tag five more writers to participate--so if you write and read this, brace yourself, as you may be next!

Mention the person who tagged you at the beginning of your post (check).
Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress) and/or new release on your blog (check).
Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.  They're supposed to answer the questions next Wednesday, as I understand it. (See bottom of page).

The Questions:
1. What is the working title of your book?

I have two right now, A new release called Double Time On the Oregon Trail and a Work in Progress that I started for NaNoWriMo which is the third book in my Duffy Barkley Is Not a Dog series and is tentatively Titled The Third Charm but probably won't keep that title.

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

The original idea came from teaching special education students and seeing them get bullied and hearing about too many school shootings and loving Narnia and Oz and Wonderland type stories. It began while sharing storytelling on long family road trips with my sons and continued in my first experience with the rush of trying to write a novel in a month for NaNoWriMo.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

The Oregon Trail book required a lot of research and a lot of actually driving the route and is written at about a 4th/5th grade level since that is where they study it in schools.  Being me though, there had to be an element of magic to it, so I have two girls, traveling that route, but able to see each others journals and being 152 years apart. So I guess it is Juvenile historical fantasy fiction.

The Duffy Barkley Books, I call young adult, even though he is age 9 in the first and 11 in the second and 13 in the one I am writing. I have had readers from 8 to 73 tell me that hey love Duffy Barkley, but I have also had one tell me that she could;y read it because she cared about him so mush and his life is so harsh at the start of book one.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have an issue with Duffy, I never really describe his appearance, except that he uses arm crutches and is tall and thin and wobbly from cerebral palsy. I describe others in his life but like the readers to be able to see him as they are.

The girls in the Oregon Trail book, I see as two 15 year olds, one part Sioux, but ordinary, no one flamboyant.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Two girls traveling the Oregon Trail 152 years apart, learn to face their own issues by reading about the other girl's in exchanging journals at times.

6.  If you plan to publish, will your book be self-published or published traditionally?

I am a strong believer in Indie Books and their future. My three books are self published and I believe that there is no reason to do the next one differently. Unless Scholastic decides to call :)

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your MS?

Oh goodness. The short little 30,000 word Oregon Trail story took 13 years. Lots of research and raising kids and losing my Dad to cancer and putting the manuscript away a lot while the idea percolated.  The Duffy Barkley one, November.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think I write like Angie Sage and her Septimus Heap books as far as my voice, or so I keep hearing - but the story line is more Narnia, Oz, Wrinkle in Time - drop someone from our world into another.

The Double Time books are longer and more complex than the Magic Treehouse series but I am hoping to continue with a similar goal of having a series of books that matches up with what kids at the 4th/5th/6th grade ages are studying.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was born to be a reader and a storyteller. There is very little else that I do which doesn't leave a nagging voice telling me that I should be doing something else.  When I look back through my old boxes from grade school I find the Books I wrote in second grade, looseleaf pages in shaky print illustrated with pencil and crayon and bound by yarn through the holes.  Only raising my children and being with those I love gives me as much completeness.

10.  What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Seeing what you would see if you held the medallion from Uhrlin and it showed you the strongest part of who you are. Finding out that friendship and real values transcend worlds and time.

Now to tag the other bloggers:  Jody Hedlund

Tag!  You're it!  Be sure to drop in on these folks in a week and see what they are up to.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo and NeWo

 My rubber duckies say I love you in sign language and I love November for the crazy, insane attempt to write 50,000 words along with the 300,000 people world wide who have given themselves permission to think that the world needs their story, and to write a quick and dirty first draft in 30 days.

I know there is insanity here, and November is by far one of the busiest months of my year, but there is vale in the fact that I can feel free to put down all the thought in my head and see where they go.

When I am writing this quickly, I enter a state that is very near sleep.  My brain slows down and drifts randomly as my fingers try to capture the images before they vanish, like those great ideas you only get just as you are starting to drift off to sleep.
 My oldest son is out on a crab boat working and has been gone for weeks while his blind dog lives with me. Ford is charming and barely past a year old, and likes to run everywhere, so crashes headfirst into chairs that are not pushed back under the table or the knees of people standing quietly.  He loves the she;; of my cat, and tries to find it, but the closer he gets, the more the smell fills the places where the cat has recently been and confuses him. Rocky has learned to sit motionless and soon Ford is down, bounding around to check other spots near-by.  "Where's the Cat?"  If he does get close enough that they bump, they both startle and then the cat aims a quick blow to the dog's nose.

My stories work like that. I know what I am chasing, and I think I know where it is, but then a strongly enticing smell lures me to another path, and sometimes it is clear and I follow it, and sometimes it leaves me with my head aching and my nose stinging from where I ran into a wall.
 I look for inspiration all around when I am trying to hit 50,000 words, and this old picture of my Mom and her cousins has served as the launching pad for many memories which have become slightly altered and find their way into the novel more as sensory details of the places and times than as the actual events of the story.
 Fall is here and glorious outdoors calls to me even as the calendar reminds me that the word count must be reached or else
 but reaching the word count of 50,000 gets harder on the old bones the closer I get to 50 myself.  Sitting at the computer too long in a story induced trance, I feel great.  Then I wake up, push back the chair and find that I have been crippled.  My hips and wrist and spine resist straightening. My hands are freezing cold and my feet don't really want to bear my weight as I hobble to the coffee pot.

That is when I feel the most gratitude for Jonathan Roche and his NeWo Program.
 No Excuses Workouts

 had helped me drop 40 pounds and gives e the necessary tools to know what I need to do every day to maintain my strength and increase my health.  I have learned his 15 secrets by heart, including get enough water and sleep and fit in movement every day even if it is only walking to the mailbox or stretching for six minutes.  He has made me celebrate the random acts of fitness like jogging in place while washing dishes or brushing my teeth, and parking far from the store so I get a brisk walk several times a day without ever thinking of it as a workout.  Hobbling is good for my novel, since Duffy Barkley is stiff and crippled by Cerebral Palsy, but Newo is good for me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Write Again

 Today is Halloween and that used to mean candy and costumes and taking the children trick-or-treating.  But I live at the end of a dark country road where trick-or-treaters have never come, unless you count the raccoons and the bear who has been here all week, exchanging the apples on my tree for steaming piles of apple peal laden bear scat.
 Now, my children are not children and what they do at Halloween is up to them, and what I do is watch for midnight and the starting gun for NaNoWriMo!  I get to indulge in the thing I love with a strange obsessive passion.  Storytelling with abandon and speed writing with no editing or doubts until I reach at least 50, 000 words.  I know, technically I can write any time, and often I do, but most of the year there is the lack of a deadline so there is the flexibility which lets me procrastinate and yep, I do.  And when I do write I take less risks and go back frequently and re-read and change and edit.
 November is National Novel Writing Month but actually in needs to admit that it has gone International and world wide.  All around the world, as people Reach November they begin the sleep deprived, insane rush to cram writing a novel into 30 days where regular life insists on continuing in spite of the commitment.  Me, I give up a lot of my extra indulgences, I read a lot less, stay off facebook and my forums most of the time, and as a reward, I bake more and keep the coffee pot filled, and emptied and filled again.
 If you are interested in signing up go to and join the fun and conversation and tell he world the story that only you have in you.  I have signed up and tried at least 6 times, and I don't always finish, and I never finish with a finished novel, but three times the magic has worked to give me enough that I could put it away until I recover and then open the file again, pick up the threads, add and subtract and eventually end up with a novel I believe in enough to throw our into the world as my small contribution to the beauty of this big blue planet we are lucky enough to share.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bookworm blog by Lubna in India Reviewed my Book

Self picture taken when I first finished a NaNoWriMo Novel

 Once again I discover the truth that there are beautiful and good people everywhere in the world.  One of the kindest I have come to believe is a blogger named Lubna from India.  She supports Indie writers and the idea that all school children should have books to read.  When an indie author contacts her and she agrees to read a copy of their book, she doesn't promise a good review, but she does promise two things
 1. her honest opinion with some positives about the book, and
 2. to pass the book on to a school.

 Three times I have sent her the books I began on NaNoWriMo in their November is Novel Writing Month program and three times she has amazed me with beautifully written reviews.
 The most recent was one I saw yesterday, which includes a short interview with me.  It is about my book about the Oregon Trail, and being schooled in India, that was not a topic she had studied much.  I wondered how it had read to her, and was relieved that she still followed the story easily.  Of course I was writing for middle school students so the writing is not complex but some of the ideas are.

 What I loved was the fact that I have two girls in my book, and the girl from 1850 is terrified of "Indians" and lives in fear of ending up massacred o the trip.  The girl from 2002is part "Native American." Th book reviewer from India called the term "Native Indian" and I realized that she may not get the current American concern over which terms are "Politically correct" but I love the blending because it speaks to one of my key points in the book, that regardless of era or race, we are all blended together and share similar needs and desires and hopes and fears.  We need to learn that we need each other for our differences and love each other for the ways we are the same.

My Great Grandma Emma Belle Lafferty Slack

Me and Dad and my brothers in Yellowstone

Lubna's review can be read at
  and I hope that you take the time to stop by and leave a comment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Here We Go NaNoWriMoing

 November is very quickly coming on, and with it, one of my favorite activities in the world, because after all, November is Novel Writing Month and NaNoWriMo has helped make my daydreams and doodles turn into books and a bit of spare cash.
My first "Proof" copy
 The first time I heard of the idea of writing a quick and dirty rough draft in a month. I thought pledging myself to writ 50,000 words in November sounded just like what I needed.  After all, I had been telling people i wanted to write, and taking writing classes for 30 years.  But I had only filled a few notebooks with poems and short stories and sent a few out but stopped when the rejection letters came.  Now I know, DUH!  Of course they come.  They are good things.  Only writers get rejection letters from editors, so while I was getting them, I was being a writer.
The "real book"

first painting
 So I wrote the 50,000 words and realized that it was a lot of work, but it wasn't close to a finished book, and it took me a year to write the next 38,000 words and more time to edit and doodle and make covers that looked like my main character could have drawn them.

painting for 2nd book
 But createspace had offered to make a free copy of a proof of the finished book if we finished NaNoWriMo, so I was motivated to do this just to have one copy of my book in my hand.  I finally hit "publish" at createspace and my book came here, and obviously needed edited a lot, and a new cover but I was hooked.  I made the corrections and did the work and soon had a box of books to sell to people at schools and fairs and links on Amazon and other bookstores.

Book 3 went in a time travel journey to the Oregon Trail

 And now, years later I still love the rush of writing without worrying about cleaning it up as I go, and the social support of 300,000 other dreaming writers around the world.  I don't always manage a book, and sometimes I do CampNaNoWriMo in the summer instead.  I have managed three books this way, and by going to schools and to writer's Conferences and using social Networking sites I have managed to have fun and sell enough copies, in paperback and kindle, that I can really say, "I am a writer" and no, you may not have heard of my books, but that's ok - some kids have and I have.

and in the end, there are a lot of books out there, but only I can tell my stories.  I think everyone has a story they should tell, one that is only theirs.  If you are ready.  Check out NaNoWriMo at

and my books at

Monday, October 8, 2012


A Review of A Casual Vacancy

     Of course all the reactions that are in all the other reviews of this book happened for me.  I was delighted that JK Rowling Was going to be publishing another book.  I was sad and unbelieving and hopeful and worried when I heard that it would not be part of the Harry Potter universe.  I am after all a functioning, adult woman, who just happens to also be a major Potterhead.
     I actually didn't start out loving Harry Potter.  That seems unreal to me now, but I remember thinking that the characters were stereotyped and the story itself was unoriginal and merely a rewriting of old stories.  Then I fell in love and never looked back.  So I trusted Rowling, and when I started the new book, I was willing to keep going even though I did not really like the Casual Vacancy.  I still didn't like it by 100 pages in and I was having a hard time keeping the characters straight.  The book has no clear central character and the view point changes from one section to another and back again so you never get to know enough about one group of people in the first introduction to have them firmly in your mind the next time they appear.  It was a confusing feeling like the first week in a new town when you always wonder, "have I met this person before, should I recognize some details or is this all new?"
     I spoke to other people who were reading the book and found that we shared some of the same feelings and had some interest in the same characters, but agreed that they were not exactly people you would "like" or want to know in real life.  But "Real Life" is what this book is all about.  I found myself recognizing situations and people in a way that was a bit uncomfortable and gritty.  I flinched at some of the brutal detail and the language, but after 23 years teaching children and meeting their families, especially those in Severely Handicapped classes, none of the brutality sounded unreal or exaggerated.  JK Rowling's new book is not a magical escape but rather a confrontation with the part of town a lot of people prefer to avoid.
     By the time I finished the final chapter, and turned the back cover, and glanced once more at the author blurb, the final line of the back flap stood up and slapped me awake.  "She supports a wide range of causes and is the founder of Lumos, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children."

    Then I saw it, and I realized this book is very similar to Harry Potter after all.
     There is even a faint reference to Harry Potter in one line on page 81, " . . . once, (she dreamed of it, still), a child who had been locked in a cupboard for five days by his psychotic stepfather."

     So this book is, like Harry Potter, about fear and prejudice against those who are different, and about children who are unwanted, or even if wanted, neglected through ignorance and desperation.  There is much about Harry and Krystal Weedon that is similar, but then with Harry there was an owl, and a magic school and a quiddich team and friends with powers and hope.  There were teachers who saw potential and nurtured it.  For Krystal there is no magic owl, and the rowing team breaks up when the book begins with the one adult who saw her potential, dropping dead. Her peer friends were also 16 year old powerless foster kids. Life without the magic,

 but still trying to show that disadvantaged children are

really there, and we all need to stop looking away.
Let there be light.  Lumos.