Best Books of January

What was Your Favorite Read During the Month of January?

Here we go, it’s the end of another month. So, what is the best book you read in January (either for yourself or with your child)? It could be fiction, nonfiction…any genre. What book did you really enjoy? Or, which one made a major impact on you?

Please use the comment space to share the title and author and to tell just a snippet about your book to whet our readers’ appetites. Is your child old enough to write? Invite him or her to write a recommendation for the blog.

The Kiss of DeceptionMy Reading Recommendation 

The book I would recommend from my January reading is The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson. I would recommend this novel for several reasons. First, like my own The Swallow’s Spring, its protagonist is a princess who does not want to marry as her parents have arranged for her to. Second, two of the secondary characters start out identified simply as “the prince” or “the assassin.” When these terms are used, you don’t know which male lead it is referring to. When these terms are not used, all you know are the male leads’ names. Therefore Pearson kept me wondering and hypothesizing about who is who. Third, it is one of only two books I finished reading this month. (The other was Thornspell by Helen Lowe–also a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy.)

Your Turn

What was the best book you read this month?

Pen Pals and Reading Buddies: Literate Lives 2017

pen-pals-reading-buddiesStarting a Blog is like Starting a Pen Pal Friendship…

That is how I began my second post here at Literate Lives.

As I was doing my blog-housekeeping last week, I was captivated by this post. “Yes,” I thought, ” Now art thou Romeo!” (translation: now you are acting like yourself! See Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 4.) Therefore, as with my previous post, I wanted to start a new year with some excerpts and additions:

Pen Pals & Reading Buddies

I have decided starting a blog is like starting a pen pal friendship. You begin by explaining to each other who you are, and as your individual identities become established, you begin to write about ideas and events in your lives and the common interests you share.

So, who is this person (me, Debby Zigenis-Lowery) who is trying to reach out to readers, writers, parents, teachers, and anyone else who loves reading or writing?

I have been (and-oftentimes-still-am) a child, as well as a wife, mom, writer,  student, preschool teacher, librarian, and middle and high school English/Language Arts teacher. And through it all, I have always been a reader.

Books were the first things I ever chose to collect. They have been my friends, guides, encouragers, windows to other worlds, and companions in scary, sad,  and lonely times. I love books–the look of them, the feel of them, their typefaces, cover illustrations, page and line art. And I love the materials that go into making them—pencils, pens, paper—so many wonderful kinds!—computers, word processing software, fonts, dictionaries, reference books, 3×5 index cards, notebooks, and any slip of paper on which I can scribble a new idea.

What do I read? I am a fantasy loving Christian. I love fantasy stories intended for all kinds of readers– children, young adults, and actual adults. Other favorite genres include historical fiction and historical mysteries. (I love the Middle Ages!)

As you may have noticed, I included children’s and young adult fiction in my fantasy favorites. Why? Because I grew up loving fairy tales, and eventually found C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lloyd Alexander. I now not only read fantasy fiction, I write it. I have had retold folktales, published in Cricket magazine, have written Set in Stone, a middle grade novel and The Swallow’s Spring, a coming of age novel (and am now seeking publishing homes for both of them), and am working on a new middle grade novel and a YA.

I am a teacher, member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and two critique groups. In addition I am a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and serve as the Pal Communicator for our Oregon region’s Ad-Com committee.

I am so looking forward to making new friends, as well as enjoying those I’ve long cherished, in the months ahead. So tell me about your reading, writing, and teaching interests. Who are your favorite authors? Your favorite genres? I hope Literate Lives will be a place you can come to enjoy, interact, and share.

August 2016: My Reading List

When I look at this list, I am embarrassed. It is barely a list, for August, when I, a teacher, am supposed to be enjoying the last weeks of summer! What was I doing?

Well…

What was I doing?

My overall goal for the summer was to revise my flagship novel, THE SWALLOW’S SPRING from tight, past tense, third person to present tense, first person. I had finally made sense of the feedback I have been getting and realized I needed to allow readers to get not just in Iseult’s head, but actually in her skin, in her life. At the beginning of August, I was only half-way through.

Also, I went to the Willamette Writers Summer Conference–three days of talking writing, information, talking writing, learning about connecting with our audiences, talking writing, taking copious notes in writing craft workshops, and, of course, talking writing. It was vastly informative, and awesome learning experience, and fun!

Therefore, I truly only read two books in August.

What I Read

6335178Lady Vernon and Her Daughters by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

This was a very “Jane Austen” type of novel based on notes Austen actually made for a novel that never got written. It had a marvelously, Austen-like cast of quirky characters, and typical Austen-like near misses where characters you love don’t recognize their own feelings until it is almost too late. It was a delightful read.

16140922Altered by Gennifer Albin

This is book two of a trilogy. Book one, Crewel, I read in my school library. I enjoyed the first novel so much, I finally bought the sequel myself. (The library didn’t have it.) Altered follows Adelice, Jost, and Erik when she rips a hole in her own world–Arras–and descends to a very messed up earth, California in particular. Determined to rescue her sister, Adelice seeks a way to sneak back home, and we get to tag along with her  to a post apocalyptic Hearst Castle and Alcatraz Island (where she meets a very famous person familiar to most of us). Again, I really enjoyed this read. Too bad the sequel to this one, Unraveled, got checked out last school year and was never returned. Hmmm. Maybe I can get it through interlibrary loan!

Letter Writing Day: My Thoughts on Returning to the Classroom

My Back-to-School Letter to YouToday, September 1, is Letter Writing Day. In keeping with this, today’s post comes to you in the form of a letter.

Dear Friends,

As you read this, I will be attending my first day of the 2016-2017 school year. Although it will only be us teachers and administrators in the building, I am excited.

First of all, I am excited to get back to my little library. As the school year ended in June, I sent out several boxes of new books to get processed, and I have learned they are done and waiting for me beside my desk! We also ordered additional bookshelves. (Our original shelves were packed and overflowing, especially after all the students turned in their library books in June!) After having some disturbing dreams this summer in which architects and interior designers messed up my beloved library (while supposedly giving our building a cool new look), I am eager to get back and see it with my own eyes!

I am also eager to get back to our students. Some will be returning from last year, and it will be a pleasure to see them again. Others will be new. I experimented a bit at the end of the last school year and learned that for students who are only about 5 points away from passing the GED RLA test, refreshing/or teaching for the first time a set of punctuation skills–for example, the many and varied uses of commas, or capitalization rules, is all it takes to put them over the top. I will include more general writing convention lessons in my teaching this year.

 I also learned the reading speed students need to attain in order to be successful taking their GED tests. This fall, I will implement reading speed tests for all students as part of their entry pre-assessments (in addition to the sentence structure pre-assessment I already have them do). This will help me better identify and assist those students who have not yet reached the needed  reading level to be successful in taking their tests.

A hard part of giving up summer is giving up my extended fiction (and blog) writing time. However, as in years past, I will continue to write each workday before school starts, and on my Wednesday afternoons off. I have learned I can get a lot written in 20 and 30 minute intervals if I practice them consistently. I also pledge to continue blogging. I enjoy thinking about what might interest you, what might help you, and what you might bring you pleasure or inspiration. Please say a prayer for my fickle health. That is always the wild card in developing a fully literate lifestyle while working nearly full-time.

I also look forward to some solid reading time. It’s funny, I expected to get a lot of reading done this summer. I can stay up later at night with no pesky alarm clock at 6:00 A.M. I can pick up a book in the middle of the day. However, while my non-fiction reading has been as abundant as anticipated, my fiction reading has taken a hit. (I am such a workaholic! Very bad habit. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap.) So I am excited to return to our schools “Reboot” schedule. Every day, before work time starts, students are given 15 or more minutes to just quietly read or write (Ha-ha-ha–little do they know, they are building their languages arts skills while they transition between life outside our doors and life in the classroom!). And (this is the best) teachers are strongly encouraged to model this behavior for them! I can hardly wait!

So, while it is sad to say good-by to the freedoms of summer, a lot of good lies ahead in the upcoming school year, and I can enter it having achieved my summer writing goal–the revision of my historical fantasy novel, THE SWALLOW’S SPRING from close third person, past tense into first person, present tense. I am so excited by how much immediacy and intimacy the shift has given my prose.

I can also say summer 2016 has taught me a fabulous new skill–working in intervals. Midway through the summer I was only about one sixth of the way through my revisions, and I was so depressed. Therefore, after reading, serendipitously, some articles about optimal work/break strategies (here’s one), I decided to divide my time between writing/revising and housework/summer projects by working in 45 minute to 1 hour intervals on my writing, then spending 10-20 minutes on my other responsibilities. It worked! I am thrilled. By the time you read this, I’ll have one, last, sixth of the novel left to revise, and I shall finish it during Labor Day weekend. Hurray! Then, let the submitting begin.

I hope you, too, have had a good summer and have something to look forward to in the coming months,

Your reading & writing friend,
Debby

P.S. Learn more about Letter Writing Day here.

P.S.S. What have you appreciated about your summer? What are you looking forward to in the coming months?

Summer’s End: Accomplishments and Tasks Remaining

sun_in_shades.svg.hiIt is the last weekend of summer. School will begin Tuesday, as will a new routine. I entered summer with such plans, such goals, such enthusiastic intentions, and now, at the end of it, I look back.

Goals accomplished:

  • Spent a week with my mom
  • Traveled with my husband
  • Camped with my daughter, her husband, and my granddaughters
  • Reclaimed my living room (0nce, my son’s “man cave”)
  • Completely reorganized my office
  • Rid my office of moths (long frustrating story)
  • Finished the revisions on Set in Stone, my middle grade fantasy novel about a boy who returns from clearing a field to find his parents and neighbors all turned to stone.
  • Attended two writers conferences
  • Pitched The Swallow’s Spring (a retelling of the first part of the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult) to four agents who all invited me to submit chapters and even a full manuscript!
  • Started a new non-fiction poetry-picture book inspired by the trip my husband and I took to Mt. Rainier.

Disappointments:

  • Did not blog regularly
  • Did not even enter my reading on Goodreads
  • Did not get my five boxes of filing all filed or thrown away
  • Did not finish writing the whole new beginning section for my fantasy novel Crown of Blossom and Flame
  • Did not get my guest room/craft room reorganized

Whew! When I sat down to write this post I felt a little dejected. (That’s why I decided to start with accomplishments. I didn’t want readers to feel depressed right along with me!) Now, I feel guilty of appearing to be bragging, but I assure you that was not my intention.

The takeaway: Do you ever feel like you just haven’t accomplished much? Sit down and list the things you have actually done. You might find yourself as pleasantly surprized as I did.

Writing Conference Jitters

swallow+bird+vintage+image+graphicsfairy007dI will be attending two writing conferences this summer–The Willamette Writer’s Conference and the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference. This is nothing new. I have attended both of them several times in the past.

However, this time, I truly believe The Swallow’s Spring, a historical fantasy novel based on the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult, is done, and I just finished final revisions on Set in Stone , a middle grade fantasy novel, as well. I know it is time to try to sell them. My gut aches just typing the words.

Why? I’ve pitched them before. I’ve submitted them before. I’ve submitted and sold other stories before. So why such jitters this time?

I think it’s because I believe these novels are truly done. It is time to seriously try to sell them. That means, inevitably, as every writer knows, dealing with rejections and the busy work of sending the novels out somewhere else. Argh! I’d rather write something new.

However, if I don’t submit my novels after all the time I have spent working on them, the fact is I will have wasted a huge chunk of my life. I did not write them for the pleasure of writing, although believe me, the pleasure was intense and real. I wrote them to share. I wrote them for others to enjoy. So, I have to submit to the submission process or self publish, and since I’d rather keep writing new things then embark on the strange, new adventure of self-publishing, I really need to give traditional publishing a try.

Therefore, the jitters. However, I will “soldier on.” Say a little prayer for me, The Swallow’s Spring, and Set in Stone. And I’ll just keep telling myself that I know I will enjoy the conferences because I always love having the opportunity to learn something new.

School’s Out! A Writer-Teacher’s Summer Dream Routine

sun_in_shades.svg.hiSchool is out! This is my first week of summer break and I have a few goals–writing goals, household goals, and learning how-to-play goals.

Being the orderly list-maker that I am (Ha! When it comes to things I need to do, my brain has colander-size holes), I created a little daily routine to keep me on track. What does it look like? Funny you should ask. Here it is, sans pretty, flowery clip art:

1 hour: Mocha/Breakfast/Read  (Hey, I know how to start a day!)

Read Bible

Stretch/Dress/Tidy Bedroom (So far the only thing I’ve skipped is stretching.)

Empty Dishwasher/Make Phone Calls (I am blessed with a husband who does the dishes.)

Pray/Copy 1 Prayer into Personal Prayer Book (I’m ashamed to say I have not got on my knees yet, although I have tossed up a lot of little balloon prayers and brainstormed a prayer list.)

2 Hours: Write  a) prepare for writers’ groups, b) enter revisions for Set in Stone, c) do a one-day read through of Set in Stone, d) continue to draft A Crown of Blossom and Flame or–hmmm, maybe I’ll retitle it A Fiery Crown.)

Type 3 Quotes (I have a stack of books nearly 3 feet tall bristling with sticky notes marking quotations I would like to capture–I haven’t gotten to this even once this week.)

Blog or Respond to Email (30 minutes MAX)

Update Agent List (I have been collecting agent names for The Swallow’s Spring for so long now, I could easily send her out to an agent a week for at least the next ten years.)

Housework~Routine Housework (Yes, at last I get there. Have I done this yet? No, except Monday, I did vacuum up the dust on the bathroom floor.)

Manuscript Submissions Swallow/Set in Stone at least once per week (This one actually does not begin until I hear from the person I gave an exclusive for Swallow and do the final read-through of Set in Stone.

Mend one item (My mending pile now fills two milk crates to overflowing. Needless to say, I have not done any mending in a long, long time, and I am beginning to miss some favorite clothes. As I complete this task, if I stick to the routine, it will be like getting five new pieces of clothing/week. Have I done it yet? No. I plan to start next week.)

1/2 Hour MAJOR House Project~a) finish reorganizing my office–I started twice during the school year; my office now lies strewn between 4 rooms–talk about crazy making! b) turn our kids’ bathroom into my bathroom now that the last kid has moved out–finally I will have a bathtub! c) organize my craft room. Whew!

Small Office or Writing Project 20 minutes. (Working on picture books and poetry, sorting card making materials, rubber stamps, punches…)

20 Minutes: Craft Room (Did I say my craft room was a mess?)

Make one card ahead of time for the next year (this will be both duty and letting myself have a little fun)

Do Something Creative (Will I remember how?)

Oh, and that learning to play thing? That happens when my husband says, “Hey, let’s go…” We did that Monday, Wednesday, and today.

Well, I’ve already spent 41 minutes preparing this blog post. Time to go. What are you dreaming of doing this summer?