Like the last twoyears, I want to post some ideas for mid-winter gifts. This year, to do my personal utmost to fight the pandemic and still support bricks-and-mortar and small businesses, I’ve mostly avoided crowded shops and post offices and instead ordered online. As always, my favorite gifts to give are books, and I ordered all these from my local indie bookstore.
But Christmas is fast approaching. If you have a local indie, check with them to see if they have time to get your books by Christmas. Or you can use Barnes & Noble – their website notes if you order by Dec. 20th you can get books shipped just in time with express shipping.
These are the books I’ve gotten for my loved ones – and some for myself!
For picture-book lovers of all ages: The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper. The text is a poem from the Christmas Revels, and celebrates the return of light into the darkest of times. I love this poem so much I bought a copy of the book for myself.
For young middle-schoolers: Stuntboy by Jason Reynolds. Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book, but I was greatly impressed by the book Stamped Jason Reynolds co-wrote with Ibram X. Kendi, and by hearing Jason talk at a book-signing. Also, his description of the book was so charming, I knew I wanted to get it for my nephew. Here’s Jason’s description of Stuntboy aka Portico Reeves: “he’s awesome. He’s got a hightop fade, a cape, a cat, a grandmother, a best friend (which has been hard for me to get used to because I thought I was his best friend) and lives in a castle. Most importantly, he has a super power.”
For young adults and older:For All Time by Shanna Miles. This is a great story of star-crossed lovers meeting and being parted across time, with vivid glimpses into times past and some excellent twists. I feel honored to have gotten an advance reader’s copy, and hope to post a more full review in the new year.
For adults young and old: Whitstead Christmastide edited by Abigail and Sara Falanga. A collection of short stories set in a Dickensian village where the veil between worlds is thin, and wondrous things can happen. I read one of the stories as my friend Laura Selinsky was polishing it, and that inspired me to buy three copies, one for myself. I am reading it presently, and it is warming my heart.
For animal lovers:All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The wonderful stories from the life of a Yorkshire veterinarian; if you’ve seen the excellent adaptation on PBS, know that the stories are even richer.
For more ideas, I invite you to see my blogposts from 2019 and 2020.
Someone’s wise tweet – I think it may have been Nicole Valentine’s – commended a plan to buy all Christmas gifts from bookstores and museum shops. I love this idea for supporting great places hard-hit by the pandemic.
I have hopefully dogeared a museum shop catalog with a desire of my own. As for gifts to give – books are always top of my list, and I’ve been collecting a small hoard all year. Which is a good thing, because shopping is not as easy or as safe as last year. It’s very fortunate indeed that two of my local bookstores offer curbside delivery. You, too, can give a gift to your community and order books from your local bookstore if you have one, and stay safely at home while you do it. They may also be able to send them for you.*
Here are some books I am going to give this year (shhh, no telling).
For a middle-grader with a big heart, a middle-grade book with great heart: A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine. This is another book I read and loved, though I am well out of the focus audience.
For more ideas of books to give, you can see my blog on this from last year.
Another suggestion for gift ideas: are there local artists and artisans who might have websites you could order gifts from?
How about a gift for yourself: a short collection of fine tales to take you back to the old West? My writing friend VT Dorchester has a great tale online in the December issue of Frontier Tales. I’ve read a number of these, and they are fine stories. So far, I’m particularly fond of VT’s, “Horseshoe Nail Stew”, a clever and deepened retelling of the Stone Soup folktale. I’m looking forward to taking a small break and reading more stories, then choosing and voting for my favorite. Well done, VT!
Whatever holidays you observe, may you find the light, and celebrate and share it.
*Yes, you could probably get most if not all of these books at Amazon, but Amazon has done extremely well during the pandemic. Why not support bookstores, museums, and artisans who have been hit hard?
My favorite gifts to give are books. If you’re like me (and also haven’t finished your gift buying yet), I have some books to recommend. Many of these I have already given as gifts, or would happily give, and some are current favorites of mine.* Of course, you can always give them to yourself anytime of year!
As a gift to your community, buy books from your local bookstore if you can! If you can’t visit a store in person, you can order online from many independent bookstores as well as Barnes & Noble.
For picture book lovers and readers: Imagine! by Raúl Colón. A story told in the luminous illustrations of Raúl Colón, about a boy who goes to a museum where people from the artwork leap out to interact with him.
A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine. The poignant story of a boy who discovers the mind-boggling fact that his family are time-travelers, while dealing with the loss of family members. It’s about family, friends, adventure, grief, and the love that changes everything; it truly touched me.
For fans of fantasy, young adult and older:
Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine. A captivating take on Romeo and Juliet’s story, as seen from the characters in the shadows, with magical underpinnings.
Running Wild Novella Anthology Volume 3 edited by Lisa Diane Kastner. I’d buy this for the story “Broken Soul to Broken Soul” alone; a story about ‘Two souls, two traumas, one path to healing … love.’ [Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the other stories yet – it just came out this month!]
Season of Hope by Laura Nelson Selinsky. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Find out in this heartwarming Romance novella.
Strife and Harmony ed. by Dixianne Hallaj and D.J. Stevenson. Strife, doubt, & suspicion — heroic (and not-so-heroic) characters search for harmony in this international anthology. Especially read the exploits of Sippy and Algernon Moynihan, two characters I’ve met and am quite fond of.
Legendary by Amelia Kibbie. I fell in love with the short story that predates this novel – about two boys in England, struggling with bullies and the perils of WWII England; Kirkus Review calls the novel (set years after the short story) “A rousing story of love and sacrifice.”
And in honor of the very soul and heart of Christmas, A Vine-Ripened Life by Stanly D. Gale, a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on and exploration of the great fruits of grace.
However you observe this season, may you celebrate the light, and share it.
* where the picture quality is questionable, it’s because it’s of my own treasured copies.
I’m delighted to welcome Katrina S. Forest to my blog. Katrina and I have been in the same critique group for many years, along with Laura Selinsky and others, and Katrina is the first of us to release a novel! It’s a very cool-sounding middle grade sci-fi called My Best Friend Runs Venus.
You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Katrina’s site, or order it from your local bookstore. I ordered a copy from my local Barnes & Noble – I got Free Shipping to my home and it arrived in only about 2 ½ days. (It looks even more cool in person – so cool, in fact, I ordered another copy from my local indie bookshop for my great niece!)
To celebrate this great news, I’m taking part in a blog tour for Katrina’s book; the tour runs until June 16th. This blog tour is hosted by Lola’s Blog Tours. You can see the full tour schedule here.
Be sure to get to the bottom of this post, as there’s a tour-wide giveaway for the blog tour. One winner will win a signed copy of My Best Friend Runs Venus along with a $25 Amazon gift card.
Here’s what the book is about:
“At 12.9 years old, number-obsessed Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of kids “living” across the solar system through robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Unfortunately, robot bodies can be hacked.
One day during an (innocent!) experiment, Kade unwittingly breaks a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker. The madwoman targets all the royal avatars, including Kade’s best friend, Princess Tamika of Venus.
If Kade and Tamika don’t want to become the hacker’s puppets, they’ve got to stop her fast–even if it means waking up on Earth to fight with bodies they never realized could be hurt.
Sidebar: after a quick peek inside, now I know why Kade looks the way he does – I think.
Welcome, Katrina! What a fun story this sounds like. Can you tell us something (non-spoilery!) about what first gave you the idea for it?
Katrina: It started with me trying to take a fantasy-based idea I saw on an old TV show and imagine how it could conceivably work as a science fiction setting. The show’s premise was that a group of teens were secretly interstellar royalty and drew magic powers from their respective planets. I think a lot of sci-fi starts with the “what ifs.” So in this case it was, “What if we could live comfortably on other planets without magic (or magic-like levels of terraforming)?” “What if we had kids and teenagers in charge?” and more importantly, “Why would we do that?” I came up with the concept of the robot avatars allowing people to live across the solar system. And since kids are much more adaptive to new technology, they’re the only ones that can use it 24/7. Hence, they’re in charge. The characters who would inhabit this world were then developed, which is actually the complete opposite of my usual brainstorming process.
Gemma: I love the thinking behind this! Tell me a little more about one of the characters. For instance, which of them would make the best friend?
Katrina: Princess Lorelei of Mercury would make a great friend, as long as you can understand her unique way of talking. (She’s trying to create a simplified language and throws a lot of invented words into her speech.) She’s very open and accepting and tends to see the good in people. She’s also a creative type, and let’s face it, they’re awesome. 🙂
Gemma: oh, she sounds like a lot of fun!
Gemma: I’d like to know a bit about your writing past. What’s the first story you remember writing?
Katrina: The first story I ever wrote was called “The Prettiest Flower.” I think I was five. Old enough to sound out simple words but young enough to go pester my mom for spelling helping every two minutes. I guess technically it was a non-fiction piece and included such impressive insights as, “Flowers are pretty” and “Bees like flowers.” I stapled together pieces of construction paper with only a mild attempt to straighten them out first, and my cover was an extra-wide sheet of paper from a dot matrix printer. I knew that “real” books had logos of some kind on the back of them, and because I was making a “real” book, mine got one, too. It was the Chiquita banana logo. I took the sticker from the fruit basket. My mom still has this book, and a few years ago, she showed it to me. It was a totally surreal experience. ^_^
Gemma: I love this! And it’s awesome your mom kept it to show you. When did you realize – or decide – that you wanted to be a writer?
Katrina: Pretty early. My mom got me a school memories book when I entered kindergarten. Every year had the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (It changed to, “What do you hope to do after graduation?” for 8th grade and up.) Every year, without fail, I wrote “writer” or “author.” In kindergarten, apparently, I was also open to the possibility of being a ballerina.
Gemma: it’s always good to keep an open mind about such things. And it’s quite impressive that you’ve followed this dream for so long and now have brought it into the world with a novel! What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Katrina: The hardest part is admitting when I’m stuck. I like to try to push through problems, and sometimes what’s really needed is a quiet step away with a long walk, a cup of tea, or a good book. Or, you know, all those things, because they are all awesome.
Gemma: I totally agree – and those are good ways to get unstuck. What’s the best part for you?
Katrina: The moment of breaking through the aforementioned stuck-ness.
Gemma: yes – that’s a wonderful moment! I think many writers can relate.
A lot of writers when they start out emulate other writers, consciously or not. Can you think of any authors you emulated?
Katrina: Not specifically, although I’m sure I have subconsciously. I do remember being a kid and writing a line I thought sounded totally awesome and way better than what I normally wrote…only to realize shortly afterward that it was a line from Charlotte’s Web. Apparently I’d read the book so many times, my brain just sort of internalized it. ^_^
Gemma: well, that’s an excellent book to absorb! What are you reading presently?
Katrina: I’m currently reading The Merchant Princess series by Charles Stross. My friends are all reading the Laundry series by the same author, but I just really latched onto the protagonist in this one. She’s a very analytical character who finds herself in what’s essentially a magical portal story. Characters really make or break a novel for me. I’ll sit through the most predictable of plots and the most uninteresting of settings if the characters are good. Thankfully, The Merchant Princess has good characters and an intriguing setting and plot to go with them.
Gemma: that sounds like a great combination, and I know what you mean about good characters. If I don’t like at least one character, I can’t make it through a book.
What are you working on now?
Katrina: I’m finishing up a YA novel called How to be an Immortal. It’s about a gorgon and a vampire forming an unlikely friendship as they try to find the gorgon’s sister and stop a mysterious entity from stealing a bunch of humans’ life energy.
Gemma: I’ve been enjoying reading this in our critique group, and I’m very excited to hear you’re close to finishing it. I can’t wait to read the finished book — and, of course My Best Friend Runs Venus! I think it will make a great summer read.
Thanks so much for joining me on my blog, Katrina – and congratulations on your new novel!
Here begins a new chapter of interviews featuring members of the two awesome critique groups I belong to. Aud and I have been in the same group for about seven years now, and I’m delighted to invite her to my blog.
Welcome, Aud! I understand you have some news to share.
Aud: I’m excited to announce that one of my stories has been recently accepted for publication by Running Wild Press. It’s a novella for adults titled Broken Soul to Broken Soul, about two people with separate traumas who come together and help each other heal.
Gemma: That is exciting! I’ve read prior drafts of that novella, and it not only brought tears to my eyes, it gave me goosebumps, and also made me laugh! I’m so happy it’s going to be seen by a wide audience.
G: That’s a very cool book trailer, by the way.
Gemma: I’d like to chat a bit about your past as a writer. How long have you known that you wanted to be a writer?
Aud: Ever since I was about 8 years old.
G: Do you remember what led you to that?
Aud: Two things:
One: I grew up in a chaotic environment and writing was my way to create order from chaos.
Two: As a kid, I couldn’t find stories that I wanted to read, so I made up my own.
G: Both of those are really compelling reasons. Writing is definitely a positive, powerful way to deal with chaos.
G: What’s your goal as a writer?
Aud: To entertain. I like it when a reader wonders, “What’s going to happen next?” My characters often make me laugh and/or cry. It’s my hope that they’ll do the same for my readers.
G: Your characters have definitely made me laugh! And sometimes make me yell their name out loud in frustration! But that’s only because I’ve come to care about them like friends. And Broken Soul to Broken Soul isn’t your only story that’s brought tears to my eyes.
G: What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of and/or happy with?
Aud: Standing Ovation. It was my first published book, put out by Ace Tempo Books. It’s a YA novel about a girl trumpet player who upsets her family’s balance when her dream of fame motivates her retired jazz musician father to come out of retirement. Sadly, this book is out of print. The last time I read Standing Ovation was during a train ride to an author presentation to promote another novel. Even though the book was old, it still made me laugh out loud!
G: Oh, I love that! Now, tell me more about that other novel.
Aud: That other novel was my second published book, I Almost Love You, Eddie Clegg, put out by Peachtree Publishers.
Aud: It’s a middle grade novel about an 8th grade girl who begins to develop a father/daughter relationship with her alcoholic stepdad. Fun fact: That book was rejected over 30 times.
G: Wow! That is all too common, but still, how did you deal with all that rejection? What did you do next?
Aud: I had a few cool rejections for Eddie. One publisher wrote that the main character was “refreshing and endearing” and the book was “beautifully written,” but it wouldn’t fit their list. I remember saying to myself, “They don’t want refreshing and endearing characters or a beautifully written book?” Obviously, there’s nothing you can do with a rejection like that. A lot of the other letters were form rejections. They sting, but I’m blessed to have a significant other who always takes my side. Whenever I complain that publishers are stupid for rejecting me, he not only agrees with me, he tells me I’m a genius. (Laughter) They’re not really stupid; calling them that is just part of the process.
G: Dealing with rejection can be a multi-step process for sure!
Aud: After a day or so of whining about it and licking my wounds, I’ll put the manuscript aside for a while, then re-read the manuscript with a critical eye, make changes and submit it somewhere else. Here’s the other thing about Eddie. I loved that story and the characters and I believed in it enough that I would have kept going until somebody accepted it. Also, it didn’t hurt that whenever I’d ask my husband if I’d ever be published again he always said, “Yes.” And he’s the most indecisive person I know!! (Laughter)
G: It’s wonderful to have so much support! And that you were dedicated to your characters and your story.
G: Now, what’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Aud: The dreaded first draft. Once that one’s out of the way, the rest is pure joy.
G: What’s the best?
Aud: Editing! I love polishing and seeing how a raw idea evolves.
G: Wow – for me, it’s just the opposite. I really enjoy the first draft. The editing makes me sweat. Of course, having a great critique group really helps. Even if their hard questions are sometimes what make me sweat the most!
G: Is there a place that you’ve lived, or visited, that especially influences your writing?
Aud: When I was 15, I spent a summer at a lake in Maine with relatives. It ended up being the setting for Broken Soul to Broken Soul, as well as for my adult short story, “Monkey in the Middle,” also accepted by RWP for their next short story anthology.
G: Congratulations on that acceptance! And a lake shows up in your book trailer, too.
G: A lot of writers when they start out emulate other writers, consciously or not. Can you think of any authors you emulated?
Aud: This probably makes me different from the average author; I began life as a reluctant reader. As a kid, I didn’t think anybody wrote stories I wanted to read, so I started writing for myself. When it comes to emulating, I probably emulated lively stories and conversations I’d heard when my mother and grandmother met for coffee. I think that’s why I enjoy writing dialog so much. Without realizing it, I paid attention to the cadence of their voices.
G: That’s very cool! And I can vouch for your dialogue – it just feels so real when I read it.
G: What writers do you most admire?
Aud: Right out of college I couldn’t get enough of Kurt Vonnegut. Back then I was also a big fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. I was also impressed with Stephen King’s down-to-earth dialog.
G: What authors do you read most and enjoy most now?
Aud: I like Timothy Keller and Andy Stanley. Both are Christian nonfiction writers. As for fiction, the actual author doesn’t matter. If it’s a fantasy, cozy mystery, romance, literary fiction, Christian fiction, middle grade, YA, or anything about horses, I’ll pretty much read it. Good or bad. You can learn a lot about the art of writing by reading really bad fiction.
G: You know, you’ve got a good point. I’ll have to remember that the next time some writing doesn’t impress me.
G: What are you reading presently, or most recently?
Aud: I just finished a YA novel about a girl surfer titled, We Thought We Were Invincible, by Michelle Lynn. I’m bad with names, I only know that author’s name because I just checked it on my Kindle. (Laughter)
G: And what are you working on now?
Aud: Edits to my middle grade novel called, This Way/That Way.
G: We’re reading that story at our critique group now, and I’m really enjoying getting to know your heroine, Nickie. She’s quite a character!
G: What is the next project you hope to do?
Aud: It better be book three of my Frama-12 trilogy. (Laughter)
G: Good, because having read the drafts for the first two, I can’t wait to find out what happens in book three!