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Brewhaha Book Cafe

For Writers, Readers & Tea-drinkers

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June 2016

Dragon Clouds

I love a story that features an unlikely friendship, don’t you? So many come to mind & immediately make my heart all warm & fuzzy: Legolas & Gimli in Lord of the Rings, Mr. Fredricksen & Russel in Up, & more recently Nick Wilde & Lt. Judy Hopps in Zootopia (if you’ve not yet seen it, one’s a fox, the other a bunny… I’ll let you guess which is which!)

Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to witness an unlikely friendship in real life…. like yesterday, when my dog Hugo & I came across this Griffin – a stone sentinel armed with talons & a crushing beak… and this stuffed elephant.

Who knows? Maybe this particular Griffin can’t sleep without his cuddly elephant buddy. Maybe he takes as much flack for it as Linus does for faithfully toting his trusty blanky. But does he look like he cares? I mean, the other griffins might ruffle his feathers, but who’s gonna mess with this guy?

 

Caught an unlikely friendship in a photo of your own?  Send it on over to sippitsiters@gmail.com & we’ll share it here!

Wednesday Writers’ Cafe: paper & ink? or keyboard & screen?

In this era of digital EVERYTHING, many writers plan, write & edit their work entirely on screen. But biros & parchment haven’t entirely been regulated to curiosity cabinets quite yet. Neil Gaiman still hand writes his novels, J.K. Rowling spent five years creating her magical world in hand-scribbled notes on just about any scrap of paper she could find, and G.R.R. Martin types out his never-ending saga Game of Thrones on an old  word-processor machine…(no wonder we’re still awaiting the last installment!).

There are certainly pros & cons to any method. Some writers feel the only way to think freely is on paper where you can doodle, scratch out & squeeze notes into the margins to your heart’s content. But of course there’s the practical side of things– typing is quicker & removes the agonizing step of transposing your handwritten notes to type later.

The jury is still out on this one. So let’s hear what you think:

How do you prefer to write: by hand? or straight onto the screen?

Or maybe it’s a little of both? Comment below or write about your preferred “dark writing materials” in your own blog & link back to us here at Brewhaha Book Cafe.

Whatever method you’re using to churn out your stories today, happy writing!

Interview with author/illustrator Anna Caroline Grant (top tips from a born artist)

If Creativity were contagious, every struggling author and artist would want to hang around with Anna Caroline Grant. To this bright, articulate, life-loving ten-year-old, creating seems as natural a thing as breathing… or dancing, in her case. Her recent works include such novelties as the legend of why the willow tree weeps, and the chronicles of a traveling bouncy ball. I’ve had the pleasure of proofing quite a few of her illustrated stories, and my reaction is always the same: “How does she come up with these amazing ideas?!” followed by, “Why can’t I think up ideas like these?!” The answer is simple: because Anna Caroline is one of a kind, and her stories and pictures reflect that to a tee.

Anna hails from the USA, but lives in Spain along with two parents, four siblings and one dog. I was lucky enough to pin down this little sprite in the midst of her busy, creative daily life and ask her a few questions about her creative process. Read the interview below & prepare to be inspired!

Q: When did you first start writing & illustrating?                                                                        A:“I knew I was going to create children’s books since I was 4.” Of course, back in those days, Anna’s stories were much simpler — a description of a flower or a fairy. But Anna explains that her stories have grown along with her. “I’ve been writing stuff like that until now, when I’m writing stuff I feel like I’m going to publish.” And with her winning attitude mixed with dedication to her craft, getting published is only a matter of time for Anna. So next, I wanted to know…

Q: Where do you get your ideas?                                                                                                        

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Anna’s illustrations are characterized by emotive power & attention to detail

A: “That is a very good question!” Anna exclaims, stopping to consider. It seems her sources are myriad. But one stands out from the crowd. “So the key to this is reading other books.”Anna gives an example of recently reading E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and getting an idea to write about an unlikely animal friendship. “Not a pig and a spider, because that would be copying.” The key is mixing bits of inspiration together to form something new, Anna explains, like cooking up a story stew. “I put that idea with an idea from another book, and it makes a new story that’s a bunch of other stories mixed together.”

Funny thing is, I recall a very similar description of story-making from another, much older author by the name of J.R.R. Tolkien. Looks like Anna’s in good company!

Besides books she’s reading for fun, Anna also gets ideas from her language classes at school. She explains how studying parts of speech gives her the tools she needs to write descriptively. And then it’s down to practice. Sounds like a lot of work goes into these wild and wonderful stories, so I’m wondering…    IMG_1849

Q: What’s the best part of writing and illustrating?                                                             A:That answer comes easy: “Illustrations!” I recently attended an interview with some of Britain’s most celebrated author/illustrators included Oliver Jeffers, and I was curious to hear how Anna would answer this question that they all seemed to struggle with…

Q: What come first, the story or the picture?      A:“I always think of an image in my head first,” Anna answers without a moment’s hesitation. “For example, I read a fairy book and think of a fairy that can’t fly.” For Anna, all it takes is one image like that flightless fairy to give birth to a whole story. She makes it sound so straight-forward, so easy! So I have to ask…

Q: What’s the hardest part?                                                                                                                      A:(Having been pulling my hair out over my latest book this week, I’m bowled over by her answer) “It’s mostly easy… but if I had to pick a hard part, it’s when I can’t think of the next story to write.” But Anna is a classic glass-half-full person, so even those stuck-in-the-mud moments can’t keep her down for long. “In those tough times… you just write descriptively,” she says confidently, as if it’s a given that stories come out of writing what you see just like apples come from apple blossoms. And why not? It’s clearly working for Anna, though I still suspect she has some secret super-power when it comes to Creativity. So I ask her to spill the beans…

Q: What advice can you give to kids or grownups who want to be writers but don’t know where to start?

A: Anna’s top tips are GOLDEN NUGGETS: *(DO NOT MISS THESE!)

  1. Do the first thing that comes into your mind. If you don’t like it, you can just do something else.
  2. Keep practicing and keep reading
  3. Look back at old stuff you’ve read or written. Sometimes you just need to put the pieces together.
  4. Anna’s #1 piece of advice:

The secret to drawing and writing is to try to have fun doing it. Not just thinking ‘this is important. I have to do this perfectly.’ Don’t take it too seriously so it’s ‘Think, Think, Think.’ Think about it for a moment and then write it! Just do it!

My suspicions prove true. The pixie dust that gives Anna’s Creativity flight is special to her, but it’s also something we can all take away from her approach to creating stories and art. It’s supposed to be FUN!

And that’s what inspires me so much about Anna Caroline Grant. She works hard, but her stories flow out of a joyful, life-loving spirit. After all, what’s the point of writing if you don’t love doing it? Take it from this 10-year-old, and watch this space! You’ll be seeing her name at your local bookshop ‘ere long! But for now, here’s an exclusive sneak peak at Anna’s new venture: illustrated poetry!

“A Child’s Dream of Nature”

by Anna Caroline Grant

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Inspiration: “Looking out the window!”

New book review: Mystery of Pheasant Cottage (by Patricia St.John)

The Mystery of Pheasant Cottage

By Patricia M. St.John St.John

Lucy Martin leads a simple but happy life with grandparents at Pheasant Cottage. But one question lies dormant in Lucy’s heart and occasionally erupts to upset her quiet life: Why doesn’t she have a father?

Her grandparents are all too happy to speak about their daughter, Lucy’s mother who died when she was born, but when the topic of her father comes up, lips are sealed. With the encouragement of her rash new friend Don, Lucy determines to find her father and reconnect the broken pieces of her family. The quest does not go as planned. For the first time, Lucy find herself literally caught up in an adventure that is over her head. One thing becomes clear: she cannot reconcile her family on her own. Only when Lucy comes to grips with the true meaning behind the old Bible she’s long considered a boring old book, and the Friend within its living pages does she truly come to understand the meaning of forgiveness, love and life beyond death.

Originally published in 1978, The Mystery of Pheasant Cottage is now it its 3rd edition in 2015. St. John writes with a bygone poetic charm, but the story is as relevant as ever. Readers will be drawn into Lucy’s life and longings on a deep level. Be prepared to rejoice and cry with her, right to the last page. An absolutely profound and beautiful story, up there with the classics!

Genre: Middle Grade

Tea: classic English Breakfast

Writing Buddies: A Tale of Kindred Spirits

Every writer should have a writing buddy, but they are a rare species, especially good ones! People who are encouraging, know enough about writing to actually be of help, and who are able to tell you if something isn’t working. Writing buddies aren’t editors; Mez and I will edit each other’s work, but we aren’t expert editors. It’s more about finding obvious errors and, even more, telling each other what we like. Let’s face it, when it comes to our writing, writer’s have fragile egos. There will be plenty of people to critique your work when it gets into the publishing process. Writing buddies are for encouragement, accountability, sounding boards, and general writing errors. Tough order to find, right?

I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to find writing buddies is how secretive writers tend to be about their writing. Mez talked about this in one of her first posts, how hard it can be for a writer to admit that, well, they are a writer.

Why on earth is this so hard? There’s a very small handful of people I’ll show my writing to. Like, three people. And Mez is the only one I talk to about it. It’s easier writing about it like this in the blog, but I don’t talk about it. Or can’t. Literally. Typing about it, sure. Talking, no way.

Any of you have this issue? If so, you aren’t alone. Do you work alone, maybe close the laptop or journal when someone comes in? Don’t ever tell anyone you are a writer?

I think it’s so hard because writing is so intensely personal. You can’t help but put some of yourself into your writing. Who your characters are, what they go through, their hopes and dreams, it all comes out of your head. There’s no distancing yourself from it.

And, of course, there’s the “Is it good?” Mez touched on this in one of her earlier posts. What if it’s stupid, or boring, or cliche? When you hand someone something so personal, especially someone you know, even a lukewarm reaction can hurt. “Oh, I enjoyed.” Hands it back, and moves on. Wait, what?? I spent 200 hours on this, and that’s all I get??

And that’s where writing buddies come in, people who understand. People who can tell you what they enjoyed about it, why it was good. To encourage you when you think it’s all trash, to keep you to a schedule (sort of), and be a sounding board.

Obviously, my writing buddy is Mez! Wanna know how it came about? Me too…can barely remember how it all started.

I moved from a public school to a private Christian school in the eighth grade. I’m super shy around strangers, so I followed the only girl I knew around like a shadow. Lydia, thank you for putting up with me! Mez wasn’t there at the time, she was being home-schooled, though she had gone there when she was younger. So when someone heard I’d switched schools, they asked me if I knew her.

No, didn’t know her.

I got asked that question twice more. I can’t remember if it was the same person, all I knew was it was ticking me off (I tend to overreact to stuff…it’s a character flaw I’m trying to work on :). NO, I DON’T know her!

I briefly saw her at my church’s VBS with her brother, realized who she was, and basically thought, “oh, it’s her.” Can’t you tell what a warm, fuzzy person I am?

Anyway, she started at my school again (er, her school since technically she was there first) and we became friends. Easy to do when there’s only 36 people in your grade. I started writing down the stories in my head in high school, but I can’t remember when or even why. I do know it’s easier to write than to read when the teacher is, well, teaching and I got bored easy. But somehow, it started. After high school, I started going over to Mez’s house, and we’d talk through stories (I’m ashamed to say I think I did most of the talking). Again, I don’t remember how this routine started, but it did. Then we traveled Europe together (with Brittany and her awesome French), then Mez studied abroad in England and I flew by myself for the first time to see her over Thanksgiving. A new routine started, and now I go to see her once a year, and she usually gets stateside about once a year. But we still send encouragement through texts, skype, and reading over each other’s work. In other words, I love the internet.

So, I guess you could say we stumbled into being writing buddies. We were friends who both happened to be writers.

Since writers can be such solitary, secretive creatures, it can be hard for us to connect with each other. If we can’t even admit we are writers, how can we know who to talk to? Again, internet to the rescue! That is one of the reasons Mez and I started this blog. To encourage other writers, and let you know you aren’t alone.

So, you aren’t alone, even if right now you are reading this on your phone so no one knows. Even if you’ve never shown anyone what you’ve written. You aren’t the only one. And believe it or not, even if they don’t get it, most people are encouraging once you get up the courage to admit you like to write. So try to work up the courage. You’ll need it when it comes time to publish. My heart’s pounding just thinking about it, and not in a good way. But that’s why I have Mez, who makes me query agents despite the fact it scares the living daylights out of me. Who tells me my character isn’t boring and she can’t wait for the scene I’m writing.

Thanks, Mez!

So here’s to all of you out there. Keep writing and Mez and I will try to encourage you here.

As Dory would say if she was a writer, “Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing, writing, writing!”

Great words to live by!

Wednesday Writers’ Cafe

Every artist has a unique method for getting into the creative mindset. Before composing, Brahms stoked his creative energy by shining his shoes, Beethoven poured ice water over his head, Samuel Johnson kept a cat, orange peel & tea close at hand to fuel his creativity, and Dickens rearranged the furniture, turning his bed to face north in the belief that the Earth’s magnetic field would pull the creativity right out of him!  Hey, each to his own.

So here’s our Wednesday Writers’ Cafe question for today:

How do you get your creative groove on when it’s time to write?

leave a comment below (keep scrolling down – it’s there!) or write about it in your own blog space & link back to us here at Brewhaha Book Cafe. Let’s get our collective creativity stewing!

Why Good vs Evil will never go out of fashion in Kids’ Lit

I’ve recently noticed a trend in the books being published for children. Quite contrary to old-school fairy tales where wicked deeds are dealt swift justice, the new brand gloss over evil, or even victimize the classic villain. Faerie is no longer the realm of high beauty & serious consequences, but of safety rails & political correctness. The wicked witch isn’t really so wicked… it’s just her insecurity complex that makes her behave badly. The big bad wolf’s viciousness boils down to a misunderstanding among neighbours.

Last year during our annual writing retreat, Bri & I went to see the film version of Into the Woods. While we thoroughly enjoyed the production, I couldn’t help squirming in my seat just a little at the paradigm shift being worked into the threads of Faerie. This modern reconstruction of classic fairy tales makes a point of turning our traditional notion of clear-cut Good vs Evil right on its head. The subtle aim is spelled out loud & clear in the song “No One is Alone”. Here’s a just a taster:

People make mistakes,
Holding to their own,
Thinking they’re alone.
Honor their mistakes
Everybody makes
Fight for their mistakes
One another’s terrible mistakes.
Witches can be right, Giants can be good.
You decide what’s right, you decide what’s good

This post-modern pantomime may at first sound open-minded & profound to our 1st-world, highly sheltered & sanitary sensibilities, but it will  never succeed in supplanting the classic goody vs. baddy tales of old. Why? Because it is wholly unrealistic & wholly unsatisfying. Some over-protective parents may like its sickly sweet sugar coating, but children will not. They are much more raw & robust when it comes to stomaching the truth about evil.

So here’s a plea to writers & publishers alike: Do NOT become squeamish of writing absolute evil into your stories. Here are just a few reasons:

Reading about evil prepares children to face it in reality.

However much we might like to delude ourselves, evil is a reality. You need only flip on the news or pick up a paper on the way home for proof. Children don’t need to the news to tell them evil is real. Even sheltered children when playing make-believe seem to know by some instinct that the game should involve a hero battling a villain. It’s as if they are born with a heightened sense of justice. By filtering out evil in Story, we do a serious disservice to our young readers who are grappling with it’s reality and need to come to terms with it on page before they face it head on in life.

I recently watched an old TV special about J.K. Rowling & was rather struck by this comment Stephen Fry made about the fearless honesty with which she writes about evil in Harry Potter:

I think it’s a function of literature to give children nightmares just as it’s a function of the biological world to give them measles. Because if they don’t get their nightmares when they’re twelve, they don’t wrestle with the dread of the unknown. Then, when it comes later in life, you’re really in for trouble, just as mumps at thirty is a much bigger deal than mumps at eight.

The darkness of the evil in Harry Potter is demonically dark. Surprising that the series is the hugest success in Kids’ Lit history? Hardly! It’s a testament to fact that kids want more than entertainment in laughs from what they read. They want meaning, truth, heroes they can champion because those heroes face villains they can & should rightfully hate. The evil of Voldemort motivates Harry to fight for all that is good in his world.

Steve Kloves, the screenwriter for most of the Harry Potter films, observed the grand & compelling themes in Rowling’s story:

The Thing about Potter is that it’s very earnest about expressions of things like Loyalty, Courage and Redemption. Audiences were hungry for that.

He couldn’t be more right. Loyalty glows in Harry Potter in contrast to treachery & self-aggrandizement. The moment of Redemption, when Love breaks through & wins the day, is so powerful only because of the vileness of the evil it’s overcome. These are the oldest themes in Story, and they have hardly lost their luster.

And this brings me to the second reason we must not shy away from writing about evil–not gratuitously, for the sake of inflicting our readers with nightmares, but meaningfully…

The greatest stories are redemptive, but without evil, good cannot prevail.

The presence of evil takes a story from entertaining to compelling. Just consider what Lord of the Rings would be like with no Sauron–a lyrical description of the quaint and beautiful lives of hobbits, dwarves & elves. Perhaps enjoyable just as a pretty painting is for its detail. But the beauty of Middle Earth is enhanced ten-fold after its near decimation. Hobbiton is all the more splendid at the end of the books because Frodo, through toil & humble sacrifice, has fought and saved it from a great and powerful evil. Middle Earth is redeemed. We rejoice with its victors.

Going back to “Potter”, If J.K. Rowling had written a book all about a boy wizard who wants desperately to make the Quidditch team, we would have found it amusing & imaginative. But would Harry Potter have become the phenomenon that it is had Voldemort–a paradigm of pure evil–never threatened to destroy all that was good & wonderful about the wizarding world? I think not. Evil raises the stakes of Harry’s plight, & our commitment to seeing Harry through to the bitter end rises with them.

What so often makes Children’s stories the best stories, the ones that stick with us all our lives, that mold us into who we become, is their very boldness in dealing with the Big and Real stuff of human existence, namely Good vs. Evil. Chivalry, Heroism, Sacrifice, Courage, Justice, real Adventure all depend on there being real threats & real dangers posed by real evil. Those are themes kids can and should sink their teeth into. Ultimately, happy endings are happiest when they’ve been hard won. Or as Kathleen Shumate from the fantastic blog The Story Warren puts it:

The depths of suffering in a story only serve to make the redemption that much richer and more satisfying.

So will the newfangled notions of Into the Woods replace the traditional formula of Good vs. Evil in future fairy tales? Er… don’t hold your breath on that. I reckon these lyrics from “Wonder” ( from Lord of the Rings the Musical) are likely to resonate far longer in the land of Story:

Out of death, life
Out of night, day, glory from sorrow
Out of grief, joy
Out of storm, comes strength for tomorrow
Out of dust, gold
Out of fire, air, comfort forsaken
Out of rage, calm
Out of loss, find, glory awaken

Let’s be bold for the sake of our readers. Let’s write stories that will arm them for future battles, inspire them to hope in dark times, & give them a taste for Glory!

Dragon Clouds-Sun and Moon

Can you believe it’s the first day of summer? It seems as if the year just started! But here we are on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Not only that, there is a full moon tonight! Something magical is bound to happen. What do you think? Of course, in Epic it’s time to choose the new queen! But what sort of magical occurrence do you think happens when the summer solstice and a full moon meet? A doorway opens or shuts? Werewolves stronger or weaker? Or just general mayhem by all fey creatures? If there’s any day (or night) fairies have the ability to run amuck, it’s today! So keep an eye out and if anything goes wrong (or right!), there may be a fairie close by.

Dragon Clouds

We all need inspiration in our lives. Not just to write novels, but in our everyday lives to help us get through another day. So Mez and I are going to start posting random things that inspire us, make us smile, help us forget a bad day. These will all be titled Dragon Clouds because our first post is a pic I took of some clouds. Doesn’t it kind of look like a dragon head emerging from the clouds? I know any minute its body is going to emerge and it’ll take off into the sky, a dragon made of clouds.

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If you have any inspiring pictures or tales that belong in a story, let us know! You can send them to sippitsisters@gmail.com and we’ll post the best ones!

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