Monday, August 4, 2014

Fido and Friend in Five: Patricia Hruby Powell and Lil!

I know, I know...I haven't done a Fido and Friend In Five in ever so long! What with this and what with that, the time just seemed to slip away. But then I read Patricia Hruby Powell's extraordinary young biography, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, and I knew it was time to (at least for now) resurrect Fido and Friend! Plus, I've never had anyone on my blog who, in a previous professional life, was a trapeze artist. I'm not kidding. Patricia was a professional dancer and choreographer for many years, as well as a mime and librarian. Now, lucky for us, she writes splendid nonfiction for kids.

Her latest book, Josephine, is a passionate, volcanic, rhythmic, stunning biography about the African American dancer and singer Josephine Baker.  I tell you, when I read it, I just wanted to leap
out of my chair and dance! To say Patricia has brought Josephine Baker to life in this wonderfully illustrated book is an understatement. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Josephine has won the Boston Globe Horn Book Nonfiction Honor 2014, Parents Choice Gold Poetry 2014, and the Bologna Ragazzi Nonfiction Honor 2014, plus loads of starred reviews.

I've actually known Patricia for several years. She writes book reviews from time to time for her local newspaper in Champaign Urbana, Illinois, and has reviewed A Dog's Way Home and The Dogs of Winter. As so often happens with dog people, we connected. Let's meet Patricia and her rescued Tree Walker Hound, Lil, in the return of Fido and Friend In Five!

1. How did you and Lil find each other?  I "overnighted" Lil, volunteering for Mobile Mutts, a dog rescue operation that transports dogs from deep south high-kill shelters to far north no-kill shelters. Lil was found in a Kentucky field and then slated for euthanasia when she got spayed and then the next day put on a volunteer's van. She arrived in Champaign (Illinois) looking like a bag of bones, weak, submissive--love at first site. I actually had to put her back on the transport early the next morning. We both cried, but they brought her back to me late that morning.

2. What makes Lil's tail wag?  Anticipation. She sees me approach and knows she's going to get loved and starts thump thump thumping. When we arrive home, her whole body wags. A different kind of wag starts when she catches hold of a scent, nose to the ground. Lil is a Tree Walker Hound. She doesn't actually climb trees, she jumps straight up and pushes off a tree, so it looks like she's running up the tree. Spectacular! Everyone wants to see a video. I've only managed to get a photo of her jumping 7 feet straight up off the ground.

3. If Lil could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  If I let her run for 24 hours. I wish I could. If not that, I could pet her for 24 hours. Either would suit her.

4. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  A Dog's Way Home and The Dogs of Winter--both by you, Bobbie Pyron. Can't decide which. I was planning on writing a dog story from Lil's point of view, so I thought I'd read dog stories. When I read your novels, I realized you'd done it. I didn't need to do it. They're the best since my childhood reading of Jim Kjelgaard's Big Red and The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.

5. In five words, tell us what Lil means to you:  love, independence, intelligence, wag, sensitivity. Actually, this is what Lil is: dance, empathy, fast, funny, sweet.

Thanks so much to the lovely, talented, interesting Patricia Hruby Powell and her Lil for inspiring me to another Fido and Friend in Five. Be sure to visit her website to find out more about her life and her books. And be sure to read Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. If it doesn't make you want to get on up and dance, I don't know what will!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Resurfacing for Writing Blog Tour!

Greetings and many apologies for not blogging in a very long time! I have LOTS of excuses--most of them boring--but now I'm popping back in to be part of a writer's blog tour, thanks to author Patricia Hruby Powell. I'm such a great fan of her nonfiction, particularly her latest book, Josephine: the Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, I couldn't say no.

So here are the four question on writing we're answering:

1. What are you currently working on? Well, now that all the revisions and edits are done on my middle grade novel, Lucky Strike (Scholastic), coming out next spring, I have a couple different projects I'm working on. I'm about half way through a young adult novel tentatively titled Pink Slip. It's about what happens when The Infinite Mysterious (God to some people) decides that the human race has not passed its probationary period and is about to be given the pink slip. I'm also working on a picture book biography about the last black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, Jimmy Winkfield. The more I work on it, the more admiration I have for people like Patricia who write such excellent biographies for kids. It's hard!

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?  That's a tough question. As far as Pink Slip goes, the idea came to me in response to my bafflement with the whole trend of dystopian fiction, and also from my life-long contemplation of religion and spiritual beliefs. After reading The Hunger Games and Divergent, I just couldn't understand why, if the majority believe there is a god who influences everything we do, why he/she would allow the human race to become the way they are in these dystopic worlds. Besides, who needs to create these violent worlds when we're killing each other at such a vicious rate? The book about Jimmy Winkfield will hopefully live up to the other wonderful picture book bios out there!

3. Why do you want to write?  I often ask myself that question as I stare blankly at my computer on a beautiful summer day! I think more than "want to write" it's that I "have to write." I just feel better about my self and about the world when I write. Plus I have all these little voices yakking away in my head. The only way I can get them to shut up is to write! Finally, I write because I LOVE connecting with readers. There's no better high on earth than to meet or get an email from a young person who passionately loves what you write. Nothing can beat that.

4. How does your individual writing process work?  I tend to think about a story for a long time before I sit down to actually write it. That time period can be a couple of months, like with A Dog's Way Home, to five or six years, as with The Dogs of Winter. If I'm still excited by the story after the initial first blush has faded, then I make notes about the story, setting, and characters. This is not an outline! I am NOT an outliner before the first draft. Once I do start writing, I try to get that first draft down a fast as I can. Again, though, that can vary from nine months to four months. I try to write most every day but that doesn't always happen. I'm very happy if I get three to four fairly good pages written when I do write. Because my brain gets tired when I work on fiction, I like to have a nonfiction project to work on at the same time. So a lot of times, I'll work on my fiction project in the first half of the day and then on the nonfiction the second half. All of my books, even fiction, require a lot of research. When I  came up with the idea for The Dogs of Winter, I researched for five years before I wrote the first draft. The irony, though, is that before I actually sit down to write the story, I have to forget all the things I've learned! In a novel, you don't want your "research seams" to show. I try not to get too hung up on "process" though. It seems like the process for each book is different. The two things that are consistent with my process is I always write in my office and have music on when I write.

Okay, that's it! Next you'll hear from my good friend, Becky Hall. She's the author of A Is For Arches and Morris and Buddy: the story of the first seeing eye dog. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fido and Friend in Five: Kathryn Erskine and Fletcher!

Kathy Erskine, author of National Book Award winner, Mockingbird, was one of the first authors to visit Fido and Friend back in March of 2011, with her dog Maxine.
 Since then, Kathy wrote another best-selling book, The Absolute Value of Mike, and, sadly, lost her precious Maxine.

But times moves on. All dog lovers must have a dog in their lives, while they hold their past dogs in their hearts. It's what our dogs would want from us to honor them: to open our hearts and our arms and our homes to another dog. And that's what Kathy has done. This past year, she and her family welcomed a new dog into their lives, a most handsome Labradoodle named Fletcher.

Kathy Erskine has also written a new book, Seeing Red, which will hit bookstore and library shelves in late September! Seeing Red is the story of twelve-year-old Red Porter, a kid growing up in the early 1970's in small town Virginia. Red recently lost his daddy and everything has changed. Before his daddy died, he was happy just to work in their family garage with him. Now he considers himself the man of the house, even if his mother and brother don't quite see it that way. His relationship with his friends becomes strained, and then there's some family secrets that come to light. As with all her books, Kathy has written another powerful book about family and friendship. This is one I can't wait to read!

Aren't you done yet?
1. How did you and Fletcher find each other?  For the first time ever, we went to a breeder. My daughter seems to have developed allergies so we wanted a Labradoodle, and it's very hard to find one at a shelter or rescue organization, although we tried.

Tired, happy dog!
2. What makes Fletcher's tail wag?  Going to the dog park, playing with neighborhood dogs, attention from anyone, playing fetch, treats of all kinds.

3.  If Fletcher could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  I think he would like me to sit at my computer less. He sometimes sits there and stares at me, and then starts rifling through my inbox. That's when I know it's time to play!

4. What's your all-time favorite dog book?  Well, since I've answered this before and there are so many great dog books out there, I picked your latest, The Dogs of Winter. Talk about a powerful story! And the fact that it's based on a true event--wow! Given how much I love dogs, it's surprising I haven't put one in a novel yet. I'm sure I will, but they may not be stars, like your dogs, Bobbie! (aw shucks)

5. In just five words, tell us what Fletcher means to you:  Activity, laughter, friendship, kisses, joy.
To smell you is bliss...

Thanks so much to the lovely Kathryn Erskine and her new BFF, Fletcher, for spending some time with us today on Fido and Friend in Five. To find out more about Kathy and to read her blog, visit her website!

Friday, August 23, 2013


A few weeks ago, while I was at the huge, annual SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference in Los Angeles, my sweet husband went to the Park City Arts Festival. One night while I was in L.A., he emailed me a picture of these windchime sort of things for sale at the festival and said he thought I'd like them. I saw one that said DREAM, and strongly hinted that I would sure love one of those! What better thing to hang in my office, I thought.

When I got home, he had not taken my hint (as husbands are sometimes prone to do), and had gotten me one that said BELIEVE. I will admit to you, I was a bit disappointed. After all, I was a writer, a creative person, a dreamer! "BELIEVE?"

But I will tell you, that one word has been more important to me every day, hanging there in the window at my desk where I work, than Dream ever could have been. Why? Believing is a concrete act that, in this profession, this act of faith, is often in short supply.

I can dream plenty. I can dream of all the many, many books I want to write. I can dream of my editor saying what I've written is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius that needs nary a revision. I can dream of many starred reviews, awards, and interviews on NPR and The Today Show. Dreams are never in short supply.

But very often, believing is. There are days when I look at that word and I try to believe I can actually be disciplined enough to get my butt in the chair, open my laptop (and not my email, and FaceBook, and Twitter) and do the work. There are many days it's all I can do to believe I have any talent at all, anything worthy of anyone's time to read. To BELIEVE I have a story to tell and I'm the one to tell it, to BELIEVE I have not only the skill to tell it but the grit and the heart and determination--that's what is often the hardest thing to do. On those all-too-often days when self-doubt whispers in my ear "who are you kidding?" I look up at that word, BELIEVE, illuminated by the light beyond the window, take a deep breath, try for that moment to believe, and write.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Fido and Friend in Five: Joni Sensel and Jazz!

Yes, dear readers, Fido and Friend is back after a bit of a break whilst I was busy with the "Authors for Catherine's Dream Signed Book Auction." Thankfully, it's all pretty much wrapped up, and we raised over $4,000.00!

Joni Sensel is the author of numerous, highly popular middle grade novels Reality Leak (described in Fuse 8 as "Fun and funny"), the gorgeously written historical The Humming of Numbers, and her award-winning fantasy series The FarWalker's Quest, The Timekeeper's Moon, and the latest The Skeleton's Knife. This series follows the quest of forest girl, Ariel, to discover her own mysterious and startling calling.

Joni is also the proud mother of two picture books,
including Bears Barge In and The Garbage Monster.

Like her heroine, Ariel, Joni is a bit of a "FarWalker" too. She's explored the Sahara Desert, New Zealand, France, and the British Isles--places that have inspired her work. In 2008, she set off on her own walking adventure in England and France, where she ended up walking more than 650 miles!

Like me, Joni lives in the west in a house in the woods, and likes to hike with her dog, and has raccoons in her tree and elk in her yard (well, I tend to have moose). Unlike me, Joni also loves to scuba dive and ride her motorcycle, and has mice in her stove vent.

And she has a dog, a wonderful dog named Jazz. Let's meet these two intrepid adventurers in today's Fido and Friend in Five!

1. How did you and Jazz find each other?  I rescued Jazz from a shelter where I'd previously volunteered and where I'd found several other dogs in the past. (The rule is I can only go into the kennel of a dog I'm planning to take home, because otherwise it makes me cry). When we got together in the "get to know you" room, he was more interested in the ball the staff gave him than in me, but he agreed to come home with me anyway. After four years, he still has some issues from his formative
Take me home?
years, but we've come a long way understanding each other.

2. What makes Jazz's tail wag?  Chasing things! Elk preferred, but spawning salmon, squirrels, rabbits, pickup trucks, bicyclists, tennis balls, and sticks will do in a pinch. We try to stay near to the end of that list.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Boy, I'm dating myself here, but Where the Red Fern Grows.

4. If Jazz could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  He'd give me a gender reassignment, I fear. He likes men more than women.

5. In five words, tell us what Jazz means to you:  Kooky pal who chases laughs.

Kooky friend!
Thanks so much to Joni and Jazz for getting Fido and Friend back
on track! Be sure to visit Joni's website to find out more about her books and her latest adventures!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Fido and Friend in Five: Annemarie, Zola and Zar!

Annemarie O'Brien
Tim Jessel's gorgeous cover!
Annemarie O'Brien and I go way back on the long, and sometimes, arduous road to publication. We first met around 2006 at Nancy Sondel's amazing Pacific Coast Children's Workshop, one of the very few writer's conferences just for folks who write fiction for middle grader's and teens. Neither of us had published--yet. She was deep into Vermont College's
 Master's program in writing for children and young adults; I had just written my first novel, The Ring, and was impatient to get published. We met several times again at Nancy's PCCW. While I railed against the rules and difficulties of getting an agent, much less an editor, Annemarie patiently worked and refined her skills and manuscript.

And now here we are! Annemarie's debut novel, Lara's Gift, will hit the bookstores on August 6th, and my humble little blog is the first stop in her blog tour! As she said, it just seems fitting.

Lara's Gift is a beautifully crafted story set in Imperial Russia about the love and devotion between a young girl and her dog. And this is not just any dog: Zar is a borzoi, the hunting dogs of the Tsar himself. Lara is being groomed to do what her family has done for generations: run Count Vorontsov's kennel which provides these stately and noble dogs to the Tsar. The borzois and Lara have a special connection, one that both frightens her and makes her proud, a gift that her father views as an abomination. Will Lara be able to convince her father it is her destiny to run the kennel? Will she be able to convince him that even though Zar is the runt of the litter, he has the courage and heart worthy of a Tsar? The ever-stingy Kirkus reviews gave Lara's Gift a starred review, describing the book as "engrossing and powerful."

Annemarie is able to write so convincingly about Russia and borzois in Lara's Gift because she once lived and worked in the former Soviet Union, and she shares her life with two borzoi, Zola and Zar. Let's kick off Annemarie's blog tour with this very special Fido and Friend in Five!

1. How did you and your dogs find each other?  Both of my borzoi, Zola and Zar, are rescues through their respective breeders. They inspired the fictional characters in Lara's Gift. We found Zeus,
Zola & Zar
our silken windbound (best described as a miniature borzoi) from breeder Cynthia Dell. I fell in love with borzoi when I was gifted a puppy in Moscow where I worked after graduate school. Dasha was like no other dog I'd ever had. I grew up with spaniels and retrievers who wanted to be everyone's pal. Dasha was selective in the people she allowed to pat her on the head, so she made me feel special.

Let's run Mom!
2. What makes Zola and Zar's tails wag?  The leash, my running shoes, and of course, a meat bone!

3. If your dogs could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  That's an easy question. If they could, I'm sure they would snap their paws and make me an instant lottery winner so I wouldn't have to work so much and could take them for more runs!

4. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  This one is hard because there are so many. But I guess I'd have to go back to my kid days and say Lassie Come-Home, Lady and the Tramp, or 101 Dalmations. 
Breed of the Tsars

5. In just five words, tell us what Zola and Zar mean to you:  Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.

Love. Love. Love
Okay, so I know after you read this, you're just chomping at the bit to read LARA'S GIFT! So here's your chance to win a free, signed copy! All you need to do to enter a drawing to win a signed copy is leave a comment below and share this post on your fav social media site! Could it be any easier? I'll draw the winning name on August 15th. 

For more opportunities to win a copy of LARA’S GIFT and/or a manuscript critique by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor, check out these blogs on these dates: Fiction Notes (7/31); Kissing the Earth, Quirk and Quill, or Simple Saturday (8/1); Coffee with a Canine, Dog Reads, or World Reads (8/5); Dear Editor (8/6); Word Spelunking (8/7); Random Acts of Reading (8/8); The Hiding Spot (8/9); Beth Fish Reads (8/13); and Sarah Davies’s blog at Greenhouse Literary (TBD).

For more information about LARA’S GIFT, check out the web page:

Teacher Guide:

Book Trailer:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Big Ben! One Rescued Dog's Story

I have the great good fortune to live in a dog-loving community with its own amazing animal rescue organization, Friends of Animals Utah. I've worked as a volunteer with them for many years and have heard some truly inspiring rescue stories. This is one of them. Every year, FOA Utah has a fundraiser (the emphasis on Fun!) called Bark in the Park. At Bark in the Park, they honor one of their amazing rescues. This year it was Big Ben. My BFF, Charlene Brewster, is my guest blogger today, telling Ben's story. Get your hankies ready!

Every year we feature one of our rescued dogs on our race shirt.  This year, the dog is “Big Ben, the
Dr. Prior and Ben 
Miracle Dog” and the tag line is “Courage to Walk, Courage to Run.”  He has been an inspiration to many and we thought we would tell you his story.

November 25th, 2012 was a Sunday.  That was the day a young Great Pyrenees was hit by a car out on Route 248 near Stock Lumber.  He appeared out of nowhere and jumped in front of a car –  there was no way to avoid him.  The driver who hit him stopped as did several other people.  It was apparent he was badly injured.  He was in much pain and couldn't use his back legs.  There are many dogs used in the ranching community that are “free range” – guiding and guarding livestock with little or no human interaction or supervision.  This dog was one of them.
Healing Touch!
Many ranching dogs are not considered pets.  They are tools of the trade and treated as such.  Basically, if your shovel breaks and it costs more to fix it than buy a new one, then you throw out the broken one and get yourself a new shovel…  That was exactly what the rancher wanted to do with this broken dog: he wanted him shot by the sideof the road.

By this time, Animal Control, local veterinarian, Carl Prior and Friends of Animals were on the scene.  Dr. Prior and the folks gathered around wanted to give the dog a chance.  Worst case, he would be humanely euthanized in Dr. Prior’s office.  But maybe, just maybe…  there was a chance that he would make it.  He deserved that chance.  After more than a few tense moments, the rancher relinquished the dog to Animal Control and Friends of Animals Utah took responsibility from there. 
Ben's Wheels
The badly injured dog could not walk.  He did have a small fracture in his spine, but Dr. Prior was quite sure that given time for the injury to heal and the swelling to go down in his spine, he may very well walk again.  He was given the name Big Ben.

Now keep in mind, this dog had not spent much time with people and had probably never been inside a building or house for any amount of time ever in his life.  In a tremendous amount of pain and surrounded by strangers, you might think he would lash out in fear or mistrust.  That never happened. 
He spent more than a month at Park City Animal Clinic. For the first few weeks, he could not walk.  He had to be helped outside and to be moved into new positions.  He learned to use a doggie wheelchair and continued to heal.  Slowly but surely he began to use his back legs and eventually take some steps.  He grew stronger.

 Word got out in the dog community about this amazing dog.  People who heard about Ben would stop by the clinic and visit him.  People donated funds to pay for his medical care. 
There were several people who were truly his guardian angels.  One of the people who stopped to help the day of the accident was Billie Harsch.  She visited Ben every day at the clinic during his recovery and rallied the community around his story with her facebook reports on his progress and fundraising to pay for his care.  Fox 13 TV station did a story about him and Ben soon became a local celebrity – everyone wanted to know how Ben was doing.

Wow, A Bed & Toys!
When he was able to walk pretty well on his own, Ben went to the first of several foster homes.  The Bednars with Active K9 took him home for Christmas.  He then spent several months with Kim Brown and George Forbes at their house.  Utah Pet Rehab donated rehab services to help him get stronger and learn to walk properly.  In late February, Ben went to a new foster home.  Colleen Keblish and her family opened up their homes and heart to him.  He is still there today, not as a foster but as a permanent part of their family.  They have a small ranch in Silver Creek and he gets to run, swim and have fun every day.

So many great people came together to give this dog a chance.  In his honor, a fund has been started at Friends of Animals Utah called Ben’s Bank.  It's money that can be used to help badly injured or sick animals who need special care.  Who need a chance.  If you would like to contribute to Ben’s Bank,
Oh Yeah, Shopping!
please click here.   

Is that an amazing and inspiring story or what?! Please share with your friends and consider donating to Ben's Bank. Any donation will be tax deductible.