The rewards of starting a little library in your neighborhood

IMG_3338I’ve probably mentioned the little neighborhood library that I began in front of my home a few years back.  My neighbor, George decided to build a more water proof version for me, and one that would accommodate more books.  We planned the dimensions over dinner and a bottle of wine. His wife, Kathy offered some cute little seahorse drawer handles that she had been saving for a special occasion. The roof is an old rubber pool liner offered by Nigel and Cathy, a couple from across the street who saw us working on the library in front of George’s place.  I used some left over paint from a craft project to paint it up. George put heavy duty wheels. And here it is.

Now I have four shelves instead of two and the shelves are bigger, so it’s easier to fit picture books. A pleasant bonus is that now,  I know my neighbors a little better. I admit that a few of the books don’t find their way back. But most do.  And,  I even get book donations dropped off at my door.

IMG_3337I have found roses, book marks and notes waiting left for me from appreciative readers. Yesterday, when I went out to replenish the library and this is the note that waiting for me.

Thanks Julia.  This is exactly why I do it.

Walter Dean Myers

Sad news…

African-American author, Walter Dean Myers passed away yesterday. He was 76 years old. He was one of several wonderful writers who changed the face of literature for young people in North America.

I had the pleasure of hearing him speak only once, but his words, like his books, will remain with me for years to come. Fallen Angels, Monster, and Bad Boy are some of my favorites. I will be revisiting them, and I hope you do too. He often set his stories in inner city neighborhoods and featured characters who often made  less than ideal choices.

Myers,who grew up in Harlem under some tough circumstances,  dropped out of high school, and had more than a few brushes with the law.  He managed to stay connected to books and reading through his local library.  In a public radio interview on “here & Now,” Myers says, “My circumstances often seemed insurmountable to me, but through reading I reached out for ideas that might help me escape them. The books I read showed me options other than those I saw reflected in my surroundings. They gave me new definitions for success in my life.”

After working a series of low paying jobs, he took the advice of a high school teacher who had told him to keep writing no matter what.  Fortunately for all of us, Walters followed that high school teacher’s advice.  He went on to publish more than 100 books and became one of the most respected voices in young adult literature in America.  He was a tireless advocate for literacy, and his writing was especially popular with middle and high school boys.  His books garnered multiple honors including: five Coretta Scott King Awards for African-American fiction, two Newbery Honor Medals, and a Printz Award. He was named a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in 2012-13.

For young writers looking for writing advice, Myers published Just Write, which he described as a template from his own life.





A productive day…18 jars of 3 berry jam and 5 jars of raspberry jam.



Summer fun

I love summers and so do kids, but some days, but every now and then, a rainy…I’m bored day comes along. What to do?  National Geographic Kids has some very cool coloring pages to download, but why stop there?  Kids can use the pages as jumping off points for there own drawing projects, or accompany the art with their own stories.

Creating Characters that Live; a guest post

Here’s a guest post by Nikolas Baron about characters that live.  For examples of books where the characters feel like real people, check out authors like, K L Going, Lisa Yee, Karen Rivers, and Sherman Alexie.


Creating Characters that Come to Life

The argument between writers who believe that plot is more important and those who favor characterization as the foundation of effective writing is long-running. Without an attention-grabbing plot, it’s difficult to keep the reader engaged, but without strong characters, the audience will quickly lose interest in even the most exciting action. Writing characters that draw the reader in is a matter of creating characters the reader cares about in the story. Even before a manuscript is run through a proofreading program, or the editing begins, it’s important to begin building characters that capture the reader’s attention and hold it through the story. Without a personal connection to the character, without a feeling of empathy, the reader will quickly lose interest and close the book or click away from the page.

Creating a connection with the reader requires an understanding of characterization. Characters come in several layers. The first layer character is flat, appearing only long enough to establish a scene or to set up the protagonist. The first layer character is the man or woman on the street, the child playing ball in front of the main character’s house as he stares out the window, contemplating his next move. They move the story forward, without becoming deeply involved. The first layer character is little more than a prop, a placeholder, which moves the story forward without becoming deeply involved. These characters are necessary to populate the stage and give background to the story, but they are little more than setting, used to establish a sense of place.

The second layer character is also known as the secondary character. This character may be a friend or family member of the main character. Their problems, fears, desires, or other conflicts exist only to move the main character forward. The secondary character may help move the main character forward, propelling him or her to action or motivating his or her development. The secondary character needs to be engaging to capture the reader’s interest, but should not hog the spotlight. The focus must remain in the main character in order for the story to keep moving forward. The secondary character serves as a foil, the Watson to Sherlock, the Robin to Batman, the Sam to Frodo. It’s hard to imagine one without the other, but while the story could be constructed without the secondary character, the protagonist, when it comes time to face the bitter climax, will go on alone, whether carrying the ring into Mordor, facing Moriarty, or bringing the villain to defeat.

The top-level (or main) character is the star of the show, the hero or heroine of the epic, and holds the focus from the beginning of the story to the end. This can be accomplished either by writing in first person, with the main character as the narrative voice of the story, or in third person by keeping the main character at the forefront of the action. Every plot point must focus on the main character’s story in some way. Even the conflict faced by the secondary characters must serve to move the main character forward in his or her journey.

Creating a relatable main character means paying attention to the details that make a character relatable. A secondary character must also have some of these virtues, but the main character should be a fully-developed creation, complete with hopes, dreams, goals, flaws, and mistakes. While a main character must have characteristics that make him or her likable and relatable, he or she should not be too perfect. Elsewise the author runs the risk of creating a character no one will like. Readers love a hero, but if the hero’s hair is never out of place, his teeth too white, her voice too sweet, or without a flaw to be seen, the reader will lose interest. While the action drives the plot, the change in the character himself or herself is the fuel that makes the engine run. A perfect character cannot change for the better, therefore there is nothing for the reader to advocate. A character must have flaws, not only to be believable, but also to be changeable for the better. Well rounded characters with problems, flaws, and depth are what make a story interesting to the reader.

By Nikolas Baron



Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.




Stories come in all shapes, sizes and mediums

I love that stories can be told in so many ways.  Here’s a Ted Talk by Jim Toomey that is really cool…it’s his story on how he became a cartoonist, but it’s also the story of how “Story” comes in a variety of forms and how it can have an impact on our world.  So, for all you parents and teachers out there who tell kids to stop doodling, you may want to check this out. And for those of you who are kids and doodle-inclined, this is for you.

Humor Writing Contest

Contests are a great way to build writing credentials but not all contests are created equal. If you’re able to write humor, here’s a good one that is accepting submissions from adults, and young adults.  You’d better hurry though.  The closing date is just around the corner (June 30).




Recognizing that Samuel Clemens (aka: Mark Twain) began writing at an early age and to encourage other young authors, we welcome submissions for two categories:

  • Adult (age 18 and over at time of submission) at $22 per submission, and
  • Young Author (age 17 and under at time of submission) at $12 per submission.
  • Submissions fees go towards the preservation of The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CT. This contest is a whole new way for Twainiacs to support Twain’s legacy

FEE: $22.00 USD for Adults, $12.00 USD for Young Adult Writers

DEADLINE: 7/1/2014

•  Submit 10,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. (Entries longer than 10,000 words will be disqualified.)

•  Submissions must be in English.

•  Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. We want to hear your voice. And we want you to make us laugh!

•  Submissions will be judged by our award-winning Mark Twain House staff writers and scholars, Trinity College faculty, and celebrity judges: Roy Blount, Jr., Colin McEnroe, and Lucy Ferris. Celebrity judges for the 17 & under contest are Tim Federle and Jessica Lawson.

•  Submissions are due by June 30th, 2014.

•  Winners may be asked to provide age verification regarding submission category.

•  You may submit more than one entry; a separate fee is required for each entry.

•  Winners will be notified by September 5, 2014.

•  Winners will be presented to the public at the 4th Annual “Mark My Words” event at which bestselling authors appear onstage October 21, 2014 to benefit The Mark Twain House & Museum. (Past authors have included John Grisham, David Baldacci, and Sandra Brown.)

•  Winners will retain ownership of their work. The Mark Twain House & Museum reserves the right to publish winning pieces in a public forum with credit to the author.

PRIZES (winners in both categories):

•      1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult & Young Author)

•      2nd Prize: $500 (Adult& Young Author)

•      3rd Prize: $250 (Adult& Young Author)

•      Three Honorable Mention Prizes: $100 Gift Certificate for the Mark Twain Museum Store (Adult & Young Author).

•  All 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Prize winners in both the “Young Author/17 and under” and “Adult/18 and over” categories will be invited to attend “Mark My Words” and go backstage to meet bestselling authors. (Winners are responsible for their travel and accommodations.)

•  Staff and immediate family members of the Mark Twain House are not eligible.

The mission of The Mark Twain House & Museum is to foster an appreciation of the legacy of Mark Twain as one of our nation’s defining cultural figures, and to demonstrate the continuing relevance of his work, life and times. The Mark Twain House & Museum operates as a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation. Mark Twain built the house in 1874 and lived here with his wife and children until 1891. This is where he wrote such masterpieces as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and is located at 351 Farmington Avenue in Hartford, CT. We appreciate your participation in this inaugural writing contest as it supports our preservation efforts.


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