Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I love a bookstore. You should too.

Imprint Book Store, Port Townsend WA. Photo by Nancy Botta

I have a mental image of a bookstore. 

It is much like the Nancy Botta photo above, a cozy place on an inviting street and, just at dusk, the light shines out golden, as if to say "come on in." 

Inside, the exotic scent of dry paper and printer's ink, invites—beckons—and the comfortable busy clutter of too many books, many of them calling out ... "look at me." 

Some of the world's smartest and most interesting people, from all ages, are shelved here, waiting to whisper their truths, their secrets into our eyes, into our hearts, memories and lives. 

My very first bookstore

You never forget your first one. Oh, okay, I don't remember the name, I was about ten. We had come back to Cambridge where my father attended the Episcopal Theological School and Harvard. My brothers and I attended running wild across acres of campus lawns in an area where history still lived. 

A fence I jumped over put me into Longfellow's garden! No, he wasn't there. Richard Henry Dana lived around the corner ... well, used to. These streets and sidewalks knew their tread.

My first bookstore stood off Harvard Square, in memory, much as described above. We were about to drive back across country to our home in Nenana, AK, and each of us could choose a book for the trip. Esther Forbes lived up the street, and I often passed Paul Revere's shop. Some of those old buildings still had bullet holes, they claimed.

So I chose Forbes "Johnny Tremain," the tale that encompassed youth, adventure, Paul Revere and the American Revolution, to read on my way. I think I probably read it about ten times in the next few years and have it still. 

Yes, this is it. A little ragged.

With Christmas almost here ... 

It's worth mentioning that someone you know, whom you can't think of a thing to buy for, would enjoy something from a bookstore. 

Not every area has a small, independent bookstore anymore, though I understand they are coming back. But that's where to start, if you can. 

Sadly, you won't find my books there. I'm unknown as writers go. It takes a bit of a 'name' to be worthy of shelf space limits and I don't have it. But it's something I enjoy aspiring to. 

But wherever you are, resolve that this year you'll take the kids or grandkids into a real bookstore, and let them wander. Let them explore, discover, make a memory they can take down and enjoy, like this one, more than half a century later. And let them remember you in it. 

Happy Christmas. Happy reading!

Monday, December 12, 2016

This Christmas, give adventure.

Three different adventures for readers, age 10 through adult

Treat your readers to three complete volumes of Alaska adventure. Books one and three, "Cheechako," and "Musher!" take place in Alaska's wild interior, the area of Nenana and Fairbanks. They're chock full of dogsleds, blizzards, wolves, grizzly bears, survival and even a tiny bit of romance.

"Float Monkeys," in this case boys—and girls—who work for a float plane service in Southeast Alaska, showcases an entirely different Alaska. 

Set near Sitka, Will, Elias and Blackie get caught up in a world of float planes and pilots, a Sitka logging show, and new friends who live on boats and in logging camps. When trouble comes—and it does—get set for edge-of-seat adventure sorting it all out ... and hope you don't have to get up early the next morning. 

Get the paperback set for $30 on Amazon. Here is the link. Later, if you'd like them signed, I'm happy to do that. 

Finally, thanks to all of you who have been readers, reviewers, and supporters. This is a tough business to get off the ground, and thanks to you, I'm airborne.

Monday, December 5, 2016

For a limited time ... "Cheechako," FREE

From now through December 31, a free ebook

I'm so sure you'll want to read all three books in the Cheechako series, here's a digital copy of the first one, free. 

The Cheechako series is written for age 10 - forever ... really!

Use the book for your own enjoyment, or if you're planning to give an e-reader, no matter what brand, including Kindle and Nook, it only makes sense to also include a great 'read.' 

"Cheechako" is the exciting, sometimes heart-thumping story of Will who comes out to Alaska from Boston. He has a lot to learn and not much time to learn it. 

You can even read 20% of the book for free on Smashwords.
Here is the link: Cheechako Series on Smashwords

There's a free copy waiting for you. To get the book, you'll be prompted to enter this code: VT96R 

And, as always, I would love to read your review, posted in Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, or Goodreads.

If you have any trouble with this, at all, be sure to let me know right away. 

Give a child a book for Christmas ... then read it aloud!

Reading aloud changes lives.

I'm a bear about reading aloud to children and you should be too. 

Many parents and grandparents are frankly puzzled at how to share time with a child. Get down on the floor and play plastic soldiers or Barbies? My wife does and is beloved as 'the playing grandma.'

But for the rest of us, reading aloud preps a child for school and for life and for a real relationship with you! Time spent together. There's no substitute. 

With Christmas and gift-giving in mind, I want to list a few books that delighted me, my children and my grandchildren, and will delight you and yours as well. But for maximum effect, you can't just give them, you have to sit down with a child to read. And this works all the way through grade 8. 

Doubts about what book to buy? Start here.

The short answer is 'anything by Maurice Sendak.' For most people, the Sendak pinnacle is "Where the Wild Things Are." Never read it? You're in for a treat. It starts the night Max wears his wolf suit. 

Less widely known, but also wonderful—rich, rich artwork—is anything by Chris Van Allsburg. Thanks to movies and video, his "Polar Express," is better known. But feast your eyes on the rich images and compelling tale ... with a twist ... in this book, "The Garden of Abdul Gasazi." Just wait until you see what happens when Fritz, the dog, ventures where he is not supposed to. 

Not just for children!

If you imagine you'll be bored reading children's books, get set for a pleasant surprise, especially when you get to the middle grades. "Hatchet," by Gary Paulsen, will have you sneaking to read ahead.

Find out what happens to Brian when he's stranded, forced to spend the summer, alone in the north, with just a hatchet. A youth book? Yes, but one you'll love at any age. I still buy this one at the Goodwill for a buck or two and hand them out. 

It's that good!

A similar, northern adventure book, suitable for about age 10 to forever, is my own Alaska dogsled tale, "Cheechako." The book is enthusiastically recommended by reading specialists, who tell me that kids who don't like to read, read ahead to find out what happens. You will, too. 

Like "Hatchet," "Cheechako" is the first book in a series. It's great to know that when you and your kids or grandkids get hooked on a book, there are more to come!

Escape to Narnia

There are more good starter books than anyone can blog about. But my list would be incomplete without mentioning the classic C.S.Lewis "Narnia" series. They are wonderful adventure, and with seven books in the series, an adventure that goes on and on. These were the "Harry Potters" of their day, and are still filled with magic and adventure.

The "Narnia" series is the sole reason my brothers and sister survived into adulthood, because our mother used to read them to us while we did our group chores, the supper dishes. Otherwise, we would certainly have beaten each other to death with soapy kitchen implements. 

These books are all available in paperback, digitally in any format, or ... with the exception of "Cheechako," even available in hardback.

And be sure to sign the book at the front, before you Christmas wrap it. Someday, your signature, message, and this gift will be what's left when you've left the planet. In addition to all the other benefits, this is your chance to give a child a lifelong, warm memory. 

How often is something like that this easy?!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Your next trip ... how about I ride along and read to you?!!

One easy trick to change a child's life ... no, really!

"One easy trick ... sure." 

You see this one easy trick thing, all the time. It's usually a lie, or they want to sell you something. But I promise you, this is the real deal.

We all want the best for our children or grand children. And many of us not only want the best, we're willing to participate to get it. 

Often that means buying something, and grandparents especially, with a bit of disposable income, are experts. 

But you can't buy this. 

Okay, I suppose you could, but why would you? Would you really hire someone to read aloud to your kids? It's best when you do it yourself. 

There are lots of reasons to read, not just to a toddler, but all the way up to grade 8. I won't go into all of them here because I want to keep this short. But here is what's critical.

Reading aloud changes lives.

This is the important part, borrowed from a site called "Reach Out & Read." 

"Research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old, the greater the size of the child's vocabulary at age 3."*

And here's the chiller:  

"Children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million FEWER words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4." 

So yes, they arrive at kindergarten already behind. 

The easiest way to let children hear more words is to read them. The more the better. Some parents start reading to the child in the womb. 

What to read?

Do this search: "Best books to read aloud." You'll get a whole page of great suggestions. If money is an issue, don't be deterred. You can go to the Goodwill, St. Vinnie's or yard sales and pick up all you need for pocket change. 

One good reason not to? There isn't one. Start today.

*(Hart, B. Risley, T. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children (1995), Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Want to write? Here's the best kept secret.

People who don't write at all, will tell you this.

When you decide you're really going to do it, or when you start writing and then get stuck, someone will ALWAYS say: "Well, you should just write what you know," ... as if that's it. 

It's right, of course, but it's also not right. I can't even type the phrase without going back ... about a thousand years ... to when I was teaching junior high. I remember a student moaning ... "BUT I DON'T KNOW WHAT I KNOW!" 

And that's the problem.

What you know isn't what you know. 

We get the two confused. People start thinking about things they've read or been taught. Facts and figures. There is a place for all of that in writing, but not at first. What you really know is  much more subtle. 

It's the way air smells, mingled ever so softly with scents of bacon and coffee, early in the morning. It's the way a favorite trail feels under your feet, or how your shoulders loosen and lower as you start along that trail and finally relax. Or, Emily Dickinson's "certain slant of light." 

You probably know that one yourself, a cast of light that uplifts, or completely depresses. 

Start with this: your 'eyelid movies.'

When I was in advertising, I had the great good fortune to work for Bill Hoke, long-time friend, creative director, and a gifted writer (Bill's poems.) A small aside, he's the one who contributed "cut it 'til it bleeds," to my writing vocabulary. Solid advice.

Bill talked about 'eyelid movies,' scenes you remember or imagine. When I picture a scene in one of my books, it's how I start and where I start. I put myself there and know exactly how it sounds and smells ... how it all feels

Those are things I know. Now it's your turn. Go ahead and  write from there. 

That's what you know. Better than anybody.