A Great Middle Grade Read for the New Year

I am completely infatuated with this book. It is outstanding in beauty and nearly biblical in its perceptions. It is a story of magic, of beginnings and endings infinite in their proportions; it is the story of love.

The Day of Sacrifice waits for no one. A child, the youngest within the Protectorate, must be surrendered for the well-being of all. Though hearts are heavy, eyes are dry. It is a sacrament old beyond memory. The witch demands it, and the people obey. Until one day, one woman doesn’t.

Her baby is stolen anyway, and she is locked in the Tower.

But the baby, left to die in the woods, lives.

Luna is rescued by an old, old woman. A witch, but not the witch of twisted legend. This witch feeds the infant starlight until she can be delivered to those who will care for her. But the witch grows careless. In a mindless moment, she gathers moonlight on her fingers, sweet and sticky with magic, and the child gorges herself. It is a moment heavy with consequence.

For evil prowls the Protectorate. Evil that walks on padded paws and beats with the heart of a tiger. Evil whose treachery reaches back to the time of wizards and dragons and now feeds off the sorrow of bondage. Evil threatened by a woman who loved. A boy who questioned. A child who lived.

Luna’s story entwines with a host of delightful (and some not-so-delightful) characters. Antain, a young boy with goodness in his heart and sorrow in his future; Fyrian, the faithful, innocent, Simply Enormous dragon who fits in Luna’s pocket; Xan, the witch whose five hundred years never prepared her for an enmagicked child; Grand Elder Gherland, who can’t abide the selfishness of the people whose children he steals; and Glerk, the Beast who is the Poet who is the Bog who is the World. “They are all the same thing, you know.”

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a story of family, of destiny, of hope and goodness, wrapped around with tendrils of blue and silver magic. If you pick up no other book this year, read this one. My absolute highest recommendation.

Thank You, Teachers!

turkey-readingTeachers pour so much of their time and energy into preparing lessons for their students. Today, I want to treat you, our teachers! This Thursday-Sunday only (American Thanksgiving break), The Candle Star will be available as a free download right here on Emblazon. So grab your choice of file format, sit down, and relax for a few hours. You’ve earned it.

Mobi | Epub | Pdf
(It’s always available at Amazon, as well. It’s just not free.)

When you’re finished reading, keep those feet propped up on the coffee table a little longer and browse through these  related resources. I’ve done some of your work for you.

As it  features slavery and the Underground Railroad, The Candle Star has been my most popular classroom-seller. I’ve used my background as an educator to design a companion booklet to help teachers get full mileage out of the novel. It includes chapter-by-chapter vocab and discussion questions, social studies extension ideas, and primary sources. It’s also aligned with Common Core standards. And it costs money everywhere but here!

The Candle Star: Classroom Resources pdf download

I’m not done yet. Encouraged by one of my colleagues, I also wrote out three full lesson plans designed to help students explore some of the novel’s historical context. (I especially like the mapping one. I LOVE old maps!) These pdf downloads are free for the taking.

Anticipation Guide (pre-reading activity) for The Candle Star
The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the Civil War Era

Map Skills–Using Primary Resources with The Candle Star

Happy Thanksgiving, teachers! Enjoy your well-deserved break.

(Non-teachers, feel free to take advantage of this limited time offer, as well. Just be sure to thank the great folks who mentor your kids so faithfully. And point them to this post!)

Creating Beauty and Joy

concert-band-orchestra-conductor-musicMy teenagers had the privilege of participating in Honor Band at our school district this week. Our band director brings in guest conductors that spend two full school days rehearsing and teaching the kids. At the end, they put on a concert for the parents. I’m always amazed at how incredible and professional the Honor Band sounds after such a short time of preparation.

This year, we had a rather enthusiastic guest conductor who spoke passionately about the power of music in molding young minds. He pointed out that, in spite of some of the terrible things that go on in the world, it was a pleasure to witness so many young people come together from the far corners of our wide-spread district to create beauty.

I revel in the beauty of art, and I love it when one type of art form inspires another. I can go to an art gallery and see a painting, then find myself imagining a story to go with it. Or, I’ll make a craft that gets my creative juices flowing again when they’re stuck.

For me, music is central to my ability to weave a story.

When I was in high school, my English teacher required us to write in a fiction journal daily (something other students moaned about, but I relished, oddly enough). Once, she turned on some beautiful music, and a vision of a forest and a hunter swept over me until I was writing as fast as my pencil could fly. It was an incredible feeling, to be inspired like that.

I like to create “soundtracks” for the book I’m working on by collecting songs that convey the same mood I’m trying to create in my writing. If I’m having trouble finding the motivation to drag myself to my writing corner, all I have to do is turn on that soundtrack, and suddenly the words are flowing through my fingers.

I’ve often maintained that music is a type of magic. Certainly, it has a lot of power over me. It gives me courage, makes me silly, or cheers me up when I’m feeling sad.

Since we have four girls, the drama around my house can get pretty intense sometimes. One day, my teenager cheered up the younger girls by playing a silly YouTube cartoon song about unicorns and rainbows. It worked like a charm. I’ve had the dubious privilege of hearing that silly song over and over again, any time someone feels upset.

But I’m okay with that, because it makes us all happy. And that’s what art does best, I think: it brings joy into our lives.

 

World War Reads for Tweens…

November is a month of change, remembering, and gratitude. Beginning with leaves departing from their branches to leave the skeletal remains of the tree behind, to celebrating All Saints Day on November 1st, followed by Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day on November 11th, and ending with American families giving thanks for food, family, and football on Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday of November. What prompted me to write this post was the fact that many of the war veterans from the two World Wars have passed on. Oh, there’s plenty of movies out there depicting the hell our soldiers and the civilians went through during those horrific wars, but many are not that kid friendly. This got me to thinking: What books have been written to teach our children about what people went through during those two world wars? So, I did a little digging and came up with these six gems for tweens:

charlie-wilcoxCharlie Wilcox by Sharon E. McKay

Charlie Wilcox, a Newfoundlander, is interested in one thing only: going to sea, just like his father and uncles. He’ll make his family proud. His parents have different plans for him, however: they want him to go to university. Humiliated, Charlie sets out to prove he can measure up to the men in his family, and stows away on a sealing ship. It’s only when they are far out to sea, and he is discovered, that he realizes he’s on a troopship bound for France!

Alone in Europe, he manages as best he can. He finds a regiment of fellow Newfoundlanders, and because he’s too young to fight he works as a stretcher bearer instead. The trenches along the front lines of the Somme are no place for anyone, but especially for a kid, and it’s very hard not to be afraid. Especially on the morning of July 1, 1916, when Charlie’s friends are ordered out of their trenches and over the top, and the German guns are waiting for them…

War Horse by Michael Morpurgowar_horse

In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey’s courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer’s son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?

nightflyersNight Flyers (Mysteries Through Time) by Elizabeth McDavid Jones

In 1918, caring for her family’s homing pigeons while her father is away fighting in World War I, twelve-year-old Pam comes to suspect that a mysterious stranger in her small North Carolina town is a German spy.

 

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boynebook_cover

Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

hero-on-a-bicycleHero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes

Florence, Italy, 1944: The city is under heavy Nazi occupation, but for thirteen-year-old Paolo, war is a long and boring wait. Too young to fight for the resistance, yet desperate for action and adventure, he sneaks out each night to ride his bicycle along the darkened city streets. For Paolo, the risk is thrilling.

But when he is accosted by Partisans―covert members of the anti-Nazi movement―thrilling quickly becomes dangerous as Paolo and his family are thrust into a terrifying and impossible situation. Finally at the center of the action, Paolo must figure out once and for all whether he has what it takes to truly be a hero.

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s the-diary-of-anne-frankremarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.

In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.

In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.

Those are only a smattering of what books are out there on World War One and World War Two for tweens. Some of these books I’ve heard of, others I haven’t. Some have even been made into movies. I don’t think this generation will ever know what the veterans and victims of the two world wars went through, but by creating an emotional response in a young reader, it’s a step in the right direction to connect them with the brave men and women who served and sacrificed during those terrible wars.

tkdscover500Here’s a peek at the newest book in my young adult time travel adventure series, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secret, set in Amsterdam during World War Two…

Fourteen year-old Jordan Jensen always considered himself a team player on and off the field, until the second Timekeeper mission lands him in Amsterdam during World War Two. Pulled into the world of espionage, torture, and intolerance, Jordan and the rest of the Timekeepers have no choice but to do whatever they can to stay one step ahead of the Nazis in order to find and protect a mysterious book.

With the help of the Dutch Resistance, an eccentric baron, Nordic runes, and an ancient volume originating from Atlantis, Jordan must learn that it takes true teamwork, trust, and sacrifice to keep time safe from the evils of fascism. Can Jordan find the hero within to conquer the darkness surrounding the Timekeepers? If he doesn’t, then the terrible truth of what the Nazis did will never see the light of day.

Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel adventure series, THE Sharon Ledwith HeadshotLAST TIMEKEEPERS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercise, and anything arcane. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

Are Authors…Mentally Unstable?

63d33527-3349-4cd8-967c-d8b2f02f2a58I’m just gonna put it out there: After several years in the publishing industry I’ve concluded authors are either nuts or sadistic. There, I said it.

Why have I come to that conclusion? We take a brilliant idea, build a world, add characters and put them through horrendous obstacles. And if we’re good writers, we wrench our reader’s emotions in an oh so unkind way in the process. Why? Because they like it (I’ll not go into that mental disorder at the moment). At some point, we play god and let our characters overcome their obstacles returning the reader to the world from which they wished to escape for a time. But even then, we know the readers, too, are sadistic enough to want to put the characters through another set of equally wretched problems in the future. In fact, we authors hope for it.

If you’ve been mentally unbalanced (I mean, an author) for any amount of time, you know that’s fifty percent of your job. Only fifty percent, you say? (Please ignore the fact that I’m talking to myself. It’s nothing really). Absolutely. Don’t deny you long to prey on increasing numbers of victims (readers, I mean), inflicting your brand of mental instability on them to create an addiction. And there’s only one way to do that… that nasty “m” word (and no, it’s not mental institution): Marketing.

For many authors, especially if you’re indie published and write middle grade fiction, that ‘m’ word causes either silver bullet psychosis or severe depression—both states manifest the underlying malaise in which we authors live. We all want to sell more books, but how do we get noticed? As one who has suffered from this disability right along with you over the last four years, I’d like to share what I’ve found to work for me and my Andy Smithson, MG/YA coming-of-age, fantasy adventure series. A word of warning: you’ll not find any silver bullets. But perhaps you can take away a nugget or two and see if it’ll work for you.

The middle grade fiction market is tough. Our readers, in large part, aren’t old enough tokids-reading be online. Some authors go the school visit route and proclaim success, but I’ve never found those opportunities turn a profit. If your objective is to sell thousands of books and become a full time author you need to scale your efforts.

Since I published the first book in my series back in April 2013, I’ve distributed over 200,000 books. But even with that, I’m unknown to most book buyers. I’m going to assume you’ve been in this business for some time and already follow traditional advice and practices (professionally designed book cover, professionally edited content, write more books, etc).

I’m always looking to see what actions produce the greatest return. Some folks rave about social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc). Blogs are much the same. While I have over 50k Twitter followers, based on Twitter stats, I don’t see much interaction happening there. And Facebook pretty much makes you pay to talk to your followers which I refuse to do. My blog isn’t much better. Sure I post periodically, but a single post doesn’t usually get much traction.

Don’t get me wrong, these tactics used to work, but they don’t anymore. So what’s an author to do to sell more books these days? What I’ve found is as follows:

First, permanently set the price of one of your books to free and use it to give potential readers the opportunity to get to know you and your work at no cost to them. If they like the first book, they’ll buy more.

Second, run promos on BookBub and similar reputable sites. These sites have gathered thousands of email addresses of interested readers and they send them deals on discounted books daily. I’ve run five BookBub promos since I started, all promoting my freebie novel, and I’m never disappointed. The initial downloads get the freebie out there and the follow up sales of the rest of the books in my series make it profitable. The key is to get the freebie novel out there. After that it’s just math that determines success.

email-envelope_originalThird, turn yourself into BookBub. What I mean by that is make building your own email list a priority. As you’ve probably found by now, BookBub is very selective. But what would it be like to have an email list of your own, of readers interested in YOUR books that you can contact whenever you want. You only need a handful or two of raving fans to make a go of publishing as a career. I’ve taken to running Facebook ads, giving away my freebie, book one in the series, as the enticement to sign up. Yes, it’s an investment, but isn’t it worth it if you can build a career?

Fourth, rewrite your weakest book. I think we would all agree that our first book is our weakest. Back in January 2016, when I published the fifth book in the Andy Smithson series, I committed to rewriting my weakest book. It had been four years of learning and improving my craft and I knew I had grown as a writer. I knew that even though I give it away free, it is the determining factor of whether folks chose to buy the next book in the series, or not. Since republishing it in March, I’ve seen book two’s sales steadily increase month over month. In fact, the improvement has rejuvenated sales of the entire series. Now that I’m about to publish book six with the final book seven to follow, my revenue is growing.

A final word: The publishing industry is constantly changing. Strive to do the same. Blogs, free social media, and similar tactics used to sell books. They don’t anymore (except this blog–Emblazoners LOL!). Stay informed as to the current trends by listening to podcasts like The Sell More Books Show or Self Publishing Formula. Join Facebook author groups with authors who aspire to become self employed from their publishing efforts. Take the time to fill your mind with narratives that will help you succeed as an author at this time in history.

If you found this post informative and helpful, I encourage you to join my email list at LRWLee.com. You’ll get the first book in the Andy Smithson series for free at the same time!

Final_300x300L. R. W. Lee is the award-winning author of the Andy Smithson juvenile fiction series of epic fantasy books for kids 9 to 99 including teens and young adult, set in medieval times with knight, magic and mythical adventures. Her characters are young and fearless, but in real life L. R. W. can’t handle scary movies, Stephen King novels, or cockroaches. She knows she wouldn’t last long in one of her books. Nope. But give her a drink and a Hawaiian sunset and she’ll be just fine.

She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband. Their two children have flown the coop. One came to roost at Microsoft and the other in the Air Force.