Category Archives: Writing


Long Time Users Learn More About Using Facebook

Civil War Revisited1R
I think Mrs. Robert E. Lee knows I’m a Yankee. Confederate President Jefferson Davis doesn’t is more interested in the photo op. :)

History gals can learn new tricks!  Out of necessity, I have become one of the Facebook queens. After three years of using it regularly, I still find that I constantly learn something helpful.  I use Facebook in three ways.

  1. A personal page.  This is the easy first step to Facebook. I joined with a valid email account, and I post pictures and make comments.  I don’t really care ( and by that I mean report to anyone about) about statistics other than it’s a nice pat on the back when someone comments or likes something I post.  I have to admit that I like likes.  :)
    1. What sets this account apart from the others is how random it is. Whatever strikes me at the moment, I post, from a lost dog picture, to Christmas photos, blog entries, unusual weather and trips.
    2. I try to avoid posting yawn topics like, “I got up at 6:07.48 am and brushed my teeth.”
    3. Something that can be disconcerting is that a personal page can be full of personal messages might be better sent as an instant message, which is private.  But it is my page, and if I don’t care if the world knows that my all my underwear was locked in the washer full of water for three days, then I guess ….
    4. This account is important in a business situation when I want to reach someone and I don’t have their email address.  Today I searched on Google for for presidents of state councils for the social studies when I didn’t have a website for the state.  I found two or three people that way.  They don’t always respond, but I try to be open and let them know who I am, and most people respond eventually.


  1. A professional page.  I’ve started several of these from my personal page, and I’m not sure how to do it otherwise.  As an administrator, I can invite others to be administrators.  Only administrators can post on these pages, but viewers can comment.  I was frustrated at first because no one posted or interacted.  In my experience this page is more for pushing information than interacting.  This account is focused – or it should be, but it can still be personal.  The face of the company or organization has personality.  If a member of our organization has a good experience at school that they post on FB, I will sometimes share it.  I have to cut and paste their post or it shares on my personal page.  Usually the biggest hits on this account are upcoming events with a flyer or any information about legislation that affects us as an organization.
Sentinel Butte Ranch
This might be interesting to the group “You Know You’re From Woodlake If…”
  1. The group page.  I joined groups as an administrator before I really understood the purpose of groups.  Since then I’ve been involved with a writing group and several groups from my town of Woodlake.  I have found this form of Facebook most interactive for several reasons.
    1. There is a moderator of the group.  What impressed me most was when the moderator introduced themselves and welcomed me personally and asked others in the group to do the same.  Several of them did.  Then some of them became friends with my personal account.  I also get a lot of likes on my personal page from some moderators.
    2. There seems to be more open dialogue on the posts, almost like a personal account, but more focused.  People don’t necessarily know each other when they start talking, unlike on a personal page, but they get acquainted quickly.  Sometimes the conversations veer from the topic of the original post, but usually an outsider can read it and know what’s happening.
    3. Because group pages are moderated, the moderator can delete comments that might not pertain to that group.  I have deleted posts and ultimately people from the group who post advertising on our California Council for the Social Studies group page because their ads don’t fit the purpose of the group page.  The moderator can also add questions, comments or contests that will encourage others to participate.

All three types of pages have their uses, as do other types of social media.  The trick is using the right page for the right impact.

Every Day You Learn Something – Sometimes It’s New

“In three words I can sum up what I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”  Robert Frost

I’ve had an amazing week learning about our little town and the surrounding area.  There is only one book in the library about Woodlake, published in 1971.  I have a digitized copy of that book.   This week I had the privilege of thumbing through the original handwritten manuscript of that little book housed in a 1950s-style blue canvas three-ring binder.

Grace Pogue ~ Within The Magic Circle copy-1

I have the original manuscript of her other book, The Swift Seasons, in a little blue canvas binder as well, which I am going to digitize starting today.  I get excited about the little things I’m learning or at least surmising.  Yesterday on one of my interviews Robert took me outside to his back yard.

“Want to see the old Antelope School?” he asked me.  “This is it.  It used to be on Grandma Fudge’s property.  Then it moved to Blair’s property, and then they brought it on skids here.”

Antelope School

Robert and I shared information back and forth for several hours.  “This is so much fun!” he told me.

What I know about Antelope School is that it was first built in 1870.  Woodlake erected a new Antelope School in 1895.  So would this have been the new 1895 school, or the 1870 one?

Antelope school3

The builder didn’t date the school anywhere, least of all the floor boards, but look how wide they are.  Keep in mind that we cut down big trees back in the 1800s.  This picture came from Linda and Bob Hengst.


When I came back from Linda’s house, Vince said, “What were you doing all that time?  You were over there for three hours!”

In the evening I started the boring work.  It takes 30 seconds to copy each picture, but I have someone to talk to the whole time.  I copied about 45 of Linda and Bob’s pictures, and 75 from Robert. At home it takes about 1 minute to create a TIFF file for each picture, and another minute or so to resize it for my blog so I can see what I’m writing about as I write each caption.  Finally I pick which pictures I know enough about to caption for the day, and that takes at least 20 to 30 minutes to write 50-70 words.  You wouldn’t think it would take so long, but here’s the deal.

  1. I wasn’t there when it happened.  I don’t know the people, usually the place, because they aren’t around any more, or the time.
  2. Usually I just have a name to go by, if that on the picture – that’s about 2 words.
  3. Sometimes I have a little story.  That’s about 20 words, if I’m lucky.
  4. I have tons of books about things like trains and floods in Tulare County, Native Americans, and the general history of Tulare County.  I have an 1892 Atlas of each township in Tulare County with the names of all the property owners at that time.
  5. I have notes from all the people I’ve interviewed, and sometimes audio files.
  6. I have a few newspaper articles that are photocopied, but all the archives from the Woodlake Echo have been destroyed, so all those pictures and original articles are gone.
What do you think Abe and Carl discussed? I’ll give you a clue. It has to do with college.

So every picture is a bit of a puzzle piece, and I do my best to sort through my evidence, and write the best 70 words possible for each picture.   As of last night I had finished 109 or about 60% of the required 180-200 pictures.  As I talk to more people, I’ll have to narrow it down, and throw some of them out, I’m sure.

A friend asked me what I do all day, and how much time I take writing my book (probably wondering why I hadn’t been calling her much :)).  It seems like I don’t do much, but I don’t seem to have much time to do tons of other things.  I have lots to talk about – as long as you are interested in Woodlake’s history.  Otherwise, I’m kind of dull.  I chose the think I’m focused.  :)

Marsha climbingcr

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough – Mae West

Weekly Photo Challenge: ZigZag

California mountain road contain numerous “hogbacks” as my friend, Darlene, calls the switchbacks on the way to Sequoia National Park. It turns out that those same kinds of roads exist on the Coastal Redwood Highway as well.  This park called Mystery Trees was about where our truck’s worn out transmission tired of lugging our new trailer. oregon trip 201320130915_0021138We rented a car and enjoyed the “break.”  Not only did the roads and the paths twist and turn, so did the trees, providing beauty and shade. oregon trip 201320130914_1105230R When we did get going again, the fog wanted us to slow down more than the zigzags. SFW Wildflower class20130420_93R These zigzags are closer to home – to anyone’s home.  I never tire of the zigzag shapes of tree branches.  These trees are in an educational property called Circle J Ranch owned by Tulare County Office of Education where I worked.  It is close to a tiny town called Springville, east of Porterville, CA.

1969 floodR

I apologize for the quality of this picture.  I heard that someone zig zagged on their responsibilities to posterity, and put the archives in the trash instead of the scanning machine, so this is the best picture I have.  In this newspaper picture it was the Kaweah (Kuh wee’ uh) River that zagged.

The headwaters for the Kaweah River begin their zig zag course out of the Great Western Divide where mountain summits rise to over 12, 000 feet.   The North Fork, which is just east of us begins at 9,000 feet.  If the river could go down the mountain in a straight line, the Kaweah River would drop in excess of 2 vertical miles in a distance of 30 linear miles.  The Kaweah River loses the same altitude as the Colorado River, but is 97% shorter.  It is the steepest river in the United States. Even with a dam to control flooding, in 1969 the water zig zagged its own way into the Woodlake Valley.  (Tilchen, Mark.  Floods of the Kaweah)


To see more entries for this Zig Zag challenge, click the icon above.  :)

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Wood

The rich element of wood surrounded us as we drove north on Interstate Five towards Oregon.  The abundance of evergreens that grows in Oregon starts here in the northern part of California near Mt. Lassen.


Besides the Sequoia Redwoods that grow a few miles east of Woodlake, the Redwoods offered tree displays that exist nowhere else in the world.

SFW Klamath trips Sept 18 to 19136

Once logged, only imagination limits what wood will become.

oregon trip 201320130913_1167201

Wood protects our heads from Oregon moisture while at the same time moves us to tears.

oregon trip 201320130913_0090116Families build memories at tables made of wood.  Myrtle wood grows only in Southern Oregon and Israel.  We stopped at the North Bend Myrtlewood Factory to see the array of Myrtlewood products.

cees-fun-foto1I hope you enjoyed this post, and it didn’t seem too wooden to you.  :)  Thanks Cee for the inspiration. To see more entries, click the icon above.


Don’t Read Sad Books, Then Talk On The Phone

The Fault in Our Stars residing in my Kindle is Laurie’s fault.

LaurieShe read it and posted on Facebook how good it was.  When my friend Laurie says anything, I listen because she is smart and fun.  I immediately ordered the book on Amazon, and put it aside to read when I finished reading the boring book, Underworld a Novel.

The boringness of Underworld overwhelmed me on  Saturday. Then thought hit me that the day was too beautiful, and life is too short to EVER be bored.

The back yard 1

Saturday was one of those rare, partly cloudy, 85-90 degree, days in central California.  Vince and I sat by the pool and visited. When we ran out of words, I opened The Fault in Our Stars; he snuck off to take a picture.  The little blob by the pool slouched in the rocking chair with her legs spread apart like Grandma Morris, in her not-long-enough giant-flowered dresses exposing nylons that came up mid-thigh, is me.  In my defense I am wearing a bathing suit, so my thighs should be exposed.

Indianapolis street
I am driving up a street near our former home in Indianapolis, IN.

I’m laughing out loud at the audacity of this sixteen year old Hoosier (in the book).  I am a Hoosier (from Indiana), and it was great reading about a kid that attended my high school, North Central, and drove badly on streets near my home.  These three protagonist children all have cancer, but one of them is hot, hot, hot, according to the girl, Hazel.

Who names their kids Hazel?  Grandma Morris had a sister,  Great-Aunt Hazel, but really, does this author, John Green, know me or something?  It’s so Hoosier.

Can you find Grandma Morris? Aunt Hazel is probably there, too.

In the book Hazel, age 16, has terminal cancer, and Augustus, the hot one, is cancer free after a leg amputation.  They meet in a cancer support group led by an old guy (probably 21 or so) who is cancer free after losing his testicles, which he talks about at every meeting.  The story bounces around from hilarious to sad, and I had just finished a particularly sad page when Melissa called. Melissa rarely calls me.

“You’ve got to call(a nameless friend of ours),” she orders.   “Her brother and sister-in-law are both expected to die within a few hours, and I can’t reach mom so she can call.  Could you please call her?”

My gut says, “This is not a good idea, Marsha Lee.  You’re crying, two people are dying, and you’re supposed to… say what?”

I’m the emotional one.  Melissa’s mom is the one who gets us out of our funk. I dial my friend’s number from memory.  She is not there.  I have to look up her cell phone.  She answers after a few rings.

“Where are you?” I ask, not knowing what to say, tears lurking in my voice.

“I’m in Utah.”

“Who are you with?”

This is the most eloquent thing I could think of to say at this point.  I’m off base because I know this “secret” about her brother and sister-in-law, but I don’t know if she is in on it.  Tears well up in my throat. I can’t think, let alone talk.  I wish I had listened to my gut.

“A couple of ladies from church.”

I’m at a complete loss.  Does she or doesn’t she know? She doesn’t give me any clues. By this point in the conversation, the pent-up tears wailed out a little.  It turned out that she knew.

“I’ll call you when I get back in ten days, and we can go to lunch,” she cut me short after I stumbled around some more.

“OK,” I replied and hung up.  I never felt dumber and more useless.

Moral:  When tears are in your eyes, wait to call.

Oh, and you’ve got to read The Fault in Our Stars.  It’s amazing.

Best News Ever – Well In The Last 24 Hours

You have all been so faithful reading and visiting while I my creative juices dried up.  Thank you so much.  I think they are going to start flowing again soon.  I’m at the beach.


Oh yes, the good news.  Even though my book, Girls on Fire, is on a break pending more rewriting and editing, I had a request from a publishing company to consider writing a book about our local area.  So I’m checking it out.

Changes: The Constant in Life

We love seeing old things.  They may be beautiful or ugly, useful or not, but they are interesting because we have changed.  In order to for things to remain viable, we need to make changes to them from time to time.

New Castle 1r

I have changed my blog, and moved it to iPage.  I loved the chat service that WordPress offered with their premium package that I bought, but it was more expensive than I wanted to pay this year.  So far I am very impressed with iPage.  Eva called me to see if there was anything I needed, and sure enough, I had let my domain name expire.  So I changed that, and now I’m renewed, ready to go.  There may be changes on my site, that I don’t understand yet, but I’m still alive and well, and hope you are too.  :)

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Writing the romance novel in November, ushered me through a hidden door from a room I thought I knew well, the Writing Room. My scores on tests throughout my training and career in education, convinced me I knew how to write, spell, and that my knowledge of grammar probably out classed Strunk and White – a good argument against multiple choice tests.

A romance site that helps new writers write the genre of romance recommended Stephen King’s book, On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft.  I devoured every word, making more notes and highlights that I have ever made in my kindle.  I noted vocabulary and description.  He writes honestly without worrying who might be upset reading it, as long as it is true to character.


Stephen King started writing at about the same age I did, around age 10.  I entered a writing contest looking for new talent.  When the rejection slip came back, I wadded it up and threw it away.  Not Stephen King.  He began his lifelong collection of them.  He nailed them to his wall, and counted them as a step up to the next level of achievement.  What I learned from Stephen King is that you have to push yourself to publish.  Eventually you learn what you are doing wrong, if you keep working at it. I wonder what might have happened if I had kept trying to publish my writing.

Stephen King’s advice shot me right in the forehead.  In my first composing enthusiasm, I opened myself for the inevitable criticism that accompanies first drafts.  (duh) I was so excited when I wrote Girls on Fire that I sent it to anyone who was kind enough to take a look when it was fresh off my fingertips.  I discovered that it put one person to sleep, the grammar appalled another reader, and my main character had way too many character flaws.  That’s all good information, but there was more eye-opening to come.  After reading several books on how to write, I shudder because I know there are many MAJOR errors remaining after the fifth or sixth draft.  Master writer, King operates differently.  “Write with the door closed… When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. … Once you know what the story is and get it right – as right as you can, anyway – it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

“Let’s say you’ve finished your first (fifth or sixth, in my case) … If you have someone who has been impatiently waiting to read your novel… then this is the time to give up the goods … if, that is your first reader or readers will promise not to talk to you about the book until you are ready to talk to them about it.” (p. 210)  Then he tells us impatient novice writers to let it sit at least six weeks before we start talking about it with the reader(s).  Finally, it’s time to do the real editing work, most of which has to do with character motivation.

King noted when to ignore your first readers.  “Some will feel Character A works but Character B is far-fetched.  If others feel that Character B is believable but Character A is overdrawn, it’s a wash” (p. 216).  Leave it be – yeah!  Another hint, “As a reader, I’m a lot more interested in what’s going to happen than what already did” (p. 224). “Everyone has a history and most of it isn’t very interesting” (p. 227) (No wonder my reader fell asleep!)

King’s wise words made my fingertips itch, and my brain dry up for the moment while I try to absorb his advice. In my humble opinion, every new writer, and some of us experienced ones, should read this book.

Boston with Eunice

Eunice’s mother asked her why she was going to meet a “perfect stranger.”

Eunice and Marsha

Eunice answered that I wasn’t a stranger, and I added that I’m not perfect either.  We had so much fun getting better acquainted.  She picked me up at the Kennedy Presidential Library where Manny and I spent a couple of wonderful hours browsing at our own rate through the exhibits.

Manny at JFK Library
Boy did Mom make me watch a lot of movies in there!

From there we dropped her boyfriend off at a park where he could search for hidden treasures.  He found a cross.

Ron's hunting gear

I threw the stick for JT.

JT and her stick
That’s what I’m talking about!

Manny tried to ride her, but JT thought he was her toy.

JT meets Manny
Yeah, put him down here. (hehe)

She didn’t bite Manny, but it was clear that she would rather have Eunice throw him so she could play fetch than have him ride on her back.

JT and Manny2
Really, he’s not a toy? What good is he then?

JT finally got a little disgusted at having to pretend to be friends with Manny, but don’t tell Manny that.  He was a little amazed that someone didn’t immediately think he was better than opening day of clam season in Boston.

JT and Manny3
Come ON, Mom. Do I have to be nice to this bear?

We had a wonderful lunch at Chili’s near Braintree, MA, then picked Ron back up at the park by the JFK Library.

Manny visits the USS Constitution She suggested that I start my Freedom Trail hike at the USS Constitution, so after some parting pictures, we went our separate ways.  Thank you Eunice for such a wonderful adventure.  It was a great treasure meeting my second blogger friend in person.  :)  See you in November!  :)


Reviewing Reams of Irresistible Romances

We visited the revitalized Visalia Electric caboose at Mooney Grove Park today.

Visalia Electric Caboose

Many of my Tulare County Historical Society friends asked me what I have done since I retired.

“Blah blah, and by the way I’ve written a book.”

“Oh, what kind?” Their eyes light up. (probably a history of something in Tulare County)

“A romance.” Their eyes unlight.  “How nice.”

Writing a romance is not easy – even for dummies.  I’ve read Writing Romance Books for Dummies book as part of my market research and learning process, and I’ve learned that there are so many different kinds of romances.  Additionally, I learned that most of the readers are well-read, well-educated, intelligent females.  “Jess!”  This book is a great place to start if you are serious about writing, and it will help you avoid the pitfalls I fell into as I wrote, then maybe you wouldn’t have to spend so much time rewriting.  I purchased a whole library of books for writers, but I’m not going to review them because, unless you are going to write books, you wont be interested in them.  Besides I haven’t read them yet!  hehe  :)

Here is the list of romances I’ve read in the last month.



Title & Author Review
7 Waking Up Married, Mira Lynn Kelly Connor meets and marries the girl of his dreams who spontaneously wore a tee-shirt with the words, “GOT SPERM?” sprawled across the font.   When Megan woke up in Vegas married, and throwing up the drinks from the night before,  she was ready to right the wrong immediately. However, Connor told her he wouldn’t give her a divorce until she tried the marriage.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
7 Hidden, Catherine McKenzie This suspenseful romance begins with the accidental death of husband/friend, and reveals the depths of the lives his death devastated. The reader plunges from one point of view to another.  It was confusing for the first few chapters because the author bounced back and forth in time as well.  Nonetheless, it was a page turner.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
5 Killer Cupcakes, Leighann Dobbs Lexy moved into her grandmother’s house right next door to a handsome investigator.  Unfortunately, she became the object of his investigation when her former boyfriend died as a result of poisoning after eating her cupcakes.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
5 Cupid’s Curse, Kathi Daley Zoe’s father falls in love with the wicked witch of the West, and when someone dies, Zoe steps out of her animal rescue business to help the police solve the murder.  She determines that the wicked witch, not only killed the victim, but that her dad is in danger as well.  The author keeps the reader guessing until the end to find out if her theory was correct.  This definitely is categorized as a contemporary romance.
6 Bang! You’re Dead, Debra Salonen With a heroine named Judy Banger, this can’t be anything but an erotic comedy.  Poor Judy is old by romantic standards, but brings home an really old guy who treated her with respect and concern. They have graphic sex, and he dies.  As much as this isn’t my kind of romance, if you could even call it that, it is very funny.  This definitely can be categorized as a erotica, but leans heavily into comedy.  It is contemporary as well.
3 Sneakers, Sandals, and Stilettos, Natasha Deen I had to stop reading this book in the middle, and I lost interest and never went back to it.  It might be great.
9 Chasing Fire, Nora Roberts This suspense romance spins two romances.  The primary romance blazes between daring, young, beautiful Rowan Tripp, lead “smoke jumper”  and a rookie “smoke jumper.”  The second, and less combustible romance develops around Rowan’s single parent/father, Iron Man Tripp, a retired “smoke jumper.” The nearly 500-page book moves swiftly through mishaps, murders, and near accidents.  Amazingly, I solved the murder successfully, which is unusual for me.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
7 Shotgun Bride, Linda Lael Miller Kade McKettrick needed marry to please his father and earn the right to inherit his property, so he ordered six brides.  By the time they arrived in early March, 1885, he had fallen in love with a feisty hotel clerk who worked for his sister-in-law.  The two of them fought through many rugged, wild-west adventures fighting off bad guys, and nearly getting killed.  This book had two other minor romances brewing at the same time, and several tragedies.  I never realized there were so many cowboy romances until I read the Writing Romance book.  This was my introduction to this genre.

About fifty percent of books written today are romance.  Romance sells, and even if the book is classified as a different genre, there is usually some romance woven into the plot.  The books listed above classify as romance first, and historical or suspense second.   I hope this ream of romance reviews helps you pick out your next good read.  But save room in your romance-reading schedule for Girls on Fire when it comes out!  :)




Visiting Cal’s Used Bookstore in Redding, CA

Market Research 11RT

Blue sky and 75 degrees made today a  tourist-magazine perfect day to look for Cal’s Used Bookstore, located with great difficulty at 5240 Westside Road in Redding, CA back behind rows of what looked like Storage Wars.  Market Research 10RT

While it isn’t Powell’s Used Books in Portland, Oregon, owner, Carl, filled several rooms with many genres of used books, and seemed knowledgeable about them all.  He walked me through the romance section, saving me hours of tedious looking.

It was hard to compare the numbers of books in both the new and the used bookstores.  What is interesting about a used bookstore is which books come back to be resold, and how long they stay on the shelf.  Carl arranged his books in alphabetical order, but highlighted more authors, by setting the books on a little shelf (or book) and piling them up, spine showing.

Market Research12RT
Popular paranormal author

He pointed out authors that sold well, so I bought four books at $3.50 each.  He told me that books by J.R. Ward flew off the shelf faster than any others, and so he only had a few of her books.  I bought her book, Envy, published in 2001.  She is a #1 NY Best Selling Author.  Paranormal romance currently sells well.

Market Research RT

Traditional romance books by Debbie Macomber, author of Back on Blossom Street published in 2007, come back into the store by droves.

Market Research 13RTRobyn Carr sets her stories in local venues, which draws readers in this area to her books.

Market Research14RT

Carl showed me where to find children’s books, then left me to enjoy them by myself.  I found VERY few fiction picture books.  Early readers and early teen books prevailed.  Cal’s stocked mostly non-fiction science and social science children’s picture books.  Of the fiction books available, one earned the Caldecott Honor, John Henry by Julius Lester, pictures by Jerry Pinkney, published in 1994. -mint condition.  I’m guessing that it is around 2,000 words, which makes it almost 4 times as long as The Australian Writer’s Centre suggested length for picture books.  This book cost me $4.50, and is $14.36 at Amazon.  However, I might never have bought it at Amazon because there are so many choices, whereas, it was the only Caldecott Award winning book at Cal’s.


The other book I purchased, Duck for President by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, who also wrote Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type which is a Caldecott Award winner, and one of my favorite books. It still had it’s $0.98 price tag on the spine and I paid $3.50 for it.  :)

Duck for President

My analysis of the situation is that once people purchase picture books, they either wear them out, hand them down, or keep them until they have grandchildren.  Most do not come back for resale unless they are not very good.  On the other hand, people reuse paperback books.  These sold for $3.50, about the same price as the hardback copies of the children’s books, almost half of their retail value, $7.19 paperback or $5.38 Kindle.  I learned that authors do not get any more than name recognition from the sale of used books.

So where do you get your books?

Market Analysis for the Neophyte Author

When I went to Barnes and Noble in Fresno to check out the competition in romance novels and children’s books, I looked through the new lens of market research instead of Common Core Standards.

Romance Research 1rt

Most of the romance books lined one aisle filed alphabetically by author’s last name.  Commonly the bookstore displays the titles spine out.  Occasionally an author earned the right to face cover out.

market research 2RTBarnes and Noble displayed more Nora Roberts books than any  other author.  Since I had never read one of her books, I found one in another display of bargain books, a hardback book selling for $6.98, originally $27.85.  What’s interesting for the neophyte author is how many books there are, and how few of them are actually spotlighted.

Market research 3RT

It was easier to read in the children’s section, so I spent the most time in that section.  It intrigued me how few of even the spotlighted books were what I would consider “great reading.”

Market Research 4RT

I stayed three hours in the bookstore until I got hungry, and in that time read, took pictures and made notes on about 20 picture books as well as the romance books.  In that time probably three or four children came with their parents to read. A clerk stayed close by to help them find books, and she talked to me about the children’s birthday bonus I could sign up to receive.

Market research 5RTOut of the many, many children’s picture books available, only a very small percentage of authors made it to their own shelves. Many of these are books that are common household words, like Dr. Seuss, and Clifford the Big Red Dog.  One can find some classics in several different places around the bookstore. Packed into the back corner, one bookshelf housed prized picture books by age level.

Market Research 6RT

You can see Eric Carle’s books on the bottom for the very young. Next are the oldest pre-school aged books.  I read two of them, one I liked and one I didn’t.  Days later I saw a wordless cartoon telling the story of Flying Books by William Joyce.  I thought it needed words, but I had read the book.  At the very top, out of reach sat books for two year olds. My favorites were in the younger stories.  I especially enjoyed The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen.  This story began, “The dark lived in the same house as Laslo.”  What a catching first line, then the story unfolded from “dark’s” point of view. “Sometimes the dark hid in the closet…”  These were among the best I read.

Market Research6R

I read books from the less advertised sections.  I chose a book by Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Welton Hamilton because they offered an online class on writing children’s literature.  The Fairy Princess Sprinkles in the Snow had all the glitz a little girl would want.  It seemed long, but I didn’t count words.  The book centers around a spoiled little girl who wants to be in the concert but was not chosen.  It seems contrived and didactic in places to me, but Julie Andrews wrote it, so how awful could it be?

Market Research 8RC

I also noted publishers, and published dates, award-winning books.  I photographed book jacket marketing statements, and purchased my favorite books.  When I came home, I looked for my favorite authors online, and friended them on Twitter and Facebook if they were available.  Now I am a veritable expert on the market for romance and picture books.  Onward to getting ready to publish and hit the shelves.

Market Research 9RT

Oops, where’s that book by what’s her name, Marsha somebody?

Copy Cat Writing: Writing Children’s Books Like Audrey Penn

I joined a writing group called “My 500 Words”.  The goal of the group is to write 500 words each day.  Obviously, my writing slacked off the week of our big California Council for the Social Studies conference.

The prompt for today is to copy a favorite from the classics and try to emulate the style.  When I did my day of market research in the bookstore, I looked at children’s books.  I loved the book, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, written in 1993.  (That’s a classic, isn’t it?)

Chester Raccoon stood at the edge of the forest and cried.

“I don’t want to go to school,” he told his mother.  “I want to stay home with you.  I want to play with my friends. And play with my toys. And read my books. And swing on my swing.  Please may I stay home with you?

Mrs. Raccoon took Chester by the hand and nuzzled him on the ear.

“Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do,” she told him gently.  Even if they seem strange and scary at first.  But you will love school once you start.  You’ll make new friends.  And play with new toys.  Read new books And swing on new swings.  Besides,” she added. “I know a wonderful secret that will make your nights at school seem as warm and cozy as your days at home.”

Chester wiped away his tears and looked interested.  “A secret? What kind of secret?”

“A very old secret,” said Mrs. Raccoon.  “I learned it from my mother, and she learned it from hers.  It’s called the Kissing Hand.”

“The Kissing Hand?” asked Chester.  “What’s that?”

“I’ll show you.” Mrs. Raccoon took Chester’s left hand and spread open his tiny fingers into a fan.  Leaning forward, she kissed Chester right in the middle of his palm.

Chester felt his mother’s kiss rush from his hand up his arm, and into his heart.  Even his silky, black mask ringed with a special warmth…

So I wrote my version, The Eskimo Kiss by Marsha Ingrao 472 words

Misty Rabbit stood outside Tree House School and cried.

Misty Rabbit

“I don’t want to you to go away,” she told her friend.  “I want you to stay here.  I want to hop along familiar roads, play and be friends. And talk about growing up. And eat giant carrot burgers and drink chocolate malts. And ride bicycles together.  Please stay.

Rusty Raccoon took Misty by the foot and nuzzled her ear.

“Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do,” he told her gently.  There will be roads for us to hop along again.  But we both have to follow our families now.”

“You are going to school.  You’ll learn to write books.  And make author presentations.   And shake feet with lots of new friends who buy your books.  Besides,” he added. “I know a wonderful secret that will make your days at home seem as warm and cozy as our school nights together.”

Misty wiped away her tears and looked interested.  “A secret? What kind of secret?”

“A very old secret,” said Rusty Raccoon.  “I learned it from my mother, and she learned it from hers.  It’s called the Eskimo Kiss.”

“The Eskimo Kiss?” asked Misty.  “What’s that?”

“I’ll show you.” Rusty Raccoon spread  his fingers on both sides of Misty’s face.  Leaning forward, he gazed into her eyes, rubbed her nose with his nose.

Misty felt her friend’s Eskimo Kiss rush from her nose down her neck, and into her heart.  Even her long ears tingled pink.

Rusty Raccoon smiled.  “Now,” he told Misty, “whenever you feel lonely and need a little love, just touch your nose, and think, ‘Rusty loves you.  Rusty loves you.’ And that very touch will jump from your nose and fill you with yummy thoughts.”

He took Misty’s foot and carefully held it over the kiss.  “Now, be careful.  Don’t lose it,” he teased her.  “Don’t worry.  When you wash your face, I promise the Eskimo Kiss will stick.”

Misty loved her Eskimo Kiss.  Now she knew her friend’s love would go with her wherever he went.  Even to school without him.

That night, Misty stood in front of her friend, and looked thoughtful.  Suddenly, she turned to her friend and grinned.

“Come closer,” she told him.

Misty placed her front feet on both sides of Rusty’s face.  Next she leaned forward rubbed her friend’s nose with hers.

“Now you have an Eskimo Kiss, too,” she told him.  And with a sweet “Good-bye” and “I love you,” Misty turned and danced away.

Rusty Raccoon watched Misty Rabbit hop over a jumbo rock and across the meadow.  And as Rusty scampered in the opposite direction, he stopped and pressed his hand to his nose and smiled.

Misty’s Eskimo Kiss filled his heart with warm words.

“Misty loves you,” his heart rang.  Misty loves you.”

A Bevy of Bambino Book Reviews

A Kissing Hand was the most touching of the books I found this week, but there were several others that I liked as well.

mommy's monster

Mommy’s Little Monster by Dawn McNiff, illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley will capture your heart, too.  No one can hate these monsters.  Tiny Troll’s mom is going to a party without him.  You should see his look, and even more, his toys!  Mommy gets ready, and if you’ve ever wondered what a troll does to doll herself up, wonder no longer.  She even slimed her scales!  Wait till you see her purse!  Off she went, and in comes Mrs. Hagi, the babysiter. Tiny Troll’s poor toy slug slammed against the wall.  Such a temper!  Mrs. Hagi knows just what will make him better, but doesn’t force it on him.  He smells warm mudmilk from the swamproom.  Soon he and Mrs. Hagi were enjoying more mudmilk than his mother EVER allowed him to have, and Tiny Troll, the happy toddler, fell fast asleep.  When his mommy came in to kiss him good night, “her bristles smelled of mold again.”  Best of all she brought him a bag of rotten worms from the party.  Life is TOO good!

Green Crayon

The Day the Crayons Quit, another favorite of mine by Drew Daywalt illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, had me in stitches.  And I finished my quilt!

Duncan liked to color. The crayons had some complaints.  They each wrote him a letter.  Tired Red needed a rest after Valentine’s Day and Christmas.  Purple expressed his irritation with Duncan’s out of the line coloring.  Beige clarified his identity.  Gray discussed the elephant in the room.  White felt invisible while black tired of always being an outline, and wanted to be a beach ball instead. Proud Green turned out to be a tattle tale.  Orange and yellow fought about which one of them more accurately represented the sun.  Broken Blue couldn’t see out of the box.  Diva Pink complained that he never came close to her.  She was such a mouth, that one couldn’t blame poor Duncan.  Peach, peeled bare, wanted clothes.  Duncan solved their problems in the last picture in his book.  Duncan's solution

Old women laughing in the children’s book section of Barnes and Noble seems weird, but if you go there and read this book, sneak into a corner.  All people will see are your shoulders shaking.  :)

No David's nose

No David! by David Shannon appealed to me, but my husband thought it was too stupid for publication.  Sorry David.  He probably didn’t want to fess up to being just like David as a kid.  The text is stupid, I have to admit, but the drawings, complete with David’s finger in his nose made me laugh.

So what books are your favorite children’s books that you and your children have enjoyed over the years?

Book Review: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Today I spent several hours at Barnes and Noble in Fresno doing market research for both picture books and romance.  I’ll describe that experience later.  Tonight I want to share the most touching book I have read, The Kissing Hand.  Written in 1993, I missed it since I stopped teaching kindergarten in 1985, so it was new to me today.


Chester Raccoon does not want to go to kindergarten.  His wise mother tells him that we all have to do things we don’t want to do, but has a secret to share with him.

Chester is sad

Chester stops crying long enough to check out the secret.  Mom kisses his palm and tells him that he can touch his face with his hand and get the kiss any time he feels lonely or afraid.

Mommy and Chester

Chester loves his hand.   In the end Chester takes his mother’s hand and leaves her with a kissing hand to treasure in his absence.  Mom loves his gift and needs it as much as he did.

Trying to limit my books to 500 words is torture.  I was sure this emotional tale used many more words, but no, Penn packed tremendous love into merely 488 words.  However, at the end is a letter from the author, a must read for adults.  It turns out that this story stemmed from her experience observing a mother raccoon and her baby in the wild.  Mommy Raccoon actually imprinted her scent on baby in a touching move as the illustrations show us, twenty years later.

My goal is to write something this touching and helpful.  You must give this book to someone you love, and need to leave, no matter what their age.  The Kissing Hand – remember it!

Chester toy

Blurbs for Manny’s Picture Book

I am on my fifth draft of the picture book I wrote about Manny last week.  Can I Sleep Over at Justin’s Tonight?  499 words  This week we had to write merchandising blurbs. I thought I’d share them with you.

Manny's messy room

Back Cover Blurb (60 words)

 Manny wants to sleep over at Justin’s house.  First he has to clean his room.  Blocks and cars tumbled across the floor.  He bounced on his clean clothes folded on his bed.  He found peanuts and candy under the bed.  He ate peanuts and threw shells out the window. Would he get his room clean and sleep over at Justin’s?

Comment from my instructress.

“This is on the right track, but the room-cleaning dominates over his emotional need.”

Marketing Blurb (151 words)

In Can I Sleepover at Justin’s Tonight?  Manny learns cleanliness and perseverance.  This humorous, fiction cautionary tale stars naughty six-year-old, Manny and his best friend, Justin.  Justin invites him to sleep over, but Manny knows the answer before he asks.   He lies twice to Justin about why he can’t come.  He wants to go to Justin’s house, but the job of cleaning his room overwhelms him, and he’d rather play around.  Justin sees through his lies.  Manny eventually tells Justin that he can’t go anywhere until he cleans his room.  Knowing how dirty his friend’s room is, Justin comes over to help.  The boys solve toy storage problems.  They learn the secret to shutting the dresser drawer.  Most of all they have fun while they make the room sparkle.  Mom is pleased that Manny earns the right to spend the night over at Justin’s and offers them homemade cookies.

How do these blurbs work in making you want to buy the book?

Here is my teacher’s blurb.

“Manny can’t go anywhere until he cleans his room so Justin comes over to help.  The boys pack away the toys, learn the secret to shutting the dresser drawer, but most of all they have fun while they make the room sparkle.  Mom is pleased that Manny earns the right to spend the night over at Justin’s.”  57 words

What Kind of Animal Are You?

People love animals.  Popular picture book writers use this adoration. Children and adults alike identify with real and stuffed animals.  One of my writing groups asked the question, “If you were an animal, what kind would you be? Why?”

PG Prancing 1r

I love dogs, cats, and guinea pigs because they have been my favorite pets.

Piggles eating copy 1t

This prompt reminded me of teaching strategy called Four Corners we practiced in a teacher training seminar.  Each corner had a white piece of poster paper with the name of the animal written at the top.  Participants went to the corner that represented the animal with which they most closely identified:  gorilla/monkey, lion, snake or rabbit.

I chose rabbit because none of the others appealed to me.  As we defended our choices with other participants who had chosen the same animal, I developed an affinity with the rabbit.

Bunny 1crt

First we listed characteristics of the animal we chose, real, stuffed and pictures. Here are my random thoughts today.


  • reproduce prolifically, so it is doubtful they will be endangered.
  • are soft and fuzzy
  • are cute
  • usually make good pets (I hated mine.  He was “wrascally.”)
  • make good stuffed animals
  • make good stories – The Velveteen Rabbit as an example
  • kick hard
  • Bugs Bunny
  • have good luck feet
  • are not dangerous to humans compared to a venomous snake, gorilla, or lion
  • have their own year  I was born in the year of the rabbit.
  • are in the moon
  • are sensitive to the underworld, to vibrations and sensations humans can not detect
  • don’t need light to guide their way
  • are symbols of the earth, and are close to it
  • easily camouflaged, and therefore safe
  • are “wrascally,” and therefore intelligent.
  • travel in complicated zigzag patterns  Don’t try to catch one!
  • always know an escape route
  • defend their territory against other pets
  • are tucked in and self-composed

In the next part of this exercise we determined which of the other three animals would be OUR most fearsome enemy and why. Our group determined that lions were probably most dangerous to the rabbits since they are avid carnivores.

Finally we decided which animal would make the best ally.  I can’t remember which we chose, but personally I would prefer an alliance with a monkey or gorilla and not a snake.  Snakes can travel on and under the ground as well as hang from trees.  If I am enjoying my underground home, I don’t want a snake slithering in on me in the middle of my private family moments.  I’m not sure that I would trust a large hungry snake not to mistake me for a mouse, and try to eat me for dinner.

I hate to admit it, but I am prejudiced against reptiles because they don’t have fur.  Mammals are more my type.  I identify better with critters with feet, since mine are so lucky.

A monkey, however, is crafty and smart, like me, but has the agility of swinging from trees.  The monkey could help me watch out for dangers from above, while I protect him or her from things on the ground.

As a girl with a harelip, I couldn’t help but choose the rabbit group.  As a child, I never felt ugly because of my mouth unless some rude stranger pointed it out.  I had far more serious physical failings that caused me great pain as a young teen.  I wore a triple A padded bra.  :)  I didn’t need my harelip to feel insecure.

So if you too have had physical failings, I’ll leave you with a famous quote from the Velveteen Rabbit, that I find heartening.

“Once you are real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

Margery Williams

Which animal would you be, or would you choose a different one altogether?

My First Give Away

After being a teacher and a consultant for over twenty years, I produced my first original “How To” give away.  It took hours of editing to produce.   If you are interested in being on my email list, and getting free PDF articles from time to time, you can email me at


The article is “Ten Tips for Editing Before Your Editor Reads Your Novel.”  Editing takes me three times as long as writing!  WOW!