Sandra Smith Returns

September 18, 2019 at 10:54 pm (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Sandra Smith grew up on a farm with a tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Although she now lives with her husband, cats, and three chickens in the city, she still manages to grow fruits and vegetables in their backyard garden. 

A licensed ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Ms. Smith has enjoyed teaching students from around the world. She began writing her Seed Savers novels while teaching middle school, and the diversity of her students are well-represented in her stories.

Smith is a member of IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association and is an 2012 OSU Master Gardener graduate. She gardens and writes at her home in the beautiful and green Pacific Northwest. Smith is the author of the  award-winning Seed Savers series, an MG/YA series set in a future where gardening is illegal.

Recently, after the publication of the last in the Seed Savers series and the republication of her earlier works, she has agreed to do her third interview with Anakalian Whims.

  1. Recently your books got new covers, who did the new art and how did you find them?
    The cover designer is Shannon Bodie of BookWise Design. She helped me find an illustrator through Illustration, Inc., a company she likes to work with. We both liked the work of Alan Baker, so he was hired as the illustrator.
  2. Early in your writing career your books were all published simply under S. Smith, what inspired the change to Sandra Smith?
    When I went with the new publishing company, Flying Books House, I worked with a marketing person and she really wanted me to change to Sandra Smith, so I did. It’s just hard when you have such a common name, which is why I had chosen S. Smith when I first began. Plus, I was already used to signing the double S on bathroom passes as a teacher. 🙂
  3. Now that the series is complete, what do you think has been your greatest lesson? Your greatest reward?
    That’s a tough one. I guess I wish I would have been able to have great covers from the beginning. You know, do everything right. But sometimes the money just isn’t there. Greatest reward? It’s really rewarding to look at the five finished books and think, “I did that. I wrote not one novel, but an entire series. It’s finished.”
  4. I’d like to say I’m one of your biggest fans; aside from myself, who are some of your greatest fans over the years who have really spurred you on while writing?
    You are one of my biggest fans, and definitely my earliest fan outside of family!
    My nieces and nephews were the ones who spurred me on. They were the ones that would ask, “How’s your book coming? Is the next one done yet?” You really need someone to do that. I procrastinated book 5 for a long time. It was such a task to think about how to end things and how to bring all the storylines and characters together. I wrote an entire fantasy novel in between book 4 and 5! That’s how much I put it off.
  5. Stephen King wrote in On Writing that writers should read a lot to keep their technical and creative tool box full. What are your favorite “tool box” books?
    I love On Writing by Stephen King! I try to read current popular middle grade books to know what’s trending. I also like to read just very well-written books that aren’t necessarily middle grade. It helps me see such a variety of writing styles and to know that I don’t have to worry so much about every little thing.
  6. You’ve interviewed with AnaklianWhims before (https://anakalianwhims.com/2014/05/06/texas-tour-interview-with-s-smith/) regarding the book signing tour you did in Texas. What have been the most memorable events you’ve participated in as an author since then?
    School and club visits are always fun. I also really enjoy vending at the National Heirloom Expo or Master Gardener conferences. Places where I get to meet people and tell them about the Seed Savers series. I also spoke at the National Children & Youth Garden Symposium a couple of years ago, and that was a great experience. Oh, and this past April I went to Chicago where I attended an awards banquet and Seed Savers-Treasure won a silver award. That was very exciting!
  7. Prior to that tour of Texas, you also did a general interview and we talked of politics and your intentions for the series (https://anakalianwhims.com/2012/06/15/interview-with-s-smith/). It referred back to one of your own blog posts regarding a seed cleaner eventually losing his job. Do you feel the same way about the direction of society and the purposes of your story? Did you accomplish your goals?
    Yes, I do feel the same way. I still have some goals to meet in terms of the books becoming more widely read, but I’m happy with the finished product.
    People have gotten away from the land. I know not everyone has even a house on a lot, but if a person has even a fairly good-sized pot and some soil and seeds, they can grow something! My husband and I buy no vegetables at all during the summer just because I made part of our lawn a garden space. But that’s a little beside the point. I think eating fresh food is important for good health, and knowing at least where your food comes from and what’s in it, how to prepare it, that’s important. Food rights is (are?) important.
    I like to say there are a lot of nonfiction gardening books out there, “how to” books; Seed Savers are “what if” books. That’s the power of fiction. To immerse yourself in a world that hasn’t yet happened and make you realize you can make a difference.
  8. Now that the series is done, what’s next?
    I need to spend a good amount of time marketing the series now that so much has been invested in it. But I have another book already written and several others started. I’d really like to start something new as well, because editing and rewrites aren’t the same as that first initial draft. I’ve also started writing poetry again, because my soul was really missing that.
  9. Last, but not least, what do you have growing in your garden right now?
    Fall came really abruptly this year. I had a feeling it was going to. So the garden is dwindling. There’s a little corn, beans, tomatoes, sweet peppers, chard, a little broccoli, one kale plant, poor showing of carrots, cabbage, herbs. The usual suspects.
    Thank you for the interview!

Visit the author’s website: https://authorssmith.com

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From a Book Lover

September 15, 2019 at 2:49 pm (Education, Guest Blogger, Reviews) (, , , , )

An unnamed Guest Blogger allowed me to share this…

I have always been a fan of EB White’s children’s books. This is a great biography of him and is beautifully illustrated, too. EB White truly respected children as persons. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book:

“Much of what he wrote was not for children, yet many consider Charlotte’s Web not only White’s magnum opus but one of the best children’s books ever written. Did EB White ever wish he’d written a masterpiece for adults? His stepson Roger Angell said that the thought would not have occurred to him. Andy (EB White) once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth….. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them over the net.”

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Little Bookshop Books

September 14, 2019 at 1:49 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

If there’s any one particular genre I am more drawn to than another, it is the sub-genre of both fiction and non-fiction that is specifically for bibliophiles: books on books, books about libraries, bookstores, and authors. It’s no wonder that my entire adult life has been dedicated to book blogging and book selling, and as an author, it is what I write about as well.

Imagine my excitement when I saw The Little Paris Bookshop arrive at the used bookstore where I work.

It took me a few months before I broke down and bought it. I kept thinking what I think for most contemporary fiction, there will be dozens of these for a dollar in no time. I wasn’t wrong, there are dozens of them floating around for next to nothing in many places, but I was in a hurry and eager to read something I just knew I would love.

It has taken me a few months to write this review, however, now that I have read it. I had to stew. I had to think. Mainly, because I didn’t love it. Not only did I not love it, there were many parts of the book I was on the verge of strongly disliking it. The disappointment was great, but as a writer of the genre, it’s difficult for me to be critical when the idea is so gorgeous but the execution so awful. It’s style and preference and world view affecting my ability to connect with the story. I know that is true of other people with my own stories, but it never makes it any less unpleasant to hear. And this woman has an international book deal, so what do I know?

Technically, Nina George is far more talented than I am, I’m sure. Yet, I floundered and forced myself to read this. I adore the shop itself — Mr. Perdu’s Literary Apothecary is on a barge no less! The opening chapters are beautifully done, introducing our book expert and his customers. It was Manon, the adultery, the awkward sex scenes, and pretty much every other part of the story that kept me dropping the book in my lap, tilting my head back into the sun, and saying out loud, “Really?”

I nearly didn’t finish it. I was tempted to throw it away.

Now, in September (having read it in July), I’m determined to keep it, but only so I may learn from it. I have placed it on a Goodreads shelf I’m building that I’ve labeled toolbox books, things I either purposefully read to utilize for the honing of my craft or am only keeping so I may reference its strengths and weaknesses later while dissecting my own work.

On the flip side, a few years ago, while I was not blogging regularly, I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Despite it’s obvious title and glow in the dark cover, I was completely surprised by the content of the story –Yet I loved it! Every second of it was a delight. The same year, I believe, I read and reviewed Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I cried and cried, it was so beautiful. I could go on listing my favorites: Helene Hanff’s non-fiction collection of real letters 84, Charing Cross Road; award winning Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop; Diane Setterfield’s mysterious The Thirteenth Tale; Christopher Morley’s Parnassus series.

What is your favorite sub-genre? What books have you been disappointed by from this corner of the publishing world? What books moved you to tears?

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A Writing Circle Book Club

September 4, 2019 at 4:56 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Years ago, I read a book about a writer’s circle. I was intrigued by it and I wrote a review: https://anakalianwhims.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/the-writing-circle/. I believe at the time I joined a Facebook group of writers I knew and we cheered each other on with word count posts and other such encouragements from the depths of cyberspace. I thanked them in the acknowledgements of one of my novels. They were great, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their friendship and efforts — but it wasn’t a true writer’s group. Or at least not the one I imagine in my head.

I have never sat in a group with prepared writing and exchanged critiques that wasn’t an awkward pairing off in an English course over the literary merits of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Until this month.

Well, it’s just two of us. And we’ve only met once. It’s almost a bit more like a book club of people who write, maybe. But it spurred me on creatively and I’m very excited about it.

For our first meeting, we read Lost Among the Living as homework. The idea is to implement the concept Stephen King talks about in On Writing about having tools in your tool box. I write The Bookshop Hotel series, small town cozy with occasional mysterious interludes (also occasional funny and possibly more than occasional angst). My friend wants to write thrillers. Simone St. James writes somewhere in between, and creatively speaking, she added a few more tools to both our boxes.

Simone St. James nails plot points and pacing, something I tend to grasp and flail at. I typically tell people my books naturally flow like a French film where nothing much happens until my editors say, “Hey, you need a plot point here.” Even my grandmother keeps telling me to put a rat in the store or kill someone off. I have obediently placed “easter egg” mice throughout the story. I enjoyed Lost Among the Living more than I expected to, having chosen in for the purpose of reading it with others and gotten it for next to nothing, rather than for myself alone. It’s not something I would have picked up full price at Barnes & Noble prior to reading one of her titles. As soon as I was through, however, I ordered another of her books on Amazon to be delivered to my kindle. I plan to read it as soon as a cool front comes in. I think her books may best be devoured in front of the fire place.

In the meantime, I am halfway through writing the next two books in my series. If all goes well, I will be sending an anthology of shorts and a full length novel to my publisher in the next three months. I look forward to more “writing circle” meetings and what I can learn and share in them.

If you are a writer, what have been your favorite “tool box” books? (Top of my list is Madeleine L’engle’s Crosswick Journals.)

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The Most Biased Book Review Ever

August 27, 2019 at 2:16 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The Lost Legends

Editor: Adam D. Jones

Today is the day you can buy a physical copy of a book (to be two-day delivered via Amazon to your home) in which the woman I call “the other half of my brain” has written a short-story.

Once upon a time, in college, I had a roommate. I actually had several roommates over the years, but this one is THE Roommate. We shared a dorm. We co-existed. We got a townhouse together, and co-existed some more. We co-existed so well, that fifteen years later, married and with children living in separate cities, we still call each other for morning coffee almost every day. We homeschool our children “together,” planning out the best curriculums and deciphering educational theory by phone. We manage a homeschool Facebook page together, previously referred to as Klemm University, but renamed for our mutual interests as Lovelace Classical Academy (if Facebook will ever allow us to update it, that would be wonderful). But I digress… the point is: She is the other half of my brain. And since we first met, we both knew we wanted to be writers. More than that, we both knew we were writers who simply hadn’t been published yet.

She has lamented and rejoiced with me through every major life event… and now, it’s my turn:

E. S. MURILLO IS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

as a contributor to The Lost Legends anthology, edited by Adam D. Jones and Renea McKenzie (more college friends of mine).

This anthology is fun for any fantasy reader, I honestly believe that. The stories are well crafted, edited properly (a huge feat in the indie-publishing world for debut work), and fun. Obviously, An Inconsequential Miscalculation is my favorite, as – by sharing a brain – I was able to see the story as it was meant to be told from its very first incarnation and have had the pleasure of reading it in most of its versions. Reading it in its completed form brings me sheer joy.

Mostly high fantasy, there are a few writers in the mix who are downright funny, the future Terry Pratchetts to the future J.R.R. Tolkiens (My favorite stories are the funny ones)… the anthology has a wide variety of tales, but flows seamlessly as an anthology, which is generally hard to do.

I am exceptionally proud of my friends and would love if all of my fantasy reading followers checked this book out for themselves – you will not be disappointed in it.

Click to order:

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Avoiding Blunders in Book Scouting

August 23, 2019 at 6:49 pm (Uncategorized)

Old Scrolls Blog

People frequently bring books to offer for sale to us at Old Scrolls Book Shop, or e-mail us about books they would like to sell.  Some people have inherited these books, others are downsizing or cleaning out their attic, and some have scoured book sales, flea markets, book stores and antique shops searching for books they can resell at a profit.   We have a few regulars who are quite good at book scouting, but this is a talent that takes time and effort to develop, and some of the instinct for it, I believe, is inborn.  The best book scouts tend to be those who have been serious readers all of their lives, who then have been diligent in acquiring and applying knowledge regarding identifying books of value.

One of the most common mistakes for beginners, perhaps, is picking up common old reprints of famous books.   Important titles seem to…

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Diminutive Books I Have Loved

August 19, 2019 at 4:20 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Once upon a time…

I was on a book hunting excursion at the Recycled Bookstore in Denton, Texas. That night I purchased and read a book by Paul Collins called Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. I loved every minute of it and proceeded to hunt down everything the man had ever written. When pressed, I will tell people this is my *favorite* book. As a book lover, it hurts me to choose just one, so I must admit I don’t even know if this is an accurate proclamation. But it is the one I claim.

Later, I would get a job at Half Price Books and not only re-read this gem, but purchase any copies that came into the store. I’ve given several copies away, I think I own a few still, the one I will always keep is the polypropylene covered first edition I bought in Denton. Of all the parts of the book, one quote regarding dust jackets and marketing is the one that has always stuck with me, it’s something I have even told other booksellers when training them:

“Woe and alas to any who transgresses these laws. A number of reviewers railed against ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ because it used the diminutive hardcover size and muted color scheme of, say, an Annie Dillard book–thus cruelly tricking readers of Serious Literature into *buying crap*. Not to be outdone, the Harvard University Press issued Walter Benjamin’s opus ‘The Arcades Project’ with gigantic raised metallic lettering. One can only imagine the disgust of blowhard fiftysomethings in bomber jackets as they slowly realised that the project they were reading about was a cultural analysis of 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie–and not, say, a tale involving renegade Russian scientists and a mad general aboard a nuclear submarine.” 

I am a sucker for diminutively sized hardback books with matte finished covers, especially if they are about books or nature. Case and Point: the hardback edition of Sixpence House is 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches in size. It isn’t small per se, but it is definitely smaller than your typical contemporary New York Times bestselling fiction, like Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, for instance, which is 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches. Or, if your flavor is more sci-fi/fantasy, Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings hardcover stands at 6.4 x 2 x 9.6 inches. 8.6 inches to 9.6 inches is a meaningful jump in the publishing world. It tells you something about what is lurking inside those beautiful, beautiful pages.

Imagine how much more significant a leap from 9.6 inches down to 7.3 inches, which is the height of the hardcover edition of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. I plucked this book up sometime before I separated from my ex-husband. I read it just a month before I finally said enough was enough. I remember reading it and craving the calm of being bedridden and having nothing to do except think and watch a snail creep around the house. I was aware that it was probably ridiculously unhealthy – to crave someone else’s pain, but I was very much exhausted of my own. Much relief comes from evicting an abusive drunk from your home, but before you’re free it’s nice to find comfort in books like this one. I’d like to re-read it again, and soon, so I can appreciate it more fully for what it is rather than using it to hide from what it isn’t.

I’m in a good place now, much healing has occurred over the last few years, but I still occasionally crave tiny and textured books. Keeping an eye out for calming and similar reading experiences, and knowing what I know about book covers, imagine my glee when I discovered Grayson by Lynne Cox.

One of the most lovely qualities of such books is that they can be read in one sitting by nearly any audience, but they rarely talk down to the reader and are often articulate and well-researched. These are the books written by amateur observers – remember the Latin root for amateur is amo, “I love.” An amateur is not someone who is less competent, as the connotation has evolved, but someone who has learned something for the sheer passion of it. They didn’t study for a grade, they aren’t necessarily doing it for their job, instead it is their passionate hobby. It is what they pursue at the end of the day when their bones are tired and their eyelids weak.

Lynne Cox loved to swim in the ocean. She swam every day for miles. I read about her swimming habits and am in awe. Several times I looked at my fiancé and said, “I would have drowned.” I definitely would have probably choked on the grunion when it slithered into my mouth, and then drowned. But Lynne Cox didn’t drown the day a baby whale found her during her morning swim. In fact, she swam and tread water for hours so she could help him find his mama. She didn’t go back to shore when her lungs were burning and her body freezing, because he would have beached himself and died. Lynne Cox loves the open water and the beach and you can experience how deep this love goes when you read about just one morning of her whole life. So much quality is packed into 150 pages: quality time (my love language), quality writing, rich and genuine details about sea creatures off the coast of California. I loved every second of this darling book and I’m grateful Cox chose to share it with the world.

This experience, to me, defines the genre of diminutive books. They aren’t separated out in any particular way in any bookstore I’ve ever patronized (again, I’m using the less commonly used definition here: “frequently shop”), but they definitely reside in the same file folder in my brain… and yes, my brain is actually a series of files and folders (and boxes and “gently raining post-it notes”) I spend hours sorting through. The books, and an assortment of others, all belong in the same place in my mind – not just belong in the same place, but belong to each other, I think.

Each one is a small nod of knowing to another, whether they are aware of it or not, guiding people ever so tenderly down a cobblestone path lit by fireflies and dreams…

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Everything You Need to Know about ‘The Lost Legends’

August 19, 2019 at 2:52 am (Uncategorized)

I’m so excited about this new anthology. So many of my favorites are featured within the pages.

Adam D. Jones

What is it?The Lost Legends: Tales of Myth and Magic is a collection of short stories I’ve put together. It’s filled with new writing by some very talented authors (some you may have heard of) and a little storytelling of my own even managed to get in there.

Yeah, but what’s it about? It’s a fantasy anthology, so every story contains some magic. Some of them resemble a Lord of the Rings setting, while others could take place down the street from you. There’s even one about a vampire.

When does it release? August 27.

Is it an e-book, or a real book I can hold in my hands? Both!

Can I pre-order?Yes, go get it right now!

Pre-Order? What’s that? If you’re a Kindle user, pre-ordering means you buy it now and it magically shows up on your device on release day. And writers love pre-orders. (This…

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The Small & The Invisible

August 16, 2019 at 11:59 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Title: Dust

Author: Joseph A. Amato

Publisher: University of California Press

Length: 250 pages

I work at a used bookstore and am constantly confounding my co-workers with my eclectic taste in books. I like histories of things, biographies of objects, anthropomorphizing of trees and plants and bugs. Honestly, the weirder and more obscure, the better. So imagine everyone’s excitement when this came in… and the universal proclamation that Andi needed to see it.

When I think of dust, immediately three specific things come to mind:

  1. My older sister singing “Dust in the Wind” in our living room, circa 1994. There were choreographed dramatic arm motions worthy of Michael Bolton and Whitney Houston. It was a very serious affair. I’m not sure Kansas even took this song as seriously as my sister did. Her hair was way better, though.
  2. My fiancé and his dust mite allergies.
  3. Watching the speckles float past my window as a child when I was still tucked in my bed, but the sun was beating down hard through the panes. I imagined they were fairies, as I’m sure every child does.

Needless to say, my co-workers were right, I was VERY excited about this book. And it started out wonderfully, so promising! There were even a smattering of beautiful illustrations of small creatures known to reside in dust, which is right up my alley. Then it derailed into theories and modern commentary on germs and such, seemingly to reach a word count. I’d rather read science than political and social commentary.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but the conclusion went on far longer than necessary. Where I started the book excited and engaged, I ended it bored, with a sigh of relief.

That being said, if I ever wrote a nonfiction piece even half so interesting, I’d probably be pretty pleased with myself. I hope, regardless of my opinion, that Joseph A. Amato is pleased with himself – and I don’t say that lightly or sarcastically. He is a professor of Intellectual and Cultural History, so it is most appropriate that his book took the turn that it did, but I was still hoping for more of something a microbiologist would write.

I have in my possession a first edition hardback in near mint condition that I do plan to keep. I find the size and marketing of the book quite lovely, and the pages are high quality and the best texture. It is the little things I appreciate most, and for this title specifically I find that pleasingly appropriate.

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Back to School…

August 14, 2019 at 4:25 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Well, actually, we never left.

History in the hammock.

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