What’s in a Launch?

thumbnailWhat’s in a book launch? I’m getting ready for THE BLACK ALABASTER BOX Book Launch on April 5th so I’m thinking about it a lot. I think about launching a rocket—will it fly? I think about launching a boat—do we break a bottle of champagne over the book or over me? Children are invited, maybe no breaking of bottles!

I’ve read about other people’s book launches. A launch is about getting the word out. It is about selling books, marketing. But it is more than that for me. It is a celebration of girls and boys getting their hands on the book and liking it. It is a celebration of the many, many adults who have contacted me to say how much they like it. (That is a bonus. I’m glad for adults to enjoy it too.)

As an elementary school teacher, I always read children’s books along with my class. A good children’s book is a good book for anyone. Some of my best book recommendations have come from kids. For example, I remember when Jimmy put THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster on my desk.“Mrs. B. You have to read this!” (That’s not a type-o, Bolin was my married name.) A few minutes later he came over to where I was working with some other kids. “No, I mean you HAVE to read this.” I made it my business to begin reading it that night. Jimmy was right. What a great read.

When I was teaching elementary school, children loaned me books, gave me books, told me about books. I was always looking for children’s books to share with them, too. I’m still reading children’s books. I know how important books can be for children. So it was pretty thrilling when Isaiah, the first child outside the family to read a draft of THE BLACK ALABASTER BOX for me, said, “I really like your book!”

It was pretty thrilling when feedback came from the pilot classes, too. Students in Katie Schmidt’s public school class in Baltimore and Jon Dunlap’s independent school class in Arlington wrote to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Those were great moments. Now, as I prepare for a launch, I’m celebrating them. I’m celebrating the book being out at last, thanks to my publisher Dr. Shrikrishna “Krish” Singh at Auctus Publishing. I’m celebrating Liesl Bolin’s tireless effort in taking photographs, designing the cover, getting the word out. I’m celebrating all the people who have kindly posted on my Facebook page, shared the book on their Facebook pages, written reviews on line, or Tweeted about it to friends.

It takes a team to launch a rocket, or a ship, or a book.

first Amazon review! yea!

And Five Star, Yea!

I live in the Texas Panhandle, and I’ve always loved history, so this book is right up my alley. I am 63 not really the age that this was geared toward, but I absolutely loved the whole story. What a great way to teach some history and geography all wrapped up in a story that takes one along on a journey that has elements of Spirituality, Fantasy and adventure! I highly recommend this book for all ages. Odie

 

 

Life on the Oregon Trail?

When I taught fourth grade in Portland Oregon–that was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth–we had a unit on Westward Expansion. A lot of schools teach about pioneers settling the West in fourth, fifth or sixth grade. We used Mary Jane Carr’s Children of the Covered Wagon as a read-aloud. It was a good match for the unit. (If you haven’t read it, you can still find it in some libraries. I recently tracked down an old copy on line.)

Our understanding of the perspective of Native American People has changed since the book was written. But Carr is remarkably free of some of the errors to be found in social studies and history books of a few decades ago.

I thought it would be fun to form an imaginary wagon train going West. We could mark our progress on the Oregon Trail as we read the book. And we could tie our study in with English and language arts by keeping journals where we made up events that happened to us along the way. Everybody had to make up an identity and stick with it for the trip West.

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A Thousand Wagon Trains Head West

We had a whole wagon train full of single people. No way anybody was going to admit they’d want to be married, especially with somebody else in the class! Being married and having a family was too great a stretch of the imagination.

A lot of the girls were going West to be school teachers or doctors. Some were adventurers. Boys were going to be doctors, farmers, cowboys, or set up a business.

The journals were hardest. A typical journal entry was, “Not much happened today. Just more grass and hills to look at,” or heroic descriptions of battles with Native Tribes. We had to put a limit to attacks by Native People—especially since huge stretches passed through country that was not well populated.  Even then, we knew that attacks were few and far between. And we had to decide what rivers we were going to cross and when or how many times you could step on a rattlesnake and still live.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have some of the wonderful websites available today to help us understand life on the trail.

It was a lot of fun in spite of all our difficulties. We learned a lot about writing, imagination, plausibility and some of the grimmer realities of life on the trail. As hard as it was making up interesting things to happen along the way, I think we all agreed we got off easy. We didn’t have nearly as much to deal with as those who followed wagon trails to Oregon, Washington, and California!

All this is to say that I was really delighted when Jon Dunlap, fourth-fifth grade teacher at Rivendell School, Arlington, Virginia wanted to read The Alabaster Box to his class this spring. I’ll have more to say about that next post.

Reviews that count

When I began work on The Alabaster Box my granddaughter, Amelia, was of enormous help. I tried chapters out on her and we talked through issues. It was like having a junior editor. I asked friends, Isaiah and his mother, Sarah VanTiem, if they would kindly read it once I had a good draft. Isaiah is a fourth grade student and I figured that if anybody could give me objective feedback, he could. Sarah is a poet and has a critical eye–just what I needed. When Isaiah said, “I really like your book,” when I saw him a week or two later, I was really pleased.

The next big trial came when Katie Schmidt read it to her fifth grade class at a public school. It was interesting to get feedback via Amelia as they progressed through it. They had good ideas, but best of all, they LIKED it–really LIKED it! It doesn’t get any better than that.

All this time while I am searching for an agent and not getting any enthusiasm, the kids are liking the book and wanting more. It was just the encouragement I needed. Somewhere out there is the sensible agent and publisher who will jump at the chance to support the book, because the kids already do. I got some wonderful thank you letters after I visited the class.  The boys and girls in Mrs. Schmidt’s class are the ones who should be getting the thank you. Below are some of their letters:   Letters for Blog2Okay, so you can’t see them that well. Zach says thanks for “letting us borrow your awesome book, ‘The Alabaster Box.’ Now I want to read the whole trilogy!”–even if I haven’t found a publisher by the time you finish The Red Abalone Shell, Zach, I’ll be sure you get the final book. It takes a long time to get a book into print. You shouldn’t have to wait that long.

Owen and Fisher say they hope the books get published–me too! Owen wrote, “Your first book was great and [I’ll] bet the second book and the third are even better.” Colin M. says, “your book held great things like the suspense, the adventure, and the excitement.” Sam says that the book, “got me more inspired to read more books this year.” That’s good, Sam. The world is full of wonderful books just waiting to be read.

Abby and Maddy both say they can’t wait to read my next books. Yea Abby and Maddy. That makes me feel great. Mary, who wasn’t one of the four who drew the chance to read one of the four manuscripts of The Red Abalone Shell that I left with the class, says that she can’t read it yet, “but I’m very excited to because I LOVED the first book.” So I hope you’ll like the second, Mary.

Colin K thought it was interesting and funny. Malena said that since a lot of students really liked The Alabaster Box it was nice for me to leave copies of the next book. I hope you like it Malena when you get to read it. Natasha says, “I really enjoyed your book and I thought it was AMAZING, I will definitely try to start reading the next one!”  I hope your turn comes soon, Natasha.

Caroline, who was one of the four who drew first chance to read The Red Abalone Shell says, “I love the second book so far it is really good!” Eve says, “I am so EXCITED to read the new book!! I can’t wait to figure out what is going to happen to James and Little Grace…I LOVED the first book a whole lot so you can imagine how exited I am to get to read one of the books.” [One of the four copies I left.]  Elise, who was also one of the four, says, “So far, The Red Abalone Shell is awesome! I also like The Alabaster Box! Caroline, Eve, and Elise, I’ll be very interested to hear your ideas as you finish the book.

From these excerpts, maybe you can see why I call this post “Reviews that count.” I treasure the excitement these girls and boys shared with me. But I also treasured their feedback. I took what they had to say very seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where did you get the idea?

“Where did you get the idea for the book?” This is one of the questions Mrs. Schmidt’s class wanted to know. It’s a good question. Where do ideas come from?

Writing is different for every writer. Many writers say you should write from experience. You write from who you are. I don’t see how a writer can do anything else. Even those things you imagine come from your experience of imagining and wondering. An imagined experience is filtered through your life-experience. Somebody else, with very different experiences might imagine the same thing very differently.

The trilogy started years ago when my daughter was a toddler. I’m a grandmother now, so that shows you how long the ideas incubated. We were visiting family in California. An uncle told us that his father worked for the railroad. His grandparents lived in California, so he and his brother used to take the train all the way from Missouri to California every summer by themselves.

I got to thinking about what kind of mischief you could get into when you’re eight or eleven or twelve and riding on a train without a parent or somebody to look after you. Sometime later I happened to read a newspaper article about private railroad cars. People can buy or lease their own car and have it all fixed up for luxury traveling. So what if you’re a kid exploring the train and you accidentally got into a private car?

Now here is the beginning of a story. Two ideas from very different experiences are connected. But I had a question.  Who might they run into?  What might happen to them? I began imagining a quest. Then it seemed wrong to have two boys and no girls, so I decided there would be two girls as well. Book three in the trilogy was off to a start, even though I didn’t know it was book three.

Experiences, questions, and curiosity are the stuff that help to build a story. I’ll talk more about the ideas in another post. Maybe you have a question or an idea to share.

 

 

 

 

Thanks Mrs. Schmidt and 5th Grade Friends

Here is an excerpt from an article about The Alabaster Box. Mrs. Katie Schmidt and her fifth grade class at Rodgers Forge Elementary School in Baltimore have read the book and given me helpful feedback. It all started when my daughter had a parent-teacher conference. Mrs. Schmidt pointed out that Amelia (my granddaughter) has a great sense of story. My daughter, Liesl, told her about the book. I consider Amelia my Junior Editor.

When they finished reading the book, I visited the class to talk about the experience of writing. The visit was on Read Across America Day.  The article appeared in The Baltimore Sun and The Towson Times:

By Rachael Pacella, Towson Times, March 3, 2017 2:26 PM

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“Frances Schoonmaker has found a unique focus group to test-read the first in a series of adolescent novels she has written and would like to see published — a classroom full of fifth grade students at the neighborhood elementary school.

“For the past month and a half, students in Katie Schmidt’s 5th-grade class at Rodgers Forge Elementary School — including Schoonmaker’s granddaughter, Amelia — have listened as Schmidt has read to them each day from the first book in a series of three written by the retired professor and teacher. “The Alabaster Box” is a story set in the 1840s, just prior to the country’s gold rush, which tells the story of an 11-year-old girl who  opens a magical box and must deal with the consequences.”

Follow the link to read the  article.  (Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing and Reading THE ALABASTER BOX: An Invitation

Chapter 1: The Stokes Company

            “If it had been left up to Grace, they would have stayed home. But she didn’t get to choose. With land opening up in the West, her father and mother wanted go to California and start a medical school. So, sorry or not, she had to leave nearly everybody and everything she had ever known and loved in St. Louis, Missouri where she had lived her whole safe, comfortable life.”

This is the opening paragraph of The Alabaster Box.  Maybe you have a question for me. You may ask questions about the story or about writing the story. I’ll do my best to answer. You can also tell me what you liked and wanted more of as well as what didn’t work for you. You will see some comments below. You can enter your own comments or respond to somebody else’s comment. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will find the place to reply.

If you haven’t read the book, I hope this makes you curious enough to want to read it when it is published.