Shelley Sly

Author of Middle Grade novels about friendship, family, and figuring out where you fit in.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Middle Grade of the Past #3: Have You Seen Hyacinth Macaw?

Here's the third post in my series called Middle Grade of the Past, where I review a children's book from anytime between 1950 and 1985.

Today's Middle Grade of the Past #3 is: Have You Seen Hyacinth Macaw? by Patricia Reilly Giff, published in 1981.

Here's the cover of the copy I have:

Back Cover Summary:

With a memo book full of notes, junior detective Abby Jones and her pal Potsie piece together confusing clues and soon they are trying to unravel more than one mystery.

Squeezing through windows, sneaking onto subways, and slithering into an empty apartment during the night, Abby must make sense of the puzzling information that she is piling up. She is hot on the trail, but can she solve the case?

Now, full disclosure: This book was one of my absolute favorites as a kid. But reading it as an adult was much different. Here are my thoughts:

The Good: I might be biased because of how much younger me loved this book, but in my opinion, Abby Jones is a fun and likable character right from the beginning. She has a “memo pad” like the detectives in her city do, and she writes notes to herself that are just so charming. Though as much as I like Abby, her scaredy-cat best friend, Potsie, has always been my favorite.

The Old: I noticed that anything that had a price was less expensive than it would be today. Example: one of the characters broke a large stained glass window that was worth fifty dollars, which sounds kind of inexpensive for stained glass. Also, this book brings me back to before there were cell phones, which wasn’t that long ago. As expected, there’s only one telephone per household, its bill is expensive, and the kids are told not to hog the line in case someone tries to call.

The Funny: The dialogue between Abby and Potsie is cute and kind of snarky most of the time. Abby can be a bit bossy, but they had a fun dynamic. Potsie is sometimes a little, well, dumb, and I got a kick out of the fact that she calls other people “Dumb. D-U-M,” which tells you a bit about her dopey character. All of the characters had something amusing or humorous about them, even if they felt a little bit like caricatures at times.

Overall: While I loved this book more as a kid than an adult (I really wanted to become a detective after reading this), I still really enjoyed it, maybe more for nostalgic reasons. I remembered how the mystery was solved, though, so maybe I would have enjoyed it even more if I’d forgotten the story. I think some kids today would have fun solving the mystery, like I did many years ago.

Was there a book you read or a movie you watched that really had an impact on you as a kid? I didn't end up becoming a detective, but man, I really wanted to be one when I was younger. Reading this book brought all of that back!
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Monday, November 9, 2015

What To Do With THAT Project

I have a question for my fellow writers and creative people: If I asked you about THAT project of yours, which one comes to mind?

For me, THAT project is a tricky one, because it's one that I don't know what to do with. It's one that I care about, and one that I enjoyed drafting, but now that it's complete, it doesn't belong anywhere.

All of my other completed manuscripts (16 total) have fallen into one of the following categories:

1) Hey, this might turn into something pretty great after exchanging with five or six critique partners and completing ten rounds of revisions. I'll plan to publish it.

2) Heck no, this is terrible! Put it away on the shelves for good -- never let it see the light of day!

3) Eh, I like the concept, but the execution could be stronger, so I'll keep the idea and do a complete, blank slate rewrite of it that might end up publishable.

When it comes to THAT story, I can't seem to fit it into one of those categories. It's not awful like my terrible stories in the #2 category, but it doesn't strike me as "my next published book" material, like the ones in #1. I mean, it could be, but I just don't get that immediate feeling that I've had for other manuscripts in that category.

It's possible that it's a #3. But I've had three manuscripts fall in the #3 category, and all of them were in desperate need of a full makeover (or else they'd be considered #2 quality), and this one is in better shape. But I'm not loving it as much as my WIPs I have in the #1 category, and I'd rather send my CPs those #1 projects instead of THAT story.

So, since I'm stuck, I'll temporarily shelf this one. I don't like rushing into decisions, and I always believe that if something is holding you back, listen to that something. Later down the road, I'll either revise the stuffing out of THAT story until it shines and earns itself a spot in the #1 category, or I'll shelf it for good.

Any other writers ever have experience with a manuscript that doesn't belong anywhere? Otherwise, what do you think of when I say THAT project?
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Monday, October 19, 2015

Recommendation: Indie Author Survival Guide

I can't remember how much I've shared about the very beginning of my self-publishing journey, but here's a short version of the story, in case I haven't shared it before:

I decided I wanted to be an indie author in late 2013, after spending much of the year considering my options. I chose this route intentionally, because my health issues affect my ability to work, and being my own boss is the best solution for my situation. However, even though I knew that the traditional, big publisher path wasn't for me, I wasn't completely sure that I could self-publish. I mean, where you do you even start with such a big task?

I read blog post after blog post, but it wasn't until I read Susan Kaye Quinn's Indie Author Survival Guide that A) I truly felt I'd learned enough about self-publishing to make a decision, and B) I made that decision wholeheartedly -- I was going to be an indie author.

The Indie Author Survival Guide is just what it sounds like: it's everything you could possibly need to survive as an indie author. It covers everything from the "Should I go indie?" type questions (with actual, researched statistics to inform the reader of the current state of publishing), to the step-by-step how to publish (formatting, editing, cover art, everything), to the reassuring support about what to do after you're published (write another book, of course! And don't obsess over sales numbers!)

Since the Second Edition released this year (back in May, but that was when I'd just moved into my new house, so I wasn't able to read it at the time), I revisited the Guide and wrote a review, which you can read on Amazon or on Goodreads here.

Photo from

Here's a quote from my review:

"Although I think this book is fantastic specifically for newer indie authors and writers planning to self-publish, I don't think there's a single type of writer that I would not recommend this book to. Even traditionally published, even veteran indie published, even not-sure-if-I-ever-want-to-publish -- everyone will get something out of this. The How To Publish aspect of the Guide helped me when I first started out, but the encouraging messages about the indie author career path is what I'll keep coming back to this Guide for. A definite 5 out of 5 stars!"

I love this book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who could find it useful and inspiring, no matter where you are in your journey. Find it here on Amazon.

Writers, have you read a non-fiction writing book that impacted you and changed your writing life for the better? Please share!
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Monday, October 5, 2015

Middle Grade of the Past #2: A Girl Called Al

A couple of months ago, I started a new series called Middle Grade of the Past, which focuses on a children's novel from anytime between 1950 and 1985. You can check out the first post in the series here. (And if you have old books at home and would like to join in, feel free!)

Today's Middle Grade of the Past #2 is: A GIRL CALLED AL by Constance C. Greene, published in 1969.

Here's the cover of the copy I have:

Back Cover Summary:

Al is a little on the fat side, which is why I didn’t like her at first. She has a very high I.Q., she says. But she doesn’t work to capacity. She says things like that all the time, but I don’t like to let on that I don’t always know what she is talking about.

“I am a nonconformist,” she told me, like she was saying she was a television star or Elizabeth Taylor or something. Al’s mother and father are divorced. She says she doesn’t mind too much that they are divorced. She gets more presents that way.

We figured out the night before last that Al and I have known each other for exactly three weeks. It feels like forever. Some people you just feel like you have always known. That is the way it is with me and Al.

It's a bit offbeat, being told in first person. I'm guessing it's formatted that way because we never learn the main character's name. I remember staring at the cover of this book as a kid and wanting to read it, but I'd never gotten around to it. (Too much homework, probably.)

The Good: Right away, I love the main character’s voice, and I love the things that she and Al say. Fun dialogue (especially in middle grade) can promote an already good book to a very memorable one, and A GIRL CALLED AL is one that will stick with me. I’m also a big fan of kid/adult friendships that are written well, not creepy or unrealistic, and this story has a nice friendship among neighbors.

The Old: Though I’m not sure if it’s an old term or not, I hadn’t heard the phrase “dining ell” (as in, a portion of an L-shaped room reserved for dining) until reading this book. Also, when one character introduces another character, she says, “May I present [name of person]?” I’ve heard that expression before, but only in older media. From this book, I also learned the phrase, “Not on your tintype,” meaning, “Absolutely not.”

The Funny: Al matter-of-factly tells the main character that their teacher’s wife has “ball stones” in her “gladder.” I mentioned in the last Middle Grade of the Past post that I just had my gallbladder out, so I found this particularly amusing. A lot of their exchanges made me smile.

Overall: I loved this book! More than I thought I would, actually. It ended up having more depth than I expected, and even some sad scenes. A GIRL CALLED AL seems like it would appeal to the same audience as the manuscript I’m drafting now, so I read it at the perfect time. Even though this book is a little dated, I still think girls today might enjoy it.

I'm not sure how common this book was. Have any of you read it? I'm still so pleased with how much I enjoyed it. Have you read a book lately that pleasantly surprised you?
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Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Change of Plans

One thing has definitely changed around here, and that's my blog design. I wanted to go for a simpler theme this time.

I'm not always a fan of change, though, because I'm a major planner. I have a precious pocket calendar that I use to schedule almost all events in my life. I know that not everything works out, (which is why about half of the events I write down have a question mark after them), but I like the security of knowing when things will or might occur.

So, when I decided to change my next book's release date after planning it for months, I felt a little disoriented.

I originally intended to release another contemporary MG novel (more details coming soon) in October, but after a crazy busy spring and summer, I wasn't able to finish revisions by September 1st, like I wanted to. I don't like to rush any of my books, so I'm giving myself lots of extra time to work on this one. The new tentative release date is February 11th. Yeah, that'll probably change, too.

I'm striving to feel better about change instead of feeling thrown off balance. Because, really, it's quite all right that my book's release is delayed. Not only does it give me more time to improve that manuscript, but I'll have time to work on other manuscripts, too -- which is hard to do when you're formatting and preparing a book for publication.

What changes have you experienced lately? Are you easily accepting of change, or do you tend to be attached to your plans?

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Middle Grade of the Past

It's been a while since I've blogged, but I'm back! A few weeks ago, I had surgery to have my gallbladder taken out, so I wasn't spending all that much time at my computer. Recovery was rough in the beginning, but I'm almost back to normal and definitely feeling much better than I was the first week post-surgery.

In my free time, I've been rereading old children's books that I'd collected from when I was a kid. Some of these books were published as early as 1950, some as late as 1985, but they're each charming in their own way. I've decided to occasionally feature one "old" middle grade book at a time, to share with you guys how fun, entertaining, and endearing these books are.

Today's post is about ELLEN TEBBITS by Beverly Cleary, published in 1951.

Here's the cover of the copy that I have, though several other covers exist:

And here's the back cover summary:

Ellen Tebbits thought she would die of embarrassment if any of the girls at school learned her secret. But then she met Austine Allen, a new girl in class who was hiding the very same secret. They became best friends immediately. Embarrassing secrets weren’t so bad when you had someone to share them with. Even being teased by pesky little troublemakers like Otis Spofford was almost fun when you had a friend who stuck up for you.

But then Ellen did something terrible that made Austine stop speaking to her. Ellen was really sorry, and somehow she had to find a way to say so. Because without a best friend, nothing was fun anymore.

Aww. I love friendship stories. I can't remember if I read this one as a kid, since I read and owned many Beverly Cleary books, and some of them blend together after 20+ years, so I was happy to read it now, as an adult. My review:

The Good: Despite how many years ago ELLEN TEBBITS was written and despite the dated language, Ellen and Austine are still very real and relatable characters. Their friendship was one I rooted for from the beginning.

The Old: The “big secret” that Ellen has in the first chapter of the book is that she’s wearing woolen underwear, which isn’t something you’d hear mentioned in a contemporary middle grade book in 2015 (none that I’ve read, anyway.) One of the other characters, Otis, repeatedly asks his mom for a dime. What can you buy with a dime? (I guess a number of things in 1951.) Also, they use the word “swell.” How cute.

The Funny: Ellen’s thoughts and musings were really entertaining. I particularly like her thought process after her best friend’s mom asks the girls, “How would you like to go on a picnic?” Ellen doesn’t answer, because she’s not sure if the word “you” refers to one person or multiple, so she might not actually be invited. Haven’t we all been there in awkward social situations?

Overall: I thought this book was really cute! I think even girls today would enjoy it if they like stories that revolve around friendship. I like Beverly Cleary as an author, more for nostalgic reasons than anything, and I look forward to rereading more of her books.

Have any of you read ELLEN TEBBITS or other Beverly Cleary books as a kid? Do you still have any of your childhood favorites, whether kept from childhood or purchased as an adult?
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Monday, July 6, 2015

Well, That's Different...

Different. I like that word.

Not everybody does. To some people, "different" means that something's wrong.

For example, maybe you're supposed to look like everyone else (say the magazines), own the latest and greatest gadgets (say the commercials), and follow a traditional, conventional life path in your adulthood (says society). Since I do none of these things in my example (haha), that means I'm different -- the negative kind of different.

But I see it as a positive. I love the freedom that comes with nonconformity. Don't like something? Don't do it. Like something else? Do that instead. Granted, not every situation gives us a choice, but when we are able to make choices, I stand by this statement: Do what you want to do, even if it's the unpopular choice. (Within reason, of course!)

My writing is different, too. And not in the special snowflake, better-than-everyone-else kind of way. It's just that I write from the heart, regardless of what the current trend is. Since each writer is unique, "writing from the heart" yields different results from writer to writer. So, in a sense, we're all "different." (Unless you're trying to completely emulate a specific author, but I advise against this. You can find your own style!) Does this make each of us wrong? I don't think so at all! In fact, it's just the opposite.

In what ways are you different? Do you think positively or negatively about being different?

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