Shelley Sly

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

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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Monday, June 15, 2015

What I've Learned After a Year of Being Published

For months, I thought about what I'd write in this post. I can't even believe it's time to finally write it, since it's been a whole year since Wishing for Washington was released. But here it is.

What I've Learned After a Year of Being Published:




Okay, let me think for a minute. I know I've gained some wisdom from this journey so far. I developed thicker skin for critiques and reviews, improved my formatting skills, gained public speaking experience, and really got acquainted with the worlds of Kindle and CreateSpace. So, why won't I expand on all that? Why can't I bring myself to write a list, or at least several paragraphs, about the things I've learned?

Because that's not what I'm feeling right now. This is the truth:

What I've learned after a year of being published... is that I'm still learning.

I want to be that wise old sage that's like, "Don't worry, darlings. I know all there is to know about self-publishing. I'm an expert. Just follow me." While I do offer to share my knowledge and walk others through the self-pub process, I'm not an expert. Not even close.

I'm still learning how to market my books.

I'm still learning how to use my time efficiently, between editing one book and drafting another, promoting the ones I have released, and doing all the less exciting business stuff in between.

I'm still learning how to properly incorporate images in my books without messing up the entire project. (*Glares at a collection of failed versions of One Hundred Thirty Stars*)

But sure, I have learned a lot. And I do want to make a post later on, sharing the few pieces of advice that I do have. But I also promised myself that I'd be honest about my writing journey, and while I love it and feel extremely lucky to have this job, I'm not the best at it. Even a year in, I'm still a newbie.

I'm thrilled to continue learning, though, and I truly feel that it will only get better from here.

What have you learned from where you are in your journey?
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Friday, June 5, 2015

So. Many. Things.

Wow, it's been quite a month! Sorry for the silence, folks, but I've had so many things going on.

We finally completed The Big Move across the country. We'd moved out of our old home many months ago and lived with family for a while, and then we lived in a hotel for a couple of weeks, so we went a pretty long time with most of our stuff packed in boxes. We're still getting used to our new house, but it's wonderful so far.

Between unpacking, meeting all my new doctors (yay for chronic illnesses), making new friends, and still doing writerly activities like critiquing awesome manuscripts and trying to get my own MS into shape, I haven't had much time to blog in the past month. I've missed this place and look forward to catching up on everyone else's blogs!

(Speaking of "this place," I plan to give this blog a makeover this summer. If things start to look wacky, that's just me fiddling around with it.)

Also, in the middle of all this craziness, this month is also the one year anniversary of publishing my first book, Wishing for Washington! To celebrate, the e-book will be free on Amazon today through Sunday, so if you don't have a copy, go ahead and grab one. (If it doesn't show up as FREE during this time period, please let me know.)

What have I missed in the past month? I'll find out; I'll be coming around to visit blogs soon!
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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Once Upon a Nightmare: A Collection by Cherie Reich

Ready for something exciting? Author Cherie Reich has a book out called Once upon a Nightmare, a paranormal horror/thriller collection. Check out this intensely awesome cover:

Curious what it's about? Read on:

A monster hunts us. After hibernating for a decade, it’s ravenous. We long to stop this nightmare, but the end of the road is far. There is no waking up once a legend sets its sights on you.

Disappearances every ten or so years make little impact on the small town of New Haven, Virginia. Hikers get lost. Hunters lose the trail. Even when a body is discovered, the inhabitants’ memories last about as long as the newspaper articles.

No one connects the cases. No one notices the disappearances go back beyond Civil War times. No one believes a legendary monster roams the forests in Southwestern Virginia.

I don’t either until the truck breaks down on an old mountain trail. Cell phones won’t work in this neck of the woods. It’s amazing how much a person can see by starlight alone. So what if we can’t feel our fingers or toes as we hike toward the main road. How many more miles left to go?


Hear that noise?

Purchase Once upon a Nightmare: A Collection by Cherie Reich at Amazon.

Cherie Reich is a speculative fiction author and library assistant living in Virginia. Visit her website and blog for more information.

I can't wait to check this out! It sounds like the kind of book I will think about long after I've finished it. Congrats, Cherie!
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