Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Interview with the Wonderfully Talented Ashley Howland

All About Ashley Howland

I am so excited to chat with Ashley Howland today. She has written several children's books--definitely the kind you should pick up for those little sweethearts in your life. Tell us a little about yourself, Ashley.

I am a mum to two very energetic girls and two Labradors (Stitch and Chewie). I write in my spare time, which is a joke. As a mum, teacher and pet owner I don’t have too much spare time, but the ideas manage to reach the computer eventually.

When did you first decide to write and pursue a career in publishing?

I have always enjoyed creating stories with classes and used to dabble in writing, but never finished anything. I actually did a writing course which forced me to complete a manuscript and let someone else read it. From there it just became part of my life. I love working with kids and showing them my books. It often takes a while for it to sink in that I am actually the author. Once they work that out it’s great to hear them talk about my books.

What is the age group for Obi the Super Puppy and the Mystery of the Red Mist? What made you want to write for this age group?

The Obi book is for 8 to 12 year olds, although lots of adults have enjoyed it too. This is my preferred age group because they still have a great sense of imagination and enjoy reading. It also just works with the themes I write. My girls are 6 and 8 at the moment and I read a lot of books that fit into this age group, so that probably influences my writing too.

I understand that you actually have a dog named Obi. Is the story’s main character, Obi, based on a real-life dog? Are Obi’s human friends, Maddy and Aijay, based on your children also?

Obi was my first Labrador. He was a special dog and had an amazing relationship with my two girls (Maddy and Aijay). I wrote the first book as a bit of fun because I used to think they talked to Obi or rather he tried to train them. I am working on the sequel at the moment and that is to help keep his memory alive. He was a wonderful dog, who made a difference to lots of kids.

 What a cutie!!!

Was it a difficult balance to make a gripping story, yet one that isn’t too scary?

That’s an interesting question. My first book – Ghostnapped is a bit scarier. I didn’t think it was that scary, but lots of kids have said it is. They also told me that they didn’t want to put it down so that probably means I got it right. With the Obi story I think the conversation from the girls helps to keep the humour and minimize the scary factor. It is certainly important because I don’t want to be responsible for kids having nightmares. I am quite happy for them to stay up after their bedtimes because they can’t put the book down though!

What is your writing process like?

Chaos… Well organised chaos I hope. I have recently started using OneNote to keep track of my ideas and plans. This helps because I can update on any device and keep everything in one place. Once I have a rough plan I start writing and see where it takes me. My aim is always to get a skeleton first draft done. Then I usually read it to my girls and they help me pick holes in the plot.  After that it’s time to rewrite and eventually I get to the stage where I send it off to an editor.

Have you had a memorable moment with a reader or fan since this book released?

The Obi book has given me so many. One I will never forget was returning to the school I worked at when Obi was young. He was actually my behaviour management plan. If everyone followed instructions and worked hard (I was the science teacher so it was a whole school thing) then Obi would come to visit. Anyway I returned six years later as a relief teacher and had the year 6/7 class. Most of the kids remembered me, but they all remembered Obi. Not bad considering they would have been in reception or year one. Unfortunately I had said goodbye to Obi the previous year, but I was able to show them the book and we had a great time remembering the boy. I was also able to show them photos of Stitch and Chewie. It was a great way to get to know each other again.

It didn’t really surprise me that they remembered Obi – he was one of those amazing dogs!

Do you have any news of upcoming projects you would like to share with the readers?

I have lots on at the moment. I am actually republishing my first three books – including Obi the Super Puppy. So they are currently only available in print from me. However when I am done they will be available in kindle and print. This is really exciting for me. I am also getting closer with the sequel to Obi. It is called Obi the Super Puppy and the Quest for the Last Laugh. Just waiting for the covers to be completed then all these books will be ready.

I have a few other projects going too so this year is shaping up to be pretty exciting!

Where can readers find your books? 

The best place to see all my books is my Amazon page:

All the anthologies I have written stories for can be found here too. Otherwise people can contact me directly via Ashley@ahowland.org

Where can readers find you and follow your work?
The best places to see what I am up to are:

Thanks so much for stopping by, Ashley! Below are a few of Ashley’s favorite things! I hear ya on the chocolate and definitely on Ten Things I Hate About You—one of my favs!!


Food: Chocolate
Day of the Year: Christmas day
Book: Too many for just one, I love Roald Dahl, Harry Potter and The Ranger’s Apprentice series to name a few
Travel Destination: Disney World
Movie: Ten Things I Hate About You
Animal: Other than Labradors I love Moose and otters.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Interview with Sherry Torgent

I am so excited to have Sherry Torgent at the blog today. She is the amazingly talented author of Dandelion on Fire, the first book in the Greene Island Mystery series as well as Like Ice

 I have been fortunate enough to read both of Sherry's stories. They are good--like seriously good.We're focusing on Dandelion on Fire today, but from one book-lover to another, read Like Ice. You will be extremely glad you did.

Sherry so graciously answered several of my fangirl questions below. And her answers? Complete awesome.  

*Spoiler Warning*

In your book, Dandelion on Fire, what made you choose its island setting?

There's something about islands that invoke mystery to me. Plus, creating a fictional place like Greene Island allowed me to give it that mystical history that it’s cursed.

I LOVE the names of your characters. They really stand out. How do you choose such awesome names like Hardy, Viola, Charity and Darcy?

I love them too! I knew I was going to use Hardy right away for the main character. I was a big fan of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, and since I was writing a mystery, this was a no-brainer. Darcy came from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Viola came from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. It's no coincidence that my Viola came out of the sea because Shakespeare's Viola found herself shipwrecked at the beginning of Twelfth Night.

I love to read the young adult genre, but I have always been incredibly timid about writing it. I wasn’t really sure if it could be done in a way that develops unforgettable characters for this age group without all the junk (sex, violence and language) that most books in this genre contain. I was so encouraged when I found myself staying up late to find out what happened next in your book. I think it is uber cool that you can create such an intriguing plot and pull the reader in without the stuff that I definitely don’t think young adults should be reading. Was it a major feat for you to achieve this?

No, not at all. It's not as hard as you might think it is. I love a good page-turner, so for me it's all about the story, not teen behavior. Having said that, let’s give teens some credit. Not every teen is out there having sex, cussing, and getting drunk. People will say things like "But having those elements in a YA book is just being realistic.” In my opinion people are devaluing teenagers when they say that. Books can influence how young people see themselves. If they're only reading books with questionable behavior, you're treating them as if they have no value. That's why I keep it clean and weave in themes of overcoming obstacles, dealing with low self-esteem, and perseverance. These are the things that shape character and make us human.

I really enjoyed Darcy’s sci-fi computer eye and the rare, fantastical appearances from Viola. How much fun were elements like these to write?

Very fun! There's nothing I like better than supernatural or sci-fi elements in a story.  So naturally, these are going to show up in my books.

In the book, Darcy, Hardy and Charity all come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. I have recently been exploring this in one of my stories as well. Do you find yourself being extra delicate when writing this? Is it difficult? Easy? Or do you more tell it like it is?

The social differences were important to who these characters were. That made it a very natural thing to write. These characters were who they were because of where they came from. Darcy’s living situation was difficult, but I also think it was realistic. Not everybody has an easy life.

At the end, Viola tells Darcy that Hardy is her true love. I adore series like this. Having a true love, feels so epic and exciting, yet also so vulnerable. There is so much at stake. Do you also enjoy reading books with this element?

Yes, I do. I'm a sappy romantic at heart, so all my books will probably have a romantic element to them even though it might not be the central story. I'm such a girl.

Have you begun the next in the series? Are you at liberty to share anything about it for those of us at the edge of our seats?

Yes, I’m well into writing the next book in the series. I have a lot of readers anxious to see what happens with Hardy and Darcy. Book two of the Greene Island Mystery Series is tentatively titled "The Curse of Viola." You’ll get a peek into Viola’s past and how she came to be what she is. I’ve woven her story into real history in the 1700’s which will make for some interesting “alternate history.” Hardy will start college on the island and you’ll see how his relationships with certain people evolve (wink - can't give away too much here). You're also going to see some new characters with new supernatural abilities. Hardy and his friends will face a new threat from Viola creating a whole new mystery.

Do you have upcoming projects that you would like to share?

I'm going to be busy for a while finishing the Greene Island Mystery series. I hope to have book two, "The Curse of Viola" ready sometime in early 2016.

Where can fans find and follow you?

I have a website — www.sherrytorgent.com. I love to do book reviews, so I have a blog Eight Ten on my site where I post my latest reads.

I also have a "Dandelion on Fire" Facebook book page. Please give it a like!

Twitter lovers can find me on twitter at @sherry_torgent

Thank you so much for going through this interview process with me. It has really been such a delight.

Thanks, Krissy. It was fun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Soulful Post

Today I'm combining two of my favorite things: books and music. 


Otis, written and illustrated by the so very talented Loren Long, is a story about true friendship. My son and I both adore this story. It doesn't get cuter than when a chugging, little tractor strikes up a friendship with an equally adorable little calf.

In the endearing story, the friendship is tested (like friendship so often is), but it prevails to the delight of children (and parents) and everywhere!

There is one song that completely captures the essence of this lovely story. The same song I used to sing every Fifth Sunday Night Singing at the little, white church down the street from the house I happily grew up in and still eagerly visit.

Drum roll please..............................................

 by Bill Withers

Turn the volume up if you're at home or slap on those headphones if you're somewhere else and listen to some soul that's good for the soul.

What are your thoughts? Did you have a different song in mind for this story? If you have a book that you'd like to see paired with a song, let me know!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Enzo - the Dog with a Serious Need for Speed

As part of the festivities for my son's Christmas party at school, they will be having a book exchange. Yes, this is music to an author's ears. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE children's literature, and his teacher basically gave me the lovely excuse to buy another children's book. This meant perusing the book aisles with an excited four-year-old.

There is no better time had by anyone, anywhere.


At the end of our book hunt, our shopping cart held a copy of Garth Stein's Enzo Races in the Rain! This picture book really is a joy to read. It's told in an adorably busy puppy's perspective. He loves racing and all that is fast. Early on, Enzo is paired with an equally adorable girl who loves everything her new puppy does. That is until he squeezes through a hole in the backyard fence and quickly gets more of an adventure than he bargained for. Thankfully, he does find his way back home. I'm such a sucker for racing lingo and a happy ending. And it just so happens that this story has both.

My son was silent during the entire story, completely taken in by sweet, little Enzo and Stein's dynamic storytelling. If you have a little one who likes excitement, this might just be the perfect Christmas present.

Happy reading!!

If your little one isn't quite so little anymore--like maybe 7-9 little--and he or she still loves a good adventure, boy, do I have a story for you!!
Axel and Theo

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Dog From a Faraway Galaxy--No Way!

In honor of the countdown to the release of my new children's chapter book, "Axel and Theo: My Dog is the Emperor of a Faraway Galaxy," today I'm answering the number one question I'm asked about the story.

Can you believe the book will be released in four days??!! 


Back to answering this number one question. So, the number one question I’ve been asked so far is, “Where did the idea for a dog emperor come from?”

Well, the answer is actually kind of a complicated one.

Industry professionals have said for a long time that authors should write what they know. I learned pretty early on in my writing career that this is sound advice. Once, many moons ago, I tried to write based on a submission call from a publisher. The topic was one I knew little about and wasn’t really that interested in. The result, as you may have guessed, was totally disastrous.

Yes, to write what you know is definitely sound advice. I’m sure you know that I’ve never discovered one of my dogs was the emperor of a faraway galaxy—although, that would be epically cool. 

But in a more roundabout way, I did write what I know, because animals, fantasy and adventure are actually some of my favorite things. Let’s dive a little deeper into that.


Because they’re my favorite things, of course.

I grew up in a log cabin on about eight acres of land in the country. Honestly, it was even dreamier than it sounds. We didn’t have a farm, per say, because, well, when I think of a farm, I think of a place that sustains itself with food and milk from the animals. My family didn’t make money from our animals or even produce our necessities. We had animals more for fun. And have animals, we certainly did. We had cows, goats, donkeys, horses, chickens, cats and (surprise, surprise) dogs.

My sister has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know, especially for animals. Since many of her friends lived in the city, every time they would find a stray animal, my sister brought it to its new home—ours.

I remember sitting on the porch swing, cradling our newest puppy, telling him about my day. I really think this is where I discovered the bond between a puppy and a kid. It really is a special thing. An animal doesn’t care if you’re decked out in the latest fashion or if your hair or teeth are perfect. And in my case, if your eyes shake uncontrollably. Yeah, it’s called nystagmus. Look it up—interesting stuff.

The point is that one thing I know and love is animals, and this passion is why my character, Axel, exists (in the pages of my story, at least).

You might be thinking, “Hmmm…I get the animals thing, but what about the whole emperor thing?” To that, I’d say, “Great question!”

First, my dad is awesome. I’m just going to throw that out there. As a pre-teen and teenager, I LOVED to watch The X Files with him. It was kind of our thing. The writing on that show was witty, exciting and, many times, hilarious. I was also a huge Buffy fan. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, a quick “Buffy” and “90s” search should catch you up real quick. And don’t even get me started on The Labyrinth. How can a tiny worm be so creepy and adorable at the same time?

Anyways, basically, I’m a huge science fiction-fantasy-adventure nut. Hence, much of the story of Axel and Theo takes place on a planet named Doglin in a galaxy named Thars with acid-spitting monsters, strawberry soda oceans and dog technology that is actually light-years ahead of our own.

Whew! Major mouthful there.

I bet now you can see why this story is so near and dear to my heart. It’s this wild combination of so many things that I love, and if you, your child, your students, your nieces and nephews, or just any young person you know, loves these same things that I love, I think you just might have finished your Christmas shopping.

Okay. Maybe it’s more like a dent in your Christmas shopping.

Enjoy the wild ride and I’d love to hear from you after you read it,
Amberly K. Clowe 


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Summer Reading Thoughts

I'm sharing a few thoughts on summer reading today. As a former teacher, and, now, parent and author, I have a few ideas that may help the young readers in your life enjoy a summer full of wonderful reading.

As a former teacher, I'd like to remind parents how important it is to encourage summer reading. I know we teachers are constantly shouting, "Read, read, read over the summer!!" But it's true. I taught second grade for several years, and the second grade reading level begins on an 18 and ends on a 28 (at least it did a few years ago). So, that meant that the first grade teachers worked very hard to help their first graders end on an 18 to be ready for the following year. However, students that did zero reading over the summer would actually regress, usually to a 16. This happens because without regular reading, their fluency falls, and when their fluency falls, they read slower. When they read slower, by the end of the story, they can't remember what the story was about. So, back to the new second-grader. This student begins the year at a 16, and although this is just one level below where they should start, the student spends the next year just a little behind all year. This can be super frustrating for the student. Kids are smart. They know when their friends' books are getting thicker and thicker and with fewer pictures, and they know when the books they read aren't. They hear their friends read (even in smaller groups), and they hear themselves struggle. And don't get me started on when they end just a little behind and then don't read the next summer. It's a very sad road to travel. Luckily, this is the end of May, and you have a whole summer to keep that child reading. Do it!! :)

As a parent, I'm going to challenge you even a step further. Don't just have your child read, help them choose quality reading. One of my pet peeves is kids reading poor quality literature. There are so many books out there with rich language and engaging storylines. I know sometimes the kids want to read the latest fad, but sometimes the latest fad isn't really all that great. Every so often my son will choose one of those books that was a movie first. I cringe, but I grit my teeth and get through it. The book reads like a laundry list. This happened, and then this, and then this, and so on and so forth. There is no authentic voice, very little humor (for a kid who adores humor), and the vocabulary is often quite disappointing. Of course, I do like that he is choosing his own books, and I will continue to encourage that, but I also continue to place books that promote quality storytelling in his at-home library.
I know someday, at some point, he'll stare down at a page, telling him to write an essay, and I want him to have a rich storytelling foundation to help him do this. I also, and more importantly, want to encourage a love of reading in him to last a life time. So, please, don't waste a ton of time, gritting your teeth and, instead, encourage the stories that will change a life. Yes, that means if you aren't a big reader, you may need to do your research, but it will be so worth it.

As an author, yes, this is a shameless plug, but I really am proud of my picture books. Katie Ling Fashion Queen positively promotes individuality and fluency while I Really Love You, Ava helps children better understand and appreciate their families and in a truly fun and meaningful way.

Let's encourage summer reading together!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Story of Two Brothers Who Were Meant to Fly

The other day George and I read Allan Drummond's The Flyers. This is a whimsical tale of the Wright brothers and their twelve-second flight in 1903. Allan's story is truly fun and inspiring for all ages.

George and I also made a paper airplane to accompany our lovely story. He had so much fun with this quick lesson that it didn't really feel like a lesson at all!

*Update on this year's book list*

Emma and George both LOVE the classic, Time for Bed, by one of the most amazing storytellers ever, Mem Fox.

Happy reading!!