Stanley Stirs School Excitement and Memories

Stanley at School
By Linda Bailey
Kids Can Press
Published: Aug. 1 2015
ISBN: 1771380969

The calendar has changed faster than the weather outside my window. As the first beams of gray daylight make it possible to see more than shadows moving down the street, I see the

high school students on the way to timely meet attendance on the first day of school. In an hour or so, the elementary school kids will follow. Like clockwork, every school day, I watch the faces as young people of all sizes move past me. Some are on foot. Some ride bikes. Book bags are on their backs. I barely still remember when I was one of them. Full disclosure – I liked school from the first day of kindergarten to college. I cannot fully recall everything that happened on the first day of school in those years. Memories grow faint, but the sense of curiosity and anticipation never fade. Those elements are guaranteed to stir some of the same feelings in those who read, or listen, to the fast-paced action in award-winning Canadian author Linda Bailey’s delightful picture book, Stanley at School.

Anyone who thinks that praise is just hype should give the 32-page work a read. I won’t share much of the story, because you really have to hear the tale for yourself. In fact, the way the author uses words is the first remarkable aspect of the book. First, let me be candid.

When I first saw the title and read the description for this work, I was intrigued yet unimpressed. Several authors have written read-aloud books about dogs (or other animals and creatures) going to school. A standout is Ree Drummond and Diane deGroat’s tale of how Charlie the Ranch Dog makes it in a classroom. Several audience polls rate in slightly higher than Norman Bidwell’s classic Clifford’s First School Day. On its face, Stanley at School, seemed too close in theme and content to Constance McGeorge’s nicely written, Boomer Goes to School, published in 2012. That is why it pays to look beyond the cover.

Stanley at School is a romp in language and art. Bailey repeats key words at pivotal parts in the narrative to poke the readers attention. The way the writer sort of seeps words drop by drop to the point cinches along the action. That breeds a gentle tension:

‘What do we do now?’ asked Alice.
But she already knew the answer. All the dogs knew. They had to wait outside.
‘Don’t you ever get tired of waiting?’ asked Stanley. ‘Wait outside the library. Wait outside the coffee shop. Wait outside the bakery.’
And that is when Stanley got an idea. A big idea. A bold idea! An idea so daring it made his fur stand up.

Happy but embarrassed to admit I was right there in the conversation with those dogs. More than that, award-winning Illustrator Bill Slavin’s vibrant drawings make the scene more believable. His image of the closed school doors up a long flight of stairs not only gives the reader an insight into a dog’s vantage point. I could imagine how a three- or four-foot child might similarly see the setting.

Parents who want to slake the interest of a preschooler, or ease the jitters of someone in kindergarten, will find Stanley a great resource. Even readers like me, who have not answered the school bell for a half century will smile, laugh and at some points guffaw, at the tightly woven tale. Those familiar with Bailey’s five earlier Stanley books will attest, the goofy, yet adventurous character strikes something beautiful in the core of many people. Bailey, who is head over heels for her Golden Retriever Sophie, asserts that Stanley is “the dog I would love to be.” That spirit also infuses the narrative, you will see.

It is obvious that I enjoyed the experience, but some of the pictures seemed out of sync with the text. In a couple places the text came on a page after the drawing. I read an e-book, and even went into two-page mode to see if the alignment changed. It did not. I was distracted. Nonetheless, a clever narrator, can hold the image in order for a child. Well, let Stanley at School take you back to that first day when you thought the worst nightmare lay behind a school door.

The Difficult Journey to You

Click the image to download or play the audio clip.

In China there is a wisdom that states if you feel there urge for revenge sit by a river, and eventually your enemy’s body will float by. I find the same happens with people you admire. If you keep living, every now and then, someone familiar, or whom you admire, passes…and it’s cool.

Mary Karr

In 1995, I interviewed then-Syracuse University professor Mary Karr and reviewed her memoir, The Liar’s Club, which became a nonfiction classic. I noted the publication  of Cherry and Lit, her other memoirs, but did not get as deeply into them, mostly because life moved on. 

Nonetheless, the native Texan stayed lodged in my memory. I noted the depth of her reflections on her path, when I gave a quick read to  Sinners Welcome, her first book of poetry, but always looked for her to share more of the personality I briefly came to know.  That happens in The Art of Memoir. The link shares an audio clip.


My best choices for books on the writing craft are still Stephen King’s On Writing,  and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. That said, the audio clip linked above, shows me Karr could supplant Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, as third on my short list of book about how to best write your story. 

Fiction is no easier to craft than the truth. As Chilean author Isabel Allende once stated: “There’s basically an element of fiction in everything you remember. Imagination and memory are almost the same brain processes. When I write fiction, I know that I’m using a bunch of lies that I’ve made up to create some form of truth. When I write a memoir, I’m using true elements to create something that will always be somehow fictionalized.”

Memoir takes a different level of courage and spirit. “I don’t know where the idea originated that memoir writing is cathartic,” says U.S. writer Koren Zailcks, whose 2005 debut memoir, Smashed, is considered another landmark work. “For me, it’s always felt like playing my own neurosurgeon, sans anesthesia. As a memoirist, you have to crack your head open and examine every uncomfortable thing in there.”


Karr, who is the Jesse Truesdell Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University, takes readers into the classroom as she shares a spirit and technique for getting into the dark depths of one’s being that is as direct, unvarnished and as true to the heart as the advice and instruction she gave in courses on writing memoir years ago.

A Clever Nod to the Best Pulp Tradition

MISS STAKE
AVeronica Benoit Short
Terra Stellar Press
69 Pages
ISBN:1514159842

Veronica “Ronnie” Benoit is a self-described “testament” to her family’s “tenacity,” but the Louisiana teenager has no idea that she is a linchpin in its legacy.That, briefly, is the plot in the first entry in CG Powell‘s MISS short-fiction series. The Virginia author breathes the Louisiana Bayou onto the page in this work as if she were a native. At the least, she has probably been there because her bio boasts that she has “traveled everywhere – thanks to her innate curiosity about the world and the Navy.”

 In style, Miss Stake: A Veronica Benoit Short is a clever nod to the days before television when imagination reigned, and adventure junkies got their fixes through radio serials such as The Shadow, or paperback books sized to stick into the back pocket on a pair of jeans. Those penetrating adventure and thriller stories popular from the 1930s to the Sixties were woven around the plight of characters as familiar as the curiously odd person next door, up the block, or down the street. That is how pulp novels and story collections gained credibility as page turners, or pot boilers.

The brief story is set in the swamps with more than enough references to all things New Orleans. The first chapter is a little slow, but readers will be seduced to read more because “Ronnie” Benoit and the other characters are obviously headed for something not good. The opening leads the reader to believe that the 17-year-old heroine’s biggest worry is how to maintain her virtue against the sometimes not very polite hits from a trio of ordinary outback romeos. The fact that most of what the reader thinks the tale is about is way off from the truth is a tribute to Powell’s gift for storytellng. By the middle of this paranormal saga, Veronica discovers that her reality is a very carefully constructed charade. In the best tradition of Louisiana stories,”Ronnie” is tumbled into a world for which she is far under-prepared as her grandfather reveals the family’s most tightly held secret.

The only downside to the work in style and story is that the tale ends about the time the adventure shifts to a new level of intrigue in the story. It’s what we hate most about serials. We have to read more. E-books are available FREE OF COST through the author siteAmazon Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.
  AMAZON    BARNES & NOBLE   SMASHWORDS

Goodbye Indie Writers…Until Next Year

There are writers conventions, salons, workshops, retreats, and meetups throughout the country. I have been to many, but few have I enjoyed as much as last weekend’s  Orlando Indie Bookfest 2015. Most of the activity -panels, signing, authors, bloggers – were the same as other events. The chief difference was the camaraderie. 

Tawdra Kandle

I spent time with an earnest crowd of more than 100 authors, fans and bloggers who were as anxious to meet and encourage solid acquaintances as well as nurture newbies in the nuance of their crafts. One thing is certain, if you already are, or want to be a serious author, the road is open. The publishing industry has undergone a paradigm shift. E-books have revolutionized where an author can reach. The rest depends on desire, talent and organization. You could feel the warmth and good spirits in the sessions where candor was key in shaping an atmosphere where those new to authorship could find a leg up, and old guys like me, who have published in traditional houses could find a a boat load of information and encouragement to reinvent.

Mandie Stevens

Orlando hosted similar events in 2013 and 2014, so IBF 2015 co-convener Tawdra Kandle, who writes Paranormal, New Adult and Contemporary Romance, said she and partner, blogger and Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Romance author Mandie Stevens were not new to the idea. At the same time, they had no concept the biggest challenge was going to be time. 


Between February and the opening July 30 session, Kandle and Stevens pulled together a tightly dedicated crew of helpers that included their pre-teen and teen-aged children to organize authors,speakers and activities, as well as the nuts and bolts of a three-day event at the upscale Caribe Royale Resort Hotel and Convention Center about two miles from Disney World.
“We really had to scramble,” Tawdra said. I saw proof of that in Mandie and her during the three days. They were on the move, and seemed to have skills at
“herding cats.” 

“Organizing an event like this while also being a prolific romance writer, attending other events and releasing books  was a challenge, said Tawdra, who released three titles during the build up to the convention. “I didn’t sleep much.”
Beyond that, they found that those who were used to past IBF conventions were a hard sell. Most of them were skeptical of the newcomers. As might be expected, comments such as, “But we’ve always done it this way,”  were tossed. Others wanted to know why Kandle and Stevens made certain decisions. “Mandie and I tried to explain our rationale at every step,” she said. “Eventually, everyone seemed to understand!”
As she gave further explanation I began to understand that the optimism was warranted. Tawdra said the target audience – authors, bloggers and readers – were “genuinely excited,” was a surprise. In her words, “The enthusiasm was contagious.”

More surprises:
  1. How much physical work went into tasks on July 31, the first full day of the gathering. “My body is one big hurt today,” she wrote.
  2. How accommodating everyone was at the Caribe Royale Resort. 
  3. The awesomeness of Jana Oliver. “She is so much fun,” Tawdra said. 

I can attest to that, too. I called the award-winning prolific author a force of nature. Throughout the three days she moved through session after session with conversations in between and always held a ready smile and a quick wit. Some credit in that should extend to her husband/roadie Henry. He was always behind the scenes with what she needed to shine. When I complimented them on their contributions to the event, and mentioned Henry, Jana joked, “He says I’m his retirement plan.” 


As for next year, Tawdra said, “YES!! We already have tentative dates,  likely in the fall. We have authors eager to sign up. We have readers making plans! And we’ve made a list of what we want to change in our process. 2016 will ROCK!” 

Interested? Here is a link to sign up for IBF2016  information.

Independent Authors Stake Out A New Vision for Publishing in Orlando


Independent Publishing pioneer Jana Oliver’s keynote message 
– publishing is in a paradigm shift and authorship is in new day – launched an Orlando celebration

(l-r behind table) YA fiction authors Jana Oliver
Susan Burdorf, Raine Thomas, Nadege Richards
and Tricia Zoeller discuss techniques and ideas.

of independent authors and publishers at Indie Bookfest this weekend.

The July 31 to Aug. 2 event featured dozens of authors on panels. Writer after writer, as well as some of the 80 authors who displayed their works, greeted fans and introduced themselves to new readers, declared the days when writers pinned their hopes for exposure on agents and tried to woo their way into a few stodgy mainstream publishing houses have gone the way of the electric typewriter.

Travel author Lee Foster laments the decline of the traditional publishers, yet confirms that the shift is more than theoretical. The technology offered by outlets such as Amazon and CreateSpace have kicked open the markets.

“A critical aspect of the rise of independent publishing is each author’s answer to the question, ‘Who actually sells my book today?'” he writes in , “Independent Book Publishing: Is it the Viable Future for Books?” an essay on his website In the past, the publisher was a major seller. A bookstore would stock every book in a given publisher’s lineup. Now the author himself or herself is the main seller, aided by Social Media reach.”


Technological developments have allowed authors to publish and market themselves. That opens the industry to a wider variety of stories and perspectives.

“If an author needs to create the market, why not take 100% of the profit?” writes Foster. “That’s what I get from BookBaby for my ebooks, 100% of the net ebook sales, vs a “generous” 25% from Countryman Press. I use the word “generous” because Countryman upped the payment to me from 15% of net for printed books to 25% of net for ebooks. As mentioned, for my print-on-demand books, I earn about $4.25 per sale of a book through Amazon or Ingram, vs about $1 some six months later for a sale of a printed book from a traditional publisher, such as Countryman Press. Given these dollar disparities, it may be increasingly difficult for traditional publishers to attract authors.”

During the weekend participants explored methods to develop ideas and write for Young Adult, New Adult, Erotic, Adult and Mystery, Science Fiction, Paranormal, and Romance genres. Beyond that, various panels addressed the nuts and bolts of the business of being an author, Published writers and experts gave pointers on editing, promotion, formatting books and covers, as well as sales.

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A Too Merciful Look into a Pastor of Power

Pope Francis: Pastor of Mercy
By Michael J. Ruszala
Wyatt North Publishing
173 pages

Bio books on religious figures are usually a no-no for me. Michael J. Ruszala’s Pope Francis: Pastor of Mercy might have continued to sit on the shelf, except for my personal admiration for the subject of the  text. That said, most lives of popes tend to drip with needless deference and pious platitudes. At the same time, as Ruszala, those who explore the realm of faith best, are the committed. Likewise, many writers produce those kinds of works without a level of analysis that makes a look into the lives of what are in essence international men of power worth the read.

Michael J. Ruszala’s Pope Francis: Pastor of Mercy shows  a great deference in the handling of his subject, yet provides enough insight into the Pontiff’s views on mercy, social issues, the place of the People of God in the church and the world, and the deep need for more mercy on our planet, that an exploration of the very readable biography is not a waste.

One weakness of the book is that the author, who is a “director of faith formation,”a lay minister, at St. Pius X Church in Getzville, New York, is a self-described “active member of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists yet seems too wrapped up in the Church to make an objective analysis of the new pope possible. Even so, he writes like anyone who does not have direct and prolonged access to the Pope Francis. In effect, this is a great fan book. That said, if a reader has no idea about the background and views or the man in the white cassock who sits on St. Peter’s throne, Ruszala’s Pope Francis makes the perfect primer. The author makes reference to the pope’s activities and attitudes about service to humankind. He shows how the leader of a church known for homophobia, pedophilia and stolid patience in the face of international crisis, has challenged institutional hypocrisy and tried to make reparations for its sins. 

At one point in the book, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church describes himself as “a sinner.” In response to a “How would you introduce yourself?” query, the former Argentine cardinal, Jorge Bergoglio, states, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner. ” Ruszala culls that most of the best lines in the work, from the others’ interviews. Unfortunately, he leaves readers with a desire for more immediacy. That is not a crime, yet the distance leaves a reader with a sense of being too removed from the pope to gain a feel for the man. By the end of the biography, those who are not pious Catholics, or merely fans of the often smiling prelate, only come away with facts that might have been found in an encyclopedia.


Future Film offers Father-Son Insights

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This commentary is not going to spoil the movie After Earth if you read it. Go see the film. You will find it one of the few this year worth the nearly ten dollar admission. My main interest is the story, which goes far beyond what is shown in trailers.
I learned long ago to take movie trailers with a grain of salt. Often those present day sideshow barker imitations exist, as did their predecessors, to put butts in the seats. They suck in viewers who want to see the latest, fantastic oddity, like the bearded lady, two-headed cow or Martian baby. Well, the hype for Jaden and Will Smith’s After Earthpulled me in, but like many movies the post-apocalyptic drama left a hunger for more. I need to understand more about that future. I want to better grasp what made Will Smith’s character, Gen. Cypher Raige, into such a complicated figure. I want to know more about his wife and daughter. I need to see why Jaden Smith’s Kitai Raige so deeply feels about his experiences. I suspect budget concerns did not leave much room to flesh out the story. That is why I left with a promise to read Peter David’s novelization or other books created to go with this series.
After Earththe movie is about fathers and sons, appropriate for the upcoming Father’s Day celebration. The film and the book are also replete with lessons about family, hurt, disappointments and healing. The best part is the story, which if you check Amazon or other book sites, appears as a just-released series of novels and short stories set to cash in on what is likely to be a wave of fandom.
Co-star Will Smith is credited with the development of the tale, which holds more depth than the 99-minute flick is equipped to display. Viewers will wonder whether the tale is autobiographic in some respects, although the tabloids have never signaled any serious father-son drama in the family. The fact that After Earth is set in the next millennium showcases the lack of male role models as problem played out in homes across the world. The rift is often most wide between successful dads and sons forced to live in their shadows. As mentioned, there is much on this part of the story in the movie, but many aspects of what keeps the younger and older males apart go unseen.
In fact, its biggest weakness is the way the screenplay, credited to Book of Eli screen author Gary Whitta and the film’s director M. Night Shyamalan, crunch most of the backstory into scattered paragraphs. Those who look at the film’s official website will be surprised how much happened in the 1,000 years that precede where the movie story begins. Nonetheless, there is much just enough revealed about the major characters, and they are the tale’s richness.
As many sons, Kitai Raige loves his father and wants to be like him. The only problem is the boy resents the old man because he feels abandoned. Gen. Cypher Raige, supreme commander of the United Ranger Corps, commands the military elite that protects humanity in 1000AE (3025AD), and is like a lot of fathers, too. He looks at his male heir with disappointment. The film unveils a lot of the causes of the chasm between them, and entertains viewers with their path to reconciliation and healing.
Peter David’s novelization combines three short stories previously published by Del Rey, a Random House subsidiary: After Earth Ghost Stories: Redemption, After Earth Ghost Stories: Savior and After Earth Ghost Stories: Atonement. There is also a prequel, A Perfect Beast: After Earth, by veteran science fiction authors Michael Jan Friedman and Robert Greenberger.
The cautionary aspects of the story about the natural environment, fear and family are important for our time. As mentioned, the essential messages in the story relate across lines of culture and generation. However, it is equally important that movie-goers see the father-son clash played out among African Americans. Black fathers are too often portrayed in American media as unfeeling toward their children, especially sons, yet race is not relevant in the film. The key issue is species in that future, which begins on a new planet called Nova Prime, where humans are daily protected by the Rangers from the threat of alien creatures. After our Earth is wiped out, “human” is the only culture that can matter.  That is why fathers, especially those who see themselves as successful should see the film and read the books, then take another look at their sons.