Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Murder Mystery Author: Lisa M. Cronkhite

With danger, intrigue, and bloody messages on mirrors, Deep in the Meadows by Lisa  M. Cronkhite is a mystery sure to chill you. Here's a blurb for this murder mystery releasing on January 31, 2014:

All Bee wanted was to fit in somewhere, to pick up the pieces after the abrupt loss of her big brother, Jimmy. Now, almost a year later, Bee is feeling Jimmy’s presence more than ever. As Bee starts to unravel her brother’s secret about the night he never came home, she realizes Jimmy’s death may not have been an accident after all.

We asked Lisa to stop by and answer some questions about herself, her writing, and her latest book.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A movie star, of course! (Aiming a little high, I know.) But after being in the “poor readers” group for years and doing horribly every time I read out loud, I realized I wouldn’t make it as an actor.

When did you start writing?

I journaled in high school, but stopped abruptly. Then after I was diagnosed bipolar in 2004, my therapist suggested it as a coping skill. I always wound up writing poetry—deep, dark twisted poetry. I showed a poem to someone, and they suggested I submit it to a magazine. I did and got accepted right away. So I became addicted to getting “accepted.” But after so many, I yearned for more of a challenge. I took a writing course at the Institute of Children’s Literature and fell in love with it. But I still wrote all over the place, writing from children’s to adult horror stories. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I found my young adult voice—the strongest voice within me.

In school what were your best and worst moments?

Unfortunately, I had a lot more “worst” moments than best. I was bullied 7th grade till sophomore year, and then things slowly started tapering down. All the best moments I had were with my boyfriend, now my loving husband. Believe me, we had our hard times too, but he always remained by my side—the ultimate friend.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Every moment I had to read out loud. Seriously the most embarrassing moments of my life.

What advice do you wish you could give to your younger self?

Try not be so dependent on others.

What hobbies and interests do you have?

My hobby was and still is writing, which I kinda took to the extreme. My interests? I’m an ID Network addict. Need I say more?

What made you write Bee’s story?

This is the worst fear for any family -- to suffer through a loss of a loved one. It amazes me how people can get through it. I think writing it was more of a purge than anything. But ultimately I will never completely wipe those fears away. No one will ever really understand it unless they’ve been through it. This was just my way of trying to understand the complexity of it all.

Do the characters in the book have any connection with your real life?

Absolutely. Jimmy is very much like my son. He’s been playing hockey since he was 5 (on skates at 3), and he’s going on 20 now and he still plays to this day. And Bee and her father’s relationship is a lot like my daughter and my husband. She’s definitely daddy’s little girl, and I think the relationship between Bee and her father is the strongest presence in the book. As for the mother, I’ve had firsthand bipolar episodes, and some of the material in the book isn’t fiction.

What is one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

Cherish the ones you love, because they’re not always going be there.

Can you give us an idea of your writing process?

I start writing off the top of my head until I can’t anymore. Then I reread what I have, and it sparks up again. If I get really stuck, I sometimes do a brief outline (but I never stick to it, but sometimes it does help.) I have this fetish of writing something, then printing it out, rereading it, and editing that way. Big mess, I know, but it helps me look at it differently—literally.

Which authors have influenced your work?

Anne Rice, most definitely. I still argue with my husband that the Queen of the Damned book was much better than the movie. It just irks me every time because he didn’t even read the book, ha. But I think of all authors, I must pay homage to my girl, Carol Goodman. The first book I’ve read of hers was The Lake of Dead Languages. I read it in 3 days. It was the first book I had ever read that fast. As I mentioned I was always a poor reader, but when I opened that book, she opened my eyes to a whole new world. She’s has the most breathtaking prose out there.

 Any tips for new writers?

Join a critique group, number one thing. Places like or are always good. Test the waters in other genres if you think the one you’re in now isn’t working. Find your true writing voice. Again, test the waters, try adult, young adult, middle grade, etc. But I think critiquing other’s work and getting feedback on your own is vital to the writing process. This is a win-win situation. You get to help others and will get better with your own work and make friends too. 

 Any tips for more experienced writers?

Keep writing and doing your thing. Keep producing work. And always, always keep your submissions active. Please don’t ever stop submitting. Do a very thorough research on the ones you’re submitting to. Check Preditors & Editors, Bewares and Background Checks on AbsoluteWrite.

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?

1. I wish (and hope) my kids will live very long, happy, healthy and prosperous lives.
2. I wish (and hope) we could move to the West Coast one day.
3. I wish I could be a cat hoarder and have at least 30 cats (but no chance of that).

What is something most people don't know about you?
I hate watermelon.

Where did you go on your last vacation?


Have you ever climbed into or out of a window?

Every time I forgot my keys, I had to—which was often.

Where can readers find out more about you?

At my blog

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Common Core Classroom Activities for The Case of the Invisible Witch by Patrice Lyle

Are you looking for language arts classroom activities to use in conjunction with a middle grade novel? Look no further. The following activities are common core friendly, project-based, technology optional, and nurture thinking skills.

Sit back and enjoy reading The Case of the Invisible Witch by Patrice Lyle, and then choose one of the following projects to complete (either independently or collaboratively).

1.    Design a Poison Ivy Yearbook.  The yearbook should include a cover, pictures (hand-drawn or staged photographs) of the characters, a map of the school grounds, pictures of five major events with text to summarize the event, and pictures of school clubs with names of members and a short description.  When possible, be sure to include aspects of the yearbook as described in the novel. Technology options include designing in Photoshop, compiling at, using a scanner, using a digital camera, and PowerPoint/Prezi.

  • Summarizing text
  • Conveying  information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content
  • Encouraging multiple intelligences to include:  visual, spatial, and verbal
2.    Design a spell book. Choose five spells from The Case of the Invisible Witch and copy them into your book.  Explain why each is used in the novel and the result of each spell. Based on what happens in the book, are there tips you might give to improve spell implementation?  If you could, how would use you the spell in your real life?   Include a cover and decorate your spell book.  Students could use word processing software to complete.


  • Quoting accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text
  • Hypothesizing
  • Evaluating the value of information and idea
  • Finding relevant information

3.    Create a presentation on “How to Be a Good Detective.”  Compile the tips Tulip Bonnaire shared in The Case of the Invisible Witch.  Try to mimic the voice that the author has given Tulip.  Create visuals to go with your presentation.  Technology options include: video recording equipment, PowerPoint, and i-movie.

  • Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly
  • Finding relevant information
  • Organizing information
  • Imagining

Try these activities out and let me know what you think in the comments below.


Mary Helen Sheriff lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, two children, and two cats. She has an MFA in children’s literature from Hollins University and is an experienced teacher of elementary, middle grade, and college students. Her most recent publishing credits include four middle grade short stories for a reading comprehension website and a YA short story for an anthology written for Ethiopians learning English. She is currently writing a novel and maintaining a blog where you can read her thoughts on writing and education. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Meet Monster-Hunting Author: Judith Graves

Calling all scary story lovers... Killer's Instinct by Dawn Dalton and Judith Gravess is releasing this month. If you love monsters, monster hunters, and non-stop action, you'll love this novel about Hope, who's hunting her Mommy-dearest, now turned into a zombie.

Today we're talking to one of the authors, Judith Graves. Find out more about her, how she writes her compelling novels, and connect with her online to learn more about her other forthcoming books.
When did you start writing?

I began writing in a lock-and-key diary my parents gave me while I was in elementary school. After the first few pages of diligently tracking daily events: what I’d had to eat, who ticked me off at school, or what exam I was dreading – I abandoned the diary format and began filling pages with: doodles, cools phrases or bits of conversations I’d overheard, bits of poetry, lines from movies, random descriptions of things that caught my eye. I progressed to buying notebooks instead of diaries, and my jotted notes took on lives of their own. Bits of poetry became song lyrics (I played piano and guitar), then short stories…and finally each notebook became a rough draft of a novel.

In school what were your best and worst moments?

Best moments: music, art, drama, and English classes – without them, I probably would have dropped out of school. I got by in other core subjects, but the arts were my focus.

Worst moments: I refused to memorize my schedule and didn’t believe in having a copy around to double check. I was always showing up late, or at the wrong class, or thinking I had a spare when I didn’t. Of course, I NEVER missed a music, art, drama, or English class. Go figure.

What advice do you wish you could give to your younger self?

Look, I know it’s the 80s, but avoid acid-wash jeans and those crazy banana hair clip thingies. And two years of braces will be so worth it. ;)

What hobbies and interests do you have?

I love all things artsy-fartsy. Music, film, photography, drawing, writing. I’m also drawn to things that challenge the more logical side of society, such as, superstitions, folklore, fear, and the unexplained.

What made you write Hope’s story?

Hope was a fun character to develop with Dawn Dalton, co-writer of KILLER’S INSTINCT. I think we both wanted a lead female character who could be kickass, but also demonstrated her vulnerability. Hope is “hopefully” someone readers can relate to. She’s driven to get to the heart of the mystery surround her mother’s death, but she also fears knowing the truth.

Do the characters in the book have any connection with your real life?
Maybe not the supernatural elements to them. There are no zombies, mermaids, werewolves, or cryptids lurking around my family tree – well, not that I know of – but the four members of Unit Wild: Hope, Caddoc, Hyde, and Kain all have their own demons to face. And when these are narrowed down to themes like self-doubt, duality, wanting to belong, finding your place in the world – I can easily find many connections to their individual challenges.

What is one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

That no matter what the battle, or monster you face – there’s always HOPE on your side.

Can you give us an idea of your writing process?

I’m a very regimented writer. I treat it like a job, writing at least 5 days a week (usually more). I find that between 5 am to 2 pm is when I get the best work done. I do extensive plotting and character development before starting a project, but still take completed first drafts through many revisions. My beta readers and critique partners are more precious than gold. I KNOW my writing wouldn’t be up to snuff without them.

What was it like collaborating with Dawn Dalton?

Dawn and I live about 3.5 hours away from each other. However, with the Internet, Skype, and Google Docs, distance wasn’t much of a factor. We were both keen to tell this story and made the commitment to getting the project done. Our voices fit quite naturally in this project, and once the story was plotted, we were able to each claim scenes we wanted to tackle and write. Then we’d share what we’d written and take passes at tweaking each other’s scenes, fleshing spots out, adding description, tweaking dialogue, or finding little plot holes to fix. With beta readers or critique partners, I'd polish a piece, send it out, and wait on tenterhooks for their comments. But Dawn and I wrote via Google Docs and were able to work in the same document, in real time, so the feedback was almost instantaneous. It was like sharing a brain…lol…a fun process that made writing KILLER’S INSTINCT a real treat.

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?

1.    A world without monsters – the very real, human kind.
2.    The ability to not burn stuff in the kitchen.
3.    More chocolate.

What is something most people don't know about you?

I’m terrified of bees and wasps. I will make an absolute ass of myself running from them. Very not cool.

What super power do you wish you had?

The power of flight. I have flying dreams and adore the weightless feeling, the power of surging up into the air, and the serenity of watching the world below.

Where did you go on your last vacation?

I would call it more of a working vacation. My husband is a high school social studies teacher, and every few years he takes students on a trip to Europe. Of course, I pay my way and tag along! It’s a great opportunity to be immersed in other cultures as well as to be surround by my target reading audience. This summer, along with 28 grade 10-12 students, and several teacher supervisors, we toured Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Austria. Berlin, Munich, Krakow, Prague, Nuremberg, Salzburg – the history of these grand cities and castles, the horror of Auschwitz, and beauty of the Austrian Alps. It really was the trip of a lifetime.

Where can readers find out more about you?

I’m all over the place and love connecting with readers, authors, and reviewers. You can find me here:


Friday, January 3, 2014

Using Fairy Tales to Create Your Own Stories

Now that school is out and I don't have to read a new book each week, I have had the opportunity to choose my own. There is nothing better than sitting on the couch, teacup in hand, and reading a book.

I recently read the first book in the series The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives, The Unusual Suspect by Michael Buckley. I feel as if now more than ever writers are using the base of other stories to create new ones.

This has definitely become a trend, and this is exactly what Buckley did, however, I love the way he did it and believe that he pulled it off.

What's it about?

The story is about two sisters Sabrina and Daphne who, after bouncing from foster home to foster home, are taken in by their long lost grandmother Relda Grimm. They learn they are the descendants of the brothers Grimm and that the stories the brothers wrote are not stories but case files and history books. In the first book of the series someone has set a giant loose in Ferryport Landing. The sisters must stop the giant and find out which Everafter is responsible for setting him loose. The girls are also on the hunt for their parents, who disappeared several months ago. With the help of the man in the mirror and their grandmother's huge library, they hope to rescue them and be a family again.

Why is this a good book to curl up with?

The characters’ voices really ring true in this series. The two young girls are hilarious, Sabrina has an attitude, and Daphne is enthusiastic about absolutely everything. Granny Relda is delightful and slightly insane, living in a house that is wallpapered in books.

I think this really works because Buckley isn't simply retelling a story, he's creating a new one. He uses old characters like Pan, the Mirror on the Wall, and the Three Little Pigs, but he creates an entirely new tale, which keeps readers wanting to continue on to the last page.

Another great addition to the books is the illustrations. Each chapter has an illustration drawn by Peter Ferguson, and I'm a huge fan of illustrations because I think it helps readers paint the pictures of the story. While I don't think they should be on every page, Buckley has them spaced out, and allowing one illustration per chapter leaves something to look forward to.

Another great addition is the questions and quizzes in the back. Buckley shows readers where he got his information as well as where readers can find other stories like the one they have read. He shows how fairy tales can be like mysteries and even provides matching games. I love this guy; he's an elementary school teacher’s dream.

How can this help me write?

It's always good to use other pieces for inspiration. In one of my classes at Hollins University, we read several fairy tales and then were required to create a piece that was inspired from the story. My story had absolutely nothing to do with what we had read, but I had been led down a rabbit hole to my characters. It turned out okay, but I definitely had a character that I could come back to and use again.

Never be afraid to use another story and, from it, be inspired to create your own. I'm not saying plagiarize something, but it's okay to read something else to get your wheels turning.

So, go read! I recommend the leather-bound versions of Hans Christian Andersen and Grimm. They are gorgeous and will make you look like a true princess as you sip from your teacup. Just a suggestion.

Courtney Warren is a writer for her local newspaper, as well as a graduate student at Hollins University where she is pursuing a degree in Children’s Literature. She has a bachelor’s degree from Delta State University, the home of the Fighting Okra (which she is incredibly proud of). She loves to read just about anything placed on the shelves but has a special place in her heart for the Harry Potter series.

When she is not writing about herself in third person, she loves to write stories about middle schoolers with spunky attitudes who intend to save the world, as well as drinking Earl Grey tea from a very prissy teacup.

Check out her blog, Tea, the Spirit, & a Pen.