Monthly Archives: October 2012

Shelley Tougas


Mary Amatos: Please Write in This Book

I love a book with a hook. (And no, I didn’t plan on the rhyme.)

Mary Amatos has a great one. In Please Write in This Book, a teacher leaves out a blank journal. She encourages kids to write basically anything they want. The entire novel is the kids’ back-and-forth observations, which turn into conflict. The kids record the conflict and use the book, and some old-fashioned cooperation, to arrive at an agreement.

It’s funny and inventive. The entire narrative is kids expressing themselves through their own writing. The novel has lots of white space, which my daughter used to write her own reactions to the conflict. She thought it was cool to feel like a participant in the story. (Thankfully it wasn’t a library book.)

One observation: In too many middle-grade books, the main boy is funny, and the main girl is serious and worried about the rules. Sure, contrasting personalities help build conflict, and of course I could write a list of exceptions. But I love books that rip up the sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice image of girls. That was  the goal for my unpublished novel The Graham Cracker Plot.

Next on the shelf: Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.

Book release parties

Mankato has an amazing writing community. This south central Minnesota town is bursting with writing talent. Minnesota State University, Mankato has a strong MFA program. The professors publish, and many of the students end up living here, working here, and writing here.  That means there are a lot of readings and book release parties. Parties probably don’t do much for sales, and they don’t get media coverage, so why do them?

  • They’re fun.
  • The networking is fantastic.
  • They create buzz and energy for a book.
  • The writer gets to have fun playing with the themes, characters, and settings for their books.

On Friday night, Kirstin Cronn-Mills had her release party at Tune Town, a blast-from-the-past Mankato record store. Her book, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, is loaded with music. The main character has a community radio show, and a secondary character is a former DJ who first played Elvis on the radio.

A friend made cookies decorated like record albums. Kirstin created a playlist from songs in the book. A group of friends made a “gold record” for her as a gift. (Confession: I was responsible for designing the label and I spelled her name wrong. Double DUH. Kristin instead of Kirstin. And we’ve been friends for eight years!)

Rachael Hanel, another Mankato writer, is planning her release party for her memoir We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down. I won’t give anything away, but it’s one of the most creative ideas I’ve heard. More about that this spring.

Stephen Shaskan wrote a picture book called A Dog is a Dog.  It’s one of the coolest picture books I’ve read in a long time, and his web site rocks. When he does readings in bookstores and schools, he wears a dog costume and brings his guitar. Kids love it.

Lessons for my own release party … someday.

So I’m supposed to have an author pic …

There’s a small thumbnail photo of me in my “About Me” section of my blog. It’s the same photo I use on Facebook. It’s the same photo I used for an online dating site. If I had my way, it would be the only photo of me on Earth. I am comfortable with this photo. It’s small and black and white. I’m not smiling so big, with so much fake, that my lips have disappeared. Nor do I look like Queen Grump. There’s no double chin. My eyes are actually open.

Yesterday, my X, who’s a pretty good judge of this stuff, said, Get a new photo. 

My new fella, the guy I met through the online dating sight, has said, I really was never attracted to that photo.

And so I begin the quest for a professional author photo.

What I don’t want:

1. Serious literary artist peeking through the top of her glasses.

2. Serious literary artist leaning against a tree, arms crossed, conveying her passion for the environment.

3. Cute wedding-type pic with my hands folded under my face.

4. A trying-to-be-a-hipster photo — funky clothes, mod hair, posed in front of an old porch with the paint coming off in big flakes.

5. Serious literary artist reading Tolstoy. I’ve never read Tolstoy. My apologies to Tolstoy.

What I do want:

Nicole Helget, an amazing writer who lives down the hill from me. 

Rachael’s memoir, We’ll be the Last Ones to Let You Down, arrives this spring. She’s naturally hip and cool. We’ve worked together off and on for 20 years.

Amanda Dyslin is a reporter/blogger for the Free Press. I love this quirky photo. She’s a helluva writer, too.

Singer-songwriter and writer-writer Ann Rosenquist Fee never takes a bad photo. The handsome dude is my X and the other half of their band, The Frye.

Sally Rutledge-Ott is my soon-to-be sister in law. She’s a social marketing guru and one hot chick. Somehow I made this picture blurry. Too bad because Sally’s really sharp.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

My friend Kirstin Cronn-Mills has a new book on the shelves. It’s called Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, a title I love. The book is rich with music references. The main character has a show on community radio, and his cool neighbor still plays records on a turntable. It brings back memories of hanging out with my grandparents, eating orange sherbet, and listening to their favorite songs.  “Tiny Bubbles.” “Crazy.” “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” What a kick.

Kirstin came up with so many catchy lines for this book. They’re on stickers and bookmarks and cards. My favorite sticker is on the back of my computer. It reads, “Whatever Turns Your Turntable.”

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is written for older teens, so you won’t find it in middle school libraries. But when you do find it, grab it. Read it. Repeat.

And check out her cool web site.