Friday, July 29, 2011

Who won NAAMAH and the ARK at NIGHT? Could it be you?

Look what Naamah’s done!

Starred review: Horn Book. “A lovely lullaby, in a beautiful, masterfully integrated book.”
Starred review: Kirkus. “This captivating interpretation creates a remarkable partner for Noah, who uses her special talent in a memorable way.”
What others say:
School Library Journal. “In an author’s note, Bartoletti explains the Arabic poetic form, the ghazal, that inspired the structure of her poetry. Young listeners who hear her bedtime verse will be aware only of its soothing rhythm carrying them to the final ‘Hush hush hush, good night.’”
Publisher’s Weekly. “It’s a story of quiet confidence and comfort, during trials of truly biblical proportions, as well as a gentle bedtime book.”

 Dear Readers, 

Thank you for joining Susan and me for her pre-book celebration and for sharing your intelligent and thoughtful comments! You get **stars**, too, for being so loyal and supportive!

And now the super lucky winner of  Naamah and the Ark at Night: Take a bow, SIOUX!

Sioux, Please e-mail me: claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing address and the autographed book will be on its way to you asap! I hate to part with the book, but my copy will be on it's way August 9th when the book is finally released.

Next up is a book birthday giveaway--Historical fiction, a novel in verse, set in the heartland during WWII. It's splendid, I think!

Don't forget to visit Susan's web-site:  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Interview with Susan Campbell Bartoletti -- Newbery Honor Award Winning Author

Dear Reader,

It is such a great honor to introduce you to my long-time and treasured friend, the Award Winning author, Susan Campbell Bartoletti.   As Susan says, we were babies together, but what she means by that is baby writers. How lucky for me to grow up with this author!

Susan gives so much of her time and expertise to the writing community and to our children through her books. Please join me now in celebrating her newest title, Naamah and the Ark at Night.

What was the source of the inspiration for your soon-to –be-released picture book, Naamah and the Ark at Night?
A very old wooden ark that sits on a shelf in my dining room.
As a little girl, when I visited my grandmother – my father’s mother – I played with the ark. I lined up the animals, two by two, and boarded them safely. I imagined the falling rain. The rising floodwaters. The ark tossing and turning on the churning sea. The screaming and crying people Noah left behind, pounding the gangway door, begging to be let on.
Okay, I’m just kidding about that last sentence, but this part is true: I was a very impressionable child. To this day, I remember clearly a coloring book illustration that depicted the terrified men and women Noah didn’t allow on the ark. And I was supposed to do what? Color it with my crayons? Colorize their terror? That illustration haunted me.

Can you share something about the character of Naamah, Noah’s wife?
One day, I found that my imagination turned to Noah’s wife.
In the King James Version of Genesis, we’re told Noah was a just man, full of grace.
But what about his wife? Who was she? What kind of person was she? And I began to imagine this woman who spent over a year on an ark filled with animals. I began to ask: what must she have thought when Noah told her his plan? How did she feel packing her house? When the rain began to fall? Surely the neighbors must have noticed. What did they think as Noah hammered and sawed away? When Noah gathered the animals? What did her sons and her daughters-in-law think? How did it feel when the flood waters rose? What was life like on the ark?
These are just some of questions I asked, and the answers led me to write different versions of the story. None of those versions “worked,” and so I put the story away. It sat in my drawer for many years. Every so often, I’d return to it and try again.
What I didn’t realize is that I hadn’t asked the right question yet: What was her name?
Although Noah’s wife is never given in the King James book of Genesis, some people have named her over the years. In 1941, an American scholar named Francis Utley listed 103 possible names for Noah’s wife.
From my research, I learned that some rabbinical legends tell us that Noah’s wife was called Naamah because her deeds were pleasant. These legends also tell of another Naamah whose name meant “great singer.”
So we might ask: what’s in a name? These interpretations helped me imagine Naamah’s personality and her talents. They help me imagine how she inspired and comforted Noah and their three sons and their wives, as well as all the animals. Perhaps Naamah sang.
There. I had found my entry into the story.
What about her connected to you emotionally?
The urge to tell a story usually begins with an emotional connection, doesn’t it? Something or someone that makes the heart swell or turn over.
This story began with my sentimental attachment to the ark. I never knew my father, who died in a car accident when I was two months old, and that wooden ark is one of the few things I own that belonged to him.
As a writer, I like to look for “untold” stories from history, because wherever there’s a gap there’s a story. And so I found myself drawn to the story of this woman whose name was left out of the story.  
The final version of the story also came about as I began to think about being a grandmother. And guess what?

No, don’t guess. I’ll tell you. As soon as Holly Meade agreed to illustrate the book, my daughter became pregnant with twins! I have boy-girl twin grandchildren, named Rocco and Alia who turned two in March. They have a younger sister, Mia, who turned one in June. My first grandbabies came by two and the third came by one.
(And speaking of the illustrations, are they not magnificent? I feel so fortunate to have been paired with Holly.)
You modeled your poem after an ancient poetic structure. What drew you to this form?  Can you tell us a little about it? Does your lullaby/poem follow this strict form or did you alter the structure?
A few years ago, I heard my friend and colleague Molly Peacock read a poem that she termed a “sonnet-ghazal.” Her poem was so hauntingly beautiful that it raised the hair on my arms.  (Molly and I teach in the low-residency MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.)
Molly and I have talked a lot about poetry. She says to think of a poetic form as a container that you pour the words into. (Er, I mean, into which you pour the words.)
In short: Noah’s wife needed a name and my story needed a container. Once the story had a name and a form, the words poured out on the first draft, with little revision and very few changes after that.
(Of course, that wouldn’t have been possible without all those years of attempts.)
So what is a ghazal?
Strictly speaking, a ghazal (pronounced “guzzle”) comes to us from the Middle East.  It’s an Arabic word that means, “talking to women.” (How perfect is that meaning for Naamah’s story?)
Here are the basics:
·         A ghazal is composed of five-to fifteen stand-alone couplets. (The usual number is seven.)
·         Each couplet should be a stand-alone poem in itself that is not linked in any way. (Some poets describe each couplet as a pearl on a pearl necklace.) The refrain provides the link.
·         Each line is the same metric length. The first couplet introduces a scheme: a refrain (a repeated word or phrase) that appears at the end of both lines of the first couplet and a rhyme or near rhyme that precedes the refrain.
·         Subsequent couplets follow the scheme in the second line only. Here, the refrain is repeated and the second line rhymes or nearly rhymes with both lines of the first stanza.
·         The final couplet usually includes the poet’s name and a derivation of the meaning of the poet’s name.
The traditional ghazal is so beautiful! You can find examples by conducting an internet search online.
That said, many Western poets take liberties with the traditional form, and so did I.
Liberties? What sort of liberties? Do tell . . .
One of the biggest liberties is that my ghazal is a continuous development of one subject – Naamah and the Ark at Night.
What was your writing process for this?
Once I determined my refrain – night – I wrote eleven couplets with rhyming words that moved Naamah throughout the night.
Did the rhyming words come first? No. I needed to determine Naamah’s movement first. Then I figured out the rhymes so that they would be organic to her story.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?  Advice for writers?
Write and read more poetry. Poetry helps me stretch and grow as a writer. The craft and skill that goes into writing poetry improves the other work I do. 


Thank you for sharing such rich insights into the writing of Naamah and the Ark at Night. I am, as always, encouraged by your dedication to taking time as time is needed to create not just a new book, but a work of art. 

Dear Readers, 

Please take a moment of your time to leave a comment for Susan about her new book for a chance to win and receive an autographed copy of the gorgeous Naamah and the Ark at Night, before it's released to the public. The winner will be announced on July 29th. Thank you! We love you for your thoughtfulness!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Dear Readers,

I didn't intend to lie about WHEN I was going to announce the winner of debut author Shannon Wiersbitzky's first novel, the summer of hammers and angels for middle grade readers, but, alas, that's the way it turned out. Sometimes, LIFE makes other plans for us, and I'm sure you are all well-versed in sudden interruptions that delay your best laid plans and goals. But I'm here now, and eager to ANNOUNCE the LUCKY WINNER!

First, I wanted to share a terrific review of  the summer of hammers and angels from KIRKUS:

Author: Wiersbitzky, Shannon
Publisher: namelos
Angels in the form of members of the First Congregational Church of Christ come to Delia Burns' rescue after lightning strikes her house, leaving her mother in a coma and Delia trying to do the long list of repairs left by the inspector who has condemned her home.
Set in Tucker's Ferry, W.V., this idealized picture of small-town cooperation recalls a simpler time. There are no electronic devices beyond the television in the corner of her mother's hospital room and no chain stores with computerized inventories. There is also little supervision of the children: hard-working, resourceful Delia, her flighty friend, Mae, and mean Tommy Parker, who turns out to be both helpful and handy with tools. Delia’s age is never given, but the first-person narration reflects her innocence and naïveté. Thanks to summer Bible camp she knows something about religion. She wonders about the efficacy of prayer and the existence of angels. She hasn't gone regularly to church like the Parkers, neighbors who take her in after the lightning strike, but her conversion is swift. After two weeks of porch carpentry, ivy-pulling and screen-mending, she’s ready to ask for help, which arrives in true feel-good fashion.

The heartwarming conclusion is an unlikely miracle, but it is entirely in keeping with the flavor of this nostalgic story, which will leave readers hungry for fried chicken and Coke from glass bottles. (Fiction. 9-13)
---Kirkus Reviews
                             * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The LUCKY WINNER of The Summer of Hammers and Angels is: KRISTIN GRAY
Congratulations, Kristin. I know you'll give this book a good home! Please e-mail me [claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com] with your mailing address, and the book will go out to you asap!

Please take a moment to congratulate Kristin! You, dear reader, may be the lucky winner next time!

And next up will be an interview with the award winning author, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, about the writing of her soon to be released picture book, Naamah and the Ark at Night published by Candlewick Press on August 9th. You'll want to stop by and leave a comment for a chance to win a hardcover, autographed copy of this gorgeous book before it is released! How cool is that?

Friday, July 1, 2011

BOOK BIRTHDAY with Debut Author Shannon Wiersbitzky

Dear Readers,

It's always exciting to introduce a debut author and her first book. To help celebrate her extra special day, Shannon has generously donated an autographed, hardcover copy of her gorgeous book, The Summer of Hammers and Angels, to one very lucky reader who leaves a comment (see jacket and link below). Please give Shannon a warm welcome! She's written a post filled with writing gems just for you!

A brief bio: Shannon Wiersbitzky was born in North Dakota, but grew up in West Virginia, Florida, and Minnesota before her parents finally settled down on the East Coast. Her days have three clear parts, writing, “regular” work, and family. Shannon lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two young sons. This is her first novel. Learn more about Shannon at

My first novel, The Summer of Hammers and Angels, officially launches today.  Hooray!  If we were all together, I’d be sure to offer you a drink and an appetizer.

The book tells the story of a young girl, Delia, and a summer that starts off about as bad as any summer could. An inspector threatens to condemn her house and her Mama is struck by lightning. To make matters worse, with no other family to speak of, Delia is forced to move in with her neighbor, Tommy "as-dense-as-a-stump" Parker.

With her best friend, Mae, and Tommy (but only because he seems handy), Delia resolves to tackle the long list of repairs, one by one. What she discovers is that it takes more than energy and willingness to handle some problems. When things go from bad to worse, Delia has to take another tack, one that starts with admitting she just can't do what needs to be done without a lot more help.

I started writing the book back in 2007. Driving home from the SCBWI Pocono Conference, full of vim and vigor and inspiration, I realized there was this voice in my head. Now keep in mind that when I drive alone I usually have the radio on full-blast and can often be spotted singing at the top of my lungs, so this voice had to work hard to be heard. The voice was Delia’s, the main character.

So there I was, driving down the highway, with all these poorly behaved words pushing and shoving, trying to get out and I began saying them aloud. I was fearful of forgetting them before I got home, so I simply repeated them over and over, adding a new sentence at the end each time, then repeating again. I became so engaged with this voice that I completely missed my exit home. The first chapter as you’ll read it today is very close to the way it came to me on that drive. 

Easy, you say! Piece of cake!

Not exactly.

I’m a big believer that most authors are collectors.  Hoarders really. Over the course of a lifetime, we gather up words, phrases, expressions, habits, experiences, signs, stories, outfits, and anything else that strikes us as interesting, and we store them away in the deep recesses of our brain. Sometimes we don’t even know we’ve boxed them up until we begin to write and then there they come, unpacking themselves and clamoring to be put on a shelf, or in a chapter as the case may be.
The Summer of Hammers and Angels, is the result of some of my collecting. Since middle-school, I’ve been involved with Habitat for Humanity. I was maybe fourteen when I took a trip to upstate New York with my church. As we spent our days fixing and building, several women from the community made us these huge lunches, fried chicken and baked beans, collard greens with bacon, and macaroni and cheese. I remember saying thank you to one of the women and she responded, “Oh no, thank you! I could never do what you’re doing. All I know how to do is cook fried chicken.” 

I can’t recall if I answered her or not, I was so struck by what she said. It was shocking to me, and sad, but I could see that she wasn’t sad. That little bit, is tucked into one of my supporting characters, Miss Martha. 

Although the beginning of the story came easily, and I had a clear vision of the end, the middle was a struggle. I had a dad in the story at one point...he got tossed. I had some Habitat-type volunteers in at another point....they got tossed. There were spiritual angels...they got tossed.

The art of writing is the revising. My editor, Stephen Roxburgh, calls it re-visioning, and I think he’s right. Revising implies tweaking words that already exist, but for many drafts, something more dramatic is needed. What if this entire scene wasn’t here? How could my characters learn what they need to know in a different way? What if this person were gone? How could the main character interact with others to still accomplish what they need to?

These aren’t easy questions. Re-visioning takes work, an open mind, and maybe even a doze in the sun or a glass of red wine by the couch. It also requires that an author give up something they thought worked, or words they’ve grown attached to, and try something new.
At its core, The Summer of Hammers and Angels is a story about hope. About hope and  faith, family and community.

Because the book was inspired in part by my community work, I’ve committed to giving back a portion of the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity. When you read the book (and I hope you will!) you’ll see this noted near the copyright information.

Thanks so much, Clara, for letting me blog today. I do hope your readers enjoy the book!

Thank you, Shannon, for sharing wonderful insights and the wisdom that went into your writing and revision process. Those questions raised by your editor, Stephen Roxburgh, namelos, are priceless.   

Please take a moment to congratulate Shannon on the release of her book, The Summer of Hammers and Angels                  
And be sure to visit Shannon here:

The Lucky Winner of  The Summer of Hammers and Angels will be announced in one week! 

       !!!!! Congratulations, Shannon!!!!!