Book event! I presented my novel at the Grammy Awards

Who is the ideal audience for a novel offering an insider’s look at the dark reality of the LA rock music scene? Music fans in LA, of course! To celebrate the 2017 Grammy Awards, I had the honor of presenting my debut book, Radio Head, to Grammy nominees, recording artists, music press, producers, and a fascinating group of actors, fashion designers, artists and models. Hosted by European TV host Nana Churcher, the high energy event was held at REN Gallery in downtown Los Angeles on the eve of the awards ceremony. My pen name appeared on the backdrop of the red carpet – how cool is that?! The DJ kept the music pumping, and the vibe was positive. My dear frifaveend, artist Jason Mascow, took all these great pics. Cheers to all the amazing talent I had the pleasure of meeting. Here are some of my favorite pics from the party.

 

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My latest on Huff Post: Worried About Your Teen Getting Into College? Consider Music Lessons

The following is an excerpt from my article, Worried About Your Teen Getting Into College? Consider Music Lessons, published on HuffingtonPost.com on February 2, 2017:

pedrosimao

Courtesy: Pedro Simao

Gaining mastery over any challenge your teen may face – sports, travel abroad, or acing AP Math – results in feelings of being ready to take on the challenge of post-secondary education. But many high school students aren’t able to compete, or don’t have access to classes and experiences that improve their chances for getting into and succeeding in college.

However, music training begun as late as high school may help improve the teenage brain’s responses to sound and sharpen hearing and language skills, suggests a new study from Northwestern University.

Nina Kraus, senior study author and director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the School of Communication recruited 40 Chicago-area high school freshmen in a study that began shortly before school started. They followed these children longitudinally until their senior year. The stable processing of sound details, important for language skills, is known to be diminished in children raised in poverty, raising the possibility that music education may offset this negative influence on sound processing.

“While music programs are often the first to be cut when the school budget is tight, these results highlight music’s place in the high school curriculum,” said Kraus.

Can Music Lessons Make a Difference?

The U.S. Department of Education recommends at least one year of visual and performing arts for college-bound high school students asserting, “Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them.” In addition, music education plays a part in improving “children’s intellectual development.”

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, a Los Angeles-area music education company specializing in school-site music instruction, music education advocacy, and custom-designed band and orchestra books. “Students taking courses in music performance and music appreciation scored higher in the SAT than students with no arts participation. Music performance students scored 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math. Music appreciation students scored 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math…

I invite you to continue reading the entire article on HuffPo, including resources for parents and teachers. Click here to continue.

If you have ideas for supporting music programs in American high schools, please comment below!

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The 2017 Newbery Medal Winner – Read the Opening!

The Newbery awards (both the Medal and the Honor Books) are an obsession at my house. With two Middle Grade-aged readers, and the recent completion of my first MG novel, over Book cover image: The Girl Who Drank the Moon the years we have read the Newbery winners with passion, admiration, studious examination (reading good books is how we learn to become better writers!), and pleasure. Selected by the American Library Association, we are excited to learn more about the 2017 Medal Winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by  bestselling author, Kelly Barnhill. Check out the opening pages, courtesy of Workman Publishing. This book looks absolutely delightful–congratulations, Kelly Barnhill!
After the book sample, read on to learn about the 2017 Honor Books and their wonderful authors. Congratulations to you all!!

The following passage is excerpted from Kelly Barnhill’s 2017 Newbery Medal winner The Girl Who Drank the Moon

For as long as Xan could remember, every year at about the same time, a mother from the Protectorate left her baby in the forest, presumably to die. Xan had no idea why. Nor did she judge. But she wasn’t going to let the poor little thing perish, either. And so, every year, she traveled to that circle of sycamores and she gathered the abandoned infant in her arms, carrying the child to the other side of the forest, to one of the Free Cities on the other side of the Road. These were happy places. And they loved children.

When Xan arrived at the grove, there was no baby to be seen, but it was still early. And she was tired. She went to one of the craggy trees and leaned against it, taking in the loamy scent of its bark through the soft beak of her nose.

“A little sleep might do me good,” she said out loud. And it was true, too. The journey she’d been on was long and taxing, and the journey she was about to begin was longer. And more taxing. Best to dig in and rest a while. And so, as she often did when she wanted some peace and quiet away from home, the Witch Xan transformed herself into a tree—a craggy thing of leaf and lichen and deep-grooved bark, similar in shape and texture to the other ancient sycamores standing guard over the small grove. And as a tree she slept.

She didn’t hear the procession.

She didn’t hear the protestations of Antain or the embarrassed silence of the Council or the gruff pontifications of Grand-Elder Gherland.

She didn’t even hear the baby when it cooed. Or when it whimpered. Or when it cried.

But when the child opened its throat into a full-fledged wail, Xan woke up with a start.

“Oh my precious stars!” she said in her craggy, barky, leafy voice, for she had not yet un-transformed. “I did not see you lying there!”

The baby was not impressed. She continued to kick and flail and howl and weep. Her face was ruddy and rageful and her tiny hands curled into fists. The birthmark on her forehead darkened dangerously.

“Just give us a second, my darling. Auntie Xan is going as fast as she is able.”

And she was. Transformation is tricky business, even for one as skilled as Xan. Her branches needed to wind back into her spine, one by one, and the folds of bark devoured, bit by bit, by the folds of her wrinkles.

Xan leaned on her staff and rolled back her shoulders a few times to release the kinks in her neck—one side and then the other. She looked down at the child who had quieted some, and was now staring at the witch in the same way that she stared at the Grand-Elder—with a calm, probing, unsettling gaze. It was the sort of gaze that reached into the tight strings of the soul and plucked, like the strings of a harp.

“Bottle,” Xan said, trying to ignore the harmonics ringing in her bones. “You need a bottle.” And she searched her many pockets to find a bottle of goat’s milk, ready and waiting for a hungry belly.

With a flick of her ankle, Xan allowed a mushroom to enlarge itself enough to make a fine stool to sit upon. She let the child’s warm weight rest against the soft lump of her midsection and waited. The crescent moon on the child’s forehead dimmed to a pleasant shade of pink, and her dark curls framed her darker eyes. She was calm and content with the milk, but her gaze still bore into Xan—like tree roots hooking into the ground. Xan grunted.

“Well,” she said. “There’s no use looking at me like that. I can’t bring you back to where you were. That’s all gone now, so you might as well forget about it. Oh hush now,” for the child began to whimper. “Don’t cry. You’ll love the place where we are going. Once I decide which city to bring you to. They are all perfectly nice. And you’ll love your new family too. I’ll see to that.”

But just saying so made an ache in Xan’s old heart. And she was, all at once, unaccountably sad. The child pulled away from the bottle and gave Xan a curious expression. The Witch shrugged.

“Well, don’t ask me,” she said. “I have no idea why you were left in the middle of the woods. I don’t know why people do half the things they do, and I shake my head at the other half. But I am certainly not going to leave you here on the ground to feed some common stoat. You’ve got better things ahead of you, precious child.”

The word precious caught strangely in Xan’s throat. She couldn’t understand it. She cleared the debris from her old lungs and gave the girl a smile. She leaned toward the baby’s face and pressed her lips against the child’s brow. She always gave the babies a kiss. At least, she was pretty sure she did. The child’s scalp smelled like bread dough and clabbering milk. Xan closed her eyes, only for a moment, and shook her head. “Come now,” she said, her voice thick. “Let’s go see the world, shall we?”

And wrapping the baby securely in a sling, Xan marched into the woods, whistling as she walked.

And she would have gone straight to the Free Cities. She certainly intended to.

But there was a waterfall that the baby would like. And there was a rocky outcropping with a particularly fine view. And she noticed herself wanting to tell the baby stories. And sing her songs. And as she told and as she sang, Xan’s step grew slower and slower and slower. Xan blamed the onset of old age and the crick in her back and the fussiness of the child, but none of those things was true.

And Xan found herself stopping again and again just to take yet another opportunity to unsling the baby and stare into those deep, black eyes.

Each day, Xan’s path wandered farther afield. It looped, doubled back, and wiggled. Her traverse through the forest, normally almost as straight as the Road itself, was a twisty, windy mess. At night, once the goat’s milk was exhausted, Xan gathered the gossamer threads of starlight on her fingers, and the child ate gratefully. And each mouthful of starlight deepened the darkness in the child’s gaze. Whole universes burned in those eyes,—galaxies upon galaxies.

After the tenth night, the journey that usually only took three and a half days was less than a quarter done. The waxing moon rose earlier each night, though Xan did not pay it much mind. She reached up and gathered her starlight and didn’t heed the moon.

There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and in large enough quantities to reveal the best in itself. It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic.

Moonlight, however. That is a different story.

Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.

Xan couldn’t take her eyes off the baby’s eyes. Suns and stars and meteors. The dust of nebulae. Big bangs and black holes and endless, endless Space. The moon rose, big and fat and shining.

Xan reached up. She didn’t look at the sky.

(Did she notice how heavy the light felt on her fingers? Did she notice how sticky it was? How sweet?)

She waved her fingers above her head. She pulled her hand down when she couldn’t hold it up anymore.

(Did she notice the weight of magic swinging from her wrist? She told herself she didn’t. She said it over and over and over until it felt true.)

And the baby ate. And ate. And ate. And suddenly she shuddered and buckled in Xan’s arms. And she cried out—once. And very loud. And then she gave a contented sigh, falling instantly asleep, pressing herself into the softness of the witch’s belly.

Xan looked up at the sky, feeling the light of the moon falling across her face. “Oh dear me,” she whispered. The moon had grown full without her noticing. And powerfully magic. One sip would have done it and the baby had had—well. More than a sip.

Greedy little thing.

In any case, the facts of the matter were as clear as the moon sitting brightly on the tops of the trees. The child had become enmagicked. There was no doubt about it. And now things were more complicated than they had been before.

Xan settled herself cross-legged on the ground and laid the sleeping child in the crook of her knee. There would be no waking her. Not for hours. Xan ran her fingers through the girl’s black curls. Even now, she could feel the magic pulsing under her skin, each filament insinuating itself between cells, through tissues, filling up her bones. In time, she’d become unstable—not forever, of course. But Xan remembered enough from the magicians who raised her long ago that rearing a magic baby is no easy matter. Her teachers were quick to tell her as much. And her Keeper, Zosimos, mentioned it endlessly. “Infusing magic into a child is akin to putting a sword in the hand of a toddler—so much power and so little sense. Can’t you see how you age me so, girl?” he said over and over.

And it was true. Magical children were dangerous. She certainly couldn’t leave the child with just anyone.

“Well, my love,” she said. “Aren’t you more troublesome by half?”

The baby breathed deeply through her nose. A tiny smile quivered in the center of her rosebud mouth. Xan felt her heart leap within her and she cuddled the baby close.

“Luna,” she said. “Your name will be Luna. And I will be your grandmother. And we will be a family.”

And just by saying so, Xan knew it was true. The words hummed in the air between them, stronger than any magic.

She stood, slid the baby back into the sling and began the long journey toward home, wondering how on earth she’d explain it to Glerk.

2017 Honor Books

Book cover image: Freedom Over MeFreedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan, written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.
 “Using real documents from an estate appraisal dated July 5, 1828, Bryan has created beautiful portrait paintings for 11 people who were named and priced as property on the Fairchildses’ estate. Bryan gives voice to their history, their longing for freedom, and their skills as artisans, cooks, musicians, carpenters, etc. Each person has two visual portraits, with each accompanied by a poem (on the opposite page). Collaged historical documents of slave auctions fill the negative space of the first portrait frame. The second portrait depicts that person in a private dream, often a dream for safety, family, community, or the freedom to create. A significant contribution to U.S. and African American history that will elicit compassion and understanding while instilling tremendous pride. A must-purchase for all collections.” — School Library Journal

Book cover image: The Inquisitor's TaleThe Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, written by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly and published by Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

The Inquisitor’s Tale is one of the most celebrated children’s books of 2016! New York Times Bestseller; A New York Times Editor’s Choice; A New York Times Notable Children’s Book; A People Magazine Kid Pick; A Washington Post Best Children’s Book, A Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book; An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book; A Booklist Best Book; A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book; A Kirkus Reviews Best Book; A Publishers Weekly Best Book; A School Library Journal Best Book 

Book cover image: Wolf HollowWolf Hollow, written by Lauren Wolk and published by Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
“Eleven-year-old Annabelle lives in a rural Pennsylvania community in 1943. The continued fighting of World War II haunts everyone, but life is mostly peaceful—until Betty Glengarry’s arrival. Betty is cruel and threatening and thrives on inflicting pain. Thematically, this book raises some of the same issues as To Kill a Mockingbird, but with social status rather than racism as the basis for injustice. Vicious bullying is also a highly relevant topic, and this aspect is sure to spark important conversations. Highly recommended for purchase; a truly moving debut.” — School Library Journal

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Read on: Recommended media for fans of Ancient Rome …and opera

nero

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

This is a collection in progress, a heartfelt, juicy and rewarding list of the pieces of research bringing me great joy, inspiration and explosive insights as I attempt to write my third book, a retelling of George Frideric Handel’s Agrippina. I’ve been digging deep since last September, and as many historical fiction writers will attest, it feels as though I’ve only scraped the surface. But that is the pleasure of it, isn’t it? Our books should inspire our curiosity. If our writing bores us, we’ve lost our way. So here is my scrapbook of treasures, which I’ll update as I move forward with my novel. If you share my passion for all things Italian, please comment with your suggestions!

Books (There are many excellent books about Ancient Rome. The following are those I find myself returning to repeatedly while I research and write:)

Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire Author nthony A. Barrett is the go-to expert on Ancient Rome. This book is proving highly useful.

The Emperor Nero: A Guide to the Ancient Sources There are several texts about Emperor Nero, but this guide by Anthony A. Barrett, Elaine Fantham, and John C. Yardley is, in my opinion, one of the most insightful.

The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero by Tacitus, and The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Volume 06: Nero by Suetonius can be considered “required reading,” but I do prefer texts that compare their passages, along with Dio’s, and provide commentary. (Hat tip to Anthony Barrett and Stephen Phillips.)

Veni, Vidi, Vici by Peter Jones, is an infinitely enjoyable and digestible compendium of Ancient Roman history, beginning with the Etruscans. I picked up a copy at The Coliseo when I visited last summer.

Visual Media
Agrippina A DVD of the opera starring Véronique Gens, and Philippe Jaroussky, directed by Tiziano Mancini.

Rome This HBO series is superb.It follows the story of Julius Caesar’s triumph over Pompey, and the rise of Caesar Augustus, an introduction to Marcus Agrippa, along with the an unforgettable portrayal of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. The fictional plot highlighting the friendship between two Roman soldiers creates a believable pleb view of life in Ancient Rome. It’s rumored that the period sets spanned a whopping 5 acres and that would make it one of the largest period sets ever. The joint BBC/HBO production had an estimated budget of $100,000,000. Highly recommended.

Da Vinci’s Demons This Starz series is a wonderful (extraordinarily fictional) story about Leonardo Da Vinci’s beginnings, primarily set in Florence. The acting, costumes and sets are wonderful. The view of Rome and the Vatican during the Renaissance offers an interesting counterpart to the Ancient Roman Empire. Actor Tom Riley is a compelling (and sensual) Leo.

 I, Claudius (35th Anniversary Edition). Rated one of the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time” by Time magazine, this epic BBC series spans the history of the Roman Empire from Augustus through Claudius, a stuttering scholar who learns early to play the fool and stay alive. Based on the novels by Robert Graves.

National Geographic When Rome Ruled 3-DVD Set I ordered this on my smart phone while standing in the shadow of the temple of Jupiter at the Palatino in Rome last summer. Tablets of communication have come a long way.

Music
Handel: Agrippina (3 CDs) featuring Alastair Miles, Della Jones, Derek Lee Ragin, Donna Brown, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, and Michael Chance.

YouTube: George Frideric Handel – Agrippina

Web pages
About the opera Agrippina: Wikipedia; Synopsis at About Entertainment; NPR Music;
Julia Agrippina | Roman patrician | Britannica.com
heroinesofhistory – Agrippina the Younger
How Empress Agrippina the Younger Scandalized Rome
Roman Emperors – DIR Agrippina the Younger
Women in the Roman World: Agrippina the Younger
Nero – Ancient History – HISTORY.com
Nero | Roman emperor | Britannica.com
Emperor Nero – The Roman Empire
NeroEmperor, Theater Actor, Poet – Biography.com
Nero – Ancient History Encyclopedia
Roman Emperors DIR Nero
BBC – History – Historic Figures: Nero (37 AD – 68 AD)
Nero – Citation of Nero’s homosexual relationship with Marcus Otho
Marcus Otho, Emperor of Lusitania, lover of Nero; Poppaea
Roman Emperor Claudius
Synopsis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

Italian and Latin
Italian words we don’t use in English

palatine

One of my favorite pics from my trip

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6th Grade Shakespeare and Research for my Third Book

This fall was an exciting time of growth for my family. My oldest son graduated to middle school, and became fast friends with a wonderful, funny, creative and cool group of guys. I went back to school, too. I enrolled in the 10-week online program, Story Genius, to begin brainstorming my third book, a retelling of George Frideric Handel’s Agrippina.

As much as I love Handel’s score (well, technically, the librettist was Vincenzo Grimani) I have spent this year immersing myself in all things Ancient Rome, modern Rome, and trying to learn the language. The opera Agrippina is populated by Ancient Roman figures, including Claudius and Nero, and I’m frankly reveling in the deep and satisfying pleasure of researching a topic (and language) I am truly fascinated by. In the past, I’ve researched as necessary, and loved it because research is my idea of a good time. With my new book, as they say, it’s personal.

So, when my sixth grader balked at the idea of acting, much less Shakespeare, I agreed to volunteer for the production. One thing led to another, and suddenly I was placed in charge of designing a set that encompassed both brooding Scotland for Macbeth, and sun-swathed Rome, for Julius Caesar. (The ambitious drama teacher at my kid’s school split the 6th graders into two groups, and produced BOTH simultaneously. Yes, he is a miracle worker.)

The drama teacher said it best: “It was my hope that the main feeling the students left each day with was excitement and in the end, pride. It was very exciting to share the talent, courage, and independence these young actors possess. It is an honor to have their trust in and commitment to something that requires bravery and strength.”

My son isn’t the only one who found gems among his classmates. Several generous parents lent their time and talents (and good company) to help me create the set. I’m so proud of my son, who played King Duncan (and Duncan’s ghost) in Macbeth, and all the stellar young actors who uncovered the mysteries of Shakespearean language, and brought it to life.

What is it about seeing our children on stage that is so utterly heart-warming? Tell me about your experience in the comments. I love hearing stories about children encountering a playwright’s vision.

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One for you, one for schools!

todayThis Giving Tuesday (Today, November 29), for every Yoobi item purchased on Yoobi.com or a Yoobi owned retail store, Yoobi will double their give back! (If you aren’t familiar with Yoobi, for every item purchased, they donate an item to a classroom in need, more details below.) Today, for every item purchased, Yoobi will donate two Yoobi items to a classroom in need in the United States.

If you’re a writer, Yoobi is a fabulous resource for pens, notebooks and journals, office supplies, organizational systems, and other useful items for the business of writing. 

Yoobi makes colorful, vibrant tools that spark learning and creativity from office and school supplies to fun stationery and craft items! Not only did they want to perk up the supplies aisle, but they wanted to help solve a very big problem. Many kids in the U.S. don’t have access to basic school supplies, unless teachers pay for them out of their own pocket, which averages out to $485 per teacher per year, for a collective total of $1.6 billion a year. In just 2 short years, Yoobi has impacted over 2 million kids with their mission and hope this Giving Tuesday only continues to impact more!

They will also be doing a social media GIVE. If you retweet @yoobigives’ designated #GivingTuesday tweet tomorrow, they will donate an item to a classroom in need for every retweet! Tweet this:

It’s ! RETWEET THIS and will donate an item into a classroom pack. It’s that simple!

It’s such a great and easy way to give back!

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NaNoWriMo Write-in TONIGHT

Hello local Pacific Northwest writers! I’m inviting all my writer friends and neighbors to nanologojoin me tonight at the Kitsap Regional Library in Poulsbo, where I’ll be hosting a NaNoWriMo write-in from 6pm-8pm.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.
We all value writing together as a community–regardless of genre, or level, or age (young writers andtoday teens welcome!) We’ll have yummy snacks, writing craft books on hand, and prizes for word sprints. So get your laptops and pens warmed up! I’ll see you tonight.

What: NaNoWriMo Write-ins
Where: Poulsbo Public Library, 700 NE Lincoln Rd. Poulsbo, Wa 98370
When: Every Monday night in November
Time: 6pm -8pm

Sponsored by the fabulous Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network, and the Poulsbo branch of Kitsap Regional Library.

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