Category Archives: From Carole

Visiting Crestline Elementary School

Crestline Elementary School visitI wrote a book—AN AUTHOR’S 30 YEARS OF SCHOOL VISITS.
The subtitle:  You don’t have to come back…you just have to go out.
Well, now I guess I’ll have to update the book!

A few weeks ago I had an awesome visit at Crestline Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama.  This is a National Blue Ribbon of Excellence School with 800 students and some fine teachers and administration.

The school is settled in an elbow of streets in a charming brick village of shops and outdoor cafes.  My daughter, Michele, drove me over and we enjoyed that time together. The night before the visit we were hosted in a lovely home to a fine dinner by those who had organized this annual Literary Heritage Festival for the kids.  I autographed a load of books as I munched on kale salad, luscious chicken, stone ground cheese grits, and lemon bars. Back at my hotel, I found flowers, endless sweet gifts, and a precious book of letters from the students.

But the big deal was the next day.  We kicked things off by having an unexpected evacuation of the school! Seems the school guinea pig munched on a wire…and set off an alarm, so we enjoyed a moment of sunshine on the playground before the real event began.

If you’ve never spoked to 800 kids in 4 big batches in a day, you might think it sounds like an exhausting chore. But it’s more like an invigorating joy!  Each group flooded the gym or auditorium and sat criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, as close to me as they could, eager faces staring at me like I was a rock star, hands already raised, fingers wagging, hoping to ask a question of a “real live author.”

What I love to see is how they bring my books to life.  The fourth grade classes, for example, had lined their hallway with beautiful creative masks, hand punched in a gold or sliver material, some adorned with colorful feathers.  They had read THE MISSING MASK MYSTERY.
I spoke, read, laughed, teased, and answered all the questions I could.  We had lunch with the staff, ate cookies at every break, and I wondered how teachers lived and worked at this pace each day!  It was ever so much fun.  I like to think I inspire, change some lives, give some meaning to what it means to be a writer—but it’s the kids, our future, who change my life each school visit, inspire, and give meaning to why I write.

DUCK & COVER

carole-sibaWhat if you got an invitation to a private showing of all the wonderful books that will be coming soon to a bookstore near you.

Would you think you’d died and gone to book heaven?  Me, too!  And so here I am, as both an author and publisher, at the 2017 SIBA book show in Savannah, a bazaar of publishers, authors, and independent bookstores from around the South.  It’s pretty festive!  I just signed copies of my new LOWCOUNTRY VOODOO A-Z, appeared on a panel “Out of This World” books, saw old friends like Duck Books, and met new friends, such as Nicole Sarroocco, author of  ILL-MANNERED GHOSTS, had dinner with my Gallopade sales rep, Candy Person (love that name!), and her daughter Chrissy Dale.  And that’s just for starters!  But the exciting news is that independent bookstores are not only alive and well, but thriving and growing by leaps and bounds!  They are pretty jazzed!  Just imagine—all the lovely, local bookstores we all once treasured, returning to the scene on a street corner near you!  Some have been around a long time—E. Shaver Books and The Book Lady, in Savannah.  Others are brand-spankin’ new; that’s a good sign.  And best of all, some are in my neck o’ the woods:  Macintosh Books in Beaufort and The Storybook Shoppe in Old Town Bluffton; lucky us! Support your local independent bookstore; they need you and we need them.  When I leave this show, I’ll probably head right out to the bookstores mentioned and see what cover attracts my eye.  For what is life without a good book to read, and what is a town without a great bookstore?  

The Angst of Editorial Meetings

img_75901-copyA lot of people ask about the “insider story” of publishing.

Well, sit in on a real, live Editorial Meeting.  Sound boring?  Sometimes!  In this picture, we are having a real, live Gallopade editorial meeting…for 2017, meaning SEPTEMBER back-to-school…sooooo…

What will kids, teachers, parents, readers, librarians, bookstores, etc. want and need by September “a year from now”?  Well, that’s where the angst comes in!  Part of my job is to anticipate such wants/needs/desires/essentialities—way ahead.  Far enough ahead to assign, research, write, design, illustrate, and paste up and print books in time for back to school, or even summer tourist season, or early year needs.

As you can imagine, this is not easy.  How do we do it?  We listen.  We monitor the local, states, world and international news of all kinds—educational, economic, political, cultural, and more.  As you know, that is not always pretty.  What does it mean?  How does it affect children?  What will teachers want and need?  What will state standards add, change, eliminate?

While it’s sort of a coin, toss, we have one Secret Ingredient to help us stay on the right path: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS!  We seek to be relevant to them.  We aim to be true to their young minds and questioning brains.  Our goal is to be moral, add value, not to be politically correct.  We want to tell them the facts, the truth as we know it, and let them draw their own conclusions.  And, as if that were not challenge enough, we also are determined to be enlightening, entertaining, and just plain fun.

Difficult?  Yes.  Impossible?  Must not be—we’ve been doing it for 37 years.  We may have a little more gray hair, may even argue, may suffer (I always say, “If you are not suffering, you are not writing anything worth reading.”)  And so, here we go again.  We do good things for kids.  We change kids’ lives.  We save kids’ lives.  But, more importantly, I like to think we help make the world go around just a little bit better each year.  If we help one child, that’s wonderful.

And some people think publishers are just trying to make a living.  Yes, but that is secondary.

See you in 2017 with some great Gallopade/Carole Marsh books, coming sooner or later to a calendar near you!

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Hoodoo You Do?

Voodoo ASCI copy

Hoodoo You Do?

I have just finished a book called LOWCOUNTRY VOODOOO A-Z.

You’ll see it on this website.

Now, “Why?” you might be asking, would a perfectly respectable, Christian writer for children do a voodoo book for adults?

Easy answer:  It’s history, fascinating, relevant, and…right out my back door!

I live in the Lowcountry of South Carolina; that means way down east in the land and water between the sea and the end of the wetlands and marshes and forests.  I believe my home is at sea level 20 feet, and that is only because we are on a bluff!  This area, as you know, is where so many of our ancestors first came ashore to the New World.  Some came as brave explorers…others as often fearful colonists (including women and children)…and others as unwilling slaves.  One thing they all had in common:  What they brought with them—their culture, spirituality, superstitions, knowledge, hopes, dreams, and beliefs.

The Gullah (Geechee in Georgia) came here with little but the shreds of clothes left on their backs and keen remembrances of what they had learned and left behind—their culture and beliefs.  From Africa, this was a life close to the earth, a dependency on natural roots and herbs for sustenance and medicine, and a belief system that spanned from God to boo hags.

Now, what’s a boo hag?  Well, you’ll have to read the book; this is only a brief blog!

But voodoo is more than a word.  Here in the Lowcountry, it is also called hoodoo.  It is not all about bad; some believe in spells and charms, and such to do good.  You don’t?  Well, did you ever pluck a four leaf clover for good luck?  Hang your keys on a rabbit’s foot keychain?  Avoid a black cat crossing your path?  Walk around a ladder?  In other words, the history of such things harks back to the Medieval Ages, and continues to the present.

Voodoo here, now?  Yep.  Trust me on this.  You know, we adults are just like the fourth graders I write to:  ignorant of subjects until we learn something about them.  Fascinated by the curious, weird, unknown to us.  And flabbergasted by face—especially when it’s wilder than fiction!

I had fun writing this book.  I met a lot of nice people.  And in the process of doing my research, I also came up with new book ideas:  Death by Grits, for example.  Hey, this is the South!  So don’t pooh-pooh hoodoo.  Keep and open mind and an open heart.  And if you want to see some cute voodoo dolls, go on Pinterest.  More soon on this subject!

Fitbit: Fad or Fantastic Way to Make You Reconsider Food?

Walking running hiking or exercising sports shoe and legs on rocky hiking trail in mountains motivation inspiration concept outdoors achievement fitness adventure and exercising in wild nature seaside

Only time will tell, but I got both a red and a black Fitbit last Christmas.  As soon as I figure out how to use it, I am raring to hit the pavement and do my 10,000 (or will that be 20,000?) steps each day!  In the meantime, I decided to create a Fitbit healthy snack.

“Fitbits” Recipe

A bit like trail mix, in a large bowl combine ½ cup of each of the following; baggie it up in daily doses and let it help give you energy and encouragement as you embark on your new fitness program.  You do have one, right?

  • Unsalted almonds
  • Dried pineapple pieces
  • Peanut butter chips
  • Dark chocolate chips
  • Salted pretzel bits
  • Coconut flakes

That’s six good things; obviously, you can vary them with what you have, like, or the season.  Just stick to healthy, variety, and more “bits” than bites.  A serving that fits in the little bowl palm of your hand is enough for one Fitbit session.  It’s your healthy reward for getting out there and getting a bit more fit!

Critical Thinking Skills

I write career books for kids.  I hire kids.  I see what kids don’t know.  We often preach the wrong things, I think, by default, often…because we don’t even bother to mention them, but they are important important.

I liked this list from eSchool News because it lists one critical skill that I have read that employers consider the most important.  I will save it for last.  Here the 5 are with mini-comment from me:

  • Self-direction: Kids need to drive their own learning…at work a direct order is not a suggestion, and it’s up to you to figure out how to do the thing requested. This is a much needed much needed lifeskill!
  • Evidence-based thinking: Kids need to learn not to believe everything they see, hear, read. They need to do their own research and draw conclusions for themselves.  In my books, I often add “the Carole Marsh question.”  What it is?  It is:  WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Not what does your mom think, your teacher, your BFF…WHAT DO YOU THINK?
  • Persistence: You can’t give up so soon or so easily or…well, at all!

How wimpy!  One of my mottos is:  Success Does Not Come to the Wimpy!  Hang in there, try again, go around, go over, dig under…do what you gotta do, but don’t give up don’t give up.

  • Take Risks: Not stupid risks, calculated risks. Failure is an option; give yourself a chance to fail.  Fail because you thought it was a good idea and you tried.  Failure just means something didn’t work out right that way at this time.  Try again.  Succeed.  Succeed!
  • Ambiguity: Kids need to learn to move on without all the answers. With two contradictory whatevers.  With many options, but no true clear answer as to which is best.  So what?!  This is real life.  Real life is full of ambiguity.  May the best ambiguity handler win!  Win!

If you think the doubled words were an error, no, no.

It was my way to emphasize that these things are important.  Very important.  Print this out; give it to a kid.  Hint:  That kid may be 30!

The Dust Bowl

IMG_1041What does this luscious cake photo have to do with the devastating period in American history know as the Dust Bowl?  Nothing, and that’s the point.

If you want to get a kid interested in history, introduce them to a subject they can really chow down on…like the Dust Bowl.  What child can’t wrap their imagination around:

  • Adults who did dumb things and ruined millions of acres of the most fertile lane on earth.
  • The idea of living in a one-room “soddie” with all your family, stuck half in the earth and topped by the very grass that could have saved your life, dust seeping in at every crack and crevice.
  • Ma going out to the barn in a dust storm so bad that Pa can’t see her after she closes the kitchen door. Pa not finding Ma till spring…where she blew away and finally came to rest up against a barbed wire fence a mile away, now nestled among the tumbleweeds.

 And kids think history is boring?  My beloved Chapter III book club just read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  Winner of a National Book Award, this story of those who trekked West in good faith, only to become embroiled in a Titanic-sized effort to survive, is riveting.  If I wrote a book for kids on this subject, I would call it Death by Dust.  Some families left; others stayed.  Imagine kids going to school in a cloud of dust, wet handkerchiefs tied over their faces to try to avoid “dust pneumonia,” which many children did die of eventually.

And the cake?  Well, of all the cookbook and recipe research that I have done over the years, when I Googled “What did they eat during the Dust Bowl?” I pretty much came up with…nothing.  I know they had to eat something?  Maybe a stray potato, some beans?  Dust soup?  I think this cake would have lived in my imagination as what I sacrificed for the errors of my ways.  Or, perhaps, what I hoped to chow down on in my future, should I liveto tell the tale.

Also worthy:  Ken Burn’s outstanding PBS series on the Dust Bowl; watch it with a kid.  Have some cake.

The Desk

Desk Blog ImageI’ve been a writer since before I was born.  A writer is all about her desk.  My first desk was a small, kneehole, four-drawer black desk.  If I still owned it, I’d hang it on the wall and just look at it.  It had been painted red, green and black over the years, as nicks and gouges clearly showed.  It was the kind of desk a school kid from the 1950s might have done their homework on.  It’s hard for me to imagine that I once corralled a typewriter, reams of yellow paper, a dictionary and all the other accoutrements of a writer on that measly pad of real estate.  Mostly I remember writing on it, including my first book—at night, many nights; many, many nights.

The kitchen table has often served as my desk.  I have fond memories of my small children banging away on pots and pans while I banged away on my first manual typewriter.

Over the years I graduated to swankier desks:  a thick glass slab atop chrome sawhorse legs…a slick candy-apple red desk with oak legs…and a lovely tobacco-leaf carved quarter-moon desk perched beneath an iron gazebo dangling lavender wisteria in a room overlooking downtown Savannah.

I’ve had other “desks” over the years:  the hoods of cars and trucks, my lap in bed, the floor of many a motel room when on the road doing research, and now, with my ultra-light Mac Book Air, the crook of my arm serves as a desk just fine.

When I travel, and visit literary historic sites, I always pay attention to the desks:  Carl Sandburg’s orange crate desk at Connemara in Morganton, North Carolina.  (Located in the boiler room, he often bottle- fed his wife’s prize-winning baby goats while he wrote.)  Thomas Wolfe was so tall he preferred to slap his typewriter on top of the refrigerator to write.  He often wrote “nekkid,” much to the consternation (or amusement) of his neighbors, since he cared not for curtains.

Since moving to Palmetto Bluff, the island in my light-filled laundry room has served as my desk.  I think I bought this house because of this thick slab of dark beech wood reclaimed from an Ohio barn.  It is glazed slick as glass and gleams with the clean slate look of possibilities.  Somehow, I could just imagine myself really cranking out the words there amidst the canned goods and cameras…the swish-swash of the washer and kalumph-kalumph of the dryer…the flicker of cell phones and iPads charging.  I enjoy being able to see what’s going on outside while I’m trapped inside writing, to wave to a neighbor, keep an eye out for Bob to fetch our red “Ladybug” golf cart so we can go to lunch.

I can always tell when I am “about to write.”  I do a desk check.  Today, I moved my yellow Parson’s table so I could sit facing the fireplace to write.  It just felt right.  The right desk at the right time in the right place makes all the difference to a writer.  All the difference in the world.

Behind Every Great Woman

Behnd Every Great WomanMy good fellow author friend, Carolyn Wood [Maximizing Your Cruise Experience] sent me this image. While I am not a man-basher (too many fine men in my life for that), there’s nothing like being in a room full of entrepreneurial women—say at a writing conference or Chamber of Commerce event. The “vibe” is visceral; the can do/will do energy can knock your sox off.

Of course, behind every great woman is often also a mother, husband, good friend, mentor, role model, banker (if she’s lucky!) or other person, plus Lady Luck, and most certainly, the Good Lord. Nonetheless, most women are innately great, undauntable, and remarkable.

My grandmother was. She’d often take my sister and I walking through downtown Atlanta at night to her switchboard operator job at the Dinkler Hotel. In her hand she carried a large (one side taped) razor blade. Fortunately, no one ever accosted us—fortunately for THEM!

I just love looking at certain women on the news, mostly women who are the heads of nations. Or will be, like Malala Yousafzai. You know who she is. Or Alyssa Carson. You may not know her, but she’s 13 and already been tapped by NASA to be an astronaut, probably to go to Mars.

A very long time ago, when I went bankrupt due to circumstances beyond my control, my husband said, “Well, I guess you are out of business.”

“I have no money,” I said, “or office, or equipment, or vehicle, or employees, but my brain is not out of business, nor my arms or legs or fingers. My clients don’t know I’m broke.”

“Fingers?” he said.

I waggled them at him. “To write with.” And so I did. I kept writing and putting out books, shipping, and billing. That was a no-brainer. And soon, I had made my first million.

Yeah, behind every great woman is indeed herself. If you don’t believe me, just turn around…and look in the mirror.

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace Image IIThis lovely yacht harks from the golden age of the Golden Age, when the ultra-wealthy purchased Southern plantations the size of small states and built gorgeous “cottages” the size of French chateaus.  They knew how to live the good life, a life that did not last, alas, due to the Civil War.

However, this nautical relic has survived for more than 100 years, and with a new major face lift from the inside out, she may thrive for another 100?  The Grace fetches us from a landing on the May River, usually at sunset, to take us on a ride into the past.  Not literally, of course, but with a glass of wine and the breeze in your bonnet (of course I wear a bonnet!), it sure seems so.

If you’re a parent or teacher, grandma or anything close to that for a child, print this out or show them on your computer screen.  Tell them that the Grace is on a journey.  Perhaps to the depths in a hurricane!  (Only in fiction, folks!)  Maybe to a sandbar awash in prehistoric megalodon teeth, shed from the monster sharks that once roamed these water?  Or is it the Golden Age of Piracy?  Perhaps Blackbeard is about to attack!  And, your young readers/writers can always imagine a 1940s soiree of the rich and famous of the day?

It’s not hard to get kids to unleash their mighty imaginations!  Just give them a photograph, and a hint or two, and turn them loose.  Ah!  There’s the fiercest pirate of them all stomping ashore, right now!  Uh, no, that’s just Papa wanting his lunch.  Oh, well, I can write about anything.

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