Eva Leigh, who also writes paranormal romance under the name Zoë Archer, tries her hand at Regency romance with great success in Forever Your Earl, the first in her Wicked Quills of London series. The opener in the series delves into the scandalous world of gossip rags in Regency England.
In this guest post, Leigh tells us about the history behind today's celebrity gossip obsession and how it inspired her latest novel.
Scandal and gossip aren’t 21st-century inventions. Hundreds of years before TMZ, people loved to hear and read about the exciting, outrageous, titillating exploits of the rich and famous. Gossip sheets and scandal rags were hugely popular, all operating under the pretense that by exposing others’ misdeeds readers could see what not to do and learn by example. Most likely, nobody believed that fiction, but it made for a convenient excuse when pouring over the adventures of “Lady S—” and “Lord T—”.
Why do we love hearing about celebrities like the Kardashians and the latest pop sensations behaving badly? Maybe part of it is schadenfreude, pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune. And if that person is somebody with more money, more fame, more privilege than us—so much the better. We like to revel in a world of excess that most people don’t get to experience: getting thrown out of exclusive nightclubs, making scenes in wildly expensive restaurants, fast cars, designer clothing . . . We can’t seem to get enough of this fantasy world. And now, with the Internet, information on the latest gossip is instantaneous.
In Forever Your Earl, heroine Eleanor Hawke owns and runs a Regency-era scandal sheet called The Hawk’s Eye. She herself is something of a scandal, given that she’s a woman in possession and in charge of her own business. But for Eleanor, the story isn’t herself. She’s much more interested in the misadventures of notorious rakes like Daniel Balfour, Lord Ashford. Yet Eleanor’s reportorial skills are put to the test when Lord Ashford invites her to accompany him on his wild nights—and she soon finds herself not just writing about scandal, but being part of it.
Thank you, Eva! Check out our review of Forever Your Earl.
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Donald Harstad worked for 26 years as deputy sheriff and chief investigator for the police department of Clayton County, Iowa. Harstad transforms those experiences into thrilling mysteries with his popular Carl Houseman series. The sixth in the series, November Rain, finds Houseman far from his usual heartland setting, as he travels to the UK to consult on a kidnapping case—and to protect his own daughter.
In a guest post, Harstad shares a bit of the real-life inspiration behind November Rain.
I’ve written six novels about a fictional deputy sheriff named Carl Houseman, set in a fictional county in northeast Iowa. Since I was a deputy sheriff for 23 years—in a not-so-fictional county in northeast Iowa—much of the research for my novels involves nothing more complex than sitting at the Sheriff’s Department and talking about the good old days with some of the officers and dispatchers I used to work with.
I certainly never thought I would write a book until I actually wrote my first. One day, as I was working on that book, Eleven Days, I spread some evidence photos out to bring back the ambience of a killing, and it suddenly came to me. Looking at the forlorn little farm house where the body was discovered, I began remembering the enormously long hours, all of them at night, when I was the only officer working in a county of 760 square miles, 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 farms and 19 little towns.
Scenarios. That was the key. We were required to patrol and respond to calls. Simple enough, except one did not want to be in Postville when a call came in of a serious crime in North Buena Vista: The distance between them via the best route was more than 60 miles, and a half hour response time was out of the question. Because of such circumstances, I would drive around doing my patrol thing and continuously imagine scenarios and plan response routes and times to other areas in the county, the proximity of ambulance, fire and other police services, and under what circumstances I’d request another officer be called out to assist. The night shift hated to call somebody out on their night off, and then discover it hadn’t been necessary. Shots fired? Who called this one in? Him? He’s always doing something like that, don’t really need another officer. Yet.
On the other hand, shots fired, one man down, another being threatened with a gun, concerned farm wife is watching events unfold through her kitchen window—that one actually happened about 1 A.M., and when I arrived, there was one dead man on the ground, another potential victim had fled into a tall corn field, and the suspect had headed for the barn. I’d called for an ambulance, and two other officers as I responded to the scene.
The first officer arrived 19 minutes after I called. The ambulance came in at 23, and the second officer at 34 minutes after. They hurried. Distance is a real killer, so to speak. I secured the woman witness in my car. The only other car on the place was parked very near the corpse, and she said that was the car that both the suspect and the dead man had come in. So I lit up the barn with my spotlights, and I sat on the hood of my patrol car with my AR-15 until the next cop arrived. It was a long 19 minutes. (We did go in and get him, and the man hiding in the corn emerged just as we were handcuffing the suspect.)
That’s where Eleven Days, my first novel, had originated. Although the plot was much different, the spooky feeling stayed the same, and the old scenarios bore fruit as plots and situations. In my subsequent books, although I used fictitious characters and locations, recalling and re-imagining real-life scenarios always came in very handy. We did have a gaming boat in our county, so when I wrote The Big Thaw, I drew heavily on scenarios regarding possible armed robberies on a river boat casino.
For my latest, November Rain (Crooked Lane Books), I send Carl to London for an assist in a homicide investigation. The whole London scenario is based on one of my trips there, when I discovered that then-President George W. Bush was also in London. Coincidental though it was, the disruption of the London Police Force caused by his visit, and some of the events occurring in London at the time, allowed me to justify Carl going to London in the first place.
Our daughter’s impressions, and some wistful speculation on her part about how she’d like to stay there for a few months, provided more inspiration—not so coincidentally, Carl also has a daughter. That, combined with the fact that you just cannot look anywhere in the greater London area and not find a perfect location for a fine homicide or really cool crime, gave me all I needed to start writing. Mixing that beginning with my personal experiences in law enforcement and several discussions with members of the Metropolitan Police Force became the foundation for fictional officers and conversations. Then, again by coincidence, returning to Elkader, Iowa, and bumping into a person who had personal experience with the U.K.’s MI5 and MI6 intelligence services just put the icing on the cake.
Even today, as I write, it’s memories of the multitude of unique circumstances that I draw upon for many fictional incidents, and the real world responses that would have been generated. Characters’ reactions to events are also authentic, based on people I know and the responses I saw in hugely stressful situations. And, to be fair, actual responses I observed over coffee and donuts.
When I do public appearances I always try to include stories about what really happened, to impart a little additional flavor to whichever novel we’re discussing. Then, sometimes, as I drive back home at night, I find myself running scenarios all over again . . .
Since his retirement, Donald has written six best-selling, critically acclaimed novels featuring Carl Houseman. For more, visit: http://donaldharstadauthor.com
English professor and YA author Joseph Monninger (Finding Somewhere) dedicated his new book, Whippoorwill, to his late dog, Laika: "Last of the sled dogs. No truer heart ever lived." Whippoorwill drives straight to the heart of dog- and animal-lovers everwhere, with the story of a 16-year-old girl who takes it upon herself to save a dog named Wally.
In a guest post, Monninger shares another story—a myth that captures the "essence of dog."
Here is a myth about a dog. Whippoorwill is about a dog, and this myth gets to the essence of dog. I could tell you about writing Whippoorwill, where I got the idea and so on, but wouldn’t we all prefer a story? I think so.
The Ponte della Maddalena, a bridge in Italy’s Tuscany province, is also known as the Devil’s Bridge. It is a beautiful bridge, and legend holds that the builder, seeing its potential beauty but unable to complete it, invoked the devil to help him. The devil consulted with the builder and promised to help finish the work, but the price would be the first soul to pass over the bridge. The builder consented and the work went along rapidly. The builder, tremendously pleased with himself and with his expanding reputation as a designer and architect, had forgotten about the devil’s bargain until the day before the bridge opened.
“I have come for my soul,” the devil told the builder. “Tomorrow, when the bridge opens, I will take the first soul that crosses.”
The builder, so filled with dread he could not sleep, came to his morning coffee not knowing what to do. He asked God for a sign, though he did not believe God would interfere with the devil’s work. He spoke softly to his wife. He had not told her what Satan required, but he could not be certain he would see her again. He kissed his boy on the forehead, ruffled the youngster’s hair and walked slowly toward the bridge.
He made one stop to buy bread. As he tucked the bread inside his shirt, a dog began to follow him. Many dogs roamed the street in Lucca, and at first the builder took little notice. But then, as he neared the bridge, an idea came to him.
“I am ready to pay my debt,” he announced to the devil.
“Very well,” said the devil, “give me my soul.”
With that, the builder drew the bread and waved it in front of the dog. When the dog could hardly contain itself, the builder threw the loaf across the bridge. The dog sprinted after the bread and the devil, bested by a mere builder who had remembered at the last moment that a human soul had never been stipulated, accepted the dog’s soul and disappeared. The dog, too, vanished, but the bridge remained and may be crossed today without fear and with much admiration for its lovely shape. The dog’s name was not known and therefore could not be forgotten.
If you know a dog, if you’ve ever been in the presence of a fine, true dog, then you know how gladly a dog would give itself to protect its human guardian. I wrote this novel with all the dogs I have ever loved in mind. If someday I should die and go to heaven, and if my dogs are not there to greet me, I’ll ask to go where they are, because dogs—for me, anyway—are the measure of my happiness.
I love the classic historical romance time periods like Regency England, but I also love unexpected settings, like World War I or, as is the case with Marissa Campbell's print debut, the year 869. Avelynn is the story of the forbidden love between a Saxon noblewoman and a Viking warrior.
In this guest post, Campbell tells us how she landed on Anglo-Saxon England as the setting for Avelynn and reveals the real events that helped inspired her.
I’m often asked what inspired Avelynn, and in all honesty, it was the cold dark nights between Outlander novels. I had just finished reading my hot-off-the-shelf hardcover copy of Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone and was waiting longingly for the next installment, when I decided I would write a novel to help other lost and bookless readers like myself.
Avelynn popped onto the page all spit and vinegar—I loved her immediately—but I needed a time period that would allow me to play with her tenacious personality. I picked the Anglo-Saxon era because, well, men and swords, but also because women had a modicum of power. They could lead men in battle, as the real historical figure Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, does some 20 years after Avelynn is set. They could own land and chattel and bequeath them onto their children, and they had an influential voice in Council, the chief court of the time. Avelynn even had a fantastic role model in England’s very first queen, the historical Queen Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald of Francia. Judith rebelled against social norms and her father’s reach and power, eloping with her true love, Count Baldwin of Flanders. Women were making things happen during this time period, and I knew Avelynn would fit in wonderfully.
I was diligent in my study and research of the world, but I didn’t want a historical bogged down in political machinations and minutiae. What I wanted was an escape—a romance with strong historical details that would transport readers to the land of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. The thing that always made me return to Gabaldon’s novels was the connection between Jamie and Claire. I wanted to create two characters with a deep love built of respect and equality. I wanted a love story that would resonate with readers. Which led me to my favourite movie of all time: Grease. One year alone, I’m pretty sure I watched it 365 times! The story of Danny and Sandy always stuck with me. With Avelynn and Alrik, I wanted just that, a summer love that was (sing it with me) ripped at the seams . . . but ah/oh those summer nights!
I’m also a huge fan of “Game of Thrones” and the Mists of Avalon, so a straight-up historical wouldn’t do. I wanted an element of the mystical and otherworldly. In a time when elves caused disease and witches uttered hexes and curses, there was plenty of magic to be found in 869 Anglo-Saxon England, and Avelynn wanted to play her part in that.
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National Suicide Prevention Week is September 6 - 12. Suicide and depression aren't the easiest subjects to talk about, but they're often addressed unflinchingly and thoughtfully in young adult fiction. Ann Jacobus' upcoming debut YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, is a haunting and surprising story about a girl in Paris who falls for two boys while struggling with intensely dark inner demons. Along with writing, Jacobus also volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. Here she writes about the necessity of speaking honestly and openly about suicide.
It’s National Suicide Prevention Week.
Kindly repeat after me: “Are you feeling suicidal?”
Most people don’t want to ask a depressed friend or family member this question. Even or especially if the person is exhibiting any telltale signs. We’re frightened into silence on the whole subject. We’re also afraid that we might plant the idea in someone’s head.
Believe me, if the idea is not in a person’s head, you won’t be able to put it there unless you’re an incredibly skilled hypnotist.
If the idea of suicide is there, your friend will likely be deeply relieved to acknowledge the truth to you.
At San Francisco Suicide Prevention, a crisis line where I volunteer, we ask this question hundreds of times a day. It gets easy to ask. Many people who call in answer “no.” They just feel depressed and overwhelmed and need someone to listen.
In a nationwide Centers for Disease Control study of tens of thousands of high school students in 2011, almost 30 percent had felt hopeless and depressed for more than two weeks running, just in the previous year. Seventeen percent had seriously considered attempting suicide and 8 percent had attempted. It’s the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. That’s a lot of people. You’re likely to know one. They not only have the idea of suicide in their heads but are dealing with the kind of pain and despair that makes dying seem like a viable option, instead of a devastating permanent fix to temporary problems.
The subject of suicide has been a taboo too long (in the West anyway). This diehard stigma has cost us untold numbers of lives and it intensifies the suffering of surviving family.
We can’t address this problem if we can’t talk about it.
Once upon a time, I was one of those high school students seriously considering suicide. I could admit it to no one, and didn’t for many years. I’m grateful and lucky to have gotten through that period alive.
One way to tackle this subject is with stories. Happily, in the last 15 years, more and more books have been written for young people that deal frankly and accurately with suicide and its heartbreaking aftermath. I only had Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, but it did a fine job of reassuring me that I wasn’t alone.
My new YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light (out from St. Martin’s Press October 6), features an 18-year-old protagonist who is suicidal. It’s fiction—a thriller—but based on hard facts. Stories are how we readers and writers make sense of the world.
I now understand that talking about suicide is up to me, my colleagues at SFSP, those who have survived thinking about or attempting to take their own lives, and all of us worried about depressed and possibly suicidal friends or loved ones.
Let’s talk about it, this week and every week.
Ann Jacobus writes children’s and YA fiction, blogs and tweets about it, teaches writing and volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Francisco with her family. Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is her first novel. To learn more, visit: www.annjacobus.com/
Ted Kosmatka's latest novel, The Flicker Men, touches on the role that genetics plays in the age-old argument of free will vs. fate. In this gripping sci-fi thriller, disgraced scientist Eric Argus begins to explore the paradoxical double-slit experiment, and his explorations lead him to the conclusion that only humans possess souls—but not all humans. In a guest post, Kosmatka details how quantum physics inspired The Flicker Men.
Weird doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I remember the first time I heard about the two-slit experiment—that classic illustration found in many science textbooks that delineates so clearly the boundary between that which makes sense in the world of physics and that which does not.
The experiment was originally designed to answer whether light was a wave or a particle, but instead proved it was both. I recall first reading about it in high school—photons changing from waves, to particles, then back to waves—and thinking that it couldn’t possibly really work that way. How could the mere act of observation change the outcome?
The seeds for my novel The Flicker Men were probably sown in my first brush with this strange line of research, but over the years I’ve come to suspect that quantum mechanics isn’t just strange; there’s something fundamentally transcendental about it. To look deeply into quantum mechanics is to look beyond the bounds of ordinary experience. You’re treading on territory where even scientists throw up their hands. Not because they don’t know the answers anymore, but because they do. You can’t argue against quantum mechanics. To be a physicist arguing against quantum mechanics would be like a geneticist arguing against an observable phenotype. It just is. You have to deal with it, make sense of it somehow, even if it can’t possibly be right. And in the end, it all circles back around again to the observer. But what is an observer, exactly?
The Flicker Men began as a way for me to explore this question and was a challenge to write precisely because the answer hinges so clearly on results which have been tested and retested, but which lack an intuitive base from which to extrapolate. Quantum mechanics, to some extent, is a descriptive science. It can be used to predict phenomena, and yet at its core, what it says about the macro world remains unclear. This is perhaps why there are so many different interpretations, so many different theories about what is really going on behind the curtain. In its own way, this book is another one of those theories, though with a healthy dose of storytelling and artistic license tossed in for good measure.
One of the major themes of the book is the revelation of hidden knowledge. There are certain truths that can be explained in different words, and with different frames of reference, and yet still produce a spark of recognition among people as diverse as quantum physicists and gnostic philosophers.
The more I’ve learned over the years, the more I’ve come to realize that different systems of thought behave like the golden ratio found in nautilus shells. Once you see the pattern, you begin to see it other places, too, as if there was some hidden structure to the world all along—and it’s only gradually being revealed to you. The world is a jeweled box. Quantum mechanics is one of its stranger keys.
Sara Humphreys' new contemporary McGuire Brothers series is a step in a different direction for the award-winning paranormal romance author.
In this guest post, Humphreys tells us about what inspired the new series, her fears about switching genres and more.
When people ask me where I came up with the idea for The McGuire Brothers series, I always wonder if I should admit the truth.
Here goes . . .
If you’re familiar with my previous work, then you know that I write steamy paranormal romance. Vampires, witches, shifters, demons and dragons inhabit the pages of my books. A few years ago, at the RWA National Conference in California, I pitched a new series idea to my editor, Deb Werksman. It was called Angels in Uniform and would feature angel-human hybrids that were all men in uniform.
My editor said, “Well, what if they were just people? You know, everyday heroes.”
To be really honest, I was afraid to try contemporary romance because the real world rules would have to apply. The hero can’t telepath with the heroine and he doesn’t have supernatural strength. In a contemporary romance, the men have to be . . . real men.
But it didn’t take long for me to get past my fears, and with Deb’s encouragement, The McGuire Brothers series was born.
First of all, I absolutely adore a man in uniform. They are alpha to the core: protective, loyal and steadfast. Secondly, there is something innately appealing about the bond between brothers. Maybe it’s because I have four sons or because I’ve seen the close relationship my father shares with his brothers, but I am a sucker for male-bonding.
The McGuire Brothers series features five brothers from a close-knit New England family, and all of them are men in uniform. Their devotion to each other is matched only by their commitment to service and eventually, to the women they fall in love with.
Readers will meet all five of the boys in Brave the Heat, but this love story belongs to Gavin. He’s the oldest in the family and the fire chief in their hometown. As with many first-borns, he is the caretaker and feels it’s his responsibility to keep an eye on his aging parents, to say nothing of the town he lives in.
After getting his heart broken by his high school sweetheart, Gavin swore off love and devoted his life to his career. However, when Jordan returns to town after a nasty divorce with two little girls in tow, the walls around Gavin’s heart begin to crumble.
One of my favorite moments in Brave the Heat includes all five brothers. They’re in the kitchen during their parent’s big anniversary party, and even though there’s a tent full of finely catered food, they’ve all come inside in search of their mother’s homemade cookies. Needless to say, there are only two left and a mild scuffle ensues.
If you ask me, there’s nothing sexier than a man who is devoted to family and living his life in service of others. Oh, and if he loves his mom’s cookies, that’s hot too.
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In lawyer Solange Ritchie's debut thriller, The Burning Man, an investigative powerhouse named Cat confronts the twisted mind of a killer. In a guest blog post, Ritchie explores the perspectives of these two characters.
During the Middle Ages, the discovery of perspective transformed painting from a flat, nuanced medium into a lifelike portrayal of reality. In my first novel, The Burning Man, I wanted to approach the mystery / thriller genre from a different perspective. When I had finished, The Burning Man had two perspectives that I feel give a more lifelike portrayal of reality. The first perspective is from inside the killer’s head, which gives the reader a glimpse into the gyrations of a crazed, murderous mind. The second is a woman trying to navigate a male-dominated profession and balance the ordinary challenges in her family life, all while confronting extraordinary evil. I didn’t want to use the stereotypical male tough-guy protagonist so often found in mysteries.
I am a fan of the genre. I especially like stories with a serial killer component. But while reading them, I always wondered, Why is he doing it? So I set out to create a character of supreme evil and to invite the reader inside the killer’s head as he stalks, seduces, then tortures and kills his victims. The lead investigator, in viewing the Burning Man’s handiwork, worries that he is leaving messages directed at her: “It was like looking at a Picasso or a Van Gogh. One could not begin to understand the artist without first studying the brush strokes . . . the use of color, line, symmetry, light, dark.”
The reader enters the mind and the insanity of the killer as he spins deeper and deeper into depravity and vicious murder, and in doing so learns of the killer’s past and the torture he endured that set him on his course as the Burning Man.
As for my choice in a lead character, I didn’t want to write about another ex-military, hardboiled, testosterone-fueled male homicide detective. I don’t understand that kind of man, and so to be true to myself, I needed a lead character that I and other career women could relate to. Dr. Catherine (Cat) Powers was born.
Cat is the kind of woman I would want as a friend. She is a strong woman, navigating a male-dominated profession. She understands “life balance” in a different way from noir male detectives. While balance to the hardboiled male character may be choosing whether to have another beer at the bar before returning to his messy studio apartment, balance to Cat is figuring out how to do her job while dealing with the challenges of being a divorced mother, whose young son, Joey, has homework and cries as he watches his mother leave to chase yet another serial killer. Through it all, the reader sees that this mother and son share a strong moral core, true grit and an unbreakable bond—even as Joey becomes bait used by the Burning Man to lure Cat into a deadfall trap.
I gravitated to Cat because of my experience in a male-dominated profession. I am a lawyer, and some days when I enter the courtroom, the only women present are the court clerk and the court reporter. I have been subjected to my share of inappropriate “honey” and “sweetheart” comments. I know the “dismissed” feeling of being a woman in a male-dominated arena. I’ve experienced the unspoken rule that a woman must be “more than equal, she must be better,” or she won’t survive. I bring these experiences to Cat’s story to express the challenges that every marginalized group experiences as we strive to succeed in a game with unfair rules.
The Burning Man’s shifts in perspective give a more lifelike feel to my book. Our lives are filled with mundane tasks of seemingly no great consequence that monopolize our attention. The Burning Man is fixated on the extreme and has no room for the mundane. Cat Powers must catch the Burning Man while juggling a world of the mundane. I feel it creates a tantalizing pairing for the reader as they go from inside the killer’s head to inside Cat’s head and back again.
Hilary Liftin is the author of more than 15 fiction and nonfiction bestsellers—but she's just released her first novel. How? Well, Liftin's previous works bore the name of other people: She's been working as a ghostwriter for more than a decade. In a guest post, Liftin talks about what it's like to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
My first novel, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, was published in July. It’s been strange for me to see this book into the world. I should feel like a pro. After all, I worked in publishing for 10 years, published two nonfiction books under my own name, and, as a professional ghostwriter, have so far collaborated on more than 15 books with a wonderful collection of celebrities and experts. But I never considered myself a fiction writer. For all the writing I had done, I’d never made anything up! In fact, that’s what I’ve always said I like most about ghostwriting. The raw material is pretty much handed to me.
Then I had the idea for Movie Star. Like any ghostwriter, I have to wait, sometimes impatiently, for the right projects to come along. I read gossip magazines and fantasize that various stars will want my services. So one day I decided I would take the bull by the horns and write a fictional celebrity memoir—the tell-all of my dreams.
Because the form was familiar to me, this was a baby step into fiction. I knew I wanted to delve into my Hollywood heroine’s struggle in her marriage to a megastar, and I wanted to let readers experience what it might be like if a tabloid darling held nothing back. I’ve written enough memoirs to have a sense of pace and scope. But actually plotting out the story was completely new to me. So I did something that may be unusual for novelists but felt perfectly natural to me as a collaborator—I called upon two of my writer friends to help me do what screenwriters call “breaking the story.” At least with an outline in hand I felt more confident facing the blank screen. Nonetheless, along the way I took some wrong turns, wrote myself into corners, and had to throw out hours of work. But in this process I was bolstered by another attribute acquired through ghostwriting—I had a sense of what I might call caring detachment. I knew exactly what the book wanted to be, and I was willing to scrap anything that didn’t serve it.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this process for me was not the writing, but the publication itself. Once my ghostwritten projects make it through the editorial process, I’m out. I have zero to do with publicizing the book. I just watch from the sidelines, like a proud relative at a graduation ceremony. When Movie Star came out, there was so much to do! The publisher had questions for me. Features and reviews had my name in them. The full spotlight was on me. To be honest, I would have loved to hire a ghost-self-promoter to pull it off with more finesse than I. I still love ghostwriting—the collaboration, the form, and not least the freedom to hide in the shadows—but Movie Star is my baby, and it’s proven fun to nurture it along.
Getting your kids back to school in the fall just isn’t as simple as it used to be. Gone are the days when buying a new backpack, shoes and notebook would be enough. Now, in addition to understanding macro-educational policies, standards and testing requirements, parents must also make sense of ever-changing acronyms, such as STEM, STEAM—and now STREAM. What’s behind these terms and what can a parent do to help support a child’s learning?
The acronym STEM has been around for awhile; it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education refers to teaching and learning in these fields, from preschool to post-doctorate, in both classroom and informal settings. STEM education initiatives are designed to ensure that young people have opportunities in these fields, and to make the U.S. more competitive internationally.
Several years ago, STEM was expanded to STEAM, an effort to incorporate art into the mix. STREAM wasn’t far behind—a reminder that reading and writing are essential. As Rob Furman wrote in his 2014 Huffington Post article, “Without the ability to read and write, there is not a job to be found for which STEM or STEAM education is going to be enough preparation.”
What’s a parent to do? Fortunately, reading great books at home—and seeing reading as a jumping off point for the exploration of the world, is the best place to start. Sometimes just following your child’s lead is all it takes. Examples abound: Gardening books for preschoolers can lead to explorations of how plants get energy, and young children are naturally curious: a fictional story about a bear can lead to nonfiction books about mammals and hibernation.
Here are some tried-and-true tips:
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of titles such as The Great Trouble (about the history of cholera), Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building (construction and engineering) and Who Was Charles Darwin? Her newest book is Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark, out August 25. She's also a regular contributor to BookPage.