Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Interview with Susan Marlow

A couple years ago I "met" Susan Marlow when I won a copy of one her books (along with an adorable horse Beanie Baby) on a blog-giveaway. My tween-age horse-loving daughter was thrilled! Later, I won another of Susan's blog-giveaways of some bookmarks and a tiny plastic horse! Now I've quit entering her giveaways, lest I seem greedy! But she does have great giveaways! (Including one right here, later this week! Stay tuned!)

Susan writes "wholesome books for kids"-- specifically the Circle C Adventure series set in the Old West. My daughter and I are looking forward to meeting her in person at the upcoming WHO homeschool convention in June. In the meantime, I emailed Susan and asked if I could interview her for my blog. She graciously agreed. Here are the questions I asked her, along with her answers.

My 13-year-old "horse crazy" daughter absolutely loves your books! How did you come up with the idea for a series of stories about a "tween-age" girl and her horse in the late 1880s?
I started writing stories when I was about ten years old. I was greatly influenced by what I read and by what I watched during those impressionable years (the '60s). I watched two types of shows, mostly: space shows (like Star Trek) and westerns (like Bonanza). When I wrote my own stories, I always tossed kids (specifically--myself!) into these established "universes." I felt the stories could be greatly improved by adding characters my own age (at the time). This carried over into my adult life, when I was still writing stories with kids as the main characters (since I've had a hard time shedding my twelve-year-old 'persona'). When people started urging me to submit my stories for actual publication, I knew the stories I wrote about outer space would probably not fly. However, historical stories—especially if I included horses—would be more likely to find an audience. So the "tween-age" girl and her horse is pretty close to what I would have liked to be and do if I'd lived in the late 1800s.
Are there other people you know in real life similar to your characters, from which you draw for your stories?
A few Circle C characters are drawn from real life:
  • Nila Garduño, the Mexican woman who cares for Andi in Long Ride Home, is based on a dear Hispanic friend, whom I taught English for five years. She told me about her childhood in a poor village in Mexico. I even used her real name for the story.
  • A recent picture of my grandfather turned up, and he looks just as I imagined my Chad character should look. Chad is named for my oldest son, and acts a lot like him, as well.
  • Andi's friend, Cory Blake, is drawn from my youngest son, Ryan. He's on the cover of the new book, Trouble with Treasure.
    So you have some involvement with the cover art for the series?
    Purely by accident! Book covers make me nervous. I've seen some terrible ones. My daughter won't even read a book if she doesn't like the cover. So I sent my publisher a picture of a homeschooled girl I knew, only to give the designers some idea of what Andi might look like. I expected them to take the picture and draw a scene for the cover. Instead, they used the picture for Long Ride Home. That was the biggest surprise of my life!
    Ever since then, I've been sending Kregel pictures for the covers. The kids featured on the covers are homeschooled students. The little Chinese girl on San Francisco Smugglers is the adopted daughter of a homeschooling friend from Pennsylvania, whom I have never met!
    What kind of research have you done to learn about the Old West?
    You mean besides watching Bonanza, The Big Valley, Roy Rogers, The Rifleman, and Rawhide? Seriously, one of my first research books about the Old West was the book, The Good Old Days, They Were Terrible! This book gave me the "rest of the story"--the parts Hollywood left out. I've read a number of other books since, like Daughters of the West, Everyday Life in the 1800s, and biographies of actual people--like the missionary who rescued the little Chinese slave girls, for San Francisco Smugglers. The Internet has been invaluable, as well, but I try not to believe everything there. However, it's a good place to begin. From the Internet, I found "primary sources" like More San Francisco Memoirs--1852-1899, which is a collection of writings from folks who visited the City in the late 1800s. I got a flavor for how they talked, what was sold in the streets, and what people did. The problem is: I can get so caught up on reading this fascinating true-life history, that I put off actually writing my book.
    Do you have horses?
    I don't have horses right now. However, my daughter, Kristel, had a horse when she was eleven. Panda was a pet rather than a horse for all the 4-H stuff like showing and competing. Kristel braided her mane and tail, hung out on her back, rode her in the field across the street, and just had fun with her. To learn about our ups and downs with Panda, go here.
    I read on your website that you homeschooled your children. How many children do you have? Are they grown now?
    My husband and I have four children--33, 32, 20, and 17. I did homeschool them, and now our oldest, Kristel, homeschools her six children. I wrote my Circle C Adventures when the kids went to bed, after a long day of homeschooling two teenagers and caring for two pre-schoolers, besides. I'm very glad there was no Facebook or blogging back in the 90s, or I don't think my books would have been written. I would have been doing what everybody else is doing these days for relaxation--social networking. I tried never to be on the computer during the day, because I didn't want my children to grow up seeing their mother in front of a computer screen. It just reminded me of those stereotyped stories about moms devoted to soap operas and glued to the TV while their kids ran wild.
    We have the first 4 books in the series. I understand the 5th book is now out? And the 6th is in the works?
    Book 5 is not out quite yet. Andrea Carter and the Trouble witih Treasure is due to be released next February, 2010. Here's a one-line summary of Andi's newest adventure: Andi's dreams of treasure turn into a life-or-death struggle when she and her friends seek gold in the Sierra Nevada.

    I love doing contests and giving away fun prizes. For Treasure, I have found real gold flakes on e-bay, and I'm thinking of contests to hold so I can give little vials of gold away, along with copies of the new book. Folks can learn all about my contests and upcoming events by going to my website, www.susankmarlow.com, and signing up for my e-zine. I've given away two books and some gold already, although the winners have to wait until the book comes out to actually hold their prizes in their hands.

    Book 6, Andrea Carter and the Price of Truth, has been contracted, but I don't know its release date yet. Here is a summary of that book: Andi's eyewitness testimony places a beloved citizen of Fresno at the scene of a crime. Will the price of truth be too high if it means losing Taffy forever?
    We are looking forward to meeting you at the WHO homeschool convention in Puyallup, Washington, in June. Will you be at any other conferences this year?
    I'm excited about having a booth at the WHO (Washington Homeschool Organization) convention, June 19-20. They placed me in "prime real estate" at Booth # 102--right as you come in the main entrance of the Exhibition Hall! If anyone would like their copies of Circle C Adventures authographed, bring them to my booth and I'll be happy to sign them. There will be a "Guess the Number of Horses" in a jar contest to win a prize, free bookmarks, free postcards for Trouble with Treasure, random drawings to win the new book, and just a lot of fun for all.

    In addition to the WHO convention, I will be attending the WATCH conference August 7-8, with the Salt Shaker Bookstore. I will be there both days, signing books and offering contests, as well. The WATCH conference is at Eastside Foursquare Church in Bothell, WA.
    Where can people buy your books?
    Folks can pick up the books at any Christian bookstore. If the title you want is not on the shelf, the store can order it. It's also available from any on-line bookstore, like Amazon and CBD. My Circle C Adventures is featured in the CBD Kids 2009 print catalog, and they offer a great "set" price, as well!
    As a special surprise, Susan has even offered a free Circle C book as a giveaway right here on Roads to Learning! Check back on Friday, May 29, for my regular weekly giveaway post for details on how you could win!

    Thanks so much, Susan, for being my guest today!

    Saturday, May 23, 2009

    Memorial Day

    "Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, is the day we honor Americans who gave their lives in military service.

    This holiday was originally called Decoration Day and honored soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Immediately after the war, various towns in the North and South began to set aside days to decorate soldiers' graves with flowers and flags...

    The first widespread observance of Decoration Day came on May 30, 1868, which Maj. Gen. John A. Logan proclaimed as a day to honor the dead. General James Garfield (later the twentieth U.S. president) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in remembrance of fallen soldiers, saying that
    'for love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.'
    Afterward, 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

    Over the years the day became an occasion to remember the dead in all American wars, and came to be known as Memorial Day.

    On the Thursday before Memorial Day, in a tradition known as 'Flags-in,' the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small flags before more than a quarter million gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol twenty-four hours a day to make sure each flag remains standing throughout the weekend. On Memorial Day the president or vice president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the cemetery.

    According to the U.S. flag code, American flags should be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the pole. At 3:00 p.m. local time, all Americans are asked to pause for a moment of remembrance."

    --The American Patriot's Almanac, by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    The End of the School Year

    One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we get to set our own schedule. Some families have school year 'round with shorter breaks as needed throughout the year. We follow more of a traditional school year in our family. With warmer weather here the children are playing outside more, and are ready to be done with books for awhile!

    We try to be done by Memorial Day, but since it comes early this year, I don't think we're going to make it quite. But hopefully by the first of June!

    I don't know about you, but I always get to the end of the year wondering if we did enough. Did we cover everything we needed to cover? Did the children learn what they were supposed to for this grade?

    But then as I pack the books away for the summer and take mental inventory of everything we did accomplish, I'm always surprised at how much we actually got done!

    This is the end of our 11th year of homeschooling. I can't tell you how rewarding it is to realize that almost everything my children know academically they learned from me! It has been such a privilege to go through each level with them. And I seriously believe I have learned far more than they have!

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Sight-Seeing on a Budget

    Next month I have 2 homeschool conventions to attend on back-to-back weekends... one in Boise, Idaho and the other in Seattle, Washington. Allowing for travel time, we would only be home 3 days in between, so we've decided to just enjoy some sight-seeing on those extra 3 days!

    Several months ago a friend told me about City Pass for Seattle. It is a package of tickets to 6 different attractions for about half price! They allow 9 consecutive days to visit the 6 attractions for that price. (In our case we'll have 3-4 days, but I think we can fit it all in!) So we'll get to visit the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, the Museum of Flight, the Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo, and take the Seattle Harbor Tour cruise! All of that for just over $50 per person!

    What I like about it is that all of those "attractions" are educational as well as fun! You probably couldn't get into an amusement park for one day for that price. This is my kind of sight-seeing!

    I didn't realize it when my friend was telling me about it, but I discovered that City Pass is actually available for 10 major cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hollywood, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, and Toronto. So even if a trip to Seattle is not in your future, if you happen to be in one of these other cities and have some time, you might want to check it out!

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    10 Things Your Kids Can Learn While Camping

    In our family we like to say that learning is not just for school time, but rather learning is a lifestyle. My husband and I take advantage of opportunities to teach our children as we go about our daily lives.
    "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."
    One of our favorite family activities is camping. I posted about our most recent camping trip at Ramblin' Roads... but for this post I thought it would be neat to share a few of the educational benefits we have discovered while camping:
    1. Nature Studies
    2. Survival Skills
    3. Primitive Cooking
    4. Physical Education (hiking, biking, pumping and carrying water...)
    5. Exploration and Discovery
    6. Socialization (They always meet any other kids whose families are camping at the same time!)
    7. Reading (A very relaxing way to spend a lazy afternoon at the campground, when electronics aren't an option!)
    8. Photography
    9. Astronomy
    10. Meteorology
    And that's not mention the great family relationships we are building in the process!

    What does your family like to do for fun and education?

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    Expanding Attention Spans

    "How do you keep the children's attention when you read to them? How do you make sure they are listening and comprehending?"
    This is a question parents often ask me, especially about younger children who are just starting school.

    My answer: "Let them do something while you read."I think sometimes parents have the notion that the children should be quietly sitting in chairs, with their attention completely focused on Mom in order to listen as she reads. That has not been my experience.

    I have been reading to my children for 45 minutes to an hour a day since they were toddlers. My oldest daughter was 3 when I started reading chapter books aloud to her. I had read somewhere that reading aloud to children helps increase their attention spans, so I read to her even when she was wiggling about the room, playing. And you know what? It worked!

    I remember one day when she was in 2nd grade the read-aloud was Ginger Pye. It is actually a rather long book for that age group, but I had just allowed the girls (ages 4 and 7) to play quietly as I read each day, not realizing that the 4-year-old, who happens to have learning delays, was even listening. The day after we finished Ginger Pye I showed them the next book on the list.

    "Look! We get to start a new book today!"

    My 4-year-old was crestfallen. "But! What happened to the doggy?"

    She wanted to hear more about Ginger Pye! I was excited to realize she had been following along! Fortunately for her, we happened to have the sequel, Pinky Pye... so yes, we added that in to our Sonlight reading schedule that year!

    Over the years my children have enjoyed a wide variety of "quiet" activities while I read to them. Here are just a few of them:
    • drawing pictures, often related to the story
    • practicing handwriting
    • jigsaw puzzles with pictures that tie in with what we are currently learning
    • coloring pages related to the book or historical period (Dover publishes some really great ones!)
    • Legos (When we were reading about Egypt they build a pyramid, with a tiny Lego person wrapped in tissue for the mummy inside!)
    My only rule is that they have to be perfectly quiet, therefore they can't work on the same activity together-- otherwise they'll try to whisper.

    I have been amazed at how much they retain of what they hear when their hands are busy!

    Sunday, May 3, 2009

    Finding "something to do"...

    With all the "cool" technology available today... as well as opportunities for organized outside activities, sometimes it is challenging to motivate our kids to "find something to do" that does not involve electronics or adult supervision. My girls love The Daring Book for Girls and the sequel, The Double-Daring Book for Girls, as a resource of ideas for all kinds of old-fashioned fun. (There are similar books for boys, The Dangerous Book for Boys, etc.)
    Last week the girls asked for permission to try their hand at making a pinata, according to instructions in the book. They know the rule is: If you make a mess, you clean it up... so I gave them permission. I was impressed with their finished product... and so were they! They decided it was so cute they didn't want to cut it open to fill it with candy and then whack it to pieces! They just wanted to look at it!

    My older daughter then posted step-by-step instructions, accompanied by pictures she took of the process, on her new blog for teen girls. (That's another activity she has recently taken up, and while it does involve electronics, I encourage it as a fun way to improve her writing skills and learn useful computer skills.)

    I'll be curious to see what the girls come up with next. What creative activities have your kids surprised you with lately?

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