Free as a bird: Summer Picture Book Reviews

books2017School is finally out here in Maine — we’re a bit late to the party, but it sure is nice! This past Saturday, my husband and I also celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary with a dinner date which included a visit to a bookstore. So, naturally, I took the opportunity to catch up on my picture book reviews.  Through sheer coincidence, I found several of them had a similar theme: birds and flying. So freedom fits naturally as a theme for today.

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Guest Post: Ted Manzer on “writing what you know”

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My brother, Ted (left), me (in the boat), my brother Jim (in the  back) and my sister, Margie, playing in the waters of Big Lake, Princeton, Maine.

When I was in grade school, my big brother Teddy graduated from college and went on to graduate school in West Virginia. As his car drove away, I bawled:  despite the fact that he’d often teased me mercilessly, I idolized my big brother.  Years later, that hasn’t changed much: I’m still amazed by him and the way he captures the hearts of his students, his skills in everything from home repair to fly fishing, and now I’m proud to promote him as an author. His first novel, Never Alone, was released last month and is now available on eBook as well.  It’s easy to be biased as his sister because the book includes descriptions which clearly hint at family members and describe familiar places such as our family’s camp in eastern Maine. But there’s more to “writing what you know” than just putting your surroundings on paper. I asked Ted to share with my readers just a bit about the process of crafting this story, which is part of a larger saga, and about what he loves and hates about the writing process:

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“Never Alone has been a part of me for a long time. I began writing it back in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series. The book has evolved tremendously. In fact, it has split into three books. Strange Courage and Second Chances have peeled off from the original (Originally titled Forgotten Virtues). Two more books now follow (Promises Kept and Grandfather’s Way), so it has evolved into a 5-book family saga. I felt it necessary to split things up to add more detail. Part of it was originally told by a father to his son. I didn’t think that worked very well.

I originally got the idea for the survival book from a dream. I dreamed I was the only survivor of a plane crash in a desolate rugged snow covered place. After that, I thought a book might be in the works and Carl Shae was born. He was a big Carl Yastrzemski fan, but young Carl was born before Yaz became a member of the Red Sox. I don’t really consider myself Carl. I’m more of a composite between Carl and Red. I have Red’s corny sense of humor.

The only character who is a true replica of my family is Carl’s grandfather, Ernie Murphy. Ernie Murphy is Frank (Lawrence) Robinson through and through. Although some of Carl’s experiences closely match things my family did when I was young, Carl’s siblings don’t really match up with mine very much. I figured if they did I might offend someone.

In the thirteen years since I first started writing this I have seen my writing skills evolve. Still, I don’t consider myself some kind of wordsmith, nor do I really wish to be. I like to write manuscripts that are easy to read. If I have to read a sentence three times to understand it I have no desire to continue. Reading should be fun. Back in 2010 I began writing a weekly newspaper column. It started as a foraging column but seven years later I’ve have to expand things a lot. I think the newspaper experience has helped me to become a better editor. It’s made me tighten  my writing and make my words count.

Being a teacher, I’m inundated with writing material every day. Several of the later books are peppered with my teaching experiences. Names have been changed to protect the innocent of course. I also plan to use many of my columns to write a series of practical suburban foraging books called Backyard Treasures. I want to break things out into different geographical regions. My biggest obstacle right now is taking additional pictures. I’ve also written a tragic love story (Virginia) set in rural West Virginia just to prove to myself I can be versatile.

I think if I had to encapsulate the whole process, writing is the fun part. Enjoy that and never let the rest of the process make you quit. Submitting manuscripts is tedious and frustrating. I hate it.

I’m a storyteller. I’ve come to the conclusion that I write a better story than I do a query letter. If Never Alone and the books that follow are successful I’ll be thrilled. If they aren’t I’ve had a wonderful time writing them.”

-Ted Manzer


Never Alone is available through Amazon and other booksellers. You can read Ted’s newspaper columns archived on his website and blog: https://tedmanzer.com/.  He is also on Twitter at @TedManzer.