Houston Convention

As promised, here are some pictures from the Houston Called-to-Teach Homeschool Convention!

I had such a good time. I got to talk with homeschool families. I got to talk about all the wonderful Chicken Scratch Books (I’ve read all of them now except the most recent release, but my copy is all queued up!). I got to encourage kids in their writing passion. I got to help make chicken bookmarks!

I talked lots with friend, editor, and publisher, Kiri Jorgensen (especially since our flight was delayed around seven hours . . .). It was so encouraging and fun. I hadn’t gotten to talk shop in quite awhile. And then I got to know Kelli McKinney. Her middle grade novel from Chicken Scratch Books comes out in October. It sounds like so much fun, and I can’t wait to read it.

I also met some other authors who had booths at the event and learned about different curricula options. Our booth was next-door to Right Start Math, about which I’ve heard wonderful things.

I also signed lots of books, which has been one of my dreams. A signed book from the author can be so special. I’m so happy I can give that specialness to so many kids.

A Word about Patriotism

We take this break from our regularly scheduled programming to share a word about patriotism.

Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

I’ve been learning a lot more about American history lately–focused on US history, but I’m trying to learn more Canadian history, too. I know sadly little about Canada, and it’s our next-door neighbor! One of the things I’ve really appreciated is coming to terms with the fact that I can recognize the wicked things my country has done, call them out, repent of them, and still love my country. Loving my country doesn’t mean loving everything we’ve done.

We’ve made a lot of mistakes. Many of those mistakes still have repercussions. That doesn’t mean I can’t still love my country. Loving my country doesn’t mean I have to ignore or attempt to erase my country’s mistakes.

What loving my country means is that I won’t give up on it and I will always do my part to make things better. I can also enjoy some of the fun traditions while letting go of hurtful or harmful ones.

So on this 4th of July weekend, I hope you will find a balance. That you can enjoy being patriotic and singing about the things the US tries to stand for (I admit, it has often failed!), but that you can avoid glossing over the wicked things the country has done and recognize the people who are hurting from long-standing wounds.

May the US turn its heart to God so that God can “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”

Raising the Next Generation of Writers

Hey everyone! It’s been a busy summer with traveling, author events, writing workshops, and catching up with dear friends. I’ve also been prepping for my classes this fall! I hope to get a bit of writing done in July, but in the mean time, I’ve created a fundraiser to raise textbooks and resources for my middle school and high school English classrooms!

I have a Go Fund Me page where you can donate. These purchases will be checked out to students each year, so they will benefit many students over the years.

If we receive just $25 a day for 60 days, we’ll reach our goal!

Students’ writing skills, understanding, and retention improve significantly when they have a student handbook  to learn from and reference. Short story collections  can be difficult to find and purchase. Literature guides  with reproducible handouts will free me up to spend my time giving students individual feedback rather than prepping handouts and worksheets.

For my middle school students, I will purchase Write on Course 20-20.
This is the updated/most recent version of Writers INC, a popular and useful writing handbook from the early 2000s that has been used and loved by students and homeschool families for decades. This newer version includes information on staying safe online and searching for information on the Internet.

Write on Course 20-20

For my high school students, I will purchase the high school version, Write Ahead.

Write Ahead Handbook

I will also purchase for the high schoolers the short story collection, Little Worlds, which emphasizes different aspects of literature, such as plot, theme, character, and irony.

I hope to raise enough funds to also purchase some resources, such as literature guides from Progeny Press or the book Brightest Heaven of Invention.

Priorities for Funds
  • Top priority for funds is to purchase the writing handbooks.
  • Next priority is to purchase the short story collection.
  • Next priority is to purchase literature guides.
  • If we raise even more funds, I would purchase copies of literature choices or Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (for the middle schoolers) or grammar curriculum.

Called to Teach Convention

Hey everyone! This weekend, I’ll be at the Called to Teach Homeschool Convention in Houston, Texas. If you are in the area, stop by the Chicken Scratch Books booth to say hi. I’d love to meet you and sign a copy of Best Friends Playbook for you!

You’ll also have the chance to meet my amazing editor, Kiri, and to learn about other wonderful Chicken Scratch Books books (I’ve really enjoyed every single one I’ve read) as well as the novel study courses offered for each book (including mine!).

I hope to meet some of you in person soon!

Superhero Inspiration

Whew! It’s been a busy spring! I’m still used to calling January through April “spring” because it’s the spring semester of school, and in Texas, it’s not out of the realm of reason for January through April to be spring (or summer). Anyway, it’s been busy!

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing lots of prep work for the classes I’ll teach this fall. In my downtown, though, I’ve been enjoying Batman. The 1960s version. I’m learning a lot about myself as I watch. 🙂

Photo Greenway Productions-producer of both the television series and the 1966 film., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I have fond memories of watching Batman with my sister when we’d visit our grandmother. I had to have been pretty young. I remember one episode in particular where Robin was tied upside-down to the clapper of a bell that would kill him when it struck (I was so tense, but it was so exciting!), and another with a giant book in the middle of the street (turns out they were the same episode). I also remember getting really excited if Catwoman or Batgirl was in the episode.

I had previously traced my love of heroes-in-jeopardy to reading Hardy Boys mysteries in junior high, but now I’m thinking it goes even farther back to Batman. This could explain why my characters would always get trapped in near-death situations (and always escape miraculously . . .). My characters frequently in ridiculous situations, like being suspended from the ceiling over pits of lava or tanks of sharks, etc.

I’m also understanding better why my sense of fighting and injuries was so unrealistic. (I believe I’ve mentioned how my husband once said to me, “Your characters recover awfully fast” and that was after I’d worked to make battles more realistic, ha!) If I’m basing my ideas of injuries and fights on Batman and Power Rangers, that explains a lot.

But I’m also suddenly understanding my deep love for superheroes. Superheroes are just about my favorite things (I love a good quest, too). However, I’ve always felt confused by that because I often haven’t liked superhero shows or comics. In junior high, I didn’t really like to watch X-men or Spiderman because they were sad. Everybody hated the heroes. I didn’t like to watch Batman because it was so dark (and creepy). The few times I read comics, they were too serious.

Well if I was expecting biff, bam, sock, and it’s morphin time, that would explain things!

And now I really want to go write a cheesy but fun superhero story. 🙂

What sorts of things have inspired you?

Happy Writing!

Character Stress and Motivation

I have some time to myself today for the first time in quite awhile. I also am taking time to relax for the first time in quite awhile. It’s the perfect writing weather for me: cool and misty. So I have a cup of tea, and my 00’s rock music is playing.

I’m not in the right mindset for writing, but I wanted to do something creative, so I decided to play with my characters. One of my friends has been studying personality theory for years (and has a background in psychology and brain stuff–I don’t, hence my professional terminology 🙂 ). So we’ve been looking at characters through the lens of different personality theories.

Note: I’m not a psychology person, and I think personality theories can sometimes be harmful, such as when people put themselves and others in boxes or think they understand others better than they do. But they can be useful tools. For this post, I’m going to talk about them in reference solely to characters.

I’ve found the Enneagram to be the most useful personality tool for characters, of the ones I’ve tried, because it has lots of variation as well as levels of health. Levels of health are important for characters! I could never figure out what Myers-Briggs types my villains were because nothing said what unhealthy types looked like. The Ennegram does.

Today, I was looking at one of the characters I hadn’t delved into yet. I had tentatively typed him as an Enneagram One with all of his by-the-book, follow-the-rules, I’m-better-than-everyone perfectionism. But as I read about Ones, I realized that those are more stress reactions for him. I thought about his growth as a character, where he starts from, and where he winds up. I turned to the Enneagram Three, and it fits him perfectly.

His perfectionism has more to do with his desire to be valuable than a desire to do good. Even though it doesn’t really change anything about the character, knowing this helps me understand him at a deeper level. I can articulate his motivation better now and put a finger on why he reacts the way he does.

It may not seem like a big deal, but I’m super excited. 🙂

Kid Lit Six

This week, Julie from Kid Lit Six features authors from Chicken Scratch Books! These are really fun, short videos to help middle schoolers and their parents and teachers decide what to read next. I highly recommend this channel. Here’s today’s video to get you started!

P.S. I love that Hope Bolinger wore her dinosaur suit to answer these questions 😂

Happy Book Birthday to The Cassandra Curse by Hope Bolinger


It’s release day for The Cassandra Curse by Hope Bolinger! I got to read an advanced copy of this book, and it was super fun. It’s a little different style of book that I generally gravitate toward, but I still really enjoyed it. I get the feeling that when my sister was in junior high, she would have liked it. Some of her favorite books around then were joke books and The Cooper Kids by Frank Peretti. You might be able to describe The Cassandra Curse as like the Cooper kids except super funny instead of super scary, but I’m not sure that makes sense. 🙂

There is a quirky sense of humor in this story and a distinct voice in the narrative. Both of those things can be hard to carry through an entire story and may even wind up sounding forced at the end. However, Bolinger managed to pull them off and make it seem effortless. The main character, Charity, was so fun. I had to love the way she kept trying, even when everything went wrong. I have a fear of failure, so I really admired that Charity didn’t give up.

And oh my goodness! The nods to nerd-dom were amazing! There’s a role-playing game, and the gamers made me think of my LOTR role-playing friends in high school and all my DnD playing friends today. That whole aspect of the story made me smile every time it showed up.

The biggest thing about this story, though, is the heart (which shouldn’t surprise me since the publisher is Chicken Scratch Books). The characters have real, fun, and sweet relationships with each other. The characters’ relationships with their families are real, challenging, and wholesome. I definitely teared up in spots (when I wasn’t laughing at the other spots).

Some kids start to gravitate toward thrillers and horror stories at a fairly young age (I’ve taught some of them in my classes). That can be concerning to some parents because the content of thrillers and horror stories isn’t always uplifting or wholesome. I think Cassandra Curse, while not a thriller or a horror story, could attract some of those readers and satisfy that urge while still providing them with an age-appropriate and good story. There’s an element of mystery reminiscent of murder mysteries or horror but totally age-appropriate, and it’s fun to journey with Charity to solve it.

But of course, lots of other kinds of readers will enjoy Cassandra Curse, too.

Overall, I give this book 5 stars and say, “Congratulations!” to author Hope Bolinger and publisher Chicken Scratch Books. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

Order your copy of The Cassandra Curse today!

P.S. Note for sensitive readers which contains **spoilers.**
There is a death and a disappearance that happened 13 years ago. It’s treated fairly light and doesn’t get too heavy, but sensitive readers or readers who recently had a friend pass away may find it troubling. There is also some bullying (which led to the death in a roundabout way) and divorce. They are all dealt with at age-appropriate levels and add to the heart of the story. I don’t think any of this is a problem or should keep anyone from reading it unless that reader is sensitive to these challenges. If you think your reader might be, just preview the book first.

The Packers Lost

Aww, well the Packers lost. But stay tuned because I think it would be really fun to have some sort of live event around the SuperBowl. I’m still figuring out what that would look like, but sign-up on my email list for more details!

P.S. This has been a really fun football season to follow!

You Could Win a Copy of Best Friends Playbook!

There’s still time to sign-up for a chance to win a copy of Best Friends Playbook–if the Packers win tonight, of course!

For the playoffs, I’m giving away a copy of my middle grade novel, Best Friends Playbook, to members of my email list every time the Packers win (the main character is a Packers fan, but fans of any kind welcome 🙂 ).

Here’s the link to my sign-up: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/h4g1t4

A book cover for Best Friends Playbook by A.W. Downer featuring a dragon standing in front of goal posts on a football field with a girl in a red dress and a football helmet running toward it with a football in hand.

#authorawdowner #bestfriendsplaybooknovel #chickenscratchbooks