A Whole Weekend of Books

I am finally sitting down to review the Bay Area Book Festival! Sometimes life just rolls in like a bulldozer…

This event was the first of its kind in the East Bay, with an estimated 50-60,000 people in attendance. Two days of nonstop immersion in books and readers. So. Much. Fun.

Photo credit: Jim Hillmann

For starters, I learned that my little 5-seater car can tote 250 books, 3 carts, a box of art prints, and all sorts of other necessary festival paraphernalia. And still leave room to see out the back.


On June 6-7, whole city blocks of Berkeley were closed to traffic and lined with tables and booths. My illustrator, Amalia Hillmann, and I had a table in the Children’s Area. We had copies of The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test, a coloring book, art prints of the illustrations (now online here), stickers, bookmarks, and all sorts of fun. There was a little of everything in the space around us: independent author displays, publishing houses, educational foundations, a guy twisting balloon dolphins and swords, and some amazing food trucks.

Photo credit: Jim Hillmann

I didn’t get away from the table much, but I did check out the art installation at the center of the festival. Lacuna was an interactive sculpture designed to feel like an outdoor library. It was stocked with 50,000 donated books that were free for people to take home. And did they ever! By the end of the weekend, the shelves were almost bare.


Book jackets fluttered overhead, like the winged ideas enclosed within books.


Our blue-draped Illuminator table saw a lot of action over the weekend. The Children’s Area was busy almost constantly. It was fun to chat with readers both young and young at heart (I was surprised at how many young readers preferred paperbacks to e-books). I even met a girl named Ellie. She was excited to find a book with a heroine who shared her name. 

Photo credit: Jim Hillmann

On Saturday we had my amazing mom in residence, painting Vestigian designs on kids’ hands in shimmery metallic colors.


We also had coloring pages and a box of crayons available. I liked this neon-pink version of Aletheia. The young artist explained that he was helping the islands with their advertising.


Authors and illustrators gave presentations on a nearby stage throughout the weekend. After her presentation, I got to meet LeUyen Pham, who illustrated Shannon Hale’s latest book, The Princess in Black. She is just as nice as she is talented. She even bought a copy of The Illuminator’s Gift. My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture with her.

By the end of the weekend, I was exhausted, but satisfied. Though I’m not really a big-crowds person, I enjoyed meeting such a diverse assortment of people who all shared my favorite interest: reading. The organizers say they’re already planning next year’s festival for the first weekend in June.

Table display
Photo credit: Amalia Hillmann

I asked one young boy what he liked to read. He answered, “Books!”

That pretty much sums it up.

Literary Candyland

Phew! It’s been a busy month! So far I’ve visited four school groups, with one more to come later this week: one public, one private, and two homeschool co-ops. We’ve done fun activities like making up fantasy names, exploring our 5 senses, and drawing fantasy maps. These students, ranging in age from 8 to 15, consistently amaze me with their insight, creativity, and perseverance. One group was made up of mostly students with dyslexia who use software like Dragon, Siri, or Kindle text-to-speech to overcome their difficulties with print media. Some of them are writing books (or even sequels to books) of their own. It’s always an honor and a joy to meet these fearless young writers. (For details on how to schedule a visit for the 2015-2016 school year, check out my Speaking page.)


With the school year winding down, it’s now time to mark your calendar for the first bookish event of this summer. I’m SO excited for this one. On June 6-7, downtown Berkeley will be closed to cars and open to readers! The Bay Area Book Festival is the first free, public literary event of its kind in the East Bay. The event is family-friendly and even has a whole area dedicated to children and another for teens. It will be like literary Candyland for two whole days! Here are some reasons to get excited:


-Appearances by big-time authors like Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) and Judy Blume

A sculpture built of 50,000 books that readers can take home with them!

-Fun activities like book-themed sidewalk chalk painting, a dance performance by the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, a giant gecko, a farmer’s market, a chance to play with typewriters, and a petting zoo with a baby kangaroo

-An art installation of flying, talking books

-A visit with illustrator Amalia Hillmann and me! We’ll be at a table in the Children’s Area by City Hall, along with lots of other authors, bookstores, and book-related activity booths, including a stage where performances will be going on all weekend. At our table we’ll have coloring pages and face painting from The Voyages of the Legend, lots of different art prints and some cool new art products, and of course, copies of both The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test. We’ll even be unveiling a reprinted edition of The Illuminator’s Gift at the event, complete with a map and some new illustrations!

Kindle cover, JPG

I can’t wait for the Bay Area Book Festival! All the details are on the event website. It will be a weekend of nonstop book fun! I hope to see you there!

Inside Creative Minds: Hannah Jayne, Ninja (I mean, writer)

This week’s creative mind is a real treat. Meet Hannah Jayne, a multi-published author of urban fantasy and YA thrillers who’s wickedly funny and maybe also the nicest person you’ve ever met. I had the privilege of meeting her at California Bookstore Day, and she broke the ice and had me laughing in seconds. Join us now as she reveals her secrets about writing, penguins, SWAT teams, strong heroines, and the Disney channel.

L to R: A.R. Silverberry, Amalia Hillmann, yours truly, Hannah Jayne, and Erica Goss. Photo credit: Rebecca Hillmann.

AS: So excited to have you on the blog, Hannah! So tell us–what are some of your favorite books to read?

HJ: I am the most weirdly eclectic reader. I love YA mysteries–anything by April Henry or Barry Lyga especially, thrillers, Southern lit like Jill McCorkle, funny memoir stuff from Celia Rivenbark and Jen Lancaster, psychological nonfiction, short stories, hard-boiled detective novels, new author discoveries…have I covered everything? lol!

AS: How did you first fall in love with writing?

HJ: I was in the 2nd grade and was assigned to write a 3-page story. I wrote 12 pages. Stayed in through recess, just kept going. I loved the idea that I could create my own world. Granted, it was a horrible world with penguins or time travelers or orphans or something, but still.

AS: You seem to find (or create) humor wherever you go. So what is one of the funniest things that’s happened to you as you’ve spoken to audiences about writing?

HJ: I was doing a school visit and talking about how I get to do such cool research for my books. I think I was actually talking about the time I got to kick in doors with the SWAT team and I said something like, “but my mother doesn’t know that part” because we were in a location on a case. My cell phone rang immediately and I went to turn it off–then realized it was my mother calling! I actually answered and the crowd said hello to her. It was really funny. And no, they didn’t rat me out!

AS: You are a prolific writer and have a new book coming out! Tell us about it.

HJ: My latest novel hits shelves July 2nd and is called THE DARE. Brynna Chase dared her best friend to jump off a pier one night at an end of the school year party. The girls, Brynna and Erica, jumped together but only Brynna came back to the surface. Erica’s body was never found but 18 months later, Brynna gets a tweet from the account of EricaNShaw with the simple message: Remember me?

Hannah’s latest novel, coming July 2

AS: You write in multiple genres: urban fantasy, romance, and young adult thrillers. Do you see a common thread that links them together?

HJ: I think ultimately, I like to write about women finding their strength. In my Underworld books, Sophie Lawson starts out quite the sniveling weakling, but book by book she evolves to a pretty bad-ass chick. Each of the teens in my YA are put in some pretty horrible situations, but it’s always their brains that get them out of it.

AS: Love it! You’re now a full-time author, but what are some of the other jobs you’ve held along the way?

HJ: Ha! Good question! I folded towels at a home superstore; I made hand-painted (God-awful) sweatshirts; I worked as a bookkeeper (this after very nearly failing every math class ever); a very bad personal assistant; a cheerleading coach…

AS: Wow. So what’s the best thing about being a published author? The hardest?

HJ: The best thing is all the people I get to meet and connect with. The fans are amazing and meeting other writers is awesome. The hardest part can be the loneliness since writing is such a solitary thing. Also hard is the fact that I write from home where the refrigerator lives. It’s not so much hard on me as it is on my pants.

AS: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

HJ: When am I not writing?! 🙂 I love to hike and basically do anything outdoors. I’m a world-class napper. I love to cook, adventure, travel, spend time with my family and friends. I watch Investigation Discovery like it’s going out of style and pretend I watch the Disney channel for research purposes.

AS: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

HJ: Keep knocking until someone opens the door!

AS: What’s next for you? 

HJ: I just sold a new YA thriller called Out of the Woods and I’m working on a middle grade paranormal and an adult thriller that changes by the minute! And I’m totally DVR’ing the new episodes of Wives with Knives on Investigation Discovery.


Thank you so much for stopping by, Hannah! I feel lucky to have one of your books signed in orange Sharpie 🙂

Check out Hannah’s books for a dose of heart-pounding action mixed with wonderfully off-the-wall humor! You can connect with her on her websiteFacebook, or Twitter.

Inside Creative Minds: A.R. Silverberry, Author

With Memorial Day behind us and summer around the corner, it’s time for something new on this blog. Which is why I’m launching a summer series, taking us “Inside Creative Minds.” Interviews with writers, artists, and other creatives will give us a peek inside their lives and creative habits.

Our first guest is novelist A. R. Silverberry. We became book friends after swapping titles at California Bookstore Day.

Photo credit: Amalia Hillmann

Welcome, A. R. Silverberry! So tell us–how did you first fall in love with writing?

Well, I’m in love with other people’s writing! I’m pretty hard on my own. What I love is the creative process, discovering things I never planned or anticipated, discovering connections that were completely unconscious on my part. I especially love when a character steps on stage and announces herself, fully born. All I have to do is get out of the way and let her speak! Other characters, I have to really work at to know, and I better pray they aren’t main characters or I’m in for a tough time. I love writing the first draft. I don’t love writing the final draft. By that point, I’m aware of what I call my Waterloo chapters, those spots where I just can’t complete things to my satisfaction. Ironically, it may be a single sentence that’s hanging me up.

Do you hear that scream? It’s my wife after I’ve asked her for six months straight which permutation of a passage she prefers!


What are some of your favorite books to read?

A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lacuna, and all things Tolkien. I grew up on fairy tales, myths, and the Oz books. Nowadays, for pure fun, I read Dean Koontz.


You publish both paper books and e-books. As an avid reader yourself, which medium do you prefer and why? 

I had the good fortune to go into a Shakespeare museum and got to look at a book written in 1606. Imagine! Shakespeare could have touched the same book! Physical books are an art form. As long as there are people, art won’t die, and neither will physical books. I’ll always prefer them. How do you cozy up to an e-reader? But darn if those e-books aren’t kind on old eyes. I love that I can enlarge the font, look up words I don’t know, and most surprising, my reading speed increased.

You can’t get a signed e-book…

What are your two novels, Wyndano’s Cloak and The Stream, about? Are they related? 

They’re unrelated. Wyndano’s Cloak is a fantasy adventure for children. The Stream is tale for adults, in the same genre as Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Wyndano’s Cloak in one word: Empowerment. More specifically, girl power, though the message to believe in your inner gifts applies to all, young and old alike.

I asked one of my beta readers what she thought The Stream was about. She replied, “Good heavens, what is it not about?!” Here’s the best I can do:

What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?

After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?

Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.

Stream Small Cover 2


Wow! Two powerful books, quite different from each other. So who or what inspires your writing?

Ideas tumble into my mind from every conceivable corner. Take The Stream, for instance. The initial impetus was a conversation I was having, where I used the metaphor of a stream. I kept thinking about that metaphor. In a few hours, the character of a small boy, alone, defenseless, trying to understand the ways of the world, popped into my mind. I saw images of him confronting the challenges we all face in life: love, loss, pain, losing your way. The next morning, I put aside the novel I was working on (it wasn’t working anyway), and started writing. It pretty much tumbled out of me and didn’t let go until it was done.


What appeals to you about fantasy stories?

The unique thing about fantasy as a genre is that it’s not limited by the laws of physics. Anything can happen. Magic exists. Unexpected things can and do occur. Conflicts are painted in bold, broad strokes. The hero or heroine is up against unspeakable power, power beyond human ken. If they can triumph over that, I can triumph over the foibles of my life.


What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?

Be wary of advice, except mine of course! And here it is: read a lot; write a lot; learn the craft, but don’t be a slave to it; and break the “rules” if it helps the story. Don’t try to write like anyone else. There is only one you. Let the beautiful voice inside you sing.


Do you have another job? How do you balance it with writing?

I’m a psychologist, working primarily with children and adolescents, though I see adults too. I try to write every morning while my mind is clear and closer to the dream world. I wrote Wyndano’s Cloak while commuting on Cal Train! It worked out great. The sound of the train triggered me into writing mode. I wrote three hours a day, five days a week. Between the train and work, I walked for twenty minutes, taking notes about snippets of dialogue or description. The biggest loss to my writing was when we moved away from that train! I have to drive now, but I’m listening to a lot of audio books!


Are you working on a new book now? Can you tell us anything about it?

I never reveal the plot of anything until I’m ready to release it, but I’ll say this: It’s a dystopic young adult sci-fi fantasy trilogy. Say that five times as fast as you can!


Thank you for joining us! It’s been a pleasure! 

A. R. Silverberry will be answering questions in the comments today, so ask away! Check out Wyndano’s Cloak and newly released The Stream on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Peter Adler


About A. R. Silverberry:

A. R. Silverberry writes fiction for adults and children. His novel, WYNDANO’S CLOAK, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. THE STREAM is his second novel. Visit his website or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter!

Why We Need Dystopian Literature

It’s funny that I, who can’t handle graphic descriptions in books and rarely watch movies rated higher than PG-13, consider dystopian literature one of my favorite genres.

What is dystopian literature? If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games or Divergent (which will soon be making its movie debut), you’re already familiar with it. Word history makes a little more sense of the genre’s odd name, though.

A utopia is a perfect world (deriving partly from the Greek word ευτοπiα, meaning “good land”). Flip that on its head and you get a dystopia (δυστοπια), a “bad land.” The setting is often a futuristic or fantastical version of our own world–but something is very, very wrong with it. 

The exact type of wrongness varies. It can be a nationally televised event in which teenagers fight to the death. It can be an association of “firefighters” who work to burn books rather than save them. It can be a community that has rejected the burden of memory.

All disturbing scenarios, without question. But it is that very ability to unsettle that makes dystopian literature so powerful. It makes us understand consequencesFahrenheit 451 portrays the book-burning “firefighters” as a consequence of culture-wide entertainment addiction. The cold extermination of humans in The Giver is a consequence of a society that chose painlessness and order over compassion and mercy.

The consequences are extreme, even grotesque, in these fantastical novels. But they raise questions for real life in the subtle and palatable way that only fiction can:

What are the problems with our own society? What will the consequences be? And what can we do to change things? 

And that’s why I love dystopian novels–not because I’m a freak who loves to read about twisted worlds. I love these stories because I’m a person who wants to see the sickness of the world I live in and help prevent it from worsening past cure. I like these novels because they make me think, but more because they make me care. Maybe that’s why the genre has picked up so much popularity, especially in the turmoil of recent years.

So: pick up a dystopian novel and let it raise questions for you. If you need a place to get started, here’s a list of my top 5 dystopian novels:

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

“In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.” -Amazon.com

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

File:Fahrenheit 451 1st ed cover.jpg

“Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.” -Amazon.com

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry

File:The Giver Cover.gif

“The story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal world. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver does he begin to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community.” -Amazon.com

4. 1984 by George Orwell


“Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. And while 1984 has come and gone, Orwell’s narrative is timelier than ever. 1984 presents a startling and haunting vision of the world, so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions—a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.” -Amazon.com

5. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells


Although this is sometimes classified as a science fiction novel (and it does contain science fiction elements), its placement on an isolated island in our world, paired with its disturbing social commentary, make it a good example of dystopian literature as well. A power-crazed scientist makes humans out of animals, positioning himself as their god–but when the animals begin to regress, we must ask where the boundary between man and beast lies.

Have you read any of these books? Or do you have another favorite you’d add to the list?

So Many Books…

So…I did it again. 
Yes, I am reading all of these books. At the same time. Count them. There are fifteen. One-five. 
Nearly 16 months ago, I wrote this post, getting my knickers all in a twist over reading *gasp* seven books at a time! Today, my past self would be shocked and probably horrified. Fifteen is a lot of books. 
It’s also a lot of inches. Maybe I should start measuring my reading that way. 

When I’m reading this many books at a time, my progress advances infinitesimally. Some of these titles have been on my bookshelf for a year. 
Tsk, tsk. So read fewer books, you say. 
But which ones to choose? 
For spiritual growth, I’ve got Philip Yancey’s Prayer and Disappointment with God, Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, and Me Addiction by Rick Brown &c. 
On the topic of relationships, there’s His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley Jr., Sacred Search by Gary Thomas, and an old favorite: Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris. 
Halfway there. 
Now, for creative inspiration, we have Alan Jacobs’s biography The Narnian, about C.S. Lewis. There’s The Imagineering Way, by Disney’s team of Imagineers. And a particularly fascinating one called Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, about the process of creativity (a great loan from my knit-designing friend Audry). 
Some books for discussion with my tutoring students: The Library Card by Jerry Spinelli and Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes, the actress of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music also wrote a children’s book!). 
And finally, some just for fun: Foundling by D.M. Cornish and “The Courtship of Miles Standish” in a beautiful 1893 edition of Longfellow’s collected works (a find from my latest library sale). 
Oho. But wait, there’s more. 
Now I can read even more  books at a time. Being the die-hard fan of paper books that I am, I held out a long time on an e-reader, but finally caved when my family gave me a Kindle for Christmas. Now I realize that, while I may always be partial to the smell and feel of paper, I don’t have to choose which method to love.
More methods of reading means more books 🙂 

Kindle reading does come up smaller by the inches method, but I’ve already got more in-progress titles on here, including Dreamwalker and Mourning Cloak by writer friends Angela Wallace and Rabia Gale
*Sigh* Maybe I need this on my wall: 
Library Wall Clock So Many Books, So Little Time

How about you? What are you reading? 

Wit, Wisdom, and Castles: “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith

This is a review of a book that is not for the young, but certainly for the young at heart.
I Capture the Castle, published in 1943 by Dodie Smith (her first novel), begins with all the trappings of a fairy tale, but uses them to tell a story so real that there’s nothing fairy-tale or cliché about it.
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain lives in a castle. Perfectly romantic, yes? Picturesque towers, the idyllic English countryside—until you realize that the castle is full of leaks and the family is practically starving to death since her writer-father hasn’t penned a word in over twelve years. In addition to her hermetical father, Cassandra lives with her older sister Rose, whose great wish is to marry for money, her studious younger brother Thomas, her sympathetic but eccentric stepmother Topaz (whose former occupation was nude modeling for a London painter), and a handsome servant named Stephen. Oh yes, and a cat and dog; Abelard and Heloïse (private joke about a pair of twelfth-century scholar-lovers).  Cassandra’s aspiration is to be a writer, and the novel is structured as three of her journals, her stated purpose being “to teach myself how to write a novel—I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversations.”
The first major action mirrors the beginning of Pride and Prejudice: the neighboring manor, empty since the owner’s death, is at last re-inhabited by his two handsome grandsons: dashing young Americans who are terribly interesting and perfectly single. However, the remaining 90% of the book has absolutely nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice, and both Cassandra and Rose find out what misery is caused by trying to force life to match fairy tales. On the way, Cassandra’s views on wealth, history, God, romance, travel, and people are stretched even as she writes down these experiences and her reflections in her journal. 
The primary delight of this book is in Cassandra’s witty and wise narrative voice. If I’d read it at age seventeen (or younger), I think I would have found the vague and meandering plotline of the book uninteresting and the ending incomplete. I related to many of Cassandra’s stories, but in the middle of my teen years I wouldn’t have had have the distance to sift out the wisdom in them. But that’s because at the time I was looking for fairy tales, and this is a story about real life. In the six months Cassandra’s journals cover, we watch her grow up—from a starry-eyed child to an adult who perceives the world with a more complex awareness of both its joys and sorrows (fancy word for this genre: bildungsroman). She becomes a young woman who stands tall with maturity and self-respect, valuing her family, her integrity, and her dreams of authorship more than grubbing desperately for “happily ever after.” Anne of Green Gables would call her a “kindred spirit,” though she comes from the other side of the Atlantic. As Cassandra “captures” the castle and the people around her in words, we watch her become a “wise young judge,” a strong, funny, honest, real heroine who is ultimately very worthy of respect.
This is a book for aspiring writers, for young women who have wrestled with singleness, for those who love England. It’s for adults who can identify Cassandra’s wisdom but still remember going through the difficulties of gaining it for themselves. It’s for people who enjoy a witty narrator describing her unconventional life in vignettes both down-to-earth and poetic. It’s not quite like any other book I’ve read, but I’ll be keeping this one.
Have you read this book? Seen the movie adaptation? Does it remind you of something else? Add your thoughts to the conversation!