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Posted by on in Author Series

**** This blog post originally appeared on Author Viv Drewa's site, The Owl Lady Blog, on Dec. 28th, 2015**** 

 

"Planting a Tree of Inspiration"

I think I have to blame the whole “me-wanting-to-be-an-author” on my father.  It’s all his fault.  He corrupted me something awful.  Not that I don’t think he minds being blamed for something like that, in fact, I would presume that he much rather enjoys it.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was way before I was able to read.  Dad wouldn’t read stories to me, he told them to me.  It was oral tradition at its finest!  I soaked up every character he created, every line of dialog he spoke in his deep voice (sometimes slightly raised to portray a female), every plot twist and turn. 

It was when he told me his version of “The Three Little Bears” that I had a profound epiphany related to story-telling.  His version was about the Three Little Bears’ cousins who lived in a different section of the forest.  Now, all his stories were twisted and fractured fairy tales, amalgamations of stories with which I was already familiar (but can’t recall for the life of me now); however, there was something about this one – Licorice, a black fluffy bear getting into some scuffle with the Big Bad Wolf – that stirred something in my brain: He’s making up his own story that’s connected to one that’s already known.  You can do that? You can do that!  And that was when I kind of knew that I wanted to do that, too!

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When letters came together to form words that I could recognize, something very visceral happened to me.  It was like an awakening, or being born.  All the doors to different worlds seemed to open at once, and the rest fell into place – first the reading, then the writing; I was discovering new avenues and outlets for all my young and innocent creativity. So, as soon as I could, I wrote.  Constantly.  One of my earliest aspirations of “what do you want to be when you grow up” was to walk into a bookstore, look at a shelf, point and say, “See that? I wrote that!”

As I got older writing became somewhat of a necessity for me. I attribute my writing to being the one thing that saved my life in my early teenage years. See, I was always the outcast. The outsider. The goth kid. The weirdo. The girl who would rather wear black nail polish and spend hours reading a book filled with poems about witches (a gift from my father, of course) than listen to the newest New Kids on the Block song with the girls in my class. I was bullied. Ostracized. Different. Writing became my outlet, and my coping mechanism. Writing got all the junk out of my head and brought me to crazy worlds of vampires and witches and all things dark and gloomy, all things that I felt in my heart and soul. It was an escape for me, and a way that I could be the weirdo me without judgment or criticism. Many a night I pondered suicide, but writing about it was enough for me to deal with those thoughts and feelings. In essence, writing was a means to pull myself from my own mind and depression. 

Teenage years were hard, and adult-ing isn’t much easier. Life sometimes takes over and spins you into an uncontrollable whirlwind of events… for me it was marriage, house, surgery, the weddings of practically my entire circle of friends, nephew born, etc. etc. - life knocking at my door with a child of my own. My writing habits and desires took a backseat for many years.   When my daughter turned a year old, I did some serious soul searching.  I had gotten to a point in my life where things were going very well.  I was happy in my roles of teacher, wife, and mother, but there was one hat that I still wanted to wear, so I sat my husband down and told him how I felt -  how there was this nagging void within me that so desperately needed to be fulfilled.  It was a no-brainer for him; he was supportive and encouraged me to go after my lifelong dream.  He coached me to stop making excuses and to stop letting me get in the way of me.  The rest is history.  In the summer of 2010, I finally wrote the first draft of The Coal Elf, and the Coal Elf Chronicles kind of snowballed from there.

 

The influence from my father has manifested, grown, and come to fruition because now I can walk into a book store and point to my books on a shelf. He passed his torch of creativity on to me in the most profound way. He and I have a very special psychic bond. Just the other day, he called me up and said he had an idea that he thought might work in the third Coal Elf book. I nearly died laughing because I had just been thinking the very same thing! 

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Posted by on in Author Series

As the electricity of the last weekend seems to die down, I’m finally able to breathe and collect my thoughts. This was the 2nd year that I attended Tampa Bay Comic Con, and the second go around not only met, but exceeded my expectations.

 

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 The Con started on Friday, July 31st, but I was only able to attend on Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 1st and 2nd). Once again, Twilight Times Books authors Scott Eder and Dora Machado were by my side. This year, we were positioned at two adjoining tables and had a much larger display, which I felt was really beneficial as we collectively doubled our sales from last year, and The Coal ElfSOLD OUT!

 

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The overall reception and response to having authors at the Con has certainly grown. Last year, we were barely a “blip” on the general populous’ radar, but this year was something else… it was different. There was a different vibe in the air, like people were almost looking for something new and fresh and exciting – something that took them out of the typical Con fare, but still immersed them in the realm of the fantastical.

 

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There were many familiar faces from last year. A lot of my kiddos and friends showed up and brought with them an enormous amount of love and support. I also recognized people from the Con last year and had numerous people comment to me that they bought The Coal Elf last year and were eagerly awaiting the sequel. As an author, hearing those words is indescribable! My work is forever out there in the world, people are reading it and enjoying it, and they want more? That concept is so wild to me. And while I’m no newbie in this rodeo of writing, feedback like that gets me all giggly every time!

 

 

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 One of the most important aspects of the Con was speaking on the Author Panels. This year, we really amped up the content, and all of our sessions were well received, and well attended (with a lot of people coming to more than one). Scott, Dora and I were joined again by author Tracy Akers.

 

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Saturday’s topics were “So You Want to Be a Writer?” and “Take Me Away: A look at Setting in Fantasy Writing”. Scott and I were later invited to sit in on a third panel that day with author Rod Martinez (an entirely impromptu thing), and this session was very audience-driven and super informative. On Sunday morning we were back again with one of my favorite topics “Villains: What Makes the Bad Guy Tick?” which again, was a lively and audience-led discussion.

 

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This was such a thrilling part of the entire weekend, because there were many aspiring authors in the audience (whose shoes I not too long ago wore myself) that were there looking for tips, tricks, pointers, experiences, any kind of help. Our panels became a lesson not only in craft, but in the writing business in general. Every session ended with a “come see me at our table so we can talk more about this”, or a side-bar conversation in the hallway, and even beyond that to emails and Facebook communication with people I have now happily welcomed into my writing circle. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – supporting each other to realize our dreams.

 

As we look ahead to next year, we’re already concocting bigger and more elaborate plans. We are working on a possible writing group to carry on through the year leading up to the next Con, and we already have possible topics for the panels next year! The Rise of Sturd will be out by then, and who knows just how large the authors’ presence will be in year three?   

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Posted by on in Author Series

I was tagged by my author friend, the prolific and masterful wordsmith, Aaron Paul Lazar, to participate in a sort of blog-hop activity.  I am to list seven things about my writing that people might not know.  Well, I’m a super sucker for the number seven, and felt extremely compelled to plat along.  Besides, Aaron is one hell of a guy and I support all of his endeavors. When Mr. Lazar asks you to do something, how can you not?  J Please go give his page a look, especially if you’re into mystery novels.  You won’t be disappointed! 

 

Okay.  Here I go. Seven things about my writing you may not know…

 

 

1.   I am a creature of habit.  I am bound by my obsessive compulsive tendencies.  I can’t help it.  It’s a sickness.  In all of my stories, woven between the pages, one is bound to find: a reference to Santa Claus, a reference to The Wizard of Oz, a dream sequence, references to being underwater or drowning.  Don’t ask. 

 

 

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2.    I mentally cannot stop putting two spaces after a period.  It’s an automatic action.  <<smacks hands>> “bad author, bad author.”

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3.    I am passionate about folklore and mythology and incorporated a lot of the old lore into my Coal Elf series.  You have to be “on the folklore ball” to pick up the little breadcrumbs I’ve left behind!

 

4.    I was born and raised Catholic, and while I am not practicing, I still have deep ties to religion and spirituality.  (Maybe my days as a Catholic school girl have scarred me for life?)  :) These tendencies have influenced my writing, especially in my Urban Fantasy stories.

 

 

 

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(rocking that school girl uniform. 3rd grade, I believe)

 

5.    The very first REAL poem I wrote was on 10/26/1986.  I had just turned nine.  It was titled “A Halloween Poem.”  To this day, I usually incorporate some form or essence of poetry within my books.

 

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6.    I’m a great embellisher, although, I’ve had so many incredible life experiences that I often find I don’t have to do much ‘bellishing! Like, I seriously can’t make half the stuff that I lived through up! But, of course, when I’m in the fantasy worlds of the elves, or zombies, or angels, I have to tweak some of my own memories to bend and fit the context of the particular universe.  Much of the narrative (for any of my books) is the fragments of me – slivers of secrets, puzzle pieces of the past. 

 

7.    Poetry saved my life. Period. The End.

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Posted by on in Author Series

I’m baaaaaaaack….

 

I know, I know, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been at this blogging thing.  To be quite honest, I’m still not the “champ” I would like to be in this department.  Something about “blogging” in general feels strange to me.  I probably just need more practice at it.

This winter has been quite a doozy to say the least.  Thanksgiving to about yesterday has been nothing short of a non-stop whirlwind.  My life in Florida pretty much mirrored the weather up north – a constant swirling storm of the physical “go-go-go” and the mental tsunamis that accompany.  Sometimes, life just gets in the way.  Sometimes, life screams at you to pay attention to it. Sometimes, life has to take the front seat.   And now, as I breathe in some pre-spring air, I can sort out my mind with an eye on the next few months ahead. 

So… what’s been doing….?

It’s no secret that I parted ways with The Carolyn Jenks Agency.  It was an amicable parting, and I have nothing but much love and respect for every person over there as they are team of fabulous and talented people.  But, as we all know, my brand of “normal” is a very hard pill to swallow: I’m quirky and unconventional. I’m strange and twisted. I’m unapologetically me. And I’m a tough sell.  When I started my writing journey, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy road.  I knew that whatever was going to come out of my brain was going to be 100% me – craziness and all. That might not jive with market trends and audience preference, but I refuse to give up.  I’ve accomplished many goals and milestones in my writing career, and I will continue to move forward. Patience is a virtue, right?  Trying to find representation is a quest in and of itself.  It’s going to take the right person who’s willing and confident to take me and my bag of macabre characters on…. Fingers crossed…..

Spring break is quickly descending upon us (I seriously can’t believe that!), and soon I will be back to researching, editing, and ultimately writing.  My writing schedule is pretty much set, and I am looking forward to immersing myself in a world of angels and demons.  This will be manuscript  #6 under my belt. 

Spring time is usually the “lull” time for The Coal Elf.  Which is understandable, given the nature of the novel.  Not sure many people are interested in reading about elves and the North Pole when the spring birds are chirping!  J I’ll start getting into promo-mode around June when I’ll be doing an interview for Cheryl Carpinello’s Blog.

Lots of unknowns ahead, but I’ve come this far and I know there’s so much more to tackle and accomplish.    Thank you all so much for all your time, energy, and support. 

~DeVivo

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Posted by on in Author Series

 

 

       What’s the old saying?  “Home is where the heart is.”   It must be true because one of the prevalent themes in story-telling is the concept of Home - Having one, being a part of one, rejecting one, leaving one, desperately trying to find your way back to one.  Humans have an innate honing device that draws us to a nostalgic place of comfort and love. Some of the most influential stories of our time use HOME as a central theme.  After having experienced the wonder and glory of Oz, Dorothy said there was no place like it.  Her journey brought her to the realization that her black and white world of farm animals and twisters was really where she belonged.  Thrust onto an island while the war-torn world around them has no idea of their whereabouts, the children in The Lord of the Flies are in constant pursuit of returning home while in the process, create a home. And more recently, Katniss Everdeen initially strives to win The Hunger Games to go where?  Back Home.

In The Coal Elf, Ember Skye deals with this notion of Home from the moment she is called to her Life Job.  When she is sent to the Mines, her memories of her life Aboveground grip her so tightly that she is almost blinded by nostalgia.  The entire novel follows her path of dealing with those memories, confronting certain realities, and altering her own perceptions as to where she belongs, where she fits in, where she’s meant to be. 

So what is HOME?  What defines it?  For me, it’s an unseen structure made up of memories.    Spring birds singing in the morning as I waited for the school bus.  Running outside on a cool summer night to flag down the ice cream truck.  Standing on tree stumps in my backyard as dead leaves fell from the autumn trees.  The smell of my father’s work boots in the hallway.  Cuddling with my sister on Christmas Eve.  Coming home from school and being so angry with my mother for cleaning up my room.  My uncle’s voice booming as he and my mother sang Kenny Rogers’s songs.  My concept of Home expands far beyond the actual dwelling itself, and now I’m making a Home for my daughter, hopefully helping to build those memories of love and comfort she will seek refuge in her future.        

 

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Posted by on in Author Series

If there is one word that I could use to sum up my experience at Tampa Bay Comic Con, it would be exhilarating. The show was a week ago, and I’ve seriously needed all this time to digest and process the whole experience.  A week after the fact, and I’m still feeling the buzz from it all.

I was at the Tampa Convention Center on Saturday, August 2nd, and Sunday, August 3rd with my two author friends and Twilight Times Books partners-in- crime, Scott Eder and Dora Machado.  We manned a table in Artist Alley where we sold lots of books, people watched (the costumes were phenomenal!), and spoke to a lot of great, like-minded people.  On Saturday, I spoke on two panels -  YA Literature is NOT just for Young Adults, and From Page to Screen: A Discussion of Some of the Best (and Worst) TV/Movie Adaptations.  Scott, Dora, and I were joined by authors Tracy Akers and K.L. Nappier.  This was the first time authors were given the opportunity to speak on panels, and despite being left off the general TBCC program, both sessions were well attended by a lively crowd that kept the discussion flowing and created a very educational and entertaining environment.

 

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 (TTB Florida division: (l-r) Me,Dora Machado, Scott Eder)

 

The overall, general vibe of the weekend was exciting.  Being in the thick of it, in the heart of my people gave me a sense of belonging to a larger entity.  I was apprehensive at first about doing a convention at this scale (there were over 30,000 people in attendance the entire weekend) because I was convinced my OCD and anxiety issues would send me over the edge.  And yes, there were a few times when walking back from a panel, or just getting up to go to the bathroom gave me some serious heart palpitations, but I think it was more from sheer awe and wonder than from true fear (okay, okay, I was afraid that there would be an outbreak of the zombie virus… but I SWEAR it was only for a split second!)

What I walked away with was priceless.  There were not very many authors represented at CC, which I had expected.  I don’t think buying a novel is at the top of the average “con-ners” list of things to see.  Everyone was pretty much there with a purpose – be it to see Evan Peters or John Rhys Davies or the sisters from The Walking Dead (love Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kennedy!), cosplay the day away, pick up some Gimli art, get a rare Lady Death #1 comic book, or take a picture with the Tardis or Chewbacca.  As a matter of fact, many people looked surprised to see authors selling and signing novels at a venue called “COMIC CON.” But the feedback I received was outstanding, especially when someone I knew sauntered by our table and took pictures and gave hugs.  

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(Me and former student, Callie J. So many surprise faces at CC!)

 

I truly believe that fantasy and horror authors do have a voice in a place like Comic Con.  This was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as I’m already looking ahead to next year and beyond.  More panels, more books, more people.  Come at me, bro!  Bring it.  I’ve been bitten by that strange and quirky “con-bug” and its venom is working itself quickly into my veins!

 

 

Here are some of my “authorly” observations for my writer peeps who might be interested in expanding their reach to large (or small) cons.  These tips might even help for book signings and author engagements.  Just my two cents.

 

Author takeaways: 

 

1.     Cover art matters.

Never judge a book by a, but how else are you gonna capture attention?  A lot of people told me, “Your book cover is what drew me to your table.”  Whether they bought a book or not is immaterial.  The fact that Ember drew them in matters.  I sold a book solely because the person who bought it said Ember looked like me, which I take as the highest compliment.  So make sure your cover not only captures the spirit of the story, but that it also “pops”.

 

2.     Stories matter.

Ya gotta hook ‘em in, right?  People are constantly on the move.  Especially at a venue like CC.  They have celebrities to meet and zombie parades to attend, so listening to you ramble on and on about your book is not beneficial to anyone.  Have a quick tagline at the ready.  Something that will grab them and make them go “Hmmm.”  I think I repeated myself hundreds of times, but every time I got a wide-eyed smile (okay, there was this ONE woman who crinkled her nose, but that’s fine.  An elf at the North Pole mining coal for the naughty kids at Christmas isn’t everyone’s cup of cocoa)!

 

 

3.     Giveaways matter.

Have something to hand out.  Anything.  Multiple things.  Business cards, book marks, rack cards.  Something that non-buyers can stick in their goody bags and marinate on when they get home and decompress.  Slap a QR code on all of your giveaways, too.  This can take potential customers straight to your Amazon market site.  The residual sales that I got from AFTER the con were worth it alone.  By Monday, I had a dramatic increase in ebook sales, and I have to attribute it to the after effect.  Candy also works.  We had a basket of candy perched at each end of the table, and that alone sparked many queries and conversations.

 

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 (the scope of our table)

 

4.     Presentation matters.

Be presentable and approachable, and above all – have a nice looking table.  Ours had a company banner that drew a lot of attention.  As people walked by, I saw them mouth “Twilight Times Books,” or say “Hey, what’s that?”  I know, I know, the average person probably assumed we had something to do with the Twilight series (which could have hurt or helped us, depending on how you look at it), but the fact was, our name was on their lips.  Our table was dope, yo!  Scott had his amazing free-standing banner of his book cover (Knight of Flame) that caught a lot of eyes.  People actually stopped in the busy aisle to read what was written on it.  I had my Coal Elf mannequin to display my t-shirts, and Dora had her easel with her Curse Giver and Stonewiser series montage.  We said “Hello,” and “Good Morning” to everyone in eyeshot or earshot, and most of all we SMILED.  I was a good girl, and paid very close attention to curtail my eye-rolling (which I am infamous for).  J

 

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(this was our TTB banner and it definitely drew a lot of attention!) 

 

 

 5.     Speaking matters.

Talk to potential customers, but most of all listen when they talk to you, especially if they are purchasing your product.  It’s a common courtesy to engage your audience on even the smallest of levels.  Do a panel or have time to address an audience.  Be yourself.  Speak from your heart, but also in your artist voice, if that makes sense.  Most book signings I do, I make sure I have a chance to speak.  Make sure you have a platform for which you can present yourself, your work, your philosophies, etc.  Comic Con was filled to the brim with aspiring novelists, and being on a panel allowed me the opportunity to connect with them and give some sage advice (whether it be from the business angle or the writing as craft angle.)  I’ve received emails from people who have told me that after listening to my presentation I’ve inspired them to write a book, or finish a project, or stand up to the person bullying them.  That alone is payment enough for what I do.  Making a connection with your audience on a personal level is one of the most rewarding parts of the business.     

 

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(panelists extraordinaire: (l-r) Scott Eder, Tracy Akers, K.L. Nappier, Me, Dora Machado)

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Let me start by saying this:  I love Barbie.  Yes.  Barbie.  As in: Barbara Millicent Roberts.  As in: the absolute fashion icon in American history since 1959.  As in: Barbie – the doll.  Yep.  That one. 

I love her.

 

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I’ve loved Barbie since I was a little girl.  My mother retells the story of when I was barely two years old – I would play in my playpen and say to my mom, “Bobby!  Bobby!”  Well, like all good mothers, she gave me what I wanted:  a bottle!  But one day, a commercial for a Barbie doll came on TV and I started shouting, “Bobby!  Bobby!” it clicked for her - I wasn’t hungry, I wanted to PLAY!

 

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                                                            (My favorite Barbies.  Yes, I had them all!)

 

My fascination grew from there.  I delighted in the cast of characters of Barbie and Ken and Midge and Skipper and the whole lot of them.  I saved my own allowance to buy the different playsets.  I even attempted to make my own Barbie clothes.  My childhood friend (ironically named, Barbara) also enjoyed playing with the dolls, and we would have weekend marathons of staying at each other’s houses and playing all day and into the night.  I enjoyed playing with Barbies so much, that I have to admit, the very last time I actually played, I was 13 years old.  By that time, I resigned to tucking them under my bed and focused on high school and my first long-term boyfriend (ironically named, Ken).

 

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                                                          (my Barbie collection the summer of 1998.                                                                                                          doesn't even cover the tip of the iceberg today!)

 

 What I loved most about playing with Barbies was the possibility of what I could make them say and how I could make them act.  There were no rules.  No scripts.  Barbie had a lot of friends, family, furniture and fashion styles – she didn’t have a TV show, or a movie.  It opened the door for me to be as simple or as creative as I wanted to be.  I often concocted crazy soap-opera-esque storylines of people with amnesia returning from the dead, or a down-on-her-luck call-girl meeting Mr. Right only to find out he was her long-lost brother.  If I could dream it, I could play it.  There was no right or wrong.

 

But things have since changed. 

 

My daughter, Morgan, is five years old.  I swear she is the reincarnation of some genius artiste.  She spends a lot of her time creating her own stories, drawing, singing, and lots of imaginative and independent play.  I consider myself lucky that she likes Doc McStuffins, Lalaloopsy, Sofia the First, Disney Princesses, etc., but she can take them or leave them.  She asked the Easter Bunny for Scotch tape and a ream of paper over Frozen toys, so if that says anything… 

Anyway, Morgan recently asked me to play with her and her Lalaloopsy dolls.  We set up the house and playsets and all the stuff that goes with them.  I was the character Jewel Sparkle, and she was Dot Starlight.  Whenever I made my character talk, Morgan would say, “but Mommy, Jewel doesn’t say that,” or “Mommy, you can’t do that cause that doesn’t happen.”

This was shocking to me!  Telling someone who used to make up the most elaborate scenarios that they can’t do or say something is heresy!

Wait?  What do you mean I can’t do something?

We moved on to play with her Sofia the First toys, and again, “Mommy, don’t make Amber say that because she wouldn’t say that.” Or “Mommy, we can’t have a pet unicorn in the castle because Sofia doesn’t really have a pet unicorn.”

I tried explaining to her that you don’t always have to follow what the “show does” and that it’s okay to be creative and add in different things if you want to, but she wasn’t hearing it.  She felt compelled and bounded by the script - the confines of a predetermined play world that essentially removes all free thought and creativity. 

Every show has a toy and every toy has a show.  When these two come together, how can that leave any door open for imaginative play?  How can a child learn expressive play when they are playing with toys that tell them HOW to play?

 

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                                              (Watch the 10 second opening, and you'll understand...)

 

Unfortunately, Barbie has jumped ship, too.  Over the years, we’ve seen Barbie in different specials like “Barbie and the Christmas Carol” or the various butterfly princess personas that they’ve given her, but nothing takes the cake like the show “Life in the Dream House.” It is an animated youtube series depicting Barbie and her friends and family as vapid, materialistic, twits.  It broke my heart to see Barbie being shoved into a role like that.  For me, this was like the final nail in the coffin of imagination.  Playtime is being replaced with “Re-enact” time.  Where’s the fun in that? Is imaginative play dead?  Is it dying?   I consider my “Barbie stories” to be the first seeds planted in my literary/writer’s garden.    

 

 Morgan has watched the Barbie show, but was not a giant fan.  Thank God, ‘cause the other night, we had her Barbie dolls rocking and rolling in a carnival made out of cowboy hats and shoeboxes!   

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