Category Archives: Books

Yellow-Billed Magpie Goes on Tour!

Now that the Yellow-Billed Magpie Launch Party is successfully behind me, my new novel is going on a virtual tour! Laura Fabiani, the wonderful tour coordinator at iRead Book Tours, has arranged for Yellow-Billed Magpie to make appearances on seventeen blogs in three different countries during the month of October. Fourteen bloggers will post reviews (I’m holding my breath!) On other blogs I will do guest posts or Q&A interviews. Check out the schedule here:—current-tours/book-tour-yellow-billed-magpie-by-nancy-schoellkopf

The tour will also include opportunities to enter a free raffle to win copies of my book as well as Amazon gift cards. The grand prize will be a turquoise-colored ceramic Fiesta pie plate along with some decorative paper napkins in honor of take-charge businesswoman Anna Victoria who runs an expanding chain of popular pie shops in the novel. Stay tuned: details to follow.

I am very excited but also a little nervous about this tour, but I trust that these fellow bloggers, who are also avid readers and writers, will be kind to my debut novel.

I don’t write because I have a message to impart. I write because I’m a writer: it’s what I love to do. I only hope my story touches your heart.

Thank you for all your good wishes and support!


Living the Dream

Hello, friends, family and friendly folks whom I have never met outside this virtual plane! I’m here to tell you that

My Debut Novel

Yellow-Billed Magpie

Is now available for purchase

On Amazon and Kindle!!

 Cue the balloons and fire works! Yes! It has been my dream to be a published novelist for nearly four decades. Well, actually first it was my dream just to write a novel, but once I figured out how to do that then the dream became finding a way to share the novels. Today the dream is coming into fruition!

So how come I feel like a nervous wreak? I guess because now I need to learn to market the novel. Please allow me a few moments of shameless promotion: Please buy my novel. Please read my novel. Please love my novel and then write a 5-star review on my Amazon page.

The commercial continues: Yellow-Billed Magpie is reasonably priced. The cover is absolutely beautiful. It was designed by Karen Phillips who has done an amazing job for an amazing price. (Check out her site here: ) This books look so beautiful that it naturally follows that they would make beautiful Christmas gifts.

My book comes with this guarantee: I will never ask you if you’ve read my novel. I will never ask you if you like my novel. Of course I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it—and tell me so—but I won’t ask. I won’t put you on the spot. No worries, no need to avoid me. No risk, so give it a try.

If you live nearby, please drop in at my Launch Party this coming Thursday evening, October 1st at Hoppy’s Brewing Company, 6300 Folsom Blvd., in Sacramento, Ca. I’ll be there with big boxes of books from 5:30 to 8:30. We’ll be serving wonderful appetizers. No host bar.

I’ll be selling copies of Yellow-Billed Magpie for the low introductory price of $5 each on October 1st only. Come and buy multiple copies. Give them to your friends. Of course I’ll sign them. Maybe they’ll be rare collectables someday. Or maybe you can get 50 cents for them at your next garage sale. I don’t know yet, but I hope the story touches your heart. That is my sincere wish.

Okay, that was my first attempt at marketing. More later. I have an interesting promotional story that I’m saving for later in the week, so stay tuned. Here’s the link to my Amazon page. Please check it out.

Love to you all!

Okay I read it! Here’s what I think of Go Set a Watchman

If Go Set A Watchman hadn’t been written by Harper Lee, I don’t guess I would recommend it because it isn’t all that good a read. But it was written by Harper Lee, and we know that if she had chosen to revise and edit it, she was capable of producing a brilliant snapshot of the south in the years immediately following the historic Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Supreme Court decision.

It’s been widely reported that Atticus Finch displays a racist side in this novel, but less has been made of the fact that Jean Louise herself agrees with her father on many, though not all of his opinions. There are several long, rambling conversations that escalate into arguments, and in most of these scenes no one’s point is explained very well. That’s okay, this was apparently an early draft. But I was appalled at the final confrontation between Jean Louise and her uncle, Dr. Jack Finch. Gee whiz, were there no present-day editors? Did they really think that (SPOILER ALERT) a pompous older man striking a young woman across the mouth would play well with a 21st century audience? I know that in the 50s and 60s jokes about domestic abuse were common, but it can’t be tolerated today.

The scene that touched me the most was the one between Scout and Calpurnia, the now-retired domestic worker who served the Finch family for so many decades. Lee implies that the advent of the civil rights era has created a chasm between the white gentry of Maycombe County, Alabama, and their “Negro” servants and “neighbors.” Of course there is little acknowledgement that from the servants’ point of view that chasm always existed. Nonetheless in this meting with Cal, Scout feels this separation from the woman she considers her surrogate mother, and it wounds her in a way more poignant that the intellectual arguments she has with her father, uncle, aunt and boyfriend. (Yes, lots of people and lots of talk, talk, talk!)

It’s true that the flashbacks to childhood and teen years were the most engaging in the book. It makes sense that Lee’s editors back in the 50s urged her to focus on those. But I also have to wonder if her publisher’s real motivation was to steer Lee to a safer, less controversial subject that the fears of white southerners now the their servants were attempting to exercise their right to vote. Of course I’m happy Harper Lee wrote the heroic and beautiful To Kill a Mockingbird, but a well thought-out, polished novel on the fears of the 50s might well have been a gift to us too. As it is, it’s rather confusing and sad.

SPOILER ALERT: I miss Jem something awful.

Here are a few articles on the book I found interesting, even though they contradict each other:

And to my writer friends: write a will. Write it now. Be sure your wishes are known. Don’t even get me started on whomever is handling Theodor Geisel’s estate.

What To Think About Watchman?

First I have to say that I have not yet read Go Set a Watchman. I do intend to read it though; my copy arrived from Amazon yesterday. But the early reviews of Harper Lee’s second novel have been playing on my mind and I feel a need to set my thoughts down now.

As I said in a previous post, I was concerned that this “new” book would expose writing that wasn’t ready for publication, that maybe it just wouldn’t be very good. It never occurred to me that the beloved Atticus Finch could ever be anything but the paragon of handsome virtue Gregory Peck portrayed him to be. But is the racist, segregation-supporting Atticus of Watchman a first draft character that Lee totally discarded when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird? Or was this darker man always there in her thoughts as she wrote the story from a child’s point of view? Was she intending to write a sequel where the adult Jean Louise would be disillusioned to discover the true nature of the father she had idolized?

Perhaps I’ll have a clearer answer after I read the book, but I want to believe that the former is true. I want to believe that Lee never released this book because the Atticus Finch of Watchman no longer existed. Maybe she’d thrown him out and invented a whole new guy for Mockingbird. Of course this is a very idealistic wish, and the fact is none of us will ever know what the answer is. Harper Lee is unwilling or—more likely—unable to tell us what she was thinking back then.

It’s occurred to me this past week that Atticus Finch has been a perfect, pure, unadulterated hero for all of us white progressives. At the risk of his reputation, his safety—and most importantly the safety of his children—he did the right thing, he stood up to the bigots in his town and defended an African American man unjustly accused of a crime. We all like to think we could perform as well, you know, if we were ever tested. And yet most of us design our lives so we won’t be tested, so we won’t have to confront our own bigotry. This is especially easy here out west where there are no Civil War battlefields or memorials to fallen Freedom Riders.

So here I will present a small test for my literary minded friends: how many books have you read lately by African American writers? How may books have you ever read by authors of color? I have to admit for myself, it’s not many. I will say that when I was first out of college, as a fledgling feminist and aspiring writer, I deliberately chose to mainly read books by women. I was looking for role models. Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver are now favorites, and I wouldn’t miss one of their novels as soon as they hit the shelves. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Toni Morrison’s work, but I’m sorry to say I can’t tell you what her last novel was called. And oh—I just remembered—I used to read each new book by Alice Walker, but at some point decades ago she fell off my radar too.

What’s really embarrassing is I don’t even know where to begin. Who are the up and coming young writers of color?

We can speculate forever about Harper Lee’s state of mind back when she was writing Watchman and Mockingbird, and about her cognitive health now. We’ll never know for sure. So let’s take the discussion in a new direction. It turns out Atticus Finch was a closet racist. Well, guess what, he’s not alone. Let’s expand our reading lists to include more ethnic diversity. I challenge you to help me out, to give me the names of novels to read and writers to watch for.

Join the Discussion!

Let’s celebrate the upcoming publication of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman by reading (or re-reading) her only other published novel, the incomparable To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m hosting a discussion group right here on my website! For details click on the Mockingbird link above. It will take you to a special page devoted to one of my favorite books of all time.

ps–if you don’t have the time or the desire to read (or re-read) the book, go ahead and rent the movie. You won’t regret it!

Please Join Our Email List!

Dear Family, Friends, and Fellow Writers,

I spent 2014 working like crazy to revise and edit my first four novels. 2015 will be my year to promote and publish my writing—and then promote it some more.

Toward that end, I am asking all of you to sign up for my email list. This list serves two purposes:

#1. Direct promotion. This is obvious. Less obvious is

#2. Evidence that my writing has a following—evidence I may then show to prospective agents, editors and publishers so they might see that I have a “platform,” i.e. the means to market my books.

So to sign up for the list, just look over to the top of the right hand column and you will see a widget that says “Join Our Mailing List.” Click there and the rest is easy.

Now let me tell you a little bit about this list. It is powered by MailChimp (the free version!), and will make it easy for me to generate and send out letters and notices. Plus it presents a much more professional appearance to those aforementioned publishing folk.

Now this part is important!!!

MailChimp wisely uses a “double opt-in” system. As soon as you sign up, MailChimp will send you an email asking you to confirm that you want to be on the list by clicking on a consent button. This ensures that the list is genuine and filled with people who really want to be on the list. Again this is more professional than a group name in my gmail address book.

Please be assured that your inclusion on this list will not expose you to spam from MailChimp or anybody else. I myself will never sell or share the list. In fact, at this point I don’t anticipate using the list that often. I will use it to let you know when I intend to publish my first novel and also about promotional events.

I will NOT be sending notices to this list every time I post on the blog! So if you want to follow the blog, please go to the second widget on the right hand side. It says “Follow Blog Via Email.” If you sign up there, Word Press will send you an email every time I post on the blog.

Okay, so if you’ve been so kind to have read this far, and you haven’t already done so, please click on “Join Our Mailing List” at the top right hand side. Please remember to “opt in” when you receive the follow-up email.

And thank you so much for supporting me as I launch my new career!

Becoming A Novelist (featuring a salute to Nanowrimo)

I took a leave of absence from my teaching gig to write my first novel.  At the time I was burnt out on teaching, but at least when I was teaching I knew what I was doing.  I didn’t know how to write a novel, but I started writing anyway.  It took about five months to write the first draft.  It was over seven hundred pages long and it was a mess!  Parts of it were brilliant, but that stuff eventually got deleted.

All told, I’d say it took me ten years to declare that book done.  To be honest I’m still tinkering with it a bit.  In the meantime I’ve written four more first drafts.  For that progress, I have to thank Nanowrimo.  It’s been during Nanowrimo that I’ve taught myself to write novels.

Nanowrimo is the cutesy acronym for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November.  It started years ago when a group of friends in the bay area challenged each other to write 50,000 word novels in a month.  Well, actually not a finished novel but as Anne LaMotte would say “a shitty first draft.”  Btw–cuz I know you’re wondering–50,000 words is approximately 180 pages.

Within a few years, this group of friends had taken their challenge to the internet and before too long tens of thousands of people were joining in.

When I first heard of Nanowrimo I thought, “I would love to try that.  But not while I’m working.”  Then I realized that November would not be such a stressful month at work.  We had Veterans’ Day and the entire Thanksgiving week off.  I had nobody I had to cook for.  So why the heck not?  I decide to take the plunge.

At that point I had an idea for a second novel, but I couldn’t seem to get it on the page.  I’d come home exhausted from work.  I’d wolf down dinner then start writing.  Suddenly I’d stop in mid-sentence and think,

Oh, it shouldn’t start this way.

This is boring.

I don’t like this story.

I don’t know where it’s going.

And then I’d eat something unhealthy, watch something stupid on TV, go to bed, get up the next day and do it all over again.

But Nanowrimo is about quantity not quality.  Your goal is to write 50,000 words.  You hope at the end that you will have something resembling a story but that’s not required.  Just keep writing.  As Natalie Goldberg would say, “Keep your hand moving.”

This emphasis on quantity allowed me to turn off my internal critic. What happened next?  My imagination took over.  Ideas popped up and a plot formed.  That was the most astounding thing to me:  my imagination leaned toward story.  I didn’t have to force it.  It led me there.

Sure, some nights Samantha (my main character) made a pie, and I pasted in a recipe I found on the internet.  Other nights Samantha had had a day just like my day.  Did I forget to mention that Samantha was a special ed teacher just like I was?  Well, if I’d had a really rough day at school, coincidentally Samantha wanted to complain about her day too.  Funny how that happened.

But when I hit 50,000 words, I had a real story.  In later drafts I’ve edited out the recipes and the venting, but that stuff got me where I needed to go.

In the three years that followed I have been amazed where my characters have taken me.  Not one of them wants to pretend to be me anymore.  They have their own stories that they want me to write.  Letting go of perfectionism and fear of failure has allowed me to hear my characters more clearly.  They tell me where they want to go.

This year Nanowrimo didn’t go as I expected.  I was working with brand new characters and I didn’t know them very well.  In my first novels, the main character was based somewhat (somewhat!) on my own experiences.  Hey, I’ll admit that.  In later books I’ve taken minor (and completely fictitious) characters and made them major characters.  That’s been fun.  This year I wanted the challenge of brand new characters.    Let me say this as delicately as possible:  I don’t know who these characters think they are, but they haven’t been as cooperative as I would have liked, okay?

Then I got sick.  It was just a cold, but it was pretty bad.  And then, one of my very best friends had a heart attack and died very suddenly.  It’s been a rough month!

After Craig died, I didn’t feel much like writing, but my main character, Cecelia, was in big trouble and I couldn’t abandon her.  So I soldiered on.  The fact is the story didn’t have enough juice to make it to 50,000 words.  I finished up at forty-two thousand and something words.  If I’d had the energy, I would have gone back and fleshed it out, at least another eight thousand words worth.  But Cecelia and I considered ourselves blessed to have made it that far.  She and I have a lot of work still to do, but we’re taking a break right now.  And hey—she really surprised me at the end.  She opened the door to a sequel.  I was not expecting that.

Anyway, that’s my rambling way of saying I LOVE NANOWRIMO!!  It’s been an amazing and crazy process for me.  I feel blessed that someone else came up with this idea and that people like me have been benefitting from it.

If you’re interested in writing a novel, here’s the link to nanowrimo.  Check it out!