Summer is supposed to be a carefree time for kids as they take a holiday from their schooling. But some children in recent debut novels find that their troubles don’t take a holiday.

In school or out, Dixie Dupree can’t seem to get a break. In The Education of Dixie Dupree (Kensington, Oct. 2016) by Donna Everhart, Dixie has a reputation as a liar, her mother nearly chokes her to death, and her father has some unknown terrible thing happen to him. But the worst things occur after Uncle Ray comes to stay with them and Dixie has to try to sort everything out on her own.

Like Dixie, Elvis Babbitt in Rabbit Cake (Tin House Books, March 2017) by Annie Hartnett, is precocious, but does not get respect at school. Her mother dies while sleep swimming and Elvis is not convinced it is an accident. She sets out to learn what really happened and encounters many oddities along the way. She also has to try to keep her older sister from harming herself and others as she sleep walks, sleep cooks, and sleep eats herself into hazards places.

The Impossible Fortress (Simon & Schuster, February 2017), by Jason Rekulak, is the name of a video game Billy hopes to turn into a winning entry in a contest sponsored by a popular company. Billy teams up with Mary, a Commodore 64 programming whiz (this is in 1987), but his friends Alf and Clark are only interested in a scheme to steal a copy of Vanna White’s Playboy issue from Mary’s father’s store. The scheme snowballs and unravels as Billy is swept along trying to keep the incompatible goals on track.

Randa Jarrar will be featured at the Respite by the River on August 10. The program begins at 6 p.m. with music by Ryan Gregory Tallman, followed by Jarrar’s presentation at 7 p.m. Jarrar was born in Chicago to Egyptian/Greek/Palestinian parents but grew up in Kuwait and Egypt. After the Gulf War, the family returned to the U.S. She teaches creative writing at Fresno State and her books are A Map of Home (winner of a Hopwood Award) and Him, Me, Muhammad Ali. She has also published in The New York Times Magazine, The Utne Reader, and many others. Details at:

Marina Zenovich, who grew up in Fresno and is the daughter of the late State Senator George Zenovich, is an Emmy-winning director of documentary films. Her latest powerful program concerns the Central Valley and its water. Water and Power: A California Heist aired on the National Geographic Channel. The program describes how a few wealthy landowners gained control of large quantities of the state’s valuable water. One of Zenovich’s contacts was Mark Arax, a fellow valley native and writer of water issues.

The 2017 Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference will be held in Corte Madera (just north of San Francisco) on Sept. 7-10. The conference plans to cover everything mystery writers need to know, from developing ideas to publishing. Cara Black, Hallie Ephron, and Otto Penzler are just three of the 21 faculty members announced so far. Editors, agents, publishers, authors, detectives, forensic experts, and police share their expertise. Basic price is $550. Each consultation adds $95. Details at:

The Hampton Roads Writers 9th Annual Conference will be held Sept. 14-16 in Virginia Beach, VA. An optional Writers Bootcamp is offered on Thursday afternoon for an additional fee. A total of 60 workshops are planned. Other opportunities include two first ten-line critique sessions, ten-minute agent and/or publisher pitches, cash prize writing contests, and a two-hour open mic. Featured speakers will be John DeDakis and Austin Camacho. Fee is $265 for non-members. Details at:

The deadline for the Miami University Novella Prize is Oct. 15. The judge will be TaraShea Nesbit. Length must be between 18,000 and 40,000 words. Winner receives $750, a standard contract, publication, and 50 copies of the book. Previously published works are not eligible. Reading fee is $25. Details at:

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” – Harper Lee (1926-2016) n