Monthly Archives: June 2012

And The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to check out the spotlight on Amy McAuley and her newest release, Violins of Autumn! I’m thrilled that Amy has generously offered a signed copy of her book and a fun bookmark to the winner of the drawing I held here last week. Ready to find out who won?

I thought it would be appropriate to use my Paris plate to hold the names of the entrants:

And of course, Trixie, my 11-year-old rat terrier who recently went deaf, but is still very much like a puppy, was ready and willing to help out.

I wrote the names of each valid entrant on a piece of paper, crumpled them up (because Trixie loves crumpled paper), and put them on the plate.

I gave Trixie the signal (now-a-days it’s all random hand-waving to try to communicate with her – although she’s picked up the ASL signs for “come” and “cookie”) and she jumped into action.

This time it took her a few sniffs to decide which paper to pull, but she finally picked on off the plate.

And the lucky winner of a signed copy of Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley is……..

Tori Tyrrell! Congratulations! Please contact me at the email address given in my contact info (above tab) and let me know your mailing address so Amy can send you your prize ASAP!

Thanks to everyone for coming by! Stayed tuned for more free books and great interviews and book buzz! Happy summer and happy reading!

Welcome To The Spotlight – Amy McAuley


I’m so excited to welcome Amy McAuley to the spotlight today! I first met Amy on LiveJournal in the children’s writing blogging community many years ago, and became a fan of hers after reading her debut novel, Over and Over You (Roaring Brook Press/2005). It’s been a long wait for her second novel, but let me tell you, very much worth it! Stay tuned below to win a signed copy and very cool bookmark of Amy’s newest book – released in the U.S. today!

Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley (Walker/June 19, 2012)

At age 17, Betty lies about her age to become Adele Blanchard, agent for the Special Operations Executive during WWII. She and Denise, another agent, drop into Occupied France to join other agents to sabotage Hitler’s troops while awaiting the arrival of Allied forces. From the moment Adele hits the ground, nothing goes as smoothly as planned, and yet, she bravely soldiers on, keeping her head and focusing on her task. She and Denise manage to rescue a downed Allied pilot, and while romance is the last thing Adele expected, she and Robbie form a special bond. Adele’s missions to carry top secret messages in Paris put her at risk at every turn, and Denise’s job as a radio operator is all-important in communicating with Britain. Will Adele be successful in her missions?

From start to finish, this book is a page-turner. There’s not one dull moment! McAuley brilliantly weaves in historical facts, never making the story feel like a history lesson. I was rooting for Adele the entire time. I could have never been so brave. This is a piece of history I was completely unaware of, sadly, and I am happy to now know about the brave men and women of the SOE!

Spotlight on Amy McAuley:

What was the initial spark for Violins Of Autumn, and what was the journey to publication like?

The initial spark for Violins came to me from my husband. He’s a war buff, so we have many military books around the house. He came across a short but fascinating article about Sonya Butt. In 1943, at the age of nineteen, she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE)—a top-secret organization I’d never heard of before. Within months of joining SOE, this young woman had trained as a spy, learned armed and unarmed combat, and parachuted into German-occupied France under the cover of night. My husband showed me the article and said, “This has to be the idea for your next book!” It didn’t take much convincing for me to realize I *had* to write a book about these young, daring women. When you consider the time period, it’s all the more incredible that they went through the exact same grueling physical training, psychological testing, and practice interrogations as the male recruits. The women of the SOE volunteered to drop behind enemy lines to aid the French Resistance, courier and transmit highly confidential military information to the Allies, sabotage rail-lines and communications, and spy on German activities—all while pretending to be ordinary French women! It’s astounding to me that they chose such a dangerous path.

The book’s journey to publication was long and bumpy, but in hindsight I wouldn’t change a thing. In 2004, the book sold to the publisher of my first book, Over and Over You. But after my editor left her position, that publisher dropped Violins of Autumn. Even though my book was orphaned, I had a strong gut feeling that things would work out even better in the end. For a few years after the rights reverted back to me, my agent submitted the book without much success. Editors really liked it but didn’t love it. When the manuscript landed at Walker, Stacy Cantor Abrams saw something in it, so she passed it on to another editor, Mary Kate Castellani. And finally, the manuscript was matched up with its perfect editor. Mary Kate not only pinpointed all the areas that needed major overhauls, she had amazing fixes to the problems. It was such a huge relief, after all that time, to have a fabulous editor there to guide me and the book.

Such intrigue! The courage of these agents amazes me – and Adele is a true heroine! I imagine you had to do a lot of research for this book. How did you know when to stop researching and when to start writing? How did Adele emerge to be the person (because she feels so very real) she came to be in the book?

Yes, every female SOE agent I researched showed formidable courage. Their true life stories are remarkable, to say the least. So, I bristle when a review of Violins calls out the believability of the story or questions the credibility of Adele’s strength and courage in the face of interrogation. It’s an insult to the real young women Adele is based on. Women like Odette Sanson, who was arrested after being betrayed by a double agent. During her years in French prison and a German concentration camp, she was beaten, burned, had her nails pulled out, and she endured long stretches of solitary confinement in complete darkness. Despite that, she never once cracked or gave up her fellow agents. When the concentration camp was about to be liberated, a German commandant tried to use her as a bargaining chip. However, she forced him to hand over his weapon to her and surrender to the Allies!

As for research, I’m glad I didn’t fully comprehend how much research it would take to write this book. If I’d known, I might not have written it at all! From the beginning to the final copyediting stages, I never stopped researching. I started out with very broad research—learning about the SOE, and events of WWII, and daily life in France and Britain. And then throughout the years of revision I was able to zero in on more specific details to research. Research always seems to lead to more research!

Before the manuscript reached my editor, Adele’s character was one of the biggest problems in need of a fix. She was coming off as too mature and her “voice” was too adult. I worked on Adele’s character quite a bit over the years. Of course she needed to be daring from the get-go, or else she wouldn’t have joined the SOE in the first place, but she also needed to be more vulnerable and unsure of herself and her situation. At the end of the book, Adele is essentially the same girl she was when she parachuted into France, but at the same time she’s changed and grown so much.

Have you been to Paris? If so, what is your favorite memory? If you haven’t, what is the number one thing you’d love to do there and why?

No, I’ve never been to Paris. Some day! It’s really hard to choose one thing I’d love to do there. I think what I’d probably want to do most, in spite of my fear of heights, is look at the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’m fascinated by aerial views of world cities. I’d also love to visit the Louvre. And I’d like to walk the city, like Adele does in Violins. It’d be fun to spend the afternoon walking, people-watching, and snapping photos.

For more about Amy, check out her web site!

Win a copy of Amy’s book! To enter a drawing to win a signed copy of Violins of Autumn and a cool bookmark, follow the instructions below! If you’re reading via a feed, please click here to comment.

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, answer question number 3 above. Please include an email address so I can contact you if you win! I went to Paris for the first time last year, and while I have many fabulous memories, one of my favorites is sitting at a sidewalk cafe with my husband, sipping wine, and people-watching!

2. Leave your comment by midnight EST Friday, June 22nd. Winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, June 26th.

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

My Summer Reading List


Summer is officially here! Even though I read throughout the year, summer brings to mind long leisurely days of reading. Ah, if only this were true. I would love a full 8 weeks of reading, of losing myself in story! Here are some of the books I hope to read this summer:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (adult fiction) – I’ve long wanted to read one of Ann Patchett’s novels. A good friend with whom I share reading tastes raves about this one.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (adult mystery) – I became a fan of the Flavia de Luce series after I read the first in the series and then remained a fan with the second. I’ve fallen behind and can’t wait to catch up. I mean, who can’t love an 11-year-old girl who is fascinated by chemistry and is able to solve mysteries the local small town police can’t? And it’s set in England, so a plus for me!

The Princess of Iowa by M. Molly Backes (YA fiction) – This cover and title caught my eye while browsing at a bookstore, recently. It’s about a teen girl who loses her friends and identity after a tragedy, and finds solace in a creative writing class. The reviews (which I didn’t read in full because I hate spoilers and I like to make my own decision without being influenced by complete strangers) state that this is a debut novel. Intriguing! So happy to see more contemporary YA!

Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham (YA fiction)- Another book that caught my eye while browsing at the bookstore. What is says on the cover: 1 Concert, 2000 Miles, 3 Ex-Best Friends. That hooked me enough to put this book on my list. I have a growing fondness for road trip books (see In Honor by Jessi Kirby and Amy & Rogers Epic Detour by Morgan Matson).

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (YA fiction)- Saw this book on The Reading Date, one of my new fave blogs to get reading recommendations. Lucy says the book is about first love and family. My favorite kind of story!

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (YA fiction) – Another recommendation from Lucy over at The Reading Date – road trip, girl band, male POV.

I’ll continue adding books to this list and no doubt I won’t get through all of them this summer, but I will definitely attempt it! What books are on YOUR summer reading list? I want to know! Happy reading!

Look For A Sign! Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout


Today, I’d like to shine the spotlight on author/illustrator Maria van Lieshout‘s new release Backseat A-B-See!

Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout (Chronicle Books/2012)

This visually bold picture book full of street signs will appeal to young children and will make time on the road more fun as they recognize signs from the book. Arranged in A-B-C order, this book will entertain and educate. I was already a fan of van Lieshout – love her Bloom “series” (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan) – hey, I have a thing for cute piggies. With this new book, I’m ever more solidly a fan!

What was the initial spark for Backseat A-B-See?

My son! My little guy Max was less than a year old when he started pointing to traffic signs. I realized he responded to the bold shapes, bright colors and high contrast graphics, which is what babies are attracted to. I have always loved traffic signs for their beautiful design. Signage surrounds us, so we don’t give it much thought, but those simple, bold icons tell us where to go, help us arrive on time, keep us safe and mostly out of trouble, looking fabulous all the while.

Many signs were designed by a team of AIGA graphic designers headed up by the famous Seymour Chwast and received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in the 1980’s.

When I realized Max was as smitten with signage as I was, I set out to make this book.

This book looks different from your previous books (a couple of my favorites are Bloom and Hopper and Wilson). Were there any special challenges to doing this book compared to your previous? Were there particular challenges to coming up with signs to match the alphabet?

The book looks indeed different, since I wanted to convey why signage is so effective: it is bold, bright, simple and clear. My conventional watercolor style wouldn’t have done the signs justice, so I used Adobe Illustrator instead to achieve the bold contrasts, bright colors and simple shapes.

Using a different medium took getting used to, but I studied graphic design in college and have worked as an Art Director for The Coca-Cola Company, so this was somewhat familiar territory for me.

Coming up with one sign for each letter was fun; like a puzzle. Some letters were easy (Yield for Y), some letters proved me with a tough choice: for S, did I want to showcase the iconic STOP sign, or opt for the sign for SCHOOL instead? Some letters were tough (Q and Z), but in the end, I found a sign for each letter.

I am not a artist, although I certainly appreciate art – can you give me a description of how you as an artist and writer create a book?

I am a visual person, so I usually start from a visual place-I imagine what the book will look like. What will the art look like? The design? What will the overall feeling of the book be? Will it include characters? What will they look like? Only after all that is fairly apparent, do I start to think about the words.

I have writer friends who also illustrate, but they start from a different place. They work on the story first, and when they are completely happy with the words, they start thinking about the art. So everyone has a different process, which is why every book has such a distinct look and feel. I love that everyone approaches book making differently.

I love the signs! My favorite is L for Library! Do you have a a favorite?

Thanks! 🙂

Library is a popular sign, especially with librarians, which is why I wish I could’ve included the sign for School, to honor the teachers. But I felt that a book that celebrates road signs needed to include the STOP sign, which may be the most iconic sign out there.

It is not my favorite one, though I love it.

My favorite is the US Route sign. Not only is it beautiful in its simplicity, but it conveys Americana to me-like a road trip along Route 66. It symbolizes freedom. It captures what I love about America-the high skies, the long roads and the endless land where anything is possible.

Check out Maria van Lieshout’s web site for more about her and her books! I think you’ll love her books and her style as much as I do!