Author Archives: Debbi Michiko Florence

About Debbi Michiko Florence

Author of children's books. Coming in May 2017, JASMINE TOGUCHI, chapter book series (FSG).

And The Winner Is…

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Thank you to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on Tamara Ellis Smith and her fabulous MG debut

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Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith

(Random House/2015)

If you missed it, you can read the interview: here.

And now, for the winner of a copy of this awesome novel…drumroll please….

using a random number generator, the winning commenter is number 5! Suzanne Morrone, come on down! Please email me with your mailing address so I may pass it along to the publisher for your very own copy of Another Kind of Hurricane! YAY!

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and stay tuned more more book buzz, interviews, and give-aways!

Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Tamara Ellis Smith and Another Kind of Hurricane!

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I am honored to shine the spotlight on debut MG author Tamara Ellis Smith! Stayed tuned below to find out how you can enter to win a copy of this touching story about renewal and hope in the aftermath of disaster.

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Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith

(Random House/2015)

The lives of two ten-year-old boys, one in Louisiana and one in Vermont, are swept up and thrown together in a tale of dealing with and healing from loss. Zavion and his father lose everything in Hurricane Katrina, including their home and Zavion’s cherished mural of his late mother. Henry loses his best friend after an overnight trek onto their favorite mountain. Both boys don’t know how to cope with their tragic losses, but because of a pair of pants and a “magic” marble, Henry and Zavion’s paths cross and together they learn how to navigate the path from pain to healing. A touching and heart-warming story about loss and friendship, and rebuilding.

Spotlight on Tamara:

Please share with us your journey to publication.

Oh my goodness. Well, Another Kind of Hurricane took me down a long path…many long paths, perhaps.

I got the idea for the story when my son—who was four at the time—asked me who would get his pair of pants. This was August 2005, and we were driving a few bags of clothing and food to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort. Of course I didn’t know, but the question stayed with me. I began to imagine who would get his pants—and then I began to actually IMAGINE who would get his pants. And I was off and running…

I had just begun my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had arrived at VCFA knowing I was a picture book writer (note the assuredness of that verb: knowing!), and so that semester I wrote a picture book about a boy in Vermont who gave a pair of pants with a lucky marble in the pocket to a boy in New Orleans.

It was terrible. The picture book, not the idea. My advisor thought the idea would make a great novel—but I wasn’t a novelist, so that was the end of that story.

Except it wasn’t the end of that story—because I couldn’t get these two boys out of my head.

It took me a long time, but I wrote a novel. This novel. Ten years, 3 major rewrites, and about 25 drafts later, Another Kind of Hurricane has finally been born.

Ten years. There were days (and sometimes weeks and months) when it felt like I would never finish (a sentence, let alone the whole novel!), but then there were moments when I would have epiphanies or bursts of writing energy. The last 3 months of writing Another Kind of Hurricane had both of these: I had finished what I thought was my last draft and sent it off to my agent. I waited, thrilled that I was finished. But I wasn’t. She came back to me with one last BIG revision request. I crumpled to the ground. I didn’t think I could do it. But after a day or two I stood up again. I got advice (and a good dose of faith) from a friend and fellow writer (thank you Jo Knowles!) and then told the story of Another Kind of Hurricane to another friend of mine. This second friend shined a flashlight on one corner of the story – a place that was already there but that I hadn’t focused on – and in a flash I knew what I had to revise. It was the most incredible feeling. I madly took notes, feverishly wrote, and sent the draft to my agent. Done!

(I crumpled to the ground again, but in a good way. I could finally let go…)

Of course I’m not alone in the length of this trek – the duration of time from a story’s idea to its finished book form is often a marathon of sorts. None of us are alone in this journey. But sometimes it feels like we are, you know? Because the process of writing a book is so very intimate and private. We are not alone though. I think this is probably the single thing that kept me going for all of those years – intertwined with my constant deep desire to tell this particular story. We all need to remember this. We are not alone.

Both Henry and Zavion are struggling with loss. Henry for his best friend, and Zavion, his home. How did these boys and their stories come to you?

Truthfully, Henry and Zavion’s stories came to me, not through their shared loss, but through the possibility of their healing by meeting one another. I am exceedingly curious about the ways we are all connected, even when we don’t think we are (or even when we don’t know one another!) And I deeply believe in the power of connection; in the alchemy that happens when people choose to enter a shared space, or, better yet, create a shared space. This feels, for me, like the height of hope.

So after my son asked who would get his pants, and I began imagining these two vastly different boys meeting and becoming friends, I focused a lot on the magic of their connection. But then, of course, I had to make sure I had the arcs of their own emotional journeys clear and true. Zavion’s was easy in terms of the what – he had survived Katrina and so his loss centers on that. (But there is a secret loss in the story too!) I talked with many people about Katrina, and I also read articles and stories and watched documentaries about the flood. I incorporated many of these amazing people into the novel.

For example, Mark Waller, a writer for the Times-Picyune, wrote an incredible story about Caleb and Thelma Emery, who, with their kids, took as many as 25 people at a time – mostly family but some not – into their three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Baton Rouge just after Katrina hit. These were the people that Skeet and his home are modeled after in Another Kind of Hurricane.

And a few of the folks from Chris Rose’s One Dead in Attic were inspirations for characters in the novel too. A relatively minor character in the book is a tribute to Chris Cressionnie, a painter who, after Katrina struck, would drop his son off at school and drive his 1994 Chevy blazer up and down the streets, looking for magnets on abandoned refrigerators, which he would then put on his car.

Henry’s loss took me a slightly longer time to find. I’ve had a few experiences with losing friends, and so I knew that would be Henry’s loss, too, but I had to pinpoint the specific circumstances around it. Landscape and nature are important characters in the novel – and they are important to me in general – so when I decided to incorporate Mount Mansfield into Henry’s loss (a mountain I know well), it all made sense.

I studied the arc of loss and grief. I studied what people do with it as they are traveling through those stages of emotion. I sat with my own experiences with both too. And then I tried to write my way through it all.

Henry has a treasured object that he shared with his best friend – a marble. He believed that marble held luck. Do you have something you carry/keep with you for good luck? If so, what?

Oh Debbi – you’ll laugh at me. I have so many of these objects. They’re mostly in the form of jewelry, for whatever reason. I’ll tell you about one of them: I was terrified to go off to grad school. I knew it was one of the most important decisions I had ever made, and I was so full of hope about it, but also fear. What if I couldn’t do this thing (write for kids) that I wanted to do so badly? What if I felt out of place? What if, what if, what if…

The day before I set out for my first residency, my friend, Maryanne MacKenzie, took a ring off of her finger and gave it to me. She said I could borrow it for the two weeks I would be at school. She said every time I felt nervous I should look at it and remember that she believed in me. I did exactly what she told me to do – and it was like magic! It worked. It calmed and centered me. After the residency was over, I gave the ring back. Then 6 months later, when it was time to go for my second residency, she gave it to me again. We did this for the 2 years I was in school.

After I graduated, I gave the ring back to her for good. But at my graduation party she handed me a present – a little box. Guess what was in it?

Yes. The ring.

I wear it every day.

Objects hold stories, you know? They are the tangible evidence of the power of those stories and, even more, the power of the connections between the people who share those stories. We all could use a magic marble, I think!

I couldn’t agree with you more! For the record, I would never laugh at you, Tam! ;) (I’m a collector of special objects, myself!)

For more about Tamara and her books, check out her web site, friend her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Random House has generously offered to send a winner a copy of Another Kind of Hurricane. For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below!

1. Comment on this post. And for fun, tell me about a cherished object and its significance. I have many, but one I carry with me everywhere is something my then 12-year-old daughter made for me during her sewing phase. She made me a teeny tiny “pillow” with the word MUSE sewed on it. It keeps me writing even on the hardest of days.

2. Comment by Saturday August 22nd by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, August 25th.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thank you and good luck!

From Tamara Ellis Smith:

HELPING NEW ORLEANS

lowernine.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the long-term recovery of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the levee breaches of 2005. lowernine.org is working to bring home more Lower Ninth Ward families than any other single organization.

A portion of the profits from the sale of Another Kind of Hurricane goes directly to lowernine.org.

Big Class is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating and supporting the voices of New Orleans’ writers ages 6-18 through creative collaborations with schools and communities. Big Class offers a variety of free, innovative programs that provide under-resourced students with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.

Readers all over the country are donating copies of Another Kind of Hurricane—as well as other vital books—to Big Class, getting meaningful stories directly into the hands of the community they represent.

Information about both of these organizations—and how you can help—can be found at www.tamaraellissmith.com

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Justina Chen

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Welcome to Throwback Thursday Interviews. These are interviews I conducted with favorite authors over the years, when I used to post them on my web site. I’ll be resurrecting the interviews here in hopes of introducing you to new authors. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite author!

First up is Justina Chen. Her newest release is

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A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen (Little Brown/2014)

“Chen created the kind of vivid characters and strong emotion that featured so prominently in North of Beautiful, along with unexpected moments of action and danger, and descriptions that make the Andean setting come to life.”—Publishers Weekly

Here is my 2009 interview with Justina Chen featuring her YA novel North of Beautiful.

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In your YA novel, North of Beautiful, Terra’s story is about her journey of self-discovery – in learning to accept herself and others, rather than trying to escape what makes her uncomfortable. I think that many of us have a natural tendency to do this – to avoid things that are out of our comfort zone. How did you get into Terra’s head? What things make you uncomfortable and how do you overcome your fears?

It was easy to get into Terra’s head because in many ways, it’s my head! So many things make me uncomfortable—finances and balancing my checkbook, for one. I love to travel, but the logistics of getting from place to place sometimes scare me. Living in China without any hard cash scared me. So did not speaking the language and knowing people were making fun of me. BUT. Like Jacob’s mother in North of Beautiful says, I don’t want fear to stop me from having an experience I want to have. So I’ve learned to throw myself into whatever it is that I want to try. And then remember, bumps are part of the journey. That’s how we learn. And we need to be scared at least a little bit to keep us growing. And humble.

How did this story come to you? And what challenges did you face in writing this rich and layered story?

Like so many of my stories, the inspiration for this story came through a chance conversation. I had just finished speaking at a middle school and I recognized one of the boys there. He was Mr. Cool on campus: athletic, good-looking, witty. And he has a portwine stain on his face. A couple of days later, I bumped into his mom and I was telling her what a great job she had done parenting him because he didn’t let his birthmark get in his way. She looked at me and said, “That’s because he’s a boy.” That got me thinking: what would it be like for a girl to be under constant scrutiny? What if she had a father who put a premium on physical perfection and her birthmark was a personal affront to him? With Terra, I was able to tackle the whole notion of beauty, a topic that’s been at the forefront of my mind as a mother, woman, and writer! When did size 00 become the figure we are all supposed to attain?

Fitting in everything I wanted to say—exploring the notion of True Beauty fully—within the confines of a novel was challenging to say the least.

Terra struggles between feeling abandoned by her brothers and feeling loyal to her mother, all while resenting her father. How hard was it for you to dig into all these characters and get to know them? What do you do as a writer to get to know your characters?

Writing any scene with Terra’s father was really difficult for me emotionally. I’ve been around too many controlling men. One of my teen readers was the impetus for tackling a story with an emotionally abusive relationship. She approached me after one of my readings and commiserated about how she, too, had been afraid of going after her dreams. Her father belittled her ambitions. I knew I had to write this story for girls who have been knocked down by Those Who Think They Know Better (but don’t).

I love Jacob – the Goth Chinese boy who unnerves Terra with his straight-forward honesty. He might be my favorite in this book. Was he based on anyone you know?

My editor’s first words to me when she finished NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL: I am in love with Jacob.

Jacob is based on two dear friends of mine. One is my best friend from college who was always there for me—as steady as a friend could be. And the other a man I met years ago when I was working on another novel. Totally irreverent and adventurous. And then, of course, there was a whole bunch of fantasizing (I mean, harnessing of my imagination) to create the gestalt of Jacob, black fingernails and all.

—-

Note: If you love great characters, emotional depth, and romance, I highly recommend North of Beautiful. It was one of my favorite reads that year. I’m definitely going to check out her newest novel!

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To learn more about Justina, her books, and her causes, check out her web site.

 

It’s a Seashell Day by Dianne Ochiltree

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Looking for a perfect summer read picture book? Look no more!

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It’s A Seashell Day by Dianne Ochiltree is a story about a child and mom spending a day at the beach, searching for shells and other treasures. The bright collage-like illustrations by Elliot Kreloff are a joyful companion to the rhyme that rises and crests like waves on the shore. A perfect beach read for parent and child.

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Dianne Ochiltree is also the author of the picture book It’s A Firefly Night. Read both together! Read my spotlight interview with her for It’s A Firefly Night.

For more about Dianne and her books, check out her web site.

Happy summer!

Welcome to the Spotlight Jody Feldman and The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe

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I am very happy to shine the spotlight on Jody Feldman and book 3 of The Gollywhopper Games. If you or a reader you know are a fan of puzzles, this is the book to read! Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy!

9780062211286_p0_v1_s260x420The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe by Jody Feldman

(Greenwillow Books/2015)

In book 3 of The Gollywhopper Games series, contestants are chosen for the third Games. All Zane wants is to play for his middle school football team, but a concussion has benched him at least for the season if not indefinitely. When he is chosen as a contestant for the third Gollywhopper Games, he’s intrigued but not as enthusiastic as other contestants might be. But his sharp mind and ability to figure out strategy makes him a strong contender in the games- run by the Golly Games Company, full of puzzles and games and one winner who walks away with a million dollar prize. Zane finds new enthusiasm for the game, his competitive streak comes out, and yet, at the same time forms an unlikely alliance and friendship with competitor Elijah, a brainy boy. In this book full of fun puzzles to solve, readers will cheer for Zane (and maybe Elijah, too) as the games get under way.

Spotlight on Jody:

This is book 3 of the Gollywhopper Games. What fun! Did you envision more than one book when you wrote the first one? How did book 3 come about and what were the particular challenges to writing a “follow up” story?

A person can dream, right? When you get an idea and put those first words on paper, you’re—or at least I am—a combination of starry-eyed dreamer and pessimistic realist. From the beginning, I thought I had a great premise for The Gollywhopper Games, and hey!, how awesome if this one book led to more! But I’d never written anything that long before. And how do you write something sort of complicated? And if I actually get through this first draft, wouldn’t that be an accomplishment in itself? But here I am, putting so much time into this, and what if it stinks? And while I was questioning and doubting, the energy that spurred me to write and rewrite and rewrite ad nauseam partially came from the daydreams that A). The book would get published; B). People would discover it, and; C). Readers would clamor for more. I consider myself so fortunate that  A, B, and C came true. This little stand-alone demanded more adventures.

And then.
And then when I got the green light to write books 2 and 3, well, have you ever truly seen a deer in headlights? I didn’t look in the mirror, and maybe I didn’t show it, but inside, oh no!, how can I escape? What did I get myself into? And wait! Look what I got myself into! Then came bouts of internal fist pumping, high leaping, happy dancing (and, yes, some external bouts of the above, except maybe the high leaping which I’m pretty much physically incapable of doing).

When I finally realized that, unlike most follow-up books, I couldn’t have the same cast of characters—that the Gollywhopper Games, themselves, were the focal point here—things began to fall into place. I knew these next two books would be more like seasons 2 & 3 of a reality TV show. And yet, I didn’t want each to exist on an island; I wanted something that would tie the stories together. The problem? I hadn’t planted those seemingly random bits that series authors often include and build on in subsequent books. I needed to play on something that didn’t exist before the first Gollywhopper Games (the fictional games themselves). That turned out to be extreme buzz and skyrocketing profits for the sponsor company. So I used the fact that great success often breeds great jealousy to connect the follow-up books to the first.

Zane, the main character, totally loves football. It’s because he’s out of commission that he’s drawn to the games once he knows he’ll be a contestant. How did Zane come about?

Before I answer, I especially need to address those of you non-football people. READ ON! Here’s what I tell kids all the time. Zane may love football and his whole world may center around the sport, but I’m actually writing about passion. What’s yours? Cooking? Dance? Sewing? Pets? Music? Art? I thought it would be fascinating to see how things would play out if I had a character with a real passion, and one not tied to the Games.

I happen to love football and have loved it since I was three years old and became mesmerized by the oil derricks on the Houston Oilers helmets. (I’ll spare you the full story for now.) The skills required of a smart, able football player partially match the skill set necessary for success in the Gollywhopper Games. And so, Zane was born.

Readers who love puzzles will absolutely adore this book, although one doesn’t have to solve or even love puzzles to get sucked into this story. There’s a mystery involving possible sabotage, and friendships and competitors form as the games commence. (Come to think of it, in this day and age of reality TV and competition shows, this would make such a cool movie!) Tell us a little about coming up with the puzzles for this book. Was it challenging? Did you enjoy it? What kind of puzzles do you like?

I’m not sure what I started loving first: football or a good mental challenge. I’d always been fascinated with riddles. And I was one of those weird kids who secretly looked forward to workbook pages. No, I did not appreciate the drudgery of regurgitating answers. I was always hopeful the particular assignment that day might include the occasional pages of puzzle-style learning.

Thanks to my love for all means of brainteasers, word puzzles, and yes, occasional math challenges, it was like I’ve been training all my life to write puzzles. Sometimes, puzzles just come to me like a bolt from the blue. Other times, I need to work at creating them. Every time, however, I take care to craft puzzles with my characters in mind. Because these characters are skilled enough to advance far in the Games, it follows that they need the intelligence, resources, cleverness, and/or background to solve many of the challenges they face. And so, the puzzles I choose and the characters I develop have a sort of interdependent relationship.

As for a Gollywhopper Games movie? Let’s figure out how to turn that daydream into reality. Thanks, Debbi!

Jody Feldman, the award-winning author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level (both from HarperCollins/Greenwillow), never knew she always wanted to be a writer when she grew up. If you’d cornered her as a kid, she’d have mentioned doctor or teacher, but that was just an answer. Her passions ran more toward treasure hunter, codebreaker, movie director, or inventor, but her practical side couldn’t imagine how to get there.

Her path to writing meandered through the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a short career in advertising. She wrote a lot about shoes. And then a lot more.

A lifelong resident of St. Louis, Jody likes to travel, cook, watch football, and solve crossword-type puzzles. And she loves knowing she can explore any dream, career or adventure with the characters in her books.

For more about Jody and her books, check out her web site, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter!

For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below! Good luck!

1. Comment on this post. And for fun tell me what your favorite kind of puzzle is. I’m not much of a puzzle person (I’m impatient and get easily frustrated) – but I do like those puzzle video games like Tetris.

2. Comment by Saturday June 27th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, June 30th.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thank you and good luck!

 

 

Jerry Spinelli -Reboot

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I just learned that Little, Brown plans to release a special edition of Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, in honor of its 25th anniversary. Has it really been 25 years? Wow!b22FM1jniFuAtyu8gCpAO3jj6GbDrotaGnBtiXjuVM4

I cannot wait to get my hands on this special edition with an introduction by author Katherine Applegate. I have long loved this book, and its author.

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Jerry Spinelli and me, New York SCBWI conference, winter 2005

In honor of Maniac Magee’s 25th anniversary, I’m reposting a fun interview that I conducted back in 2010. Enjoy!

What was your first published title and what was it about?

SPACE STATION SEVENTH GRADE. Fractured life of a thirteen-year-old boy.

How long did your journey take to publication and what were some significant events along the way?

SPACE STATION was the fifth book I wrote. The first four nobody wanted. Somewhere along the line I stopped being so precious about every word and began writing faster. The faster I wrote the better I got. Those four failures were my training ground.

Were there bleak days when you felt that you’d never get published?  How did you deal with that?

A quarter of a century passed from the time I decided to be a writer till my first novel was published. How did I deal with it? I noticed that the morning after each devastating rejection–I could have papered my apartment with the slips–a funny thing happened: the sun came up. The world took no notice. Why should I? I kept writing.

Who/what were your sources of inspiration along the way?  How did it/ he/she/they help you the most?

Eileen was my biggest booster. vid. STARGIRL

What was the best thing about getting your first book published?

Having readers.

What was the hardest thing?

Stop celebrating.

How have you changed from your first published book to now? (note: “now” was in 2010)

If I’ve changed it’s probably evident only to others. I’m still the same to me.

Bit of wisdom to share: (a recommended book on craft, a favorite book, advice, warning)

Book: WALKING ON ALLIGATORS by Susan Shaughnessy

Advice: Write what you care about.

(Interview conducted on 3/3/10)

 

 

And The Winner Is…

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Thanks to everyone for stopping by to welcome debut author Sarah McGuire to the spotlight.

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It’s too late to enter to win a copy of this clever re-telling of The Brave Little Tailor, but you can definitely check out her interview and buy your own copy. It’s worth it!

Using a random number generator, the winner of a copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire is:

Carl Scott! You’re on a roll! Let me know if your mailing address remains the same and I’ll get your prize to you ASAP!

Stay tuned for another interview and give-away in the very near future!

Happy reading!