Author Archives: Debbi Michiko Florence

About Debbi Michiko Florence

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

Welcome to the Spotlight Jeannine Atkins and Little Woman in Blue

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I’m super excited to shine the spotlight on talented friend and author Jeannine Atkins. I’ve long been a fan of her work. When she read me the opening to a new work-in-progress, a few years ago, it stayed with me – I wanted to read the rest! I’m so happy that I was recently able to do that, and now you can read it, too! Her newest novel is for adults, but could definitely be enjoyed by young adults, as well. Stayed tuned below for a chance to win:

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Little Woman in Blue by Jeannine Atkins (She Writes Press/2015)

A touching, heartwarming, and amazing story about the other Alcott sister – May Alcott, portrayed as the selfish Amy in Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel LITTLE WOMEN. What Atkins paints here is a vivid and layered portrait of younger sister May, who was an artist, a dreamer, independent, and loyal. From her days living with her family, to her adventures abroad, to her struggles to become a respected artist in her own right, May’s life unfurls on the pages of this novel. While I was a fan of LITTLE WOMEN as a young girl, I admit to not knowing much about the author or her family. I couldn’t stop turning pages as I wondered if May would find success as an artist, find love, or see her family again. Although this is a work of fiction, the author has undoubtedly done a great deal of research to make the May’s life story feel so real and true.

Spotlight on Jeannine Atkins:

Why May Alcott? And can you tell us a little about the research you did? How long did it take you to write this story from idea to finished draft?

When writing about women from the past, one fascinating person often leads to another. Working on Becoming Little Women: Louisa May at Fruitlands, a novel about the Alcott’s time at a utopian community, I read a lot about the whole family. I was fascinated to learn that the youngest sister who was depicted in Little Women as a spoiled, not-very-talented artist in fact took painting very seriously, and didn’t give up her work for romance. She wanted both.

I read May Alcott’s journals and letters, as well as those of her family and neighbors. I looked at her paintings and studied other artists of that period. I worked off and on for about fifteen years. That’s obviously a long story, so let’s just say there were many drafts, two agents who gathered some interested letters but no commitments, and consistent support from my husband and writing group and friends in between. So thankful for that!

May Alcott was an aspiring artist – you captured the nuances of her determination, her worries and insecurities, and her creative spirit so realistically. How did you manage to channel her so vividly?

There’s a fine line between channeling and letting in your own feelings when writing historical fiction. Or maybe no line. Much of May’s life is very different from mine, but I found details about her family and work that let me dream my way in. And most creative people who’ve fought to be taken seriously can relate to both doubts and persistence. Those common feelings made a meeting point between us, while I stayed true to past events.

When did you read LITTLE WOMEN and do you have any special memories associated with the book? Who was your favorite character and why?

I played LITTLE WOMEN with my sister and two friends before I read the book. I knew the basic roles from seeing parts of the movie on television. I liked Katharine Hepburn as Jo, but so did my older sister, who claimed her, as older sisters do. I didn’t entirely mind. The youngest sister, Amy, had better clothes and seemed to have more fun.

As I grew up into a writer, I often thought of Jo March/Louisa May Alcott as a model, but her real younger sister reminded me that dedicating yourself to creative work doesn’t have to be lonely. Everyone trips into creative holes or slams into walls sometimes, but here was a woman who always seemed to remember the joy. She’s kept me good company through all the years of writing!

Jeannine Atkins is the author of Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters and Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life. She teaches as an adjunct at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Simmons College. You can learn more on her website at http://www.Jeannineatkins.com.

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 by Saturday September 19th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random. Because of upcoming travel, I will announce the winner here on Tuesday, September 29th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Look what I found! My copy of LITTLE WOMEN given to me by an aunt and uncle back in 1979! I may have to re-read it.

Good luck and happy reading!

 

And The Winner Is…

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Thank you to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on 9780062335319_p0_v1_s192x300

None of the Above  by I.W. Gregorio (Balzer & Bray/2015)

If you missed the interview, click here.

And now for the winner of a copy of this outstanding debut YA novel about an intersex teen and her search for acceptance and love. Using a random number generator, the winning number commenter is…

number 4, Betsy Devany! Congratulations! Please contact me with your mailing info and I’ll make sure you get your prize ASAP!

Stayed tuned for more buzz reviews, spotlight interviews, and give-aways! Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight I.W. Gregorio and None of the Above

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I’m super pleased to shine the spotlight on debut YA author I.W. Gregorio and her outstanding novel None of the Above. Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy!

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None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (Balzer & Bray/2015)

What I thought would be a mostly “issue-driven” story, turned out to be exactly the kind of story I adore. Krissy Lattimore, a senior in high school, is a star hurdler with a college scholarship, two best friends, and the best boyfriend ever. But when she decides to lose her virginity, Krissy is in such pain that she has to stop. After a visit to an ob-gyn, she learns she is intersex – while female, is lacking female reproductive parts and has some male parts. She is both horrified and scared. After telling her best friend, the news immediately gets out to her school. Krissy is subjected to some horrid bullying. She refuses to go back to school and is filled with confusion about who, or what she is. With the support of her father, aunt, and some surprising friends, Krissy slowly starts to come to terms with herself. A deeply layered story of love and self-acceptance that will resonate with every reader.

Spotlight on I.W. Gregorio:

Please tell us about your journey from the spark of the idea for Krissy’s story to publication.

When I started seriously writing YA, I had a lot of ideas running through my head. After my first attempt at a novel (which was, no surprise, a thinly veiled autobiographical novel), I brainstormed a lot about stories that I was uniquely qualified to tell, and struck on the idea of writing a YA Middlesex.

The idea percolated in my head for a while, not really taking form until my first experience with an intersex teen during residency (you can read about it in all the gory details here). That encounter, and the timing of the Caster Semenya track scandal, are what really inspired me to come up with a character and a plot.

It took me a long time to actually write NotA – residency and children and all – but when I was done I had a lot of great feedback – but unfortunately realized based on a lot of that feedback that I had to switch the story from dual narrative to single POV, which pushed my timeline back a bit. Once I got Kristin’s voice down though, I landed an agent fairly quickly, and I had a deal within a month with a dream editor.

One of the nicest surprises about this book, for me, was that while much of it dealt with Krissy’s diagnosis of being intersex, it is not what I’d call an “issue book.” This is very much a story about love and self-acceptance. I am a sucker for romance – so please tell me a little about how this part developed in the storyline. Without giving anything away, what were the challenges and joys to developing Krissy’s love interest/s?

The main challenge that I had from day one was that I had to really think about what teenage boy would be mature enough, and empathetic enough, to date an intersex girl. Because let’s be honest, a lot of teenagers are insecure and uncomfortable with anything outside the norm. What kind of kid wouldn’t blink if his girlfriend had testes?

So Darren was born, and I had such a good time writing him (he was originally a POV character and almost universally everyone liked his parts better). I wanted him to be geeky, but also funny, and for him to have his own insecurities. Because I always envisioned Kristin as an everygirl, a girl-next-door, I deliberately didn’t push her character too far, didn’t take too many risks with her voice. With Darren, though, I could cut loose.

You are a surgeon by day and an author by night – plus a founding member of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, as well as a wife and mother. How do you find the time and energy to do it all? How do you manage your time?

I honestly don’t know any more! To tell the truth, I had my second child the day after I got my book deal, so I really don’t know what it’s like to write a book with two children! The biggest challenge lately has been finding time to balance promotion and writing. Because you really have to be in the right head space, and also have time for the characters to breathe.

The keys I’ve found in the past, however, have been to just carve out an hour or two every day and get the butt in the chair. For me, that time was pretty much from 9pm to 11pm. Luckily I have a husband who is a creator himself (he’s a musician), so I don’t get any sad puppy eyes when I can’t spend time with him at night!

I. W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. After getting her MD, she did her residency at Stanford, where she met the intersex patient who inspired her debut novel, None of the Above (Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins), which is a Spring 2015 Publishers Weekly Flying Start and a Capitol Choices Nominee. She is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books™ and serves as its VP of Development. A recovering ice hockey player, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

For more about I.W. Gregorio and her book, check our her web site, and follow her on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Here’s a link to the Epic Reads book club guide.

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 by Saturday September 5th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, September 8th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thank you and good luck!

 

 

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.

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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!