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 Sarah Tomp and My Best Everything!

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I am delighted to shine the spotlight today on debut YA novelist Sarah Tomp and

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My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp (Little, Brown/2015)

Stay tuned below for a chance to enter a drawing to win your own copy.

Lulu Mendez is counting down the days till she can escape her Virginia town to start college in San Diego. When she learns her father has blown her college savings, Lulu is desperate to raise the funds to get away. How desperate? Desperate enough to shed her Good Girl skin to brew illegal moonshine and sell it along with her best friends. But they need to find someone to help them with this new venture. Along comes Mason, a boy with a past, and Lulu hooks onto him as he teaches her all about moonshine. Lulu falls for Mason and he does for her, but good judgment isn’t Lulu’s strong suit that summer as she makes some hard decisions. Will she get out of her small town as she hopes? And at what cost?

Spotlight on Sarah Tomp:

Please tell us what sparked the idea behind MY BEST EVERYTHING.

I thought I was writing a simple love story. It was going to be about a girl leaving town and a boy who’d just come home, set in a fictional version of my Virginia hometown. They would have one summer together before they each headed off in different directions. But then Lulu turned out to be this feisty character who didn’t believe in love. She was all science and logic, and desperately impatient to get out of town and do big important things. More than anything, I knew she was a control freak who had somehow lost control, but I wasn’t sure of the details. I just knew she felt awfully guilty, even for a good Catholic girl. I also knew Mason had a bad history with alcohol—and he kept making all these casual references to moonshine.

While I was working on the romance part of the story, my youngest son became obsessed with taking things apart. When I met a woman whose father owned a junkyard, I knew we had to take him to explore one. All of a sudden, I gave Lulu and Roni jobs working in a junkyard. Bucky was already working at his father’s gas station. So then when my kids were watching Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners and asked, “Is that what it’s really like in Virginia?” so many of the necessary pieces and parts for making moonshine were already in place. Lulu and I suddenly had this great solution as to how she was going to get out of town.

Fact is, there’s never just one idea that makes a story work. That’s why I say writing a novel is a little bit like making moonshine. A bunch of ingredients are thrown into the pot and start fermenting. It gets kind of messy for a while, and things are thrown out, but eventually all of it works together to create the final product.

What was the journey to publication like?

This was my third novel that I tried to find an agent for. I was oozing with self-doubt! But at the same time, I was really excited about this story. I’d had a wonderful time dreaming it up and hanging out with these characters I adored.

Once I finished the story, two of my trusted readers give me an enthusiastic thumbs up. So then I started querying agents. Again. Slowly. At that time author Nathan Bransford had a contest going on his blog where his agent, Catherine Drayton, was going to pick the best opening. I planned to enter, except then a friend happened to mention that Catherine gives really nice rejections—I decided to query her instead. I was desperate for a nice rejection!

Instead, her assistant responded almost immediately that she wanted to read the entire manuscript and three days later Catherine called and offered representation. A week later we went on submission and within the month we went to auction. It took a really long time for things to move quickly!

Lulu is desperate to raise money for college and to escape her small home town – desperate enough to do something illegal. How much research did you have to do on moonshine? What was the most fascinating thing you learned?

I had so much fun with the research! After watching several episodes of Moonshiners, I moved on to books—soaking up not only the process, but the lore and legend behind it. Early on I took a tour of Ballast Point Brewery and Distillery here in San Diego. Then, later, when I had a completed draft of the story, I visited Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper Virginia. They have a grand time making liquor in the spirit and tradition of old-time moonshiners. (And, it just so happened that Moonshiner Tim was there that day!)

Finally, once I knew my book was going to be published I went back to Ballast Point and had a personal tour and interview with their lead distiller, Derek Kermode. He was an enthusiastic—and generous—tour guide.

He was also the person who clued me in to the importance of yeast. I find it fascinating that so much of a liquor’s identity—both in flavor and strength—depends on the yeast. He sent me to White Labs who specialize in all kinds of yeast, but especially those used in brewing and spirit distillation. I love the care and passion that brewers put into their craft—they’re not so different from writers!

Okay, so Lulu had a rather unconventional way to raise money. What’s the strangest or most unusual thing you’ve ever done to make money?

How about writing? Does that count?

This is such a great question and I so wish I had an interesting answer! The truth is, I’ve never been properly motivated by money. And yet—or as a result—I’ve pretty much always had a job of some kind out of necessity. Sadly, nothing particularly glamorous or lucrative.

But My Best Everything is my second novel (the first is unpublished) that revolves around trying to make money in an unconventional way. The other one involved money for dares like streaking across the football field during half-time and selling voo-doo dolls, so yeah, my mind goes kind of out there when it comes to coming up with entrepreneurial ideas. Maybe I should start acting on these ideas! Except it never seems to quite work out as planned either…

Thank you so very much for having me on your blog, Debbi!

Thank you for being here, Sarah!

Sarah Tomp Author

Sarah Tomp has a MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Diego with her family, but she learned to drive – and other important things – in the mountains of Virginia. 

For more about Sarah, check out her web site, read her awesome blog that she co-writes with Suzanne Santillan (note: this is how I first “met” Sarah), follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

For a chance to win a copy of Sarah’s YA novel, follow the directions below!

1. Comment on this post. For fun, tell me what was the most unusual way you’ve made money. I’ve had quite a few jobs growing up, but probably the strangest way I made money was my first “job” when I was in elementary school. Our neighbor owned a recording studio or maybe rented recording equipment? Anyway, I was paid 25 cents for every reel I put together. In our family room, my sister and I set up piles of the metal reels, the plastic “spool” for the center, and lots of screws. I got pretty good at putting those things together quickly!

2. Comment by midnight EST Saturday, April 18th. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on this blog on Tuesday, April 21st.

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

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 Jo Knowles and her newest YA release:

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Read Between the Lines (Candlewick/2015)

While it’s too late to enter to win a copy of this outstanding novel, you can still read about it and Jo’s interview, here.

Now, for the winner of a copy of Read Between The Lines! I used a random number generator and the winning number is 3! Counting down from the first eligible comment to the last, the winner is…

Carl Scott! Congratulations! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address, and I will make sure your prize is on its way to you ASAP!

Be sure to come back again soon for yet another interview and a give-away!

Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Jo Knowles and Read Between the Lines

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Happy Book Birthday!

I’m so happy to welcome back author and good friend Jo Knowles to celebrate the release of her newest YA. Stay tuned below for a chance to win your own copy!

9780763663872_p0_v1_s260x420Read Between the Lines (Candlewick/2015)

Nate Granger, unpopular, breaks his middle finger during high school gym class. Thus starts a day where the middle finger plays a part in the lives of students and others in this small town. A former high school student works at a nearby fast food joint, resentful of feeling stuck, taking it out on his neighbor. The neighbor boy, normally quiet, is frustrated by the taunting and steals a driveway paver from the neighbor and decides to use it against him. And so on — each life intertwines in some small or large way. Told is multiple POVs, this novel reveals in a heart-wrenching way how people’s outsides don’t always match their insides. Read Between the Lines prods the reader to do the same – to see what’s in between what is observed. Another outstanding novel by this talented author. I remain a fan!

Spotlight on Jo Knowles:

What was the spark behind the idea of this novel?

Many years ago I was driving with my husband and young son and a man was about to crash into us so my husband honked his horn to warn him. The guy gave us the finger! I was so upset about it, and kept saying to my husband, “Can you believe that guy?” until my husband was like, “You have got to let it go.” But for some reason I couldn’t. The whole incident made me start thinking about how much power we give that gesture, in different ways. But obviously that’s not exactly a book. What happened was, in thinking about how and why we give and get the finger, I also started thinking about the various stereotypes that exist in high school. The jock. The cheerleader. The bully. The dork. You get the picture. And I thought, what if I explored how each of these characters was more than their stereotype? More complex. More human. I picked away at this idea for years. But slowly, each character started coming to life, and then their stories started overlapping, and I could see why one character might see a person one way, but another character might see him or her in a completely different way, and neither would be all that accurate. The more I did this, the more complicated this structure became, but it was also a lot of fun! So I went with it, and after many years of working on it here and there just for fun between projects, the stories all started coming together in an exciting way. And finally I dared to share a draft with my editor, who, thankfully, thought it was a puzzle worth trying to finish.

This novel is quite a departure from your others in that it is not only told in multiple points of view but takes place in the span of one day. What were the particular challenges and joys of writing this way? Did you end up with a favorite character -not necessarily the one you liked the most, but the one who pulled on your heartstrings the most? I personally felt most for Dewey even though I didn’t particularly care for him. I won’t say more because I don’t want to give anything away.

The biggest challenge was to make sure that each scene that was repeated from another character’s point of view matched in terms of what people said and did. I have a notebook filled with timelines and character charts. I’m a totally disorganized person so this was a huge task for me. I’m very grateful for good copyeditors!

I think Dewey is one of my favorites, too! The more I wrote about him, the more I felt for him. I’ve had jobs I felt caged in, and I remember sitting in my car, feeling sick to my stomach before I headed into work, just like Dewey does. Of all the characters, Dewey felt the most trapped to me, and it was hard to put him through that daily grind, and to allow the other characters to see the worst side of him. It was rewarding to give him a moment in the sun, even if very brief. I like to imagine that it fed him, and gave him the strength to get through that job until he was old enough to leave and work with his dad.

One group of friends drive around in a car they call The Great White Beast. I love that! Mostly because when I was in high school, my friends named my car (a white 1965 Chevy Malibu SS) the Great White (as in shark). Did any of your cars have a nickname? 

We had an old VW convertible everyone called The Bug. I used to love driving around in that thing with my sister in the summer, blasting The Talking Heads from a boombox because the radio was broken. Everyone knew when the Knowles sisters were driving down the road. I hope we weren’t too obnoxious.

Jo Knowles is the author of Living With Jackie Chan, See You At Harry’s, Pearl, Jumping Off Swings, and Lessons from a Dead Girl. Her newest book, Read Between The Lines, was called “masterfully woven” in a starred review byKirkus. Some of her awards include two SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards, a New York Times Editor’s Choice and Notable Book, the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award, an American Library Association Notable, Bank Street College’s Best Books for Children (Outstanding Merit), and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo has a master’s degree in children’s literature and teaches writing for young adults in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.

For more about Jo and her books, check out her website, follow her on Twitter, friend her on Facebook, or read her blog on LiveJournal.

To celebrate the release of Jo’s newest novel, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky reader. Just follow the rules below:

1. To enter your name in a random drawing, comment on this post. For fun, share if you’ve ever had a nickname for one of your cars.

2. Comment by Saturday, March 14 at midnight EST. Winning name will be announced here on Tuesday, March 17th.

3. Entrants must have a US or Canada mailing address.

Check out the cool t-shirt I bought to celebrate Read Between The Lines:

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You can buy your own gear at her shop. If you don’t know what the shirt means, you will once you read the book! You definitely want to read this book!

Good luck and happy reading!

To see past Spotlight interviews, click here.

The Word Nest

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As some of you might know, as well as being a reader, I’m a writer. While the focus on this blog is definitely on books I read and love, I do have a website that is devoted to my writer-self. The Word Nest is the name of my writing studio, and now the name of my newly redesigned and relaunched website. I’d love for you to visit and take a look around. Also, I’m doing a giveaway of my own nonfiction kids books, so check out the blog there. Thanks for all your support – and I promise to get back to blogging fantastic books I’m reading very soon! In fact, stay tuned for a Spotlight on Jo Knowles’s newest upcoming YA release!

2014 Reading List

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Happy New Year! I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for following this blog. It’s a joy to share my love of reading and books – and I love hearing from you, too! If you have a reading blog that I’m not currently following, please comment below with your url. I love seeing what everyone else is reading and I get some great recommendations for books I might not have otherwise picked up.

I had a goal to read 100 books last year. Alas, I read 74. That means that I was mostly focusing on my own writing. I read only 30 children’s/teen books – that was a surprise to me. But, I have a tendency to avoid reading my genre when I’m focused on my own work-in-progress, so perhaps this is a good sign (at least for my own writing). The great thing, though, was that I thoroughly enjoyed all the YA/MG books I read this year!

Here’s my list of books:

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OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord (YA)

MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME edited by Stephanie Perkins (YA)

Oooh La La!

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Oops! I’ve been quieter than I planned. Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday and that 2015 will be stupendous and great! Where was I over the holiday?

I spent it with my husband and college-age daughter, in this city:

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Eating a lot of these:

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And stopping at this awesome place:

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We had an amazing and memorable week.

And special for you all because I know you’ll appreciate it -I saw this:

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And for anyone who loved ANNA & THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, I stood here and made a wish:

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Oh, and what was I reading that week? This, which was perfect:

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Loved this book of twelve perfectly wonderful holiday love stories written by some of my favorite YA authors!

I promise to share my 2014 reading list at the start of the new year. Happy reading and thanks so much for reading this blog. I truly appreciate each and every one of you!