Category Archives: spotlight

Welcome to the Spotlight Vivian Vande Velde and 23 Minutes

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I have long been a fan of Vivian Vande Velde. And doesn’t she have the coolest name ever? She has written a number of books for readers of all ages. Some of my favorites of hers include, Never Trust a Dead Man and Heir Apparent. I’m adding her newest YA to that list.

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23 Minutes by Vivian Vande Velde (Boyds Mill Press/2016)

When Zoe steps into the bank, clutching papers she stole from her group home, she’s only hoping to get out of the sudden downpour and catch her breath, but then a nice man is kind to her after she drops her papers. She is unused to being treated with kindness. And then a bank robber comes in and shoots and kills the man when he tries to be a hero. Zoe has an unusual gift – she can turn back time for 23 minutes and try to fix or change events, but she only has 10 tries. And with each playback, with each try, she gets to know the people affected, especially the kind man, better, but each playback results in more bloodshed. Can she save everyone before the 10th playback? Exciting and gripping page-turing story with classic Vivian Vande Velde tension. I could not put this book down and read it in one sitting.

I asked the author: How did you come up with the idea for 23 Minutes and what was the process of writing it like?

I can only talk about 23 Minutes by starting with a previous book.  I’ve played before with the idea of someone faced with a problem where she gets to see the consequences of different actions she might take.  That earlier someone is Giannine and the book is Heir Apparent, and the context is a futuristic virtual reality type of game, with the added factor that due to a mishap Giannine is stuck in the game until she successfully completes it.  A bad decision there means Giannine’s game character gets killed and the game reboots, and Giannine must start over.  People have described the story as “Groundhog Day” meets Jumanji.  By that description, you can tell that Heir Apparent is not meant to be taken too seriously.  Yes, I’ve set it up so that if Giannine doesn’t disconnect from the game in time, her brain will overheat and she could die.  But I suspect that most readers know that isn’t going to happen just as surely as they know Peter Rabbit isn’t going to end up in Farmer McGregor’s pie.

I wanted to revisit that idea of action/seeing consequences/trying a different solution/repeat, but I wanted it to be less humorous and with immediate real life (or real death) results.  I’d been mentally playing with possibilities but was getting nowhere when I came up with the first line:

“The story starts with an act of stunning violence.”

That would be clear and immediate warning to readers that this book was not a comedy and was not for the same readers as my most recent Frogged.

Once I actually started putting words to paper, the writing went fairly quickly, with each decision I made having consequences further along in the story.  Zoe, the 15 year-old main character in 23 Minutes, has the ability to replay the past 23 minutes of her life.  (There are, of course, limits and complications to what she can do.)  But how would you react if someone told you she could “redo” time–and couldn’t prove it because the new version of events would be the only ones you could remember?  So Zoe has been under psychiatric care.  She’s also in foster care, as her family has broken up, partially because of her perceived mental illness.  As a result, she is distrustful of adults, quick to make judgments, and wary of sharing her gift, as doing so has frequently resulted in a worse final situation than the original.  Still, when she witnesses a bank robbery where an innocent bystander gets killed–a young man who has just been kind to her–she decides against her better instincts to get involved.  But the solution is not as simple as calling the police from the safety of outside the bank.  Zoe replays the 23 minutes repeatedly, and can’t help noticing that people are more complicated than she originally judged them, treating her differently depending on how she speaks to them.  And in the meantime she finds herself more and more drawn to Daniel, that handsome young man who–no matter what she does–always seems in the line of fire.

For more about Vivian and her books, check out her web site. And do check out her books, especially 23 Minutes!

And of course, I can’t end a spotlight post without offering a copy of the book! You know the drill:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, April 9th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, April 12th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading! Thanks for stopping by!

Welcome to the Spotlight Mylisa Larsen and How To Put Your Parents To Bed!

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I’m super happy to be shining the spotlight on debut picture book author Mylisa Larsen and her book

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How to Put Your Parents to Bed by Mylisa Larsen (Illustrated by Babette Cole) Katherine Tegan Books/2016

A step-by-step guide to help youngsters put their reluctant, too-busy, tired, distracted parents to bed. The story and illustrations made me laugh out loud. What a cute switch-a-roo take on bedtime!

What to do when your parents are looking a bit….exhausted? Put them to bed! But putting parents to bed is no easy task when there’s laundry to do and emails to check. From brushing their teeth to getting them into bed, oh, and they want their bedtime stories, it’s quite a challenge. Readers follow a determined little girl through her evening routine in trying to get her parents to bed, with accompanying hilarious illustrations (love the dog and cat).

Spotlight on Mylisa Larsen:

What was the inspiration for this story?

I think it was just that the distance between those lovely articles in the parenting magazines titled Five Easy Steps to A Stressfree Bedtime and the reality at my house when my kids were young was sometimes so great that all you could do is laugh or cry and laughing seemed slightly more resilient. My kids were always way more inventive in their stall tactics than whatever kids the chick who wrote the article was dealing with. I also remember thinking, “This would work way better if it was not at the end of the day! I am so tired. I am way more tired than these kids are and it’s entirely possible they will win.”

I’m also endlessly amused by The Authoritative Voice—that voice that you used to hear in filmstrips between the beeps and in public service announcements and in some magazines and how to books. It’s not supposed to be funny and I think it’s funny. So one day I was fiddling around with an ironic turn to that kind of voice and I combined it with bedtime and got the first draft of what became How To Put Your Parents to Bed. It was a truly awful book in its first drafts but there was that little spark there that you get in a book that could go somewhere so I took it through revisions.

For more about Mylisa and her book, check out her web site! Read an interview with her editor, Jill Davis. To join in on the celebratory book launch, cruise on over to Pajama Party, But I Don’t Want to Go to Bed…, The Bedtime Zone, and A Field Guide to Sleepy People!

Best of all, you can win a copy AND a pair of PJs by tweeting or sharing on FB about this book with the hashtag #PutParents2Bed! Contest runs till April 1st! Official rules.

Happy Reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Author Sundee T. Frazier!

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I’m very excited to welcome author Sundee T. Frazier and her awesome new chapter book:

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Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire (Scholastic Arthur A. Levine/2016)

Cleopatra Edison Oliver wants to be a major businesswoman like her idol Fortune A. Davis. When Cleo’s fifth grade teacher assigns her class to come up with Passion Projects, Cleo comes up with a brilliant idea for pulling loose teeth. Unfortunately, despite Cleo’s planning, both her business and her friendship with her best friend end up in jeopardy. Not only that, but her nemesis teases her about being adopted and Cleo’s reaction gets her in more trouble! This story will make readers laugh out loud, get teary, and cheer as Cleo figures her way out of her messes. I can’t wait to read more stories starring the brilliant Cleo!

Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this book!

Spotlight on Sundee:

What was the spark behind Cleo and her story, and what was your publishing journey for PLAYGROUND MILLIONAIRE?

Cleo is a good example of the various influences that generate story. The impetus for the novel was my agent who mentioned to me that she was noticing a big need (and demand) for chapter book series that featured main characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

I took on the challenge. I wanted Cleo to be a bright, energetic, confident African-American girl because this is part of my own heritage, and I have many aunts, cousins, and friends who are all Cleos in their own way. I have one young friend, in particular, who is very much this type, and it was her creativity and passion for selling that inspired the idea of a character who dreams of building a business empire.

Regarding her name, I knew the spirit of Cleopatra captured the essence of the character I wanted to create. I could imagine a young pregnant woman struggling with the decision to place her baby for adoption giving this name to her daughter to instill pride and confidence. I played around with middle and last names for Cleo and came up with Edison Oliver because I thought it would be fun to give her the initials C.E.O. Later I realized that Edison embodies Cleo’s drive toward business and innovation (Thomas Edison was quite the driven businessman as well as inventor from what I understand), and Oliver conjures the Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist, about an orphaned boy.

Cleo is not an orphan. However, she is an adopted kid, and while that fact doesn’t define her identity, it is a significant shaping force, just as race has been for me. The thing I love about Cleo is how she is a shaping force. She loves the art of persuasion and convincing people to buy whatever she’s selling, whether a product, a service, or just a great idea.

We “sold” Arthur A. Levine on Cleo after three-plus years of sharing the manuscript back and forth with this veteran (and venerated) editor. I couldn’t be more pleased to have Cleo coming out with his imprint at Scholastic.

What was the best part of writing this story? Any particular challenges?

Part of my calling as a writer, I’ve discovered, is to portray families that don’t “look” like they belong with one another. To show love that knows no boundaries, particularly along the lines that our society draws and defends so fiercely. In Cleo Edison Oliver, I continue my tradition of depicting interracial families. This family happens to be so by adoption—a beautiful and yet undeniably painful way that some parents and children come together. So this was probably the best part of writing the story—knowing that I’m continuing to provide portrayals of families that cross racial boundaries and contributing to the need for more adoptive families in stories for kids.

I also really enjoyed Cleo’s personality and seeing what she was going to do next. One of the most fun scenes to write was the one where she discovers the power of her Extractor Extraordinaire™ after recruiting her brother to be her trial customer for her tooth-pulling service.

The biggest challenge was sticking with it over several years, continuing to believe that it was an important story in spite of taking a while to get to publication. Now the challenge is having confidence that it will find its way to the kids who need it and will love it.

Cleo is an enterprising 5th grader with confidence and great ideas for creating businesses. She’s adopted and has a supportive and loving family. I instantly fell in love with her! How were you like or unlike Cleo when you were in fifth grade?

Although I went through a phase, like most kids, where I made little crafty things and hoped somehow to get people to buy them, I was never the Playground Millionaire type myself.

I’m not very business-savvy. I’m not an innate income-generator (apologies to my musician husband). I was always a dreamer, but in the realms of imagination, not in the real world! Honestly, I didn’t think I had much in common with Cleo and saw myself more clearly in the character of her supportive best friend, Caylee. However, as I struggled to find Cleo’s story and bring it to completion, I realized that while I didn’t necessarily identify with many of her character traits, on a deeper level, I understood her internal drives and longings: the desire to know where you come from, with whom you belong, and who you are. Identity questions and issues. Cleo also helped me admit to my pushy streak, and I suppose we share some over-achiever tendencies.

I hope the various forces that were at work to bring Cleo Edison Oliver into the world will direct her into the hands of all kinds of kids—future business moguls, entrepreneurs, adopted or not, black, white, and other. Ultimately, all kids are dreamers, and I hope that Cleo inspires them to persist in their dreams!

About Sundee:

Sundee T. Frazier is a Coretta Scott King Award winner for New Talent for Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, which also earned her an appearance on the TODAY Show with Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids. Her heartfelt, entertaining stories address subjects close to her heart: ethnic identity, growing up in interracial families, and multi-generational dynamics. Sundee’s work has been nominated for twelve state children’s choice awards, recognized by Oprah’s Book Club, Kirkus Reviews (Best Children’s Books of the Year), Bank Street College of Education, and the Children’s Book Council (among others). She lives in the Seattle area with her husband and two daughters, and you can read more about her work at www.sundeefrazier.com.

For more about Sundee, you can also friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Scholastic has generously offered to send a copy of this wonderful book to a lucky reader of this blog. Just follow the instructions (you know the drill by now) and you can win a copy for yourself or a child or a school/library!

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, January 30th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, February 2nd.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading! Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

Welcome to the Spotlight Daphne Benedis-Grab

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I’m happy to welcome back author Daphne Benedis-Grab, this time to showcase her newest MG novel, just in time for the holidays! Stay tuned below for a chance to enter to win a copy of this fun book for kids!

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Clementine for Christmas by Daphne Benedis-Grab (Scholastic/2015)

In this heart-warming story set before Christmas, three 6th graders who don’t hang out at school together, end up together while volunteering on the pediatric ward at the hospital. Josie and her dog Clementine volunteer by visiting the patients and cheering them up with her singing. She especially loves Christmas and is looking forward to the annual holiday festival. Oscar ends up having to volunteer at the hospital after getting in a fight with another boy. He’s resentful and he is not particularly fond of Christmas, especially because his parents who argue all the time anyway, fight even more close to the holiday. Gabby ends up in the hospital as a patient, and wants so badly to keep the reason why a secret that she joins Josie and Oscar in hopes of keeping them quiet. When the Festival is in danger of being canceled, the three work together to try to save it. Sweet story that made me laugh out loud AND get teary-eyed.

Spotlight on Daphne:

Please share with us the story behind the story of CLEMENTINE FOR CHRISTMAS – what was the spark for the idea and how did the story come together for you as you wrote it?

I love Christmas and was excited to write another middle grade book with that setting (my first was THE ANGEL TREE which you were nice enough to feature last year!). I also really enjoy writing multiple characters who each have a different side of the story to tell. But what pulled it all together was the hospital setting- a place where Gabby, who is sick, must go, a place where Josie volunteers doing skits on the pediatric ward and for a Oscar, the place he must go as a consequences for fighting in school. Once I got all three kids in the same building, the story bloomed!

I adored all three characters – sweet and kind Josie, gruff on the outside Oscar, and popular but hiding a secret Gabby – and of course Clementine the dog. But I admit a soft spot in my heart for Oscar who was trying to protect himself and his feelings by putting up walls. Do you have a favorite? What was it like getting to know these characters?

This is a hard one for me because there are things I like about each character: Josie’s big heart and her holiday spirit, Gabby’s affection for her brothers and struggles with her past, and Oscar who acts tough but is covering sadness. Josie came to me first, probably because we share a deep affection for both Christmas and animals. Oscar wasn’t hard to get to know either- I’ve definitely walled off my own pain and put on a tough façade like Oscar does, plus he has a bit of a temper just like me. Gabby took the longest to get to know- I knew how she looked on the outside- pretty, popular- and that she was hiding a secret. But getting to know who she was behind all that took some time- the key was her family and how much she loves them, especially her mischievous little brothers!

Ah Clementine! I love animals, but I do love dogs best of all. Do you have a pet? What’s the best thing about your pet?

We have a glorious tabby cat name Tango whom we adopted from a shelter after he’d been living on the streets of Brooklyn for the first few months of his life. At first he was a feral street kitty and super skittish, kind of like Clementine when Josie found her as an abandoned puppy. But after a few years of being pampered, Tango is a big fluffy bundle of love, friendly and affectionate as can be. He was my model for Clementine with his sweet nature, loving manner and innate ability to know when his owners might feel a bit down and need some extra kitty kisses.

Debbi, thank you for having me on your awesome blog!!

Daphne is the author of the middle grade books The Angel Tree (2014) and Clementine for Christmas (2015). Her short stories have appeared in American Girl Magazine and she also published two young adult books, one of which was an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.  She earned an MFA at The New School and is an adjunct professor at McDaniel College, as well as a former high school history teacher.

For more about Daphne and her books, visit her web site.

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, November 21st by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, November 24th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading! Thanks for stopping by!

 

Welcome to the Spotlight Jennifer McKissack and Sanctuary

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I’m thrilled to shine the spotlight on talented author Jennifer McKissack and her spine-chilling novel, Sanctuary! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy!

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Sanctuary by Jennifer McKissack (Scholastic/2015)

When 17-year-old Cecilia’s aunt dies and her cantankerous uncle stops paying for her tuition at her boarding school, Cecilia returns to Sanctuary, an old estate on an island off the coast of Maine. She has mixed feelings about returning – while she grew up there with happy memories, the past also haunts her. Her father died there, her mother was committed to an asylum, and her grandmother and sister perished in a fire there. A mysterious visitor, a young professor who is interested in Cecilia’s beloved library, draws her attention, but not as much as the strange happenings on the island. Cecilia fears she might be losing her mind as her mother had, and yet, she must solve the mysteries of the island. A haunting tale full of intrigue.

Spotlight on Jennifer McKissack:

How did SANCTUARY come to be? And what was the path to publication?

REBECCA. It’s a gothic novel that enthralled me as a teen and I’ve returned to as an adult. SANCTUARY isn’t a retelling of that classic, but I tried to capture the tone and sensibility of Daphne du Maurier’s haunting novel.

My (incredibly awesome) agent Trish Toney Lawrence is also a fan of REBECCA. Before she offered representation, we talked on the phone and bonded over our love for the book. It was one of the reasons SANCTUARY appealed to her. Trish quickly found two interested editors, and from there, we accepted an offer from the gifted Lisa Sandell at Scholastic. I am very fortunate to be in such good hands.

The house, the island, and the time period are integral parts of this haunting story. Can you tell us how you made these key decisions for the story and how you developed the island as a character?

Places have a very powerful hold on us. Houses, islands, towns, beaches, lakes, rivers, and places that we consider home — have a pull and a push that feels very human, as if you’re in a relationship. I wanted to explore that feeling and create it for the reader.

Cecilia sees ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts? Do you have a ghost story of your own to share?

I think there is a possibility that we have a spiritual connection with the earth that lingers after we die, especially if there was a traumatic event that affected many, many people. One of my characters mentions it in SANCTUARY. That observation emerges from the feeling I had when visiting Gettysburg. Something there. I’m not sure what. But it’s palpable.

Jenny writes, and lives not too far from the sea.

For more about Jennifer and her books, follow her on Twitter or friend her on Facebook.

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 October 3rd by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, October 6th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!

 

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!

 

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!

 

 

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

 

 

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!

 

 

Welcome to the Spotlight Sarah McGuire and Valiant!

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I’m very happy to welcome debut author Sarah McGuire to the spotlight. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at a writing retreat in Vermont. When she read from her manuscript, I had a very strong feeling she’d get it published – and she got an agent and a sale soon after! So thrilling! It is with great joy that I introduce her and her debut novel:

9781606845523_p0_v3_s260x420Valiant by Sarah McGuire (EgmontUSA/2015)

Stayed tuned below for a chance to win this adventurous retelling with a twist of The Brave Little Tailor!

Saville is the daughter of a talented, yet arrogant, tailor. She hates that her father loves bolts of cloth more than her and she despises sewing, though she is gifted at it. When her father falls ill after they arrive at a new town, Saville disguises herself as a lad, as the Tailor’s apprentice, in order to feed them. She endears herself to the King and sews his clothes, but when giants and a cruel duke threaten the kingdom, Saville uses her wits and becomes a loved champion. Her secret is soon discovered, that she is a she and not a he, which does not make the people of the kingdom happy. Will she be able to save those she loves?

Spotlight on Sarah McGuire:

What was the spark of inspiration that led you to craft this retelling of The Brave Little Tailor? What were the joys and challenges of writing this story?

I was flipping through Grimm’s for a fairy tale to retell for a whole novel workshop. The Brave Little Tailor is towards the beginning of my collection of Grimm’s, and I remember thinking how I didn’t like that story and how would you change it to retell it anyway? And there was some sort of flash when I realized that the tailor could be a girl. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind after that– I kept wondering who this girl might be. Then I started telling myself that if I wrote this story, I wouldn’t have stupid giants.

And then I realized I’d spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d write this retelling if I decided to write it. Which meant, of course, that I needed to write it. 🙂

The joys? Chasing those aspects of the story that most intrigued me- this determined girl and these wondrous giants that besieged a city carved out of a cliff. There are many days where you slog through your draft, but on its best days, writing a novel is a joyful adventure into new territory.

The challenges? Getting the giants just-so, trying to capture a sense of what it what it would be like to stand beside one, setting up and weaving all the threads of the story so that everything made sense by the end. And the showdown! Don’t get me started about the showdown. There were so many characters to have in one place. I rewrote that scene a million times.

Saville is such a full and vibrant character – clever and brave, stubborn to a fault, and so full of love. I adore her and her relationships, particularly the one with Will, the young homeless boy she takes in. How did this relationship come about and how did you develop it?

I love this question! I originally created Will because the only reason that Saville would challenge two giants would be if someone was in danger. So I suppose (I’m trying to remember exactly how I found this dear boy…) I just knew he needed to be someone you couldn’t help but love. And when I found him, he became this carrier for all these moments I’d had nannying or teaching or just with my own sisters and brother. The scenes between Will and Saville were, hands down, some of the easiest and most fun to write.

Saville hates to sew, but she’s obviously very good at it. Do you have a talent that you don’t particularly embrace? If not, how about sharing with us a rare talent? (Can you whistle with a mouthful of crackers perhaps?)

I don’t feel I have so many different talents that I can afford to dismiss one– I need all the help I can get! As far as rare talents, how about the ability to make weird associations between math concepts I need to teach and random things in real life? For instance, I use Luwak coffee as an example of a composition of functions.*

*For the curious, in a composition of functions, a value, a variable, or a combination of both, is “run” through several functions. To get Luwak coffee, you have to run coffee beans through . . . well, you have to run those beans through several things as well.

Thank you, Sarah!

Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.

McGuire, blog hop

For more about Sarah and her books: Check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, read her blog, and cruise on over to Goodreads.

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 about a “rare talent” you have. Of course now I have stumped myself. How about, I can write on a chalkboard/whiteboard with either hand.

2. Comment by midnight EST, May 2. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, May 5.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!