I’m Moving!

May 6th, 2013

No. Not houses–blogs! And I am thrilled. I’ve wanted a new blog for a while now, and since Monday marks the start of a new work week, and we’ve just begun the month of May, I figured now was as good a time as any for a new beginning.

If you’d like to poke around my new blog home, here’s the address: http://authorlauragolden.blogspot.com

I hope to see you there!

 

 

ALLA Convention Recap

May 2nd, 2013

I have done it! Last Thursday I officially completed my first speaking engagement as an author. I can’t believe it. Once the time for the actual speech arrived, the minutes flew by. The theme for this year’s Alabama Library Association Convention was “Finding Your Voice”, and I delivered a twenty-minute speech focused on just that. The speech is far too long to share in its entirety on the blog, but here is an excerpt:

The theme of this year’s ALLA convention—Find Your Voice—has Fate written all over it—at least for me. This is a phrase writers hear bandied about constantly in the world of publishing: find your voice. There are entire workshops dedicated to doing just that. Editors will tell you it is the most elusive, and the most sought after quality in publishable writing. A writer connects with their readers through voice.

            But finding one’s voice isn’t important for writers alone; it’s important to every person on this planet. When I discovered writing, I didn’t discover my “Miss America” talent, or even my talent in general. I discovered something infinitely more important—I discovered my voice. Again, I’m not referring to my authorial voice, the voice in which I write; I’m referring to my voice as a human being. Writing is the medium I use to offer the outside world a peek into my soul. It is the way I share my deepest convictions and my greatest fears.

           Each and every book is filled with thoughts and themes that are deeply meaningful to their authors. And ultimately we authors hope that these very same thoughts and themes will mean something to readers everywhere. EVERY DAY AFTER is me finding (and using) my voice. It is the story of Lizzie Hawkins, a twelve-year-old girl desperate to please her father but who is on the cusp of discovering her own purpose, her own path, her own voice. The problem is that it may not be the purpose or the path or the voice her father would choose for himself or for her. And in that lies one of the greatest conundrums: do we use our voices as we are meant to, or do we keep quiet in order to please others?  

             I think as librarians, you all know the answer. We need not be content to find our voices, or discover what we are meant to say with our voices, but we must, absolutely must, use our voices. 

            You as librarians and we as authors have been blessed with the great opportunity to influence our children—our future generations. We can choose to use this opportunity for ill or for good, to inspire or to hinder, to encourage or to discourage, to have meaningful discussions or to avoid taboo topics altogether. I know without a doubt which of these options I am going to choose. I’d bet my last penny on which you will choose as well.

We are colleagues in the nurturing of young minds, young minds capable of great ideas. Whether author or librarian or teacher or parent we all use our voices each day to show our children how to dream big. I am so deeply grateful that the journey to finding my “Miss America” talent ended with the discovery that a children’s book author is what I was meant to be. I know each of you feel the same deep passion for your work.

 

After I’d given my speech, my fellow presenters Vicky Alvear Shecter and Heather Montgomery took the floor. Their presentations were full of energy and totally rocked. I eagerly await the day that I am as seasoned a pro as they. I was honored to be there with them. Here is a pic of us post-session:

Whew! We did it.

 

Being in Montgomery for the ALLA Convention was a wonderful experience in large part due to the warmth and kindness of the attending librarians. They were beyond lovely. I would like to specifically recognize Matt Layne, Young Adult Librarian at Emmet O’Neal Public Library, for nominating me for the panel, and Emily Seymour, Moderator of the Young Adult Services Round Table, for her wonderful help and guidance both before and during the convention. You guys are the best.

Now I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this first speaking experience won’t be my last!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The Importance of Middle Grade Books

February 18th, 2013

I well remember my middle school years. It took me a long while to be able to remember them with any fondness. I was the shy girl. I was the good girl. I was the girl who didn’t fit in with the popular crowd. Looking back, I am glad to have been all of those things. It is precisely those traits that form what I am today: a rather shy dreamer full of tough questions about people and life–questions that I attempt to answer through writing.

 

 

Rest assured I was not always so content to be me. Back in middle school I’d have given my right arm to have rid myself of what I considered personality flaws. The “flaws” caused me much trouble. I was teased. I was the butt of many jokes. I had one best friend, equally an outsider, instead of a large group of friends-of-the-minute. My BFF and I heard the whispers behind our back—whispers that were usually a little too loud to be termed a whisper. Still, we endured. We stayed true to ourselves. We survived.

No one is going to deny that middle school is a rough time for most kids. Middle schoolers are searching out and discovering social boundaries, making and losing friends at a high rate of speed, grasping to uncover who they are inside and what that means—both to themselves and to those around them. It is an unpleasant experience in the best of circumstances; it is downright unbearable in the worst. There were many times—too many times to count—I felt like throwing in the proverbial towel, crawling into a dark hidey-hole, and staying there until h*** froze over. What kept me from doing just that? (Other than my parents.)

Books. My salvation came through losing myself in rich stories inhabited by living characters, characters experiencing the same trials and tribulations as me. If they could make it, so could I. If they could put on a brave face each and every day, so could I. And if they could muster up enough courage to stand up for themselves…well, I could dream, couldn’t I?

 

Bookseller Cordelia Jensen said the following in her critical thesis and grad lecture at VCFA, and I think it perfectly sums up the significance of middle grade books:

Stories help us escape. Stories soothe us. They scare us. They keep us awake. But, as Middle Schoolers, they do something even deeper: they let us try on a new identity. In this time of Identity Versus Role Confusion, stories can help students play out behavior they might not dare to do themselves. Or maybe might help them feel validated by showing characters make similar choices to the ones they have made already.”

That is what middle grade books did for me. Reading them gave me a sense of empowerment, normalcy, and escapism that I couldn’t get anywhere else. Books offered laughs when I felt blue, hope when I had none, and far-off places when I needed to get away. They offered answers to hard questions, and served as my guideposts as I stumbled through those tough years.

Just how important to me were the guideposts otherwise known as middle grade books? How much stock did I put into their stories, their characters, and their themes? Again, Cordelia says it best:

“I remember reading Go Ask Alice in sixth grade and being absolutely terrified of the main character’s drug addiction. The scene where she pulled her eyelashes out haunted me and I slept with socks on my hands at night for weeks, thinking that way I wouldn’t pull my own eyelashes out. I was not on LSD but I was so immersed with the character, I was scared of becoming her in the night. So scared I remembered her story years later when friends offered me acid. Go Ask Alice is not written for middle schoolers, it is really a young adult book. And it was written as drug propaganda (which apparently worked on me), but this memory is really important. It shows how profoundly middle schoolers can take on the emotional worlds of their characters. How easy it is, really, to pretend to be someone else while you are reading and, through that, locate some truth about yourself. I knew, after reading that story at age 12 that I never, ever wanted to do LSD. And I didn’t. And now I am 36. And doubt I will change my mind. Stories matter. Stories help us define our lives. Stories give us dreams to cling to and nightmares to drive away. This is the case at 5, 11, 27 or 75, but the lessons we choose to take from the book often directly reflect the psychosocial crises we are struggling with at the time we read it.”

 

 

There is a quote in Spiderman (yes, for all the middle schoolers, and middle schoolers at heart, I am going to include a quote from Spiderman) that I feel is relevant to this post:

With great power comes great responsibility.”—Uncle Ben to Peter (A slight variation of this quote is originally attributed to Stan Lee.)

Books written for children don’t always receive the recognition or credit they deserve. Vicky Smith, Children’s & Teen Editor at Kirkus Reviews, wrote a blog post in which she revealed that her acupuncturist referred to reading an adult book as reading a “real book.” Oh, my. Regardless of the opinion of the general public, we writers of children’s books know we hold great power each time we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. We have the power to move, inspire, and grant hope to kids in ways we never dare to think. The books we write contain unimaginable influence over the developing thoughts, convictions, and even actions of children everywhere—children who are the future of our world. Our books will be our legacies—legacies capable of changing the world through young readers. Writing for children is indeed a great honor and a great responsibility. And that, I believe, is deserving of great respect.

 

*This post was originally appeared on The Lucky 13s blog. Find more posts by super-talented kidlit authors debuting in 2013 here.

 

 

 

And the Part Goes to…

January 31st, 2013

Two weeks ago, I participated in the Next Big Thing blog chain. One question was this: If you could pick actors to play the lead characters in your story, whom would you pick? Well, since my book will most likely never be made into a movie, I thought it’d be interesting to devote an entire post to casting real actors in an imaginary movie. So without further ado, let’s get this show on the road!

 

Lizzie Hawkins:

Lizzie is smart, independent, responsible, a fighter, and a survivor. She’s filled with spunk and fire. I recently watched “Ramona and Beezus” with my sons and thought Joey King, the young girl who played Ramona to perfection, would be an ideal fit. (Of course Lizzie has blonde hair, not brown, but for me personality takes precedence over hair color. And after all, there is such a thing as hair dye. I know from personal experience. ;) )

 

Joey King

 

Ben Butler:

Ben is Lizzie’s best friend. Like Lizzie, he is responsible. But he’s much less temperamental, more thoughtful, and quite wise (though Lizzie doesn’t think so). Dakota Goyo, such a cutie in “Real Steel” and “Thor”, has a face that screams sweet and supportive.

 

Dakota Goyo

 

Erin Sawyer:

Erin is complicated. In Lizzie’s eyes, she’s nothing more than a spoiled brat, but Ben sees something more—a deep hurt behind her attitude. Put Bailee Madison’s hair in braided pigtails and she’d be the perfect fit for Erin. Bailee has proven she possesses mad acting skills. I have no doubt she would add loads of depth to Erin’s character.

 

Bailee Madison

 

Mama (Rose Hawkins):

I love Julia Ormond! She’s gorgeous, a brilliant actress, and nails every period piece she acts in. In Every Day After, Mama slumps into a severe depression after her husband abandons her and Lizzie, and Julia Ormond’s vacant expression in “Legends of the Fall” is a dead ringer for how I see Mama in my own mind (minus the scissors and gun…).

 

Julia Ormond

 

 

 Daddy (William Hawkins):

Okay, so we all know how swoon-worthy Cary Elwes was as Westley in “The Princess Bride.” I think Will Hawkins was once that dashing—before the Depression. But as times grew harder, so did he, and all that “Westley good” that filled him began to fade away. So, what better fit to play Daddy than an aged Cary Elwes who now has more than a few bad guy roles under his belt? Because a man who deserts his family in the midst of trying times is about as bad as you can get.

 

Cary Elwes

 

Mr. Reed:

Out of all the secondary characters, Mr. Reed is my favorite. He’s “old as the hills,” “thin as a rail,” and full of mystery and strangeness. Lizzie and Ben, and all the kids of Bittersweet, are simultaneously fascinated by and afraid of Mr. Reed. I didn’t need to search at all for the actor I’d chose to play Mr. Reed. I already knew. When I see Mr. Reed, I see Larry Hankin.

 

Larry Hankin

 

Indeed, there are many more characters in Every Day After, but I’ve cast those I feel are most important. I had a blast putting this together, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Look for Every Day After in bookstores on June 11, or request an Advance Reader’s Copy on Edelweiss.

 

Just Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

January 28th, 2013

Ah, but that is much easier said than done on this highway through the Land of Publication. I used to dream of being published. I thought I’d be euphoric for all eternity if it happened. But now that it has, I’m more distracted than euphoric. I seem to be forever staring out the window watching somebody else’s car pass me by, and I can’t help but wish I were in their vehicle, taking their journey, instead of being stuck in mine—a car that seems to be headed nowhere fast.

 

I’m not a jealous person. I’m usually quite content with whatever life gives me. Somebody has a bigger house? A nicer car? The latest Balenciaga bag or a killer pair of Christian Louboutin stilettos? Doesn’t bother me. Never has. Never will. Would those things be nice to have? Yes! But I’m not going to commit every spare minute of my life to obtaining them. It seems futile. I’ve never been crazy over material things. My husband (yes, my husband!) gets aggravated when he takes me shopping and we exit the store empty handed. If I can live without that new sweater or pair of jeans, I simply don’t buy them. I don’t compete with people or seek validation through “things.” If I fail to wear the latest fashions or buy the biggest house, as far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t say one thing, positive or negative, about me as a person.

 

Oh, drool! But I don’t *have* to have them.

 

Gorgeous! But I don’t *need* to live here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But…I’ve discovered over the course of the past few months that I do compete with people and seek validation through “skill.” If I fail at my “skill,” at writing—something I work hard at, am passionate about, and to which I do devote every spare minute—then I’m afraid that does say something about me, and I’m even more afraid it ain’t good.

 

I’m a writer. Writers are typically (and admittedly) a socially awkward lot. I am no exception. Writing is how we “talk” to the world. Ask us a question in person and we’ll likely become addled and mumble an incoherent response. Ask us a question and allow us to write out our reply and you’ll likely get an exceptionally clear and well thought out answer. Our thoughts align when we’re writing. Writing is our natural medium to communicate to the world. We share our deepest thoughts and feelings through carefully crafted blog posts and books. We want what we say to mean something—to matter.

 

So when Writer A is being acknowledged in a certain way, or the Twitterverse is abuzz over Writer B’s book, or Writer C has a gazillion likes on Facebook, all while I’m hearing only crickets and being largely ignored, I don’t get jealous, but the part that needs validation, the part of me that craves to be heard and to matter, is pricked. I become hyper-critical of myself and my writing and, by extension, my worth.

 

 

These are the typical thoughts and questions that roll through my head: No one understands what I’m trying to say with this book. Should I have said it differently? That was a brilliant book idea. Why can’t I think that creatively? She/he has garnered this accolade/that award. Why can’t I be her/him?

 

The last one is where the true danger lies. I’m not meant to be anybody but me. And I’m not meant to write what anybody else writes. And I must remind myself of this daily. At least one person, somewhere, will read my book and “hear” me. At that moment I will have succeeded in doing what I set out to do—communicate a larger truth through writing.

 

And, in the event that not even one person understands, I still have managed to achieve something meaningful: I stand as living proof to my children that if you stay true to yourself and work hard, dreams do come true. But dreams, even the same dreams, come to life in different ways. Some burst to life in a kaleidoscope of primary colors; others appear slowly in delicate pastels. There’s no way to know how one’s dream will be fully realized. A few short months of travel through the Land of Publication has taught me this truth.

 

So, I have decided that from now on, I will look away from the car window, hold tightly to the steering wheel, and focus solely on the road ahead. I’ll be tempted to peek over at the person next to me, watch their blinker and see which bypass or freeway they’re taking, but I will remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. That’s their journey, not mine. I can’t appreciate the little successes I achieve if I don’t stop coveting the flashy successes of others. From here on out I will force myself to heed the words “just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

 

 

 

 

 

SCBWI 2013 Springmingle Blog Tour: Chad Beckerman

January 25th, 2013

January is nearly gone and February is fast approaching. Members of the Southern Breeze region of the SCBWI are jumping for joy because we know what that means…

 

 

 

The annual Springmingle Conference in Atlanta, GA is nearly upon us! Yay!

As she did with the WiK ’12 conference in Birmingham this past October, Dori Kleber has again organized a conference blog tour spotlighting our amazing conference faculty members.

I was lucky enough to interview the fabulous (and funny) Chad Beckerman, Creative Director at Abrams. Before we dive into the interview, here’s a bit about Chad:

 

 

If cover designers are superhero alter-egos, then Chad W. Beckerman (Creative director and cover designer for Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, as well as Mishaps and Adventures blogger) would have to be Clark Kent. Friendly and hard working by day, yet designing covers that have been known to burst onto shelves, leaping tall buildings (or at least generating lots of interest) in a single bound. He has designed such series as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, NERDS and The Sisters Grimm. In addition to a vast amount of picture books, such as I Had a Favorite Dress, Iggy Peck, Architect and Huff and Puff. He has worked with many fantastic illustrators, Nikki McClure, Brett Helquist, Dan Santat, Sophie Blackall, Yuko Shimizu, Jen Corace, Marcellus Hall and Amy June Bates.

 

Welcome, Chad! Would you mind describing what your job as Creative Director at Abrams (for the Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers, and Amulet Books imprints) entails?

 

As Creative Director I oversee and manage the design department, a staff of four, and direct the design of approximately one hundred titles per year amongst the Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Amulet Books, and Abrams ComicArts imprints, known collectively as ABRAMS Kids (@abramskids on twitter and Instagram). In addition, I also design numerous books for each imprint. For example, on the Spring 2013 list, I designed How to Be a Cat for Appleseed, The Museum, Barbed Wire Baseball and a few others for Abrams Books for Young Readers, and Art2-D2 for Amulet Books.

 

I also lend my aesthetic to design as well as finding illustrators along with a group of fantastic editors: Susan Van Metre, Tamar Brazis, Maggie Lehrman, Cecliy Kaiser, and Charles Kochman, all in the hopes of working with the best illustrators and creative talent that we can. Here is a selection of recent books that reflect this aesthetic:

 

Amulet Books

 

 

 

Abrams Books For Young Readers

 

 

 

 

 

?

 

Abrams Appleseed

 

 

We make sure every book—from each page, to the cover, case, and even the endpapers—is a fully thought-out product as with I Had a Favorite Dress, illustrated by Julia Denos:

 

 

 

 

What gorgeous covers! Your most well-known work is likely the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. Like the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger, also published by Amulet/Abrams, the books are filled with wonderful illustrations. Did the use of so many illustrations pose any special challenges in the design and layout of the books?

 

Even though each of these books is heavily illustrated, they are vastly different books to approach from a design perspective. Wimpy Kid is lead by Jeff Kinney who views each page as a piece of art. Every line break is carefully thought-out to make each page a stand-alone work of art.

 

 

With Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books, we took a much different approach. The illustrations in this book do not lead the narrative but enhance it. Unlike Wimpy Kid, which is written from the perspective of one character, Tom’s books are written from many perspectives. The design is informed from the idea that the entire book is a case file. To illustrate this we came up with many different fonts in order to give each ?character their own voice and identity. The goal for each of these books was to create a unique visual and reading experience—one that would bring you into the world of the text.

 

 

 

 

When designing a book, do you consult directly with the author, with the book’s editor, or solely with members of the art department?

 

My first step is to consult with the editor. I’ll ask them to talk out their ideas. In most cases they offer them up freely so I can gain an understanding of each book from their perspective. From this I get an idea of what they are hoping to see, but it is my job to expand upon their ideas in order to elevate the project to something they might not have thought about.

During my conversation with the editor we decide whether the book should have an illustrated or photographic approach. The book’s intended audience determines the answer. Illustrations are used for a younger/middle grade audience, while photography is usually used on covers that lean toward an older audience.

Then there are books that fall in the middle—the tween market—like My Life in Pink and Green. With this book some felt that a photographic approach might miss our target demographic. Luckily, we were able to come up with a cover design that worked great for the intended market without putting any one out.

 

 

Other books would simply look horrible if they weren’t illustrated. For example, here is the cover of Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies:

 

 

Now lets see what this cover would look like using photography…

 

 

Now you see how important the illustration vs. photography question can be.

Haha!  Oh, yes, I see. 

The next step is to work with the illustrator to create the best possible cover. My policy is that even if I have an idea for a cover, I try not to forward that exact idea too early so I don’t kill any creativity the illustrator might have. Two heads are usually better than one. That is unless you are wearing a scary bunny suit.

I very rarely consult with the author on covers. That is left up to the editor of each book. But of course, there are exceptions.

 

If you had to pick one book that you’ve worked on that you feel best displays your creative prowess, which would it be? *rubs hands together and laughs menacingly*

This is an extremely hard question since I work on many different types of books, each highlighting a different ability. But I see you are going to force an answer out of me, so if you can loosen the head-lock you have me in, I’ll do my best to answer.

Okay, okay. *loosens grip on Chad’s head*

Two books that come to mind are Michael Buckley’s NERDS series and a novel called Frannie in Pieces by Delia Ephron.

I chose NERDS since it is the book I always wanted to read in middle school.

 

 

NERDS combines all the excitement of international espionage with all the awkwardness of elementary school. NERDS, featuring a group of unpopular students who run a spy network from inside their school, hits the mark. With the help of cutting-edge science, their nerdy qualities are enhanced and transformed into incredible abilities! They battle the Hyena, a former junior beauty pageant contestant turned assassin, and an array of James Bond–style villains, each with an evil plan more diabolical and more ridiculous than the last.

A book like this lets my imagination run wild. With Ethen Beavers at the helm of the illustrations, we worked tirelessly together to make this book look as visually entertaining as the text. Through Michael Buckley’s words we were able to create a book that was one step away from being interactive. I wanted the pages to seem like live computer screens, and with the help of Ethen Beavers I think we made this happen. Here is a blog post I wrote on the process we went through to create the cover:

http://cwdesigner.blogspot.com/2009/05/evolution-of-nerds-cover.html

Frannie in Pieces by Delia Ephron is a vastly different book. It is the only book I have worked on where I designed and illustrated the cover, designed the interior, and illustrated the 10-15 interior spot illustrations. This was a huge project that I somehow managed to tackle while simultaneously working a full time job art directing. I don’t recommend it, but I am proud of the work that was done.

http://cwdesigner.blogspot.com/p/drawings.html

 

 

 

Wow! The samples of Frannie in Pieces are breathtaking. That book is going on my must-purchase list. I suppose I’ll stop staring at your drawings long enough to ask the next questions: What is the most fun part of your job? The least?

 

Without a doubt, the moment when you get the chance to just work on a book without the daily distraction of email, management responsibilities, and meetings. The moment when an idea comes together and you can leave at the end of the day feeling a sense of accomplishment. For example, today I signed up a new illustrator that I am crazy about to illustrate a picture book. The least fun part? Having to wait till Spring 14 to share this picture book with you.

 

When you seek out new illustrators, what is it that you’re looking for in their samples?

 

I am looking for confidence! Confidence in the illustrator’s own techniques and a confidence in the artist’s own vision. I can tell that from looking at one postcard.

 

Being on the faculty for the SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle is a testament to your belief that the SCBWI is a worthy organization. Why do you feel membership in the SCBWI is important for illustrators?

 

There are very few places that illustrators of any kind can go to socialize with each other. It’s a rare place where one can talk about their work and have others listen in the hopes that it will make them better at what they do. SCBWI gives us that place to come together, if only for a long weekend, to talk about our ideas and leave feeling inspired to go back out into the wild and create wild things.

 

What can attendees of Illustrators’ Day and your sessions at Springmingle most look forward to?

 

I hope they come away with a new understanding of how a book is made, as well as a feeling of inspiration through hearing about the struggles and triumphs of other illustrators—myself included.

 

Thank you, Chad, for this fabulous interview! You were so kind to participate and share all this lovely artwork. I’m sure the talented illustrators attending Springmingle and Illustrators’ Day are itching to garner some inspiration from your sessions and get to work. Heck, I’m not even an illustrator and I want to attend.

 

For all those who are blessed with artistic talents, don’t miss Chad’s presentations at the 2013 Springmingle Conference in Atlanta, GA this February. To find out more about the conference, and to register, go to the Southern Breeze website and make yourself at home. We all hope to see you in Atlanta!

Know who else will be at Springmingle ’13? Check out this list, follow the blog tour to meet them, then register online to see them in person!

Jan. 21: Will Terry, illustrator, at Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s blog

Jan. 22: Beck McDowell, author, at Bonnie Herold’s “Tenacious Teller of Tales”

Jan. 23: Nikki Grimes, author, at Gail Handler’s “Write From the Soul”

Jan. 24: Jill Corcoran, agent, at Donny Seagraves’ blog

Jan. 28: Katherine Jacobs, editor, at Cathy C. Hall’s blog

Jan. 29: Mark Braught, illustrator, at Vicky Alvear Shecter’s “History with a Twist”

Jan. 30: Carmen Agra Deedy, author, at Ramey Channell’s “The Moonlight Ridge Series”

The Next Big Thing…

January 16th, 2013

 

The Next Big Thing blog chain has arrived on my blog! Melanie Crowder, talented author of the forthcoming middle grade novel PARCHED, has tagged me.

A quick disclaimer: As I’m not entirely clear on the path my current work in progress is taking, I’m going to take the easy route and answer these questions with EVERY DAY AFTER in mind. Yes, I suppose I’m a bit of a rebel. But, hey, aren’t we all?

Now, on to the fun part…

1. What is the title of your book? EVERY DAY AFTER

2. Where did you get the idea for this book?

My paternal grandparents were both children of the 1920’s, and grew up during the Great Depression. Their stories of the hardships they endured inspired me to dig deeper. This may sound a bit cliché, but looking back I think I always knew, even as a kid, that I would write this book some day, though I never dreamed it would be published.

3. What is the genre of the book? Middle grade historical fiction

4. If you could pick actors to play the lead characters in your story, whom would you pick?

This is a super-fun question, so I decided to do an entire post on this one. Check back here on Wednesday, January 30th to find out.

5. How would you describe your book in one sentence?

Daddy left, but Lizzie’s not letting doctors, bankers, or bratty newcomers take what remains—her mama, her house, or her best friend.

6. How will your book be published?

EVERY DAY AFTER will be released through Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books on June 11, 2013. Whoo-hoo!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of this book?

The very first draft took me about four months to write, but it went through many revisions afterward. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I cut main characters, added new characters, expanded plot lines, cut chapters, added new chapters, and on and on. The process was repeated once again with my fabulous editor. From first draft to final book, EVERY DAY AFTER took several years to complete.

8. What other books within your genre are similar to yours?

I’m not going to compare my book to other books. Every story has its own unique qualities. But, I will share the characters I feel are most like Lizzie Hawkins, my book’s young protagonist.

Lizzie is independent and responsible (she takes care of her ailing mama and their home all by herself), spirited (she’s been known to throw a punch or two), rather stubborn (like her daddy, it’s her way or the highway), and oblivious to her own flaws (as are we all).

I’d say she is a mix of Turtle’s responsibility (TURTLE IN PARADISE), Scout Finch’s hot temper (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), Abilene Tucker’s emotional scars inflicted by a deserter daddy (MOON OVER MANIFEST), and Sistine Bailey’s feisty determination (THE TIGER RISING).

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

*See question #2, or for further detail, be sure to check out The Lucky 13s blog on January 24th for a full post about the inspiration behind the book.

10. What about your book will pique the reader’s interest?

There are hundreds of middle grade novels about spunky girls living through the 1930s. Admittedly, EVERY DAY AFTER is no exception. But there is no doubt that the star of the book is Lizzie herself. If you’ll give her a chance, she just might win you over with her flaws, her mistakes, and her utter humanness. She’ll likely make you mad, she might make you laugh, and she will make you think. I hope she is as real to her readers as she is to her writer.

 

And there you go! That was actually rather painless! (At least for me.) Thanks for stopping by. Next week, be sure to check out my friend Anita Saxena’s excellent blog Anita’s Edge where she’ll keep the Next Big Thing blog chain going.

 

 

 

 

*The Good in the “Good Ol’ Days”

January 11th, 2013

It used to be that when I thought of life in the 1930s I immediately envisioned the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama in Harper Lee’s classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I felt sweltering temperatures, smelled dusty roads, and heard the hollers and shouts of dirty-faced, skinned knee children echoing through the air as they chased ice trucks and each other. I saw overalls, outhouses, and door-to-door doctors. I sensed a simpler life—life before Facebook and Twitter and the death of the art of letter writing. (Sob) And while all those things certainly were small parts of the 1930s, they weren’t the end-all-be-all of the Great Depression. My vision was a rather white-washed version of reality.

 

Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal Pictures, 1962)

 

I fully admit to having always had somewhat of a fascination with Depression-era America. My own grandparents’ tales of life during the ‘30s sparked the flame of interest, and when I began early research for EVERY DAY AFTER, the flame was fanned into a roaring fire. The principal fanning came through my discovery of some wonderfully stark and emotional images—images captured by Dorothea Lange for the Resettlement Administration. For longer than I care to admit, I stared at what has become Lange’s most recognizable photograph: Migrant Mother.

 

Migrant Mother (Dorothea Lange, 1936)

 

Migrant Mother’s face, with its deep lines and leathery skin, haunted me. Hers was not the face of someone concerned only about how dirty-faced or skinned knee her children would become whilst out chasing ice trucks or other kids. Oh, no. Hers was the face of a mother filled with anxiety over her children’s very survival. Hers was a face thick with worry over where her family’s next meal might come from, or where she would tuck her children into bed that night. Hers was certainly not the face of Atticus Finch—smooth, clean, eyeing a tasty dinner offered up in serving bowls on a properly set dining room table. Nope. Migrant Mother’s face, and the faces of her seven children, was covered with a film of sweat and dirt. She had no dining room table, merely a canvas tent, and no clue what food she was going to serve inside of it or where that food would come from. And she definitely hadn’t enjoyed the luxury of a pre-noon bath followed by a dusting of sweet talcum and a three-o’clock nap, as had the ladies of Maycomb (page 5 in my paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird). That is apparent from the photograph.

My paternal grandfather used to say: “There was nothing good about the good ol’ days.” I used to think he was crazy. Of course there was good in the good old days; otherwise, why were they called that? But we had different perspectives, my grandfather and I. I was looking back nostalgically on a decade in which I had not lived. My grandfather had lived it. Florence Owens Thompson (Migrant Mother’s real name) had lived it. Both had experienced the dark side of Depression-era America that I’d never truly stopped to consider until I wanted to write about it. My prior vision of the ‘30s and the actual reality of it didn’t quite line up. For example:

My vision: door-to-door doctors

Reality: state hospitals, insane asylums, and poor medical care

My vision: Sassy kids running fun and fancy free about their neighborhoods.

Reality: Boy and girls forced to drop out of school at early ages (as my grandfather did) to work in mines or around their farms.

My vision: community socials and picnics

Reality: A fiercely segregated and prejudiced society (especially here in the South); a terrible time of the KKK and oppression of minorities.

My vision: a romanticized picture of old-fashioned farmers working their fields

Reality: widespread overworked soil, drought, and plummeting produce prices

My vision: home-cooked meals with no microwaves or boxed dinners in sight

Reality: frugal eating that would likely cause many of us nowadays to grumble

My vision: buying an assortment of food and necessities for less than a dollar

Reality: needing the food and necessities but lacking the dollar

After years of researching the 1930s, would I chose to live it? No. But I’m still in love with it. Why? Because I believe the Depression is a stirring example of the toughest of times bringing out the best in people. True, not everyone handled their burdens with grace, but many did—people like my grandparents and Florence Owens Thompson. Under the worst of circumstances, folks all across America rose to the occasion—children and adults alike—doing everything in their power to care for one another. In my mind, this era remains a perfect picture of the strength of the human spirit and our inexhaustible will to survive. Perhaps that is the “good” in the good ol’ days. What’s not to love about that?

 

*This post was originally written for the Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks blog–the virtual home of a group of nine authors of historical fiction. Click the logo to discover who we are, what books we’ve written, and more about all things historic.

FRIDAY FAVORITE: Hattie Big Sky

September 7th, 2012

On Wednesday night, John Schumacher (aka @MrSchuReads) and Colby Sharp (aka @colbysharp), the beloved teachers and tireless warriors for childhood literacy, hosted a Twitter Chat for HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson.

The Schu/Sharp Twitter Chat subject and book you’ll LOVE!

Though I wasn’t able to participate due to the official arrival of homework season, I did read through the feed after I’d put my boys to bed. Do check it out at #hattiebigsky, or better yet, visit the blog of Mr. Schu (hey, that’s what everyone calls him) and read a collection of random tweets taken from the chat. Kirby Larson even popped in for a few minutes to answer questions! Wasn’t that lovely?

The discussion alone refreshed many of the emotions I experienced while reading HATTIE—wonder, anger, sadness, joy. I immediately wanted to pick it up and read it again, but alas, I am knee-deep in research for my next book, and my TBR pile is eye-poppingly huge. I think I’ll wait and reread HATTIE when I can take the time to truly savor each and every word. You know, as a reward.

I am not going to do a full review of HATTIE BIG SKY in this blog post. There are many excellent reviews out there. Plus, the fact that HATTIE received a Newbery Honor is recommendation enough in my opinion. But, what I will do is reveal to you my favorite part of this week’s Friday Favorite book. Can you guess?

It’s Hattie! That’s right. Hattie Inez Brooks herself. When I first read this book, I could not get over the strength, discipline, and…goodness of Hattie. Once I finished reading, I immediately lent the book to my mother. She felt the same.

Typically, good characters are a bad thing. When folks remark that your main character is too good, they’re usually saying you need to rough up your character a bit, give him or her some flaws, make them more human. But Hattie is a wonderful exception to this rule. She is good, but she is also human. An extremely diginified human. A tremendous example of what we humans should be. Yes, she has a temper-flare or two, but they are more than justified. Yes, she experiences her share of self-doubt, but she perseveres through trials and hardships with her head held high. She excels at self-control. She is calm and cool in the presence of handsome and enigmatic Traft Martin. She is rational and mature in the midst of unbearable tragedy. She ever so gracefully manages to stand up for what she believes in without putting her foot in her mouth. She never loses her dignity. Hattie is half my age, yet I look up to her. I wish I held her strength of character and her maturity.

Kirby has set the bar almost unreachably high in regard to literary achievement, and her Hattie has done the same in regard to personal conduct. HATTIE BIG SKY inspires me to be a bit stronger; a bit more courageous; a bit more level-headed; a bit more Hattie-like. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, young or old, I do hope Hattie will inspire the same in you.

And…

Come 2013 we’ll get to settle on our sofas or reading chairs and spend even more time with Hattie Inez Brooks because HATTIE EVER AFTER, the long-awaited sequel to HATTIE BIG SKY, will release on the 12th of February. Whoo-hoo! I cannot wait. If you haven’t seen its gorgeous cover yet, do admire it here on the Random House Kids website. You can also read the story behind the cover on Kirby’s awesome blog, Kirby’s Lane. And finally, here you will find the first chapter of HATTIE BIG SKY prefaced by a small commentary on how Hattie came to be acquired by Michelle Poploff at Delacorte Press. And, yes, that is the exact same house, and the exact same editor, that acquired EVERY DAY AFTER. Thinking about it makes my heart go pitter-pat. I am both honored and humbled by the thought.

Now for the really fun part. Leave a comment below by 5:00pm EDT on Sunday and you will be entered into a drawing to receive your very own copy of HATTIE BIG SKY! The winner will be notified by email before 9:00am Monday morning. And, if you happen to be that one lucky winner, do me a favor and indulge in a happy dance, because you are about to be inspired by the goodness and tenacity of Hattie Inez Brooks. And that, dear readers, is indeed something to celebrate.

 

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: F.T. Bradley

August 17th, 2012

Photo by Sassy Skelton

Today I’d like to give a very warm welcome to F.T. Bradley (that ‘F’ stands for Fleur, a name I utterly adore). She’s the author of the action-packed, adventurous middle grade novel DOUBLE VISION which is set to be released in October from Harper Children’s. Yay! Here’s a bit about the book:

ALEX RIDER meets THE DA VINCI CODE when a regular kid goes undercover in Paris…

Undercover spies, codes and ciphers, a secret painting with unimaginable powers… It’s all in a day’s work when you’re one of the world’s top kid agents.

But Linc Baker isn’t a kid agent at all. He just happens to look exactly like one of them.

And when this lookalike goes missing, Linc will have to impersonate him on a mission that plunges him into a world of intrigue, danger, and great pastries.

No pressure, right?

It looks and sounds amazing! With two adventure-loving boys in my house, I’m sure this will be a welcome addition to our collection of books.

If you’re lucky enough to belong to the Southern Breeze region of the SCBWI, you likely know that F.T. will be leading a workshop on writing thrillers at our annual Writing and Illustrating for Kids Fall Conference (wik12) in Birmingham, Alabama. If you didn’t know that, well, you should absolutely make plans to attend. The Southern Breeze region always hosts amazing conferences, and F.T.’s workshop sounds excellent. I’m so happy to have her on the blog today.

Hi F.T.! Welcome. Would you mind starting things off by telling us a bit about your path to publication?

F.T.: Thanks for having me!

You could say I cut my teeth as a writer of short crime fiction—it was a great way to learn the craft and learn the business. I then tried my hand at novel-length fiction, and got rejected by pretty much every literary agent… I have six manuscripts in the drawer.

I found my current agent (Stephen Barbara at Foundry Literary and Media) by submitting him two different YA manuscripts, which he kindly rejected—but I think he saw something in the writing. We spoke on the phone, and he suggested I try writing middle-grade. Together, we worked on a proposal for what is now the Double Vision series—I’m very fortunate to have this great agent who found me a home at Harper Children’s. It took a long time to get here, but it was worth the wait.

You were born in the Netherlands and have traveled extensively. Why did you choose The City of Light as the setting for your book?

F.T.: I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel as much as I have, but I know most kids don’t get to take a vacation to Europe. So when it came time to look for a setting for a first secret agent mission for Linc (the main character in the book), I tried to look at things through a twelve year-old kid’s eyes. Where would I want to go if I were Linc? Paris made the top of the list.

Paris has such a great deal of history, I had my pick of places Linc could visit. Since the story delves into secret codes, and revolves around a Leonardo da Vinci painting, Paris turned out to be the perfect setting.

Was much research required in writing Double Vision?

F.T.: I did a ton of research on Leonardo da Vinci—the kind of man he was, his art, his work. I think I used maybe one percent of it… But you can never tell when you start digging whether you’ll find a nugget or a goldmine. And all that researched helped me understand that da Vinci was a man who (much like Linc) didn’t finish many of the things he started. I also learned da Vinci was kind to animals—a nugget I was able to use in Double Vision.

I also researched the Louvre, the Moulin de la Galette, the Parisian Catacombs, and many other locations Linc visits on his mission.

Linc has to decode ciphers to uncover clues to the location of the dangerous da Vinci painting, so I had to research codes and write them to fit the adventure. That was so much fun—like organizing a treasure hunt. I hope the kids who will read Double Vision enjoy decoding these ciphers as much I had fun writing them.

You’ve admitted you are a reluctant reader. Do you have any favorite books that you’d like to recommend to other reluctant readers out there?

F.T.: I love the Wimpy Kid series, like everyone. Dan Gutman’s books are great for reluctant readers, and they’re funny, too. Harlan Coben’s Shelter is a great YA with boy appeal. I like James Patterson’s books—he knows how to keep the pace up, which is so important for us reluctant readers.

For parents, I think it’s important to encourage any kind of reading—even if it’s a comic book or non-fiction. Get kids in the reading habit by taking them to the book store or library regularly, and let them pick what they like. You can branch out to graphic novels from there, and find fast-paced thrillers, or short story collections. Try to shift their view of books from something that’s homework, to something that’s a great story in another format—like movies and videogames.

Speaking of hooking a reluctant reader and keeping them engaged, could you hint at some of the things you’ll cover in your wik12 workshop?

F.T.: Mysteries and thrillers are really sought after by MG and YA readers, and at conventions I’m hearing more editors and agents express interest. So I’m excited to share all I know about the genre during my workshop at wik12 in Birmingham.

I’ll explain some of the mystery/thriller genre basics, how to find a strong premise, and how to make it all work within the limits of YA and MG. We’ll cover how to keep the stakes high, look at examples of great pacing, and try our hand at some quick ways to improve pacing in attendees work-in-progress. I’ll share a list of resources, including websites with more information and a list of YA and MG mysteries/thrillers.

I’m really looking forward to October!

And lastly, in honor of thrill-seeking readers and travelers everywhere, what is the most thrilling place you’ve ever visited?

F.T.: Believe it or not… North Dakota. We lived in a tiny town near the Canadian border, where a mile-wide tornado missed us by a hair… I prefer my thrills happen on the page instead!

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, F.T. wik12 is going to be fantastic this year thanks in part to you!

If you would like to learn more about F.T. Bradley and her upcoming book, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, or check-out her blog. Better yet, meet her in person at the Southern Breeze Fall Conference in Birmingham, AL on October 20, 2012. You can find more information about the conference, including online registration information, here.

Hope to see y’all there!

Until then, meet more of the wik12 faculty by following their blog tour!

Aug. 15 Sharon Pegram at Writers and Wannabes

Aug. 16 Sarah Campbell at Alison Hertz’s blog, On My Mind

Aug. 17 F.T. Bradley at Laura Golden’s blog

Aug. 20 Chuck Galey at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog

Aug. 21 Jo Kittinger at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales

Aug. 22 Irene Latham at Robyn Hood Black’s blog, Read, Write, Howl

Aug. 23 Vicky Alvear Shecter at S.R. Johannes’ blog

Aug. 24 Doraine Bennett at Cathy Hall’s blog

Aug. 27 Virginia Butler at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales

Aug. 28 Jodi Wheeler-Toppen at Diane Sherrouse’s blog, The Reading Road 

Aug. 29 Ellen Ruffin at Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, Picture This 

Aug. 30 Donna Jo Napoli at Writers and Wannabes

Oh, I just can’t wait for wik12! Is it October, yet?