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On writing, reading, and waiting
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26. Tell Me What You Think

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It’s been a long time since I’ve conducted a reader survey. I’d love to hear what first brought you here and what (I hope!) keeps you coming back.

The survey is nineteen questions long and should take five minutes, maybe ten if you have a lot to say. It is also anonymous. I won’t know who you are unless you choose to identify yourself somehow. Please know you can be completely candid. Simply click through to begin. Thank you to Sheila of The Deliberate Reader for letting me tweak a survey she used a couple months ago.

Thank you so much for reading here, friends!

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Tell Me What You Think originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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27. Classics Take up Residence in Our Hearts

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. . . When we read the classic stories that make us laugh aloud or cry, or shrivel with fright or hug ourselves with happiness, it is my hunch that we could, if we tried, track the main idea down to a pivotal moment in the writer’s life—or several pivotal moments. These classic stories have the quality of ‘difference.’ They are here today, and here tomorrow, and here the day after, since children’s books and folktales which are loved and remembered do more than entertain for a while: they move children profoundly, and having done so they take up residence in their hearts and stay there. They are remembered affectionately, sometimes word for word, into adulthood.
— Mem Fox

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Classics Take up Residence in Our Hearts originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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28. Top Posts of All Time

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In 2009 I stopped teaching without any publishing prospects, but with the burning conviction it was time to put everything behind my efforts to finally sell a book. I did what every other aspiring author was doing then: I started a blog.

A few months later, I signed with my first agent. Four months after that, May B. was under contract. Through highs and lows this blog has been a constant, a place for me to think through ideas, share bits of encouragement, introduce readers to new books, and celebrate my own. Whether you’ve been here from the beginning or are entirely new, I thank you for the ways you’ve added to the conversation and become a key part of my writing life.

Over the next few months I plan to highlight key posts that have risen to the top. Today’s are the posts that are read most often (I wrote this before last week, when this post, now the top post of all time, went live). While my sense is most regular readers are aspiring writers, it’s interesting to note these posts almost exclusively speak to teachers, librarians, and parents looking to share books with their children.

Running a Book Club for Kids

The first post in a series based on my experience running after-school book clubs, this post has been number one around here for years. Included in the post are links to the rest of the series.

girls and pearls

The Gift of Friendship

I love knowing that the second most-widely read post on the blog is essentially a love letter to my dear friend, Jamie C. Martin, whose own book comes out later this year. The post touches on the ways friends bolster and inspire us, in this case how Jamie pushed me to be brave when writing Blue Birds.

Third-Grade Book Club Reading Lists

Straight from my after-school book club days, this is the list I used with third-grade readers, plus a run down of everything I included in my Welcome to Book Club handout.

Classroom Connections: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Lynda’s had a pretty phenomenal year, hitting the NYT Bestseller’s List with her second middle-grade novel, Fish in a Tree, and going on to win the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award, which “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” This interview includes links to Lynda’s website and educator’s guide.

Fast Five: Novels About Teachers and Their Students

This one’s been a favorite for a long time, with a number of oldie but goodies sure to inspire.

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Reading in the Wild: 5 Things Wild Readers Do

Teacher turned author turned Scholastic Press guru, Donalyn Miller, has written two glorious books about reading and teaching that I devoured. This post is one of several that grew out of her second book, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Read our interview based on Donalyn’s first book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, here.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Top Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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29. On Writing

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A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter… A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.
— C. S. Lewis

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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30. Why Pay Authors for School Visits Anyway?

book posters illinois

Yesterday I shared tips on finding authors who are interested in school visits. Today I’m going to bring up compensation, a topic that is never easy to discuss but is nevertheless necessary, especially if you’re interested in inviting an author to your school. Let’s look at some commonly-held assumptions about authors and visits and contrast them with a more realistic glimpse at things.

Assumption #1: Shouldn’t authors offer free school visits? After all, it’s great for publicity. Some authors do offer free visits, whether when first starting out (I did that) or by offering one or two free visits each year (I’ve done that, too) or in other situations when they choose to do so. But here’s the thing:

An author is a professional. Just as we wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix a leak in exchange for publicity, we shouldn’t expect the same from an author sharing her expertise with young readers.

There’s an unspoken assumption attached to this one, the idea that once an author sells a book she has it made. In truth, it’s safe to say many of us make less (in many cases far less) than your average teacher. All of my books have sold for less than what I received my first year teaching, and that was in the mid-nineties in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the US. For an author, there’s no such thing as a steady income. Selling new books to a publisher can be sporadic, if it happens at all. I share this because I think it’s important to have a sense of how slow and precarious establishing oneself in the writing world can be. 

Assumption #2: We’d like to have bookseller come when you’re at our school. Aren’t book sales enough to cover an author visit? Thank you to every school that considers book sales! To give a child the opportunity to own a book — any book — is a gift. And there is special meaning attached to a book written by an author the child has met. Unfortunately, though, book sales are not the same as compensation.

For example, for each book I sell, I earn around $1 for a hardback and $.50 for each paperback. So while selling books at a school visit is wonderful, it is primarily a benefit for young readers.

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Assumption #3: I’ve just looked at your rates. You sure expect to make a lot of money an hour! If you click through to my author visits page, you’ll get sense at what I charge for visits in the Albuquerque area, within New Mexico, and out of state. While some authors choose not to list their prices online, I like having that information available to anyone who might consider inviting me to present at their school.

An author’s rates can’t be translated into hourly fees. When a school pays for an author visit, not only are they compensating the author for the work she does that day, but all the preparation that went into the presentations beforehand, the time spent traveling to and from the school, and the author’s time away from her writing desk. An author visit isn’t just an event, it’s an experience, one that takes time and preparation to get it just right.

Assumption #4: There’s no way my school can afford to bring an author in. Not true! Scholastic has produced a great document about preparing for an author visit, which includes ideas for fundraising. SCBWI offers the Amber Brown Grant, which annually gives one school “an all-expense-paid visit from a well-respected children’s author or illustrator.” Here’s another page with information on funding, another on grants. Perhaps money earmarked for field trips might be used for a school visit (think of it as a field trip coming to the school). Or maybe the PTA could help out. And don’t forget Skype visits, which cost significantly less.

Dan Gutman shares a wonderful quote from a student on his Perfect Author Visit page.

I am now reading more than any other part of my life thanks to Dan Gutman.

Isn’t this ultimately the wish of every author and teacher? An author visit is an opportunity to hook young readers, keep them reading, and serve their creativity, writing, and imaginations for years to come. It’s an investment, for sure, one I wholeheartedly believe is worth making.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Why Pay Authors for School Visits Anyway? originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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31. Four Places to Find Authors Who Want to Vist Your School

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Perhaps you’ve considered inviting an author to talk to your students but are unsure what to do. Maybe a neighboring school has just brought in an author to great success and you’d like to do the same.

But how exactly do you proceed? How do you find an author who does presentations? Are these visits free (and if not, shouldn’t they be)?*

Finding authors

Probably the most comprehensive list of authors who do school visits can be found through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Speaker’s Bureau. Here you can find authors, illustrators, and children’s book translators by region or within a certain radius from where you are. Want someone who writes for a certain age range? You can do that, too.

For example, when I entered “All” (for authors, illustrators, or translators), “New Mexico,” and the age range 5-10, I was able to find six authors and illustrators who met that criteria. Because SCBWI is an international organization, you can find speakers from every corner of the globe and many who are willing to travel.

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Another way to find authors is to visit publishing websites directly. Scholastic, for example, has an Invite an Author page, where you can search a list of authors available for school and Skype visits. Here’s a similar page from Random House Children’s Books, one from Penguin, another from HarperCollins.

Author Kim Norman also hosts a blog called School Author Visits by State, where you can quickly scan lists of authors, arranged alphabetically by state, who are ready and willing to present at schools.

One final way to find an author to visit your school is to simply Google a few of your favorites. Many authors include on their websites information about school visits as well as presentations prospective schools can choose from. Here are a few examples I think are especially great:

Alexis O’Neill
Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Kate Messner
Don Tate
Deborah Wiles
Gordon Korman
Kekla Magoon
Barbara O’Connor
Terry Lynn Johnson

Once you’ve booked that author, consider reading these articles filled with great advice on making your visit spectacular.

Ten Tips for a Perfect Author Visit :: Nerdy Book Club
The Authors Answer: What Made Your Best School Visits Great? :: Publisher’s Weekly Shelftalker
The Perfect Author Visit :: Dan Gutman

*More on this second question in tomorrow’s post

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Four Places to Find Authors Who Want to Vist Your School originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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32. Blue Birds Love: Words from a Young Reader

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Dear Ms. Rose,

I am a fifth-grader from Maryland. I enjoyed reading Blue Birds. When I first started reading I was a bit uninterested because it took so long for Kimi and Alis to meet. When they met, a whole new world was opened to my eyes. They didn’t look at each other like strangers; they looked at each other like best friends would, despite appearances. At first, they longed for their best friends that were like them, Joan and Alawa. They soon realized that best friends aren’t people who are like you, best friends are people who look up for you and protect you, yet show all their love.

I love reading historical fiction, it’s so fascinating. Thank you for making Blue Birds, sometimes, there is hardly any historical fiction in the library. I randomly grabbed your book off the shelf because it looked interesting. When I found out it was about Roanoke, I had to check it out. Did you like history growing up?

I also love writing. Writing stories is my favorite pastime. I get to be creative and use my imagination to inspire others. Please write more stories, preferably, about Valley Forge and the revolution. I’d also like some writing tips, or poetry tips.

I don’t really like poetry that much. I like writing things out and being descriptive. You mastered poetry.* You wrote poetically, yet made it intriguing. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

Sincerely,
A Reader (age 10)

* the reader’s emphasis, not mine!

The post Blue Birds Love: Words from a Young Reader originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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33. Straight from the Source: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb on Writing Historical Fiction

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The 13th Sign, Selling Hope ,and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different . Watch for John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy this month (written as E.F. Abbott) and  Miss Daisy’s Job summer 2017. Tubb can be found far too often on Facebook and Twitter.  Oh, and she has a website, too.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

An era or idea usually precedes the character for me, and once I’ve done some research, it becomes clear what kind of character would struggle in that setting. It can be painful to write the underdog or the outsider, but it’s usually much richer story if that’s the case, and I find it’s easier to do so knowing a lot about what constitutes “underdoggedness” in a certain era. (I think I just made up a word. ☺ )

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I still use the system that my freshman English teacher, Linda McGill taught us! The method is this: each source gets a number depending on when I’ve read it/taken notes from it. Each notecard (more on that in a bit!) is one fact, and it’s coded with that source number and the page number or the specific URL where the information was found. After I’m done researching (which for John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy was four months, but for Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different was four years), the notecards are spread and shuffled EVERYWHERE to create the story outline. Once the outline is complete, the cards are finally put in subject-order, things like “Church,” “Medicines,” “Foods,” etc.

While I’m drafting the book, I look at these categories often: “Hmmm, what kind of a hymn would be sung at a funeral?” And because it’s coded with a source and page number, I can always go back to that source. For every book I’ve written, I’ve needed to, at some point, relocate a source to clarify a fact. So it’s a useful system for me. Thank you again, Ms. McGill!

And regarding notecards: I don’t use them any more, although I did for both Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different – my debut – and Selling Hope. Everything is in a Word document now, though all facts are still coded with a source and page number!

What kinds of sources do you use? 

For Autumn Winifred Oliver, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a goldmine of primary sources: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has an archives located in the basement of the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center. Cookbooks, photographs, hymnals, school books: all used by the folks who lived in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

For Selling Hope, I found an amazing resource in the online photograph collection hosted by the Chicago Historical Society. (Since the writing of that book, many local libraries, historical societies and universities have done this for their city. Be sure and use those historical societies! They LIVE for requests like the ones historical fiction writers ask!)

For John Lincoln Clem, I watched hours of Civil War reenactors on YouTube, particularly the drummers. It was critical to the book to capture the sound and cadence of the drum calls, and this was amazingly helpful. I use YouTube a lot. A LOT. Also eBay, which, when you search for a year and/or a city, will often produce fantastic results: jewelry, books, clothing, dinnerware, etc. I’ve also used classic advertisements to describe cars and clothing, and the want ads (my FAVORITE!) to gather unique and wonderful vocabulary for an era. Each book has taken me to unique places that I didn’t know existed.

What is your favorite thing about research?

My favorite thing about research is that it often builds my plot and my characters for me. I mentioned above that I sometimes craft a character based on who might be an awful fit for a certain time and place. In Selling Hope, for example, Hope is a homebody who longs for permanence based largely on my research of those nomadic vaudeville troops.

Research also often uncovers plot points that I know I’ll want to include in my story. In John Lincoln Clem, the research I did on the Civil War uncovered the fact that some soldiers, in their boredom, would pick a louse – a single lice bug – off their body and “race” them across a tin plate. The winner would get out of chores or win brass buttons. I knew this was a story kids would eat up, so it became part of the plot of the book. 

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

The answer is there, it just needs dusting off, possibly while wearing white gloves. Search and ye shall find! That, and writing historical fiction, to me, is just like writing contemporary fiction but with a more thorough setting, a tighter lens. What people want – love, togetherness, family, health, friends, to make a difference – never changes. Themes are everlasting. So uncovering what people want, and looking at that need within the scope of the era, is a very satisfying way to tell a story.

Why is historical fiction important?

Because themes are everlasting – because people still want now what they’ve always wanted – historical fiction reflects humanity’s attempts at achieving goals. Sometimes those goals are achieved beautifully. Sometimes they are a disaster. Historical fiction shows readers that our ancestors worked and played and struggled and won and failed – and survived. Humans have attempted many different ways to survive. Historical fiction reflects our wins and our losses.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Straight from the Source: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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34. Writing Links

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33 Rules of Writing from Some of the Most Brilliant Women in Children’s & YA Literature :: Kate Messner

5 Traits that Foster Publishing Success :: Jody Hedlund

Resistance by Joanna Roddy :: Project Mayehm

Hope for Weary and Discouraged Writers :: Ed Cyzewski

What To Do When Someone Else Wrote Your Book :: Chatting at the Sky

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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35. Wisdom from How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous

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I listened to this book on my way to Mosquero and was so taken by its closing lines I checked out the hardcopy to share them with you:

There are so many ways to fail that it’s hard to pick which one is right for you. The possibilities are limitless, and the world is your failure playground. You can fail in ways you won’t even be able to predict. You’ll dive into things you’ll never finish, and finish stuff that stinks. Sometimes you’ll try really hard, and that won’t be enough.

Some people have good intentions, and end up failing anyway…but that’s not true for everyone. There’s no way to succeed at failing either. So fail the best you can: try something new, be brave, make mistakes*.

 

*This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s “make glorious and fantastic mistakes,” part of his exhortation to those who wish to make great art.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

 

The post Wisdom from How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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36. Classroom Connections: The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price
genre: contemporary with magical realism
age range: 8-12
setting: Cincinnati
Jennifer Maschari’s website
discussion guide

Jennifer Maschari’s debut novel is a work-out for the heart. Charlie Price has to make a terrible choice between what has been and what could be, and readers will stick with him every poignant, suspenseful step of the way. Charlie’s journey is more than remarkable. It’s unforgettable.
–Tricia Springstubb, author of Moonpenny Island

What a beautiful book Jen Maschari has written—a brave and big-hearted exploration of the sustaining power of friendship and the infinite treasure of memory our loved ones give us.
— Anne Ursu, author of Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy

Beautifully crafted sentences read almost as if they were poetry…Fans of both fantasy and realistic fiction will appreciate this painful but ultimately triumphant, multilayered novel.
— School Library Journal, starred review

A beautifully written meditation on grief … Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline”
— Booklist

Please tell us about your book.

My book is a middle grade novel about a boy named Charlie who thinks he is doing okay after the death of his mother. He has Mathletes, he has school, and he has his friends. But then his little sister, Imogen, finds a passageway under her bed to a world very much like their own, with one key difference: Mom is alive. But things are not as they seem. Charlie needs to find out the truth of this alternate world before he loses himself, the true memory of their mother and Imogen, forever.

My book has a little bit of everything: magic, math, hope, and a really great dog named Ruby.

What inspired you to write this story?

There are a lot of things that inspired the writing of Charlie’s story. My father passed away when I was younger so I think a lot of those feelings of loss and sadness and trying to find a new “okay” gave this story roots. I wrote the book that my younger self needed.

I also tutor students in math and used to teach fifth grade science. Charlie’s always been a mathematician to me. It was really interesting to contrast Charlie’s love of math (and its unchanging nature) with his constantly evolving feelings, hopes and understandings. Charlie wants there to be concrete answers, but life doesn’t always give them to you.

What are some interesting things you learned when researching for this book?

I did a lot of interesting research for this book. This research involved both using books and the internet to find answers.

Even though I grew up in Cincinnati where the book takes place, I made sure to look at maps of the area where Charlie lived. This added an extra layer of authenticity to his comings and goings (though I did take a few liberties). Google Maps was a great resource for this. Not only did I get to look at the street layouts but I also could look at pictures of the area. I researched the stars, constellation stories, different mathematical terms, and telescopes. An observatory in Cincinnati plays an interesting role in the story, and I e-mailed with the director to get the floor plans and discuss what could actually be seen by the telescopes. I love learning new things.

What are some special challenges associated with writing magical middle grade?

Defining the rules of magic was certainly a special challenge I had to face in writing this book. In an early draft, all kinds of magical things just happened at different times. I had to take a step back and actually write the rules down so I could refer to them as I was revising. It’s just like in real life. For example, take gravity. We know if we jump up, that we will come back down to earth. It’s what we expect. I had to build in that level of expectation with the magic. If this one thing happens, it causes this magical thing to happen, and I had to be consistent throughout.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

I truly believe that books act as mirrors (reflecting back our own experiences) and windows (allowing us to see into the lives of others). I hope that this book would reach kids who are facing difficult things in their lives – whether it be a death of a loved one or something else entirely – and let them see it’s possible to come out the other side. Books build empathy and allow safe spaces for kids to experience different emotions and situations. I hope that my book allows for that as well.

I think my book also has a lot of opportunities for cross-curricular connections:
-outer space (stars, orbits)
-math (variables, equations, Möbius strip)
-the constellations (stories and history behind them)

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Classroom Connections: The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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37. Fast Five: Post-Apocalyptic Novels for Grown-Ups

Post-Apocalyptic Novels

There are a slew of young adult post-apocalyptic novels out here but not as many (that I’m aware of) for grown ups. I find these books interesting on two counts — the commentary on society as we know it and the theories about what in the human spirit and society in general would endure catastrophe and what might morph and change. Here are a handful I’ve enjoyed with their jacket flap descriptions as well as a few thoughts of my own.

The Children of Men – P. D. James

Told with P. D. James’s trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future. The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing.

Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.

I adore P. D. James’s mysteries, so when I found this book at my Michigan library almost ten years ago, I quickly picked it up. The description mentions both a “world with no children” and a woman and her band who “may…hold the key to the survival for the human race.” It’s not too hard to determine perhaps not everything is as first expected. One scene that especially stayed with me had to do with the elderly and death. Chilling and thought-provoking.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A searing, post-apocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Probably the bleakest book of the five. The Road does end on a note of hope, but it’s a whisper-y, frail sort of note. The writing isn’t the lush McCarthy you’re probably familiar with but reflects the story exactly as it should. Not recommended as middle-of-the-night when you can’t sleep, in case you’re wondering!

The Girl With All the Gifts — M. R. Carey

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

This is a book you really shouldn’t know anything about before going in. It’s probably my favorite on the list. Weird and fun and crazy and wild. I devoured it* while on a family road trip.

 

Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Fabulous. You can read my earlier thoughts here. There are some strong parallels with World Made by Hand.

World Made by Hand — James Howard Kunstler

In The Long Emergency celebrated social commentator James Howard Kunstler explored how the terminal decline of oil production, combined with climate change, had the potential to put industrial civilization out of business. In World Made by Hand, an astonishing work of speculative fiction, Kunstler brings to life what America might be, a few decades hence, after these catastrophes converge.

For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is nothing like they thought it would be. Transportation is slow and dangerous, so food is grown locally at great expense of time and energy, and the outside world is largely unknown. There may be a president, and he may be in Minneapolis now, but people aren’t sure. Their challenges play out in a dazzling, fully realized world of abandoned highways and empty houses, horses working the fields and rivers, no longer polluted, and replenished with fish. With the cost of oil skyrocketing—and with it the price of food—Kunstler’s extraordinary book, full of love and loss, violence and power, sex and drugs, depression and desperation, but also plenty of hope, is more relevant than ever.

Like Station Eleven, this book reminded me of the show Revolution. I found the exploration of faith in both books interesting and disturbing, but utterly realistic. So much to think about on how communities might re-start after cataclysmic change.

*humorous attempt at a teeny-weeny spoiler

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38. Why We Read

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Books were my salvation when, as I was growing up, my mother and I endured poverty, betrayal, and humiliation because of my violent, alcoholic father. From library books, I learned that not every home was like ours, that there were many ways to live. Books inspired my imagination; and imagination is the mother of hope. At thirteen, working part-time, I bought paperbacks, which were my treasure–the only one I needed. Authors, booksellers, and librarians were my heroes, providers of truth, magic, hope. And so they remain.
— Dean Koontz

 

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39. SWEET HOME ALASKA by Carole Estby Dagg + Giveaway

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Please tell us about your book.

Terpsichore Johnson is thrilled when her family is chosen for the Depression-era program that would transport 202 families from northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan all the way to Alaska to be self-sufficient farmers. She had always loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and now she was going to have a chance to be a pioneer, just like Laura Ingalls.

She hadn’t realized, though, just what pioneering would mean – giving up inside plumbing, electricity, and even libraries! Worse yet, fumbled management of the project leaves some families in tents as the first snow falls.

Despite challenges, Terpsichore comes to love Alaska. Her mother, however, still misses their home in Wisconsin. What could Terpsichore do to make her mother love Alaska like she does? She hatches a plan that involves a giant pumpkin and a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose.

What drew you to this story?

When I think of the Depression, I think of the dust bowl, college-educated men selling pencils on the street corner, and lines at the soup kitchen. I never realized that New Deal programs extended up to Alaska until my son moved to Palmer, Alaska and bought a rustic cabin on the outskirts of town next to a potato field.

I’ve always liked old houses, and in researching the history of the early days of Palmer, I discovered transcriptions of interviews of old-timers who had moved up with the program in 1935. What a trove of first-hand accounts! If other people also hadn’t heard about the history of the Palmer Colony, maybe I should write a book about it. I couldn’t use all the incidents they described, but I combined many of them and assigned them to my fictional Terpsichore and her new friends.

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Palmer tent city

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the AHA! moments when I find just the right info to connect the dots between previously known facts. Or to discover new info about historic characters I thought I knew. For instance, who knew that Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post spent one of their last days visiting the Palmer Colony before crashing near Barrow, Alaska?

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

I discovered a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose – someone on the Internet rated it as one of the ten most revolting foods.

The other oddest incident I ran across also involved a moose. A grave was dug the day before a funeral and during the night, a moose fell into it. The graveside service had to be delayed until the attendees figured out how to get the moose out of the hole. I wish I’d figured out a way to include that incident into the book!

Deer by Writer's Shack

I’ve always been charmed by your writing cabin. Could you tell us a little about it?

My writer’s shack started out as a wood shed – cement foundation with sturdy posts at the corners to support a roof. It’s one of the nicest spots on our get-away property on San Juan Island. Facing one direction, there’s a sliver of a view through the trees of Mosquito Pass. Facing the opposite direction, there’s a view of Garrison Bay and English Camp, established during the mid-1800’s when English and Americans were trying to decide which country owned the island.

Those views were too good to waste on a wood shed, so I asked my husband if I could claim it as my writing spot. I thought we’d just close in the sides with plywood and run an electrical wire out, but my husband found salvaged, leaded-glass windows for the view sides and had a small door custom made.

It’s only 7 feet by 8 feet, but it has all I need. I have a flat door held up by sawhorses for a desk, two lights, and a plug-in for an electrical heater so I can use it year-round. It’s about 30 paces from the house and another cup of tea.

What are you working on next?

My next book will be based on the Pig War, which took place on San Juan Island. 

Giveaway

Enter to win your own copy of SWEET HOME ALASKA below. The contest closes Wednesday, February 17. US residents only, please.

Carole - leaning smile-124 Carole Estby Dagg also wrote the middle-grade historical novel The Year We Were Famous. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and has lived in Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. She has degrees in sociology, library science, and accounting. Her real-life adventures include tiptoeing through King Tut’s tomb, sand boarding the dunes of western Australia, riding a camel among the Great Pyramids, paddling with Manta rays in Moorea, and smelling the penguins in the Falkland Islands. She is married with two children, two grandchildren, a husband, and a bossy cat who supervises her work. She splits her writing time between her study in Everett, Washington, and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island.

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40. Wholehearted in One Direction

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I love all things Gretchen Rubin, writer and podcaster extraordinaire who’s an expert on habits and happiness. She reads extensively and daily shares a Moment of Happiness quote to “remind you to make choices in your ordinary routine that will boost your happiness.” Here’s a recent favorite:

Happiness is essentially a state of going somewhere wholeheartedly, one-directionally, without regret or reservation.
-W.H. Sheldon

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41. A Visit to Mosquero, NM

mosquero readers

One of my greatest joys as an author is to meet with young readers. I get to pretend for an hour or a day than I am still teaching and that these students are mine.

Add to that joy the opportunity to travel to corners of New Mexico I’ve never seen before, and I’m a happy author indeed.

Last week I went to Mosquero, NM, a village ninety-three people strong, and one of the two communities in Harding County, NM (the other village, Roy, has a population of 234). The visit came about as a result of my postcard mailings last fall.

I met with the entire elementary school (pictured above). What a fabulous group of kids! For you to get a sense of all the wonderful things happening in this community, I’m adding here something I shared on Facebook last week:

I want to take a moment and brag on Mosquero Municipal Schools of Mosquero, NM. This tiny town (population 93) has one of the two school systems in Harding County, NM. I spent yesterday with the elementary school (an engaging, hardworking, sweet group of marvelous readers) and interacted a bit with the high schoolers, too.

Here’s a glimpse of what these kids do: Seventh and eighth graders work on the Mi Familia project, which is committed to recording the history of the people of Harding County. Since 2008, the high school has been working on Main Street murals, their first experience with art class (a mentor was hired to teach the students, but all the work is their own). They write, print, and distribute a quarterly newspaper for the entire county. Not only do they shoot all the school photos, they open their studio to the public. One student who decided the school should have a yearbook has made it happen on her own.

New Mexico’s educational system often gets bad press. We’re at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to national ranking. But I want everyone to know there are important, exciting, vital things happening in this place. Kids are doing marvelous work, work worth celebrating.

Hats off to the students and teachers of Mosquero Municipal Schools. It was a privilege to spend the day with them.

 

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42. On Writing

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If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.
— Nikki Giovanni

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43. An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared

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Last January, my local SCBWI chapter held a discussion on writing goals for the new year. At the time I had been processing a quote from Brenda Ueland as well as a recent email exchange with my critique partner, Valerie Geary, and was inspired to declare 2015 the year I learn to Write Smart and Not Scared.

Regular readers around here will know I’ve blogged about Smart and Not Scared writing throughout 2015. I’m still learning what this sort of writing looks like in my own life and will continue to do so in the year to come. Here’s a recap of the blog posts I’ve run and the topics I’ve covered. I hope you might click through to read them and join me in learning what it means to approach creativity in this way.

5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart and Not Scared

  • I want to be aware of the work beneath the work
  • I want to be proactive instead of reactive
  • I want my work, even when it’s hard, to bring about joy and satisfaction
  • I will not be afraid of anxious vanity
  • I will learn to mentally thumb my nose at the jeerers, critics, and doubters

An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared

  • Discomfort will always be part of my process
  • My deepest satisfaction comes from the work itself
  • “No” is often a gift
  • Choosing a challenge is ultimately satisfying
  • Breaks feed my creativity

Write. Make. Create.

One way I’m choosing to free up the overwhelming creating-something-from-nothing phase is to do a little mental word play. Much like I trick myself into steady work by focusing on the story’s present moment (rather than reminding myself I’m writing a whole darn book), I’m going to claim two words from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic:

I’m not going to write right now. I’m going to make. I’m going to create.

Writing Smart and Not Scared: More Words from Isabel Allende

I find it interesting that Allende has only recently learned to “go easily with confidence” when it comes to her writing. “If I sit long enough, it will happen,” she says. She’s twenty-one novels in, but only recently has she realized she has a skill. Now she knows “If given enough time, I can write almost anything.”

 

 

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44. Fragile Beginnings and Too-Early Audiences

counting by 7s

I’m always finding metaphors for the writing life in the world around me, and this exchange from Counting by 7sreminds me of the way I think about early drafts.

“Are you really planning on running?”

Dell mumbles a form of yes. But then adds:

“But I’m not going to join any kind of team in the spring. I made that part up. I’m just going to run for myself.”

I don’t think that’s strange because almost everything that I pursue is for my own understanding or amusement.

I believe having an audience naturally corrupts the performance.

And I believe the more private my writing is in the early stages, the more its about my own understanding and amusement, the more it will eventually connect with an audience. To invite in an audience too early, even an imaginary one, complicates things, for this writer, at least.

That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes talk about or even show early portions of things to writing friends. But mostly I give stories the room to unfurl, to take root in the midst of their fragile beginnings.

For those readers here who write, I’m curious about how your approach this aspect of  your work.

 

 

*This book comes highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

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45. On My Nightstand

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I took this picture a few weeks ago, and already the pile has changed. One book read, one more from my shelves added, one my son wants me to read, one ARC that arrived in the mail, one on loan from a friend, two I picked up from the library, and one more Klondike research book.

Yes, one book has been languishing there for over a year now (points to those who know which one it is). I will get to it at some point!

What’s on your reading list?

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46. Classroom Connections: PAPER WISHES by Lois Sepahban

genre: historical fiction
setting: Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp, 1942
age range: 9-12
Lois Sepahban’s website

A superior story of survival and love.
— School Library Journal, starred review

This historical debut speaks volumes of love and longing.
— Kirkus, starred review

Engrossing and heartrending historical fiction.
— Publisher’s Weekly

Please tell us about your book.

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family.

What inspired you to write this story?

My book takes place at Manzanar in 1942. From 1942-1945, it was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, most of whom were children. I grew up in central California, and I had two classmates whose grandparents were Manzanar internees. My classmates’ mom spoke to us a few times about her parents’ experiences at Manzanar. So, by the time I was seven or eight years old, I was aware of Manzanar. I was too young to understand it, but having something of a personal connection to the camp made me curious to learn more. My research led me to so many heartbreaking and poignant stories, as well as some very strange ones. One strange story was in an newspaper article. The old man being interviewed said that at some point, dogs started showing up at the camp. No one knew where they were coming from or how they got there. When I read that article, I got goosebumps. Suddenly, I knew what my story would be. 

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

Researching my book was a process that stretched over several years. It began, unintentionally, of course, in my childhood. Every time my parents drove past Manzanar on family trips or I listened to someone talk about Manzanar–these moments were layers of research that slowly built over time.

My curiosity really flamed to life in 2013 when I read Heather Lindquist’s book The Children of Manzanar. For the next few months, I devoured Manzanar true stories. I found an archive of oral history video interviews with former internees on Densho.org. My research at that time was deliberate. I knew that I wanted to write a story set at Manzanar. I knew I wanted it to have a love story between an internee and a camp worker. I knew I wanted the story to be from the perspective of a little sister. So I focused my research on the areas that were important to these storylines. I looked at old maps. I read supply lists and building reports from 1942. I drove along Highway 395 in California and tried to imagine how it must have looked to eyes that saw it for the first time. It is a landscape of scrub brush and red dirt. Very different from the lush rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. I continued to research as I wrote–looking for details and facts as I needed them for the story. And I was fortunate that a historian at the Manzanar National Historic Site was willing to read the manuscript to check for historical accuracy.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

The real challenge is that you can’t make certain things up in historical fiction. The characters, yes. The conversations, yes. Known historical events? Not so much. Writers do take liberties with history. I did. But I was careful to point out those liberties in the author’s note. When I speak to groups about my novel, it is not uncommon for me to hear from attendees that they had never before heard about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. So I feel a great responsibility to honestly portray this history.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

My book is a good fit for 4th grade social studies in California, Oregon, and Washington because these were the states affected by the Exclusion Zone rule. It is a good fit for 5th grade and 8th grade social studies because it discusses U.S. history. This history applies to Canada, too, which also had Japanese internment camps during World War II.

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47. On Writing in the New Year

one way

This quote isn’t necessarily about the writing life, but it certainly could be. One of the biggest writing lessons I learned last year had to do with mistakes — not avoiding them but working through them. My experience echoes Neil Gaiman’s advice:

I hope that in this year to come you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

Here’s similar advice from Seth Godin.

Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They lead you one step closer to finding the best way.

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48. MIDNIGHT WITOUT A MOON: A Cover Reveal, An Interview, A Giveaway

Readers here might remember Linda’s extraordinary writing journey. I’m honored to play a part in welcoming her debut novel into the world.

It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation.

 Then, one town over, a fourteen-year-old African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement.

Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

Typically, a story idea comes first. But with this book, my first stab at historical fiction, it was an era. I knew I wanted to write a story that included the Emmett Till murder. Hence, 1955.

Next came the character. Many African Americans were migrating to the North before and during this time, and some of them were mothers who, for various reasons, left their children in the South to be raised by grandparents. My main character, thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter, happens to be one of those children.

Finally, the story idea came to me. Besides the Emmett Till murder being woven into the story, what would be the premise? I couldn’t think of one until I read the book Vernon Can Read! by Civil Rights activist Vernon Jordan. In his book he stated that his family was not concerned, one way or the other, about the Civil Rights Movement or what white people did or did not allow black people to do. They set out to enjoy their lives despite their circumstances in the South. I thought, “How interesting! Not every black person was concerned about equal rights.” This also explained quite a bit about my own Mississippi Delta family. I often wondered why no one in my family was ever involved in the Civil Rights Movement, or even spoke about it, for that matter. And from that concept I found my premise: A young girl who longs for something more than the cotton fields of Mississippi, yet she is being raised by grandparents who are content with their segregated Southern existence and even resistant to the quickly approaching Civil Rights Movement.

How do you conduct your research?

Most of my research was done via the Internet. I read many online articles about the Emmett Till case, plus I was able to find the entire FBI transcript of the case online. I also read books—both fiction and nonfiction—either about the case or simply with a 1955 Mississippi setting. Additionally, in order to get a good grasp on the time period, I read other works of historical fiction set in that time period, regardless of the plot/characters.

Since I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, and spent most of my childhood in sharecropper shacks that were not nearly as nice as the one in which I have placed Rose and her family, some of the scenes in the novel are based on actual events that occurred during my own childhood. What I found, while reading other works set in 1950’s Mississippi, was that conditions had not improved much between 1955, when Rose was coming of age, and 1975, when I was coming of age.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I feel comfortable beginning a draft when I know I have a strong enough premise to complete a novel. I need to have a starting point (date/timeframe) and an ending point. With this novel, my starting date is two days before Emmett Till’s 14th birthday, which was July 25, 1955. The novel ends a week and two days after his murderers are acquitted, which was October 2, 1955. My original starting date was Emmett Till’s actual birthday (July 25) and the end date was sometime in January. But after I began drafting, the structure changed as I found more material and story to fill the timeslot between July and October than I had anticipated.

I continue my research through the Internet and any print material that comes my way. Oh, and I will purchase books if I’m not able to find the material online or at the library. Many of the books I’ve purchased for research are good books to have in my personal library anyway. Plus, they’re tax-deductible.

MWAM cover-linda jackson

What is your favorite thing about research?

Discovery!

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

Too much discovery! I could spend all day reading and might not ever get to the actual writing!

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Turning fact into fiction! I absolutely love that—gathering all these facts then weaving them into a setting with dialogue and narrative. I love the challenge of providing information to the reader while putting them inside the story at the same time.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Making sure you get those facts right! If you don’t, the people who are familiar with that time, place, people, or events, will have no mercy when it comes to criticism. Of course, no one is perfect, and even memory isn’t perfect. So there might still be a fact or two that we don’t get right. And all we can do in that case is pray our readers have mercy and remember we did our best to get all the facts straight.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Well, I actually learned two things that sort of blew my mind during the research. One, my mom said she “thought” she knew of someone who was involved in the Emmett Till murder. But during my research, I found someone that I did know who was involved. Can you imagine my shock when the name turned up in the research? And two, I found out that the place where the murderers originally planned to take Emmett Till in order to “scare” him was in my hometown. So the story became even more real to me as a result of these two discoveries. I felt a personal connection to the story.

Has your research ever affected the overall trust of your book? How so?

Yes! There was so much conflicting data regarding the Emmett Till case that I basically had to pick the sources I thought would be the most reliable. Then there were other facts that I simply had to leave out of the story due to so much contradictory data on the case.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

In order to make the Emmett Till case relevant to my main character, I had to somehow make a connection between her family and the family of Mose Wright, the great-uncle that Emmett Till was visiting in Money, Mississippi, when he was murdered. Since I didn’t want to go overboard with tying real historical figures to fictional characters, I tried to get away with only one line stating that Rose’s grandfather and Mose Wright went “way back.” But my editor (Elizabeth Bewley) said I needed to make the connection stronger. And, of course, she was right. So I had to carefully weave in a few more connections without going overboard. I know this isn’t necessarily changing history, but it involved the trickiness of marrying fact and fiction.

Why is historical fiction important?

First of all, studying history in itself is important because it helps us understand the present. Historical fiction, in my opinion, is important because it gives us a more engaging way of studying and understanding the past.

For me, this book in particular was important because I needed to understand my own past. My mother didn’t register to vote until she was in her 50’s, and that was because for the first time, an African American was running for mayor in our small town. Furthermore, I don’t think she would have registered then if someone hadn’t come to our house, picked her up, and actually taken her down to the courthouse to register. Writing this book helped me understand that. My mother, and many other African American people in the South, hadn’t registered to vote because they could have been killed for doing so. Killed! Just for registering to vote. I knew this in a shallow kind of way. But writing the story helped me understand it. It helped me feel the fear. And I hope my readers will, too.

Also, regarding Emmett Till, I often asked myself, “Why would his great-uncle Mose Wright allow Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam to take him away from the house in the middle of the night when he knew his life was in danger? Why would he suggest they just ‘whup the boy’ and let it be?” Again, writing this book helped me understand Mose Wright’s predicament, which was quite heartbreaking.

Writing the book, I set out to answer the question, “Why didn’t more people stand up for their rights?” But my editor has stated that the book will make young readers ask the question, “What would I have done?”

I have always admired writers of historical fiction but felt it was impossible to do so myself. After taking the plunge, however, I feel more confident and plan to write more historical fiction pieces that I hope will inspire, encourage, and entertain young readers. It takes a lot of research to write historical fiction. But now I know that the research is the best part!

Caroline, THANK YOU, for allowing me to be a part of your blog today and to introduce readers to Midnight without a Moon. I am excited to give them a first look at the cover, which was illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman, who illustrated the covers for Sharon Draper’s Stella by Starlight, Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird, and the 50th anniversary edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s absolutely my pleasure.

Giveaway: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is kindly offering one ARC of Midnight without a MoonThe contest closes Monday, February 1. US residents only, please.

linda1Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta in the teeny-tiny town of Rosedale, Linda Williams Jackson likes to spin stories about everyday people in small-town settings. Though she has lived in a few other states (Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas), Linda currently makes her home in a not-so-small city in Mississippi with her husband and three children.

While a degree in Math and Computer Science from the University of Alabama allowed her to enjoy careers in Information Technology, Linda now prefers manipulating words rather than numbers and symbols. Besides her forthcoming debut middle-grade novel Midnight without a Moon from HMH Books for Young Readers (January 3, 2017), Linda is published in multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul titles and has written reading assessment passages for various educational publishers. Find her online at www.jacksonbooks.com.

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49. Straight from the Source: Cheryl Blackford on Writing Historical Fiction

Cheryl Blackford was born in Yorkshire, England but now lives in a house in the woods in Minnesota where she is entertained by a wide assortment of wildlife, including coyotes. Lizzie and the Lost Baby is Cheryl’s first middle-grade novel. She has written three non-fiction books for young readers, and her picture book Hungry Coyote (inspired by a coyote she saw one winter morning) won the 2015 Moonbeam Award in the category of picture books for ages 4-8.

What typically comes first for you?

Setting is often the first thing I think about with a new story. In LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY I wanted to set a story in England and I modeled fictional Swainedale on Rosedale in the North York Moors, where my parents owned a cottage for many years. Rosedale is beautiful: wild in some places and pastoral in others. I love hiking across its purple-covered moorland on a sunny day and I worked hard to get the feel of the place into the story. I didn’t set out to write this book as historical fiction, but when Lizzie appeared she seemed to belong to a very specific time and place.

Rosedale_2006

How do you conduct your research?

I usually begin on the web and then migrate to other resources such as the library or a primary source. In LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY I needed information about English World War II evacuees and about the Gypsy/Traveller culture. I found fascinating BBC online archives of ordinary people’s wartime experiences and my primary source was my parents. My father was an evacuee whereas my mother stayed in her home in Hull and suffered through the bombing blitz. To learn about the Gypsy/Roma/Traveller culture, I began with memoirs, including Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two: A Gypsy Family’s Hard and Happy Times on the Road in the 1950s by Maggie Smith Bendell. Much of what is written about Gypsies was written by outsiders but this was information from a primary source. Maggie and I have since become friends and she was an early reader of my book. She gave it the thumbs up – which makes me very happy.

What is your favorite thing about research?

Everything! I love falling down the “research rabbit hole.” I always learn far more facts than I ever use! And actually, I shouldn’t have said “everything” because keeping accurate detailed records of my sources isn’t my favorite thing to do.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

For LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY, the most astonishing thing was that my father and uncle were evacuees — I had not known that before I began writing. The other fascinating things I discovered were all related to the Gypsy/Traveller culture in England . For example, I knew that Gypsies were avid horse traders but I didn’t know that they preferred a specific type of horse (grys in their language) that is sturdy and steady and has a beautiful long tail and feathery hair dangling over its hooves.

Why is historical fiction important?

Modern problems often have historical equivalents and we can all learn from the lessons of the past. Fiction can help readers develop empathy with people or problems they otherwise know little about, such as the Gypsies in LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY. The prejudice towards the travelling people that Lizzie encountered is nothing new; it has existed for centuries and continues to this day. During World War II, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime murdered tens of thousands of Roma in an effort to exterminate a people they deemed inferior. Genocide is an ugly difficult subject and narrative fiction can help us find a way to discuss it with students.

More fabulous books about this time period:

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Dial Books, 2015

A Frost in the Night by Edith Baer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, reissued 2011.

The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Click here to download your own Blue Birds printable. Enjoy!

The post Straight from the Source: Cheryl Blackford on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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50. Writing Links

one way

What Does it Take to Finish a Book? :: Lisa Schroeder

When the Fun Begins :: Marion Dane Bauer (working with an editor)

6 Ways Authors Over-Dramatize :: Jody Hedlund

8 Paradoxes of Creative People :: Modern Mrs. Darcy

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Top 10 Tips for Writers to Stay Inspired and Kick-Start Your Creativity :: Goodreads

Revision Mindsets: Artist, Story, or Audience :: Fiction Notes

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