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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)?*
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.
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:
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.
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Carol Weston is the author of more than 15 books and serves as “Dear Carol,” the advice columnist for Girls’ Life magazine. Her book Ava and Pip was said to be “a love letter to language,” by the New York Times Book Review. Carol joined StoryMakers host Rocco Staino to discuss the books in the Ava Wren series, her book of advice for teens, and her upcoming book titles. The Ava Wren series imparts wonderful and sometimes difficult lessons about growing up, friendship, responsibilities, and the dreaded first crush. Ava and Pip is a 2015 Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts and Ava and Taco Cat was named a 2015 ABC Best Books for Young Readers (American Booksellers Association). 2015 Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl author Victoria Jamieson illustrated the covers for the Ava Wren series!
We’re giving away three (3) bundles of books signed by Carol Weston. Each bundle includes a copy of Ava XOX, Ava and Taco Cat, and Ava and Pip. Enter now!
Ava XOX Written by Carol Weston Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Love is in the air-and Ava thinks she’s allergic Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and Ava couldn’t care less. That is, until a new girl, Kelli, asks out Ava’s friend Chuck…and he says yes What? ? Ava is NOT okay with this. But since when does she think about boys? For the first time ever, words fail Ava. She isn’t sure what she’s feeling (Like? Love? Friendship? Frustration?), or what “going out” even means. After all, fifth graders aren’t allowed to go anywhere by themselves, are they? To top it off, Pip’s friend Tanya is being bullied for her size. Ava wants to help-but, uh oh, it’s not as easy as she imagines. Don’t miss how it all began in: Ava and Pip and Ava and Taco Cat.Ava and Taco Cat Written by Carol Weston Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Ava desperately wants a pet for her eleventh birthday-but gets way more than she bargained for when she adopts T-A-C-O-C-A-T. When Ava Wren hears about an injured yellow tabby with mismatched ears, she becomes obsessed and wants to rescue him. She even picks out a perfect palindromic name: T-A-C-O-C-A-T. But when Taco joins the family, he doesn’t snuggle or purr-all he does is hide. Worse, Ava’s best friend starts hanging out with Zara, a new girl in fifth grade. Ava feels alone and writes an acclaimed story, “The Cat Who Wouldn’t Purr.” What begins as exciting news turns into a disaster. How can Ava make things right? And what about sweet, scared little Taco? Ava and Pip Written by Carol Weston Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Meet outgoing Ava Wren, a fun fifth grader who tries not to lose patience with her shy big sister. When Pip’s 13th birthday party turns into a disaster, Ava gets a story idea for a library contest. But uh-oh, Ava should never have written “Sting of the Queen Bee.” Can Ava and her new friend help Pip come out of her shell? And can Ava get out of the mess she has made?
The Speed of Life (September 2016) Written by Carol Weston Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Amazon Pre-order
“The Speed of Life is the kind of book that you want to read speedily, all at once, because the characters are so engaging, the voice of the narrator pitch perfect, the situations convincingly real and raw, the humor and liveliness of the prose such fun to follow, and the feelings of that time in a teenager’s life when everything can go from awful to awesome in a heartbeat are so vividly captured. You won’t want to put it down. But my advice is slow down and savor this delightful book, full of cariño, funny and heartfelt, and (spoiler alert) not just for teens.”
— Julia Alvarez, author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
ABOUT CAROL WESTON
Carol Weston was born in Armonk, New York, but lives in Manhattan. She’s a Phi Beta Kappa comparative literature graduate of Yale, with an M.A. in Spanish from Middlebury College. She’s been on the Today show and Oprah, and The View. She loves cats, walks, art museums, and her husband Rob makes a mean paella. Carol has two daughters; one works for NBC and one co-started Birch Benders Micro-Pancakery. CONNECT WITH CAROL WESTONWebsite | Facebook | Goodreads | TwitterCONNECT WITH KidLit TV Facebook Group | Facebook Page | Newsletter | Pinterest | Twitter | YouTubeStoryMakers Executive Producer: Julie Gribble | Producer: Kassia Graham
Egyptian author Ahmed Naji will serve two years in prison for writing “sexually explicit” content in his book, Using Life.
The sentence comes after the novelist was found guilty of violating public modesty laws when an excerpt from his book was published in a magazine. CNN has the scoop:
A man had complained that Naji’s writings caused him heart palpitations, sickness and a drop in blood pressure. Prosecutors took the case to court, arguing that Naji’s use of “vulgar” phrases to describe genitals and sexual intercourse constituted a “disease destroying social values.”
The cover has been unveiled for Mindy McGinnis’ forthcoming book, The Female of the Species. We’ve embedded the full image for the jacket design above—what do you think?
According to Epic Reads, this will be McGinnis’ first contemporary young adult novel. Prior to this, “Mindy’s book have all been either historical and dark or post-apocalytpic and dark.”
In a blog post, McGinnis revealed that this project also features “my first attempt at writing a male main character and my first book with multiple POV’s.” Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books, has scheduled the publication date for September 20.
State run media outlets in Iran are collaborating on a new bounty for the capture of author Salman Rushdie.
Forty organizations have pooled $600,000 to pay for the capture of Rushdie. The new fatwa comes 27 years after the original banning of “The Satanic Verses” in Iran for “blaspheming” Islam. The Guardian has more:
The fatwa provoked an international outcry and caused the UK to sever diplomatic relations with Iran for nearly a decade. In 1998, Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami said the fatwa was “finished”, but it was never officially lifted and has been reiterated several times, occasionally on the anniversary, by Iran’s current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and other religious officials.
Golf legend Tiger Woods will be the subject of a new biography from Simon & Schuster. The book has yet to be titled or given a release date.
Journalists/book authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian are writing the book.
Jonathan Karp, President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster, and Jofie Ferrari-Adler, Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster acquired world, audio, and first serial rights to the project from literary agent Richard Pine of Inkwell Management.
The authors have spent the last year doing research and interviews for the book. The book will chart Woods’ rise to success in golf and business and his decline in recent years since his tabloid divorce.
“Our approach has been to gather and digest everything we possibly can,” stated Keteyian. “We’re also talking to a lot of people that haven’t talked previously. It’s clearly been a complicated, unmatched, and well-chronicled, rise, fall, and return. But there’s more. A lot more. And I believe the end result will captivate sports fans and fans of big, sweeping biographies.”
The world has been mourning the passing ofHarper Lee. President Barack Obama (pictured, via) wrote a post on Facebook to praise the To Kill a Mockingbird author.
Here’s an excerpt from Obama’s post: “Ms. Lee changed America for the better. And there is no higher tribute we can offer her than to keep telling this timeless American story – to our students, to our neighbors, and to our children – and to constantly try, in our own lives, to finally see each other.”
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”
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!
We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Feb. 7, 2016–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.
(Debuted at #1 in Young Adult) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys: “World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in one another tested with each step closer toward safety.” (Feb. 2016)
(Debuted at #6 in Children’s Fiction Series) The Lunar Chronicles: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer: “The enchantment continues…The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories – and secrets – that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic.” (Feb. 2016)
(Debuted at #12 in Hardcover Fiction) The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel: “In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás discovers an old journal. It hints at the existence of an extraordinary artifact that—if he can find it—would redefine history. Traveling in one of Europe’s earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this strange treasure.” (Feb. 2016)
Harlequin TEEN and Seventeen Magazine have partnered up to launch a new imprint called Seventeen Fiction. The editors plan to work on a variety of projects such as novels, lifestyle manuals, advice books, and nonfiction digital books.
According to the press release, the executives behind this imprint “will focus on multi-dimensional and empowered fictional female characters and explore topics and situations that authentically reflect the challenges and joys of being a teenager today, just as Seventeen does across all platforms.” Natashya Wilson, an executive editor at Harlequin TEEN, has already acquired the first manuscript: Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz.
The story “follows the daughter of immigrant parents who is living the American dream—until her world shatters when she learns she is ineligible to receive the National Scholarship Award because her family is in the country illegally and may be deported.” The release date has been scheduled for Fall 2016.
MasterClass, an internet educational platform, will host a contest for aspiring writers to collaborate with bestselling author James Patterson. This competition will only be open to students who enroll in Patterson’s MasterClass writing course.
Patterson gave this statement in the press release: “There are a lot of people who have the talent, but haven’t been shown the door to walk through. I’ve been surprised and impressed by the passion, devotion and talent of my students. They inspired me to want to help guide one of them through the publishing process. I’m looking forward to reading the submissions that are skillful, fast-paced and unpredictable.”
The submission deadline has been set for March 22 at 11:59 p.m. PST. Patterson will select the winning co-author on May 24. Contestants who are chosen as semifinalists and finalists will also receive a cash prize. Follow this link to learn more information and read up on all the rules.
According to The Associated Press, Asher (pictured, via) has finished a contemporary romance novel entitled What Light. He drew inspiration to write this story “after reading about a family in Oregon with a Christmas tree lot.”
This young adult book will be Asher’s “first solo work of fiction in nearly a decade.” The publication date has been scheduled for Oct. 11. (via The New York Times)
Members of the cast include James Franco, Chris Cooper, Josh Duhamel, Lucy Fry, Sarah Gadon, and Cherry Jones. Franco’s character embarks on a time-traveling quest to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Here are some literary events to pencil in your calendar this week.
To get your event posted on our calendar, visit our Facebook Your Literary Event page. Please post your event at least one week prior to its date.
The next session of the Pen Parentis literary salon will feature four writers: Jonathan Galassi, Tia Williams, Emma McLaughlin, and Nicola Kraus. Hear them on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at Hotel Andaz starting 7 p.m. (New York, NY)
Steve Light will celebrate the launch of his new children’s book, Swap!, at Books of Wonder. Join in on Saturday, Feb. 13 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (New York, NY)
Yann Martel will discuss and sign copies of his newest novel, The Highest Mountains of Portugal, at McNally Jackson. Meet him on Saturday, Feb. 13 starting 5 p.m. (New York, NY)
Daniel Lazar, a literary agent at Writers House, negotiated this deal on Pastis’ behalf. The publisher has scheduled the release date for September 27.
Here’s more from the press release: “The most important thing to know about Timmy’s fifth memoir to date is: this book was never meant to EXIST. No one needs to know the details. Just know this: There’s a Merry, a Larry, a missing tooth, and a teachers’ strike that is crippling Timmy Failure’s academic future. Worst of all, Timmy is banned from detective work. It’s a conspiracy of buffoons.”
Marie Ferrarella has signed a six-figure deal with Harlequin. She plans to write twelve novels.
Patience Bloom, a senior editor, managed this acquisition project. She will edit all of Ferrarella’s manuscripts.
Here’s more from the press release: “Ferrarella will craft two contemporary romance series for Harlequin—Matchmaking Mamas for Harlequin Special Edition and Cavanaugh Justice for Harlequin Romantic Suspense. The first title in the deal, The Case of the Stolen Heart follows a widow who finds a second chance at love with a police officer who was present at her late husband’s crime scene. The Case of the Stolen Heart is set to be published in Fall 2016.”
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.
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?
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!
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.
Enter to win your own copy of SWEET HOME ALASKA below. The contest closes Wednesday, February 17. US residents only, please.
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.
Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint at Scholastic, will publish a hardcover book based on the special rehearsal edition script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II. The release has been scheduled for 12:01 a.m. on July 31; fans will recognize that this significant date is both Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s birthday. Pottermore will publish the eBook edition.
Here’s more from the press release: “It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes darkness comes from unexpected places.”