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Katie and I met via the blogosphere several years ago. We've followed a similar agent to sale to publication time frame. I'm happy to share Katie and her book, Wildflowers in Winter, with you today.
What inspired you to write this story?
In the wee hours of the morning, while nursing my son, the voice of a twelve-year old girl came into my head and wouldn’t leave. So I sat down and wrote the prologue, only I didn’t have any story to go with it.
At the same time, I was thinking a lot about my best friend growing up. We’d lost touch in college. Her life went in one direction. Mine went in another. And I remember thinking that even though we’d grown apart, even though we didn’t know each other that well anymore, our memories and our past bonded us. I also remember wondering what, if anything, might draw us together again. All these thoughts made me want to write a story that explored the bonds of friendship.
So I decided to squish those two stories together and Wildflowers from Winter was born.
What was your publication process like, from initial idea to sale?
14 Comments on Katie Ganshert Interview+Giveaway, last added: 5/21/2012
50 Book Pledge | Book #16: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I’m thrilled to be hosting Ursula Poznanski on The Pen Stroke today for a stop on her whirlwind Erebos Blog Tour.
What inspired the world of Erebos?
On the one hand, I had watched some YouTube videos of current games and I had played myself (Diablo, for example). I wanted the “look” of the game to be recognizable and attractive to gamers. On the other hand, I had something very real to inspire me, something very crucial to the plot. This element needed to be hidden inside the game, so in a certain way it formed the world of Erebos, too.
How important was it that your characters be able to practice free will?
I wanted to give them the possibility to stop playing whenever they wished to—not without obeying the rules that are connected with backing out, of course. The game needs enthusiastic players, not forced ones.
How difficult was it for you to tow the line between the virtual world of Erebos and the real world of London?
That was pure fun, no difficulty at all. I loved switching between the worlds, accompanying Nick and Sarius by turns. I really loved to write everything that took place in London—I had a city map on my desk and Google Maps opened in my browser, so it almost felt like being there myself.
Why did you choose Greek mythology for the foundation of Erebos and its founding characters?
I was looking for a dark deity with an impressive name, so I came across Erebos. It would have been a terrible waste not to use all the cross connections that offered themselves, once I had found the “name of the game” and so I happily integrated them into the plot.
Were you ever hesitant to employ such incredibly dark imagery in Erebos?
No. I really felt that the game had to be dark. It had to have a threatening look and to be appealing and mysterious at the same time. Erebos doesn’t pretend to be an innocent amusement—it shows its spirit from the very beginning, but of course the players do not take that seriously.
A special thanks to Ursula for dropping by The Pen Stroke!
Right now for our bedtime reading, my daughter and I are revisiting an old classic — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (illustrated by Jules Feiffer), Yearling Books, 1961. I encountered this novel when I was in grade five; it was recommended to me by a friend. I remembered reading it and loving it. It’s a witty and clever book by halves, and I don’t think I ‘got’ everything in it at the time I read it, but following the adventures of this idle and bored schoolboy protagonist Milo “who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always” was compelling. In reading it now with my daughter, I am enjoying the story again with so much more gusto — this time getting, of course, all the many puns and double entendres throughout the book. My daughter is less enthusiastic. As she puts it herself, “I like listening to it because it puts me to sleep.” (Mind you, this fact alone makes it a worthy bedtime read for the parent!) But while she dozes off, I often continue reading aloud for the sheer pleasure of the story which speaks to the book’s attractive charm and longevity.
The Phantom Tollbooth celebrated the 50th anniversary of its publication this year. There’s a Youtube video I watched recently of Norton Juster and Jules Pfeiffer talking about the genesis of the book. A commemorative annotated edition of the book is now available, and a documentary film, The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50, is currently being produced, set for release in 2012. I didn’t discover all this information, until after I’d selected this book for our bedtime reading ritual, so I was quite surprised by the serendipity of my choice and hope that my daughter might remember this book fondly herself when she begins reading to her children in the future. (If she doesn’t, Grandma certainly will!)
Here on the TeachingAuthors blog, we've been discussing the classic children's books we never read till adulthood. The series was inspired, in part, by Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus in honor of the release of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth last month. When Esther first told me about the new book, I felt a twinge of guilt--I'd never read the original Phantom Tollbooth. So I suggested this topic to motivate me to finally read Norton Juster's masterpiece. If you're wondering what classics and must-reads you may have missed, be sure to check out the links in the Writing Workout below.
I wasn't reading yet in 1961 when The Phantom Tollbooth was first published, but that was no excuse for my not reading this classic. When, as an adult, I became interested in writing for children, I began reading voraciously in the field. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which Mary Ann blogged about on Monday, was one of the many children's books I came to as an adult that I fell in love with. (Unlike Mary Ann, I'm somewhat of a Math geek, which made me love L'Engle's book all the more!) Yet, despite a number of fellow children's literature enthusiasts telling me that Tollbooth was one of their all-time favorites, I never made time to read the book, until Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus inspired me to do so a few weeks ago.
I'm happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The wordplay and puns are great fun, but the Math geek in me was especially happy to see the book's celebration of numbers. I was also impressed at how Juster wove important themes about the value of education and action into such an entertaining read. One of my favorite paragraphs (among many) was:
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."
I believe the combination of entertainment and enduring themes contributed to making The Phantom Tollbooth such a classic. I'm grateful to Leonard Marcus for bringing this book back into the spotlight. In case you missed the short video in which Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer, and Leonard Marcus discuss the book's creation, I've embedded it below, or you can watch it at YouTube here.
Are there any classic children's/young adult books you missed reading as a child or teen? If so, please share their titles in the comments below. And if you need suggestions of children's/YA books now considered "must reads," see the Writing Workout below.
And then it’s February. How the heckedy heck did that happen? Looks like 2012 is already establishing itself as the Blink and You’ll Miss It year. Well, let’s get to it then.
First and foremost was the announcement of Battle of the Books 2012. Or, as I like to think of it, the place where Amelia Lost gets its bloody due (if there’s any justice in this world). We’re now in the earliest of the early days of the battle, but stuff’s on the horizon. I can smell it.
In other news there was an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting here in New York this past weekend. I didn’t attend because, apparently, if it’s way too convenient I’m absent. After checking out the recap on this blog, however, I clearly need to change my priorities. Though I had to miss the cocktail party on Friday I did attend Kidlit Drink Night which was PACKED, dudes. Packed to the gills!
In her post Ms. Turner mentions the Mythopoeic Society. By complete coincidence I stumbled over yet another link involving that society in question. Neil Gaiman reprints an old speech he gave to the society in 2004 on C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton. A great look at how good fantasy can influence kids. Also a good look at how bad television programs lead kids to books. I believe it.
Well The Today Show may have passed up the chance to talk to the Newbery and Caldecott winners but leave it to NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me to speak to Jack Gantos for their Not My Job game. Someone must have tipped them off to the fact that the man is the world’s greatest interview. Love the Judy Blume reference. And though I thought I knew his Hole in My Life story, clearly I missed some details. Thanks to Susan Miles for the link.
Of course Jack and Chris Raschka were interviewed by SLJ about their respective wins. That’s good news about a Dead End in Norvelt companion novel. Ditto the idea of Raschka working on a Robie H. Harris title.
A young, bored boy finds a mysterious tollbooth in his room. Hopping into his small, electric toy car, he enters the lands beyond where he meets all sorts of characters in Dictionopolis, the Valley of Sound, the Doldrums, Digitopolis, and more places filled with wonder that open his eyes to the world around him. Click here to read my full review.
Everybody loves THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. It is many of my friends’ absolute all-time favorite kids book. I know I read it as a kid. I know I didn’t like it. I know I didn’t read it again. And that’s all I remember, and somehow even though everyone was always saying how much they loved it, I never picked it up again until now. Anyway, that’s the back story.
My feeling on recent reading is this: good book, but I totally can see why it hit wrong with me as a kid. Because the number one adjective I want to use for THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH is clever. Its incredibly clever. Its witty. The wordplay and puns are great, and I’m sure I would have picked up on them and enjoyed them back then as well.* But clever and witty alone does not a great book make. And that I think is my problem with this one. I did enjoy it. But I wasn’t really engrossed at all – there’s very little character-building, the characters are all kind of purposefully caricatures, and even when feelings or reactions by people were described, they were just kind of stated very matter of fact. I never actually found myself identifying with anyone. And while the constant humor kept the story from feeling like there was too much moralizing, it was nevertheless very clear that at each place, and with each character, a not-so-subtle point was being made about modern life, the way people behave, etc; to the point where those points felt in and of themselves to be the purpose of the story. Again, not something that really draws you (or at least me) in.
My other issue was that even plot-wise, the story kind of reads like a litany of “and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” Not much variety in pacing, and no time spent once the “point” of each episode had taken place – just “ok, that happened, next.” I’m being a little more negative than I really felt while I was reading the book – I really did enjoy it. But I can also totally see how as a kid I would have gotten bored. Puns are funny. A few pages or even a few chapters of clever wordplay and obvious-but-still-fun set-ups are fun. But a whole book of that and nothing else just isn’t enough.
Actually, now that I’m writing this and thinking it through further, I feel like a lot of the pieces of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH would make for great picture books – short, clever, funny stories, with imaginative premises, and a lot of great illustrations already included. But a whole series of those just strung together one after another doesn’t quite do it for me. And that’s why I can’t summon the love of this book that so many folks have (although I’m glad that I now see why they do love it. Especially as so many of my friends are language-loving types), and why I probably read it once, was kind of amused and kind of bored, and was left without a strong enough impression to lead me to pick it up again.
*I was raised in a very pun-filled household. In my family, birthdays and other card-giving occasions are basically a standing competition to see who can find the card with the best pun or bad joke. There have been some real prize finds over the years.
Posted in Books I felt I ought to have liked but really didn't, Childhood Reading, Feiffer, Jules, Flawed does not preclude Interesting, Juster, Norton, Phantom Tollbooth, The
A few weeks ago, Ben Mikaelsen came to our school as this year's visiting author. Ben was a delight, and I'll write more about his visit in another post, but for now, I want to concentrate on his philosophy about writing.
"Writing," he said, "is storytelling."
Of all of the things that I got out of Ben's visit, and there were many, this simple sentence resonated with me in a way that I never would have expected. It stuck in my brain and kept tap, tap, tapping through my thoughts. You see, in some fantasy world of mine, I consider myself a writer. I always have, from the time I was very young, around seven or eight years old. It's all I wanted to do. Well, that and read.
So, why did the utterance of this sentence have such an effect on me? I think I figured it out. See, the thing is, as much as I love to write, I am not much of a storyteller. What Mr. Mikaelsen was talking about was just letting go of the notion that every word needs to be weighty and special and telling the story you want to tell. That has always been so incredibly hard for me. When I write fiction, I gnaw my knuckles over every syllable and twist of phrase. I get so caught up in trying to make every word the perfect word, I end up writing in nothing but fits and starts. Sometimes I even give up, thinking that it'll just never be perfect so why bother.
Even now, as I write this post, I'm stewing about words. How does one overcome that? Because I think Ben is absolutely right. The story is much more important than the words themselves. If you can tell a great story, you can get around to fixing the words later. Maybe in one of the fifteen full revisions that Ben says he does to each of his books!
I have actually written a book, a YA novel called The Power of Merit Ruhl, which took me two years to write. I'm proud of it. I had a story I wanted to tell, and I told it. But I agonized over words the whole time. Now, I want to try to tell more stories. I want to write a sequel to my book, and even make it into a series. I have the stories to tell, the arc for each of the four major characters, in my head. The question is will I be able to set aside my obssession with words and just tell the stories?
My favorite books tell really amazing stories. Donna Tartt's The Secret History is a good example of this. If you've never read it, go out right now and get yourself a copy. It's the story of a small group of friends at a private college who do a terrible thing and then have to hide their mess. This story left me breathless. There is one point of such delicious suspense that I practically ripped the book because I was holding it so hard. Another example of spectacular storytelling: Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier, a book that, though I've read it many times and even taught it, can still keep me enraptured to the very last page. I don't necessarily remember all of the fancy phrasing and uses of foreshad
I had heard so much that was so good about A Monster Calls, the Patrick Ness novel inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd, that last night, when my arms were too achy to type a single letter more, I downloaded the book onto my iPad2.
Had I known that this book was so beautifully illustrated, I would have gone out to the store and bought myself a copy instead, so that I could, from time to time, look at these extraordinarily interesting, wildly textured Jim Kay drawings. A Monster Calls would be a very different book without these images, just as Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the Ransom Riggs books enlivened by surreal old photographs, would not be the book it is had not a publishing house decided that teens, too (and the adults who inevitably read teen books) need, every now and then, to stop and see the world not through words but through images. Maile Meloy's new historical YA book, The Apothecary, is due out soon—a book that (if the preview pages on Amazon are accurate) features some very beautiful illustrations by Ian Schoenherr. And let's not forget The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, with its beautiful Andrea Offermann images. (And, of course, there are so many, many more.)
A Monster Calls reminds me, in so many ways, of the great Roald Dahl story The BFG. Dahl's books, illustrated by Quentin Blake, sit beside The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer) on my shelf—books that take me back to some of my favorite mother-son reading days. We loved the stories. We loved the illustrations, too. We loved the entire package.
Maybe we have Brian Selznick to thank for this return to the visual—to ageless picture books. Maybe it was just plain time. I only (with absolute surety) know this: I recently completed a young adult novel amplified by (in my eyes) gorgeous illustrations. I can't wait to see where that project goes, and on what kind of journey it takes me.
But today, I’m celebrating by sharing my interview with the book’s author and annotator, Leonard Marcus.
I consider THE ANNOTATED PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH a Twofer. There’s the original text, of course, which causes the reader to smile, guffaw and laugh out loud, not to mention marvel at and laud the extraordinarily delicious language. But then bordering that text is Leonard Marcus’ gracefully-written exposition, opening the door to the story’s Back Story – its who, what, when, where, how and why, as well as Norton Juster’s Back Story too. I promise you: you’ll smile, guffaw and laugh out loud a second time and heap even more praise once you see Juster’s original word lists, character write-ups and early drafts, Jules Feiffer’s original sketches and learn how these two friends brought Milo to the page
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So I’m at a lovely Little Brown librarian preview earlier this week and the first special guest star of the day turns out to be none other than Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. A resident of San Francisco, I wasn’t sure why he was in town. Turns out, he was on Rachel Maddow’s show talking about his recent Occupy Wall Street piece that had been making the internet rounds. Maddow says that he’s a “cultural hero of mine” and then later that she is “dorking out” being in his presence. The interview is great in and of itself, plus you get this fun bit at the start about what you do when the police have confiscated your generators.
Of course if I’d known he was in town I would have tried to hook him into saying hello at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival festivities. Hosted in my library I’ll be blogging about it rather soon. It was rather epic, I have to say. Everything from a children’s musical about the birth of the Newbery Award to kids singing the plot of The Westing Game to Katie Perry’s “Firework” (a song that seems to haunt Mr. Kennedy wherever he may go). Of course we ran out of time so we never got to show this final video. I present it to you now because it’s rather brilliant. As Ira Glass imitations go, this has gotta be up there:
This next link is here only because Travis at 100 Scope Notes spotted it first. According to Reuters, the Japanese have brought The Magic Tree House books to life on the screen. Apparently Mary Pope Osborne has always resisted film adaptations but the filmmakers so wowed her that she gave them the rights. The result pairs nicely with that recent Borrowers adaptation, also out of Japan:
In other news, Newbery Honor winner Kathi Appelt recently interviewed Caldecott Award winner Eric Rohmann about his latest hugely lauded Halloween tale Bone Dog. Perhaps I should have posted this before Hal