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Write Your World, blog by Kathy ( Kathryn ) Erskine
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1. The Imitation Game — It’s the bomb!

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Really!  Great movie, but also the “bombe” was the name of the machine designed primarily by Alan Turing (aka Benedict Cumberbatch in the film, The Imitation Game) to help break the Nazi’s Enigma code.  It was crucial because breaking Enigma saved millions of lives — maybe including ours because some of us might not be here today if it weren’t for the work done by code breakers like Turing at Bletchley Park, England.

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Station X, or Bletchley Park, the British code breaking site, was called “the hush hush place” by locals.  Nobody in the tiny town of Bletchley knew exactly what was going on there although they likely didn’t believe the stories of an upper class hunting club or the “cheese and chess society” despite the fact that Bletchley Park was a beautiful estate.  To their credit, they kept it to themselves.  It’s hard to imagine that kind of silence in today’s social media age, but maybe if you were in fear of imminent invasion–in fact your country’s outer islands were already occupied–you might be inspired.  The workers took pains to keep the secret, too, some of them getting off the train at nearby Milton Keynes and walking to the site so as not to raise eyebrows at crowds pouring off the train in little Bletchley.  Even those who worked at Bletchley Park had little idea of what was going on in the next hut. And they couldn’t talk about what they were doing to anyone.  They were dedicated code breakers these men and women, more women, actually since the men were in battle.

 

One group was breaking the Nazi code  in a building that previously was the apple and pear stand.  Led by the quirky but brilliant Alan Turing, they eventually succeeded, yet had to keep that fact secret so that the Nazis would not abandon that code method and come up with a new one.  Their actions opened shipping channels in the Atlantic and helped with the D-Day invasion and many other battles, probably shortening the war by two years.

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(Photo of Turing’s office, showing how he chained his mug to the radiator so no one would take it.)

A sad — no, horrifying — part of the story is what happened after the war, to Turing.  For the “crime” of homosexuality he was given a sentence of either imprisonment or chemical castration (basically, taking estrogen to supposedly curb his desires).  He was vilified, his reputation attacked, was likely under surveillance, and died an early death, deemed a suicide, at 41.  A very sad end indeed for someone who probably saved our lives.  He was officially pardoned by Queen Elizabeth last year. (!)

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I visited Bletchley and if you can get there, go.  It really feels like you’re traveling back in time — even the exhibits are endearingly presented with typed index cards in keeping with the times.  If you see the film, you’ll recognize the places and feel like you’re following in the footsteps of The Imitation Game crowd.  Here are some striking takeaways:

–using what we would consider rather primitive tools and methods (including carrier pigeons) they managed to win the war

–self discipline (work ethic, absolute secrecy, even surviving on very limited rations of food) was inspiring

–we are now appropriately embarrassed at the treatment of Alan Turing (judging by the tenor of the exhibits)

–in times of crises we can manage to put aside the things that don’t matter (like sexual preference or sexual stereotypes)

 

 

More info, if you’re interested:

The Seven Highly Productive Habits of Alan Turing

An explanation of The Imitation Game

Bletchley Park (including an exhibit on the movie)

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2. Ubuntu, the facts and the heart

 

scan0143 - Version 2August 26 is a bittersweet day.  My fifth book will publish (sweet) but 18 years ago to the day I lost my mother.  She was warm and wise, witty and fun, brave and beautiful.  And she’s the one who inspired me to pursue a writing career although she never knew it.  While she was proud that I became a lawyer and would always be able to take care of myself, I think she would’ve loved to read my books (whose mother doesn’t?) and been a proud supporter (like my sister, who has already ordered 30 copies of The Badger Knight for friends, whether they want it or not).

My mother was an excellent writer herself and I think dreamed of writing the Great American Novel but ran out of time.  Growing up, homework was our responsibility but she couldn’t help looking at papers we wrote with a critical eye.  Like a reporter, she wanted to see the facts supporting the argument but like the novelist and woman with heart that she was, she also wanted to know the “why” of everything.  I can still see her … “Yes, but why?”  “This is lovely but why is it important?”  Or simply, “Mmm-hmm”– the paper handed back — “and why?”  In fact, we heard “and why?” so often that my sister and I would tease her with, “AND why!” in all sorts of situations.  But she was right.  And it made me a better writer — both the facts and the heart.

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She encouraged us to find what inspired us and do it the best we could.  Go after whatever you want, she said, work hard, study hard, do whatever it is to achieve your dream and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.  You can.  She got her pilot’s license at age 15, even before her driver’s license.  But — and this part was important because I can still see the seriousness in her face — pursuing your dream is never at the expense of others.  In fact, you should be helping others at all times. In her words, the world is our community and we are put on this earth to help each other; otherwise, really, what is the purpose?   It’s the African concept of ubuntu.  Maybe she learned it while we were living in South Africa but I suspect she was just born that way.  Of course she gave much money and even more time to charitable causes, but what I remember most is her sitting with an elderly or disabled person and just talking, smiling, laughing until they did, too, or stepping into a situation to diffuse the tension, or standing up for someone or something even when it wasn’t popular.  Everyone deserved equal treatment and kindness.

Here’s Nelson Mandela explaining ubuntu:

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When she finally had a chance to retire, she battled cancer and ran out of time, on this earth, at least.  It made me realize that writing, which I’d planned to do when I retired, couldn’t wait.  I had to start.  And I had to do it well as a tribute to her and to my community.  So I try always to get the facts right, check my sources, do the research.  And then I think about the why, which takes a lot longer because it’s at the heart of every story.  Why did something happen?  Why did someone act that way?  Why are we here?

And that’s why I write.  To bring meaning to my life and to try help young people make sense of this world.  Sure, people can laugh that I gave up a job as a lawyer to write for kids (“Can’t she even write for adults?”) but for me it’s the right choice.  It’s not hard when you boil it down to the essence, to the why.  It’s to try to bring something good into the world.

Thanks, Mom.  Thanks for teaching and embodying ubuntu.  Thanks for making me think of the why.

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16 Comments on Ubuntu, the facts and the heart, last added: 8/22/2014
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3. Close, Erika Raskin

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Close.  What a great book title!  Fellow local author Erika Raskin’s novel (for adults) comes out in a couple of months and here’s the very engaging opening to pique your interest:

Sometime the dread was just a light tapping on the edge of awareness. Other times it was a howl in that dark space between anxiety and terror.

I love it! Here’s the synopsis:

Single-mom Kik Marcheson is doing the best she can. But effort doesn’t seem to count for much in the parenting department.

Her oldest daughter, Doone, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence. Casey, the middle-child slash good-girl is fraying along the edges and Tess, a quirky kindergartner, has installed an imaginary playmate in the family abode.

When Doone falls in with the wrong crowd, a TV therapist offers to help. And things do start to look up. But only for a while.

Erika obviously has a way with words and has earned quite a few accolades since she followed in the family business, as she puts it (love that, too), and became a writer.  To get to know Erika a little better (and she is a very fun person) I hope you’ll enjoy this light interview:

Tea or coffee?  Coffee.

Flavor?  Instant.

Milk or sugar?  Definitely doctored.

Favorite season?  I love the colors and sweater weather of autumn (before the leaves drop) — as well as all the impending celebrations. I also love spring when the gardens put on their party ensembles.

Can you deal better with wind or rain?  Wind. Unless I’m wearing a skirt. Then I get a little frantic.

Deciduous or evergreen?  Evergreen. Barren trees bum me out.

What’s always in your fridge?  Carrots.

Favorite comfort food?  Watermelon.

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?  In a perfect world I’d eat a watermelon and Dorito diet.

Food you’d rather starve than eat.  I’m a vegetarian…

Cat or dog?  Dog.

Flats or heels?  Heels I plan on retiring them, though, as soon as I get just a little taller.

Natural fibers or synthetics?  I like cotton – but seem to have a lot of the other stuff.

Jeans or fancier?  Jeans. And make-up.

Short hair or long?  In between.

Ideal evening.  Hanging out with my husband after a productive workday, bingewatching TV.

Ideal vacation.  Big beach house with everyone I love inside.

Favorite board, card, or computer game?  Scrabble.

Favorite sport or form of exercise?  Ballet barre.

Language in which you’d most like to be fluent.  Spanish. Still.

Country you’d most like to visit.  Ireland.

Skill you’d most like to acquire.  Being able to sing without scaring small children.

Favorite musical instrument.  Guitar.

You’re going on a book tour: Plane, train or automobile?  Depends on the distance. (Are we there yet?)

Topic you’d most like to write about.  I love writing and exploring different families.

Topic you think most needs writing about.  Social justice issues.

Author you’d like to meet.  Anne Lamott.

Question you’d ask that author.  How did she get so fearless.

What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?  Different writings, different authors. Sometimes no more than a line can change my path.

What most surprises you about our current culture?  The general acceptance of a loss of privacy. Totally creeps me out.

Some favorite books?  To Kill A Mockingbird, Mockingbird, Angela’s Ashes, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Traveling Mercies

Some favorite movies?  To Kill A Mockingbird, Terms of Endearment, Good Will Hunting, Little Women.

To learn more about Erika and her writing, please visit her website or her author page on Facebook.  Happy reading!

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1 Comments on Close, Erika Raskin, last added: 8/6/2014
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4. Walter Dean Myers

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“As a writer, I absorb stories, allow them to churn within my own head and heart — often for years — until I find a way of telling them that fits both my time and temperament.” — Walter Dean Myers

I am still reeling over the loss of this caring, smart, funny, determined and very accomplished man – the kind of man who responds to a boy who wants to write a book with him, and does just that (Kick), the kind of man of goes into prisons to talk with young people there, not just talk about the glaring lopsidedness of poor and minority kids in prison, the kind of man who is gracious and thoughtful, hoping to catch a cup of coffee sometime or discuss writing with me over email (while I took breaks between emails to hop-skip around the house, shouting, “Walter Dean Myers emailed me!  Walter Dean Myers emailed me!” and then sat back down again to try act like a grownup), the kind of man who never acted impressed with himself, although he had every reason to.  He’s such a famous author, there’s even fiction that includes him as key character (Love that Dog by Sharon Creech).

He didn’t just contribute to the body of literature — and a critical contribution since his work tended to focus on (often ignored) minorities and their families and neighborhoods — but to the body and soul of who we are.  As National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature his motto was “Reading is not optional.”  It’s not optional because reading is power.  Reading puts us on a higher level.  Reading anything — the directions on a household cleaner, a prescription bottle, a job application — can have serious implications for one’s individual future.  And, as a society, who will we become if we don’t forge those neural pathways that lead to reading, which includes distinguishing shapes, translating shapes into sounds, and shapes and sounds into meaning and understanding?  There is no video game or even audio book that will substitute for that brain training.  Don’t let a kid tell you that reading isn’t important, isn’t worth it, isn’t necessary, or is too much effort.  Tell him that if a kid from the Bronx with a speech impediment who carried books in a paper bag so no one would see he wasn’t “cool,” can read, he  can, too.  He or she might even become a writer, and write over a hundred books in a variety of genres, and maybe become the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.  But most importantly, they will learn to think and feel, to empathize, to experience the wider world, leading to understanding of others and themselves.  Reading will bring them a sense of humanity and humility, something we should all strive for so the world can have more Walters.

Authors, editors, book sellers, and book buyers will, I hope, strive to continue his calling.  He wrote, most recently in a New York Times editorial this year, about the need for minority kids to see themselves in literature, recalling what James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” did for him.  He said, “I’ve reached an age at which I find myself not only examining and weighing my life’s work, but thinking about how I will pass the baton so that those things I find important will continue.”

Thank you, Walter, for all you’ve done for us.  You have long strides for us to emulate and try follow.  But we will.  Because it’s not optional.  And, as you said, “There is work to be done.”

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8 Comments on Walter Dean Myers, last added: 7/20/2014
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5. The Secret of Writing, Revealed

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People often ask me how to write for children, how to get published, how to be successful.  For me, there was one magic elixer that turned my writing life around.  It taught me to really know my audience as well as the industry.  It took my writing and raised it to a higher (publishable) level.  And it’s always there to keep recharging me whenever I need it.  No, it’s not coffee or chocolate or even a loving husband.  It’s something available to all:  the Highlights Foundation.  Sure, they provide that magazine you might’ve had as a kid but it’s much more than that.  It’s a foundation that nurtures writers for children, in any aspect of writing not just magazines (and if there’s some niche you can’t find covered, let them know and they’ll likely add it).  What makes Highlights the magic elixir?  Hmm, well here are some facts:

–experienced and generous faculty

–craft lectures and exercises

–one on one mentoring

–the synergy of other writers

–a nurturing environment (gourmet meals, your own cabin, a serene woodland with stream, yoga, drinks and snacks 24/7)

–most importantly, you’re TREATED as a writer and you’re EXPECTED to be a writer

That last point cannot be underestimated.  How often do we doubt ourselves as writers?  How often do we put our writing at the bottom of the list, below work and family and laundry, etc.?  At Highlights, you are treated seriously and as an equal — so much so that you start believing what you should’ve believed all along:  I’m a writer.  I may have much work to do yet but what I have to say is important.  And I will be published.

Those are the facts.  There are the intangibles, too — the kindness in the air, the support that surrounds you, the incredible creative energy (at the event I just returned from, Patti Gauch called it “lei lines,” or lines of magic that cross right there at Boyds Mills, site of the Highlights Foundation workshops).  I honestly don’t know what it is exactly but I can tell you this.  In the fall of 2003 I attended a Highlights workshop and the following summer I went to Chautauqua, a Highlights conference that’s now held at the same place as the workshops in Boyds Mills, PA.  As a direct result of those two experiences, I published my first novel, Quaking in 2007 and Mockingbird in 2010, and several more since.  They have all done pretty well.  I’m proud of them and proud of my writing.  But mostly I’m grateful to that magic elixir that enabled me to fulfill this dream, and keeps filling me up whenever I need it.

It’s out there waiting for you.  It really is available to everyone (there are scholarships or you can do what a writer at the last workshop did — start a GoFundMe page).  Set your goal.  Write.  Write well.  And then publish.

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2 Comments on The Secret of Writing, Revealed, last added: 6/29/2014
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6. Blog Hop — Happy Spring!

Fresh green growth, flowering trees, and even the rain is putting spring in my yard and a spring in my step.  Time to break free of the winter blahs and get reenergized for writing!  Thanks to the very talented Tracey Baptiste for inviting me to be part of this blog hop.  Tracey is an editor and author AND freelance “fairy Godauthor” (I love that) which means she can help you with your writing!  She writes from a great perspective — having grown up in Trinidad before moving with her family to New York city as a teen.  Here’s a fantastic post she just did to keep the #WeNeedDiverseBooks fire going!  Please enjoy reading about Tracey (and please enjoy reading her books, too!).

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Tracey Baptiste is an author and editor of children’s books. Born on the island of Trinidad, Tracey became interested in fairy tales and told her mother at the age of 3 that she would grow up to be a writer someday. She wrote her first novel at the age of 13, moved to New York with her family at age 15, and graduated with her Master’s Degree in Education at age 22. After teaching 2nd grade for several years, Tracey left to work for McGraw-Hill, developing Reading and Language Arts programs. Tracey wrote her first novel, Angel’s Grace, on the commute to work. After leaving McGraw-Hill to freelance, she wrote 7 middle grade non-fiction books including a biography of her fantasy hero, Madeleine L’Engle.

Tracey has recently returned to full-time work (though she happily works from home) as an editor for Rosen Publishing, where she edits non-fiction books for kids. Her second novel, a creepy middle grade called The Jumbies will be out from Algonquin in 2015.

Tracey is represented by Marie Lamba of Jennifer De Chiara Literary and is currently at work on a chapter book for younger kids, and a middle grade novel. She can be found at www.traceybaptiste.com where she blogs a weekly-ish roundup of publishing news. She also helps other writers with their fiction and non-fiction manuscripts via Fairy Godauthor (www.fairygodauthor.com). You can find Tracey in person at the NJSCBWI conference in June. She will be giving two presentations: non-fiction writing, and the author/agent relationship. She will also be critiquing non-fiction proposals.

At the end of this post are several more authors I’ll introduce you to, but first let me answer the Blog Hop questions:

1.  What am I working on?

It depends what day it is.  Seriously, I have so many different projects that I work on whichever one I’m most passionate about that day.  Mostly, I’m a novelist, but I’m working on several picture books and also a novel for adults.  I do try to focus most of my attention on one or two projects so right now it’s a picture book biography and a new novel that, amazingly, might even have a fantasy element which I don’t usually write.  I really need to work on my teen road trip novel, though.  And, OK, there’s also this middle grade historical novel that’s on the top of my list … see what I mean?

2.  How does my work differ from others of this genre?

I think every author has his or her own style.  Mine is to deal with tough issues but include the all important element of humor.  I also think authors have different strengths.  I believe mine is in the characters.  They feel real to me (and, actually, they appear in my head that way so I hardly feel like I can take credit for creating them myself).  I love it when people say the characters in my books stick with him and they don’t want the story to end because they’ll feel like they’ve lost a friend.  I think that’s a lovely compliment.

3.  Why do I write what I do?

I love reading contemporary or historical novels so that’s what I tend to write.  I feel for kids, particularly in their transition to adulthood, which is why I tend to write middle grade and young adult novels.  My books deal with difficult topics because I’m trying to make sense of them myself and hoping that these stories will help kids think through these topics and make some sense of them, too.  My themes are tolerance, understanding, social justice, and peace.  Those themes are important to me in life so they come out naturally in my writing.  Finally, I always end on a note of hope.  That is critical.  I couldn’t write without hope.

4.  How does my writing process work?

It’s messy.  It’s unconventional.  It’s haphazard.  And that’s the way I like it.  I have never enjoyed routine — variety is the spice of life, right?  I love working on whatever project interests me so whatever mood I wake up in determines my work for the day.  Often I’ll sit and write very early in the morning when I’m fresh and the house is quiet and before the day gets away from me.  Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get a power nap and I can repeat the creative surge in the afternoon.  I write (in my head or on my voice app) when I’m driving or taking walks.  And really, writers are always working on stories because we’re observing and tucking little incidents away for future modification and use.  I write whatever comes into my head and the only downside is having to take that jumble and shape it into an organized story.  That is the hardest part for me.  But even in that process I learn something and make revisions and realize why it is I’m writing this story.  Research, to me, is part of the writing process because I couldn’t write without really knowing the ins and outs so I do spend a fair amount of time reading, exploring, traveling, etc. in order to get the information I need to write an authentic story.  It’s probably not the most efficient process but we all have to follow our own style.

And now for three talented writers whom I respect and whose writing I very much enjoy.  Please check them out!

Jennifer Elvgren can make even tough topics understandable to the very young, and memorable for all of us.

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A former print journalist, Jennifer’s children’s fiction has appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, and Spider magazines. She is the author of Josias, Hold the Book, a Bank Street College Best Books selection and a recipient of the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Her new picture book The Whispering Town was recently reviewed in The New York Times and received a Starred Review from Booklist. She lives in Albemarle County, Virginia, with her husband, three children, Caspian the Border collie, Copperfield the Foxhound and Goodnight Moon the Quarter Horse. Please visit her at www.JenniferElvgren.com

 

Dionna Mann is such a beautifully lyrical writer that reading her words is like drinking in deliciousness.

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Dionna is a spinner of children’s yarns, a weaver of nonfiction articles, a forever-learner enrolled in the Institute of Imaginative Thinking and a keeper of an MFA–a Mighty Fine Attitude, that is. Her work has appeared in WEE ONES, KidMag Writer, the SCBWI Bulletin, the ICL’s newsletter, and in regional newspapers. She has sold a non-fiction feature to Highlights for Children and has had a poem accepted by Ladybug. For eight years now, Dionna has been writing articles on editorial assignment for Charlottesville Family, a Parent’s Choice winning magazine. In 2012, her debut middle-grade, FREEDOM PEN, was published by Pugalicious Press. She may be found at www.dionnalmann.com

 

 

 

 

Shelley Sackier has a wit you can’t even imagine (actually, you can once you read her bio!) — it draws you in and keeps you laughing.

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Shelley Sackier is a bone-tired woman who faces a daily insurmountable amount of laundering and cleaning of crockery. These tasks are generated mostly by her faithful hound who is an unusual mixed breed of part highland cow and part wooly mammoth. She owns two children who also tax her with the insatiable need for full bellies and clean underwear. And she accomplishes these undertakings with nothing more than the assistance of her teeth.

With her hands, she is free to idle away her hours writing middle grade and young adult contemporary and historical fiction. June 2015 is the date her publishers have set as the unleashing of her book Dear Opl, a humorous look at grief, obesity, and diabetes; a tagline her editors refuse to acknowledge as marketable.

To learn more about Shelley, visit Peakperspective.com where she blogs weekly about living on a small farm atop a mountain in the Blue Ridge and how it’s easiest to handle most of it with home grown food, a breathless adoration for tractors, and a large dose of single malt scotch.


4 Comments on Blog Hop — Happy Spring!, last added: 5/5/2014
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7. Freedom’s Sisters for Black History Month

Freedom’s Sisters was a wonderful traveling exhibit (now online) honoring 20 African American women in the categories Dare to Dream, Inspire Lives, Serve the Public, and Look to the Future.  I posted about many of these women already but realize I never mentioned the last 4 in the group — and now that it’s Black History Month, what better time?

Harriet Ross Greene Tubman (circa 1820 – 1913)

“Every dream begins with a dreamer.”

We all know her as the famous conductor on the Underground Railroad but just how tough she was is astounding — 19 trips into slave territory, ferried all her charges to safety, had a $40,000 reward for her capture (over $1,000,000 in today’s dollars), but she was never caught.  And she commanded a military raid during the Civil War and was a spy for the Union Army.  You know how people ask if you could have dinner with several people from history, who would they be?  Harriet Tubman would be one of them.

For kids, I highly recommend Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s picture book, MINTY.  (Her name was Araminta, nickname Minty, but she later changed it to Harriet, after her mom.)

Here’s a kids’ website, too, and a more comprehensive, educational (and fascinating) one from Scholastic.

C. Delores Tucker (1927 – 2005)

“Never again will black women be disregarded.”

The first woman and first African American to be a secretary of state (Pennsylvania, 1971), she also helped found what is now called the National Congress of Black Women in 1985 and served as chairman of the National Black Caucus of the Democratic Party.  Here’s more information from the  National Women’s History Museum.

And yes, she’s the one who spoke out against rap lyrics, for which many ridiculed her, but here’s a very thoughtful contemporary article about that issue from Sharon Toomer in Black and Brown News.

Frances Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)

“More than the changing of institutions we need the development of a national conscience, and the upbuilding of national character.”

Frances Harper was an author of poetry and many novels, and editor and contributor to the Anglo African Magazine, the first African American literary journal.  She was also a participant in the Underground Railroad and lifetime abolitionist, spending almost 50 years traveling traveling tirelessly and giving speeches against racism and sexism.  A friend of Sojourner Truth, she was another tough lady like Harriet Tubman.  Here’s some information about her from the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862 – 1931)

“One had better die fighting agains injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”

Another courageous woman, Ida Wells-Barnett sued the railroad in Tennessee for requiring her to sit in a blacks only car — in 1884!– 71 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat.  What’s amazing is that Wells-Barnett actually won the case, although it was later overturned.  She went on to write about the event and other injustices and become a successful journalist and co-owner of Free Speech, an African Americans newspaper.  When she wrote in that paper about lynchings, she ended up having to leave town but that didn’t silence her.  She wrote and spoke around the world about social injustice.

Here’s a great site with info about her from Duke University and a piece in biography.com (although this site has those annoying audio-visual commercials that pop up).


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8. Talking Story

 

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I was so grateful to have the chance to talk story with students at Pukalani Elementary School in upcountry Maui, Hawaii.  Many of them were in the middle of reading Mockingbird and eagerly asked questions about the book and writing in general. It’s kind of far to go so they don’t get too many author visits which made it special for me — as a kid who never thought it was possible to become an author, I want kids to see they can follow their dreams, writing or otherwise.  Thanks to Jamie Ahlman for organizing and for being a tour guide for the evening, too!  And mahalo for my lovely gifts and thank you notes!!IMG_1720IMG_1719

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9. J.K. Rowling, King Charles I, and I

Here’s J.K.’s house in Edinburgh, which I visited last month:

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OK, so actually I was just a stalker and went to snap a photo because my friends live around the corner from her.  It’s just a big house on the main road.  Well, not just a big house; it has quite an interesting history, dating from the 1600′s.  It’s one of the oldest homes in Edinburgh and belonged to King Charles I’s lawyer, who traveled down to London to defend him against treason.  As the story goes, the lawyer was excellent and made compelling arguments but no one could understand his Scottish brogue so the king lost his head anyway.  I’m not sure what happened to the lawyer.

IMG_1443J.K. is putting in a new gate, hence the temporary screens.  My friend walked me up to her gate like a gentleman because I felt so stalker-ish.  He also said, with earnest, “Had she only known you were going to be in town, I’m quite sure she would’ve invited you to tea.”    Hahahaha!  I almost lost my head over that one.


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10. WAMS — William Allen Middle School

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Fantastic visit with William Allen Middle School in New Jersey — the whole school read Mockingbird!  I’m honored, and it was a treat to watch their role plays and see their projects and answer their questions.  Everyone, including me, got a wonderful T-shirt (soft and a very pretty turquoise blue which doesn’t come out in these photos) based on the book.  Thoughtful people, great place — truly good and strong and beautiful!!  Thanks for hosting me!

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11. Anne Westrick’s BROTHERHOOD

I don’t know of many YA novels set in Reconstruction era Virginia with a boy main character so that’s reason enough to read Anne Westrick’s BROTHERHOOD.  As others have said, you might think it’s not the venue for a gripping story — but you would be most definitely be mistaken.  It’s honest and authentic and will make you cringe sometimes, but that’s the whole idea — the times were definitely cringe worthy.  I respect her for reflecting the harshness of the era.  Anne grew up in a Southern family that purposely transplanted itself to Pennsylvania but she always wondered about her relatives during this time in history.

For a chance to meet Anne, she’ll be appearing at Teen ’13  in Richmond, VA and will be speaking at the James River Writers conference in Richmond that weekend.

For DC area natives, Anne (BROTHERHOOD), Kristin Levine (THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK) and I (SEEING RED) will be doing a panel on Civil Rights issues at Hooray 4 Books in Alexandria, VA on Friday, October 25, 2013.

Now, let’s hear from Anne herself:

Why did you write this book / choose this topic?

I have a sense that this topic chose me. I grew up in Pennsylvania where people said woudder instead of water. But at home, my Southern parents used words like y’all and howdy do there. When I asked them about our ancestors, they told me to read Gone with the Wind, and they regurgitated the noble-lost-cause diet of the defeated Confederacy because that’s what their community had fed them. But I think it gave them indigestion. When Daddy told me that as a child, he had vowed never to raise his own children in the South, I wondered what it would have felt like to grow up in a community polarized by racial tensions, a community where whites were expected to treat blacks badly. Brotherhood grew from those wonderings.

 

When do you write?

Every morning, six days a week (sometimes seven).

 

Where do you write?

On a mac computer on a table (that used to be my sewing table) in the northwest corner of my bedroom. There are two windows, one on either side of the table. When I glance to the right, I can watch the sun rise, and to the left, if I happen to be at my computer in the early evening, occasionally the setting sun will do such a number on the sky that it’ll compel me to get up and move to a window where I can take in the purples, pinks, reds and oranges. I guess I’m saying that I’m sometimes distracted.

 

What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?

After the 2012 James River Writers conference, Maggie Duncan posted at “Unexpected Paths”  a quote from poet Camisha Jones: “Just because you’re white doesn’t mean you can’t write about diversity. I would like to see stories by white people about the pressure on them to conform to racism. That’s an important story to tell.” Before reading those words, I hadn’t thought of Brotherhood in that way. But that’s what Brotherhood is about—that pressure to conform. Sometimes pressure comes in big, bad, bold ways, such as in the ways the characters in Brotherhood must answer to the KKK, but sometimes it comes quietly, as in a racist comment during a dinner party. Do you let it go or call the person out on it? If you call her out, do you do it publicly or privately? If you don’t call her out, have you granted tacit approval? I guess I’d like to leave readers with questions when they finish Brotherhood.

 

Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?

I have two favorite quotes. Brenda Ueland said, “The more you wish to describe a Universal the more minutely and truthfully you must describe a Particular.” And Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Yeah. Same. I get that.

Favorite season?

Autumn. Fall colors mesmerize me.

 

Deciduous or evergreen?

Definitely deciduous (see favorite season).

 

Cat or dog?

Cat, but I’ve met some awesome dogs that could change my mind. 

 

Flats or heels? 

Flats. By the time I hit seventh grade, I was 5’7” and although I’ve shrunk a little over the years, I developed an “I’m too tall” complex and haven’t been able to shed it.

 

Favorite board, card, or computer game?

Bridge! I grew up in a bridge-playing family and met my husband playing bridge. These days, I think the average age for bridge players might be eighty, so it’s hard for us to find couples to play with. We enjoy contract bridge, not the competitive version (“duplicate bridge”).

 

Favorite musical instrument.

Tuba. My son is a tuba player and can make the instrument sound as mellow as a French horn.

 

Favorite sport or form of exercise?

Yoga

 

Activity you wished you enjoyed:

Cooking; it requires so much time that I wish I could find joy in it. But I’d rather be writing.

Thank you, Anne!  You can find out more about Anne and her writing at her website or one of the events mentioned above.  Happy reading!


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12. BREAK THESE RULES! Thank you, Luke

Some years ago I was lucky to make the acquaintance of Luke Reynolds, a talented writer, dedicated teacher, great family man and all around mensch.   Among his other writing, Luke has created anthologies to benefit various groups, the proceeds from BREAK THESE RULES going to the Children’s Defense Fund (where I volunteered, briefly, as a law student, so has particular interest to me).

I love this little bio which says so much about him so I’m just going to quote it here, but I do have to add that he has also recently written an inspiring book for writers, Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope.   If you’re a writer, this book will definitely speak to you:

Luke Reynolds is the author of A Call to Creativity (Teachers College Press, 2012) and is co-editor of both Burned In (Teacher College Press, 2011, with Audrey Friedman) and Dedicated to the People of Darfur (Rutgers University Press, 2009, with his wife Jennnifer Reynolds). His book A New Man (Stonegarden, 2007) explores the need for a more authentic, vulnerable masculinity. His writing has also appeared in The Believer, The Writer, The Sonora Review, The Hartford Courant, Arizona Daily Sun, Mutuality, Hunger Mountain, and Tucson Weekly. He has taught English in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and has also taught Composition at Northern Arizona University. He and his wife, Jennifer, have one son, Tyler. They love family dancing to the oldies.

I asked Luke to answer some questions so we can learn a little more about him.

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
So many people have provided inspiration, help, guidance, and encouragement–but one stand out most: my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Robert Looney. He walked into class with wild hair, wild eyes, and infectious joy. He created a writing program called FLAIR, and the name captures exactly what his teaching philosophy was all about. He encouraged his students to be wildly creative, and to be invested in our stories and in our ideas. I owe a debt to Mr. Looney that is larger than one could ever hope to repay.
[I remember reading about Mr. Looney, Luke, and I hope others will have that opportunity, too!]

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers.  What is that?

Tough question–but the biggest piece of advice I would give is probably this: YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER. IT’S OKAY TO LEARN, GROW, CHANGE YOUR MIND, RETHINK, AND REALLY LIVE.

Why do you write?  /  Why do you write for young people?

I write because when I don’t my chest feels like I am holding my breath and if I keep not writing then I keep holding my breath and sooner or later there is going to be some kind of massive explosion because there are words and ideas and people and stories that just have to come out (even if some or many or most of them never make it into print). I write first because it’s a part of what my soul keeps saying I have to do–and I write for young people because I love, love, love them and I appreciate the fact that they are going through hard transitions, when they’re hearing so much advice, receiving so many cultural norms, and have so many expectations put on them that sometimes they just need to know that they are not alone. (And that it’s going to be okay, somehow.)

[See why I said "mensch?"]

When do you write?

I usually do my best work in the early mornings, before everyone wakes up. There’s a certain energy that the earth has in the early morning, and I love waking up and getting the chance to be a part of that!

What are you working on now?

Now, I am working on a couple different novels, two anthologies, and a few picture book revisions. But everything is about revision! Constant, unending revision. I sometimes feel as though nothing is ever really “finished” and maybe that’s true of all life: we’re never really “finished” with ourselves or with our own journeys and stories, and a certain acceptance of that fact helps me enjoy both my writing and my own life more.

Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?

Because kids books tell it like it is: there is so much depth, pain, beauty, tragedy, triumph, and transcendence in kids books–and they are fresh and real and original and vibrant. I think of books like GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung and EIGHTH-GRADE SUPERZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine and I sit back and close my eyes and say, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tea or coffee?  Flavor?  Milk or sugar?

Coffee! With way too much cream!

Favorite season?

Fall: everything is leaving, but not yet, but almost, but it’s still here, and we savor it, but we’re reminded that change is necessary, a aprt of life, and that when one thing ends, another begins.

Can you deal better with wind or rain?

I absolutely love wind. It feel somehow fresh–and makes me feel as though something new is beginning. Rain–if its warm I like to play basketball in it. If it’s cold…..no!!

What’s always in your fridge?

Cream! (Or whole milk if cream manages to somehow escape from the fridge and collectively gather with other Cream escapees.)

Favorite comfort food?

BREAD. I absolutely love bread–especially the squishy, thick brown kind on which gobs of butter can be smothered.

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?

I’ve got to go with BREAD again for this one. It feels like dessert!

Ideal evening.

Going for a bike ride or a hike on a path near water, then getting back just as the sun dips below the horizon, then sitting and having a deep, long, zig-zagging talk about life, psychology, social change, justice, and love. And then a dance with my wife to remind us that with all the joys or injustices in our world, it’s still worth dancing.

[Aww, that is truly beautiful.]

Ideal vacation.

The mountains!

Skill you’d most like to acquire.

When I had my first teaching job out of college, I stopped by a local mechanic and asked him if I could be a sort of apprentice and work for free. He checked with some people and told me that because of liability and insurance, he couldn’t do it. But ever since then I’ve had a strong desire to learn how to fix anything that could go wrong with a car.

Topic you’d most like to write about.

Systematized gender and race inequality in America, and how that translates to real, lived experiences of children in our public school system.

[Ohhh, I want to read that when you're done, Luke!]

Author you’d like to meet.

I would love, love, love, LOVE to meet Harper Lee, my favorite author of all-time.

Question you’d ask that author.

“Ms. Lee, what have been your greatest joys and darkest moments?” Of course, she may very reply: “None of your business, young man!”

What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?

I love reading Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and bell hooks.

What most surprises you about our current culture?

That there’s so much violence in mainstream media, and a culture of violence and male = tough, and yet we wonder why there is so much crime; it sometimes feels as though we live in a culture where violence and toughness are celebrated on the one hand, and yet there’s incarceration and punishment on the other. I think we need to work to change our culture so that peace, courage, and bravery are celebrated in other ways than through violence.

[Amen!]

Some favorite books?

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, OKAY FOR NOW, THE PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, MIDDLEMARCH, SKY COLOR, TEACHING TO TRANSGRESS

Some favorite movies?

A BETTER LIFE, A FEW GOOD MEN, Anything with Denzel Washington, RUDY, MORNING GLORY, I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT, GLORY, CASABLANCA

Thanks, Luke, for sharing your time and heart with us.  For more of Luke’s inspiration, see his Intersections blog.  You can also learn more about him at his website, http://www.lukewreynolds.com.  And if you know a teen, consider giving them their very own copy of BREAK THESE RULES.  (See, I just broke a grammar rule in that last sentence — “a teen” followed by “them,” and I SURVIVED.)


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13. My Mentor, Mary Quattlebaum!

Mary Quattlebaum is not only my friend and fellow student from William and Mary, but also my very first writing mentor.  I remember sitting in her living room with other (much more talented) writers in awe of her abilities and her gentle way of critiquing my very poor drafts and, after pointing out all the beautiful bits she found (that was a monumental task), saying things like, “Might you want to consider …” and then giving me excellent advice when, really, she could’ve said things like, “Seriously, Kathy, have you ever heard the word plot?”

Her gentle insightfulness and talent appears in all her books — and she has written many — including her latest nature picture books.  Mary’s JO MACDONALD trilogy riffs on the Old MacDonald’s Farm theme but with young Jo at the center.  She’s an upbeat nature girl, much like Mary.  The text is upbeat, too, and will have kids (and adults) singing along.  They’re not only fun and adorable (wonderful illustrations by Laura J. Bryant), they’re very cleverly educational, too.  In JO MACDONALD HAD A GARDEN, we see what’s needed for a garden to grow.   JO MACDONALD SAW A POND explains a pond’s ecosystem.  And in JO MACDONALD HIKED IN THE WOODS, we see an entire forest community.  At the end of each book is an explanation (with pictures) of the items in the book and their importance to the theme.  The GARDEN book also tells young readers how to plant a garden, gives advice on gardening and also gives indoor activities that can be enjoyed year round.  In the POND book, there’s information on how to be a naturalist and a citizen scientist.  In her latest, JO MACDONALD HIKED IN THE WOODS, Mary tells us about different types of trees, how they work, various animals, forests, and even how to be a safe and considerate hiker (along with indoor activities, etc. like in the other books).  Simply put, these books are packed with great stuff for kids and all of us!

Now, for some fun for both readers and writers, here’s Mary Quattlebaum herself!

You love and appreciate nature.  How do you think nature can help our writing?  Do you every write outside?
Wow, nature feels like an endless source of inspiration, what with all the critters and plants, the shifting clouds and swaying trees.  Being in the natural world just makes my senses more alert (rather than overwhelmed and overstimulated, like going to a shopping mall).
I like to write on the front porch when the weather is nice.  One of my favorite writing places, though, is our kitchen table in the morning.  I can look out the window at the garden and enjoy the early morning rays.
What is your favorite outdoor place to hang out?
I love our front porch swing and our wildlife garden in the backyard, which has shrubs, coneflowers, and other native plants to help sustain birds and pollinators.  Even in winter, there’s something restful and calming about a garden.  And I love walking the dog daily, through all the seasons, in a field that is part of Fort Reno park in Washington, DC (where I live).  The hill there is the highest point in the city so it is a great place to view the changing landscape.  I love seeing how much my dog, Yoshi, relishes the outdoors.   I know you are a big fan of dogs, too, Kathy.  Don’t you just love walking Fletcher and seeing how he takes in the world?
[Kathy:  Yes, but mostly he lies down in the grass.  He can be a very lazy dog.]
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
Walking and gardening.
What is something nature-related that you think everyone should do at one time in their lives?
Grow a plant!  There’s something amazing about watching a seed sprout and grow.  A miracle of the ordinary.  It reminds us that the earth renews itself, and that we humans are part of a great cycle of life and death that includes many forms of life, over millions of years.
Kathy:   That’s beautiful, Mary–thank you!  Here’s Mary’s website for more information.  Enjoy the trilogy!

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14. The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, part 2

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop celebrates what writers are working on or what they have coming up next.  (Yes, I know I’ve already participated, but I’m always working on new projects!)  Welcome to my stop!

I was tagged by talented writer and friend, Shelley Sackier, whose book (DEAR OPL) I’ve read a snippet of and it’s funny, clever, thoughtful and interesting, just like she is.  So, I decided to talk about a funny work-in-progress …

1.  What is the working title of your book?

Glorious and Free

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

A road trip I took with my family a couple of years ago.  And coming to terms with my father’s death.  (No, really, the story is mostly funny.)

3.  What genre does your book come under?

YA.  More specifically, teen road trip novel.

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a little sad — and related to Shelley’s book, DEAR OPL, actually — that I can’t come up with a short, overweight young actress, but that’s what Shannon looks like.  Her brother, Avery is tall and thin and has so much hair in front of his face I’m having trouble picturing which actor he looks like. :o )  But for granddad?  Definitely Robert Duvall!

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Shannon is dragged on a road trip to Canada with her annoying brother and even more annoying gravely ill grandfather, she begins to see that although you can’t control life and bad  things may happen, it can still be a wild and wonderful ride.

6.  Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

Agent:  The wonderful Linda Pratt of Wernick & Pratt!

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Well, it’s not actually finished yet, which has something to do with the fact that I work on several books at once and, if it’s not under contract, it doesn’t get top priority.  It’s FUN to work on, though, and I do plan to finish it after I complete the main book I’m working on now.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Well, comparing it to these seems presumptuous — it’s similar in that it’s humorous and quirky but with weighty topics underneath.

Going Bovine, Libba Bray

An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth, Lynne Rae Perkins

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

To remind us all that there’s a whole big, beautiful world out there if we’ll open our eyes, question our assumptions, and dare to dream.

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

If you like snarky and heartwarming in the same package, you might just like this one.

OK, now I get to tag TWO other author friends — look for their posts next Sunday — and here they are:

Moira Rose Donohue is a lawyer who started writing fiction for children and ended up writing children’s nonfiction and loving it!  She is currently working on a chapter book about talented animals that will be part of a multi-author series by National Geographic.

Alma Fullerton is an award winning Canadian author and illustrator who is currently working on picture book entitled Hand  Over Hand  about a Filipino girl who goes fishing with her grandfather.

Thanks for visiting and enjoy these next stops!


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15. Tribute to Trayvon

The only  light I  see in the Travon Martin verdict is people’s reaction of shock and outrage.  It means the human spirit is alive.  And powerful.  No matter how beaten down we get, we keep trying.  The human spirit is what spurred Randy Pausch to encourage others to fulfill their dreams in spite of his own looming death (The Last Lecture), and Viktor Frankl to survive hell in a concentration camp and encourage others to persevere (Man’s Search for Meaning), and for us to march on, refusing to succumb, in the face hundreds of years of blatant and latent injustice.  But march on we will.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  –To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee


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16. Tribute to Trayvon

The only  light I  see in the Travon Martin verdict is people’s reaction of shock and outrage.  It means the human spirit is alive.  And powerful.  No matter how beaten down we get, we keep trying.  The human spirit is what spurred Randy Pausch to encourage others to fulfill their dreams in spite of his own looming death (The Last Lecture), and Viktor Frankl to survive hell in a concentration camp and encourage others to persevere (Man’s Search for Meaning), and for us to march on, refusing to succumb, in the face of hundreds of years of blatant and latent injustice.  But march on we will.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  –To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee


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17. Sue Cowing Interview: YOU WILL CALL ME DROG

Sue Cowing is an award winning poet and author who’s lucky enough to live in Hawaii!  She’s also a lover of history, art and Asian culture which have found their way into YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, a fascinating story for young readers with a tiny bit of scariness but also bullies and aikido and a military academy and … well, you’ll just have to read it and see for yourself!

Can you tell us how this book, or any of your books, came to be published?

I had published lots of poems and stories, both for children and adults, but You Will Call Me Drog was my first novel, and I didn’t realize that I was submitting it to editors prematurely. As a result, I got a lot of enthusiastic and complimentary. . .rejections.  Then Drog, the puppet character in the story said to me: “So are you going to do this for the rest of your life?  Get me an agent!” As it happened, I found just the right one that same day.  She was smitten with Drog and with Parker, but she also asked questions that led to some big revisions, and when we were both happy with the changes, the book sold in a month.

Tell us why we should read this book.

Because I wrote it just for you!

Because you’ve never read anything quite like it.

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

I’d have to thank my Mom who read us lots of poems and stories—myths, adventures, fables, mysteries, fairy tales (I loved anything with a magic object in it)—and told us stories from her own life.  She taught us to love language, art, music, and the natural world and to use our imaginations.  Her motto was “make your own.”

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers.  What is that?

Well, since I spent most of my teenage years trying to be the kind of person to whom no one would give unsolicited advice, I guess I’d better not give any!

What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?

Drog would sum it up as “Speak for yourself” or “You’re nothing without a voice. Nada.”   But then Drog doesn’t hesitate for a minute to give unsolicited advice.

The philosophy of Aikido is an important element in this novel, and Parker’s Aikido teacher sums it up this way:  It is wrong to hurt someone, so if you prevent someone from hurting you, you are doing them a favor.”  Parker’s eventual solution to his puppet problem is a kind of Aikido solution.

Why did you write this book?

To have some serious fun!  I love to read and write stories that are completely realistic except for one impossible element—in this case the talking puppet—so that things are always teetering a little.  Also I’m fascinated by the questions explored in this story, such has how to live with controlling, boundary-crossing people and how deal with violence without becoming violent yourself.  And Drog’s outrageous comments throughout inject a little humor into otherwise dire situations.

Why do you write?

I once heard Gary Hoffman, a master cellist, say: “If you do something you love and do it as well as you can a for as long as you can, you become more and more yourself, and what could be better than that?”  For me writing is that something I love.

Why do you write for young people?

Eight- to twelve-year-olds are my favorite people on the planet. I believe they’re  the growing tip of the human spirit.  They care so much about things, they’re open to possibilities and a little magic, and they love and enter into stories completely.  I know they can hear me.  Some adults, the wise ones I believe, retain a childlike joy and wonder and simply add to it as they learn from experience growing older.  I write for them, too.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Yes, it’s from poet Theodore Roethke’s notebooks and it’s framed on my wall:  “Trust all joy.”

Is there a sequel?

No, but some readers have urged me to write a prequel about Drog’s life before he ended up in the junkyard trash can.

What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing a story in three voices—one for each of two boys who are different from one another in almost every way, and the third, in graphics, a brilliant and funny dog named Bravo that both boys love. Of course the dog doesn’t actually speak.  Or does he?   I’ve also just finished a retelling of the Three Billy Goats in which the youngest goat, a girl, persuades the troll to go vegetarian.

Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?

Because there are so many wonderful stories in them!

Because identifying with the characters in books helps you imagine possibilities and think about different ways to live and be human.

Some favorite books?

Many, many, but here are a few:  The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak; Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis; Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary Schmidt, Under the Baseball Moon by John H. Ritter, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.

Can you deal better with wind or rain? 

I wouldn’t like to live where it doesn’t rain much.  I need my surroundings to be wet and green.  Rainy days make me want to write and make things. That’s why I’m happy living in Hawaii!

Favorite comfort food:

Right now it’s fresh strawberry mochi, the kind with a whole strawberry inside coated with azuki bean paste.  Yum!  Also just about anything dark chocolate.

Thanks, Sue!  You can learn more about Sue at her website.   Drog even has a blog!


3 Comments on Sue Cowing Interview: YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, last added: 7/12/2013
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18. Sue Cowing Interview: YOU WILL CALL ME DROG

Sue Cowing is an award winning poet and author who’s lucky enough to live in Hawaii!  She’s also a lover of history, art and Asian culture which have found their way into YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, a fascinating story for young readers with a tiny bit of scariness but also bullies and aikido and a military academy and … well, you’ll just have to read it and see for yourself!

Can you tell us how this book, or any of your books, came to be published?

I had published lots of poems and stories, both for children and adults, but You Will Call Me Drog was my first novel, and I didn’t realize that I was submitting it to editors prematurely. As a result, I got a lot of enthusiastic and complimentary. . .rejections.  Then Drog, the puppet character in the story said to me: “So are you going to do this for the rest of your life?  Get me an agent!” As it happened, I found just the right one that same day.  She was smitten with Drog and with Parker, but she also asked questions that led to some big revisions, and when we were both happy with the changes, the book sold in a month.

Tell us why we should read this book.

Because I wrote it just for you!

Because you’ve never read anything quite like it.

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

I’d have to thank my Mom who read us lots of poems and stories—myths, adventures, fables, mysteries, fairy tales (I loved anything with a magic object in it)—and told us stories from her own life.  She taught us to love language, art, music, and the natural world and to use our imaginations.  Her motto was “make your own.”

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers.  What is that?

Well, since I spent most of my teenage years trying to be the kind of person to whom no one would give unsolicited advice, I guess I’d better not give any!

What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?

Drog would sum it up as “Speak for yourself” or “You’re nothing without a voice. Nada.”   But then Drog doesn’t hesitate for a minute to give unsolicited advice.

The philosophy of Aikido is an important element in this novel, and Parker’s Aikido teacher sums it up this way:  It is wrong to hurt someone, so if you prevent someone from hurting you, you are doing them a favor.”  Parker’s eventual solution to his puppet problem is a kind of Aikido solution.

Why did you write this book?

To have some serious fun!  I love to read and write stories that are completely realistic except for one impossible element—in this case the talking puppet—so that things are always teetering a little.  Also I’m fascinated by the questions explored in this story, such has how to live with controlling, boundary-crossing people and how deal with violence without becoming violent yourself.  And Drog’s outrageous comments throughout inject a little humor into otherwise dire situations.

Why do you write?

I once heard Gary Hoffman, a master cellist, say: “If you do something you love and do it as well as you can a for as long as you can, you become more and more yourself, and what could be better than that?”  For me writing is that something I love.

Why do you write for young people?

Eight- to twelve-year-olds are my favorite people on the planet. I believe they’re  the growing tip of the human spirit.  They care so much about things, they’re open to possibilities and a little magic, and they love and enter into stories completely.  I know they can hear me.  Some adults, the wise ones I believe, retain a childlike joy and wonder and simply add to it as they learn from experience growing older.  I write for them, too.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Yes, it’s from poet Theodore Roethke’s notebooks and it’s framed on my wall:  “Trust all joy.”

Is there a sequel?

No, but some readers have urged me to write a prequel about Drog’s life before he ended up in the junkyard trash can.

What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing a story in three voices—one for each of two boys who are different from one another in almost every way, and the third, in graphics, a brilliant and funny dog named Bravo that both boys love. Of course the dog doesn’t actually speak.  Or does he?   I’ve also just finished a retelling of the Three Billy Goats in which the youngest goat, a girl, persuades the troll to go vegetarian.

Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?

Because there are so many wonderful stories in them!

Because identifying with the characters in books helps you imagine possibilities and think about different ways to live and be human.

Some favorite books?

Many, many, but here are a few:  The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak; Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis; Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary Schmidt, Under the Baseball Moon by John H. Ritter, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.

Can you deal better with wind or rain? 

I wouldn’t like to live where it doesn’t rain much.  I need my surroundings to be wet and green.  Rainy days make me want to write and make things. That’s why I’m happy living in Hawaii!

Favorite comfort food:

Right now it’s fresh strawberry mochi, the kind with a whole strawberry inside coated with azuki bean paste.  Yum!  Also just about anything dark chocolate.

Thanks, Sue!  You can learn more about Sue at her website.   Drog even has a blog!


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19. Animals, Books, and a Great Cause

Six year old Catherine Hubbard, who lost her life in the Newton school shooting, had already made up business cards for herself as an animal “care taker.”  To honor her passion for saving animals, an animal sanctuary is being developed in her name.  Bobbie Pyron (author of A DOG’S WAY HOME and THE DOG’S OF WINTER) has organized a book auction on her website.  There are fabulous autographed books for you or someone you love.  The auction will be from June 3 to June 16.  Please consider participating and helping create this sanctuary and making Catherine’s Dream come true.

Thank you!


3 Comments on Animals, Books, and a Great Cause, last added: 5/31/2013
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20. Nicole Griffin Interview (THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE)

I love Nicole Griffin’s voice.  And her characters — Skint is one who should go down in the annals of great literature.  And the very real in-your-face (in a good way) story.  And the raw emotions.  It’s all good.  More than good.  I think you’ll really enjoy The Whole Stupid Way We Are.  Booklist and Publishers Weekly think so, too, having given it starred reviews.  Congratulations, Nicole!!  And now to learn a little more about the voice behind the story …

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

I love this question with a great big L, because I have never once thought about it!  Only that I love and need to write, but not really what inspires me to do it.  I think the answer boils down to people.  I love thinking about people and how we feel and how that makes us act and react as we do, and what those actions and reactions make happen in terms of relationships and events.  This never, ever gets boring to me, and I think I spend a huge amount of time thinking about this.  EVEN WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE ALL I AM DOING IS CRUSHING CANDY, I am actually thinking about this and then eventually, I gotsta go write.

Why did you write this book / choose this topic?

Oh, lots of things!  When I was writing The Whole Stupid Way We are, I wanted to write about the kind of teen I see all the time, which is a  passionately compassionate person who craves to act on that passion when there maybe isn’t a clear path to do so.  And I heard a song once that sounded so much like grief feels that I wanted to write a book that felt like that, too.  I also wanted to write funny parts, so please don’t worry the book is only about sadness, potential readers.  There are jokes in there, too.  :)

Why do you write for young people?

I think I write for young people because they deserve it the most, somehow, and their attention is also somehow the biggest honor.  I read incessantly as a kid, to the point of addiction, really, and I still remember everything I read back then, though I couldn’t tell you a title of a book I read last week.  Not because I won’t have loved it, but because my memory is now nonexistent.  Too many books as a kid, I guess.   But those kid-read books mattered to me enormously– and still do– because every word I read then became cosmology to me.  We adults do not read that way—we love books and read them and think about them, but we don’t grab onto to them to make ourselves the way kids do, and that kind of relationship between a reader and words means the world to me.

Tea or coffee?  Coffee!

Favorite season?  Winter!

Favorite comfort food?  COOKIES!

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?  Tchah to all that is not chocolate!

Cat or dog?  Dog!

Ideal evening.  Hot chocolate bev and Cupcake Wars, my friends.

Favorite board, card, or computer game?  Pictionary. Why don’t we ever play this anymore?

Favorite sport or form of exercise?  Gymnastics.  I am an obsessive, crazed fan of this sport.  Don’t even get me started.

You’re going on a book tour:  Plane, train or automobile?  Plane!  I hate flying but like to get travel over with as quickly as possible.  Of course, I can tesser—no!  Forget that!  I’ve said too much!

Thanks, Nicole!  And here’s her website and entertaining blog so you can keep up with her!  Looking for a middle grade mystery from Nicole next year.  :o)

 

 


2 Comments on Nicole Griffin Interview (THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE), last added: 6/8/2013
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21. SEEING RED Playlist

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Although iTunes no longer seems to support the posting of a playlist on a website, I came up with my own by using Amazon.  So, here it is, the playlist for SEEING RED!  It’ll give a feel for the era, the characters, and the story.  And it’s some darn good music.  Enjoy!


3 Comments on SEEING RED Playlist, last added: 6/15/2013
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22. Lyn Miller-Lachmann Interview: ROGUE

There have been an increasing number of books for young people with characters on the autism spectrum.  ROGUE is written by an author who knows what it’s like from the inside because she has Asperger’s herself.  She is also a teacher, book reviewer, DJ and world traveler!  I asked Lyn to tell us a little about herself and ROGUE.  (With photos, too!)  Enjoy!

Can you tell us how this book, or any of your books, came to be published?

I started out with a non-profit small press, Curbstone Press, that was known for literary, politically progressive, and multicultural/international fiction and poetry. Curbstone published three of my books, including my award winning YA novel, Gringolandia, before closing as a result of the sudden passing of its founder and editorial director, Alexander Taylor. Gringolandia was set in Chile and among Chilean exiles in the United States in the 1980s. When my editor passed away, I was working on a sequel. I knew I would have to find another publisher—Curbstone folded four months after Gringolandia came out in 2009, and the novel was sold to Northwestern University Press, which doesn’t publish YA—so I looked for an agent. The agent I found loved the sequel but couldn’t sell it.

In the meantime, I enrolled in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. With the encouragement of my first advisor, An Na, I began to write a novel about the subject I have most avoided—my own troubled childhood and adolescence as a person on the autism spectrum (though I was not officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until adulthood, when it became a separate diagnosis). Because of the success of Francisco X. Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World and your own Mockingbird, there was mainstream interest in novels about this subject, fueled also at the time by the debate over eliminating Asperger’s as a separate diagnosis in the psychiatry manual. I had a letter published in the New York Times on this subject, and shortly afterward, my agent sold my novel to Nancy Paulsen at Penguin. My editor was very interested in a novel from the perspective of a character with Asperger’s that was written by a person with Asperger’s.

What were some of the challenges you faced, writing such an autobiographical novel?

My principal challenge was creating a character who readers would find likable and sympathetic, when no one found me particularly likable and sympathetic when I was growing up. I wrote a guest post for Canadian writer and blogger Melianie Fishbane on that subject.

Getting Rogue published raised additional dilemmas, such as how public I should go with my place on the autism spectrum. Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, many employers still don’t understand that persons with neurological differences have much to contribute because of our unique way of seeing the world. Writing careers, though, are precarious, and I’m obviously concerned that my very public disclosure will affect my future employability if things don’t work out. Thus, I’m grateful for your support and the support of readers, because I really want young people on the spectrum to see that if writing stories is their dream and their special power, they should go for it. And to know that they are not alone, and they are valued for who they are.

Besides the protagonist having Asperger’s, how much of Rogue is autobiographical?

The opening scene, in which Kiara tries to sit at the popular girls’ table because she believes that will make her popular, actually happened to me. One of the popular girls pushed my tray to the floor, but, unlike Kiara, I didn’t pick it up and smack her in the face with it. I just cried and all the kids laughed at me.

Kiara’s unwitting involvement in the drug business of Chad’s family is also autobiographical, though with different drugs. When popular kids started showing up at the community radio station where I volunteered in high school and asked me to drive them places and introduce me to people, I thought I had finally made it. Little did I know I had become their drug courier. I was crushed to find out the popular kids didn’t like me but were only using me, and it taught me an important lesson about how far I would go to have friends.

How did you come up with Kiara’s attraction to X-Men characters?

When I was growing up, I became aware of the X-Men, mutants who didn’t fit into society but had special powers that could help society and in this way create understanding of those who are different. Rogue didn’t exist at that time—she first appeared in the early 1980s—but I was drawn to Professor X, who I saw as a kind of mentor. He used a wheelchair and appealed more to me as a girl than the physically powerful superheroes like Wolverine, and I wished I had someone like that who would take me in and find me a place where I belonged.

Rogue is a natural for Kiara because she cannot touch or be touched. And she quickly identifies Chad as Gambit. In the X-Men, Gambit has a complex and close relationship with Rogue because they share roots in the Mississippi Delta (which parallels Kiara and Chad’s life in the poor town next to the wealthy college town) and because both have been pulled to the dark side.

Where did the character of Chad come from?

In elementary and middle school, I tended to be attracted to the bad boys who, even though they were often mean to me, were outsiders like me. And they became less mean once I hit my growth spurt around fifth and sixth grade and beat one of them up. The kid I beat up, an undersized boy who along with his twin brother had flunked a grade and was therefore older than me, is the closest model for Chad. People said the twins came from a bad family situation, which I guessed made sense because they were always getting in trouble.

Why do you think Kiara is able to deal with something as disturbing as a meth lab or child abuse, both very adult issues, if she is supposedly prone to meltdowns and lack of understanding?

Kiara doesn’t understand the emotional gravity of Chad’s situation, which allows her to stay involved with him in the way that she does. She believes Chad when he says his parents’ associates will hurt her and her father if she tells anyone, because she tends to believe everything she’s told and she doesn’t have the understanding to know otherwise. At the same time, she wants Chad to be her friend, and if she tells someone he’s in a bad situation, he’ll stop being her friend or he’ll go away and she’ll be alone again.

Kiara’s meltdowns usually have to do with her being frustrated in what she wants, and often over what appear to others to be minor things, like having the same take-out dinner several nights in a row. She doesn’t melt down over things that happen to other people. One might consider it a lack of empathy that can be attributed to having Asperger’s, but Kiara is quite capable of empathy. She has trouble understanding situations where empathy is called for or expressing it. Through the kindness shown to her by several other characters in the novel—most notably the family friend Mrs. Mac and her brother’s friend Antonio—she learns how to recognize the suffering of others and communicate the empathy she feels.

It seems to me that Kiara is a better friend to Chad than anyone else could be.  Why is that?

Like Kiara, Chad is a rejected child. He’s failing in school, and Kiara thinks his parents don’t like him very much. Kiara may not understand much, but she understands rejection. While she reaches out to Chad initially in order have a friend, she ends up with the kind of fundamental connection that may save both of them. That said, she doesn’t think that she’s doing a good enough job of being Chad’s friend because she can’t keep him from getting hurt. But she doesn’t stop trying. I think that her persistence—a common trait of people with Asperger’s—is what ultimately makes a better friend to Chad than anyone else can be.

Is there a sequel to Rogue?

I have an idea for one but am waiting to see if Kiara makes enough friends who want to know what happens next. I have quite a few other projects to keep me busy.

What are you working on now?

After finishing Rogue, I wrote a YA novel titled ANTS GO MARCHING. It’s about an academically gifted boy, the only person from his mobile home park in the elite accelerated-honors program at his suburban school. When a trio of well-to-do bullies attacks him following a verbal provocation, he sustains a severe concussion that leads to him flunking out of the program. The novel portrays his struggle to find a new place for himself, and to avoid the one he seems fated to occupy because of the circumstances of his birth.

Now that my agent is starting to submit ANTS, I’m working on a humorous middle grade novel with a 13-year-old nerd-boy who tries to find a new wife for his eccentric widowed grandfather.

Can you write humor?

Only by accident. But I keep trying anyway.

Is it true that you organized a book launch party with Lego minifigures as a way to encourage attendance?  (Great idea, by the way!)

Yes. Actually, the book launch party that got 100% non-attendance was for my novel for adult readers that came out in 2006. This time, I decided to organize an event where I would have more control over my attendees.

And here are the promised photos:

Image

Image

Thank you, Lyn, for this interview!  To learn more about Lyn, please visit her website.  Looking forward to reading more of your work, Lyn!


6 Comments on Lyn Miller-Lachmann Interview: ROGUE, last added: 6/15/2013
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23. Lyn Miller-Lachmann Interview: ROGUE

There have been an increasing number of books for young people with characters on the autism spectrum.  ROGUE is written by an author who knows what it’s like from the inside because she has Asperger’s herself.  She is also a teacher, book reviewer, DJ and world traveler!  I asked Lyn to tell us a little about herself and ROGUE.  (With photos, too!)  Enjoy!

Can you tell us how this book, or any of your books, came to be published?

I started out with a non-profit small press, Curbstone Press, that was known for literary, politically progressive, and multicultural/international fiction and poetry. Curbstone published three of my books, including my award winning YA novel, Gringolandia, before closing as a result of the sudden passing of its founder and editorial director, Alexander Taylor. Gringolandia was set in Chile and among Chilean exiles in the United States in the 1980s. When my editor passed away, I was working on a sequel. I knew I would have to find another publisher—Curbstone folded four months after Gringolandia came out in 2009, and the novel was sold to Northwestern University Press, which doesn’t publish YA—so I looked for an agent. The agent I found loved the sequel but couldn’t sell it.

In the meantime, I enrolled in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. With the encouragement of my first advisor, An Na, I began to write a novel about the subject I have most avoided—my own troubled childhood and adolescence as a person on the autism spectrum (though I was not officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until adulthood, when it became a separate diagnosis). Because of the success of Francisco X. Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World and your own Mockingbird, there was mainstream interest in novels about this subject, fueled also at the time by the debate over eliminating Asperger’s as a separate diagnosis in the psychiatry manual. I had a letter published in the New York Times on this subject, and shortly afterward, my agent sold my novel to Nancy Paulsen at Penguin. My editor was very interested in a novel from the perspective of a character with Asperger’s that was written by a person with Asperger’s.

What were some of the challenges you faced, writing such an autobiographical novel?

My principal challenge was creating a character who readers would find likable and sympathetic, when no one found me particularly likable and sympathetic when I was growing up. I wrote a guest post for Canadian writer and blogger Melianie Fishbane on that subject.

Getting Rogue published raised additional dilemmas, such as how public I should go with my place on the autism spectrum. Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, many employers still don’t understand that persons with neurological differences have much to contribute because of our unique way of seeing the world. Writing careers, though, are precarious, and I’m obviously concerned that my very public disclosure will affect my future employability if things don’t work out. Thus, I’m grateful for your support and the support of readers, because I really want young people on the spectrum to see that if writing stories is their dream and their special power, they should go for it. And to know that they are not alone, and they are valued for who they are.

Besides the protagonist having Asperger’s, how much of Rogue is autobiographical?

The opening scene, in which Kiara tries to sit at the popular girls’ table because she believes that will make her popular, actually happened to me. One of the popular girls pushed my tray to the floor, but, unlike Kiara, I didn’t pick it up and smack her in the face with it. I just cried and all the kids laughed at me.

Kiara’s unwitting involvement in the drug business of Chad’s family is also autobiographical, though with different drugs. When popular kids started showing up at the community radio station where I volunteered in high school and asked me to drive them places and introduce me to people, I thought I had finally made it. Little did I know I had become their drug courier. I was crushed to find out the popular kids didn’t like me but were only using me, and it taught me an important lesson about how far I would go to have friends.

How did you come up with Kiara’s attraction to X-Men characters?

When I was growing up, I became aware of the X-Men, mutants who didn’t fit into society but had special powers that could help society and in this way create understanding of those who are different. Rogue didn’t exist at that time—she first appeared in the early 1980s—but I was drawn to Professor X, who I saw as a kind of mentor. He used a wheelchair and appealed more to me as a girl than the physically powerful superheroes like Wolverine, and I wished I had someone like that who would take me in and find me a place where I belonged.

Rogue is a natural for Kiara because she cannot touch or be touched. And she quickly identifies Chad as Gambit. In the X-Men, Gambit has a complex and close relationship with Rogue because they share roots in the Mississippi Delta (which parallels Kiara and Chad’s life in the poor town next to the wealthy college town) and because both have been pulled to the dark side.

Where did the character of Chad come from?

In elementary and middle school, I tended to be attracted to the bad boys who, even though they were often mean to me, were outsiders like me. And they became less mean once I hit my growth spurt around fifth and sixth grade and beat one of them up. The kid I beat up, an undersized boy who along with his twin brother had flunked a grade and was therefore older than me, is the closest model for Chad. People said the twins came from a bad family situation, which I guessed made sense because they were always getting in trouble.

Why do you think Kiara is able to deal with something as disturbing as a meth lab or child abuse, both very adult issues, if she is supposedly prone to meltdowns and lack of understanding?

Kiara doesn’t understand the emotional gravity of Chad’s situation, which allows her to stay involved with him in the way that she does. She believes Chad when he says his parents’ associates will hurt her and her father if she tells anyone, because she tends to believe everything she’s told and she doesn’t have the understanding to know otherwise. At the same time, she wants Chad to be her friend, and if she tells someone he’s in a bad situation, he’ll stop being her friend or he’ll go away and she’ll be alone again.

Kiara’s meltdowns usually have to do with her being frustrated in what she wants, and often over what appear to others to be minor things, like having the same take-out dinner several nights in a row. She doesn’t melt down over things that happen to other people. One might consider it a lack of empathy that can be attributed to having Asperger’s, but Kiara is quite capable of empathy. She has trouble understanding situations where empathy is called for or expressing it. Through the kindness shown to her by several other characters in the novel—most notably the family friend Mrs. Mac and her brother’s friend Antonio—she learns how to recognize the suffering of others and communicate the empathy she feels.

It seems to me that Kiara is a better friend to Chad than anyone else could be.  Why is that?

Like Kiara, Chad is a rejected child. He’s failing in school, and Kiara thinks his parents don’t like him very much. Kiara may not understand much, but she understands rejection. While she reaches out to Chad initially in order have a friend, she ends up with the kind of fundamental connection that may save both of them. That said, she doesn’t think that she’s doing a good enough job of being Chad’s friend because she can’t keep him from getting hurt. But she doesn’t stop trying. I think that her persistence—a common trait of people with Asperger’s—is what ultimately makes a better friend to Chad than anyone else can be.

Is there a sequel to Rogue?

I have an idea for one but am waiting to see if Kiara makes enough friends who want to know what happens next. I have quite a few other projects to keep me busy.

What are you working on now?

After finishing Rogue, I wrote a YA novel titled ANTS GO MARCHING. It’s about an academically gifted boy, the only person from his mobile home park in the elite accelerated-honors program at his suburban school. When a trio of well-to-do bullies attacks him following a verbal provocation, he sustains a severe concussion that leads to him flunking out of the program. The novel portrays his struggle to find a new place for himself, and to avoid the one he seems fated to occupy because of the circumstances of his birth.

Now that my agent is starting to submit ANTS, I’m working on a humorous middle grade novel with a 13-year-old nerd-boy who tries to find a new wife for his eccentric widowed grandfather.

Can you write humor?

Only by accident. But I keep trying anyway.

Is it true that you organized a book launch party with Lego minifigures as a way to encourage attendance?  (Great idea, by the way!)

Yes. Actually, the book launch party that got 100% non-attendance was for my novel for adult readers that came out in 2006. This time, I decided to organize an event where I would have more control over my attendees.

And here are the promised photos:

Image

Image

Thank you, Lyn, for this interview!  To learn more about Lyn, please visit her website.  Looking forward to reading more of your work, Lyn!


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24. SEEING RED Playlist

Image

Although iTunes no longer seems to support the posting of a playlist on a website, I came up with my own by using Amazon.  So, here it is, the playlist for SEEING RED!  It’ll give a feel for the era, the characters, and the story.  And it’s some darn good music.  Enjoy!


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25. Nicole Griffin Interview (THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE)

I love Nicole Griffin’s voice.  And her characters — Skint is one who should go down in the annals of great literature.  And the very real in-your-face (in a good way) story.  And the raw emotions.  It’s all good.  More than good.  I think you’ll really enjoy The Whole Stupid Way We Are.  Horn Book and Publishers Weekly think so, too, having given it starred reviews.  Congratulations, Nicole!!  And now to learn a little more about the voice behind the story …

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

I love this question with a great big L, because I have never once thought about it!  Only that I love and need to write, but not really what inspires me to do it.  I think the answer boils down to people.  I love thinking about people and how we feel and how that makes us act and react as we do, and what those actions and reactions make happen in terms of relationships and events.  This never, ever gets boring to me, and I think I spend a huge amount of time thinking about this.  EVEN WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE ALL I AM DOING IS CRUSHING CANDY, I am actually thinking about this and then eventually, I gotsta go write.

Why did you write this book / choose this topic?

Oh, lots of things!  When I was writing The Whole Stupid Way We are, I wanted to write about the kind of teen I see all the time, which is a  passionately compassionate person who craves to act on that passion when there maybe isn’t a clear path to do so.  And I heard a song once that sounded so much like grief feels that I wanted to write a book that felt like that, too.  I also wanted to write funny parts, so please don’t worry the book is only about sadness, potential readers.  There are jokes in there, too.  :)

Why do you write for young people?

I think I write for young people because they deserve it the most, somehow, and their attention is also somehow the biggest honor.  I read incessantly as a kid, to the point of addiction, really, and I still remember everything I read back then, though I couldn’t tell you a title of a book I read last week.  Not because I won’t have loved it, but because my memory is now nonexistent.  Too many books as a kid, I guess.   But those kid-read books mattered to me enormously– and still do– because every word I read then became cosmology to me.  We adults do not read that way—we love books and read them and think about them, but we don’t grab onto to them to make ourselves the way kids do, and that kind of relationship between a reader and words means the world to me.

Tea or coffee?  Coffee!

Favorite season?  Winter!

Favorite comfort food?  COOKIES!

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?  Tchah to all that is not chocolate!

Cat or dog?  Dog!

Ideal evening.  Hot chocolate bev and Cupcake Wars, my friends.

Favorite board, card, or computer game?  Pictionary. Why don’t we ever play this anymore?

Favorite sport or form of exercise?  Gymnastics.  I am an obsessive, crazed fan of this sport.  Don’t even get me started.

You’re going on a book tour:  Plane, train or automobile?  Plane!  I hate flying but like to get travel over with as quickly as possible.  Of course, I can tesser—no!  Forget that!  I’ve said too much!

Thanks, Nicole!  And here’s her website and entertaining blog so you can keep up with her!  Looking for a middle grade mystery from Nicole next year.  :o)


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