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Results 1 - 25 of 39
1. Timothy Decker Interview: "The illustrations are so specific that you can, if you want to, use the silhouette images from the trial portion of the book and match them to the British soldiers in the massacre scenes."

massacre chaos.jpgTim Decker is, quite frankly, the best author/illustrator you have likely not heard of and that is an absolute shame. His deeply evocative picture books with their spare but powerful illustrations have stayed with me in ways I never expected. From The Letter Home to Run Far, Run Fast and especially For Liberty, they tell quiet stories about significant moments and command your attention from start to finish. Are they for children? Yes - my son love all of them. But they are equally for adults and truly do not know an age limit. They are special, more than anything, and that is why I continue to treasure them.

Tim's latest book is a YA graphic novel, The Punk Ethic. It is an illustrated novel (yea!) that tells the story of a musically inclined and deeply thoughtful teenage boy (Martin) and his friends, (smart, silly, foolish, perfect teenagers through and through), and the coolest girl ever (bass playing Holly). Martin wants to make a difference and that means making a lot of music and maybe, hopefully, becoming more than just friends with Holly. The ending is....amazing and unexpected and intense. It is also, I think, really something special. I hope The Punk Ethic helps Tim get the attention he deserves and also brings a lot of new readers to his stellar backlist.


CM: Your picture books cover such different subjects; were you interested in the wars and plague era for a long time or did you come to these with a desire to write/illustrate a book about them?

TD: I've always loved history, even when I was a little kid. I drew nothing but dinosaurs and WWII airplanes. At seven, I was going to be an archeologist. As a big kid, I can say that I'm interested in everything under the sun with the exception of practical mathematics, which bores me to tears. That said, my choice of subjects has more to do with how I feel about the current state of the world and less with my interest in history. The setting for my book is the sugar coating that hides my thoughts about contemporary issues. Right from the beginning, I've been concerned with how children process the over whelming mass of noise that is part of living in our media saturated time. Even if parents, educators or adults don't notice it, children are absorbing as much as they possibly can from the constant din produced by our televisions, radios and computers. Realizing that is now simply a fact of life, I set out to write books for children that address issues which others assume, incorrectly, have nothing to do with the world that children inhabit.

When I wrote The Letter Home, the war in Iraq had just turned from an idiotic invasion to an untenable occupation. It didn't take a genius to see that situation was going to become far more brutal and costly. For some reason, because I'm optimistic or naïve, I never expected to live through such turmoil. Which is just foolish, I guess. Because I'm an artist, making things is how I assert my opinion. So I wrote an anti-war book. I was working at a bookstore so I knew the sort of stuff that made it to shelves and I knew there was no way I could write an anti-war book about the current conflict because no one would publish it or buy it. I said to myself, when was the last really costly, mostly useless war that led to all kinds of social, economic and cultural problems in the Middle East and beyond? Ah... The Great War. What a mess that was... and fortunately for my purposes, how visually striking it was.

Run Far, Run Fast is me talking about noble and ignoble behavior,

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2. Summer 2012 Blog Blast Tour Master Schedule

Here is your interview schedule for the week - I'll be updating with quotes and direct urls as the interviews go live. Feel free to copy this schedule as often as you wish!


Kate Milford - Chasing Ray

Randa Abdel Fattah - Crazy QuiltEdi

Tim Lebbon - Bildungsroman

Nalo Hopkinson - The Happy Nappy Bookseller


Timothy Decker - Chasing Ray

YS Lee - The Ya Ya Yas

Tanita Davis - The Happy Nappy Bookseller


Cynthia Levinson - The Happy Nappy Bookseller

Amy Reed - Stacked

Rosemary Clement-Moore - Finding Wonderland


Dave Roman - Bildungsroman

L. Divine - Crazy QuiltEdi

Robin LaFevers - Finding Wonderland


Benjamin Alire Saenz - The Happy Nappy Bookseller

Jennifer Miller - Bildungsroman

Ashley Hope Perez - Crazy QuiltEdi

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3. Thursday at the Blog Blast Tour

I have no interview today, but there are plenty others to enjoy from some of my friends. Be sure to check them out and don't forget that presentation proposals are due by tomorrow for KidLit Con so if you are thinking about pitching one, now is the time to do it!

Tessa Gratton at Writing & Ruminating: "I hesitate to say that I love Faulkner, but I do love how Faulkner uses Southern settings, and vividly remember being hot and sneezy from imaginary dust when I read the opening of LIGHT IN AUGUST."

Micol Ostow at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Maria Padian at Bildungsroman: "So when Henry was set to go to her tennis camp in Florida, I commented to my teenage daughter, "My editor isn't going to like this. I'm about to abandon Eva in New Jersey!" My daughter, who at age 17 is a pretty incredible "editor" herself, sighed in exasperation, gathered an armload of her own books and threw them on my bed, declaring: "You obviously need a two-narrator novel. Take a look at these." The entire novel changed at that point."

Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: "We French-speaking Quebecers have a reputation for cursing a lot. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I can certainly curse along with the best—or worst—of them! Oddly enough, our curses are usually derived from religious words, spelled phonetically. The most common is “tabarnak,” but we have quite a few others and often use several at a time."

Vera Brosgol at lectitans

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4. SBBT Interview wherein Sean Beaudoin & I have an imaginary affair, mutually crush on His Girl Friday and declare noir the coolest thing ever

Sean Beaudoin's YA mystery, You Killed Wesley Payne was featured in my March column and remains a book I have not been able to forget. I honestly was not sure just what Sean was doing when I started reading - was it supposed to be set in another world, an alternate American high school, some kind of twist on standard SFF? I wasn't sure but I did know that the voice of protagonist Dalton Rev-Romain (and his compelling mission to help his brother) could not be ignored. Bit by bit, as I fell deeper into the chaos of a contemporary high school that makes Sunnydale look downright civilized, I found myself laughing at all that Sean was wiling to do in this mystery/satire/drama/comedy/flat out fearless take on life as an American teen. Here's a bit of my review:

As he follows clues and challenges the status quo, Dalton discovers that Salt River High runs on a top-down system of graft that has teachers charging for grades, everyone selling information or promises, and all the wheels greased by the readily-available energy drink Rush. With a new sidekick (good for humorous asides if nothing else), his trusty “Private Dick Handbook,” and the occasional assistance of Cassiopeia Jones (new head of the “Foxxes,” with Jenny One, Two and Three), Dalton works his way through the clues and discovers what Wesley Payne was hiding, and why it mattered so much that he had to die for it. The mystery has all the prerequisite twists and turns, the characters are outstandingly deep and original and Beaudoin peppers the text with so many witty remarks that it reads like Gilmore Girls on acid. “She was absolutely smoking. She was disco atomic. She was Fat Man and Little Boy.” Or another favorite: “A kid wrapped himself in duct tape and went all INXS in the end zone? It could happen.” The cops are named Estrada and Hutch, a significant clue is found in “The Ballad of Mary Surratt,” and everyone runs around yelling “I swear to BOB!”

You Killed Wesley Payne is a ride like no other and I was quite pleased that Sean could share some time with me about his remarkably inventive book.

CM: I hate to ask "where do you get your ideas from" because everyone asks that but seriously - where in the heck did you the idea for this book? It is not just a noir mystery but an off the rails satire of everything high school that manages to blend Bogart and Bacall with some His Girl Friday with the mother of all mean girl dramas plus a healthy dose of homefront realism that just blew me away. So I have to know how this book got into your head.

SB: Well, it's true, I do get asked that all the time. In order to answer somewhat differently, I'm going to talk about His Girl Friday. What a great movie! The dialog sparkles. Cary Grant is amazing. Ralph Bellamy is as Ralph Bellamy as he could be. Of course, that movie is a remake of The Front Page, and it was originally written as a play, so it's no wonder the lines are so great.

I'd like to be able to pretend I was one of those people who know exactly what they're doing all the time, but the truth is I'm not. I mean, ever since I first got a whiff of YA as a genre I thought "A YA noir would be excellent!" But I almost wanted to read it as someone else's book more than write it myself. It took me 5 years to get around to seriously considering it. And then I wrote the first few lines and....fell down the noir hole. I will say that I'm a huge movie geek, and the French noir of the 50's

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5. SBBT Interview: "Donald Trump's father bought the land that Steeplechase Park stood on and threw a 'Demolition Party' where guests were invited to throw bricks at the amusements in order to destroy the before the park could be landmarked."

Last month I included Tara Altebrand's Dreamland Social Club in my June column as a perfect summer read. This novel about a girl who finds herself living in the Coney Island neighborhood in her grandfather's old house and tracking a family mystery about her deceased mother is smart and funny and thoughtful and, for a history geek like me, downright fascinating. Here's a bit of my review:

It’s one of the few YA titles I’ve come across with a romance that I think boys can embrace; Altebrando has a light touch when it comes to Jane and Leo and makes their relationship both believable and engaging. The biggest point here is finding where you belong and not being afraid to accept that place as home. This is a universal message for anyone who has sought their own piece of heaven and it makes Dreamland Social Club one of my most highly recommended titles this year. Frankly, you just don’t get better summer reading than this one.

Dreamland is easily one of my favorite reads this year - a story of love, friendship, family and a boatload of pure Americana. I'm so glad Tara was up for this interview because I really wanted to know more about how she came to write this book.

CM: Can you pinpoint just what launched you onto your investigation of Coney Island? Even with it in the news more often (the struggle over which direction its future should take), was there any article or book that really made you sink into this subject?

TA: Back in the 1990s a friend of mine showed me some old photos and postcards of Luna Park and Dreamland--two of the world's earliest amusement parks, both of which were on Coney--and told me a little about them—how they had midget cities and premature babies in incubators on display. My fascination started to grow from that, though it was a pretty dormant fascination for a time.

But not much later I had a sort of magical experience while swimming at Coney for the first time. Even though I grew up in New York, I'd never thought to SWIM on Coney and something about getting in the
water there, and looking at the Coney "skyline" and imagining what it was like in its amusement park heydey in the early 1900s excited me (and this probably sounds weird or corny) on a level that is deeper
than I think I can understand or explain.

CM: Actually, I think that is awesome! How hard was it to research the old rides and exhibitions? What places did you visit in your research, what archives were most helpful and was there anything you learned that was really unexpected?

TA: There are some pretty amazing resources that served as go-to's for me. Charles Denson's amazing book, CONEY ISLAND: LOST AND FOUND, is a wonderful combination of personal and actual history. There's a PBS documentary that Ric Burns made, which was just crucial in terms of being able to see old footage of the parks. I've been to the Coney Island Museum a few times over the years, of course. And there are a few strange, anecdotal histories of Coney (Good Ole Coney Island,

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6. 2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour Master Schedule

Here you go everyone - the interviews scheduled for the SBBT this week. I will be updating with quotes and direct urls as the interviews go live. ALSO, don't forget to check out everything happening at the 2011 KidLit Con site. We hope to see some of you in Seattle in September!


Tara Altebrando (Chasing Ray)
Shirley Vernick (Bildungsroman)
Jack Ferraiolo (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Writing & Ruminating)


Sean Beaudoin (Chasing Ray)
Neesha Meminger (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Rachel Karns (Bildungsroman)


Sarah Stevenson (Chasing Ray)
Emily Howse (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy)
Ashley Hope-Perez (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Hip Writer Mama)


Tessa Gratton (Writing & Ruminating)
Micol Ostow (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy)
Maria Padian (Bildungsroman)
Genevieve Cote (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast)


Genevieve Valentine (Shaken & Stirred)
Stacy Whitman (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Alyssa B. Sheinmel (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy)
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer (Mother Reader)

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7. WBBT Day 5: "Our best hope appears to be building a learning machine and then teaching everything you want it to know."

We're winding down the blog blast tour and have five more great interviews for your reading pleasure. As always, I'm struck by the simplicity of what we have accomplished this week - introducing interesting writers (and their books) to curious readers everywhere - and by the complexity of it all - proving yet again that a new way of authors and readers connecting is available via the internet. I don't know why more blog blast tours don't occur around the lit blogosphere - I don't know why traditional blog tours continue to be the rule when mixing up many different blogs and many different authors seems such a perfect way to please the biggest most eclectic group of readers out there (aka folks who live and breathe in the lit blogosphere).

Anyway, I wish tons of folks would copy us because we have a pretty fab thing going on here and would love to see it spread far and wide with hundreds (nay thousands) of many more authors and illustrators.

Copy us, please.

And....here is what is on tap for today! (And don't forget that the Master Schedule holds urls and quotes for the entire week.)

Marilyn Singer at Writing and Ruminating: "I don’t memorize movie lines. Heck, I can’t even remember lines I’ve written. However, I do memorize and sing songs. The last was “How Little We Know” by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, which, coincidentally is from a movie—the Bogart/Bacall film, To Have and Have Not."

Jennifer Donnelly at Shelf Elf: "I also spent a huge amount of time at Paris street markets, because there the cheeses still stink and the chickens still have their heads and feet."

Ted Chiang at Shaken & Stirred: "Stories in which robots are obedient are a kind of wish fulfillment for a "just the good parts" version of slavery. Stories in which robots rebel, or try to win legal rights, acknowledge that you can't have the convenience of slavery without the guilt."

Sofia Quintero at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Maria Snyder at Finding Wonderland

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8. WBBT Links for Thursday: "Would we keep looking for the Kraken if there weren’t so many stories about it? "

Here are the interviews for today (it will be updated with all quotes as they go live) and don't forget to check out the Master Schedule for what you might have missed this week!


Kathi Appelt at Shelf Elf: "When I write a dog character, I don’t want the dog to be a human-in-dog’s-clothing, even though to a certain extent there’s some of that anyways, rather I want the dog to feel dog-ish on the page."

Heidi Ayarbe at The Happy Nappy Bookseller

Julia DeVillers & Jennifer Roy at Bildungsroman: "I have a master's degree in journalism but I petitioned to take children’s literature in the education department as a 'minor.' (I had to petition because the journalism board didn't think children's literature was 'serious' enough. I won that battle.)"

LeUyen Pham at Finding Wonderland

Paula Yoo at Hip Writer Mama

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9. WBBT Day #2 & general other what I'm doing-ness

The Winter Blog Blast Tour Master Schedule is continuously updated by me with direct urls and quotes from each interview, so please check it out frequently. I'm back tomorrow with an interview with Susan Campbell Bartoletti, author of the amazing THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK. I wish that book had been around when I was teaching because it makes for a truly impressive classroom tool. (And just an excellent American history read.)

Five great interviews up elsewhere today though - and as they appear I will get them on the schedule. There is also a new issue of Bookslut which, because of an odd set of circumstances has my column, a feature on NF for teens, two fiction reviews and one nonfiction review - all by me. Crazy town. Today we get the tree, hit Costco for all important packing tape and a dog bed for the new puppy (crazy cute pics to follow), hit the post office to mail off 3 more boxes (huzzah!) and do various sundry other seasonal type activities. I'm close to being on top of everything I want to be on top of - should have much more in control by the weekend and then I shall feel better.

So, expect more on the books I covered in Bookslut later in the week - as well as more happy joy over the WBBT which truly is looking to be fabulous this go-round.

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10. SBBT INTERVIEW: The play starts with this line: Death ends a life, but it doesn’t end a relationship.”

I approached Julia Hoban's Willow with a bit of trepidation after reading on several blogs about the title character's struggle with cutting throughout the novel. I read so much YA fiction for my column and honestly sometimes it all starts to strike me as one long digression into disease of the week territory. You know the drill - anorexia, bulemia, bipolarism, depression, bullying, promiscuity, alcoholism, steroid use, drug abuse, prescription drug abuse, drug addiction and on and on and on (and on...). Honestly it all gets to be a bit much for me as a reviewer and I wasn't sure that I wanted to know why someone cuts. But I gave the book a shot and what I found was that Willow is not really about cutting at all - or only peripherally. Willow is really a book about grieving and it is so powerfully written, so intense and honest and smart and sensitive, that it damn near blew my mind. I loved it so much that I fired off a quick email to Julia and asked if she could answer a few questions for the SBBT at very nearly the last minute. I'm delighted that she took the time to talk about her book with me and I hope that our exchange piques your curiosity and you will seek her book out as well. It's really wonderful and I can't recommend it enough.

CM: Between Willow and David I don't know which one I feel worse for. This book is about some serious raw grief and how hard it is to handle grief (at least that is how I'm reading it) and more than anything - how you can not deny your grief, you have to express it and let it out. How hard was it to write about such incredibly intense feelings for this brother and sister? I'm sure you did some serious research for the cutting issue but what about how complicated the grief is in this story? What was your inspiration for writing on that aspect of it?

JH: The processing of grief, or rather the inability to correctly process grief is most certainly a major theme of WILLOW. I love that you read it that way rather than focusing on it as an “issue” book about cutting. Cutting was the vehicle I chose to express that theme. As with all maladaptive behaviors (I am making a rather sweeping statement here) cutting is an attempt to deal with feelings that would otherwise be intolerable. The cutter feels that he or she is about to be overwhelmed by some emotion, and in an effort to impose control, transmutes that psychic pain into physical pain. As I learned in my research, inflicting that kind of pain on oneself releases opiates, and becomes chemically addictive.

Now, as to whether or not it was hard to write about the grief in the story, well most of the book was about the containing of grief, the difficulty of expressing grief, and I am sorry to say it was all too easy for me to write about how to deal with such feelings in an inappropriate fashion! The really hard thing for me to express was when Willow does connect to her pain in a healthy way, when she allows herself to feel all the anguish that she has been attempting to stuff down through cutting. I think that to some degree most of us have difficulty dealing with overwhelming emotions in a correct manner, I know I certainly do, and that as much as anything else was my inspiration. I’ll never forget on September 11th, watching as the first tower fell. I turned to the person next to me and said the stupidest thing ever uttered: “That can’t have happened, because that would mean all those people just died!” Later that day I went to visit a friend, she was visibly shaking from head to foot, and again I said something remarkably stupid. “What’s wrong? did something happen?” I couldn’t begin to process the enormity of the tragedy. About two years later I was in a pastry shop. They had a rather beautiful white chocolate mousse cake, the side

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11. "At a time when we are regularly discussing the importance of teen readers “seeing themselves” represented in their literature, you have to wonder what the shop kids and retail workers think of being left out of the conversation."

Melissa Wyatt's YA novel Funny How Things Change is one of those stories with a protagonist readers fall in love with. Remy loves his home in West Virginia, working as a mechanic and living with his dad up on the mountain that has been in the family forever. His girlfriend Lisa is set to go away to college and Remy is going with her, because as much as he loves home, he loves Lisa too. Except, maybe he doesn't, or more importantly, maybe he doesn't want to love somebody who can't love what matters to him as well. There is a ton of soul searching in this novel, a lot of thinking about what you want to do with your life (is college always the best thing?) and a serious look at what has been done to the West Virginia landscape through mountaintop removal. In the end though it is all about Remy and the people he cares about and what choice he has to make to be happy. It's a wonderful coming-of-age story, one of the best I have read in a long long time that actually lives up the idea of just what it is that "coming-of-age" truly means. I wrote a short review over at Guys Lit Wire last month and the book will also be featured in my June column. Plain and simple, I loved it and it has my highest recommendation for YA literature.

CM: One of the things that really struck me about Remy was that he was not an under achiever (he works as a mechanic and is well known and liked/respected around town) yet even though he graduated from high school he has no interest in going to college. His dream of working on cars for a living is not a common one in YA lit (or in most national conversations about teens and education). Why did you create this particular character and how common do you think his aspirations for a non-collegiate but successful future are?

MW: I didn’t conceive Remy as a character who would carry this theme. At first, he was just a person in a situation that interested me. But as he grew and developed on the page and I got to know who he was and what was important to him, I began to feel rather fierce about him and—by extension—other people who make choices that don’t involve college. (Bear with me. I see a lot of em dashes coming in this interview.) From there, it became important to me to show that Remy’s path is just as valid as the “get up, get out, go to college” precept.

After all, college isn’t right for everyone. It isn’t even a guarantee of future success, yet it is often pushed in YA lit—and high school campuses—as the ideal choice while alternative paths are rarely promoted for YA protagonists. At a time when we are regularly discussing the importance of teen readers “seeing themselves” represented in their literature, you have to wonder what the shop kids and retail workers think of being left out of the conversation. I’ve got a nagging suspicion it doesn’t come up because the assumption is that those kids don’t read.

CM: Remy's best friend Jimmy is desperate to leave Dwyer and takes a job in a larger town at an unknown factory. He can not articulate anything about his future other than leaving Dwyer. He made me think of all those stories that end with the characters leaving home but we never know what happens to them - the leaving is supposed to be the happily ever after part. Jimmy clearly has no clue what will happen next. What do you think Jimmy represents and how common do you think his dream - simply to leave for anywhere and anything else - is among small town teens? Do you think we trap ourselves into small expectations in small towns and leave the big dreams/hopes only if we are willing to go to big cities?

MW: For me, Jimmy represents a kind of not-thinking about where you fit in the world. It isn’t something that has occurred to him because he is thinking in trivialities. He is thinking about things he has been made to believe are important but hasn’t stopped to consider whether or not they really matter to him, in contrast to Remy, who is being eaten up by those thoughts.

I think the idea that there’s got to be something bigger and better somewhere else is a common yearning among humans as a species. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have spread over the globe. Where we fall into a trap is when we fail to consider what it is we’re really looking for.

And again, the idea that “big” is better—big dreams, big cities—and small is lesser is one that I think many people don’t stop to examine. If you are miserable in a small town and only the bustle and crowds of a city are going to make you happy, then that’s where you should go. But heavens, the thought that everyone needs to do the same is just silly.

CM: There are a lot of misconceptions about West Virginia and the people who live there. Remy pushes back against some bad jokes about his state in the book but finds it hard to articulate sometimes what it is about WV that matters so much to him. You write a bit about mountain top removal in /Funny How Things Change/ and how it affects WV. Did you have trouble selling a book about teen from WV in particular who doesn't want
to leave and also how do you think mountain top removal is affecting the state?

MW: First, I have to admit that I had all of the expectations and preconceived notions about West Virginia that most people have. In fact, the impetus for the book was to answer the question that leapt to mind the first time I visited there: “Why would anyone stay?” To me, a suburban Mid-Atlantic girl used to gently rolling hills and cookie-cutter subdivisions, the mountains were too much for me. It took me awhile to get that extreme landscapes make extreme impressions on people.

While I don’t think it was the West Virginia setting that made the story a bit of a tough sell, I think when you have this kind of ingrained attitude about a place, it makes answering the question “Why would you stay?” significantly harder.

As for mountaintop removal mining…how much space do we have? I like having electricity as much as anybody and know that most of my electricity comes from a coal-burning power plant, but the problem isn’t only how that coal is burned. It’s how it is taken from the ground. Mountaintop removal is horribly, irrevocably destructive—loss of whole mountain ranges and ecosystems, destruction of important watersheds, the danger of coal slurry impounds—and there are no benefits for West Virginia. Mountaintop removal mining creates fewer jobs than conventional mining methods, and the money saved isn’t staying in West Virginia.

You have to wonder—when you consider the hefty social, economic and environmental impact of this particular method of mining and the lack of knowledge and interest outside of the region—whether we haven’t been carefully trained not to care about Appalachia, to think of it as a place that is less, that isn’t worth protecting.

Check out this site for more info: http://www.mountainjusticesummer.org/facts/steps.php

CM: The notion that Americans might have been socially "trained not to care about Appalachia" really hits me hard because it seems so true. Remy seems to be struggling with this notion a bit himself - that the best thing he can do is leave WV because nobody is supposed to want to stay in WV or respect WV or love WV (that bit at the family picnic where he overhears his cousin's wife really emphasizes this). The literature on Appalachia is usually historic or emphasizes the poverty. How do we, as writers and readers, change this social construct about Appalachia? There's a rich literary history in the south (another economically poor part of the country) - why isn't it there for Appalachia and what questions do you think we should be asking about why the region is so casually overlooked?

MW: There are some great Appalachian writers but they are writing against those long-ingrained stereotypes and American imagination of what they already believe Appalachia is. This is one of the last cultural groups in the US that it's still okay to make fun of. Why have those stereotypes been allowed to stand for so very long? I think they make it easier for the rest of America to think of Appalachia as a sort of non-America. That way, the problems of Appalachia aren't our problems and we can blame them on the victims, the people of Appalachia, instead of facing the complex causes of those problems. It allows us to trivialize what we can't--or don't want--to fix. Why care about the exploitation of a land and the people who live on it if we are taught to believe they are both worthless?

I think we change stereotypes by questioning why they exist.

CM: We talked a little bit in earlier email exchanges about heroic figures in teen literature. What do you think makes a believable hero in YA lit?

MW: In mid-grade lit, there is this underlying theme of discovering the wider world around you. When you move into YA lit, you start exploring the idea of stepping out into that world and figuring out how you fit into it. That’s what makes YA lit so exciting to write (as far as I’m concerned) and what makes a good YA hero—because that kind of thinking takes real courage. And it can be the courage to stay where you are as much as the courage to leave.

CM: Why do you think YA lit focuses so much on unattainable heroes - on sexy vamps like Edward for example. Remy is much more realistic - is this just the beginning of the Harlequin romancing of American women (from Prince Charming to Edward to big brawny cover models?). Not that there's anything wrong with fantasy romance (I went quite happily through a huge Harlequin phase in my teen years) but why set teenage girls up for failure? Any thoughts on what it was like to create a believable teen boyfriend?

MW: Oh yeah, nothing whatever wrong with the larger-than-life hero. It's an important fantasy, and I think we need to trust that girls read those heroes as fantasy and don't go out into the real world expecting to find their very own Edward, anymore than we believe they'll read a book about a drug addict and go out and try heroin. Reading--particularly for teens--is a safe place to privately explore all kinds of feelings, emotions you wouldn't experience and might not necessarily want to experience in real life, and our extreme hero falls into that category.

But, you know, I'm all for giving the regular guy his chance. Ordinary nice guys deserve some love, too! The challenge with Remy was to not mythologize his ordinary goodness to the point where he became extreme and unattainable in his own way. In early drafts, I found I had become his apologist in his relationship with his girlfriend. I was so intent on making him this uber good guy, I didn't want to let him be bad at all, and that was far from believable.

CM: I'd be interested to know how easy or difficult it was to sell Funny to a publisher. It's not what is commonly considered conventional YA lit (no vamps, no shopping, no one battling depression/suicide/abuse, no female protagonist struggling to find her way in the small town/big city). What kind of interest was there for Remy's story?

MW: There were editors who were interested in Remy but could not get past the “no college” idea. And then the question was raised as to whether or not Remy’s story was one that needed to be told. Was it really a hero’s story?

It’s an attitude that—as a parent of a teenaged boy—I know exists, but it surprised me to hear it stated so plainly, that there is one preferred path and if you choose something else, you are somehow less. Frankly, it kind of flipped me out, the idea that YA lit has to be aspirational in these specific terms. What on earth would happen if everyone went to college and all came out in suits, holding briefcases, standing around wondering why their cars wouldn’t start and the roads and bridges were crumbling and nobody was growing any food for them to eat? And yet, the people who do those things that are the backbone of life in this country are considered not worthy of having their stories told. Well. I think I have a permanent hole burned into the top of my head where the steam was coming out.

Is Remy a hero, with his greasy coveralls and his trailer where the plumbing doesn’t work half the time? I think he is. He tries, he cares and he thinks, and isn’t that what we hope for any teen? Or any adult, for that matter.

CM: And of course - what are you working on now?

MW: A total 180: Austenesque girly fun with a supernatural twist.

[Post pics all courtesy ilovemountains.org Think Progress.]

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12. "The first chapter of A Swiftly Tilting Planet does it all: the Murray family contentedly enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner, which is interrupted when they find out that the world is about to end in a nuclear war. "

Your Summer Blog Blast Tour Schedule for Day 3!

Barbara O'Conner at Mother Reader

James Kennedy at Fuse Number 8: "I mean, there are so many terrible YA covers out there. I don’t want to name names, but I think you know what I mean: a slack-jawed, clumsily drawn boy staring vacantly into the middle distance, while some lumpy orc galumphs around in the background. Terrible, terrible."

Maggie Stiefvater at Writing & Ruminating: "However, in a lot of urban fantasy, the female lead has to become a super kick-butt leather-bodice-wearing chick in order to have the same level of coolness as her supernatural hero. I didn’t want Grace to be that girl. I wanted her to be a strong, level-headed character who was cool without leather and rivets and Taekwondo."

Rosemary Clement-Moore at Little Willow

Jo Knowles at lectitans

Melissa Wyatt at Chasing Ray: "Is Remy a hero, with his greasy coveralls and his trailer where the plumbing doesn’t work half the time? I think he is. He tries, he cares and he thinks, and isn’t that what we hope for any teen? Or any adult, for that matter."

See the whole schedule here and don't forget the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys!

[Post quote from James Kennedy]

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13. SBBT Day 4

Before you check out the interviews, be sure to take a look at the latest Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys update where we share a recent email from a group of teens who contributed to our project. There have been a lot of amazing comments and emails in the past week as book lovers have shared what books mean to them, and why they want to share their love of books with others - particularly teens who likely have never been taught how important books can be. In every way I am realizing that what we have discovered here is an idea born at the perfect time - it is something people want to do and have been waiting to know how they could do it. Please link to the Book Fair and/or buy a book if you haven't yet. We will update the site as soon as the boys start receiving books so everyone can know how much their generosity is appreciated.

And now your Summer Blog Blast Tour Schedule for Day #4!

Siobhan Vivian at Miss Erin

Alma Alexander at Finding Wonderland

Laurel Snyder at Shaken & Stirred

Cindy Pon at The Ya Ya Yas

Thalia Chaltas at Little Willow

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14. SBBT Day 5

Here's you schedule for Day 5:

Jenny Davidson at Chasing Ray

"I had a fairly strong sense of the sequence of events leading up to the medium’s murder, but after that, it was pretty much all a blank, except for two things: Sophie’s discovery of the zombiefied girls at IRYLNS and the showdown at the dynamite factory. So I had to just write it out and figure out what happened as I went along."

Rebecca Stead at Fuse Number 8

Ryan Mecum at Writing and Ruminating

Lauren Myracle at Little Willow

Kristin Cashore at Hip Writer Mama

Rachel Caine at The Ya Ya Yas

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15. Davidson

Author Jenny Davidson is an internet friend of mine - we have emailed back and forth on books on several occasions and our exchanges have brought us to the kind of friend level that when Jenny was recently in Antarctica she took a photograph of penguin feathers for my son. (He collects feathers and as she could not bring anything out physically of the continent, she did the next best thing which we thought was awesome.)
Jenny's recent YA alt history novel, The Explosionist, was one of the most unusual books I read last year.

Set in a world that saw Napoleon win at Waterloo, it combines political intrigue, terrorism, spiritualism and horrifying social experiments along with some wonderful boarding school moments and the beginnings of lovely romance (combined with adventure and mystery of course). As most readers of Chasing Ray know, if I did not like Jenny's book I would not have read the whole thing - and I certainly would not have recommended it as strongly as I did last summer in my column. But The Explosionist had so many elements that I enjoy (most especially the history and some awesome steampunkish technology) that I keep thinking about it again and again. This is a very uncommon book for teenagers - and with a female protagonist in Sophie it is aimed squarely at teenage girls who might be longing for adventure and technology (but not fairies and vamps). Jenny has just completed the sequel and hopes to write a third book rounding out Sophie's story. We exchanged some emails (while she was leaving to run a triathalon in FL) about her research and how the first two books came together. As always I remain deeply impressed by the work that Jenny puts into her writing and how dedicated she is to keeping her alt history as historically accurate as possible.

CM: I wanted to focus on the research for this go-round, just to see how your ideas come together and where you go to learn more about them. So, first off there is a great deal of spirituality in The Explosionist. What did you read to learn about the seance that sets a lot of Sophie's adventure in motion and about her experiences talking to the dead? And also was there any historic basis for using photography to attempt to capture messages from the spirit world?

JD: The spiritualism material is one of the things in the book that’s most clearly drawn from historical reality. There was an interesting exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years ago about spirit photography – most of it was deliberate fakery (part of mediums’ elaborate ‘publicity packages,’ so to speak), but a new technology like photography seemed to promise to serious investigators at least the chance of some kind of glimpse into a spirit world. I saw the scholar Marina Warner give a very good talk about this some years ago (I think the material later became part of her book Phantasmagoria) – that was where I first saw pictures of the lengths of cheesecloth that were used to simulate so-called ectoplasm, often stuffed into the female mediums’ vaginal cavities (which led to those very humiliating scenes of full-body search like the one I describe in the book) and then retrieved once the lights had been dimmed to evoke a spirit presence. Of course, trickery aside, if the inadvertent exposure of a photographic plate could show you the invisible world of X-rays and other particles beyond human comprehension, might it not capture images of ghosts as well? If you were the kind of person who was curious and interested to learn new things about the world, this might well have seemed to you a highly persuasive idea circa 1900.

CM: More than an exploration of historic spiritualism though, The Explosionist has a lot of aspects of modern day political thrillers. Once you had the twist that Napoleon won at Waterloo (and the Hanseatic League found its second life as you detail in the author's note at the end) what did you put together next? The scientific advances? The suicide bombings? The conflict over Scotland's future? There are so many directions this book could have taken from your basic alternate world idea - what prompted you to go in the directions you did?

JD: Well, I guess that I am torn when I write between two different tendencies. On the one hand, I love research – I suck up books and facts and that process is a big part of what stimulates my imagination. I always have huge piles of notes and xeroxes about real things in real history – my imagination builds things on the chassis of reality. On the other hand, once I’m actually drafting pages, I prefer to proceed in a fairly strongly intuitive (and more than slightly chaotic!) manner rather than really planning or organizing in advance. I was reading a lot of books about science, so yes, my changes in the political history are often driven by a sense of what would happen if a certain set of scientific or technological developments (the invention of dynamite, the prominence of Alfred Nobel as a munitions manufacturer) loomed even larger in another world than in our own. Then I draw some striking details from random places – the suicide machines that Mikael is so horrified by in The Explosionist, for instance, were a notional invention of Alfred Nobel’s depressive father, who also fantasized about the possibility that seals could be trained to mine ships with explosive devices. But as I began to write, I really didn’t have a lot of fixed points to work with. I had a fairly strong sense of the sequence of events leading up to the medium’s murder, but after that, it was pretty much all a blank, except for two things: Sophie’s discovery of the zombiefied girls at IRYLNS and the showdown at the dynamite factory. So I had to just write it out and figure out what happened as I went along.

CM: Clearly you did a lot of research on Nobel to get to his dad's work. Did the notion of a dynamite factory just naturally lead to Nobel; in other words was he always going to be one of the key figures in the book from the onset or did he just become a bigger part of it the more you researched? (Sort of a writer's chicken and egg questions I guess.)

JD: I honestly can't remember now! I think I would have to look at my notes - but I guess I had Nobel first and the dynamite factory later, and that the cluster of Nobel biographies was one of the first things that I had. I find biography a particularly evocative genre - a well-written biography offers a whole slice of social and cultural history as well...

CM: Where did you come up with the description of the cars (detailed so well in chap 12)? This is some great world building here - it really gives readers a good look at some of the more mundane ways in which this world and our own are different. It's also technical in a way that is not common for a book with a female protagonist. Is this something that interested you personally and so you wanted to include it or did something else spark its inclusion?

JD: It interested me personally! Ironically I do not even having a driving license myself, though that may have been part of why I was interested in describing Sophie’s trepidation at learning to drive. I would describe myself as a non-mechanical (female) person from a family of (male) people with strong mechanical interests. I do slightly feel that I let down the female sex in this case by not actually learning about how to fix cars, use power tools, etc., which I easily could have done; but from a pretty young age, though I found myself with an abstract interest in those things, my love was more for the technical vocabulary associated with that sort of expert knowledge than for real mechanical tinkering – I just don’t have the impulse to take things apart and put them back together. But I enjoyed reading about the history of automobile manufacture and energy supply etc. – there are few things I like more than a good book about, say, the history of the bicycle, or of the electric telegraph, or what have you. (And my father, who is Scottish and has an engineering degree and is altogether a mine of information about the kind of things I write about in The Explosionist, read the manuscript and “fact-checked” it for me, including explaining why a car powered in the way I described would not need a clutch!)

CM: IRYLNS pretty much scared the crap out of me. Were there some real psychological experiments or reports that you referenced in developing that whole idea? In some ways it seemed like a 1950s social experiment gone hideously awry - teaching women to support great men at a total cost to themselves which in The Explosionist world is a far greater cost than anyone can imagine. Was there a period aesthetic you were reaching for here, or more of the Gothic horror notion (like Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper but way way worse!)?

JD: I honestly don’t know where that stuff came from – lots of places, I guess. You yourself asked me before about the Star Trek New Generation episode where Deanna Troi ends up as the repository for the negative emotions of a genius diplomat who just dumps all his bad stuff into her, with dramatically awful results – I know that was one of the things at the back of my head! But I also read a lot a long time ago (my first year of college, maybe?) about the use of electroshock therapy in the 1950s – I guess I was interested in Sylvia Plath, and madness and women and creativity, and I was very struck by a detail one of the books I read mentioned, about the fact that memory loss was actually just an unfortunate side effect of the version of electroshock therapy that was used at that time, but the doctors and their female patients had such poor communication that many of the patients afterwards thought that their memory loss was actually the treatment itself – that they were being purposefully brainwashed to forget the depression and tedium of their suburban middle-class 1950s-style housewifedom.

CM: Now that you have added Sylvia Plath and the whole 1950s aesthetic to IRYLNS, it becomes an even more compelling idea. I especially was intrigued by how in the book women were so involved in the corruption of young girls. The easy way out would have been to make it a big patriarchy deal (so Sophie would have lived with a great uncle for example). Did you have a conscious design in placing a woman in charge of the program - and having women so complicit in the destruction of the "best and brightest" for the sake of so-called great men?

JD: No, it just seemed to make sense - and I guess I was thinking, too, of one of my favorite novels, set in a milieu fairly similar to The Explosionist: Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Great-aunt Tabitha, in my novel, is certainly nothing like Miss Jean Brodie; but I suppose I do have a sense that you often see women in a position to destroy each other.

CM: Jo Walton tackled the idea of combining fantasy and SF in her review of your book at Tor.com. Here's a bit: “This isn’t to say you can’t take it seriously in fiction, and even have it work just as the gullible people in our world believed it did. It’s just that if you do, you’ve moved from science fiction to fantasy. A world in which you can fairly reliably talk to dead people with crystal radios, where licensed spirit photographers can produce evidence admissible in court, and where mediums are not fakes would be a world far more different than one where Napoleon won. Davidson has thought through the consequences of her science fictional changes remarkably well, but of her fantasy ones far less so. It’s unlikely that a world with that kind of relationship with the dead would have been sufficiently like ours through any of its history to ever have got to Waterloo in the first place. . . .”

Is including spiritualism really a move from science fiction (as an alt history) to fantasy? And how can anyone know that one could not be present in a world where Napoleon won. It's a made-up world after all so it seems like all bets are off as to what would develop there. Honestly I kept thinking of how many very intelligent people tried to prove the spiritualist movement of the late 19th century as true - how desperately they needed it to be true at the same time that we were leaping forward into the Industrial Revolution. We are both big fans of Walton's so I take her criticism seriously but I wonder if she just has that certain type of mind that rejects spiritualism to a certain
degree. I come from a family that still casually prays to the saints so I took this aspect of your story as a grain of salt - it made perfect sense to me. What do you think of blending SF and Fantasy and is spiritualism really strictly fantasy in the same way that say elves and unicorns (for example) are?

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16. Winter Blog Blast Tour update

Just a quick note - the Winter Blog Blast Tour will run next week. We have over two dozen interviews spread over ten blogs including Laini Taylor and Jim DiBartolo, Sy Montgomery, Megan Whalen Turner, Derek Landy, Alan DeNiro, Frances Hardinge and many many more. Look for the master schedule on Friday and don't forget it will be updated with direct urls and quotes throughout the week. As usual we have all worked hard on these interviews and hope you will enjoy hearing from authors (and illustrators) we love about books we can't forget.

And after an endless amount of errands today I will be back with thoughts on George Mallory or Tom Strong - not sure which post will be written first!

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17. 2009 Winter Blog Blast Tour Schedule

Here's the list - and don't forget it will be updated with direct urls and quotes every day. Also each of the sites will be linking daily to the other interviews. Hope you find something here that interests you!


Jim Ottaviani at Chasing Ray
Courtney Sheinmel at Bildungsroman
Derek Landy at Finding Wonderland
Mary E. Pearson at Miss Erin
Megan Whalen Turner at Hip Writer Mama
Frances Hardinge at Fuse Number 8


Ann Marie Fleming at Chasing Ray
Laurie Faria Stolarz at Bildungsroman
Patrick Carman at Miss Erin
Jacqueline Kelly at Hip Writer Mama
Dan Santat at Fuse Number 8
Nova Ren Suma at Shelf Elf


Sy Montgomery Pt 1 at Chasing Ray
Jacqui Robbins at Bildungsroman
Sarwat Chadda at Finding Wonderland
Cynthia Leitich Smith at Hip Writer Mama
Beth Kephart at Shelf Elf


Sy Montgomery Pt 2 at Chasing Ray
Laini Taylor at Shelf Elf
Jim DiBartolo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Amanda Marrone at Writing & Ruminating
Thomas Randall at Bildungsroman
Michael Hague at Fuse Number 8


Lisa Schroeder at Writing & Ruminating
Alan DeNiro at Shaken & Stirred
Joan Holub at Bildungsroman
Pam Bachorz at Mother Reader
Sheba Karim at Finding Wonderland
Robin LaFevers at Hip Writer Mama

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18. WBBT Day #1: "So the notion that heroes are defined by the strength of their opposition couldn't be more true in this case...."

I have been a fan of Jim Ottaviani's graphic novels for some time now, and was especially pleased to include his latest, T-Minus, in my September column celebrating the Apollo 11 anniversary. Jim writes science stories on a variety of subjects include Bone Sharps, Cowboys & Thunder Lizards, a look at the late 19th century competition for dinosaur fossils (my review), Wire Mothers (if you ever wanted to be creeped out by psychology do read my review of this one) and Suspended in Language: A Book About Niels Bohr. See a full list at the GT Labs site.

What I like about Jim's books is that they embrace their subjects fully - he clearly is as fascinated by writing the books as readers will be reading them and this enthusiasm bubbles over in the text. It doesn't hut that I have always been interested in these kinds of books - dinosaurs, magic and science history abound in his titles - but T-Minus really put him over the top for me. As someone who grew up on the Space Coast of Florida I was already well versed in the Germini, Mercury and Apollo programs but knew practically nothing about their Russian counterparts. Jim easily shifts the narrative between the two countries in this piece of historical fiction and reveals an enormous amount if information that will both dazzle and impress. Written for MG readers, any space nut will enjoy this one and after reading it I had to know just how it came about. Jim was gracious enough to answer several email questions and share more about his own space geekery.

CM: What made you decide to cover both the US and Russian povs for T-Minus? The Russian portion of the story really blew my mind and I don't recall reading much about it for this age group in the past. Has anything been written on it before for kids? (Laika comes to mind - and did that ever break my heart, hard but beyond that I'm drawing a blank.)

JO: I'm not aware of anything like it for a younger audience, no, and that includes both prose and comics. But that doesn't mean there's nothing out there, of course -- I'd love to read other books like this if they exist!

As for why I included the Russians, it's because it really was a space race. People use that phrase all the time, but after doing so it's as if the readers are watching the Olympics and the only person they ever get to see is the winner of the marathon and all the other runners turned invisible or something. Sure, it was also a race against the clock, since President Kennedy challenged us that way, but it was much more than that.

So the notion that heroes are defined by the strength of their opposition couldn't be more true in this case and I wanted to show the Russian engineers and cosmonauts as the formidable competition that they were. And, as I hope the book showed out, they really were competitors, not enemies.

CM: There's a surprising amount of politics in here - again not what is traditionally included for young readers. The panels on Harrison Storms taking the fall after Apollo 1 were so intense and
unexpected. I grew up on the Apollo 1 story but never heard any of this before and in reading general histories of the event he is not mentioned. What prompted you to include this episode and indeed, to make "Stormy" one of the moral centers of the book?

JO: I read a book about Storms (in Angle of Attack by Mike Gray) years ago, and his story had a great effect on me. He was an engineer trying to do the right thing, but not always succeeding for reasons that he couldn't completely control. He has flaws -- we used the shorthand of him always being in a hurry, and even his speech patterns in the book reflect that -- but he did his best to make sure the program succeeded, even at the expense of his company in the case of the landing mode decision and himself after Apollo 1.

I don't consider his story an overtly political one, though. I think the important thing about Storms was what he sacrificed, and as a representative of what thousands of other people sacrificed as well. So I agree with you that he's one of the moral centers. Between him and C.C. and Max, the NASA engineers, and then Korolev on the Russian side, I tried to show the foundation of the two programs and the kinds of decisions and the amount of work that went on behind the scenes.

CM: Can you talk a little about the research you did for the book? I'm a bit of a research junkie (my friend Gwenda would refer to this as "writer porn") and I'm very intrigued by how you obviously sifted through an enormous amount of information and managed to present in a form that is not only readable but exciting (even though we know how it ends - which makes the narrative tension that much more impressive). So what were you looking for when you started this project - what did you want to learn and how did you tackle such a big research project?

JO: First and foremost, research for this was fun! I've loved the idea of space travel for as long as I can remember, so learning more about it was a joy. It was also easy in one sense; when it comes to NASA and Mercury and Gemini and Apollo, the documentation out there is vast. I had stacks of books and reports and transcripts and hours of video to work with, and everywhere I turned I found another interesting anecdote. Our book could have easily been twice as long and still not cover every great tidbit I turned up.

But the challenge was that most of what's out there is about the technology itself and the guys who rode the rockets, so finding material on the people behind the scenes who created that technology took more effort. That's what I went digging for, and even though there's much less of that, especially when it comes to primary materials like oral histories, there was more than enough to build the book. I have pages and pages -- some of it scripted, even -- of out-takes, in fact! Maybe someday we can do a director's cut.

(Imagine the sound of Zander and Kevin groaning...they did some seriously heavy lifting in terms of making the book visually interesting and accurate.)

CM: Sergei Korolev will likely be a revelation to most American readers. What do you think of him and what did you know about him when you started as opposed to when you finished?

JO: Korolev was a giant in terms of influence, but largely because I don't read Russian -- there's a huge biography of him in Russian that I could use only for reference photos -- I relied on only a few main
sources. Before writing the book, I knew of him, but the only details I had beyond the very basics were what I learned from Laika. I agree that Nick's book is wonderful, by the way. He is too, and he shared a
number of his sources with me, and some photos as well.

But the picture I built up of Korolev was mainly informed by James Harford's book. And that picture is of a driven man, one badly treated by his country for a long time, who cared so much about his cosmonauts and getting into space that he almost single-handedly drove the Soviet program forward. That the U.S. engineers thought highly of his achievements -- while not knowing who he was! -- makes me confident that he was indeed as important as we make him out to be in T-Minus.

(Another shout out: While we're talking about excellent graphic novels about space I also want to mention Jim Vining's First in Space, which is about Ham. Jim's working on a book about Wernher von Braun right now, and I can't wait for that!)

CM: You've kind of become my go-to guy on science graphic novels. What is on the horizon? And also, this is a bit of a technical question but who came up with the idea for different fonts for the US and Russian potions of the book? Everyone looked so much alike (all the characters are white guys who generally dress the same way) that the fonts made a huge difference. I'm interested in how you all figured that out.

JO: Next up: A biography of Richard Feynman, complete with quantum electrodynamics and a little bit of NASA as well. Then -- or perhaps before, since it's hard to tell how publishing schedules will work out -- a book about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas which is targeted for a YA audience as well. I'm working on a couple of other projects right now, but they're in the early stages so I'm not ready to say more about them yet. One might be not non-fiction, and yes, the double negative is on purpose.

As for the font, I'm glad you think it worked. The idea to do this was mine, though I got it from Howard Chaykin's American Flagg!. (Note to readers: Flagg! is very much not a YA book...) Back to that notion of heavy lifting, though, Kevin worked out the font itself and did a great job. We went through many iterations of it trying to get just the right balance of foreign-ness and readability, and if I recall correctly you see version Delta or Echo in the book. Because I am a science guy, I tested the fonts out on kids in the neighborhood, in fact, to make sure it did what we wanted it to do: to signal that something was different, but still be readable. They were fine with even stronger -- stranger? -- versions such as Alpha or Bravo, but in the end we stepped back from those just to be on the safe side.

[Post pic of Gemini III in March 1965; Harrison Storms 1959; Russian Chief Designer Sergei Korolov - read more about his impressive and tragic life at the BBC; the crew of Apollo 1, killed in a launch pad fire in 1967 and cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko killed in an oxygen-rich atmosphere fire in his capsule on the ground in 1961.]]

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19. WBBT Day #2: "people move. borders move. mountains endure. for a while, anyway."

I first read The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming almost two years ago and flat out loved it. This illustrated memoir specifically tells the story of Ann Marie's great grandfather (Long Tack Sam) but also explores her greater family history and how families lose their history. It's about performing magic and travel and immigrants and war. As the narrator, Ann Marie is the one who pushes the boundaries her family long established and asks the questions that everyone has forgotten. And then if all that isn't interesting enough, the book was published in the graphic novel format and includes original artwork, ephemera, photographs and comics. Based on her documentary film of the same name, it is one of the more fascinating memoirs I have ever read and a firm entry in the "graphic novels are for adults" category. It is also, I think, woefully under appreciated. Maybe because she doesn't have a story of abuse to share, Long Tack Sam hasn't gotten the press of Stitches or even Fun Home. That means a lot of folks are missing a book they should be reading (and will enjoy immensely). I certainly can't get enough of it and was delighted when "AMF" agreed to answer a few email questions on the movie, the book, and the man who inspired it all.

CM: First up, I really enjoyed your book! I bought it through my comic shop and thought it was outstanding. I have been researching my family tree for years and it was that aspect of the book that really appealed to me - the on the ground research you did as well as your thoughts on why so little was known about Sam's fame. I understand why you embarked on the research after finding the movies but wondered if you had ever been curious before about this aspect of your family history. Were the movies alone what sparked the hunt or had there ever been any clues dropped in the past? Further, aside from the fact that Sam was a famous magician (which is pretty huge) was there anything else you discovered that stopped you in your tracks or gave you pause?

AMF: from my first film in 1987, Waving, which was an elegy to my grandmother, mina... i mention long tack sam, her father. she was my entry into that story, though i didn't know much about it. "she was a showbiz princess, a magician's assistant who never knew where the doves went to". i mention him again in automatic writing (1996), an experimental feature about my chinese grandfather's side of the story, but the ghost of my grandmother comes back to remind me about her story that is still waiting to be told. hollywood names were often dropped, but through some freak of nature, my curiousity was never truly piqued. no one was that interested, in the family, and it all happened such a long time ago (or that's what it seemed, in my 20's). the single most surprising thing i learned about long tack sam... besides EVERYTHING... was that he did a full chinese circus act... that he was an acrobat (?!), a comic, and did old time magic as well as western sleight of hand. just to see him in full chinese regalia was a shock. i had only seen images of him as a westernized man.

CM: I know you started this out with a film and I was curious as to whether or not you ever had trepidation about bringing your family story (including how you have all drifted apart somewhat) into the public. Your book and other graphic novel memoirs like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and What It Is by Lynda Barry, are very revealing - and the combination of words and art seem much more intimate to me than a standard prose memoir. Were you nervous at all about the film and later the book? And how do you think the graphic novel format aids in the telling of a life story?

AMF: i was very nervous about doing a family story. i needed the help of so many people, and i wanted to be respectful of their stories and memories but be able to have my own perspective on the life and times, too. it was pretty tricky. i've done a few films about personal stories: my own, my family, my friends, so i was certainly aware of the pitfalls. making the graphic novel was a dream come true. i was commissioned by riverhead books. it was an enormous challenge to adapt a 4-D, time-based project onto the page, minus sound (which i always consider 65% of a project) and keep the same tone. i also didn't want to completely repeat the film. time had past. i had new things to say. new information. i wanted them to complement each other. i DO think that the book is more intimate than the film. even by the very act of holding it. taking your own time. making your own connections. that's why it is presented a little like a text book, with interstitial drawings and information in the margins and different page layouts. there are many ways to read a book. a film experience can be more immersive, but certainly, it is more passive, or, at least, your attention is very directed at all times. "look here. look there."

CM: Threading general history into Long Tack's specific history makes the book very appealing. I read in a couple of other interviews online (Smith Magazine was one) how this idea helped you frame the narrative and I can certainly see how it grounds Sam's history for the reader. But I had to wonder just how hard this was for you - how did you pick and choose what to mention in the larger story of world history? Were there certain events that you knew from the beginning you wanted to include or did this part of the narrative form organically as you discovered more about Sam and the rest of your family?

AMF: there are a billion things i had to leave out, but basically, my thesis is that we are all affected by the geopolitics of our time, whether we know it or not. and even though we all may live on the same planet at the same moment, what is happening in different parts of the world not only affect us, but seem like impossible, incongruous yet parallel realities. i knew very little about LTS when i started. i put down the dates i knew, the places that he'd been, and then did a grid with world events, popular song, etc. and started to fill in the holes. "why was he here?" "where could he go next?"

CM: Stick girl is a great narrator! She is the face of the book in some ways and I thought it was interesting how sometimes she is you and sometimes you are there, in photographs (sick or blonde!). As you were putting the book together did you know that you would need Stick girl? This is a plotting question but as a writer when I see a graphic novel I'm curious about how the pieces come together. You had the facts of Sam's life, the photographs and illustrations but you needed someone to "talk" to the reader. Did you realize this from the beginning or did Stick girl appear later?

AMF: stickgirl has been my avatar for over 20 years, and she is takes over from the voice that is in the film. i didn't know she would be there. i was going to hire julian lawrence, who did the 30's style comics inside the film/book, to draw the entire book. then, i ran out of money, and i realized i needed to make this a more personal experience. AND the film is a collage so the book could be as well. Zines really gave me permission to mix it all up. and the different styles of "me" comes from the manga tradition of 3 different representations of characters... the "normal", the "cute", the "superhero". or, that's how i understand it. so, i'm referencing a lot of different histories.

CM: More than just a family saga though, Long Tack Sam is very much an exploration of the immigrant experience - and how complicated that experience can be. You track how hard it was for successive generations of your family (down to even yourself) to move from place to place due to issues of nationality. For most Americans, this has to be nearly unbelievable. Many of us are generations removed from immigration or familiar only with direct immigration (from country of origin to the US). Your family went everywhere - and back again! Did seeing Sam and Poldi's experiences illuminate the immigrant experience for you at all? What do you think about how they lived, and how much they struggled with the notion of "home"?

AMF: my family is STILL moving. and although a lot of americans (and germans, and chinese, and and and...) know the comfort of a multi-generational family hometown, many do not. they move for economic reasons (even if it is just in the state), political... the whole world is moving. 13% of u.s. citizens are foreign born today. it is an enormous struggle to migrate, especially as a family, from a different culture... under duress. it was only my experience as a foreigner in germany as an adult that gave me a glimpse into what other immigrants experience. through my own experiences and those of all the other international artists i met along the way. it was really hard, and it was really important. and it gave me an enormous insight into beginning to understand what sam and poldi went through. and on a smaller level, anyone who has ever gone away to college knows that it is hard to come home again. your sense of home has been forever altered. travel changes you.

CM: And finally, did you ever get to back to Sam's village after being thwarted by the Falun Gong trials? I couldn't believe you weren't able to get back there!

AMF: i haven't been back to china since the film (except hong kong for a screening). the idea of the native village is a strong one. does it exist? was it wuqiao? does the family still exist? could i find them? it all seemed very serendipitous in the film/book. maybe too good to be true. i am going back to china this year, to look for another long-lost relative (from the 8th century... the sage poet Fu Du...). where i'll go is chengdu, where he spent 4 important years of his literary life. that is his "home". where was long tack sam's home? people move. borders move. mountains endure. for a while, anyway.

CM: After writing this graphic novel have your thought about doing another? I really found your family's story to be quite inspiring and I think a lot of other people must have as well. (And I'm hoping I can bring you a few more fans with this interview.) The format just worked so well for the story you had to tell - it was a perfect match.

AMF: thanks for your comments! it was the hardest thing in the world, making the film... until i made the graphic novel. but it was so satisfying. i'd love to do another one. will i have the opportunity? i hope so. the book has reached an enormous range of people (not that it is a best seller, or anything like that). people from 8-80, male and female, immigrants, historians, magicians, comic fans, biography fans... it is an interesting take on the 20th century, it is about family and it's got magic in it. what's not to like?

[Post pic of Long Tack Sam movie poster; Group shot of Hack Man Slim troupe, Long Tack Sam is 4th from the right; interior spreads from Magical Life of Long Tack Sam]

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20. "There was something about the moment when Gilda, played by the fabulous Rita Hayworth, first appears on screen that stopped me in my tracks..."

Your schedule for Tuesday:

Tuesday November 17th

Ann Marie Fleming at Chasing Ray: "the single most surprising thing i learned about long tack sam... besides EVERYTHING... was that he did a full chinese circus act... that he was an acrobat (?!), a comic, and did old time magic as well as western sleight of hand. just to see him in full chinese regalia was a shock. i had only seen images of him as a westernized man."

Laurie Faria Stolarz at Bildungsroman: "I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power of psychometry, the ability to sense things through touch. The concept fascinated me, and so I wanted to bring it out in a character, showing how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse."

Patrick Carman at Miss Erin: "And then.... not to obvious, but I really love Tolkien. When I read The Lord of the Rings, it was the only time that I finished reading something and then turned around and started reading it all over again. "

Jacqueline Kelly at Hip Writer Mama: "Falling in love with old houses is an extremely expensive habit. Unfortunately, I ran out of money before I could completely fix it up, and the house is inadequately air conditioned. Some of the rooms have old window units and some don't. I was lying under the AC in the parlor one really hot day wondering how people stood the heat in the house a hundred years earlier, with no air conditioning at all.....By the way, I promised the house that if I made money from the book, I would fix it up and restore it to its former glory. So keep that in mind this holiday season."

Dan Santat at Fuse Number 8: A video interview! "The following will appear during this interview at some point: Lightsabers, clones, chicken puppets, Rock Band, the digestion of hamburgers, L.A., New York, tears, sweat, and very little blood."

Nova Ren Suma at Shelf Elf: "In school—I am not kidding—I did have three friends named Heather, and of course my name is Nova, so I didn’t really fit, but that was just a simple coincidence; “Heather” was a very popular name back then. Really, this movie taught me some meaningful lessons about being a misfit. I’ve learned that I’d rather NOT fit in than turn evil just to be part of the in-crowd."

[Post title from Nova Ren Suma - and it will make perfect sense to fans of her new novel Dani Noir!]

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21. WBBT Day #4: "Eating was his performance art."

And now for Part 2 of the Sy Montgomery interview. (See Part 1 yesterday.) But first I have to relate one of the more surprising things that came up when I set out to do this interview. I looked up Sy's web site to get a bit more background info. She shares the site with her husband, author Howard Mansfield and when I saw his name and then his book The Bones of the Earth I couldn't believe it. As it turns out, I have been a fan of Howard and Sy's for years and both of their books are in my library (albeit on opposite sides). Bones is an essay collection about cultural memory - buildings and towns and cemeteries and what we prize and what we leave behind. Most importantly he considers the value of place, of physically having a place, in our memory. I can't even remember when I first heard about his book but I have read it several times and value it quite highly (and really need to get copies of his other titles), so to already be connected not just with Sy but Howard before I even dialed the number was very cool indeed.

In this round of the interview we talk about Sy's phenomenal bestseller and moving memoir, The Good Good Pig. For folks who might now know however, I wanted to point out that Howard wrote a children's book about Christopher Hogwood which was illustrated by none other than the amazing Barry Moser. If you've got a young animal lover at home then be sure to seek out Hogwood Steps Out.

CM: The Good Good Pig was quite a departure from your earlier work - it was very personal, and on a topic so local it was in your backyard. Why do you think it has resonated so much with so many (especially book clubs)?

SM: It was pig magic, plain and simple. Christopher brought me incredible blessings - things I didn't even know know to ask for. I do have hopes that he continues to look after me, even now. One of the best things about the book has been the number of people who tell me 'there will be no pork on my fork'. People didn't realize how intelligent and emotional animals are until reading this book and I think that is part of why it has done so well - they love him.

CM: After so many years of writing books where you are barely part of narrative, how hard was it to get this personal?

SM: The last thing I wanted to do was write this book. After Christopher's death I suffered from situational depression. I knew it but I didn't want to wallow in that misery. I felt I owed it to him to tell his story but it wasn't therapeutic. Grief sucked and writing while grieving was very very hard. But this book kept getting more personal as I wrote and became a book about family. Family isn't about blood or genetics; it's about love and that is what the book is about and now Christopher is visiting the world.

And it wasn't all sad - eating was his performance art and sharing how much people enjoyed feeding him and seeing him and loving him was wonderful.

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22. "Perhaps", she suggested (and people think I have made this up but I swear it is the truth) "you could learn to be a trucker."

And here is Day #4.................

Thursday, November 19th

Sy Montgomery Pt 2 at Chasing Ray: "Grief sucked and writing while grieving was very very hard. But this book kept getting more personal as I wrote and became a book about family. Family isn't about blood or genetics; it's about love and that is what the book is about and now Christopher is visiting the world."

Laini Taylor at Shelf Elf: "I love naming characters. When I was a kid this was my favorite part of writing, and often was as far as I got. Now, I have lists in various notebooks—weird names I hear in the news or see in film credits; made-up names; names from other cultures, including languages I’d never even heard of until I stumbled upon them doing research—like Tamazight, the Berber language spoken by a character in my current book)."

Jim DiBartolo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: "I also have some Partridge Family songs on my iPod. YEAH THAT’S RIGHT! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?! *ahem*"

Amanda Marrone at Writing & Ruminating: "Last year I had a librarian write to me to say she sees kids in her library all the time and none of them are like my characters in Uninvited and she was tossing the book in the trash because it was so unrealistic. I had to laugh—I was the kid in the library all of the time checking out books. I certainly never would have told the librarian what I was up to and I didn’t look like the kind of kid who was cutting classes and playing drinking games with my friends."

Thomas Randall at Bildungsroman: "I should point out that I think there's a difference between dreaming about someone you've lost and actually having the feeling that they have touched you in some way. I'm a born skeptic, but it isn't that I don't want to believe...it's that I do."

Michael Hague at Fuse Number 8: "Hal Foster's Prince Valiant was the only comic I was officially allowed to read. By officially, I mean Mum approved. I guess Prince Valiant was ok because my mom was British. All other comics were banned. She was certain I would become a juvenile delinquent if I read any of them. Thank God she never found my secret stash of Mad magazines."

Post title from Michael Hague - dear heavens, can you imagine the world if he had listened to that woman??? The horror!!

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23. Summer Blog Blast Tour 2010 Master Schedule

Here is your schedule for next week - it will be updated with direct links and quotes on a daily basis. Let the games begin!!

Monday, May 17

Kate Milford at Chasing Ray
Mac Barnett at Fuse Number 8
Hazardous Players at Finding Wonderland
Malinda Lo at Shelf Elf
Barbara Dee at Little Willow
Eric Luper at Hip Writer Mama

Tuesday, May 18

Mary Jane Beaufrand at The Ya, Ya, Yas
Rita Williams-Garcia at Fuse Number 8
Jennifer Hubbard at Writing & Ruminating
Charise Mericle Harper at Shelf Elf
Holly Schindler at Little Willow

Wednesday, May 19

Michael Trinklein at Chasing Ray
Nick Burd at Fuse Number 8
Sarah Darer Littman at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Tom Siddell at Finding Wonderland
Paolo Bacigalupi at Shaken & Stirred

Thursday, May 20

Matthew Reinhart at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Jenny Boylan at Fuse Number 8
Lisa Mantchev at Writing & Ruminating
Jess Leader at Shaken & Stirred
Donna Freitas at Little Willow

Friday May 21

Julia Hoban at Chasing Ray
Stacy Kramer at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Nancy Bo Flood at Finding Wonderland
Tara Kelly at Shaken & Stirred
Sarah Kuhn at Little Willow
Jenni & Matt Holm at Hip Writer Mama

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24. "You come to know the road that you selected at the cost of the other three."

After reading the first few pages of Kate Milford's debut MG novel, The Boneshaker, I was completely enthralled by this story of good vs evil in a small Missouri town. A new entry in what is being called "rural fantasy" this steampunk story follows Natalie as she does battle with the nefarious Dr. Jake Limberleg and his terrifying medicine show. Even more than the mechanical marvels and moments of heart stopping terror however, The Boneshaker celebrates the enduring power of story, especially as it applies to the rich history of Americana. Here's a bit of my review, up this month at Bookslut:

Milford is careful to make clear, however, as Natalie’s mother shares with her, that “nothing is just a story.” These bits and pieces of America that we have carried around in our collective cultural soul for decades (even centuries) all come with a certain element of undeniable truth: strange things do happen at certain places, some people do have unnatural talents, and if it seems too good to be true then really, it is.

I recommend good books all the time but really - seriously - this one is a keeper and perfect summertime reading. I was delighted when Kate offered to answer a few questions about her inspiration and research for such a detailed and deliciously unique novel.

CM: I read your great blog post on "seriously cool stuff in the book" and certainly had already picked up on a couple of things: Bradbury, Robert/Tommy Johnson's crossroads myth, Jack of All Tales, etc. but what really struck me is all the mechanical items in the book. From the jumping off point of seeing the Ken Burns documentary you sited, exactly how much research did you do on bikes and other mechanical wonders like that monstrous device found in the medicine show? Did you know ahead of time what mechanical elements (other than the bike) you wanted to include in the book or did this evolve as you researched?

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25. "Luckily it’s not illegal, expensive or dangerous"

Here are your links to the SBBT interviews today. Don't forget to check out the Master Schedule for the whole week's links (and quotes)!

Rita Williams-Garcia at Fuse Number 8: "I called the Oakland Police Department to confirm the color of siren lights back in the sixties. I dug through old newspapers for the prices of everything from 45 records, to stamps to a whole fryer chicken. I took a sweep through my silly 1967-‘68 diary. Silly, indeed! "

Jennifer Hubbard at Writing & Ruminating: "We keep hearing how people have short attention spans now, how we live in a sound-byte society. And yet, short stories haven’t found as big a market as novels have, just like short films haven’t found as big an audience as longer feature films have. It seems counter-intuitive!"

Charise Mericle Harper at Shelf Elf: "Cupcakes = mini celebrations. You got an A on your spelling test, let’s get you a cupcake. You didn’t yell back at your boss, you deserve a cupcake. You fixed the toilet! I’m going to bake you some cupcakes. "

Holly Schindler at Little Willow: "The idea of the "mad genius" is so pervasive, there's even a Wikipedia entry for "Creativity and Mental Illness!"

Mary Jane Beaufrand at The Ya, Ya, Yas

[Post title taken from Charise Mericle Harper's interview at Shelf Elf!]

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