Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Chat with Holly Schindler by Deborah Lytton


 
DL: Holly, it’s super exciting that we both have new books out this month. You have NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID and I have RUBY STARR. I love that you have created a book of poetry for middle grade readers. What do you enjoy most about writing for 7-12 year old readers?
 
HS: It is exciting! Congrats on RUBY STARR.


I think MG readers are really our “sponge” readers—soaking up and learning all about the world around them. It’s fantastic how interested they are in everything; I can feel it leak through the screen during Skypes. In the upper end of the MG readership, it also seems like they’re really straddling the line, developing more mature, teen-like interests but aren’t ready yet to completely ditch their interests from childhood. NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID let me tap into all that: I introduce those sponge-like readers to the villanelle, a type of formal poetry (the book as a whole is a single poem), and I also provide visual art throughout that combines more mature looking photography with younger-reader-style watercolor and colored pencil drawings.

I think my vision of an MG reader has also been shaped greatly by the interactions I’ve had with students as I promoted my first MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY. How have your own interactions with young readers (or your own kids) changed or influenced your idea of what an MG reader is?

DL: I love your description of MG readers. I think they are the very best of readers because they become invested in the stories they read. The thing I have learned from my interactions with them and also from my daughters and their friends is that they pay very close attention to detail. I have been asked some very deep questions by MG readers and in most cases, they are about things other readers have failed to pinpoint.  This always impresses me and makes me strive harder to write stories that will give them lots to think about and discover within the pages. My main character Ruby is one of these readers. She loves books. I have lots of things I love about her, but my favorite thing has to be Ruby’s sense of humor. She makes me laugh while I am writing the words down. What is your favorite thing about NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID?

HS: I agree—humor is so important, especially for this age group. (And the writing of anything humorous is just so much fun. We always say if we’re not crying, our readers won’t be crying or emotionally involved, either—but it’s so important to remember the same can be said for laughing!) My favorite parts of NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID are the pages in the back that guide young readers through writing their own first villanelle. It’s not a form of poetry usually discussed in the elementary levels—it’s often not discussed until high school, when students read Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” arguably the most recognizable villanelle ever written. I love the idea of kids taking the plunge, writing formal poetry, accomplishing something they may not have thought was even possible.

I think, though, that most writers of juvenile lit hope their work leaves a thumbprint of some kind on their readers—what do you hope readers take away from RUBY STARR?

DL: I think it’s a wonderful way to end your book with inspiration for young readers to write their own villanelle! I hope you will post some of their poems on your blog. I can’t wait to read them. In RUBY STARR, Ruby references her favorite books throughout the story and I hope readers will connect with her love of books and be inspired to read more. I am also posting book club questions on my blog for some of Ruby’s favorites and some new books so that MG readers can start their own book clubs just like Ruby. There is a common theme in all my books about being true to yourself and this theme is also present in Ruby’s stories. It’s something I hope all my readers take away from my books. Here’s a super hard question: Name your favorite middle grade book of all time. I would have to say ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS. I just re-read it for the book club I am hosting on my blog and the book still touches me just as much as it did when I first read it. I also love BLACK BEAUTY because it takes us inside the mind of a horse and shows us the way to compassion for animals and others in a poignant way.

HS: That’s not just hard, that’s impossible! I feel like I have a new favorite MG book every time I pick up a new read. Having grown up with Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, I have to say I have a special place in my heart for contemporary realism. I think a lot of times, authors of juvenile lit start gravitating toward magic or supernatural or fairy tale-type stories because it feels to us like contemporary stories of growing up have all been done before—we feel like we’re traveling the same ground. But it’s not old territory to our readers! They’re all living through being ten, eleven, twelve for the first time. I think it’s still really important to give them contemporary stories showing smart, resourceful, good-hearted peers navigating through sticky situations, becoming the heroes of their own lives in a setting that feels modern and real and of their own world. (The concepts in kid lit from decades past might cover some of the same topics—friendship, divorce, first crush, etc.—but today’s kids won’t relate as well to a book in which characters listen to records, don’t have cell phones, there is no internet, etc.)

I do think, too, that many writers of kid lit were voracious readers themselves when they were young—did you have an “ah-ha!” moment with one of those books—did a specific book make you want to become a writer?

DL: All you had to say was Judy Blume! She definitely influenced my love of books. ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS is the book that always touched my heart and made me want to write for MG readers. A WRINKLE IN TIME is another book that opened my eyes to possibilities and the creativity of writing. I am also a Jane Austen fan. I have always been in awe of what all of these authors could do and the way they could turn words into stories that would take us on journeys into our imaginations. It took me years to be brave enough to try it myself. Did you learn anything about the craft of writing while working on NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID? This is the first time I have written a sequel, so I learned a lot about tracking my facts.

HS: I love that I got to delve so deep into poetry here—poetry’s an old love, and I included some poems in my first novel, A BLUE SO DARK (YA), but this is truly my first story in verse. Really, though, the learning curve was with the illustration. I’ve been moving into doing more and more artwork since I started releasing my own independent work a couple of years ago, but for NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID, I was responsible for everything you see in the book—the photos, drawings, design for both the interior and the cover. The only things I didn’t create on my own were the fonts! (Those came from Creative Market, a great site for original commercial use fonts.) The drawings for KATY DID were all done in traditional media—watercolor and colored pencils. Then, I scanned the drawings and cut them out digitally using Photoshop, combining them with photographic elements and backgrounds. I couldn’t have done it without my Wacom drawing tablet (I use the Intuous Pro). Even if you’re doing cover art rather than full-blown illustration, the drawing tablet really opens you up to all sorts of new possibilities, allows you to accomplish effects you couldn’t achieve relying solely on your mouse.

I’ve written a sequel myself, and it’s amazing how much you forget between book #1 and book #2. How did you accomplish fact tracking? Any tips?

DL: I am so impressed that you created the artwork as well as the poetry. You are a creative force! Your artwork is stunning and it goes seamlessly with the poetry. I would imagine this was a wonderful process to create the entire project yourself. (My teenage daughter is an artist and has the Wacom Intuous Pro drawing tablet as well. She loves it.) For my work on RUBY, I finished editing Book #1 and then began writing Book #2 so there wasn’t too much of a time lapse between them. That helped a lot in terms of fact tracking. But I did create a document for myself with important facts which was really useful. I also kept the Book #1 manuscript on my desk while working for quick references and to ensure continuity. It’s really wonderful to be able to revisit a character and setting and write a new story with them. I am enjoying the process so much! I am always so impressed that you are brave enough to jump into different genres and you do it so successfully. What’s your secret?

HS: Just break it apart, whatever the job is. Don’t get overwhelmed. Trying a new writing genre? Start simply—what are the main features you HAVE to hit for a work to be considered reflective of the genre? (For example, a romance has to have a happily ever after or at least a happy for now ending.) Then, what are the traditional beats for that genre? (It’s fine to play with this, but you should know what the rules are before you break them.) From there, you can begin plotting and outlining your book, just as you did with books in the genre you were previously writing in. Or, if you’re moving from traditional publishing to indie pubbing: every single job an indie author takes on can also be broken down into smaller chunks. Need to create your first cover? A cover is, in its simplest form, an image with a title on it. So—to start, don’t worry about anything but finding the right image: Do you know a photographer? Will you use a stock photo? Take a photo yourself? Draw something? Just get the image. THEN: figure out how you want to edit the photo / get the title on it. A ton of free resources are available (GIMP’s great for e-book covers). Same with formatting—it can be broken into smaller jobs, too. (I recommend Scrivener and Ed Ditto’s formatting book to get started.) I mean, in order to write a book in the first place, you have to break it into smaller, manageable daily chunks, right? Same with any new writing or publishing task you’d like to take on. You’re not going to get it all done in a day; it’ll take some herky-jerky, wonky first attempts. But you’ll get there if you just keep at it. (And trust me—YouTube instructional videos are definitely your friend.)

What’s one job you’ve taken on in your own writing career that you never would have thought you’d have to tackle? How’d you work through it?

DL: You have the best attitude. I am sure that is the single ingredient that holds it all together for you. You see possibilities in every genre and you don’t limit yourself. It’s really inspirational. The job that I never really thought about before I had my first book published was the PR aspect of the job. I thought about talking to readers and maybe speaking at a conference, but it was the actual promotion of the book that was more of a surprise and it is the most difficult for me. It takes time away from actually writing and also can be difficult to accomplish, and yet, the success of the book hinges on a writer’s efforts. The publishing house does handle some of the promotion, but only to a certain extent. The rest is left up to the author and with social media, there is a lot of pressure on your presence. I prefer writing to tweeting! You mentioned Scrivener. You’re the one who convinced me to try Scrivener and now I am completely hooked. What’s your best Scrivener tip?

HS: I love Scrivener so much. I can’t imagine writing a book without it. I think the most useful feature is the binder—even more so than the cork board. That binder, running along the left-hand side, tells me where I’m at in the book every single time I sit back down to work—I’m reminded of what chapters came before, what comes next; it really helps with pacing. Also, it lets me easily bounce back up to a previous chapter and plug something in (about character or plot) when I get a new idea. I’ve been relying on split-screen with my current WIP—I have two files open, usually the chapter I’m currently drafting and either a previous version of the chapter or a cut file, where I can easily take out phrases or passages that don’t quite fit (but that I still like) and store them until the exact-right place for the line comes along.

What’s your own best Scrivener tip? What kind of WIP do you have going in your current Scrivener file right now (what can readers expect next)?

DL: I love the binder, too! I have been working on an Austenesque historical and the binder has been so helpful because I have been working a lot on Ruby. When I come back to my historical, sometimes I need to bounce around to check things I have already established. I also love the character sketches. I think they are really helpful in organizing my thoughts about each character and having them available as I write. My best Scrivener tip is to read other blogs about Scrivener. I have learned everything from you and from other writers who have shared their own tips for using the program. It really is an incredible tool for writers. Up next, I will have Book #2 of RUBY STARR followed by Book #3 both of which will be new adventures in reading and in Ruby’s world.
Thanks Holly for chatting with me today! NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID is available at Amazon as an e-book or paperback. For more information about RUBY STARR, you can go to www.deborahlytton.com.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

NEW RELEASE: NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID (HOLLY SCHINDLER)

I am a lifelong music nut. SERIOUS nut. Most of the time, I think I’d rather have music than food.
tesla

In fact, this picture offers a bit of proof—that’s me, in about 1992, with a member of Tesla (who’s in the midst of signing his autograph). Because in addition to seeing as many concerts as I possibly could, I also used to do my fair share of autograph hunting—anything to get just a little bit closer to my favorite musicians. As many of you already know, I even taught piano and guitar lessons as I was drafting my earliest manuscripts—and my students actually inspired me to write for younger readers.

As an old literature major, I’m also a poetry nut. I’ve hung out at as many poetry readings as I have concert doors—but for some reason, it never crossed my mind to get a shot taken with, say, Miller Williams (Clinton’s second inaugural poet) when I heard him read his work.

My latest release, a picture book for more advanced readers entitled NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID, combines my lifelong loves of music and poetry:

katycover4
ROCK STARS ARE COOL. SO IS POETRY.
Saturday night just isn’t Saturday night without Katy Did and The Antennas. At least, until a rotten review leaves Katy’s bandmates thinking maybe they could do better with another singer.
What’s a Katy Did to do when she’s been dumped for a Songbird?
~
Featuring a main character who is both literally a katydid insect and the singer in her own band, NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID offers a story of perseverance and finding beauty in unexpected places as well as a fun, attention-grabbing way to introduce young readers to formal poetry. The book itself is a villanelle, a type of poetry that features refrains that repeat throughout—much like the chorus in a rock song. Great for classroom use and for readers in the fourth to sixth grade. Sheets in the back of the book walk budding poets through writing their own first villanelle.

Why a villanelle?
It’s not as frequently studied as some other poetic forms, especially in the elementary levels. I find it’s a form not usually discussed much until high school, actually, when students read Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” arguably the most famous or most recognizable villanelle ever written.

Don’t worry—it’s not too sophisticated.
Kids in this age group (about 9-12) are straddling the line between childhood and slightly more grown-up interests. That’s why this book (which is, from front to back, a single villanelle) is also a picture book, featuring both photographic and illustrative elements—and a katydid lead singer with bright red hair, no less!

The Importance of Poetry
I was so delighted to see Tracy K. Smith (our current poet laureate) on CBS This Morning, discussing the accessibility of poetry. I also believe that poetry is what our youngest readers naturally gravitate toward. And yet, somewhere along the way, readers become intimidated by it. It’s my hope that NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID helps to continue to make formal poetry both accessible and fun for your young readers.

Snag a Copy
NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID is available on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback. For those who incorporate the book into their own classroom or library activities, I can always be reached at hollyschindlerbooks@gmail.com for Skype visits.

Sneak Peek:
katygif4

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Author Kathleen Burkinshaw and THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM.



 It is a pleasure to feature middle grade author Kathleen Burkinshaw whose book - THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM - takes place in Hiroshima, Japan in the months leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb in WWII.  August 6 was the 72nd anniversary of that event.  Here's Kathleen:

The writing journey of The Last Cherry Blossom began about 8 years ago with one question.  My daughter was in 7th grade at the time and was upset about something that happened in her history class. She said they would be covering the end of WWII and overheard some kids talking about how they couldn’t wait to see the “cool mushroom cloud picture”. She asked if I would speak to her class about the people under the mushroom cloud that day, people like her grandmother.
I called and asked my mother if it was okay to talk about her experience in Hiroshima that horrific day.  My mom was a very private person, and never spoke about it in public. When I was a young child, she told me she came from Tokyo.  Once she confided in me that she was born in Hiroshima and lost her home, family and friends on August 6th, she asked that I never speak of it either. It was too painful and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.   

But this day she gave me her blessing to discuss what she experienced on August 6th.  She felt that since the students would be about the same age she was (12-years-old), maybe they would relate to her story. As future voters, she hoped they would remember that nuclear weapons should never be used again.
I spoke to my daughter’s class a week after the phone call. The following year I received requests from other local schools. I had been writing about my mom’s survival of the atomic bomb for my own and my daughter’s benefit.  But soon teachers inquired if I had a book that could complement their curriculum. Then the real work began!
Most amazing moment since writing the book?
It’s hard to choose but I have 3 firsts at different stages after writing the book.  The first most amazing moment was when I showed my mom the publishing contract and to see her face and tell me how proud she was that I would do this for her. Perhaps I do treasure this most of all because she passed away 2 months later.
The second moment was when I held the printed copy in my hands, seeing my name on it, smelling the new pages. I still get that same rush whenever I see it on a book shelf.
The third was when received my first fan mail. One a letter from a student who didn’t like reading, but after reading my book wanted to read more books!   

Friday, August 11, 2017

Chapter 8

by Jody Feldman





This past Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I threw aside my revision schedule, took a deep breath, and fully rewrote Chapter 8 three times. Three unique times.

Why?

Feedback from very reliable sources told me they couldn’t relate to my characters. Not good, the reaction. Good, that it made me think.
Did I know my characters well enough?
Did I understand why they acted the way they did?
Did I truly realize what formed the foundations of their emotional motivations?
In three words, no, No, NO.
And so I took the time and the effort to rewrite a new Chapter 8, each day, from the point of view of a different secondary character.

Why Chapter 8?

It’s the one where all four (those three plus my main character) are present for all but the first couple minutes. More important, it's the one where they start forming a relationship that will last for the duration of the book.

The outcome?

Those for-me-only chapters? Some of the most empowering writing I have ever done.
Suddenly, these kids came alive to me. I could hear their voices. I could feel their vulnerabilities. I could see where they would excel. And I can tell you exactly why.
That the very excellent news. The less-than-excellent news is not so bad either. On Wednesday, I restarted my revision, necessarily changing some of my favorite dialogue lines and altering about 80% of the actions and reactions. But this little bit of time, in the scheme of things, has brought me such clarity that I’m still floating on a cloud of character knowledge. And I’ve never been so eager to get back to work.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Infinite Quest -- by Jane Kelley

I always post on the 8th day of the month. Today it's the 8th day of the 8th month -- an infinite infinite  -- if there were such a thing.  Actually, in writing a story there is.


Anything is possible when we create. There are an infinite number of stories and an infinite number of ways to tell those stories. That's exciting! That's overwhelming! How can we decide without writing an infinite number of drafts to test them all out?

In my current work in progress, kids journey from one part of Manhattan to Brooklyn. As you can see from this map, there are infinite routes they could take. Every block teems with possibilities for adventures.


I narrowed down my choices by giving myself some parameters. They might be useful for you too. Even if your W.I.P. isn't a trek, your characters will be on some sort of journey. 

1. What locations fit my themes?  In my W.I.P. I want to celebrate the vibrancy of NYC. So the characters MUST visit Times Square. They can skip the lobby of the Plaza Hotel.

2. What pathways give my characters the best chance to be active?  A carriage ride through Central Park is pleasant, but if they can't drive the carriage or ride the horse, then it's better if they walk.

3. What events are fun for the reader? And by fun, I mean scary, exciting, suspenseful, and humorous? I like to insert treats along the way. Where and how will we find them? 

4. What's logical? One step will lead to another. My characters won't be finding a wormhole that takes them from Times Square to Chinatown. 

OR WILL THEY? 

No--I'll stick to my humorous adventure and let someone else write that one. 

It took a while, but I have my characters' trip planned. Now all I have to do is select which of the infinite sights, sounds, smells to describe to bring NYC to life!


Monday, August 7, 2017

INTERVIEW WITH KIM HARRINGTON, AUTHOR OF GAMER SQUAD

Tell us all about the GAMER SQUAD series.
 
GAMER SQUAD is a fun adventure series about a group of gamer kids who have to save their town from mobile game related disasters. The books have humor and heart, portray friendship ups and downs, encourage girls in STEM, and focus on a love for community. I have had a ton of fun writing them and can’t wait to hear what readers think!
 
You're a lifelong gamer--how did that play into the inspiration / drafting of the GAMER SQUAD? Is your son old enough to game yet? Did he have any editorial input into the series?
 
My husband, my teenage son, and I are all varying degrees of gamers. I actually got the idea for this series while playing a game with my son! I definitely ran some plot points past both of them and used them as sounding boards, which was a whole lot of fun. If I could go back in time to the ‘80s and tell little me (who was probably playing a game on my Commodore 64) that I would one day write a book series about a group of gaming kids who save their town…little me would be delighted. It’s been so much fun to write these books, both for the kids out there now and the little kid inside me.
 
What's your take on screen time and kids?
 
I think, as with most things, it’s best in moderation. I try to remind myself of that daily. ;)
 
Each book comes with its own unique challenges. What was hard / unique about writing the GAMER SQUAD? What surprised you? 
 
All of my other books have been mysteries. GAMER SQUAD is my first project that’s more of an adventure series. So it was different to write and plan. I didn’t have to think about clues and planting red herrings, but I had to learn how to write without having the structure of a mystery to hold onto.
 
Releasing two books on the same day--I'm intrigued by this idea! Tell us about the decision to release the first two at once.
 
I love that Sterling released the first two books in the series on the same day (August 1st). I don’t know the details about what went into the decision from their perspective, but for me I love it for many reasons. With middle grade series, by the time the next book comes out, you’ve lost some readers who have aged out and are now reading YA. So I love that kids can move right on to the next book if they loved the first. No waiting! I also think the beginning of August is a great time for this. These books are wonderful summer choices for reluctant readers. They’re fun, adventurous, and humorous!
 
What's in store for the next book in the series?
 
After the Gamer Squad saves the town from not-so-virtual monsters in book one, we move from summer to the first month of school. In book two (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE NERD KIND), the kids are hooked on a new game called Alien Invasion. When they go on a field trip to an observatory and play the game too close to a radio telescope, they accidentally summon real aliens to town. And in book three (APP OF THE LIVING DEAD) the kids must save their town from zombies and the game development company that has been causing all this trouble.

~
Thanks so much for joining us, Kim!

Catch up with Kim Harrington online:
 
The synopsis for the first, second, and third books are on Kim's website here: http://www.kimharringtonbooks.com/books-for-kids.html

Thursday, August 3, 2017

8 Words for August

August. It's not a particularly inspiring or noteworthy month -- unless you are noting humidity levels here in the south! Which makes it a perfect writing challenge for students: write a poem about August.

When I do writing workshops, one of the things I have students do is come up with 10 words to describe whatever topic we're writing about. This might generate a list like the following (for "August"):

hot
humid
long
boring
dry
popsicle
dog
swimming
sleepy
sun

...  which is a perfectly fine list! But guess what, students? SCRATCH THROUGH ALL THOSE WORDS. Let's move on to the next ten, and the next! Digging deeper, past the cliches, past the expected, is where all the best poems are buried.

Eventually we might come to these 8 words -- and write a poem:

lake
hazy
eclipse  (for August 2017, at least!)
hope
bridge
weeds
beginning
russet


August

russet weeds
frame sturdy bridge –

our hazy hopes
eclipse the lake
as we row

into a new beginning

- Irene Latham

Indeed, kids start school in these parts next week. Our youngest son is entering his senior year! Which means we will be spending more and more time without kids at our (new-to-us!) lake house. (For more on this, be sure to visit my post today over at Live Your Poem!) If we're lucky, we might even glimpse the eclipse. Either way, August to me is a "bridge month," during which we cross over from summer to fall... from lethargy to productivity... from hazy to crisp. I'm excited!
-----------------

 Irene Latham is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming poetry, fiction and picture books for children and adults, including Leaving Gee's Bend, 2011 ALLA Children's Book of the Year. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she also serves as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal. www.irenelatham.com

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Dialing it Back in Time by Ann Haywood Leal

I'm not going to use the "B" word, or even the "WB" word, because I'm Irish, and inviting blockage of the writerly kind is just plain bad juju.  

So what do you do if you are having trouble accessing that middle-grade or YA voice?    And like many of us, you haven’t been that age in a really long time…
But there are some things that you never forget.  Some things stay with you forever, like . . .  

. . . your most embarrassing moments.

. . . the first time a friend betrayed you.

. . . when you first found that person who “got” you, and you knew you’d be friends forever.

. . . that time you wanted to run away from home.

. . . when you got your first crush and you couldn’t let anyone know, because you were sure that he or she didn’t feel the same way.  (Or he was looking at Sherry and her group of pretend-leather-vinyl-jacket-wearing friends, instead.)

. . . something that absolutely terrified you.

. . . something that made you deliriously happy . . .





My mother saved everything.  If you happen to have old boxes of school projects or writing or ideally, an old diary…or yearbooks or old report cards.  You might find that those middle-grade or young adult memories come rushing back—sometimes with a vengeance!  

Write the book that’s inside of you.  I think your best story comes out when you are not worried about trends or style or genre.  Don’t worry about rules or conventions. 

No matter what your intended audience or genre, I’d like to leave you with a Flannery O’Connor quote:


“I am not afraid that the book will be controversial.  I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”