Monday, April 30, 2012

April Theme: One Writer's Take on Delayed Gratification (Christine Brodien-Jones)

                       "All things are possible until they are proved impossible and 
                              even the impossible may only be so, as of now."  
                                                                                           -Pearl S. Buck

At this year's New England SCBWI Spring Conference, sitting on a panel with my agent Stephen Fraser, I told the audience how many years it had taken to find him, describing the circuitous route of my search, something I blogged about on Smack Dab in the Middle last July.  Summing up, I said I'd like to think that sometimes things just fall into place when the time is right.

But waiting for things to 'fall into place' can take months.  Years.  Perhaps decades.  I wrote The Owl Keeper in 2001 and it was published in 2010, nine years later.  When Stephen asked if I was working on anything else I said yes, thinking of my not-quite-finished novels I'd been writing forever.  I loved each of these books for special reasons and I'd never quite given up on them.  But they dated back a very long time: to another century, in fact.

My next book, The Scorpions of Zahir, comes out in July 2012.  Scorpions first took novel form in 1998, following a family trip to Morocco, where we spent time in Marrakech and the desert.  Morocco had been such an intense experience that the events were scorched indelibly into my brain, or so it has always seemed.  If you do the math, you'll see that Scorpions has taken 14 years to see the light of day.

As for The Glass Puzzle, scheduled for publication in June 2013, well.  Let's just say that I began this novel in the late 1980s, er, on a typewriter.  I still have some of the typewritten pages.  They look sort of like medieval artifacts, all yellowed and brittle.  Of course, Glass Puzzle was a very different book back then.  The final version (still being edited) actually fuses two of my novels: the 1980s book and one I wrote in the early 1990s set in Tenby, Wales, after I'd spent two weeks there.

I thing it's fair to say that the gratification I get from writing has always been delayed.  Years, decades, and once in awhile another century -- it's just a question of time.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Worth the Chore? April theme: by Jen Cervantes

Delayed gratification: Seems like a tall order for our instant access society. Let’s face it-- we can have anything at our fingertips within seconds: music, food, books, photos and the list goes on. As readers, we delay gratification to unravel the plot. As writers—we toil over our words for extended periods of time before experiencing any of the external gratification associated with it, be it positive critiques, publication, good reviews, sales, readership, awards, etc.

Still, we writers also experience the internal gratification of meeting a challenge, working through a hard scene, finding just the right words, and ultimately creating a good story. It’s what our readers expect too—especially when they have to delay gratification to read it as illustrated by this email I received from a young reader:

Dear Ms. Cervantes:
I saw you at my school and wanted to buy your book but I didn’t have money. I asked my mom if I could have it. She said it’s expensive but if I wanted I could do some chores. I think by two more weeks I can order your book. I really really really hope it’s good.

I did hear back from this reader months later; she said the book was worth the chores.
I think so too. :)

I recently found out that TORTILLA SUN has been nominated for the Rhode Island Children's Book Award! Am I gratified to know this? Of course I am. It is always a pleasant pinch me kind of moment when I win an award or hear a great review. But would I write TORTILLA SUN again if I didn’t receive the external rewards? You bet. Because like that young reader, I’m hoping to excavate a good story and the internal satisfaction only that can bring...even if it means lots of chores.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April Theme: ...........................Delayed Gratification

Sometimes I get random e-mails from weird little kids. I like weird little kids (in fact I was once a weird little kid). Their letters often begin with a little praise (always appreciated) and then they often keep writing to inform me of their favorite weird things.
I love these letters. They often show up just when I’m getting discouraged with a project.
The strange things they write often make me laugh out loud. I write them back (with the hopes I will make them laugh out loud too) then I get back to work.
There are a lot of stages in the book making process that bring me joy but these random e-mails have quickly become my favorite part.
The End.
Michael Townsend

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nightmare Factory Giveaway!

by L.A Jones

To celebrate being exactly one week away from The Nightmare Factory release date (May 3rd) Eeeeee *squeal!*, I will be giving away one of my very precious author copies (signed) plus two bookmarks, a dreamcatcher necklace, Nightmare Factory bracelet and a couple of stickers. There are three different ways for you to win. If you do all three, your name will be entered into the hat three times!

1. Leave a comment below = 1 entry

2. Share this link on Facebook of Twitter =  1 more entry

Here's a simple tweet for you to copy and paste: Giveaway!!! Win a copy of The Nightmare Factory by L.A Jones plus loads of swag at Please RT! :)

3. 'Like' the Nightmare Factory page on facebook = another entry!!/pages/The-Nightmare-Factory/145800872166452

 Competition is open internationally until the 6th of May when I will be drawing names from a hat.

Good luck! Here's what's up for grabs:

And here's a bit about the book to wet your appetites...

There's a secret you need to know. A secret about how nightmares are made. Welcome to the Nightmare Factory.
When Andrew Lake and his twin sister Poppy are stolen from their dreams, they find themselves trapped in a strange realm parallel to our own. There, the evil Vesuvius rules over the Nightmare Factory with his army of Shadowmares, extracting fear from children to create nightmares all over the world. But Vesuvius wants more. He wants power. He wants Andrew...
A thrilling adventure story that will leave you gasping for more: compelling, exciting...and just a little bit scary...

For ages 9+ from Orchard Books/Hachette

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April Theme: Acknowledgments

Stephanie J. Blake

Ever since I sold The Marble Queen I've agonized over my long list of people who have helped me in some way on my long journey to publication. While my acknowledgements won't be included in print, here's my chance to thank some important people!

I am especially grateful for my ever-patient editor extraordinaire, Robin Benjamin, who pushed, pulled, and dragged more out of me than I ever thought I could give. Kudos to the whole Marshall Cavendish team.

I’d also like to thank Lisa Graff who was Freedom’s first champion and helped immensely with plot. Thanks also to Steve Malk. It was his critique at the 2007 SCBWI conference that helped me dig even deeper into Freedom’s story.

Much love to all of my trench buddies at Verla Kay’s Blue Board. Much appreciation for the ones who have held me up and kept me going over the years: Brenda Sturgis, Nan Marino, Danette Vigilante, Ingrid Law, Barbara O’Connor, Hilary Sierpinski, Kay Peterson Pluta, Amy Allgeyer Cook, Janel Rodriguez, Kristin Walker, Laurie Boyle Crompton, Robin Prehn, Jennifer Gill, Anne Marie Pace, and Tracy Abell.

Never surrender!

To my high school English teacher, Darcy Garretson, who encouraged me to write from the heart.

To Mary Blake for making sure I have always had a library card.
To my grandfather, Roger Blake. He told me once that I could be anything I wanted to be. To my grandmother who told me that once in a while the dishes can wait.

To my mother, Barbara Bowers, for showing me that it’s okay to be different.
To my boys, Austin, Jett, and Chase. You inspire me every day.

Where would I be without my husband? Sam Firenze, you helped me chase down this dream.
Last, but certainly not least, to my dad, Michael Blake. I can always count on you.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April Theme: Delayed Gratification Can Ruin Your Life by Dia Calhoun

If I were a porcupine, I would shoot all of my quills into the words “delayed gratification.” I loathe even the sound of the words, so test tube, so analytical. Life and joy are to be found in process, not in ends. I speak with authority on this subject because I spent most of my adolescence “delaying gratification” in the hopes of becoming a ballet dancer. While it is useful to know how to work toward a goal, it is not useful if the goal is primary and the life spent getting there is nothing.

If you are writing every day only in the hopes of being rewarded by publication or praise or a new life at some future time, then quit now. Joy, pleasure, fulfillment—reward-- are found in the process of creating and writing your novel—in the flashes of insight that arrive like arrows, in the crafting of a beautiful sentence, in the revelation of character, in the building of a story. Some sage once said that work done without thought of outcome is far superior to work done with thought of outcome. I have found this to be true. I write better if I focus on each word, each paragraph, each chapter, and forget what the agents, editors, reviewers, and readers will think.

If your first thought over your first cup of coffee in the morning is what am I going to get done today? take a good look at how you are living your life. Think instead, “What does this day hold for me? What will I bring to it and what will I find? What will I experience? And then throw those thoughts away too. Just feel the warmth of the cup in your hands; just taste, smell, and drink your coffee.

Then write.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

He-Whos and Internal Gratification (May Theme): Holly Schindler

Shortly after inking my very first book deal, I began to meet them: the dreaded He-Whos (enter demonic, minor-sounding organ chords here).

Yes, the He-Whos. What, exactly, is a He-Who, you might ask? Not to be confused with a yahoo or a nincompoop (although, according to some sources, the definitions overlap somewhat), a He-Who is a very sneaky creature whose natural habitat is a would-be author’s personal life. In most cases, said He-Who has been in a struggling author’s life for quite some time—years, some of them—playing the role of Supportive Confidant. Upon the announcement of an author’s long-awaited book deal, the face of said Supportive Confidant melts into a giant fiery pile of slime, exposing the dreaded, nasty, much-feared He-Who underneath.

A He-Who takes many different forms. The He-Whos I’ve encountered fall into three basic categories:

1). He who shows some initial interest when you announce your book sale, but when you disclose that it’s a YA or MG, he raises his lip off his teeth, lets out an, “Ew,” and explains, “I only read high-quality, serious works of literature. I do not read children’s books.” This statement is expressed rather emphatically, while rolling the “r”s, puffing on an antique scrimshaw pipe, and gesturing wildly to flash the professorly suede elbow patches on his coat. (This He-Who also has the same reaction to any other subcategory of genre fiction: romance, sci-fi, mystery, etc.)

2). He who does not have any interest in your book, but—OMG! He just happens to have a manuscript himself! And it’s awesome! And you should read it—and while you’re at it, rewrite it! And then give it to your publisher! Wouldn’t that rock???

3). He who is just so busy, he does not have the time to read your book—even though the book was released three years ago, and this particular He-Who has also watched every single episode of My Big Redneck Wedding, sends you emails with links to “hilarious” YouTube vids three times a day, and has repeatedly called to inform you that he has discovered the best way to mow a lawn: with manicure scissors.

Okay, all right, so I’m being a bit flip in my descriptions…But honestly, these people really do exist. These reactions—or some version of them, anyway—really do happen. I can’t say I understand it, two years after my first book hit the shelves, two years after the He-Whos started showing their faces. I might even think I was alone in the whole He-Who thing, had I not run into articles online and in print in which authors described similar experiences. Knowing this is an unfortunate part of the gig, I slowly began to develop a methodology for dealing:

Treat He-Whos the same way you treated early rejections. Okay, so a personal rejection stings worse than a professional one. But the point is, you didn’t let one professional “no”—or, if you’re like me, more than a thousand professional “no”s—derail you. You screamed at times, you shed a few tears, but then you put it away and you went back to work. You didn’t dwell on one response. You also didn’t let it convince you that your pursuits weren’t worthwhile. You didn’t let it convince you that everyone would have the same reaction to your work. You didn’t stop trying, and you didn’t stop sharing. And, most importantly, you didn’t let a few—or hundredsof rejections dim your own internal gratification. Not the internal gratification you felt for having created a novel you loved. You were proud of yourself then, regardless of the final external response from an editor or agent. You maintained your own internal gratification while letting those rejections push you increasingly closer to your first “yes.”

There’s no predicting how people will react to anything—as authors, we spend so much time with complete control over our characters and our internal worlds, it’s a surprise when our external worlds don’t quite behave like we’d expected or hoped. But the great part is, though, that not everyone is a He-Who. And just as your rejections pushed you closer to finding the right “home” for your work, always allow the He-Whos to push you closer to those who are supportive, are truly happy for you, every step of the way. In my case, unending support and cheering wound up filtering into my life from all sorts of different corners. It came from my mom and brother, who had supported me all along the journey, and it came from some (now infinitely appreciated) old friends, from fellow authors, fantastic local librarians, from bloggers and reviewers—and eventually fans! It even came from some unexpected sources (like old classmates who sent messages through my website to congratulate me).

As we’ve seen in posts throughout the month, learning to deal with delayed gratification is a must for every author. But I’d also argue that learning to maintain your internal gratification is just as—if not more—important. That internal gratification—that self-pride—will get you through most anything, in your writing career. It will get you through any of the inevitable low points: rejections or less-than-glowing reviews or lower-than-expected sales numbers, etc. That internal gratification will often be your lifeblood, as an author, and is far too precious to ever, ever be handed off to some old He-Who.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April Theme: Waiting for May Flowers (Sarah Dooley)

It seems simple, and it seems to apply to a lot of things in life, including the path to a published novel: April showers bring May flowers.

So it's easy to look forward to May. In May, the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining and everything is beautiful. Your book sits on a shelf -- or better yet, is absent from the shelf, snatched up by eager teachers and savvy reviewers and, best of all, actual twelve-year-olds. Your characters no longer exist only inside your head. They breathe. They're out in the world. Kids are writing book reports about them.

Sometimes, when you're waiting and working and slogging through the mud, trying to get to the May flowers of publishing, it's important to keep something in mind:

After May is June.

June is when the heat sets in. June can be dry and hot and long and the stinkin' flowers need watered every day. You've got to weed and prune and get ready to harvest. Maybe you have some planting that needs done for next year, too. So you drag your watering can and your gardening shears, trying to keep the delicate buds of creativity intact when all you want to do some days is let them wilt -- while you collapse in the shade with a lemonade, and, for Heaven's sake, somebody else's book.

Then, just when the June heat seems unbearable, fall blows in. With its crisp and cool and new. Teachers asking you to do school visits. Libraries inviting you in to speak. And still you're planting for next year. All year round, you're planting.

The job of writing is never done, and the funny thing about it is that you oftentimes find yourself in several seasons all at once. There is the waiting and the worrying and the hoping, the day-to-day slogging through the mud of self-doubt, of character-doubt, of book-doubt, the April showers -- all mixed up with the brilliance of May flowers, the glimpses of cover art, of your book on a shelf, of a positive review, of the words "checked out" on a library's website. And right along with that is the dry spell, the tired, hard work to promote, to stay excited, even when nothing seems to be happening and you think surely the ground is too dry to grow a thing, and you're wondering where on Earth the next handful of seeds is going to come from --

But they always do.

Keep at it. Plant and plant until you've got a page or two in every season. A dizzying swirl of leaves and petals and raindrops and sunshine. A whirlwind of seasons to savor, each one something special.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April Theme: Delayed Gratification (Stephanie Burgis)

I have to admit, when I sat down to write a post on this month's theme (delayed gratification), I almost started laughing. There was just too much to choose from - because honestly, what part of publishing is NOT about delayed gratification?

Here are just a few of the things that have popped up most recently:

  • I just saw the beautiful American cover image for my third book, Stolen Magic - but I won't be able to share the image publicly for weeks, if not months, and the book won't be out until April 2013...

  • I found out that (for really excellent reasons), the British edition of that book (called A Reckless Magick in the UK) is going to be published two months later than originally planned, in October instead of August this year...

  • I'm working on a brand-new novel that neither my agent nor my editor has seen yet...which means that I won't even know for several months (at the earliest!) whether or not it will ever be published at all.

Given that all of these are pretty much everyday scenarios in publishing, you might well wonder: am I a naturally patient person who deals happily and calmly with delayed gratification?


Or in other words: NO. I hate even having to wait an extra day or two to read a new book from one of my favorite authors! Patience is anything but my middle name.

But guess what? There's a good reason that I've learned to deal with delayed gratification in publishing: because the results are SO worthwhile.

In August 2008, I finished the first draft of my second Kat Stephenson novel, Renegade Magic. Two weeks ago - almost four years after that initial draft was finished! - Renegade Magic was finally published in the US, on the same day that my first book, Kat, Incorrigible, came out in paperback.

When I looked at the first photos of those two books together on American bookshelves, did I think of how long I'd had to wait to see them there? No. All I thought about was how wonderful it was that the miracle had happened...

...and oh, yes: the wait was totally worth it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Material by Bob Krech (April Theme)

A lot of different things happen to all of us. Some good things. Some bad things. One big plus of being an author is that all of it, good and bad, can be mined for material.

This past Monday my wife, son, and I were driving from Hilton Head, South Carolina to Elon, North Carolina. We were bringing my son back to Elon University after an Easter weekend together down in Hilton Head. My daughter had left us Sunday night to return to Guilford College in Greensboro as she had an early class on Monday.

We were about four hours into the trip, just as night was coming on, on a very empty road just north of Cheraw, SC (can you see where this is going?) when smoke started pouring out from under the hood. We pulled off into an empty parking lot in front of the long abandon Club 100. Thank goodness for cell phones, GPS, and AAA. Within an hour we were in a tow truck on our way to Rockingham, NC and the Rockingham Garage.

I was hoping it was just a hose, but in fact, the radiator had cracked on our 2001 Mazda MPV. Which meant we were not going anywhere right away. That evening and the next day we delved into the automotive world of Rockingham. I found out a lot about area NASCAR, hotels, dogs, riding lawn mower races, long haul trucking, the tow truck business, and engine computer sensors. I met a cast of characters and heard a lot of stories from them that will no doubt find their way into my writing somewhere down the line. They were too rich and colorful not to.

If given the choice, I would much rather have not had the cracked radiator (especially because they are not cheap!) However, I did get a boatload of new material and some very interesting experiences. Those April showers, if paid attention to, can bring May flowers in future writing endeavors. I mean, who knew there were riding lawn mower races?! I bet there hasn't been a book about that yet.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lovely May Flowers (April theme: April Showers)

The writing life is full of April showers that bring May flowers—those tough times you have to live through that ultimately blossom into something unexpected. Here are some of mine:

I submitted a picture-book manuscript for critique to an editor at an SCBWI conference. She liked it but didn’t love it. I was her last critique of the day, and as we were leaving the room, she asked, “Are you working on anything else?” I told her about my work in progress, and she politely said, “That sounds interesting.” When I finished the manuscript a year later I sent it to her with a cover letter that started, “Since you expressed interest in this project . . . ” (She didn’t; I swear she was merely being courteous!) That turned into my first published novel, Anna of Byzantium.

The editor of that first novel was scathing about my second, saying things that nearly made me quit writing. At the urging of my critique group and against my will, I resubmitted it to different editors, a total of 23 times. No. 24 took it; Cold in Summer got good reviews and some nice awards, is still selling nine years later, and I’ve had a wonderful relationship with that editor ever since. She’s published a total of eight of my novels now.

But she doesn’t take everything. I had a completed manuscript that I loved, and she didn’t. Her reasons for not liking it were persuasive, so I abandoned it, but I’ve plundered that sucker for characters, scenes, descriptions, conflicts that I’ve used successfully in other books.

I wrote about fifty pages on a manuscript set in the Viking age. My editor and agent liked it a lot and urged me to complete it. I won the SCBWI Work-in-Progress grant for it. But I just can’t write the story—I can’t relate to the Vikings, no matter how much research I do on them. But I love the character and her situation, so I’ve re-set the story in the Mediterranean world, which is much more familiar to me, and have almost completed it. Will it be successful? That remains to be seen, but I’m having a wonderful time writing it.

Every rejection or negative review hurts, but sometimes the payoff is better than the original goal.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where's My Funny Hat? (Lisa Graff)

Today is a very special day for me: Publication Day!

That's right, my fifth novel is finally, officially out in the world, and I'm very excited about it. There are all sorts of ways to celebrate big milestones in life: cake and funny hats for birthdays, long ceremonies and funny hats for graduations, and champagne (sans funny hats) for anniversaries. So how does a writer celebrate a book release?

Well, to celebrate the release of DOUBLE DOG DARE, I have decided to throw a contest. (What's more fun than a contest??) And because Rube Goldberg Machines play a big role in my book, this contest is a Rube Goldberg Machine making contest. It's open to kids ages 6-13, and all the information can be found in this video:

[Side note: Isn't it amazing how YouTube can manage to pinpoint the absolute least flattering still-shot of you in whatever video you upload to use as its thumbnail??]

For a full list of contest rules, and to enter, check out my website. Or check out the entries as they roll in on the official Double Dog Dare contest YouTube channel.

As if that weren't enough celebrating, I'm also doing a whirlwind blog tour, where I'm giving away lots of free copies of DOUBLE DOG DARE. Follow along for many chances to win! Here are the blog tour stops:

Tuesday, April 10th: Mundie Kids
Sunday, April 15th: Pragmatic Mom
Monday, April 16th: Novel Novice
Wednesday, April 18th: From the Mixed-Up Files . . .
Thursday, April 19th: Greetings From Nowhere
Friday, April 20th: Reading Everywhere

. . . And for the final bit of celebrating, I'd like to give away one copy of DOUBLE DOG DARE to a Smack Dab blog reader! Just leave a note in the comments about how you like to celebrate big events, and you'll be entered to win the giveaway. The winner will be chosen at random on May 1st.

**Update: The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Augusta!**

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Oh, Gratification? There You Are! (Jody Feldman's Take on the April Theme)

It’s no secret that I wrote the first word of my first published novel approximately 17 years before it was accepted and almost 19 years before The Gollywhopper Games finally came out.

I expected some delay in getting the positive feedback I wanted, but I never expected to wait that long. At least the good stuff finally came ... including, but not limited to, The Call, the privilege of working with editors, the three (yes, 3) cover reveals, the first school visit, the first fan letter, the first state list ... and in between, all the smaller things that erased much of the negatives that had badgered me for so long.

Long ago I learned, especially in the writing world, you need to embrace gratification whenever you can. This is basically a business of rejection. Whether it’s us pooh-poohing our own ideas, publishers rejecting our stories, or readers passing our books in favor of someone else’s, it’s there. But there’s also so much good.

From the start, I knew what I’d gotten myself into. So I celebrated the smallest victories ... positive feedback from critique groups, personal rejections, new inspirations, family accomplishments, a good batch of cookies. Everything inside and outside the writing world.

These days, I’m celebrating bigger. The little inspiration that came barreling toward me in 1989, the one that became The Gollywhopper Games? It’s paying out even more than I could have imagined. My wonderful publisher said yes, write a Gollywhopper 2. And while you’re at it, throw in our order for a Gollywhopper 3.

Nineteen years? It’s all in the past.

Monday, April 9, 2012

April Theme, "There's a Unicorn in my Rainbow", by Platte F. Clark

April is a happening month. I’m not saying that just because my birthday is on April 1st. Here’s what it’s like being born on April Fools’ Day:

“So you coming to my birthday party tomorrow?”
“Isn’t tomorrow April Fools’ Day?”
“Yeah, but it’s also my birthday. Seriously.”
“Uh huh.”
“There’ll be cake and stuff.”
“Maybe a clown. I think I heard my mom on the phone ordering a clown.”
“Oh, right.”
“So, uh, you’re coming right?”
“Of course! I’m totally going to go buy you a birthday present and give it to you tomorrow. Totally.”

And if “awesome” meant being alone with a clown and a bunch of cake, then it totally was. Which it wasn’t.

One of the recent April showers for me was going though the process of working on the name of my forthcoming book. I say showers because it felt a little like standing outside as a thunderclap opened up over my head. What I’m learning is that you probably shouldn’t get too invested in the name of your book—at least not upfront. Your editor, your publisher, and the marketing and sales folks are going to have a lot of input and a rubber-hits-the-road perspective (for example, they’re quick to point out that a name like The Winter of My Despondency is not that funny sounding). Turns out my feeling of being rained on was more a result of my long history of living with my notion of the title in my head, than whether or not I was making the right choice. That’s a lot of time and emotion to overcome, and why I suggest thinking of your book name as a placeholder (unless you’re way better at naming books than I am — which you probably are.)

In my case, Max Spencer and the Codex of Infinite Knowability was ultimately changed to Bad Unicorn. This was first proposed by my editor at Simon & Schuster and then followed by a whole-hearted endorsement from my agent. And despite my initial feeling of getting rained on, it turns out they were right. One small piece of anecdotal evidence I have for this is that my film agent had been pitching the book with the original name to several studios. One studio that had passed on it, read about the deal under the new name and promptly sent a request for the manuscript. I think that’s a good sign, and goes to show that despite whatever artistic angst I could have mustered up to the contrary, my editor and agent know a thing or two about how these things work.

Often what feels like a proverbial shower may actually have a nifty rainbow at the end — especially if you trust the people around you. In my case, that rainbow included a unicorn that likes to gore things with her horn — bonus!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April Theme: April Showers, May Flowers, and a Giveaway by John Claude Bemis

This May, my newest novel The Prince Who Fell from the Sky will hit the shelves. This was hardly something a month of April showers helped to grow. In fact, I remember an April three years ago when the idea for this story first emerged.

Part of my writing routine is to get back in the woods. Wandering around in nature is a wonderful way for me to work out ideas and get my creativity going. One of my favorite spots is an old NASCAR racetrack near my house that was closed back in the 1960s. In the nearly fifty years since the track was abandoned, nature has completely taken back over. What was once a cleared in-field is now a forest. Crumbling grand-stands and collapsed concession stands rise like ancient ruins among the brambles and trees.

It was around this time I heard a story on NPR about a nonfiction book of speculative science called The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. In it Weisman discusses what would happen to skyscrapers, subway systems, and suburban neighborhoods without humans around to maintain them. Nature would take back over.

I’ve always been a huge fan of animal fantasies. Some of my favorite books growing up were Watership Down, The Jungle Book, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. On my walks at the old speedway, a story began to arise. A future world where humans are gone and the forest has grown over our ruins. Big predators like wolves and bears have taken back over in our absence. They tell legends about the “Skinless Ones” who once subjected them to terrible cruelties.

Week after week, I’d take breaks from my work on the Clockwork Dark series to get back in the woods and dream up more about this post-apocalyptic animal Eden. I discovered a bear, a powerful motherly figure, who is treated as an outcast because her litters have all been stillborn. She longs to raise a cub of her own. Then one day a starship crashes in the forest. The lone survivor is a boy…a “Skinless One.”

So the idea that had begun as a fascination with the resilience of nature had grown into a captivating situation and then into a character I cared about—this bear Casseomae who decides to protect and raise a human-cub. I realized I had a story. The Prince Who Fell from the Sky was born.

Now, I’m thrilled for readers to finally have a chance to meet Casseomae and her human cub. They face enormous dangers, in particular from the wolves who rule the forest and see humans as a threat. Fortunately Casseomae meets a pair of companions: a street-smart rat named Dumpster and a dog named Pang who longs for the old days when his kind lived among humans. The three must find a safe haven for the boy if he is to survive. But what does this human’s arrival mean for the animals' beloved Forest? Readers will find out this May. And in the meantime, those April showers are hard a work in my imagination bringing a new story to life. But that’s for another May...


If you want a chance to win an advance copy of The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, make a comment here under my post or send me an email at by Sunday, April 15th. The winner will be selected at random next Monday morning and announced here on Smack Dab as well as on my website To be considered you must be a follower of Smack Dab in the Middle and a resident of the United States or Canada.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Waves of Light (Naomi Kinsman)

Everyone knows no party is complete without games and party favors!

So, in celebration of this month's release of my third book in the From Sadie's Sketchbook series, Waves of Light, we've launched a writing contest for young writers (yep, there's the game--grand prize is a Kindle Fire!) and I'm giving away a signed set of the first three books in the series right here on the Smack Dab blog (you've got it--there's the favors!)

So first things first: What's Waves of Light about, anyway?

Sadie Douglas has already had an exceptional seventh grade year. She moved from Menlo Park, CA to Owl Creek, MI, expecting a grand adventure in the Great North woods. However, her dad's job, mediating between hunters and a researcher studying the black bears, landed Sadie right in the middle of a huge community dispute. As Sadie began to settle in, she unwittingly stepped on the wrong toes, making things worse. On the up side, Sadie did make a few loyal friends, including the researcher's very good-looking son. Sadie also met an artist who inspired her to look at the world with an artist's eyes, and record what she saw in her sketchbook. Unfortunately, when Sadie started looking close, she realized deciding who to trust and what to stand up for wasn't as black and white as she once thought. And now, in Waves of Light, when Sadie finally feels like she's found her place in Owl Creek, everything turns upside down again when her art teacher's house is destroyed by a flash flood. Once again, Sadie has to decide what she believes, when everything that once seemed solid begins to crumble.

"Kinsman offers a realistic and nuanced rendering that works for readers who want to know about the role of Christian faith in a young person's development, as well as those who like a fresh story about the journey of growing up." -- Publishers Weekly

All right, now for the contest:

Young writers, up to age 16 are invited to write a story, poem or essay, up to 500 words, for the chance to win a Kindle Fire! Check out my website for the full scoop on the contest and how to submit.

And for your party favor?

For a chance to win the signed set of the first three Sadie books, Shades of Truth, Flickering Hope, and Waves of Light, send an email to naomi at naomikinsman dot com. The winner will be chosen and announced on May 1.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

April Theme: Waiting for the Clouds to Part (Trudi Trueit)

There is a great emotional build-up to the publication of your first book! Even though my first children’s titles weren’t blockbuster fiction—just a four-book nonfiction weather series for Scholastic Library Press—it was the thrill of a lifetime! The books were beautifully designed with big, glossy photos in a fun, engaging format. True, they were meant for libraries, but with my public relations background (a.k.a. eternal optimism) I felt sure bookstores would want to carry them, too. After all, didn’t kids come in to the store, eager to learn more about eye-catching Clouds, wild Rain, Hail, and Snow, and daredevil Storm Chasers?

Sadly, the reception from booksellers was cool (that's putting it mildly). Fiction was their bread and butter. Despite my promotional olive branch to show up anywhere, any time to sign any thing, I never got a call-back. I did not get a single invitation to an educator event, children’s festival, book signing, or writing workshop. No one, it seemed, shared my passion for all things factual. It was disappointing. Of course, it did not deter me from the genre I loved. If there was not a drop of glory, in nonfiction, so be it. I continued on my writing journey, happily turning out books on everything from the history of Gunpowder to Keeping a Journal to Octopuses, Squids, and Cuttlefish (ah, the diversity of nonfiction!). 

One day, a local middle school librarian called to ask if I would attend her school's career fair (I had just published my first fiction novel, so my work was starting to get a bit more attention). I agreed to go. On the appointed day, I arrived at the cafeteria and set up my books in the booth, making sure my one and only fiction novel was prominently displayed so the kids could see I was a ‘real’ author. Students had begun to fill the cafeteria when a shout rose above the din. “Trudi Strain Trueit!”
I spun to see a boy about 12 years old charging toward me. “Are you Trudi Trueit? The author?"
"I used your book, Rocks, Gems, and Minerals for a report I did. And I got an A! I just wanted to say thanks.”
“Uh  .   .  .  you’re welcome.”
“Can I have your autograph?”
I was stunned.
Was he serious? My autograph. The girl who had written an earth science book? Was he sure?
He held out a pen. Okay!
His excitement had drawn a small crowd and they were curious.
“Where did you get all those facts for your earthquake book?”
“Do you choose your own photos?”
“How long does it take to write a nonfiction book?”
“Do you come up with all the ideas yourself?”
I spent the afternoon talking about my work, signing autographs, and meeting readers who knew my books by name. It was exhilarating!

It didn’t take me long to realize what was going on. All this time, while booksellers had shown little interest in my books, students had been reading them. My readership was being cultivated, thanks to enthusiastic school and public librarians (who were, and will always be, my heroes). I also learned that children, especially boys, LOVE facts as much as I do. They devour books about volcanoes, fossils, reptiles, squirrels, and Viking shipbuilding (all topics I have written books about).

Today, I am pleased to share that librarians ask me to talk to students about nonfiction almost as often as they request fiction. Boys and girls write to me about their ambitions to one day become a nonfiction author. And in my Skype sessions, nonfiction now tops fiction as the most popular topic of choice. At long last, the proverbial clouds have parted.

Now, if I could just get booksellers to see the value of children’s nonfiction, I’d need sunglasses!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Interview: Augusta Scattergood, author of GLORY BE

Ever heard of a little book/movie called THE HELP?

Well, Augusta Scattergood's lovely novel GLORY BE is also set in 1960s Mississippi and addresses race issues. The main character, almost-12-year-old Glory, brings a fresh, young perspective to the era and the issues. I'm excited to share with you today some behind-the-scenes information from Augusta Scattergood herself.

Weclome, Augusta! First off, and in keeping with our April theme: Did you experience any "April showers" during your journey to publication that eventually led to May flowers?

Yes! When I speak to school kids and ask if any of them were born in 2001, not all the hands go up. When I tell them that's when my novel was born, so to speak, they are astounded. My first thoughts about writing GLORY BE came to me while I was still a school librarian in New Jersey, the spring of 2001. I worked on other things, but I kept coming back to this story. So thinking about waiting for those May flowers? Yes, it can take a while for them to really blossom!

Emma is a black house maid working for a white family in GLORY BE. Was there an Emma in your life?

There absolutely was. Her name was Alice. She worked for our family all my life, and we shared our much loved Nancy Drew books. There was another woman who worked for my best friend's family, and her name was actually Emma. My fictional black house maid is a combination of several people I knew.

The new girl Laura Lampert lifts a black child to a white drinking fountain, which, at the time, was a daring thing to do. Tell us about a brave moment in your life.

When you think about it, at least in my novel, for Laura it seemed a perfectly normal thing to do. She'd never seen black water fountains and whites only fountains. For Glory it was unheard of.

One of the reasons I wanted to write this story was that I didn't have those kinds of brave moments. Growing up in the Deep South in the 50s and early 60s, I would never have done the things Glory does. I hoped to make her braver than I ever was. I was adventurous in many ways, outspoken in some, but not truly brave as a young girl. I did what I was told. At least when I was Glory's age.
I love that Glory's birthday is July 4. Do you have a 4th of July birthday (or know someone who does)?

I don't! But I do have a summer birthday, and swimming parties at our local pool were always a favorite. I understood how upset a child might be if her pool were to close in the summer, especially if it interfered with her birthday. I struggled with the idea that Glory was so unaware of the situation and would rant against the closing of the pool merely because she'd miss her 12th birthday party. That seemed like such a trite reaction in that very serious time. So I tried to make her begin to realize, as the days before her birthday passed, that there was more to closing a pool than cancelling birthday plans.

In your acknowledgments you mention Eudora Welty as a favorite writer. If you had to recommend one of her titles to readers unfamiliar with her work, which book would it be and why?

When I was much younger and about to be married, I read Delta Wedding more than once! I lived in the Mississippi Delta and married a Yankee. I recommended it to quite a few friends and family coming to Mississippi for the first time. But I really love her short stories, and my favorite story of Miss Welty's is Why I Live at the P.O. I can hear her characters speak. I love what they say.

Many writers struggle with fear along the writing/publishing journey. Is there a particularly fearful moment in your journey writing/publishing GLORY BE?

Having been a school librarian most of my career, I wanted to make the story believable and did a  lot of research at the beginning of my writing process. I've always read a lot about the 60s in the South. I found some terrific oral history documents on the website of the Library of Congress and the archives of the University of North Carolina's archives. (I have a particular fondness for both libraries and especially UNC- my alma mater.) While I was writing this novel, I heard the voices so clearly, but I wanted verification that not only the sounds I heard but also the content was true.

Near the end, while editing, I literally called/ emailed/ spoke to almost everybody in my circle of friends and family about specifics of growing up in Mississippi and the South. My brother-in-law about football, my sister about Junk Poker and everything else, my friends about words like doodlebug and Pure-D, a friend who lives in the town where I grew up about whether there's still a taxi business there and if my memory of their being one in the 60s was true.

I asked my college roommate whether this could have happened in the South, when I worried that no white girl in 1964 would have been as brave as Glory. I asked my former neighbor, a Preacher's Kid herself, whether her church would have produced such an outspoken kid.

Then I struggled some more. Thought a lot. Worried, revised, rewrote. In the end, I decided to give Glory a lot more of what my grandmother called gumption than we all had ourselves.

Anything else you would like readers to know?

True confessions? I was in the Pep Squad myself but did not wear tasseled boots. I had a college roommate who knew how to twirl a fire baton. While I wasn't exactly envious, I did think that was pretty cool.

I love pimento cheese.

I had a huge crush on Elvis, and—believe it or not—I once was an Elvis impersonator. Fortunately, no pictures survived the experience.

 Thank you, Augusta!

Readers: GLORY BE is Augusta's first novel. But you might have seen her book reviews in Delta Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and various blogs and websites. She's also written for Highlights Magazine, Skirt! Magazine, and Mississippi Magazine.

If you have any further questions for Augusta, please leave them in comments!