Thursday, September 20, 2018

An Author Field Trip, For Real

As a former teacher, I planned plenty of field trips - a nature walk in the arboretum, a visit to the zoo, or an afternoon spent at a health museum learning about the digestive system.  But on those trips, though they were fun, my role as the teacher was to be the one responsible.  For everyone.  Students, room parents, and bus drivers.  Yes, learning something was paramount; but, to be realistic, returning to school with the same number of students I had left with was absolutely the ONLY way the day would be a success.  :) That's a big responsibility, even on a good day when everything goes as planned, and as we know, life doesn't always go as planned.

That's why, when I become an author and planned field trips that were just for me, field trips took on a whole new meaning.  Responsible only for myself (and my husband if he happened to like whatever adventure I was going on), I got to head out into the world in search of first-hand knowledge and experiences that would help me be more inspired and authentic in my writing.

The trips I took to the Okefenokee Swamp for my most recent book, Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, are perfect examples of how amazing author field trips can be.  And though I wouldn't really want to be responsible for you, especially in a place like the Okefenokee Swamp, I wish everyone could visit this hidden-gem-of-a-place.  To give you a little taste of how amazing my trips to the swamp were, here are some photos:

The Okefenokee Swamp is in the southeastern part of the state of Georgia. There are three places where visitors can enter the swamp and experience its wonders.

The Okefenokee has plenty of adventure.
And it's for real!

Before the Okefenokee became a national wildlife refuge, settlers, called swampers, lived there. Some of the park volunteers grew up in and around the swamp. They happily shared tidbits and stories of the lives they lived as swampers.

Several swamper homesteads have been preserved so that visitors can see what swamper life was really like.

To me, the Okefenokee is a wonderful and mysterious place with a rich and unique history - the perfect setting for a story. My author field trips provided inspiration and firsthand experience about the Okefenokee and the swampers who lived there so that I could tell an authentic story.

Elsie Mae Has Something to Say is the story of how one girl, on the way to becoming a hero, finds out that even when you succeed in saving something for the good of all, there still might be a price everyone has to pay; and sometimes in the end, it might be hard to know if it was all worth it.

So if there's something you'd like to write about, or maybe just something you want to experience or know more about, plan a field trip of your own because field trips aren't just for kids.

Travel on,

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Where I Write

“You’re in my spot.”

 If anyone has tuned into the comedy, The Big Bang Theory, you’ve seen Sheldon and his obsession with his favorite spot.

I also have favorite spots. Especially when I write.

It has, actually, become a slight problem in the past. I once took to writing a novel on my sun porch. It was spring, and the afternoons were sunny and pleasantly warm. Perfectly fine in May, but by July when I was steadfast that I had to keep writing that novel on the sun porch, it was a scorching 98 degrees with zero breeze. Not to mention, I did not have a comfortable office chair, but instead a metal folding chair. You can imagine my comfort level as I pounded away on my laptop in determination.

There are other times I make a more solid choice of writing in a quiet office where I can control the temperature. If, however, I make the decision to have a cup of mint tea on a good writing day, you can bet I’ll be fixing mint tea for the duration of that manuscript.

Sidebar: I’m sick of mint tea.

Perhaps most steadfast in location is my cat, Boots. Boots has inspired my middle grade novels, about a curious cat-turned-detective. No matter where I am in the house, Boots has a cat tree. Or, as I like to call it when I’m working, his Perch of Judgement. He watches me diligently typing away, his elegant and bright green eyes drilling into me if I get stuck on a plot point or bit of dialogue.

He rarely offers advice.

I tend to be slightly high-strung and a person who sticks to routine. Maybe it’s stability, or maybe it’s even slightly superstitious when I’m writing that I apply those same principles.

At rare times, I’ll take myself out of the house to write at a coffeeshop. This can be dangerous as many of those delicious lattes are not only high in caffeine and price but also caloric value. No writer wants to vibrate the rest of the day, especially if they are already penning an intense plot.

I have learned little from where I write and what it means to my writing process outside of: Writer beware.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My Best Writing Field Trip Ever

My best writing field trip wasn't the one that was the most fun when it happened, nor the one that produced the best published chapter as a result. It was the one that gave me the best material for school visits, from which I have squeezed out every droplet of benefit for many happy years.

It was the time my writer friend Leslie and I spent an afternoon together trying to explode a pickle.

As I was writing Fractions = Trouble! I knew the book would have a science-fair subplot.
I adore science fairs, and to date I have at least three published books where I managed to work one into the story. So off I trotted to my sons' former elementary school on the day of the science fair, notebook in hand, to record the funniest, weirdest, craziest science projects on display. I gave a squeal of joy at this one, where a fifth-grade boy set out to answer the question: "At what temperature does a pickle explode?"

I drafted the chapter where Wilson and his best friend Josh try- and fail - to explode the pickle and then shared it with my writing group. They loved the premise, but not the execution. They wanted more details involving the pickle: what did it look like? smell like? sound like? Alas, I had to confess I had no further details to offer, because I myself had never tried to explode a pickle. "Oh," they said. "You need to do that."

But. . . but . . .

"Come over to my house," Leslie offered. "We'll explode it there."

I bought a big jar of pickles and presented myself at Leslie's door.
We put pickle number one in the oven and cranked up the heat: 350 degrees, 400, 450, 500, and then finally 550 degrees, as hot as an oven could go. The pickle turned black. He began to smoke. When we finally rescued him, he weighed absolutely nothing, as all the water had evaporated out of him. He was a mere hollow pickle skeleton.

We put pickle number two in a pot of water and boiled him for an hour. He came out fresh as a daisy, not at all minding a pleasant soak in the pickle hot tub.

Then we put pickle number three in the microwave and set the timer for twenty minutes, during which time the pickle turned gray and pimply, lost all his moisture to evaporation. . . and shorted out the microwave, which ended up requiring a $200 repair.

But now I had my pickle details for the book! AND the favorite story, by far, of all I share during school assemblies. In fact, it was a kid in one assembly who gave me the line about the pickle hot tub, which has become the biggest laugh line in the program.

Here are the three pickles in all their glory.
So hooray for field trips - not only because they improve our writing, but because they can enrich our school visits, too.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

This Magnificent Madness!

One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien The Return of the King

Last time I wrote about my ongoing search for a new agent. Until my stories find this champion, I continue to study in hopes of mastering my craft.  In my ongoing quest, I returned to an old favorite, a steady, inspirational read by Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey (Michael Wiese Productions, 1992)

While the book explores the monomyth, made famous by Joseph Campbell, and its impact in the storytelling process, Vogler expands the myth to include the writer herself. Every storyteller bends this archetypal pattern to her own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces, states Vogler. But at the heart of the story is always a journey.

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 

The hero’s journey, you may remember, is found in all sorts of storytelling, most especially in adolescent and young adult. The profound truth of adolescence is the separation from parent, the search for uniqueness and the triumphant integrating into wholeness – the return to being. You can see how this hero’s journey is mapped out in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief.

Writers go on a similar journey, states Vogler. In fact, as he states, “The hero’s journey and the writer’s journey are one and the same.”

Most writers I know received their call to adventure at a young age. George Orwell knew he wanted to be a writer by the time he was five. Neil Gaiman also discovered his love of story at a young age, describing himself as “a feral child who was raised in libraries.” J.K. Rowling wrote her first story at age six, a book about a rabbit with measles. Raised by her grandparents, Lucy Maud Montgomery battled a debilitating sense of loneliness by creating imaginary friends, Katie Maurice and Lucy Gray, who lived in a fairy room behind a bookcase.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 

Writing is certainly hard work, “a perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one soul.” It is a fearsome process, no matter how many books one has under their belts. Sue Grafton, author of the wildly popular Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series, once stated, “Most days when I sit down at my computer, I’m scared half out of my mind.” The mighty Stephen King noted, “I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing – that it won’t come up for me, or I won’t be able to finish it.” Even the mythic J.R.R. Tolkien said, as the first book of his iconic series was published, “It is written in my life-blood…I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.”

So why write, we ask ourselves? We go through all this agony!

Says Mary Karr (The Liar’s Club), “I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world.”

Vogler shows that anyone – new as well as established writers – who sets out to write a story encounters all the trials and tribulations, joys and rewards of the hero’s journey.

A writer encounters her trickster, taking shape as computer problems, doctor appointments and time management issues, and other “enemies of the status quo that also bring perspective on the process.

A writer meets the grumpy threshold guardian in the form of our inner and relentless judgments of our work. The tension rises as we face the searing remarks of a reviewer, a copyeditor, an agent, or an editor. And finally, we cross the Rubicon. We are published. But the journey is just beginning, as we “fully enter the mysterious, exciting Special World” of a published writer. The ordeals become all the more exhausting as we face deadlines and revisions and constant rejections. As we build our platforms and speak – holy moly! – to readers. And our beloveds go out of print, and favorite editors retire, and the rise of the internet dragons.

Along the way, if we are lucky, we meet our sidekicks, our Dr. Watson, our Clara Oswald, our Hermione Granger.  Our Samwise Gamgee. Sometimes, we meet our Dumbledore or Gandolf wielding his magic purple crayon, the sage who gives advice, who tells us to keep going, just keep swimming. Don’t give up.

Take hope, states Vogler, “for writing is magic. Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural…We can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts. The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended.”

“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers 

Happy journeys to you!

--Bobbi Miller 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Listening for great snippets of dialogue, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Our blog topic this month is about field trips; more specifically, where we like to write. But here's the deal: I write and revise at home. Routine and familiarity suit me and my work. I've found, through trial and error, that coffee shops are too loud and distracting, and have the inherent risk of hot beverage spills and muffin bits that get stuck in those temperamental laptop keys. Anywhere outdoors is always fraught with assorted dogs/bugs/humidity/sudden thunderstorms that crop up out of nowhere. Airports, hotel rooms, the lakeside cabin porch where I thought I would be able to concentrate - nope, not happening.

My cozy home office overlooking my backyard and filled with photos and inspiring sayings, my giant screen desktop computer, and space to spread out my piles of notes - now we're talking. And even better, it's exactly twenty-three steps to the kitchen pantry.

But! When it comes to dialogue, I emerge from my cocoon, go somewhere, and listen. Great snippets of dialogue can be overhead anywhere and everywhere, be it a restaurant, store, sporting event, or family get-together (those are usually a gold mine). More than one overheard gem has found its way into one of my books!

Here are some of the recent snippets I've overheard:

"No, not that. I told you. We're not looking for a bathtub."

"I sprinkled Wheat Thin crumbs on his car."

"This thing ran outta juice. They didn't charge it enough."

"Oh, you knew! You most certainly knew!"

"Did you feel safe there? I mean, like, here safe."

"Don't go anywhere, I'm getting the pineapple."

"They said to get zip-off pants. You know, the kind that zip off."

"She's not totally mean. She's just, like, partially totally mean."

I first learned of this simple but effective dialogue exercise while taking a summer course at the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop years (and years) ago. The instructor asked us to sit for one hour in the open-air Ped Mall and jot down bits of conversation we heard from people passing by. Afterwards, we returned to class and wrote a scene with these bits of conversation. The results were hilarious and in some cases, made no sense, but all of the resulting scenes reflected how people really speak to each other. It was a lesson I never forgot.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of four middle grade novels, from Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Her newest, Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark, publishes on November 13. Visit her at

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Writer's Field Trips by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Another School year begins and it never fails to send me back to my own school days.  In keeping with our September theme of field trips and places we go to write, I want to share some of the things I learned about writing and life from the field trips I took in elementary school.

We grew up in a small working class town along the Raritan Bay in NJ. No one was wealthy, many of us - my family included - would be considered poor by today's standards. But as I look back, I realize how much the schools did to try and level the field by providing enriching experiences via class trips. Located within an hour's drive of NY City, we took advantage of the opportunities. In third grade we took a ferry boat to the Staten Island Zoo, passing by the Statue of Liberty on the way. First lesson: It's a big world out there and sometimes you need a boat to get to a special place.

In fourth grade we visited  George Washington's Headquarters in Morristown, NJ, and though I don't remember  much of the trip, one fact stayed with me. To get the pretty rose color on the walls of the interior, brick was crushed and pulverized into the paint. That someone would go to so much trouble to make something look beautiful amazed me. Lesson: History is much more than dates and battles.  It's people at their best and worst. This began my love of history.

In sixth grade we had the opportunity of a lifetime when we took our class trip to the New York World's Fair in 1964. Held in Flushing Meadows, Queens, the theme was "Peace Through Understanding". An international gathering on four square miles of land. Lesson: The world has so much to offer. Think beyond your own small part of it and appreciate what other cultures have given to mankind.  This is a lesson some of us still need to work on.

I have no doubt that these lessons formed the foundation of my writing. These beginnings - along with my adult trips as a teacher  and mother - influence what I write and continually give me inspiration for the young characters I create.  Tapping into these "field trips" is research of the best kind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


from Jody Feldman

This month, I've opted to answer this question: Where do you work?
Let me show you instead.

I work here

I work here.

I work here.

I work here.

I work here.

But I type here.
The better question is: Where DON"T I write?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Incantations -- by Jane Kelley

Writing a novel can be like an archeological dig. You pick a likely place to search for artifacts and other treasures with stories. If you don't find anything interesting enough, move your shovel.

It helps to be curious. And it helps not to know exactly what you're looking for.

Midway through draft three of a novel (with the working title of "Mau" after the feral black cat who linked the main characters), I went to visit my daughter at the University of Chicago. While she studied at the library, I wandered into the Oriental Institute--a museum for objects taken from the Near East.

I was searching for examples of early writing. (I love thinking about what inspired that great leap from reality to symbols.) The Institute does have some lovely cuneiform clay tablets. But in another glass case, I discovered precisely what I had been looking for––even though I didn't know what it was or even that such things existed.

An Incantation Bowl.

These terra-cotta bowls were found buried upside-down near houses to trap any evil spirits lurking nearby. The bowls were often particular protections to a certain member of the family, presumably whoever was most at risk. In the center of this bowl, you can see a depiction of the demon, who has been tied down.

Writing spirals from the bowl's outer edge to where the demon is bound. This is the incantation, the invocation, the charm, the hex. This one is in Aramaic and ends with these phrases:  May god rebuke you, Satan. . .  Is this not a brand snatched from the fire?  

In the modern era, we have better explanations for madness or risky behavior than demons. So what could this artifact possibly have to do with my story about a girl Lanora whose desire to reinvent herself endangers her?

Her loyal friend Val doesn't really think Lanora is under a spell. And yet Lanora is acting so unlike herself that Val is worried. The cat Mau leads Val to Tasman who lives in an antiquities store. Tasman offers to help save Lanora with a book of spells. Val quizzes Tasman whether he really believes ancient spells have power. Tasman's answer is: "I believe in the power of believing."

I do too. That incantation bowl certainly helped me cast a powerful spell in my novel, which was eventually titled, The Book of Dares For Lost Friends. (Although the title I preferred was "Incantation For a Lost Friend.")

"What gives the material its otherworldly power is the way these three very different children (and a quartet of classmates that almost acts like a chorus) use ritual and magical thinking to find the faith they need to persevere and mature." -- said Kirkus in a starred review.

One final thought -- I need to give credit to Blackberry who inspired Mau.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Writing Without Writing by Deborah Lytton

Writing inspires writing. Any of us who have committed to sitting down either with a pen and paper or in front of a keyboard know this to be true. The more we write, the more we want to write. We become so involved with our characters and their stories that we can lose track of time and place.

As much as the action of writing words on a page gives rise to more words, experience gives rise to story. Sometimes it helps to step away from the desk and put myself into the same circumstance as my character to view the world from his or her perspective. For example, if my character bakes cookies, then I will go and bake some cookies as well. I want to touch what she would touch and smell what she would smell and taste what she would taste. In that way, I can write a much more effective description of the scene and her reactions. Sometimes, these experiences might take me on a field trip of sorts. This is how I write without writing. For on the field trip, I am gathering ideas, forming opinions and becoming inspired. Whether it is a walk down my street and feeling the breeze on my face or taking in the view from the top of a hill overlooking the entire city. My imagination can fill in the details. In this way, I am always writing, even when I am not sitting at my desk. The stories continue to evolve with detail and creativity and are enhanced by traveling into the world. Even if the story involves fantasy or science fiction or historical elements, there will always be similarities we can connect with because they come from our own world. I challenge you to use those elements and see what you can experience today. Feed your imagination. See what you can discover.

Monday, September 3, 2018

In Which Dr. Seuss Helps Define My Writing Space

Where I write: it could be a (very bad) Dr. Seuss book:

I can write under a star
I can write in my car
I can write anywhere
near or far!

I'm actually far too restless to write in any one place. I've got one of those brains that needs variety! freshness! something new! (I'm like this with food and exercise, too.)

For me, routine very often means “rut” and depression for. Which is fine for being a writer! Because what practice is more portable than writing? All I need is my brain (which I happen to carry around with me most of the time anyway), my heart (yep, still thumping), and some way to record my thoughts. Sometimes that's a notebook and pen. Most times it's my computer. In the middle of the night it's the Notes feature on my phone. I could be anywhere!

In an airport
On a plane
In the bathtub
riding across Spain...

I do have spots I return to again, and again, like this one, especially this time of year:

Happy writing, all, wherever you are!
Irene Latham is an Alabama 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 and Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship (with Charles Waters). Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she also serves as poetry editor for the Birmingham Arts Journal

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Schools Scents

By Charlotte Bennardo

The most powerful memories of my younger school days is not friends (which I can no longer remember), or any one significant teacher (they came in high school), or even a subject I loved (I started school at four because I'm a November birthday and I struggled up to 7th seventh grade). What stirs the most memories are the smells of returning back to school.

Before computers there were pencils and notebooks. Before nylon backpacks there were school bags. Before there were glue sticks, there was Elmer's White School glue. Before there were copy machines, there were mimeographed ditto sheets. Before Nikes, there were new shoes and canvas gym sneaker. When I sit back with my eyes closed, I can smell those pencils, freshly sharpened, the pine wood shavings forest fragrant. School bags, which looked like little briefcases, had the plastic smell like new pool toys or bouncy balls. Elmer's glue, and even rubber cement had their unique scents; Elmer's had a milky quality and the rubber cement gave off a sharp, alcohol smell. When worksheets were passed out, every kid sniffed them, the ink odor not unpleasant, but strangely attractive. And new shoes! Whether leather or canvas, nothing smells like a new pair. A whiff of any of these scents catapults my mind back to those years, reminding me of both good and sad memories.

The last few times I've been in a school, whether doing a book event like nErDCamp Long Island, or back to school for one of my sons, none of those smells was present. Kind of made me a little sad, it smelled so sterile. Technology has no scent.

But at least there is always the joy of the smell of a new box of Crayola crayons...

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Saturday, August 25, 2018


Each fall, as new school years kick into gear, I’m flooded with feelings of new beginnings. Fresh starts. And how much I love, love, love the fresh start of a new project…

I’ll admit it: I’m a complete idea junkie. I live for those ah-ha! moments. To me, the beginning of a new project is the sweetest part. The middle is always the hardest—the most sluggish. I can sooo easily get distracted by a shiny new idea.

I started keeping idea journals. I had to. It was the only way I could stay on track. I found that if I just wrote down what was on my mind, I could put it aside and refocus on the project in hand.

But in the process, I realized just how invaluable those journals really are.

The thing is, I think that we have passing ideas all the time that would make great books. But we’re usually in the midst of driving to work or doing homework with our kids or a meeting or at the doctor’s office or, or, or…

And then, when we NEED the idea—when we’re looking a new file or a blank page in the face, it feels like great ideas are few and far between.

That’s not true. Like I said, we have ideas ALL THE TIME. But because they haven’t been recorded, we lose them.

Get a journal. I mean it. One of those cheap little wirebound pocket notebooks. Put it in your purse. Or your glove compartment. Or your laptop case. Get a regular-sized notebook and keep it in your desk drawer. Put another in the kitchen. Put one in the bathroom and one by your bed. Pepper your entire home and office space with the things. And write every single idea down.

By “idea,” I’m not just talking about BIG ideas. I don’t just mean over-arching ideas for what a novel will be. I mean passing thoughts. Fragments of ideas. Phrases that might make cool titles. Quick character ideas—maybe a name, or a personality quirk.

Because the thing is, ideas for books don’t just come all at once, fully formed. They come piecemeal. They’re what happens when about a hundred different weird thoughts, fragments all come together into a single cohesive picture.

When you need to start a new project—or you get stuck in a current WIP—gather up all those journals. Start poring through them. Pull out anything that might possibly help. You don’t even have to know why or how—you might just get kind of a tingle of interest. Pull it. Then look at all the pieces you’ve pulled. Brainstorm a connecting thread. You’ll find your next book. Or you’ll work your way out of the corner you’ve written yourself into. I guarantee.

One of the best part about the idea journal is that not only does it wind up saving you when you need it, it also strengthens your imagination. Before you know it, you’ll soon find that you’re an idea junkie, too!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Wrap Yourself in Quotes of Imagination: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Fall rushes this way with its promise and flurry of new projects, new school year, and new hopes.

This time of year, my mother always took us shopping for new school clothes. What fun it was. In that spirit, here are some of my favorite quotes about imagination. Wrap them around yourself, as you would a new dress, as you venture into Fall.

"What is now proved was once only imagined." --William Blake

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” --Albert Einstein

Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”  --Albert Einstein

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.” --Terry Pratchett

“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.” --Philip Jose Farmer

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” --Lewis Carroll

"When I was little, I had an imaginary friend who wasn't allowed to play with me." --Dia Calhoun

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Before the Book: A Conversation with H. M. Bouwman

First, congratulations on your forthcoming book A Tear in the Ocean.   I love to check in with authors in the busy months leading up to publication. Tell me when it’s scheduled to be published?

January 22, 2019.

Let’s start with the burning question: What’s this new book about? 

In another world, a boy, Putnam, and a girl, Artie, run away from their homes and meet up with each other in a sailboat they both think they own—Putnam because he left some money on the beach when he took it, and Artie because she stole it first. By the time they argue about it, they’re far out at sea and stuck with each other. From there they head to the deep south, discover they’re being followed, have adventures, and realize something is terribly wrong with the world.
Meanwhile—or not meanwhile at all, since it happens a hundred years in the past—a girl named Rayel also runs away from home and heads for the deep south, where she experiences both astounding magic and tremendous loss.
Though they are a hundred years apart, these two stories come together (did I mention there’s magic involved?) and Artie, Putnam, and Rayel must save their world together.

I understand this new book is a companion to A Crack in the Sea.  I’m curious about the distinction for you between a companion and a sequel.  Will readers need to have read A Crack in the Sea to enter this book.  Is there a desired reading order? 

No, you don’t have to read one to read the other! A companion book is simply set in the same world as the first book—in this case, the second world of A Crack in the Sea, with the Islands and Raftworld.
            There isn’t a necessary reading order for the books, either. I want to say that you should read Crack in the Sea first, if possible, and then Tear in the Ocean. But that’s because that’s the order I wrote them. Readers don’t need to follow that order! It seems to me that companion novels simply benefit from rubbing against each other, like flint and steel—the order isn’t that significant. And in fact, reading them in a different order than the author wrote them might be really interesting.
            For those who have read Crack in the Sea, I’ll say this: there are some things you’ll know about Putnam that others will not…so try not to give things away! You’ll see a few characters from Crack in the new novel, too: Putnam, of course; and Jupiter makes a brief appearance. And there’s one other person I won’t name, because I’m wondering how many people will notice. Let me know if you find this last person.

You’ve mentioned that fairy tales influenced the book.  Were you attracted to the content or structure?  Or some other quality of fairy tales?   Were you a reader of fairy tales as a child? 

I love fairy tales, and yes, I read a lot of them as a child. We had a Jaro Hess print on our wall—The Land of Make-Believe (which is also on my website!) and my sisters and I used to trace the road with our index finger and talk about where we’d live in the painting…often after we were supposed to be in bed and asleep. I still have this print on my wall as an adult, and I stare at it often, daydreaming. It’s faded considerably over the years, but it’s still snug in the frame my grandfather made for it when he framed it for my mom and her siblings.
            I loved the content of fairy tales, the stories—the stories in that Hess painting and all the others, too—but as an adult I’ve come to appreciate the structure of fairy tales as well. More to the point, I like the feel of a fairy tale. When I write I’m not trying to replicate the structure in any regimented way; I’m just trying to recapture how fairy tales feel; and how, when we listen to them, we accept the magic as a matter of course and move forward from there.

How did the book evolve for you during the writing and revision process? 

The book started with a question from Crack in the Sea: if the ocean is sweet (as it is and as it has to be in Crack), then how did it get that way? Ultimately I didn’t exactly write that story, but that is where it started, with a question about how the world worked.
            I knew too that I wanted a story about transformation: the transformations caused by trauma as well the transformations that can happen with recovery. I was thinking about transformation in a very literal way, so I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses (…okay, mostly I read Ted Hughes’s gorgeous and shorter version of this very long work, but I also dabbled in several translations). Ovid’s epic poem is all about transformation: people turn into animals, into trees, into water—so many changes. And of course I re-read fairy tales about transformation. There are so many!
            After that it was really a matter of thinking about what really needed to transform in this book. Where were the big moments of change? And how would these changes manifest in the world of this book?
            (I’m sorry to be a bit vague here—I’m trying not to do any spoilers!)

The months leading up to a book release are incredibly busy with work that happens behind the scenes.  Could you talk a bit about what you’ll be doing in the next few months to prepare the book for publication? 

I’m a full-time college professor, so I’ll be teaching! Beyond that, I’ll be setting up school and library visits (…you can contact me through my website…) and arranging as much travel as I’m able to do while still teaching. And of course, I’m working on my next book. J

Books take a lot of time, and often those that share our worlds have to wait while we do the work.  I know you’ve written in the company of cats and kids and loyal writing pals.   Any stories from that process to share with fellow writers and readers? 

I’ve been really lucky in that while I’ve been writing, my kids have been reading and loving stories. I’ve read all my manuscripts aloud to them them while the books are still in draft form (usually right before I send them off to my agent). My kids are the kindest and most supportive readers you can imagine. I have critique partners, too—grownup amazing writer friends who read my work and give me honest and often difficult feedback that helps me revise—but having these two young people who love me and shower me with undiluted praise for my stories? That’s crucial. It’s magic.

I can’t wait to be in the audience for the release of this book.  Where can readers follow your news? 

You can find publication information on my website blog, which I update…quite infrequently, honestly. But I do list upcoming books and publication dates there: For more frequent updates and a cringe-worthy number of cat photos, you might check Facebook (Heather Bouwman) or Twitter (hmbouwman).

Sheila O'Connor is the author of five novels, including her most recent middle-grade novel, Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth