Sunday, November 28, 2021

Going Beyond Reconnecting...

By Charlotte Bennardo 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

The theme is reconnecting. It's a popular one around the holidays and the end of the year, and especially after the Covid pandemic. I've stayed connected with family and friends via Zoom and social media, so there was no 'reconnecting.' However, I've 'reconnected' with my love of learning- and am enrolled in graduate school, working on my Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. It's always been a dream of mine to get my MFA. With low and now no residency required, I can achieve this goal. I'm nearing the end of the first term, and if all goes well, I will graduate in July, 2023. There's a long road to go, but it seems that reconnecting to academic reading, doing research, writing papers, and discussing topics with the class is like riding the proverbial bike- once you learn, no matter how many years are in between, it's not hard to pick it back up. 

So don't just reconnect- realize a dream, right a wrong, take a bold step. Go for it.

When it's graduation day, I'll be walking that stage to accept my diploma and check off one item on my 'Dream, Accomplished' list.  

 
Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels


Charlotte writes MG, YA, NA, and adult novels in sci fi, fantasy, contemporary, and paranormal genres. She is the author of the middle grade Evolution Revolution trilogy, Simple Machines, Simple Plans, and Simple Lessons. She co-authored the YA novels Blonde OPS, Sirenz, and Sirenz Back in Fashion. Currently she is working on several novels for both children and adults. She lives in NJ with her family, two demanding cats, and a crazy squirrel couple who just moved into her backyard oak tree.

Entering the Time Machine


I've never been to any of my high school reunions. Most of my friends from school wouldn't be present for various reasons or weren't in my graduating class. I'm not even sure where my best friend from high school is now because she seems to be off the grid, which is mysterious and cool in a way that likely would have greatly pleased the teen versions of ourselves.

Another reason I don't go to my reunions is because a lot of the best times in my youth happened in Mississippi instead of the town in Alabama where I went to school. Luckily, my cousin has been my best friend since I was 14, so I still have someone to share those memories with me. We've often wished we could go back in time and relive a few of those moments.

It finally dawned on me that we can...because, DUH! I'm a writer!

My current work in progress takes me back to old friends and great memories from the 80s (even though my book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental). I'm fortunate that I have my cousin and a couple of our other friends from back in the day to help fill in the gaps of things I've forgotten (but for the most part, my memories of decades ago are clearer than things that happened last week--isn't it funny how that works?). 

When COVID shut down schools, my husband set up a desk for me back in our bedroom so that I could close the door and get some quiet writing space while the kids were home. Now that schools are open again, I'm mostly back to my "office" (a corner of our kitchen), but I kept the other table set up. Now when I close the door to our room to work, I tell whichever of our kids happens to be around, "I'm entering the time machine. I'll see you when I get back to 2021." 

It may sound silly, but this has been great for my headspace as an author. When I close that door, I really do mentally put aside everything from now and fully immerse myself in the world of my book. 

I'm hoping that once my book is finished, it will be its own time machine, set for 1986. I've been hanging out in '86 off and on for nearly a year now, and it's a wonderful time to be alive. 

Ginger Rue's current book, Wonder Women of Science, is co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission. The book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields. 



Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Opposites Ignite Imagination: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Yesterday I pulled out a piece of writing I like, but which has always had something missing. Rereading, I realized the piece was a joyful one-tone, one-tone, one-tone. Good for meditation, but not for drama. A helpful insight, yes, but I didn't know what new tone to introduce. I wanted the piece to be joyful.

This morning I read a quote by Lionel Corbett: "In many mythologies . . . creation and manifestation begin with the separation of opposites such as light and dark, form and chaos."* He goes on to say these opposites create conflict. And tension, I might add. Tension is necessary for drama. Of course as a fiction writer, I know conflict is necessary. But my lightbulb moment for my one-toned piece was, hey, look for the opposite tone. And my imagination-storm was off and running.

I'm happy to report that incorporating the opposite raised a mediocre piece of writing to a new level. And the piece is still about joy, but it adds suffering, which gives the joy a deeper resonance.

So I offer this to all writers: When your work is stalled, look for the opposite image, the opposite idea. 


*Lionel Corbett, Psyche and the Sacred p 136 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Guest Post: Barbie Meets Dante, by John Espie

The following is a guest post by the author of The Tenth Floor, a delightful holiday story that can be enjoyed by adults and MG readers alike:


When my daughter turned 3 years old, we’d already established a nightly routine:  she’d don her PJ’s, the two of us would crawl into her bed, and we'd read three... or four... or five picture books before the yawns set in, and she’d drift off to sleep.  I’d cuddle with her, listening to her adorable little snore, and I’d know that life couldn’t get any better than this.

By her fourth birthday, I’d have chosen to gouge my eyeballs out rather than read another Barbie Princess story.  “Hey, I can do better than this,” became my mantra. 

I penned a handful of picture books, but the hitch in my giddyap was that I have exactly zero artistic ability.  My line drawings made Shel Silverstein look like Rembrandt.   

Nevertheless, the writing was still good, so I shared the stories with an arty family member who seemed ecstatic for the collaboration.  But the stories languished until he reluctantly admitted that it wasn’t going to happen.  I coerced another family member into agreeing to work with me, and the stories languished a bit longer, so I tried somebody else, and so on.   

Eventually, years’ worth of sand trickled through the hourglass, my daughter grew too old for picture books, and I moved on with my life. 

Except... every Christmastime, my wife would ask what I was doing with “that one story” about the girl and the broken elevator. 

Ah, that story!  I had to admit that it was a solid idea:  on Christmas eve, a little girl helps an elderly man climb from the lobby of a building up to its top floor.  As they rise from level to level, their adventure becomes more whimsical, and he teaches her life lessons while seeming to grow physically stronger until they near the roof and... well, I'll let you make your own predictions from there. 

For a decade, that dang story gnawed at my brain. 

Nowadays, my daughter is thirteen, a complete bookworm… and she suspects that I’m a writer.  That suspicion may not seem like such a big revelation to you, dear reader, but here’s the thing:  I write my fiction under a pseudonym, and I’m fanatical about keeping my superhero identity a secret.   

“What are you writing, Dad?” she asks. 

“Nothing,” I say, closing my laptop.

“You spend hours sitting at the sofa, typing on the computer,” she grumbles, and then she just… stares at me.

“I’m doing my taxes,” I say, but I think she may have learned about April 15th in middle school.

 She knows! 

So, last January, I hatched a plan:  I’d pen the story as a family-style novella—ala A Christmas Carol—and I’d make my little girl the main character.  Then, I’d give it to her as a present on December 25th, 2021, with a personalized inscription stating that the hardback in her hands was written by none other than her Daddy, and she’s the star. 

Yikes!   

I gotta say, I’ve written for some tough editors, but none of them compare to the pressure of writing fiction for my daughter.  I’m up against Rick Riordan and J. K. Rowling, here!

What’s a dad to do?  Tricks!  LOTS of imagery!  Subtly reference Willy Wonka here.  Throw in a biblical allusion there.  And moralistically parallel the floors of the building to the levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno!  She’ll love that, right??? 

(Maybe some of that stuff was more for me than her, but still...) 

It’s now Thanksgiving, and I’ve got the best piece of writing that I’ve ever produced.  I even went so far as to commission original artwork for the cover, crafted around a photograph of none other than my very own daughter.

Wow!  I can’t wait for Christmas, hoping that this will be a gift that she’ll treasure forever.  The only thing that could make it cooler is if it connects with other folks who share it with their kids.  The thought that maybe other parents will be able to share some of the same joy in reading my daughter’s story to their children, as I’ll share in reading it with mine… well, that just pushes it over the top, right? 

Merry Christmas, everybody!

~

From November 22nd through November 27th, John Espie’s novelette The Tenth Floor is FREE at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GP7GXJ2.  For those who really fall in love with it, a high-quality paperback is available for purchase, while the hardback version is printed on premium paper and in color, making it an extra-special Christmas gift for friends and family.  

John Espie can be followed via his Amazon author’s page and on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20885684.John_Espie where his fiction releases are announced, he can be reached by private message, and he occasionally blogs.

 

 

 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Interview with Jeff Lucas, Author of The Lost Ship

 


Welcome, Jeff! We’re so thrilled to have you at Smack Dab. Give us the elevator pitch for The Lost Ship.

Twelve-year-old Jack's father is a professional diver working on a way to talk underwater.  When he loses one of the devices overboard, an octopus slips away with it and learns to talk.  Jack ventures out to shoot a photo of the octopus for a school assignment and is flummoxed to find the octopus can talk.  He buys in and the two head off across the reef to find what Jack imagines to be “the greatest maritime discovery in history.”

What was the inspiration? Where’d the idea come from?

I skin- and scuba-dived in Hawaii as a twelve-year-old, where I accompanied natives spear-fishing for dinner.  I encountered octopuses on those dives (I hesitate to recount the particulars but the octopuses ended up on the table).  I later found out how smart they are and thought it would be fun to center a story around an octopus.  Redemption?  Possible.  

I love the friendship described between Jack and an octopus. In a way, I felt like it was a metaphor for wanting kids to befriend the natural world. Is that going too far—or part of what you wanted to convey?

Jack and Armstrong were buds but I hadn't thought of "friendship" in regard to kid lit.  A general friendship between Jack and, let's say, a stone fish, would have ended with a bad outcome.  Those who've been exposed to stone fish venom have to be prevented from cutting off their fingers to lessen the pain.)    

You do a little creative smooshing of geographical areas. Why was it important to you to get these elements in?

Your "smooshing of geographical areas" was a good catch.  I wanted as much interaction with the creatures and environments as possible so, after much thought, I decided to include a temperate area with kelp, into which divers get tangled and drown.  The episode was too good to pass up.  You might note the temperate area is consistent in its creatures:  blacksmiths, opaleyes, and wolf eels live within the kelp.  The wolf eel, with its ugly/cute face, might have been enough for me to include temperate seas.  I should add, despite their looks, wolves are curious and friendly. 

What was your writing process like?

As for my writing process, my knee jerk answer is: "it was a blast."  I laughed the whole way through.  That said, there was lots of research to be done, although I didn't mind because I was finding fun stuff to use.   If I found a good name, for example, "Venus's flower basket," I wanted to get it in some way--even though neither Jack nor Armstrong would interact with it.  Once I had all the stuff to include, it had to be ordered so that transitions were seamless.  This took me four years of arranging.  I noticed you're an "outliner."  I had a detailed--fish-by-fish--outline before I started writing.  Once I got to each episode, I discovered what I was going to say.  So much fun!

What was the publication process like? Biggest surprises?

Regarding publication, I found out that one can't just "press a button" and expect the book to be available.  My book designer, Kari Fera, disabused me of that. I loathe messing with the computer so I had lots of help getting the book to market.  It was a huge benefit to find Mr. Ratner and Ms. Stein.

I love the octopus facts you include on your site. What sparked your interest in this creature?

I have great affection for octopuses, which possess a large number of neurons (they're in the top ten) and must survive on their wits.  They have neither offensive nor defensive weapons; they're obligated to be tricky.  What's not to like?  Did you check out "blue coral," in the "creatures library?"  Or, "kelp?"  Or, the "stinker sponge?"  These photos--better than words-- demonstrate how good they are.

What’s one thing you hope kids take away from this read?

Mr. Ratner used the word "mission," which I like.  I've said (and believe) that the current kids will save the oceans; my idea has been to interest them, via demonstrating how many extraordinary things there are in the sea.  

What’s one piece of advice you’d give would-be writers?

As for my advice to writers:  "read widely and look up every word you don't know."  I've found that words I've read but never heard in conversation, sometimes pop out of my mouth.  Then, when my interlocutor asks me what they mean, I confess I have no idea (just kidding).  

And now, the giveaway:

Five—yes! Five!—copies are available to our followers. Winners will be chosen at random. Use the form below or email directly to smackdab (dot) middle (at) yahoo.com.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 15, 2021

Finding Your Jam

 

To repeat a favorite idiom: find your jam.  Connect with something you prefer, desire, love. 

Recently a friend and I were discussing the state of the business of writing. Publishing is a business, and a very dispiriting one. Yet, it's important to remember: the business is external from the craft, and it is open to very subjective opinions and the whims of trends.

 The dreadful truth is the odds are against us.

But, as once said by old friend long gone (and my own dear Dumbledore, Emma Dryden later reaffirmed, so we know it's true), writers write. Everything else -- everything external -- is beyond our control. However, writing is an internal process. As such, we focus on what we can control: ourselves. Take classes. Teach classes. Read books about the craft. Study mentor books. Adapt, rethink, refocus. Take chances. Leave your comfort zone. Write something new. Write something different. Submit, and submit again. Persevere. 

To cite another idiom: We do our best and leave the rest to the universe.  

 Or, as Neil deGrasse Tyson offers much more eloquently --  and really, who else knows more about how the universe works than the mighty Tyson:

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.” -- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Recently I discussed one source of motivation.  Considered “a master class in novel writing,” Story Engineering,  by Larry Brooks (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011), takes a deep dive into story architecture. As Brooks offers, “…in their execution, stories are every bit as engineering driven as they are artistic in nature.” In other words, the technicality (or criticality) of the story is as fundamental as the creative.  

“A story has many moods. It has good days and bad days. It must be nurtured and cared for lest it deteriorate. And it has a personality and an essence that defines how it is perceived. Just like human brings.” -- Larry Brooks

Brooks is quick to admit that a writer can have all the right ingredients, perfectly stirred, and it turns out bland. Or, to put it another way, it’s possible to assemble in perfect order that perfect body. But without that creative spark, there is no life. Think Frankenstein’s monster. 

So enthralled with his Story Engineering, I picked up another of his books, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant (Writers Digest Books, 2015). He begins his discussion with this powerful statement that encapsulates my recent discussion with my friend: This is a book about the writer within.The book is like a bootcamp for writers, no matter what stage in their career, focusing on the revision process. He states: “When we approach revision with the idea of creating something more enlightened and empowered, rather than just making the writing itself technically better, truly wonderful things can happen.” 

According to Brooks, there are two essential realms of revision: the story idea, or concept; and the execution.  The story idea should offer a dramatic premise, a thematic stage upon which characters reveal themselves.  Revisions from this realm can be challenging because the writer must take a deep dive into the original premise. Too often, writers tweak the execution of the story, but ignore the raw material, the inherent nature of the story.  He offers the example, “It’s like polishing a Volkswagen to prepare for a NASCAR race. Shiny isn’t the point.”

Likewise, the story’s concept may be compelling, but the narrative may be too slow, bogged down by too much backstory, or the characters are too one-dimensional. Maybe there’s not enough tension, or the pacing is off.  Brooks identifies and examines twelve crucial elements that address these two revision realms. As one reviewer noted, the book isn’t just about revision, “it’s about resurrection.”

Turning my attention to the business of writing (because understanding how the business works helps to inform our strategies in surviving the challenges of the business), I read Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers, written by literary agent and lawyer, Jacqueline Lipton (University of California Press, 2020). This is an extremely reader-friendly book that decodes complex concepts such as copyright laws, the difference between copyright and trademark, the difference between public domain and Creative Commons, how much is Fair Use, and the difference between self-publishing, independent and hybrid authors. She takes a deep dive into contracts, both agent and publisher. Targeting the agent agreement, she highlights several questions the author needs to ask potential agents, such as if the agency contract is a book-by-book contract, or will it cover multiple projects (i.e. career building). Will the agent continue to represent you if they don’t sell your first book? How can you tell a good agent from a bad agent, and what happens if something goes wrong? 

She addresses the many, many minefields often found in a publisher’s contract, discussing the specific rights a writer is selling or licensing. And, of course, she explains royalties on a level that even an lumpish loggerhead  like myself can understand. Sorta. My takeaway: negotiating a contract is not for the faint-hearted.

Indeed, the odds of getting published are low. Some say 1000 to 1. Others say it’s less than 1%. Or, as Harold Underdown offers in his still-relevant 2010 article, the odds stink

But in the end, does it matter? Yes, somewhat. Be aware, but don’t let it define you. Because, as Harold explains, “Any editor can tell stories about times when they opened a submission and read a manuscript that they just couldn't put down and knew right away that they had to acquire. This may have been a manuscript that had been seen by dozens of editors, or they may have been the first one. That didn't matter.”

Writers write.

Find your jam and go with it, and leave the rest to the universe. 


-- Bobbi Miller

Free Jam Image Clipart Library

The Powers asked for a bio. I'm never good at these things. Writer of middle grade fiction  featuring real kids with real emotions dealing with real world issues. Armed with an MA in Children's Literature (Simmons) and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (VCFA), I was a contributing writer to Anita Silvey’s The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators; a contributing writer to American Dissidents: An Encyclopedia of Activists, Subversives ..., Volume 1.( Kathlyn Gay, editor. Books include Big River’s Daughter (Historical Fantasy. Holiday House, April 2013) Recommended by the International Reading Association, the Historical Novel Society, and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The Girls of Gettysburg (Historical Fiction. Holiday House, Fall 2014), a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014, an honor for the 2015 Thomas Jefferson Cup Overfloweth and an honor for the 2015 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People. 'Nuf said.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Happy teaching moments by Jennifer Mitchell

One of my favorite parts of teaching is finding a book that connects with my students.  A few years ago, I was introduced to the book, Because of Winn Dixie.  Though it was not a newly published book, it was one that I hadn’t read to students before.  I loved the engagement the students had with it, and it seemed like they could really connect to the character Opal because they could identify with how she was feeling throughout the book.  The other characters in the book all have their own challenges, and that provides for rich conversation while teaching.  Literature “finds” like this, that connect with kids, and get them engaged and wanting to read, makes me fall in love with teaching all over again. 






As a special bonus to this reading unit, we always do a culminating activity with one of the characters where we focus on their character traits and how they changed throughout the story.  A couple of years ago we also started surprising the kids by having a party like they had in the book, egg salad sandwiches, pickles and of course Littmus lozenges.  As a teacher, I remember these moments, so I hope that students not only remember them, but that they also spark a love of reading for kids.


Jennifer Mitchell — teacher in the Kansas City area


Friday, November 12, 2021

When Old Friends Become New by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 


This past August I had the pleasure of attending my 50th high school reunion. It was wonderful to see some of the people I have kept in touch with over the years as well as those I haven't seen since graduation. Sharing stories of "yesteryear" and trying our best to answer yearbook trivia questions brought back some memories as well as a lot of laughs. 

As I work on a new middle grade novel, I am brought back to some of the stories and books I enjoyed from that era. One author's voice in particular has invaded my thoughts and made its way into my WIP. I  have had a reunion of sorts with A.A. Milne.      


 

The beloved author of Winnie the Pooh and the other characters in THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD turns out to be a favorite of the main character in my current WIP. When I was looking for something my character Toby could relate to and share, it became apparent that I needed a book that felt like a character itself. 

 

Toby spends a lot of time in the woods adjacent to his home and feels most at home among the birds and forest trees. At first I wondered would Toby relate to A SECRET GARDEN?   



 After rereading this classic, I decided that it wasn't quite right for the tone and spirit I wanted to convey. I needed something with a bit more whimsy.  


 

 

So I turned to THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.  This had plenty of wonderful animal characters, but where was the boy I needed, Toby needed, to make the story relatable.



 

 

 

 

 Enter the book I remembered so fondly from my own childhood and the poems titled WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG.


Halfway Down"  (a poem from the book)

"Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit. There isn't any other stair quite like it. I'm not at the bottom, I'm not at the top; so this is the stair where I always stop.

Halfway up the stairs isn't up, and isn't down. It isn't in the nursery, it isn't in  the town.

And all sorts of funny thoughts run round my head: It isn't really anywhere! It somewhere else instead!"

- A. A. Milne


BINGO! Toby has a tree house, halfway up and halfway down a big oak tree. It's somewhere else, somewhere special - right in the middle of his own hundred acre wood. Toby can be Christopher Robin in his favorite place.

 

 

 The House At Pooh Corner Deluxe Edition (Winnie-the-Pooh Book 2) by [A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard] And I can have a reunion of my own - revisiting an old friend from the past. Still resonating 50 years later.

 

Darlene Beck Jacobson likes to sit halfway down the stairs and think about things as she plans her stories. While she's never had a tree house of her own, she enjoys hanging out in the woods and listening to the wisdom of nature.



Thursday, November 11, 2021

A Slow, Quiet Reunion

by Jody Feldman

March 15, 2020
Something-corona-something-virus had been increasingly talked about in recent days especially on the West Coast where, for the past week, I’d been on an early spring vacation traveling from Los Angels to San Francisco, visiting family and friends along the way. It started getting real when our friends in Sonoma took us to a popular winery that was nearly deserted. Then, the next day, when we pulled up to the hotel in San Francisco, the bellman said, “You’re really checking in?” We did and summarily checked out 14 hours later, catching the first available flight back home where we went directly to the empty toilet-paper aisle at the grocery store and--

I’ll stop there. You lived it, too.


For me, I was later to become increasingly grateful that I had been able to travel without ill effects just before this whole quarantine business started and even more grateful for my home-based work. And so I sunk very deeply into the writing. My guiding thought: If I can’t be out and about and if all school visits are canceled, I might as well be productive. 

Soon, I discovered that my COVID escape was in writing... and writing... and writing some more. But dedicated writers are also dedicated readers, right? 

So, I asked a local bookseller to gather a group of middle grade titles together for curbside pick-up, books that might have flown under my radar. When I got that stack home, however, I didn’t have the patience or mindset or drive to read. This weekend, I thought. This weekend I’ll pick one and open the cover. But that weekend turned into the next weekend into months of weekends.

Sure, I finally read a book here and there, but it wasn’t my normal. Then again, the world wasn’t normal. It still isn’t, but as I’m adapting to this new normal, I’m also finding the old urge to connect with my to-be-read pile again. It’s been a slow reunion, but a happy one. And while some things will be forever changed, I know, for certain, books will always be there, waiting for me.

Award-winning middle grade author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level, and historically voracious reader, Jody Feldman may be taking a brief dip to the other (older) side with a YA thriller coming out next summer, but never fear. As you read this, she’s revising what she hopes will be a new MG story that you'll want to read immediately, no matter what.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Reconnecting to my creativity -- by Jane Kelley

I'm fortunate to live near Lake Michigan. I think of it as mine, but it isn't. It's old. Over a billion years ago, two tectonic plates were pulled apart and formed the Mid-Continental Great Rift. Fifteen thousand years ago, a receding glacier melted in that rift and formed the Great Lakes. It's vast. It contains 1180 cubic miles of fresh water. It's dangerous. Some estimate that over 10,000 ships have sunk in it, killing more than 30,000 people.

The shore near my house is the place of many important moments in my life (including my wedding). Even though I never write specifically about the lake, my creativity is connected to it. I love to stand on the shore, feel the power of the wind and the waves, or be soothed by the gentle lapping of water on the beach. It inspires me.

Sometimes we forget to nurture our creativity. This is what it feels like to be frozen.

 Ice monsters can form too.

 
So what can we do to reconnect to our creativity?

Read -- what we are writing, what others are writing, our favorite books, and don't forget to read the nice thing someone wrote to you once (especially if it was from your loved one).

Write -- in a journal, a letter to a friend, a letter to yourself, a letter to your characters, a new page even if it's the worst thing anyone has ever written. You can't make it better until it exists. 

Walk -- anywhere outside. Windy exercise can transform the most stagnant mood. In the Netherlands, the  practice is called “uitwaaien.” It literally means "outblowing.”

Of course sometimes more drastic measures are needed. That's when I visit the edge of Lake Michigan. (You can go to whatever place feels magic to you. )

Light a fire. Let the flames consume the word "doubt."

Summon the moon. It will make a path upon the water.

Eventually, I'm able to plunge in again –– even on November 7th.



Jane Kelley is the author of many middle grade novels including Nature Girl, which tells the story of how a girl finds herself by getting lost in the woods. She also enjoys plunging into cold water.
 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Back Home to Historical Fiction by Irene Latham

 My first middle grade book to hit the marketplace was Leaving Gee's Bend (Penguin, 2010), set in 1932 Gee's Bend, Alabama. Since then I've written picture books, poetry, nonfiction, contemporary fiction, dystopian fiction, and whatever captures my imagination—including an historical fiction picture book Meet Miss Fancy (Penguin, 2019), set in Jim Crow 1913 Birmingham, Alabama. But my next book African Town, co-written with Charles Waters, brings me back to long-form history.


African Town
is the story of the last slave ship Clotilda and the 110 Africans who arrived on Alabama shores in 1860 as enslaved people and eventually created a community called African Town, which exists to this day (and is now known as Africatown).

Our book is a verse novel told in 14 voices and spans roughly forty years (ending in 1901), so the characters move from being kidnapped as teens in West Africa (now Benin) to being parents/grandparents in Alabama.

It's one of those stories that rearranges your heart, and Charles and I are beyond excited to join with the descendants of Clotilda survivors to serve as ambassadors for this important and inspiring history. We were fortunate to be able to conduct on-site research in February 2020, just before the country shut down in response to the pandemic—and it looks like we'll be able to return to Africatown to celebrate the book's release in January 2022. Hooray!

Preorder African Town

Read about Clotilda in National Geographic magazine

Learn more in our interview with Betsy Bird at Fuse #8.

Thank you so much for reading! Happy November.

--

Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.