ALL FOUR KIDS: Interview with Scott Bly, Author of SMASHER

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Today, we welcome author Scott Bly, whose MG debut, SMASHER, released March 25!

About smasher-smallthe book: SMASHER is a fast-paced techno-thriller about computers, magic, and time travel, set in Los Angeles in the near future. A magician’s apprentice in the Renaissance era is recruited by a time-traveling bionic girl to help stop Gramercy Foxx, the most powerful media mogul alive, from releasing The Future — his most exciting and mysterious product ever.  They race against time to unlock the secret of The Future before the magical computer virus enslaves every human being on the planet.

Meet Charlie and Geneva: unlikely friends who join forces to in hopes of defeating the powerful, and seemingly untouchable technology mogul.  Geneva has liberated Charlie from the past and brought him back to her future to race against Foxx’s attempt to hold all of humanity in his grip.  Charlie, the sole possessor of magic in the future, and Geneva, who carries within her an unfathomable tome of scientific knowledge, are the only two people standing between Foxx and World Domination.

Becky Wallace:  Hi Scott!  Thanks so much for joining us on Fearless Fifteens.  And speaking of FEARLESS, you have two main characters who are brave and smart and so, so fun to read.  Tell us how you came up with the idea for SMASHER?

Scott Bly:  Hi Becky — thanks for having me!  I’m so glad you enjoyed reading SMASHER and appreciated the techie/magical fun of Charlie and Geneva’s adventure.  It’s a real honor to be interviewed here, especially since I’m a super-preemie fifteener.  I think it’s ironic that SMASHER and I will be over here in a cozy incubator for nine months before the blessed Fifteeners are welcomed into the world.

The idea for SMASHER came about as a result of a conversation I had with my editor the day we met.  I had stopped writing, actually, after a frustrating run at the entertainment industry after USC film school. I decided I would come back to writing when I had stories to tell, after I’d lived some life.

So I changed gears and focused my artistic efforts on the singer-songwriter thing in LA for a few years.  I also returned to the computer world, having initially been accepted to USC on a scholarship for computer engineering.  The computer business worked out nicely, helping small businesses in and around LA handle their technology needs.  I also taught computers to kids in K-8th grade.

One of my long-time clients happens to be a literary agent. One day she asked if I would help a friend who had been hit with a nasty computer virus.  The friend was a book publisher.

Her name was Bonnie Verburg, and she was—and still is—a vice president at Scholastic, and she had founded her own imprint called the Blue Sky Press. Her computer was filled with priceless documents, manuscripts, and various books-in-progress from award-winners such as Virginia Hamilton and bestselling adult authors such as singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

I talked to her the entire time I was working on her computers, and she had a million questions. “How does a computer get a virus?” “Once it gets a virus, how do you get rid of the virus?” “Why didn’t my firewall stop it?” “Now what are you doing?”

The ensuing conversation took many tangents over the next few hours, filled with analogies to boats and portholes and armed security guards, and she told me this was the first time she had an understanding of how her computer worked. She told me I was a storyteller. And she said this to me:  “In all the years I’ve been using a computer, you’re the first person who’s ever been able to talk to me about this in a way I can understand.  Have you ever thought about writing a children’s book?”

Well, it had, in fact, crossed my mind.  So, with the glint in my eye that comes only from the gut feeling that fate had just brought all of the parts of my life together into one critical moment, I replied as casually as I could manage, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it.”

“I would love to publish a novel that has a strong story, but at the same time as I’m reading the story, I’d like to be learning everything about my computer. So when I finished reading the book, I’d understand how computers work. And I think adults—people like me—would like to read it, too. We are all out at sea and wondering how computers work. Maybe you could try your hand at writing it.”

Bonnie was interested in learning about computers.  And I had found nothing in the educational world that had to do with computer education for kids.  Sure, there were thousands of technical instruction manuals, many of them fairly user friendly, even cute.  And there were software packages to teach kids how to use computers to make posters or do research.  But there was nothing to teach them about computers.  Little geeks like me had to dig that stuff out on our own.

But I didn’t want to write a computer literacy manual for kids.  That’s not as interesting to me as telling a story. Harry Potter was on top of the world.  If JK Rowling were a chemistry fan and she came out with the Harry Potter chemistry set based on the Potions classes, it would be the biggest selling chemistry set in history.  So I wanted to come up with a compelling story in which computer education played a part, but was not itself the driving force.

So, after a lengthy gestation period, I came up with approximately the following:  A boy from the distant past, with a special gift for a mysterious magical power, is brought to the future by a time traveling, butt-kicking technical whiz (who, of course, has to be a robot!) in order to help her stop an evil mastermind from combining magic with technology to take over the minds of everyone in the world.  And for good measure, let’s make it a computer virus, with the popularity of the iPhone so that people want to get it.

Then I spent an absurd amount of time writing dozens of drafts, the first of which was nearly 600 pages. What’s funny is that it started out as an action novel that would educate people about their computers, but the more I wrote, the more the characters and plot took over. We ended up editing out most of the computer “education” information, until it ultimately came out as the book you just read. Neat story, huh?

BW:  WOW! Most authors don’t get to hang out with editors and publishers till after they sign their book deal! Your main characters are two very different kids from two very different worlds — Charlie is a magic-wielder from 1542 and Geneva is a bionic girl from a futuristic Los Angeles. Which character do you most relate to and why?

SB:  Honestly, they are both sides of me.  I would say that I identify slightly more with Charlie, though.  He’s a victim.  He feels out of place in his home.  His brain makes him different from the other kids, and he runs his mouth, which gets him in trouble with kids that don’t appreciate his wit.  Yet when duty calls, and he is needed, he finds the strength to do what’s right, even when he’s abandoned, isolated, and up against impossible odds.

I also identify with Geneva — she has many of the same feelings of isolation and she literally questions her own identity.  I think we have all been there at some point in our lives, especially during those formative teen years when we’re deciding what groups to join, what to study in school, what choices to make in our personal life that will ultimately define our professional lives.  But Geneva was fun, because she gets to be the computer educator, and her enthusiasm for the technology absolutely comes from the joy I experience in the classroom — when a kid’s eyes light up over some technical detail that they can then go put into practice at home or in school — that’s the best part for me.

BW:  You come from an IT background and your knowledge totally shows in the futuristic elements of your story.  The details, from the high-tech communications systems to the DNA-modified gorilla (which was pretty scary, BTW), felt so real! How much were you able to draw from your own knowledge and how much did you have to research/invent?

SB:  The high point of my month is when Scientific American shows up in my mailbox.  I get to spend 50 or 100 pages reading about all of the latest scientific advances in physics, astronomy, cosmology, quantum mechanics, biology and high-tech — the list goes on and on.  It’s just a great and broad magazine for the science layperson like me.

So, how much research did I do for the book?  Very, very little.  Or an entire lifetime, depending on how you look at it.  There were certainly details about base-four math and how could that work as a DNA based computer language that I had to look into — it turns out that quantum computers basically operate on that principle.  And I spent a lot of time debating the different world-views from a physics perspective that could support time travel, and which flavor of time travel, etc.  I’m not sure that answers your question, though.  Does it?

I love that you dug the gorilla parts.  That was always one of my favorites while writing and editing.

BW: You’re from the LA-area. What inspired you to set your novel close to home?

SB:  Write what you know, man.  Write what you know.

Then make it different.  🙂

Time travel and the tremendous number of possibilities that can result from a world in which time travel is possible — that makes for some interesting ways to mix things up.  But I don’t want to reveal too much.

BW: What are you working on now?  Will there be more Charlie and Geneva in The Future?  😉

SB:  I’m actually working on the sequel to SMASHER right now, with a third bouncing about in my head.  So, yes, we will definitely be hearing more from Charlie and Geneva.  And in the more immediate Future, there will be additional story content from SMASHER that will be made available on the smasheronline.com site.  I don’t think that site is live yet, but it will be soon, so stay tuned.

I also have an unrelated teen romance ghost story that is simmering on a back burner while I’m stirring the SMASHER pot.

BW:  And since we are the Fearless Fifteens, tell us something that frightens you and something you’ll never fear?

SB:  Heights!  I’m so afraid of heights, it’s ridiculous.  I get vertigo when a movie does the crane over the edge of the building shot.  The Dark Knight in IMAX just about put me into a hyperventilating fit.

And needles.  I had a recurring nightmare about cactuses growing up, which I learned as an adult actually happened when I was a toddler.  So it’s particularly ironic that I’m engaged to an acupuncturist.

BW:  Haha!  I’m guessing you’ll get over that fear pretty quickly! Thanks so much for the interview. 

SB:  Thanks so much for taking the time to read it and come up with those wonderful questions! Remember — ANYTHING is possible!

Scott BlyAbout Scott Bly: Scott Bly has been a computer consultant in Los Angeles for over a decade. He has also taught computer classes and developed interactive educational games for elementary and middle school-aged children. Scott has collaborated and worked with a wide variety of computer specialists, from hackers and designers, to software developers and FBI Consultants. Scott’s debut Middle Grade novel, SMASHER, a fast-paced computer thriller, is scheduled to be published by Scholastic on March 25, 2014.

 

 

Becky headshots-Becky headshots-0007Becky Wallace is the author of THE KEEPERS’ CHRONICLES: THE STORYSPINNER, a magical adventure in which a case of mistaken identity exposes a young performer to a danger she could have never imagined and a secret her father died to protect. It will be available from Simon & Schuster in March of 2015. When Becky’s not writing, she’s baking cupcakes and teaching her kids ’90s dance moves.
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ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Elle Cosimano, author of NEARLY GONE

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Today we’re talking to Elle Cosimano, whose thriller NEARLY GONE comes out today from Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin BFYR.

About NEARLY GONE:NEARLY-GONE-COVER-low-res-198x300

Bones meets Fringe in a big, dark, scary, brilliantly-plotted urban thriller that will leave you guessing until the very end.

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother’s job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone’s skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn’t trust: the new guy at school—a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn’t figure it all out soon—she’ll be next.

1. We love a bad boy with a past.  What was the process of coming up with Reece?  

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Reece. In the first version of the story, Reece was a cop. Not a narc. My agent and I worried that his age might invite objections from publishers, so we made the decision to age him down. But it just wasn’t realistic that a seventeen-year old could be employed as an undercover cop. We knew Reece had to be a student, and making him a confidential informant (narc) seemed like the best solution. CI’s typically become informants for two reasons: 1) they need money, and 2) they need to get out of trouble. Which meant Reece needed a pretty complicated, and criminal, backstory, so I set to work re-imagining him in order to re-write the book.

I built Reece’s character around Nearly’s, at first. I knew I needed him to be very different from her – someone she would never choose to spend time with, or even be attracted to, if circumstances weren’t pushing them together. Where she was very rigid and cautious, I needed him to be fluid and reckless. Where she tried to be unseen, Reece needed to draw attention. I knew he wore tattoos and piercings, and I knew his name. When I searched out the perfect tattoo for his character, I fell in love with the story of the thistle, and his backstory evolved from that symbolism.

2. What experience at the Writers’ Police Academy did you find most helpful in your writing, and why?

I did a four-hour ride along with a deputy sheriff. He let me ask all kinds of pointed and intrusive questions, and he was patient with all my procedural ones. During the course of the ride-along, he told me his favorite part of police work had been during a previous role, working with Confidential Informants. He shared some great insights that confirmed most of my thoughts about Reece – who he was and what motivated him to do what he did, and what kind of relationship he might have had with the police officers and detectives he interacted with. That night, we also served an arrest warrant to a woman living in a trailer park. After, the deputy drove me through the neighborhood, which bore a striking resemblance to Nearly’s trailer park in the book. We talked about the demographics of the community, the types of crimes that frequently happened there, and the challenges it posed for law enforcement. It was as if Sunny View Drive and all of Nearly’s neighbors had stepped off the page.

3. What are you afraid of? What are you not afraid of?

I am terrified of spiders. I’m not afraid of failing.

4. Have you always known you wanted to write thrillers?  Are there any other genres you’d like to explore?

Haha! I always thought I would write romance. But every time I put pen to paper, somebody ended up dead. As it turns out, I love writing a great argument, a tense action sequence, and somehow, there always seems to be a mystery in my books. Sure, kissing is awesome. But kissing to the beat of a ticking clock, perched on the edge of something terrifying and dark… well that’s just a whole lot more fun, I think.

5. Were there any particular issues you wanted to address in writing NEARLY GONE?

No. My books aren’t so much issue-driven so much as character-driven. In real life, we all have backstories. We all have demons or are fighting some kind of battle, many of which we don’t share or other people can’t see. My characters are people too. Some of them come from abusive homes or troubled relationships. Some of them have lost parents to suicide or loved ones to violence. Some of them do things they wish they didn’t have to, to keep food on their plates and a roof over their head. I don’t see this as addressing issues, so much as building multi-dimensional relatable characters whose challenges reflect their environment and circumstances. And if readers connect deeply enough with a character to want to learn more about that character’s struggle, then I’ve done something right.

6. Action scenes – was learning self defense part of your preparation to write the novel?

Not formally, but I got to practice a few basic self-defense maneuvers at the Writers’ Police Academy. Also, there’s a great link to a video on my Extras page at my Nearly Gone website that demonstrates a few techniques Nearly probably would have learned from Butch, the bouncer at her mother’s club.

7. Where do you blog and with whom do you hang?

Most recently, you can find me at The Hanging Garden — a Tumblr blog, where eight YA authors write short stories inspired by GIFs.

I also blog about mysteries and thrillers at Sleuths, Spies and Alibies. I’m a member of both The Lucky 13s and the OneFour KidLit debut groups, and an occasional contributor at Ink & Angst.

I don’t blog with my partners in crime… errr… I mean my crit partners, Megan Miranda and Ashley Elston, but they are the cog in my creative machine, and I owe much of my success (and sanity) to working with them.

Please visit Elle Cosimano’s websites to learn more about her and her books.

stacey-lee-smallStacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she gave up her job as a lawyer to finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day and it was easier than moving to Spain. UNDER A PAINTED SKY is her first novel, coming Winter 2015 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. To learn more, visit www.staceyhlee.com or follow her on Twitter.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An interview with Skila Brown, author of CAMINAR

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Today, we welcome OneFour KidLit author Skila Brown, whose MG debut, CAMINAR, releases today!

CaminarAbout CAMINARSet in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet—he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist.

Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

Exquisitely crafted poems are the basis of an unusually fine verse novel…”

–Horn Book, starred review

“…a much-needed addition to Latin American-themed middle grade fiction.”

–School Library Journal, starred review

AMAZON B&N | INDIEBOUND GOODREADS

CR: Your bio says you lived in Guatemala for a bit. Did your experience there spark interest in this topic? Did anything else inspire you to write this particular story?

SB: We moved to Guatemala after I’d finished the novel, though I revised it some while we were there. This novel actually came out, reluctantly and painfully, after I’d spent about a decade reading about Guatemala’s history, especially the history of the violence there that peaked in the early 80s. I had no intention of writing about it, but that’s what ended up happening. I certainly felt inspired by accounts of survival that I read, but also felt a real desire to make sure other people knew about what had happened there.

CR: How extensive was your research? Did you run into any roadblocks when seeking information?

SB: My research started out very organically—I was reading for pleasure and interest, not with the intention of gathering facts to write a story. When the story began, I had some pointed research to do, specific questions about language and geography and other details that I hadn’t already absorbed. It was hard to track down first person accounts of rural Guatemala during this time.

Right away I faced a tough decision about language. Although Carlos would have spoken Spanish in school, it wouldn’t have been his first language; it’s not what he would have spoken at home with his mother. In an earlier draft I envisioned using an indigenous language in the text, as well as Spanish—which would have likely been the way that Carlos could have spoken to someone like Paco, for example—but I was worried about being able to maintain accuracy and authenticity if I wrote the story that culturally specific. I also felt that an English speaking reader might struggle with the mixture of over four different languages in the same story. Definitely trying to balance authenticity with a reader’s connection was a constant struggle.

CR: Is your protagonist Carlos linked to anyone you came across during your research or does he represent the young men who survived that time?

SB: Carlos isn’t based on any one person. In fact, I had the story down before I had a character at all, but I knew early on the main character was a child, that this was really, at its core, a coming of age story. In violent conflicts all over the world, it’s not uncommon for a handful of people to survive an attack on a village such as this, having scattered away during the chaos. I’d read about children who survived and felt really drawn to that story—how scary it must for a child to be on his or her own, how resourceful that child would have to be.

CR: The physical layout of the poems adds to the narrative. I’m glad I read this one on paper instead of listening to it on audio. The visual really complements the content. Is that something you consider in the writing phase or is that developed in editing?

SB: This was something I worked a lot on in revision. I wrote this story while I was a grad student and while I was working with poets Julie Larios and Sharon Darrow. Sharon, in particular, encouraged me to play around with shape and the placement of lines on a page. White space is a poet’s tool, and I liked thinking about how I could use it. Typically I draft a poem by hand and it has no shape or form in the beginning, I’m just thinking about the content and the words themselves. But as I revise that poem and before I’m ready to put it into the computer, I try to think about what shape would serve it best. It’s easy to play around with form and shape; it’s harder to use those both deliberately.

CR: Tell us about your publication journey. Some people get deals while still in grad school, while others query for years. What’s your story?

SB: While I was in grad school, Candlewick was kind enough to offer me a scholarship award for a picture book text I wrote called Slickety Quick. It’s a non-fiction/poetry blend about sharks and it’s scheduled to be out with them in 2016. This really opened a door for me with them, as they also asked to see my novel. I think the key for writers is to submit away—but then put it out of your mind and dive into the next project. Good news comes faster when you’re looking the other way.

CR: Since we are the Fearless Fifteeners, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.

SB: I’m truthfully afraid of a million and one things. Just ask my kids. This long list includes obvious fears like enclosed spaces, mole’s faces, and high places. Also frogs. (I had to stop the unintentional rhyming.)

I’m not at all afraid of chocolate. In any form. (Well, maybe except for if it were shaped like a frog.)

Thanks for having me!

skilaABOUT SKILA BROWN:

Skila holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana.

 

CindyRodriguezCindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned teacher and fiction writer. She is a middle school reading specialist and an adjunct professor. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe. She lives in Connecticut with her young daughter and their rescue mutt. Her contemporary YA debut, WHEN REASON BREAKS, will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in Winter 2015. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Introducing: Kathryn Holmes

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Hi, everyone! I’m Kathryn Holmes, and my debut novel THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND comes out from HarperTeen in early 2015. I’m a writer and dancer originally from east Tennessee and now happily settled in Brooklyn. I’ve been a writer (and an obsessive reader) for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until 2008, when I started at The New School’s MFA in Creative Writing program, that I started to really push toward writing books as a career. (Before grad school, I spent several years as a magazine editor, and I still write for an array of dance publications, including Dance Spirit.) These days I’m a full-time freelancer, dividing my time between writing my next book, writing dance articles, and a few other writing/editing gigs—plus weekly dance and yoga classes, of course.

So what’s my book about? Here’s the flap copy:

Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her…silent.

Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.

On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.

With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?

IMG_0879In grad school, I’d been working on a book set in my adopted home of New York City. When I put that book in the drawer, I knew I wanted to go back to my roots and set my next book where I grew up. My parents’ house is not far from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While I wouldn’t say I was particularly outdoorsy as a kid or teen, I enjoyed visiting the mountains for day hikes and picnics. When I go home these days, it’s always nice to squeeze in a quick trip to the GSMNP.

IMG_0868And so when the character of Hallelujah appeared in my head and I was starting to figure out her story, I knew I wanted to put her in those mountains. The plot—Hallelujah, Jonah, and Rachel getting lost and struggling to survive, as well as Hallelujah finding her way back from everything that happened with Luke—grew from there. I couldn’t be prouder of the finished product.

I wrote THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND wanting to explore not only survival in a physical sense, but also how a single screwed-up incident can put someone in social “survival mode” for months afterward. I also wanted to explore trust and faith—in oneself, in other people, and yes, even in a higher power. Learning to trust again might be Hallelujah’s only way out of the woods—and I hope you’ll enjoy taking that journey with her.

In the meantime, I am so thrilled to be a Fearless Fifteener. I know my book will be in excellent company on the shelves in a year!

Kathryn Holmes grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, where she was an avid reader and an aspiring writer from an early age. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and piles upon piles of books. A graduate of The New School’s MFA in Creative Writing program, Kathryn works as a freelance dance journalist, among other writing gigs. Her debut YA novel, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND, comes out in early 2015 from HarperTeen. You can find Kathryn online at www.kathrynholmes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Kathryn_Holmes.

ALL FOUR KIDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH LISA COLOZZA COCCA, AUTHOR OF PROVIDENCE

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Today we are featuring OneFourKidLit author Lisa Colozza Cocca, whose YA debut PROVIDENCE came out on March 18!

About PROVIDENCE:

“I first met Baby Girl in a freight car.
I was carrying a bag.
She was sleeping in one.”

ProvidenceCover-largeWhen Becky runs away from home she sees it as a temporary solution to a problem. Finding an abandoned newborn is nowhere on her radar. Yet only hours after leaving home, she finds herself in a new town making decisions that will affect both Baby Girl and herself. As she forges bonds with the people in town and the infant she has rescued, Becky becomes more tangled in the web of lies she has hidden behind. Who can she trust with the truth?

Indiebound I Amazon I Barnes & Noble

Sharon Roat: Congratulations on your debut, Lisa! Can you tell us what sparked the idea for your novel?

Lisa Colozza Cocca: Thank you. Quite some time ago, I saw a news story about a girl who found an abandoned newborn on the roof of the apartment building in which the girl lived. She immediately told her mother, who called the authorities. Later, a news reporter interviewed the girl and told her she was a hero for saving the baby’s life. This little girl was having none of that. As far as she was concerned, she had found the baby, the baby needed a family to love her, she and her mom were a family with plenty of love to spare, so who were these people taking the baby away? It seemed totally unjust to her.

When I decided to write the book, I knew the protagonist couldn’t be a ten year old girl. She needed to be old enough to keep the baby safe and thriving and there needed to be no adult intervention keeping her from caring for the child. Hence, my main character, Becky, became a sixteen year old runaway.

SR: PROVIDENCE takes place in a small Georgia town, far from your stomping grounds of upstate New York and New Jersey! What inspired you set your novel in the south and what kind of research did you do to capture the feel of the place?

LCC: One of my favorite things to do in life is explore and what better way to do that than a road trip? I’ve been on many and love to cruise through small towns along the way. So often, these towns make me feel like I’ve traveled back in time. Watson’s Grove is really a compilation of all of those towns – the ones’ whose main streets have seen a revival and those who are still suffering from neglect. As for why it is set in the south, I hope my answer doesn’t make me sound strange. I knew I wanted it somewhere freight trains still stop with some regularity. Beyond that, I had Becky’s voice in my head and that voice told me this was the South. Things like adoption laws and GED policies can easily be researched.

SR: I love your title, PROVIDENCE, which is simple yet represents a complex concept. How did you choose the title and how does it reflect the theme of your novel?

LCC: Thank you. For a while I had thought about Serendipity for the title. Although outcomes are dependent on how each character reacts to the various situations in the book, the opportunities seem to simply fall into place. The more I thought about it though, Rosie, one of the other main characters in the book, is very religious. She would have never thought the intersection of the characters’ lives was pure chance. She saw God’s hand in it and acted accordingly. So I guess in a way, Rosie chose the title when she told Becky their relationship was providence.

SR: While PROVIDENCE is your debut novel, you’ve written quite extensively for young readers as an author of school and library materials. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer and where you hope that path will take you in the years ahead?

LCC: A little more than a decade ago, I went to a writer’s conference. We were seated in a large room waiting for the keynote speaker. The woman sitting next to me started chatting about her work. She was the director of the art department at a publishing house. They specialized in educational materials and she told me a bit about the products they were working on. I’m not an illustrator, but I was familiar with the reading program she was discussing. She offered me her card and the name of a colleague who was looking for another writer for the program. I followed through and was soon writing for this program. (Serendipity? Providence? Hmmm…) This led to many other jobs and after about two years, writing and editing became my full time job as a freelancer. Originally, I thought this move would give me more time for my own writing. Wow, was I wrong. After writing and editing for eight to twelve hours a day, it was tough to sit back down at a computer and write some more. Eventually, I worked it out and although I’m not perfect at it, I am better at keeping a balance between the two worlds. As to the future, I would love it if someday I could cut back on my day job and devote more time to my personal writing. I don’t think I want to give up the educational work entirely though. For one thing, it pays the bills and I like things like electricity, heat, and health insurance. For the other, I really love my job. I work on so many different kinds of projects. They feed my self-discipline, my creativity, and make me think. I’ve met some wonderful people through it.

SR: What are you working on now?

LCC: I’m polishing another novel. It is a bit younger YA, I think than PROVIDENCE. It is set in the early sixties and has quite a bit more humor in it.

SR: And lastly, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

LCC: I am intensely afraid of heights and speed. This makes me no fun at an amusement park. One thing I’m not afraid of anymore is failing. I’ve lived long enough to know I can bounce back from a failure. It might mean I have to adapt in some way, but it won’t be the end of me. I think once you realize something doesn’t have complete control over you, you’re no longer afraid of it. Now, if I could only apply that philosophy to heights and speed!

Lisa, thank you so much for the interview, and huge congrats on your debut!

ABOUT LISA COLOZZA COCCA:

Lisa grew up in upstate New York between Albany and Saratoga, and lives in New Jersey today. She has always worked around books as a teacher and school librarian. She’s also authored tons of school and library materials. PROVIDENCE is Lisa’s first published novel. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter!

SharonHussRoatSharon Roat is the author of IVY’S TOWER (HarperTeen), a contemporary young adult novel coming in summer 2015. She lives in Delaware and can be found online at YA Q&A and on Twitter @sharonwrote.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Julie Murphy, Author of SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY

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Today, we welcome OneFour KidLit author Julie Murphy, whose YA debut, SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY, releases today!


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About SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY:

What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

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JM: I’m so happy to be here! Thanks for having me!

LG: SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY has a fantastic premise – a girl with incurable cancer decides to seek revenge on those who’ve been mean to her, and then, when all is said and done, she goes into remission. What was your inspiration for this story?

JM: Until recently, I had worked with teens at a public library. At one of our gatherings, the teens and I got into a heated discussion about the zombie apocalypse and where we would all barricade ourselves should we be stranded in the library. This topic quickly evolved into a discussion about all the things that we weren’t allowed to do in a library that we might do if all bets were off. And that’s where it all began. Here I am on the OneFour KidLit YouTube channel, talking more about my inspiration while my cats steal the show.

LG: How much research went into the story in regards to Alice’s diagnosis and treatments?

JM: When I wrote the first draft, I actually hadn’t decided what kind of cancer Alice had. I consulted with a few medical professional friends and the ever trusty internet quite a bit as I weaved in the details of her illness. But most my research time was spent reading blogs written by cancer patients. Have a glimpse into their situation and mindset was invaluable. People who had lived really full, incredible lives were emotional wrecks. Witnessing their struggle was a painful necessity. There’s nothing pretty about cancer, but I am forever grateful to those who have chosen to document their journey.

LG: You wrote the book from both Alice and Harvey’s perspectives, and also in two timelines – before remission (then) and after (now). Was it hard going back and forth between voices and time periods? Did you write it chronologically, or how it appears in the book? Did you prefer one voice over the other?

JM: It was actually a very natural thing. I didn’t write chronologically. I love both of their voices in such different ways. After being with one of them for a few days, it was kind of a relief to get into a new headspace.

LG: Alice is a strong, raw, determined character. She does some things, especially to Harvey, that aren’t always likable, yet we’re still able to cheer her on. Why did you create her like that? Was it hard?

JM: I wanted to create someone who was the antagonist of her own story. Sure, Alice is strong, but like all of us, her greatest strengths can also be her greatest weaknesses. Alice toes this line. For example, Alice is honest, and sometimes you love her for it, but at other times it’s her greatest downfall. My hope was that she would feel human above all, and I think that’s what makes it possible to cheer for her. It was definitely a challenge, but Harvey created this wonderful balance that only made my job easier.

LG: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process, and your follow-up novel?

JM: Well, I used to be a total pantser, but after selling my second book on proposal, that just was not going to work. Book two, DUMPLIN’, has had an outline since day one. It’s definitely morphed, but the heart of the story has remained. Since I’m still writing DUMPLIN’, I can’t say much but I can give these hints: fat girl, small town, Texas, Dolly Parton, beauty pageant, best friend love, secret summer romance, and grief.

LG: How has the debut process for you been? Any advice for the Fearless Fifteeners?

JM: Everything happens at once. Publishing is all about stretches of painful silence, and then flurries of action. Enjoy the flurries, and learn the value of the silence. It’s all about balance. (Something I don’t think I’ll ever finish learning.)

LG: And, last, since this is a fearless community, what’s something you’re afraid of, and something you’re not afraid of?

JM: I am terrified of cicadas. I am not terrified of failure. Been there. Done that.

Julie-Murphy-Author-PhotoAbout Julie Murphy:

Julie Murphy lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she’s not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library. SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is Julie’s debut novel. Julie can best be found on her website , Tumblr , or Twitter .

lauren gibaldi squaredLauren Gibaldi is an author and public librarian who lives in Orlando, FL with her husband and overflowing collection of books. She likes dinosaurs, musicals, and the circus (two of which she’s participated in. Hint: It’s not being a dinosaur). Her debut YA novel, THE NIGHT WE SAID YES, will be released summer 2015 with HarperTeen/HarperCollins.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Laura Marx Fitzgerald, Author of UNDER THE EGG

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Today we’re talking with OneFourKidLit author Laura Marx Fitzgerald, whose middle grade mystery UNDER THE EGG releases today! If you are a fan of Chasing Vermeer or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, then UNDER THE EGG is the book for you.

18060008ABOUT UNDER THE EGG:

Only two people know about the masterpiece hidden in the Tenpenny home—and one of them is dead.

The other is Theodora Tenpenny. Theo is responsible for tending the family’s two-hundred-year-old town house, caring for a flock of unwieldy chickens, and supporting her fragile mother, all on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. So, when Theo discovers a painting in the house that looks like a priceless masterpiece, she should be happy about it. But Theo’s late grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and if the painting is as valuable as she thinks it is, then her grandfather wasn’t who she thought he was.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all over Manhattan and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

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SPOILER ALERT: If you like to read your mysteries without any hints to what lies ahead, then bookmark this page and go read UNDER THE EGG right now, then come back to Laura’s interview when you’re done. We’ll wait for you.

JCB: Congratulations on your debut, Laura! How did you come up with the idea for UNDER THE EGG? 

LMF: I had an idea to write an art history mystery—with time travel! Fortunately an editor friend talked me out of the time travel, but gave me some middle-grade fiction to read for ideas.

Around this time I was watching Antiques Roadshow and thinking about what made it so compelling. Yes, there’s always that final moment where you see dollar signs in the owner’s eyes. But I saw too how excited people were about the path the object had taken to their living rooms. People were so proud to tell how their grandfather had met FDR, or how their aunt always hid this painting in her boudoir, or how they themselves haggled this rug down to a nickel. The story wasn’t just in the object’s creation—it was in the personal history each item held for the owner.

At the same time, I was reading a fantastic book by Edward Dolnick called The Forger’s Spell, when these three lines jumped out at me:

The easiest test of an old master—and the one test almost certain to be carried out—is to dab the surface with rubbing alcohol. In a genuinely old painting, the surface will be hard, and the alcohol will have no effect. If the painting is new, the alcohol will dissolve a bit of paint, and the tester’s cotton swab will come up smudged with color.

I wondered: what if someone intentionally painted over a valuable painting, with the plan to later remove the top layer? All those Antiques Roadshow questions came back to me—who made it, and how did it get here?—and UNDER THE EGG was born.

JCB: UNDER THE EGG incorporates so much cool history, ie. the Monuments Men, in such an interesting way. I’m assuming writing this novel involved a lot of research. How did you go about doing your research? Did the writing come first or the research?

LMF: For me, the research always comes first! If I’m interested in a topic, I start out by reading everything I can find on it. For UNDER THE EGG, I read books and watched documentaries on (spoiler alert!) art theft, art forgery, Raphael and the Italian Renaissance in general, looting in World War II, the Monuments Men, paint chemistry, the history of Greenwich Village, urban homesteading, pickling, and recycled art. (Thank you, Brooklyn Public Library, and your generous check-out policies!) I also made multiple trips to the Met and the Center for Jewish History to consult their archives.

Throughout the research process, I picked up bits and bobs of details I found interesting. Once I had a story in mind, the trick was weaving them together.

By the way, many sources are linked on my website for readers who want to know the true stories behind the book. Go to: http://www.lauramarxfitzgerald.com/#!resources/c14j5

JCB: Was it difficult figuring out what facts to weave into the story and what to leave out?

LMF: The writing process is a (and I cringe as I write this) chess game. With each decision you make, you gain and lose others.  So there were many, many fun ideas I had to leave aside.  For example, inspired by that great book The Forger’s Spell, I had an early idea that Jack was forging paintings with the help of his friend Sal’s brick pizza oven. (Read The Forger’s Spell to find out how it would have worked.) But once I decided Jack was a thief and not a forger, that idea got ejected. Maybe you’ll see it in another novel!

JCB: Beyond the history woven throughout UNDER THE EGG, it is rich with so much more–memorable characters, the budding friendship of Theo and Bodhi, the details of big city life, the attention to how Theo lives. Was it difficult juggling all these elements as you drafted the novel? Did you see them all as a part of the story from the beginning, or did some evolve in later drafts?

LMF: The final draft changed little from the first (except Madame Dumont was first called Miss Wickens; her path to New York changed quite a bit). I was always trying to tell a mystery-within-a-contemporary-story, like one of my favorite books, Possession by A.S.Byatt. In that book, two graduate students slowly uncover the hidden love between two Victorian poets, with clues found both in historic documents and the authors’ poems themselves. As the mystery unfolds, the grad students fall in love, and this “front story” is every bit as compelling as the historic backdrop.

In UNDER THE EGG, Theo and Bodhi are my love story, without the romantic interest. The way I see it, their relationship propels the investigation forward, even for readers who may not be terribly interested in art. And their differences, which make for a crackling, opposites-attract friendship, are also crucial to the investigation. Bodhi is the tech-savvy sleuth who gets jazzed by every new gizmo on the market, while Theo is the one who reads, reflects, and looks deeply. Both approaches are necessary to solve the mystery.

Their relationship—and their travels around the city—are what keep the story alive and moving.  Otherwise it would just be the story of a girl at the library on Google. In other words, my life.

JCB: We share two of the same favorite middle grade books: The Westing Game and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. What other middle-grade books have influenced you as a writer?

LMF: I absolutely loved (and still love) contemporary classics like Anastasia Krupnik, Harriet the Spy, and When You Reach Me, as well as historical fiction like the Little House series, All-of-a-Kind Family, and The Borrowers.

Although I only discovered it in the last few years, and although it’s technically literary fiction, there is one other book was hugely influential in writing UNDER THE EGG. I’m talking about True Grit, long cast as a John Wayne-Western in most minds, but really a fantastic YA story with the most unique narrative voice I’ve ever encountered. Heroic, irascible Mattie Ross was an important model for Theo, and I’d love to see more middle-grade and YA readers discover her.

JCB: What are you working on now?

LMF: Another art history mystery. This one involves a group of kids working to solve an art heist and uncovering a much darker crime.

JCB: As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of?

LMF: I’m proud to say that I am not at all afraid of snakes. But I am very, very, very afraid of spiders.

Thank you for the interview, Laura! And congratulations again on UNDER THE EGG!

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ABOUT LAURA MARX FITZGERALD:

In writing UNDER THE EGGLaura Marx Fitzgerald drew on her study of art history at Harvard and Cambridge Universities. Though she grew up Down South, today she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two kids (and a dog, if the two kids keep begging).

Jennifer BertmanJennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, BOOK SCAVENGER (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). BOOK SCAVENGER launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA.