Introducing Tatum Flynn

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SEVEN THINGS ABOUT ME

  1. I was a pro poker player for a decade. Bluffing all your chips while being stared down by a guy who looks like he might moonlight for the mafia is pretty good practice for making up stories while staring down a deadline.
  2. The first thing I ever wrote, aged seven, was a precociously brilliant comic about a girl detective. Okay, it was terrible. A blind rhino can draw better than me.
  3. I think funny books are underrated. After all, imagine a world without laughter. Now there’s a horror story.
  4. I have a tattoo of a hissing black cat. It tells the world that I’m not a person to be trifled with. Or possibly a person who makes poor decisions when hungover.
  5. Once upon a time I worked in a casino on a cruise ship, and I missed the boat. I had to jump from a moving pilot boat onto a rope ladder hanging from the side of the moving cruise ship and climb a hundred feet up. Yes I am secretly James Bond.
  6. Unless you catch me when I’ve not had enough sleep or coffee. Then I’m more Rosa Klebb.
  7. I don’t trust adults who’ve forgotten what it was like to be children.

 

SEVEN THINGS ABOUT MY BOOK

  1. A successful author once told me no publisher would ever buy a kid’s book set in Hell. Muahaha.
  2. My favourite note from my editor says ‘How I love [the main character] Jinx – he is such a NICE sort of boy, despite being the literal spawn of Satan’.
  3. My book will be illustrated (by the very talented Mr Dave Shephard). It never crossed my mind that this might happen, and has been one of the coolest things about getting a book deal.
  4. There’s one scary scene I asked *not* to be illustrated, because some things are better left to the imagination.
  5. The very first sentence I ever wrote – ‘Lucifer was sulking.’ – is still in the book, which makes me happy. I have a soft spot for the King of Hell.
  6. Making up fantasy worlds is one of my favourite things ever. It’s your universe – you can do ANYTHING with it.
  7. If you like underdog heroes, ninja dead girls, kindly sloths, dangerous libraries, carnivorous carousel horses, and laughing, you might like my book.
Tatum FlynnTatum Flynn lives by the sea in England with a cat called Friday and too many hats. Her debut, THE D’EVIL DIARIES, is a humorous MG fantasy about Lucifer’s youngest son Jinx, who’s hopeless at being evil, and the startling adventures he gets up to when he runs away from home. It’ll be out from Orchard/Hachette in April 2015, with a sequel to follow in October. Find her on Tumblr (sometimes) and Twitter (far too often).

All Four Kids: Interview With Benny Zelkowicz and Cam Baity, Authors of The First Book of Ore: The Foundry’s Edge

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This week I am delighted to be chatting with Benny Zelkowicz and Cam Baity, the hilarious authors of THE FIRST BOOK OF ORE: THE FOUNDRY’S EDGE. Before we get to the interview, here’s a little more about the book:

oreTwo kids on a rescue mission.
A mysterious realm of living metal.
One secret that will change the world.

For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief Surveyor for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on technology, Phoebe’s father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal, one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.

The Foundry’s Edge is the first book in a trilogy that will transport young readers down a mechanical rabbit hole and send them on an adventure that explores the hidden costs of indulgence, the perils of unchallenged nationalism, and the world-altering power of compassion and conviction.

Amazon / B&N / Indiebound / Goodreads


The dreaded but inevitable question—what inspired the Books of Ore?

That’s actually an easy one for us. We are both stop-motion animators, so we have a tendency to look at objects differently, to invent their personalities and imagine how they might move if they were alive. As animators, we need to conjure the illusion of life out of inanimate lumps of wire, fabric, and foam all the time. We have to make decisions about every aspect of a puppet, from how gravity affects it, to its mood, its thoughts, and its physical capabilities. This process got us thinking about everyday gadgets, all the bicycles and remote controls and electric toothbrushes, and what they might be like if they were sentient. Who were they? Where did they come from? And most importantly, why are they no longer alive? This question into the origin of objects and technology sparked the concept for the Books of Ore.

So you wrote this book together. How did that come about? And what’s collaboration like? Which of you is Lennon and which is McCartney? Which of you is the brains and which is the beauty?

We’ve been working together for fifteen years, ever since we sat in the back row of our experimental film history class and found ourselves disagreeing on everything. It turns out to be our greatest strength! And like any relationship, our dynamic is constantly evolving. In fact, we are approaching book two of our trilogy with a very different method than how we wrote book one. But the general approach is this: Benny writes the good stuff, and then Cam comes along and mucks it all up.

Okay, not exactly. We hammer out the big picture together, working out a detailed outline, beat by beat. Then we leapfrog chapters, discuss the minutia to make sure we are seeing things in the same way, then we both draft. Next, we trade, discuss and argue, then we each take a pass on the other’s chapter. We go back and forth until we are both happy with the result. Rinse and repeat.

So in summation, Cam is the beauty, and Benny is Ringo. Sort of.

If your main characters Phoebe and Micah were going out for karaoke, what would they sing?

Phoebe has some significant pre-teen angst, so something like The Smiths would likely be in her repertoire. Micah would definitely be a fan of country-western music, though we can easily imagine him singing TV show theme songs, maybe something like “Secret Agent Man”, or (if this Karaoke bar magically has it) the theme song from his favorite TV show, “Maddox.”

What was your favorite scene in the novel to write? (spoiler free!)

Since we don’t really have a favorite, we will mention one off the top of our heads – the introduction of Mr. Pynch and the Marquis. These guys are a pair of bizarre but lovable rascals that our heroes encounter midway through their journey, and they have a lot of Cam and Benny in them. Benny is taller, a huge aficionado of silent movies, and a walking slapstick machine (like the silent, dapper Marquis.) Cam is shorter, gruffer, and fond of perspicillious words, like Mr. Pynch. The way they constantly bicker while still retaining a productive partnership and affection for one another is dear to our hearts.

What can we look forward to in the next book?

To momentarily eschew all modesty, some pretty spectacular stuff. At the end of book one, Phoebe and Micah find themselves in an unlikely position with an overwhelming responsiblility. Book two follows their desperate efforts to accomplish something so grand that it is almost certainly unattainable. We explore the conflict unfolding both in Mehk and Meridian, and the rules of this world of living metal come much more into focus. There is an emphasis on the species of Mehk and how they relate to one another, as well as a process of constant discovery as new lands and lifeforms appear, alongside new allies and terrifying enemies. Then it all winds up with a doozy of a climax.

Suffice it to say, we think it’s pretty cool.

What has the debut journey been like for you? Is there anything about publishing that surprised you?

It has been both the most challenging and most rewarding venture of our careers. The years of intensive labor put a strain on our wallets and our relationships, to be sure, but nothing compares to the smell of the first opened box of books with your name on it. And yes, there have been many surprises along the way, but the biggest would have to be the amount of marketing we have to do. Between establishing relationships with bookstores, setting up school and library visits, and trying to get on panels at conventions and expos, there is barely any time to do the actual writing. Marketing is not the most enjoyable part of the job, but it is necessary.

And finally, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.

Cam is afraid of the “Idiocracy” effect, where our future is a dumber place. Cam is not afraid of failure.

Benny is afraid of “Mr. Boogedy”, from a mid 80’s ABC Tv movie of the week. That movie was freaky as hell. Benny is not afraid of spiders, unless they come bearing overdue bills.

cam and bennyCAM BAITY & BENNY ZELKOWICZ are writers, animators, and filmmakers who began collaborating after meeting at California Institute of the Arts. A Texas native, Cam has made several short films, which have been screened at festivals around the globe, including Cinequest and the BBC British Short Film Festival. With fifteen years of experience in the film industry, his work includes SpongeBob SquarePants, Team America: World Police, and Robot Chicken, for which he won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation. Canadian-born Benny studied science before turning his attention to animation, and his celebrated short The ErlKing was an official selection at both Sundance and the New York Film Festival. He has directed the BBC/CBC animated series Lunar Jim, and in the U.S. his work has been seen in The Simpsons and The LEGO Movie. Visit them and learn more about their books at  booksofore.com.

Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, Diet Coke fanatic, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. Her YA reimagining of Frankenstein, THIS MONSTROUS THING, will be published by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins in 2015. Find her on Twitter, Pinterest, or on her blog, where she talks about books, Boston, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

ALL FOUR KIDS: INTERVIEW WITH SHALLEE MCARTHUR, AUTHOR OF THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE

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We’re pleased to share our interview with fellow Fearless Fifteener Shallee McArthur, whose YA sci-fi, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, officially comes out today!

About THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE:

Unhappening-final copy-smallSeventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi—a small group of genetically-enhanced humans—Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve memories perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend.

Anyone could be next. Which is why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims that they’ve not only met, but that Gena knows who the thief is.

The problem is, Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things—or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast.

Because Gena’s life is unhappening around her.

AMAZON | B&N | BAM | INDIEBOUND | !NDIGO | POWELL’S | GOODREADS

ESShallee20Edit_head_large2KV: Congratulations on the release of THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE! What inspired you to write it?

SM: Thank you! It was inspired by lots of things, but I must give credit to my husband who asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could store your memories of an object IN that object?” And, well, here we are today!

KV: The idea of storing memories outside the brain is such an interesting one, and you did a great job of making it seem not only possible but plausible. What kind of research did you have to do to be able to write about it so convincingly?

SM: Ooh, fun question! This was actually one of the hardest things for me, because I like my science fiction to be…well, based on science. I did tons of research on memory itself (of which we know surprisingly little). Then I had to do lots of research on both the central and peripheral nervous systems–and then, of course, I had to stretch that science into fiction to make it work! I read lots of scientific articles, and had some help from my mother (a nurse), as well.

KV: Gena goes on quite an emotional and psychological odyssey over the course of the book. How did that character arc develop?

SM: It took me a while to figure Gena out, actually. Her character arc started out completely different, because I didn’t really know who she was for a while. I had to do a lot of exploring about her, not just in the writing, but by going out into the real world and trying to figure out how she would see it. As the story developed, so did she. Of course, certain torturous things I did to her, I knew all along would happen–it was figuring out her reactions that would continue shaping the story that took the longest!

KV: Gena wasn’t the only great character in this book. I also really liked Kalan, Gena’s accomplice and eventual love interest, and Ren, Gena’s older sister. Any behind-the-scenes tidbits you can share about them?

SM: So. You find out in the book that Kalan’s middle name is Daniel. That’s my husband’s name, because Kalan has a lot of traits in common with my husband! Which might explain why I love Kalan A LOT. As for Ren, I have a very special place in my heart for her. One thing that I share with Ren is our love for all things froggy–both Ren and I collect frog stuff (ceramic figures, pajama pants, etc.).

KV: The whole book takes place in Havendale, Gena’s hometown. It’s a made-up place (obviously), but were you imagining somewhere specific when you wrote it, and if so, why did you pick that somewhere? (For the record, it reminded me of southern Utah!)

SM: Oh yes, absolutely! I’m glad it reminded you of southern Utah, because that’s what I based it on! My husband is from there, and I’ve developed a strong love of the whole area. I based Havendale Canyon very loosely on Zion National Park, and the city itself I see as sort of a mix of St. George, Utah, and early Las Vegas, Nevada, with a dash of its own flare thrown in!

KV: Will Gena’s story end here? If so, what else are you working on?

SM: It does, in fact, end here. I feel very strongly that Gena’s story is over–it was all enclosed in this one book, and I’m afraid I’d do her story a disservice if I tried to extend it. I’ve been working on several other things since then, included a psychological spy thriller and a super-cool high fantasy!

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

SM: I’m afraid of ants. True story. It’s a psychological fear of them swarming me, because I was attacked by a swarm of them as a kid. As for what I’m not afraid of, that would be traveling to crazy places alone! I used to be afraid of that, and then I went to Ghana, West Africa, and developed a love for travel and exploring in place of the fear.

For more information about Shallee and THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, you can find her at her website, www.shalleemcarthur.com, and on Twitter and Facebook.

Krista squaredKrista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by bedtime. She lives with her husband and three kids in Mesquite, Nevada, where she watches too much college football and looks for her dead people online. She is the author of the forthcoming THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2015) and a middle grade contemporary that doesn’t have a title yet (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 2015).

It’s November Fifteenth, and We Know What That Means…

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News!

Book Deals and Rights Sales

Kathryn Holmes sells her sophomore novel, EVERYTHING’S BEAUTIFUL, to HarperTeen. Congratulations, Kathryn!

Interviews and Cool Posts

Cindy L. Rodriguez reviews Becky Albertalli‘s SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA and Aisha Saeed‘s WRITTEN IN THE STARS.

Eve Ainsworth debuts her new website (and Mackenzi Lee debuts her new website, too!).

Susan Adrian reveals the first stops on The Tunnel Tour.

Kelly Loy Gilbert suggests thirteen prompts to trigger character development on the NaNoWriMo blog.

Jenn Chambliss Bertmann describes what it’s like to reach that great editing finish line.

The School Library Journal picks “10 to Note” for the upcoming winter season, and Alison DeCamp‘s MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES (99% TRUE!) and Dan Gemeinhart‘s THE HONEST TRUTH both make the list!

Fonda Lee offers advice on writing action and fight scenes (and as the author of ZEROBOXER, she’s uniquely qualified to offer it).

Cover Reveals

Girls in the Stacks reveals the cover of Shannon Grogan‘s FROM WHERE I WATCH YOU (and I believe you still have a few days to enter the giveaway for a Barnes & Noble gift card!).

YA Highway has the cover of Michelle Levy‘s NOT AFTER EVERYTHING.

YA Highway also has the cover of Sharon Huss Roat‘s BETWEEN THE NOTES.

Marie Jaskulka reveals the cover of THE LOST MARBLE NOTEBOOK OF FORGOTTEN GIRL & RANDOM BOY.

Jen Klein reveals the cover of JILLIAN CADE: (FAKE) PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR.

Melody Maysonet has the cover of A WORK OF ART.

Gina Ciocca reveals the updated cover of LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE.

Epic Reads has the covers of Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton‘s TINY PRETTY THINGS and Maggie Lehrman’s THE COST OF ALL THINGS.

Kidliterati reveals the cover of David Fulk‘s RAISING RUFUS.

Jen White tweets the cover of SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE.

And Emilie Christie Burack tweets the cover of THE RUNAWAY’S GOLD.

Professional Reviews

Kirkus reviews Cindy L. Rodriguez‘s WHEN REASON BREAKS and Alison DeCamp‘s MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES (99% TRUE!).

Publishers Weekly reviews Gail Nall‘s BREAKING THE ICE.

Susan Adrian rounds up the reviews for TUNNEL VISION.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Trisha Leaver & Lindsay Currie, co-authors of CREED

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Sona Charaipotra taking over the blog today! And since my debut, Tiny Pretty Things, is a collaboration with one Dhonielle Clayton, I was thrilled to be able to interview the All Four Kids debut duo of Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie, who collaborated on the super scary CREED, which hits bookstores today. We chatted about publishing craziness, crafting a scary story, balancing mothering and writing, and how they write together with more than 1200 miles between them! And they rock. Herewith, Trisha and Lindsay!

CREED is available today at Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Can you tell us a bit about the book?

CREED is the story of tree teens — Dee, Luke, and Mike —who accidentally find themselves stranded in town run by charismatic leader, Elijah Hawkins. It chronicles their three day long struggle to free themselves, not only physically but mentally, from Elijah’s control. The playlist below speaks to the desperation, fear, and hope that kept them alive, fighting for a way out as opposed to blindly accepting their fate.

The “official” Creed Blurb:

Three of us went in.

Three of us came out.

None of us a shadow of who we once were.

When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and Luke’s brother, Mike, seek help in the nearby town of Purity Springs. But as they walk the vacant streets, the teens make some disturbing discoveries. The seemingly deserted homes each contain a sinister book with violent instructions on disciplining children. The graveyard is full of unmarked crosses. Worst of all, there’s no way to contact the outside world.

When Purity Springs’ inhabitants suddenly appear, Dee, Luke, and Mike find themselves at the mercy of Elijah Hawkins, the town’s charismatic leader who has his own plans for the three of them. Their only hope for survival is Elijah’s enigmatic son, Joseph. And his game may be just as deadly as his father’s….

Did you guys ever scare yourselves while writing? (Don’t laugh — I’ve done this before!) 

Trisha: No, but I have a pretty high tolerance of “scares.” That said, I am quite sure my search history would have more than one person questioning my sanity! LOL!

Lindsay: Nope, but occasionally if I shut my eyes and envision some of the things we write, I can creep myself out. Especially the sirens and crop fields at the beginning of CREED. Terrifying.

How did you and Lindsay start collaborating (and meet?) — and how did the concept for CREED come together? 

Trisha LeaverTrisha: Once upon a time, in a land far, far away… just kidding. We were critique partners long before we started collaborating on CREED. We had similar writing habits and styles, so it started off as more of an experiment…a way to keep our minds off things while we both had solo projects making the rounds. I’d write a scene and toss it at her, she’d tack on another scene and toss it back. And so it went until we had 64,000 half-way decent words sketched out.

You guys are 1200 miles apart. How did collaboration work? Are you pantsers or plotters?

Trisha: I am a panster 100% of the time. I have a rough idea of where the story starts and ends, but everything in the middle…well that is fair game until the words get typed out. As for how we collaborate form 1200 miles apart—lots of emails and phone calls.

Lindsay: Ditto. I’ve tried writing with an outline and it generally ends up reading like a forced mess.

What has the debut author journey been like? Does it help having a partner on this wild ride?

Trisha: In one word, I would have to say the entire experience has been surreal. You spend days…months…years crafting this story, slaving over every word choice, questioning every plot point. And then one day, you have to let it go, let the world take a peek inside your creative mind. It’s scary and exhilarating and exhausting, and…well, surreal.

Lindsay: WILD! I really think publishing is a lot like a roller coaster for me. The highs are amazing, but the lows damn near kill you sometimes. It’s nice to have a partner along for the journey, especially someone as level-headed as Trisha.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve experienced on your publishing journey? 

Trisha: How absolutely supportive the author community is. From beta reading, to holding your hand through a difficult revision, to raising a virtual glass of wine to you when you hit a milestone, the author community is small and tight knit, and full of the most generous people I’d ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Lindsay: How many NOs it often takes to make a yes. I won’t say how long it took me to get an agent, but it wasn’t fast. And it’s hard when you’re in those trenches to remind yourself that the overnight successes are actually very rare. The longer journeys – the ones that take years of blood, sweat and tears – those are more often the norm.

Are you planning to collaborate further? What’s next for each of you?

Trisha: On the solo front, my YA Contemporary, THE SCECRETS WE KEEP, drops April 28th 2015 from FSG/Macmillan. I am insanely excited about that one. It’s about the complicated bond between twin sisters and the lengths they will go to keep each other’s secrets safe.

On the co-authored front, we have two books forthcoming. HARDWIRED, a co-authored sci-fi, is set to release fall of 2015 with Flux. Based in a contemporary world, HARDWIRED deals with the fall-out of genetic testing and the idea of nature vs. nurture. Our third co-authored work, SWEET MADNESS, is a retelling of the infamous Borden murders from the point of view of Lizzie’s Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan. I will be published sometime in 2016 by Merit Press.  

You each have three kids. How do you get any writing done? Tips about work/life balance please!  

Trisha: I am lucky — all three of my kids are school age so I have a solid six hours of writing time a day. I also have a husband who likes to cook and isn’t averse to doing laundry so that helps too!

As for life work balance…I may be a panster in my writing but when it comes to life, I’m an incessant plotter. I’m the kind of person who formulates a back-up plan for my back-up plan. Every morning I make a list, the items that absolutely need to get done are written in red, the rest get jotted down in black. It could be as complicated as re-work the closing scene to a WIP or as mundane as defrost the chicken for dinner. Do they all get done…hardly ever, but I find the list keeps me on track.

lindsay author photoLindsay: Ah, the million dollar question. Honestly, it’s hard and I won’t try to say it isn’t. There have been times I’ve looked at the laundry pile and sighed, or shook my head at the fact that I’m ordering carry out again. But my husband and kiddos are supportive and they never cease to amaze me with their patience.

There is one priceless thing about juggling writing with kids and that’s that my kiddos have watched Mommy go after her dream and achieve it. It may not have happened right away. It might not have been without a tear or two, but it happened. And I think seeing that kind of resilience and determination is better than a crisply ironed shirt and home made casserole any day!

As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of — and something you are not afraid of!

Trisha: I am deathly afraid of snakes.  Spiders, mice, and other sketchy type animals I can totally deal with, but not snakes.  They are slimy, and like to hide, and have the oddest looking eyes—it’s like they are looking at you and everything else at the same time, sizing up what the best angle of attack is.  Yeah…just no!

As for what am I not afraid of…criticism. I used to terrified of “what people thought” of me. It would keep me up at night, trying to figure out a way to make everybody happy, often at the expense of myself and my family. If there is one thing this crazy path to publication has taught me is that as long as you are true to yourself, and kind and generous to the people you love, then what your third cousin twice removed thinks is really of no consequence

Lindsay: I am not afraid of the dark…I used to be when I was a child, but not anymore. Evening is the quietest time in my house, the one time I can sit down and write. I am, however, deathly afraid of flying. It’s not the long security lines or cramped seats, it’s the whole crash and burn aspect that I hate.

 

Sona CharaipotraAn entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, Parade, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, Sona Charaipotra is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she studied journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she’s not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Vampire Diaries – for work, of course. Her debut, the YA dance drama TINY PRETTY THINGS is due May 26, 2015 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com, CAKELiterary.com or Twitter: Sona_C.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Ami Polonsky, author of Gracefully Grayson

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Mike Grosso at the blog wheel today, thrilled to be interviewing Ami Polonsky, author of the wonderful 2014 debut GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, a book that will speak to any middle grade reader with a secret that threatens to crush their soul.

Here’s the specifics on GRACEFULLY GRAYSON:

gracefullygrayson

What if who you are on the outside doesn’t match who you are on the inside?

Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

GRACEFULLY GRAYSON is available today at Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-MillionAmazon | Powells | Book Depository

MG: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! GRACEFULLY GRAYSON is a particularly brave angle for a middle grade book. I imagine it would require a special agent/editor. Did it have any trouble finding a home?

AMI: Thank you, Mike. And thanks so much for interviewing me! Gracefully Grayson actually found a home fairly easily. I attribute this good fortune to a) the fact that times are finally changing and the world seems ready for a middle school-aged, transgender protagonist and b) the fact that my agent and editors recognized this. I queried my agent, Wendy Schmalz, in August of 2012 and by early October, we had a book deal. Of course, this was fabulous for me on a personal level, but on a larger scale I think it’s a clear sign that transgender children are finally starting to get the positive attention that they deserve. So yes, Gracefully Grayson does have a very special agent, and it also has two very special editors—Lisa Yoskowitz and Stephanie Lurie at Disney-Hyperion. I am forever indebted to all three of them for standing behind me and my book.

MG: There are many readers out there who will identify – both openly and secretly – with Grayson. What is the most important message you’d like them to hear?

AMI: I think that the middle school and high school years can be really difficult times to remain true to who you are. I was a total conformist during those years and I really regret that. I think our world would be a better place if we all had the courage to let our unique qualities shine. My message to others would be to get to know who you are, love who you are, and let others see the real you.

MG: On the other side of that coin, some readers may have trouble accepting someone like Grayson.  The book has many great examples of characters that either bully or are afraid to speak up against those who bully. What message are you hoping they will get from the book?

AMI: While this may sound simplistic, I’m really hoping that people who read Gracefully Grayson will come to like Grayson. I want them to view her as someone they’d want to get to know further. I think that we often stay away from people who we view as very different from us because we’re afraid of differences. I tend to focus on similarities between people rather than differences. There are so many common threads between all of our experiences as human beings, and we can find a common ground with almost anybody. I hope that people who might be inclined to bully or shun a transgender person will get to know Grayson well enough to recognize that her struggles are universal struggles—she wants to be true to herself, and she wants her community to know her for who she really is.

MG: I really loved the way GRACEFULLY GRAYSON confronts gender and sexual orientation as two separate things. Other than the taunts of a few bullies, Grayson’s sexuality is kept largely ambiguous while his gender identity is quite clear. How would you respond to a reader who is curious about Grayson’s sexual orientation?

AMI: That’s an interesting question, and I’m usually reluctant to answer the unanswered questions in Gracefully Grayson. Now that I’ve sent the book out into the world, I really feel that it’s not mine anymore. But…I’ll answer just this one unanswered question! I’ve always viewed Grayson as a straight female. 

MG: As a fellow educator, I was intrigued by your background as a former language arts teacher and literacy coach. How did your teaching experience help form Grayson’s story?

AMI: It helped form it in so many ways! I never would have become an author if I weren’t a teacher first. During the six years that I taught, I never once dreamed of becoming an author. It literally never crossed my mind. But during those years I read so many middle grade novels, and I read each one so many times. First off, I was completely blown away by how good the books were. I love coming of age stories in general, and middle grade books of all genres almost always contain a coming of age component. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those six years of reading and discussing middle grade novels with my students had imprinted a map of the middle grade novel in my mind. Five years after leaving the classroom, I sat down to write Gracefully Grayson. I was able to activate this map and it led me through the writing process.

MG: I have to mention the excellent blurb from James Howe (author of BUNNICULA, and, more recently, THE MISFITS). How did that come about?

AMI: I was blown away by that blurb. It literally left me speechless. I didn’t know James was reading Gracefully Grayson until I got a call from one of my editors, Lisa Yoskowitz. She read the blurb to me over the phone. Hyperion had contacted him, unbeknownst to me, so it was an utter surprise. I have a vivid memory of sitting with my little brother on his bed—I was probably ten—and reading Bunnicula to him. My brother was, at that time, what you might call a “reluctant reader,” but he was completely entranced by the vampire bunny. James Howe was such a fixture during my childhood, and the fact that he blurbed my book is just incredible. I hope to meet him in person someday and give him a big hug.

MG: And because this community is fearless, what’s something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of?

AMI: Oh, how I would love to be fearless! Okay—I’m petrified of sharks for absolutely no good reason. I’m not afraid of anything that lives in or near a lake, though—bugs, slugs, leeches—I can handle them all. On a larger scale, I’m terrified of dying, kidnappers, cancer, heart disease, dogs getting lost, car accidents, fires…(how many pages can I use?!) but I’m not afraid to stand up for myself or the people I love.

MG: Thanks again for agreeing to this interview, and for sharing Grayson’s story with the world. I can’t wait to see what you write next!

 authorphotoAmi Polonsky (www.amipolonsky.com) is a reading and writing tutor, mother to two young children, and author, among other things. A former Language Arts teacher and literacy coach, Ami remains passionate about guiding children towards a love of books and helping create lifetime readers. Ami lives outside of Chicago with her family. This is her first novel.

Visit Ami Polonsky’s website at http://amipolonsky.com.

Mike GrossoMike Grosso writes, teaches, parents, and plays a variety of instruments at all hours of the day for all possible reasons in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his wife and two-year-old son. He loves coffee, teaching, writing, reading, and making lots of noise with whatever objects he can find nearby. His debut contemporary middle grade novel, I AM DRUMS, will be released by Egmont USA in September 2015. Until then, you can follow his journey to publication at mikegrossoauthor.com or by following him on Twitter.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Danielle Ellison, Author of Follow Me Through Darkness

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As a fitting post-Halloween followup, today we’re featuring Danielle Ellison’s dystopian novel, Follow Me Through Darkness, which came out on October 21st from Spencer Hill Press.

First, the book cover and blurb to whet your appetite:

FMTDThe truth won’t always set you free.

Less than a year ago, Neely Ambrose’s biggest worry was having the freedom to follow a path that wasn’t chosen for her.

Less than a year ago, she believed she could trust the Elders who said they had everyone’s best interest at heart and who said they were keeping them safe from the outside.

Sixty days ago, she discovered what they had planned for everyone she loved—and that all of it centered around her.

Now she’s on the run through a dangerous wasteland full of killing machines, secret organizations, and people who want to sell her back to the Elders for their own safety. The whole world outside the Compound is living proof that everything in Neely’s life was a lie manufactured by the Elders, which may even include the boy she loves.

All Neely wants is the truth, but each new piece of it drives her further from what she thought she knew. With only forty days until everyone she loves falls under the Elders’ mind control, Neely must decipher who to trust, what questions to ask, and how to get one step ahead of the Elders, who will do anything to keep their secrets buried.

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I don’t know about you, but that blurb really raises some intriguing questions I want answers to! For now, here are some interview questions with Danielle:

ARJ: It sounds like the format of Follow Me Through Darkness, with its flashbacks and contrast between the Compound and the outside, could be either a playground or a minefield for a writer. What were your favorite (or easiest) parts to write, and the most difficult?

DE: It was definitely not easy to master. I wrote and rewrote and revised this book eight times, and the flashbacks weren’t part of the story until a later revision. You’re absolutely right: flashbacks can be a minefield. Part of the difficulty, for me, was figuring out the placement of the flashbacks. You don’t want to reveal the wrong info in the wrong order, you have to be careful how much info you reveal in one section and for me, I had to have some relevance between where I placed them and what was happening in the present day. I’d definitely say that in this book those were the most difficult to write. The easiest parts to write were any scene with Xenith because he was a very clear character and is the most fun to write from day one.

ARJ: What writers and books influence you today, and how many of those would have been on Teen-You’s list?

DE: I really love Jennifer Donnelly, Laini Taylor, Nova Ren Suma, Courtney Summers, Beth Revis, and Cecelia Ahern. I did read Harry Potter as a teen, but teen-me was really into movies and plays, and not so much books. But I think she’d like all of them. 🙂

ARJ: Did you have a playlist you listened to while writing Follow Me Through Darkness? Or some other ritual that puts you right into the pages when you’re working on the series?

DE: I have a huge playlist for FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS. The story was darker and I had to pull myself into it, and that meant music. I worked on the book for two years before it sold and then two years after, so the playlist kept growing and growing. There’s a full list here: http://www.xpressoreads.com/2014/10/follow-me-through-darkness-playlist-giveaway.html

Now though, I can just enter the world with ease, which means so far there hasn’t been a playlist for the rest of the series.

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

DE: I’m not really afraid of anything normal. I really really HATE bugs and spiders, but I’m not afraid of them. I’m most afraid of failure, which is a ridiculous fear because there’s no way I will fail if I don’t quit. I’m not afraid of heights. (I don’t think.)

Thanks so much for the interview, Danielle–it was so much fun to interact with another Publisher Sister!

About Danielle:

d-ellison

Danielle Ellison is from a small town in West Virginia. She spent her childhood pretending to fly, talking to imaginary friends, and telling stories. She hasn’t changed much since then. You can still find her pretending to work, talking to imaginary characters, and writing stories.

When she’s not writing, Danielle is probably drinking coffee, fighting her nomadic urges, watching too much TV, or dreaming of the day when she can be British. She is the author of five upcoming novels and you can find her on twitter @DanielleEWrites.

In keeping with her scattered Gemini nature, Angelica R. Jackson has far too many interests to list here. She has an obsession with creating more writing nooks in the home she shares with her husband, and two corpulent cats, in California’s Gold Country. Fortunately, the writing nooks serve for reading and cat cuddling too. Her debut novel, CROW’S REST, a darkly funny young adult urban fantasy, is coming from Spencer Hill Press in May 2015.