All Four Kids: An Interview with Edith Cohn, author of SPIRIT’S KEY

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For today’s edition of our OneFourKidLit interview series, we’ll be interviewing debut’er Edith Cohn.  Here’s the down-low on this MG gem:

20518878“By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner’s destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can’t get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky’s ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it’s too late.”

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DG: SPIRIT’S KEY has such a unique, fascinating setting. Could you briefly
describe it for our readers, and maybe give some background on what
inspired you to set the story there?

EC: Bald Island is a remote island filled with magic keys, wild dogs, and
superstitious characters. It’s a fictional place, but I drew inspiration from
the real, and truly magical Outer Banks of NC. One of my earliest visions for
the story included a scene where a young girl comes across the body of a
dog washed up on a beach. That was when I knew the book would be set
on an island, a place where islanders believe the wild dogs have dangerous
spirits. And twelve-year-old Spirit must work with the ghost of her dog Sky to
unravel the mystery of what’s killing the island’s dogs.

DG: A central conflict in SPIRIT’S KEY is your main character, Spirit, trying
to protect and defend the wild dogs on the island. Is animal rights/
protection an important issue to you?

EC: Yes, it certainly is, however an issue even closer to my heart is revealing fear
and prejudice through a unique lens. For me, this is the beauty of speculative
fiction. It can help us see our own world in a slightly different way. People are
sometimes more sympathetic toward animals than people, and so I hope the
novel can be a springboard for larger discussions about tolerance.

DG: The inhabitants of the island have some strong superstitions; do YOU
have any superstitions we should know about?

EC: Ha! This is a great question. I don’t always succeed, but I try hard not to be
superstitious, because I think it’s a bad idea. For example, it’s easy to get
superstitious about one’s writing—to say things like, I can only write well if I
have perfect silence. I can only write well if my desk is clean, if it faces north,
if I have the most perfect and comfortable chair, etc, etc. And then when
things aren’t just so, you can’t write. I try instead to focus on my passion for
the story I want to tell, and usually that pushes me through these sorts of
superstitions and all the fear I have surrounding whether or not the story
will be good enough. Note I said usually. 😉

DG: In many ways this books is about Spirit deciding who she is, discovering
her identity, and staying true to herself. If Spirit were all grown up and
trying to become a writer, what advice would you give her?

EC: Spirit has a passion and talent for understanding animals. All grown up, I
see her as an important advocate for animal rights. I would encourage her to
write essays and stories about her experiences and opinions. Writing can be
a powerful tool toward the change we want to see in the world.

DG: SPIRIT’S KEY is your debut novel; what has been the most surprising or
exciting thing about the publishing journey so far?

EC: Both the most surprising and exciting thing was having Newbery Honor
winning author, Rita Williams-Garcia read SPIRIT’S KEY and love it. I’m a
big fan of hers and to have another author I respect read my book and sit
down with me to discuss it was really amazing. She had so many nice things
to say, and I’m at this moment smiling remembering how she analyzed some
of the names of my characters. Nector: like Hector only sweeter. Mrs. Borse:
Stubborn like a big horse. Up until that point, I’d never had anyone read my
work and “get it” in the way that she did.

DG: What’s coming up next for you? Is there another book on the horizon?

EC: I’m hard at work on two different middle grade novels. One is a fantasy and
the other is set in the future. They are both pretty ambitious undertakings, so
we’ll see if I can pull them off.

DG: In SPIRT’S KEY, Spirit can see a glimpse of a person’s future when
holding their house key. If you could see a glimpse of your writing life a
year or two from now, what would you hope to see?

EC: Well, I’d love to have a good draft of one of those books I mentioned above.
I’d be nicer still if the book was ready to enter the world. Though I think it’s
important to write without a focus on the outcome. So even if I had a chance
to know my future, I’d be inclined to be like Mrs. Hatterask (a character in
SPIRIT’S KEY who is tortured by hurricanes), who doesn’t want to know
what’s to come.

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

EC: I’m really afraid of the day my dog might die or be lost. From the moment
you get a dog, you know (chances are) you’ll outlive him or her, and it’s
terrifying. This is one of the reasons I wanted to write a book about a ghost
dog. I wanted to imagine that my dog could live beyond the grave. I had a
lot of trouble coming up with something I wasn’t afraid of! Not sure what
that means, but anyway. I think most of the time, like Spirit, I’m not afraid to
stand up for the things I believe in, and usually I’m not afraid to write about
them either.

About Edith Cohn:edith_cohn-9621

Edith Cohn was born and raised in North Carolina where she grew up exploring the unique beaches of the Outer Banks. She currently lives in the coyote-filled hills of Los Angeles with her husband and fur-daughter Leia. All of these things provided inspiration for her debut middle grade novel, SPIRIT’S KEY, a mystery about a girl and her ghost dog coming soon from FSG/Macmillan.

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Dan Gemeinhart is an author and teacher-librarian who lives smack dab in the middle of Washington State with his wife and three daughters. What passes for his website can be found at www.dangemeinhart.com, and he can more frequently be found on Twitter. His contemporary adventure MG novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, will be out from Scholastic Press in January 2015.

All Four Kids: An Interview with Tara Dairman, author of ALL FOUR STARS

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Hello! Fearless 15er Dan Gemeinhart here. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tara Dairman, author of the delectable debut ALL FOUR STARS. ALL FOUR STARS is the hilarious story of pint-sized foodie Gladys Gatsby, who dreams of rising above the predictable palates of her parents to become a big city restaurant reviewer. It was a scrumptious MG read that you absolutely will want to sink your teeth into. Here’s the official book blurb:

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman CoverMeet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.) Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world. But in order to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret! Easy as pie, right?”

ALL FOUR STARS is available today at:

Indiebound  /  Penguin  /  B & N  /  Amazon  /  Book Depository

DG:  Your main character, Gladys Gatsby, is quite a precocious adventurer. Looking at your website (http://andyandtarasworld.blogspot.com/), you seem like quite the precocious adventurer yourself. How much of you is there in Gladys?

Tara: Thanks, Dan. I’m not sure I’m young enough to be considered “precocious” anymore—but hey, I’ll take it! 🙂 I’ve definitely become more adventurous—in my eating, traveling, etc.—with age, but when I was Gladys’s age, I was pretty timid. There’s just no way I ever would have had the guts to secretly correspond with a top newspaper editor, or sneak around in New York City by myself trying to bag a restaurant review, or even throw a peanut butter sandwich against the cafeteria wall like Gladys does in the “Food Fight” chapter. So in creating Gladys, I’d say I sort of combined the shyness of my kid life with some of the adventurousness of my adult life, if that makes sense.

 

DG: Gladys struggles with hiding her all-consuming passion – for food and cooking – from her parents and peers. Where did this idea come from? Have you ever had to hide or deny a secret passion or dream of your own?

Tara: Luckily, I’ve never had to keep my passions a secret from my family and friends. But I do remember that when I first started to get interested in learning how to cook, my parents acted like I was a little nuts. To them, cooking was just another household chore, as humdrum as folding laundry or scrubbing the tub. If I could skip out on that chore by eating takeout and microwaved meals, why wouldn’t I? But once I started to get good at cooking and prepared some meals for them, they came around.

 

DG: Gladys dreams of becoming a food critic for a major newspaper. If Gladys reviewed the last meal you made, what would she say?

Tara: Haha, great question. The last new recipe I tried was “open kibbeh” from the cookbook JERUSALEM. I think that Gladys would have praised the bold mix of spices (cinnamon, allspice, coriander) and the variety of tastes and textures (crumbly bulgur; savory ground meat; smooth tahini paste; crunchy pine nuts) that are combined in the dish. She might have criticized it for being a little too greasy, and for the kibbeh not holding its shape as well as it could have (I probably didn’t drain the bulgur well enough). But I think overall she would have been pleased. A solid 3 stars out of 4. 🙂

 

DG: What was your writing process like for ALL FOUR STARS? Did it come out in a thrilling sprint or was there lots of false starts, drafting, revising and rewriting?

Tara: All of those things! I drafted the first two-thirds of the book very slowly, over the course of four years; there were definitely a couple of false starts in there. Then I took the manuscript on my two-year round-the-world honeymoon, and swore that I’d have a completed draft when I came back. I wrote most of the last third of the book in a 5-day sprint in Tanzania, while my husband was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. And then there was plenty more revising to do before I found an agent in 2012, and of course more edits once the book was acquired for publication.

 

DG: You’ve traveled the world, eating incredible food from all four corners of the globe. What were some of your very favorite meals?

Tara: It’s almost impossible to begin narrowing them down, but I”ll try. Here are a few meals that have stuck in my memory:

-Pupusas and casmiento at Abbi Pupuseria in the hills overlooking San Salvador (El Salvador) [http://andyandtarasworld.blogspot.com/2009/12/el-salvador-not-savior-of-our.html]

-Peanut-sauce-doused foods on sticks at a cook-your-own-sate restaurant in Melaka (Malaysia) http://andyandtarasworld.blogspot.com/2011/02/pass-peanut-sauce-foods-of-malaysia.html

-Stuffing ourselves with Ethiopian food at Addis Ababa Restaurant in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) http://andyandtarasworld.blogspot.com/2010/11/ethiopian-eats.html

-Spending a whole day just eating baklava in “the world capital of baklava”: Gazi Antep (Turkey) http://andyandtarasworld.blogspot.com/2010/12/bak-bak-baklava-or-turkey-with-cherry.html

 

DG: Let’s pretend Gladys’ next dream is to become a travel writer. Based on your own adventures, where would you send her first?

Tara: I’d probably send her to Bhutan, since I’ve never been there and really want to go. That would require a research trip, right? 🙂

 

DG: What’s coming up next for you? Any other great books on the horizon with your name on them?

Tara: There’s going to be a sequel to ALL FOUR STARS in 2015! I haven’t announced the title yet, but should be able to soon. I’m working on final edits on that book now, and I just saw a cover sketch—it’s fantastic. I hope that readers who get to know Gladys in ALL FOUR STARS will be excited to see her adventures continue.

 

DG: And now, our traditional final question: as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of, and something you are not afraid of.

Tara: I’m afraid of big insects and arachnids, always have been. And I can’t bring myself to eat bugs, either–that’s the limit of my culinary adventurousness.
I’m not afraid of deep-tissue massages. They’re the best! The occasional bruising is totally worth it.
DG: Thanks so much for your time, Tara. I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with ALL FOUR STARS as much as I did!

Tara Dairman headshotTara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade novel ALL FOUR STARS, which will be published by Putnam/Penguin in 2014. She is also a playwright and a recovering round-the-world honeymooner (2 years, 74 countries!). Tara holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can find her online in the following places: Blog: taradairman.com/blog Facebook: facebook.com/TaraDairmanAuthor Twitter: twitter.com/#!/TaraDairman Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5815760.Tara_Dairman

Dan Gemeinhart is an author and teacher-librarian who lives smack dab in the middle of Washington State with his wife and three daughters. What passes for his website can be found at www.dangemeinhart.com, and he can more frequently be found on Twitter. His contemporary adventure MG novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, will be out from Scholastic Press in January 2015.

Introducing Dan Gemeinhart (and his cover!)

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A few years ago I went on a trip. I left home, and I was seeking something. You could call it a journey, I suppose.

I was working on a book, and I was stuck. It’s a story that was immensely important to me. It was about a boy, Mark, and his dog. Mark is battling cancer, and maybe losing. So he runs away with his dog to climb Mt. Rainier. And maybe die trying.

I was writing it in memory of a friend of mine, also named Mark. Who loved climbing mountains. And loved animals. And battled cancer. Right up until the end.

Since the story was centered around Mt. Rainier, I figured that might be a good place to go to get unstuck.

I had a lot of questions. Big ones. Would the story ever come out right? Could I translate the truth I had inside me into words that others would ever read and connect with? Was my dream of being a writer floundering, destined to just wither and fade like so many dreams do?

I took a room in a rustic bunkhouse near the mountain’s entrance, a humble former lumbermen’s quarters now serving as a home base for climbers about to make the attempt. It seemed appropriate.

I drove around. I wrote. I drove some more. I entered Mt. Rainier National Park and wandered up to the Visitor’s Center. Looking for something. I walked a bit up the packed snow that led, eventually, right up to the top. And all the time, while I was looking inside myself, I was also looking up. Looking for the mountain.

And I never saw it. The whole two days. The mountain was lost in clouds, hidden in a spring storm. This is a momentous mountain you can see from hundreds of miles away – and to me, standing on its very flank, it was lost and shrouded. It seemed to symbolize so much.

But still I wrote. Looking for the words through the clouds. The story through the storm.

And then: on my way down, driving home, I rounded a corner. It was one of those mornings that is a magical mix of golden sunlight and dripping rain. I was only ten minutes out of the hotel, and there it was. Front and center, and not a cloud in sight.

The mountain. Mt. Rainier. It’s a big mountain; it looks big from Seattle, a couple hours drive away. When you’re in a pickup at its very foot, though, it is much more than big. It fills the windshield. It overflows your field of vision…you actually have to turn your head to see it all.

I was lucky I kept my truck on the road. It is a beautiful mountain, that Rainier.

The road turned through an S-curve and I lost sight of it, but I leaned eagerly forward when the road turned back around toward the mountain. But, impossibly, the mountain was gone. All that the sky held was an impenetrable wall of gray. It had retreated back behind its clouds, but not before it had given me that one glorious view.

Long story short: my story got written. Not that weekend, but eventually. It took a few years, and a couple rewrites – but it got written. Longer story short: my story is getting published. It also took a few years, and a few rejections – but it’s getting published. In early 2015. It’s called THE HONEST TRUTH, and it is a dream come true.

It was hard, sometimes, to hold onto the story when it seemed like it just wasn’t going to ever come out right. And it was hard, a lot of times, to hold onto the writing dream when it seemed like it just wasn’t ever going to happen. Dreams and stories can spend a lot of time hiding behind clouds, just like mountains. You have to believe that they’re still there, through the storm, and that you’ll find them eventually as long as you never stop looking. You have to believe in the mountain more than the clouds.

And now, in the latest phase of this crazy journey, I get to reveal the beautiful cover. Designed by Nina HonestTruthCoverGoffi with Scholastic Press, it is far better than anything I had imagined. I love the drama of it, the peril. I love that the boy and the dog are apart, but seeking each other. I love that death stands between them, but they are still looking toward one another. I love that maybe they cannot see each other, maybe they each seem lost in a storm, but that they still have faith that the other is there, somewhere through the darkness. It’s perfect.

I am so thrilled to be where I am. So lucky to have had the support of friends and family through the years. So excited that after a decade of sharing great books with great kids as a teacher, now I’ll get to share one with them that has my name on it. And a really kick-ass cover.

All the climbing’s worth it when the clouds blow away, and you’re finally looking at the mountain.

That’s the honest truth.

Dan Gemeinhart is an author and teacher-librarian who lives smack dab in the middle of Washington State with his wife and three daughters. What passes for his website can be found at www.dangemeinhart.com, and he can more frequently be found on Twitter. His contemporary adventure MG novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, will be out from Scholastic Press in January 2015.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Helene Dunbar, author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS

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It’s truly my pleasure today to be interviewing OneFourKidLit author Helene Dunbar. Helene’s YA debut, THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, celebrated its release from Flux yesterday! Here’s the lowdown on this emotional, riveting read:

18187029Sometimes I wish I’d lost a leg or something. Everyone can understand that. They never get it when what’s been broken is inside your head.

Five years after an unspeakable tragedy that changed him forever, Gordie Allen has made a new home with his half-brother Kevin. Their arrangement works since Kevin is the only person who can protect Gordie at school and keep him focused on getting his life back on track.

But just when it seems like things are becoming normal, Gordie’s biological father comes back into the picture, demanding a place in his life. Now there’s nothing to stop Gordie from falling into a tailspin that could cost him everything—including his relationship with Sarah, the first girl he’s trusted with the truth. With his world spinning out of control, the only one who can help Gordie is himself . . . if he can find the strength to confront the past and take back his future.”

Indiebound / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

DG:“These Gentle Wounds” feels like a very personal, close-to-home kind of story. What was your inspiration for the book?

HD: Unfortunately, there have been many cases like this in the news. After a mother in upstate New York drove her car into the river with her four children in it and one survived, I started wondering what that surviving child’s life would be like.

Also, I thought that someone needed to bring more attention to PTSD brought on by childhood trauma. I’m sure that many readers either suffer from similar issues or know someone who does.

DG: You are a female author, but writing from the perspective of a male protagonist. What was most interesting or challenging about writing from that point of view?

HD: Honestly, I’m far more comfortable writing from a male POV than a female one. I’m not completely sure why that is. But I can say that Gordie’s voice was always extremely clear in my head.

DG: This is a very intense, emotional story about trauma and healing, abuse and redemption. Was it an emotional experience to write it? Did you have a hard time keeping an “authorly” distance, or were you right there in the thick of it with your characters? How did you as an artist walk that line?

HD: This wasa very tough book to write in that being in Gordie’s head was a very draining experience. I never worried about keeping my distance, but I have to admit to some relief at having finished the book. Gordie is in a very different place at the end of the book than he is in the beginning, but it was still quite difficult for me.

DG: What drives you to write for the Young Adult market, rather than in another genre?

HD: I’ve always been an obsessive reader, but for a while I just couldn’t find anything that interested me. Melissa Marr’s series, brought me back to reading and opened up a lot of doors. YA didn’t really exist when I was a teen so I’m making up for lost time as a reader. But also, I very much buy into the “write the book you want to read” mentality.

DG: What are some of your very favorite YA authors and books?

HD: I’d list my fav YA books as (in no particular order):

  • Maggie Steifvater’s Raven Boys Series
  • Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely Series
  • Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens and Stick
  • David Levithan’s Every You, Every Me
  • Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy

DG: I see that you have a varied writing resume, writing about everything from Irish music to court cases to Native American tribes. Did all this other writing experience help when you sat down to write “These Gentle Wounds?”

HD: I always said that I couldn’t write fiction, but what I really meant was that I couldn’t plot. I still find plotting much more difficult than writing characters and dialogue. That part comes very easily to me.

I’ve always written, mostly journalistic pieces, but I think that regardless of the type of writing you’re doing, it helps to polish your craft.

DG: “These Gentle Wounds” is your debut novel. What was your pre-publication journey like? Was it a long, hard road to publication?

HD: My road was fairly fast, but it still felt difficult. TGW is my debut, but it was the second book I went out on submission with. The first, WHAT REMAINS, will be released 2015 by Flux. I didn’t begin writing fiction until 2009 and I have a couple of trunk novels that I wrote before What Remains.

DG: What advice would you have for someone who is hoping to get published, or struggling hard toward that goal?

HD: Read. Read. Read. Read. And try to build a community around you of people who “get it.” My writing partners keep me sane.

DG: What can we expect to see from you as a writer in the future?

HD: That is up to the gods of publishing, but definitely watch for WHAT REMAINS, which is a love story between three friends and which explores loss, grief, and guilt from an unique angle.

DG: This interview is appearing on the “Fearless 15er” blog of us 2015 debut authors. As someone who is a year ahead of us on this journey, what advice to you have for us for the upcoming year?

HD: My #1 piece of advice would have been to join the Fearless 15ers, so you’re already there. The OneFourKidLit community has been an amazing support system.

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

HD: I’m terrified of public speaking so my book launch should be a barrel of laughs.  I’m not afraid of being emotionally honest. I’m very much a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person.

DG: Thanks so much for your time, Helene.  It’s a beautiful book (and I’m sure your book launch went great!), and we wish you the best of luck with this and all future endeavors!

Want to learn more about Helene Dunbar and her writing?  Check out her website, and find her on Twitter and Goodreads!

About Helene Dunbar:

Helene Dunbar usually writes7169602 features about fiddles and accordions for Irish Music Magazine, but she’s also been known to write about court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She’s lived in two countries, six states, and is currently holed up in Nashville with her husband, daughter, two cats, and the world’s friendliest golden retriever.

Dan Gemeinhart is an author and teacher-librarian who lives smack dab in the middle of Washington State with his wife and three daughters. What passes for his website can be found at www.dangemeinhart.com, and he can more frequently be found on Twitter. His contemporary adventure MG novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, will be out from Scholastic Press in January 2015.