ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Jaye Robin Brown, Author of NO PLACE TO FALL

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No Place To Fall cover image

On our blog today, we have Jaye Robin Brown, author of NO PLACE TO FALL (Harper Teen). Here’s a synopsis of the book:

Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.

When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.

Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.

Hi and welcome! Congrats on your debut! Now onto our questions…

Amber is an empathetic character who makes some questionable choices. Was it hard for you to write the moments where Amber makes mistakes?

Not really. I wasn’t perfect as a teen. The students I teach aren’t perfect. Things happen and you either sink or grow stronger from your mistakes. Amber was actually much more flawed and manipulative in early drafts, so she seems almost angelic to me in the final version!

Amber is a singer. As a reader, I longed to be able to hear her on stage. Did you listen to music a lot while writing this novel? Is there a famous musician who sounds like Amber does? Are you a singer yourself?

I can’t listen while I write, because I get sucked into lyrics, but I definitely listened to a lot of music to and from my day job. When I think of Amber’s voice, I think of great singers like Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss, and in particular, Emmy Rossum in the movie Songcatcher. That was probably the voice I heard most in my head. Though the version of Amazing Grace that I listened to over and over is Patsy Cline’s. Absolutely gorgeous. Sadly, I am not a singer. Correction. I sing all the time, but there aren’t many who would want to listen. I think writing Amber was my chance to finally belt it out and live that imaginary dream.

You do a great job of creating a complex family dynamic. They are all relatable and flawed in their own ways. Did you ever do any free writing from the perspectives of Amber’s family members? If not, how did you get to know them so well?

Oh, thank you so much! You know, I definitely have done free writing for other manuscripts, but with No Place To Fall, these characters were so ingrained inside of me already. As a transplant to the Appalachian Mountains, I’m always watching and listening and soaking situations in. Though none of the family was directly modeled on any one person I know, they were definitely stitched out of some pretty special cloth. Plus, with this being my first published novel, I probably had more time with it than people do with later novels and through each revision I got to know the characters on deeper levels. But mostly, they came to me pretty fully formed. I sure wish it was always like that.

The relationship between Amber and Will starts in a controversial way, although you also feel the deep connection between them as a reader. Did you know when you began the book that Will would be the central romantic relationship?

I’m so glad you asked this question! Actually no. When I first started the book, I thought Kush was going to be the love interest. I had a picture of the actor, Avan Jogia, that I’d pulled for inspiration and I even thought there might be a bit of Devon versus Amber stuff going on. I quickly realized that would be a terrible set up in a book. In another version, when Sean was pretty different from who he is now – a foster boy with totally different foster parents, Amber dates Sean but as a more manipulative move to piss off her father. But with each draft, the heartbeat of Will took over and it was like Amber was telling me, “Um, author lady, he’s the one I want.” (Best news…there’s going to be a Will’s perspective novella that follows some of the same timeline as the novel – his side of the story!)

That sounds awesome! 

What was your writing process like for this book? Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” When you began, did you know what you wanted the book to say?

I’m a plantser? I have major beats in my head but the rest is the muse and intuition. Unfortunately, that meant a bunch of major revisions, but my process is my process. I can’t say I knew exactly what I wanted the book to say, but the word longing was always attached to it. As was family and loyalty. Mostly I wanted to write a story about the area I’ve adopted as home, and show the strength of family in the face of flaws and ugly humanity. I’m also attracted to that moment as teens when we realize we are not our parents and we don’t have to be like them when we grow up. I think that’s one of the real revelations of entering that time of your life. It tends to show up in most of my stories. And of course the sweet simplicity of friends that get you, no matter what. Those friendships were important in the book.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about No Place to Fall?

Um. It’s awesome. You should read it. I can’t believe I just typed that. But you know what, I’ll keep it 🙂

Do you have any other writing projects in the works? I noticed that you are an art teacher. Do you have any dreams of illustrating one of your books?

I’ve been working on a couple of contemporaries and my agent, editor, and I are trying to figure out which one will be the follow up to No Place To Fall. You can be sure it will have a largish cast of characters, themes of family, finding one’s way in the world, and kissing. Because kissing is good.

As for illustration, no. I’m a doodler of ARCs, but the mediums I’ve dabbled in for money have all been of the three dimensional variety. Clay, silversmithing, a little bit of silk screening. Being a high school art teacher is a bit like being a jack of all trades and true master of none.

Lastly, as this community is fearless, what is something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of?

It is? That’s good to know because I often think writing is about the scariest profession on the planet. Okay. I am not afraid of speaking my mind. It took me years to get here but if I have a problem, I will go to the source and work it out directly. I am scared of ignorance and those who choose not to do the research to find out the big picture and make well-educated decisions about the world. That, and snakes. Ugh.

Thanks so much, Cordelia for the great questions!

Jaye Robin Brown author photo

Jaye Robin Brown, Jro to her friends, lives on a fourteen acre farm in the mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina. She is fond of dogs, horses, the absurd and the ironic. She truly believes laughter and music are the best medicine. When not writing you can find her in the art room of the high school where she teaches.

 

 

 

 

CordeliaJensenAuthorPhotoCordelia Allen Jensen was Poet Laureate of Perry County, PA in 2006 and 2007. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband and children. Cordelia’s YA Novel in Verse, SKYSCRAPING, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in June 2015. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. You can find her at www.cordeliajensen.com and on Twitter @cordeliajensen
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ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with R.C. Lewis, Author of STITCHING SNOW

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Today we’ve got the delightful R.C. Lewis here on the Fifteeners blog talking about her debut YA Sci-fi STITCHING SNOW. It’s a gritty retelling of Snow White (in space!) with one of my favorite heroines ever. (And just look at the gorgeous cover!)

Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

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MK. I adore the idea of a bad-ass cage-fighting princess! What sparked the idea for STITCHING SNOW?

RC. This is the one story idea of mine where I know the exact spark! I was driving home from work and heard a line in a Florence + The Machine song (“Blinding”) about Snow White stitching up a circuit board. That was the spark, and the whole story grew from there.

MK. Not only does STITCHING SNOW feature a badass main character, but you also crafted a wonderful cast of supporting characters, including my personal favorite, Dimwit, one of the seven drones. If this were a reality show, what would the drones say about life with Essie in their one-on-one camera moments?

RC. Here’s a transcript of what a few of them would say in their confessionals.

Ticktock: Essie’s performance of critical maintenance tasks falls within acceptable parameters ninety-one-point-four percent of the time.

Dimwit: Essie Cusser fix Cusser.

Cusser: $#@!*, Dimwit.

MK. Do you have a favorite scene you can tell us a little about?

RC. There’s a scene near the end where Essie has to make a split-second decision, not knowing what the outcome will be, what price will be paid. Her fear and pain and desperation in that moment became “real” to me very quickly.

MK. STITCHING SNOW is a reimagining of the fairy tale Snow White – did you encounter any particular challenges taking a classic character into space? Any tips for those who might be considering penning their own retelling?

RC. The main things I had to decide were which elements to incorporate literally, which to twist figuratively, and which to leave out altogether. A core idea of the original fairy tale is that Snow is very passive, naïve character, and that’s one thing I did NOT want. After that decision, it was a matter of, “How can I make this still Snow White, but my take on it?”

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

RC. I’m afraid of speaking in front of a bunch of adults. I’m not afraid of being in front of a crowd of teenagers. Go figure.

Thank you so much for stopping by, RC!


ABOUT RC LEWIS

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she’s a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. That may explain why her characters don’t like to be pigeonholed. Coincidentally, R.C. enjoys reading about quantum physics and the identity issues of photons. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is a sci-fi retelling of Snow White, releasing October 14, 2014 from Hyperion.

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MarcyKate Connolly is an author and nonpofit administrator who lives in New England with her husband and pugs and writes weird little books. She’s also a coffee addict and voracious reader. She blogs about all those things and more at MarcyKate.com, and can often be found on Twitter. Her debut upper middle grade fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children’s Books on 2/10/2015.

ALL FOUR KIDS: INTERVIEW WITH JOSHUA DAVID BELLIN, AUTHOR OF SURVIVAL COLONY NINE

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Fonda Lee here. Today I’m excited to be interviewing Joshua David Bellin on the release of his debut YA science fiction novel, SURVIVAL COLONY NINE. I had the pleasure of advance reading the book, and it is a gripping post-apocalyptic thriller that had me flipping the pages well into the night. Here’s the skinny:


SC9 Cover mediumForget the past.  Fight to stay alive.

Querry Genn is in trouble. 

He can’t remember anything before the last six months. And Querry needs to remember. Otherwise he’s dead weight to the other members of Survival Colony 9, one of the groups formed after a brutal war ravaged the earth. And now the Skaldi have come to scavenge what is left of humanity. No one knows what the Skaldi are, or why they’re here, just that they can impersonate humans, taking their form before shedding the corpse like a skin.

Desperate to prove himself after the accident that stole his memory, Querry is both protected and tormented by the colony’s authoritarian commander, his father. The only person he can talk to is the beautiful Korah, but even with her, he can’t shake the feeling that something is desperately wrong. And that his missing memories are at the very center of it.

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Fonda Lee: Josh, congratulations on your debut! Tell us about what inspired you to write SURVIVAL COLONY NINE.

Joshua David Bellin: Thanks, Fonda! And congratulations to the Fearless Fifteeners as you begin your own journey to publication!

SURVIVAL COLONY 9 has two primary sources: a story idea I jotted down years ago about a teen with memory loss, and a much more recent dream I had that provided me the novel’s desert setting and the idea of the human groups—the survival colonies—that had lived through a time of catastrophic loss. But in another respect, my inspiration was my own children, thanks to whom I rediscovered my love of YA. My daughter was twelve when I started writing my book, and she was the first to read a few pages and encourage me to keep writing.

FL: Querry’s story takes place in a desperately bleak future. I swear I could feel the baking sun on my skin and the dust in my eyes the whole time I was reading. What led you to create this world, and do you think there’s something particularly appealing to you about post-apocalyptic settings? 

JDB: The dream I mentioned a moment ago gave me the broad outlines of my novel’s world. But I had to make it convincing, and I felt there was no way to do that without making it bleak. It’s a world where human society has just about crumbled due to war and climate catastrophe, and where not only the material culture of the past but the memory of the past has been swept away. So in a sense, all the characters are like my narrator, Querry Genn, a fourteen-year-old with amnesia: they’re all traumatized, all coping with horrific loss. But they’re also all survivors, which means they have a reserve of strength that enables them to go on.

I can’t pin down the one thing that led me to create such a world, but I do know I’ve long been fascinated by Holocaust narratives, with their twin, conflicted imperatives to remember and to forget. I have relatives who escaped the Nazi genocide, and I’ve taught students who survived the Rwandan genocide. Such subjects might seem a bit heavy for YA science fiction, but I believe YA—and science fiction—have an obligation to wrestle with difficult truths

FL: Although SURVIVAL COLONY NINE features a menacing exterior threat in the form of the Skaldi, what stuck with me are the human relationships in the colony, and how the dire circumstances bring out the best and worst in people. There is a “marooned on an island together” dynamic going on here. Tell us a bit about how you developed your cast of characters. Were any of them inspired by real or fictional people?

JDB: I’ve always felt that the best monsters represent our own internal conflicts. Anyone can throw a lion’s head on a snake’s body and call it a monster—but if it doesn’t tell us anything about the inner struggles of the human characters, it seems kind of pointless to me.

So in SURVIVAL COLONY 9, I thought of the Skaldi as an external manifestation of what threatens the colony internally: malice, suspicion, loss of faith in each other. I wanted to create a human society that was incredibly fragile, a society that’s lived through horrors and is still living with horrors that could cause them to turn against each other at a moment’s notice. So I was determined to create characters who were complex, conflicted, haunted by personal demons—not simple “good guys” and “bad guys.” Laman Genn, the colony’s commander, is an example: he’s strong, capable, charismatic, caring—but he’s also domineering, deaf to criticism, and capable of making terrible mistakes. And it’s when those cracks appear that the Skaldi are able to infiltrate the colony.

Whether Laman or any of the other characters is based on real or fictional people is a question I never thought about. In Laman’s case, I would say I probably modeled him on the father in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—except I thought McCarthy’s father-figure was a bit idealized. I wanted to create a father whose best quality—his protectiveness—could also become his worst.

FL: Tell us about your journey as an author. What was the path to publication like for you?

JDB: Long! Depending on how you look at it, I’ve been traveling this path for over thirty years, with my first completed novel (an epic fantasy) written when I was sixteen, and my first YA (a story about friendship and death) written two years later. I took a major detour to write academic prose after graduate school, and when I found my way back to fiction in 2008, I was in no way ready to tackle a novel-length project. Three years, many short stories, two unfinished novels, and one finished but unsalable novel after that, I completed SURVIVAL COLONY 9—and then had to educate myself about seeking an agent, writing a query and synopsis, and all that. I signed with one agent, parted ways with her when it turned out our vision for the novel didn’t match, conducted the search process again, found a wonderful advocate in Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, and went on submission. From there, it was a fairly speedy road to acceptance. But if anyone had told me at age sixteen that I might not publish my first novel until I was almost fifty, I probably would have stopped writing. Fortunately, no one did!

FL: I understand you are a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy books and films (*geek fistbump*). What are some books or films that had a big impact on you and perhaps influence or inform your writing?

JDB: Far too many to name, but let’s start with Tolkien’s works, which blew me away at age thirteen with the depth, complexity, and conviction of the imagined world. I’d also add Roger Zelazny’s Amber series, which is not only a brilliant fantasy but the first work I ever read with an amnesiac narrator. Throw in some of the classics of science fiction—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds—and some great modern YA science fiction—Chris Howard’s Rootless, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink—and you’ve got me. If, that is, you also add classic monster and horror films, especially the masterpieces of Willis O’Brien (King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts) and eighties-era creature features like Alien, The Thing, and The Fly. And wait, did I mention Star Wars?

Okay, I think I’ve proved my geek cred. We’ll talk more later.

FL: Yes, we will. There will be a sequel to SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, so I hear? Can you give us any hints as to what’s to come?

JDB: The sequel is titled SCAVENGER OF SOULS. (A friend of mine told me I should title it SURVIVAL COLONY 10, but I rejected that idea pretty quickly.) It’s the middle book of a planned three-book series, but as of this moment its publication date hasn’t been set. I’m kind of reluctant to say much about it lest I spoil the fun for those who haven’t read the first book, but I will say this: it’ll surprise readers of SURVIVAL COLONY 9. It’s a much bigger-canvas novel than its predecessor: Querry gets to see much more of his world, to encounter people with backgrounds and histories he had no awareness of, and to unravel huge secrets about his own and his people’s past. And the antagonists—well, let’s just say the Skaldi aren’t the only monsters in Querry’s world!

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

JDB: I’ll give a writer’s answer to that. I’m not afraid of a lot of things writers typically fear: selling poorly, receiving negative reviews, being misunderstood. It seems to me publishing a novel is a rare enough privilege without worrying about junk you really have no control over. But I am afraid of writing becoming the only thing in my life. It seems to me that happens to some writers, especially with all the pressure to promote your current novel and to produce your next one. So I hope I can always find balance between writing and the rest of my life, and I hope I can always remember that no one ever said on their deathbed: “I wish I’d spent more time at the keyboard.”

Wise words for all us writers, Josh. Thanks for the interview and good luck with SURVIVAL COLONY NINE. 

Bellin author photoAbout Joshua David Bellin: 

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, but the sequel’s already in the works! Josh is represented by the fabulous Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.

Josh loves to read (mostly YA fantasy and science fiction), watch movies (again, mostly fantasy and sci-fi), and spend time in Nature (mostly catching frogs and toads). He is the self-proclaimed world’s worst singer, but plays a pretty mean air guitar.

Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.

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FJLee HeadshotFonda Lee is an author and recovering corporate strategist who was born and raised in Calgary, Canada (land of hockey, rodeo, and oil reserves) and now lives with her family in Portland, Oregon (land of rain, hipsters, and Powell’s books). When she is not writing she can be found training in kung fu or searching out tasty breakfasts. Her debut upper YA science fiction novel, ZEROBOXER, will be published by Flux in Winter 2015. You can find Fonda at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview With Kate Bassett, Author of WORDS AND THEIR MEANINGS

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Today in our OneFourKidLit interview series, we welcome Kate Bassett, author of the new YA Contemporary Words and Their Meanings. Thanks for stopping by, Kate, and congratulations on your debut!

Here’s what you need to know about Words and Their Meanings:

Words and Their Meanings (5)Anna O’Mally doesn’t believe in the five stages of grief. Her way of dealing with death equates to daily bouts of coffin yoga and fake-tattooing Patti Smith quotes onto her arms. Once a talented writer, Anna no longer believes words matter, until shocking discoveries–in the form of origami cranes–force her to redefine family and love.

As Anna goes in search of the truth, she discovers that while every story, every human being, has a last line, it might still be possible to find the words for a new beginning.

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KH: Words and Their Meanings is a novel about dealing with grief—and it handles the subject with brutal, heart-wrenching honesty. What made you want to tackle this difficult topic? 

KB: Believe me, there were times when I would call my critique partner (Fearless Fifteener Alison DeCamp!) and say, “Why didn’t I write about something funny?”

The thing is, grief can hit us at any stage in life, and it takes on many, many different forms. I knew I wanted to try and write a raw, close-to-the-bone kind of story. I’m in my mid-30s now, and I’ve seen enough (and felt enough) loss to understand how paralyzing it can feel. And not just grieving loved ones. There’s a grief that comes naturally with growing up and beginning to understand more about the world and the people we know and care for deeply. There’s grief in that floundering search for identity we all go through at some point. There’s grief attached with the creative process. I wanted to tell a story that could be honest about this, but also show some hope on the other side.

KH: Did you know from the beginning that Anna would be a writer? Why did you decide to have her express herself in this way?

KB: Anna, as a character, hung out in my head a long time before ever coming to life on the page. I always knew she’d be a writer. I think in a lot of ways, Anna’s relationship with her words mirrors some of the struggles I went through as a writer who earned a lot of recognition in high school. I won some pretty big awards before graduating, and while there was no external pressure put on me, I still had a huge amount of anxiety about being “good enough.” I actually stopped really writing for a time in college because reading other students’ work that was fantastic didn’t inspire me, it made me feel like a failure. I forgot why I loved writing in the first place. It took a long time and some amazing college professors to pull me out of my own head.

I wanted to revisit some of these feelings with Anna because I think that’s a very real emotional state for a lot of teenagers who discover a passion or “talent” early in life. Exploring what that can manifest as, and how to let go of the need for validation, felt like a good fit with what else was going on in Anna’s world.

KH: Where did Anna’s Patti Smith obsession come from? Do you share it—or do you have another musician/artist/writer you’re obsessed with?

KB: I read Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir, while writing Words and Their Meanings, and remember being really struck by Patti’s eternal optimism in the face of so much loss. Her perspective on life, creativity, art… It all felt connected to Anna. It wasn’t until I was at my parents’ house one morning, half-watching the television, that a match struck. Patti was being interviewed in the Chelsea Hotel. It was the first time she’d been back in the room she once shared with Robert Mapplethorpe. The tenderness and loss, and how each relationship shaped who she is today—it just became really clear that she’s a person Anna would cling to in her darkest hours.

I love Patti’s music, and love her poetry and photography as well. I would say as a teen I was much (much, much) more obsessed with Janis Joplin. I worshipped every note. I played those songs until my parents’ ears were ready to bleed (and she was “their” generation’s voice, not mine). Still, there was something alive and broken about her voice that I clung to in my darkest hours.

KH: I really loved the way you used origami cranes in the book. It’s such a unique and memorable element. How did you come up with it? And have you folded 1,000 of them yourself?

KB: Art, in various forms, is woven throughout the book. When I thought about Anna’s grandfather, origami immediately came to mind. His character is more linear and mechanical. He’s a literal and metaphorical fixer with a heavy dose of left-brain thinking. Origami is beautiful, but also precise. It’s delicate but strong. It’s the sort of art form I thought he’d use to connect to all his artistic loved ones.

Also, origami is folded. There’s something that feels secret about the way it’s constructed. Unfolding something like, say, an origami crane, reveals creases that are lovely and interesting in their own right.  And of course, there are such beautiful stories and myths that surround the creation of 1,000 cranes.

Truth time: I can’t fold a crane to save my soul. I’ve tried. The wings are never even, the neck turns out all wrong, and I end up making a paper airplane instead.

KH: You surrounded Anna with such an amazing and varied cast of characters, all of whom enhanced the story. Who’s your favorite supporting character in the book, and why?

KB: Ah, good question! My first instinct would be to say Mateo, because I love him for so many reasons (the food alone!).

But if I had to choose, I would say Bea. She’s quirky but still holds on to the most important bits of childhood. And she manages to bring out glimpses of the better parts of her big sister. I think without Bea, Anna would have folded into herself completely.

KH: And finally, as our community is fearless, what’s one thing you’re afraid of and one thing you don’t fear?

KB: I am terrified of spitballs. I gag and shudder even typing that word. Also totally afraid of driving near cliffs or over high bridges. I’ve called one of your fearless crew (Alison, again) more times than I care to admit to just talk, talk, talk to me so I didn’t hyperventilate and pass out on the Mackinac Bridge.

I don’t fear coyotes. In my neck of the woods, that’s actually quite useful.

About Kate:

headshotbasset_kate (5 of 5) copyKate Bassett is the Michigan Press Association award-winning editor of her small town’s newspaper, Harbor Light News, and a contributing writer for Traverse Magazine. She has covered Mount Everest climbers and pet pig obituaries with the same philosophy for 13 years: voice matters. She lives in Harbor Springs with her husband, three children, and one crazy young mutt.

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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 February 17, 2015 from HarperTeen. You can find Kathryn online at www.kathrynholmes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Kathryn_Holmes.

ALL FOUR KIDS: Interview with Jennifer Mathieu, Author of The Truth About Alice

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Today, we are with Jennifer Mathieu, the author of the remarkable book The Truth About Alice. Here’s a bit about the book: 

Alice_FINALEveryone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody.
 
Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the “slut stall” in the girls’ bathroom: “Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers” and “Alice got an abortion last semester.” After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they “know” about Alice–and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.

Hi Jennifer, thanks for being with us on the Fearless Fifteeners blog.

I really enjoyed the use of alternating perspectives in your book. Not everyone can do this well but you managed to create four distinct voices and a real need for the story to have all four. What was this process like for you? Did you write the book the way it appears, alternating narrators chapter by chapter, or did you write each character’s narratives and then split them up?

Thank you so much for having me.  I’m glad the voices felt distinct!  The story evolved over many drafts.  Kelsie is actually the product of two different characters I blended together, and there was another girl – another outcast who didn’t fit in as neatly into the plot – that I removed after the first draft.  It was just too many characters to keep track of, so I narrowed it down.  But once I got my four main characters down their voices just came to me.  I switched on and off from character to character as I wrote which was a lot of fun and kept the writing process fresh for me.  I’d never written in a boy’s voice before, and I’m still surprised at how easily Josh and Kurt’s voices – especially Josh’s voice – came to me!  I guess it comes from teaching high school boys for a living.  🙂

Was it always written in multiple perspectives? Did the character of Alice come to you first, the situation or one of the other characters?

Yes, I always planned to write it in multiple perspectives.  I love books with alternating points of view, and I love stories where you put the pieces of the puzzle together over time.  The initial kernel of Alice’s story came to me first and then the other characters’ stories evolved from there.  A huge influence for the idea is the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.  I read it in high school for a drama class and it stayed with me.  It’s a series of epitaphs from residents in a small town, and as you read each epitaph you put together all these stories and understand what made the town tick and how the residents were connected to one another.

Was one of the character’s voices easier for you to write? One harder?

Kurt’s voice came to me quite easily.  Maybe because I was pretty bookish in high school although I wasn’t a total social outcast.  I just loved writing him and cheered him on the entire time.  The hardest was Elaine.  It took me a while to fully understand her motivations.  The scene with her and Alice in the hair salon was one of the last scenes I wrote and it took the most time to get the tone just right. Even I’m a little afraid of Elaine O’Dea.  😉

I like how the book begins: Elaine listing the facts of the drama. We get a real strong sense of who she is off the bat. Some of the characters in your book do some pretty unlikeable things. You do a good job of off-setting this by using backstory and character depth. Did you struggle with the likability of your characters?

This is something some readers may hate, but I love my characters, even when they’re doing awful things.  I love them so much.  I know they do terrible things, but something I tried to do was give each character humanity.  They do awful things because they’re young and under pressure and some – like Kelsie – have these wildly difficult situations at home that they can’t even name much less deal with.  But I felt for them so much.  My heart broke for all of them.  I’ve read comments online with some readers saying they hate Kelsie, and I’m like, “But can’t you see what she’s been through?  Can’t you see how she’s suffered?”  I know Alice suffered, too, tremendously.  But all the characters suffered in one way or another.  One quote that kept running through my mind as I wrote this story – and I’m not sure who said it – is that everyone has a story inside of them that if you only heard it, it would break your heart.  I think if we all treated each other with that knowledge in that front of our minds – that everyone is going through something personal and painful – we would all be nicer to each other.  Obviously characters like Kelsie and Josh struggle in following that advice, but that doesn’t mean that they themselves are immune from that saying.  They are struggling, too, and enormously so.

Bullying is a core issue in this book. Is that a topic you feel strongly about?

As a mother, teacher, and human being, of course.  But I don’t think the way we’ve addressed bullying is really very smart.  I could write an entire essay on this, but bullying rarely takes place like we see on the movies with the nerd being stuffed in the locker.  And not every tough situation a young person endures with friends is necessarily bullying.  I would rather we eliminate the word bullying or stop using it to label everything negative and instead just focus on being kind to each other and providing young people with resources, including trusted adults, that they can really talk to when they’re feeling down, under pressure, or isolated.

The football-obsessed, small-town Texas setting seems vital to this story. Do you think Alice’s story would be different if it took place somewhere else?

I do think girls are labeled sluts regardless of where they live.  Like Elaine says toward the end, she knows that even in a place like New York City, a girl like Alice would still have been called a slut.  What makes the setting important in this story, I think, is that the fishbowl environment of the small town just heightens everything and makes it even more intense and difficult for the characters living there.

And now, because we are community that is fearless, please name something that you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

I’m very afraid of small spaces and had difficulty riding elevators for a few years.  Something I’m not afraid of that seems to put others into a panic is speaking in front of crowds.  I actually sort of enjoy it!  I think my years as a teacher have helped me there.  🙂

Thanks so much!

Thank you!  I loved your questions!

MATHIEU_PHOTO_BY_GEORGE_HIXSON_COLOR1.sizedJennifer Mathieu (pronounced Muh-two, but if you speak French you can pronounce it better than that) is a writer and English teacher who lives in Texas with her husband and son. A native of the East Coast and a former journalist, Jennifer enjoys writing contemporary young adult fiction that treats teenagers like real people. She loves to eat and hates to cook.

 

 

CordeliaJensenAuthorPhotoCordelia Allen Jensen graduated with a MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia’s YA Novel in Verse, SKYSCRAPING, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in early 2015. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 & 2007. She’s a Writer in Residence at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids & teens and does author interviews for their blog. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. You can find her at www.cordeliajensen.com and on Twitter @cordeliajensen

ONE FOR KIDS: Interview with Philip Siegel, author of THE BREAK-UP ARTIST

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Today, the Fearless Fifteeners are thrilled to host Philip Siegel, whose hilarious and charming debut THE BREAK-UP ARTIST releases today!

About THE BREAK-UP ARTIST:

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples. 



After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she’ll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

BUA cover

AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, INDIEBOUND

DG: I’ve had the pleasure of reading THE BREAK-UP ARTIST, and it’s funny and fast-paced with a satisfying conclusion. What inspired Becca’s story?

PS: There are so many stories about matchmakers. I was intrigued by someone who did the opposite. What would that person be like? Then a few years back, I had a few friends in unhealthy relationships. I wanted to say something, but it’s a tricky situation because you don’t want to harm your friendship, especially when you know they wouldn’t heed your advice. It made me think even more about someone who breaks up couples.

DG: How was your experience writing in the female POV? (Side note: Becca’s spirit animal is totally the Amanda Bynes character from SHE’S THE MAN – and I love it!)

PS: I always pictured her spirit animal more like Emma Stone in EASY A! I never consciously thought about writing for a female POV. I never asked myself “what would a girl say?” I just wrote the character as I saw her.

DG: Becca maintains a gossip dossier as part of her work. As you wrote the novel, what strategies did you use to keep all of the pairings and hijinks organized? 

PS: Notecards! I’m a big fan of notecards and blocking out the story. I can physically move the cards around on my table, rearranging scenes and see how/if the story tracks.

DG: Out of all of the relationships in the book, which one resonates with you the most?

PS: I love the friendship between Becca and her best friend Val. On the surface, they seem so different, but their friendship just works. Val’s perkiness and optimism balances out Becca. That’s what I love about friendship. I don’t know how I became friends with my friends, how we found each other in this huge world, but I’m so glad we did. I loved writing Becca and Val’s witty back-and-forth, and some of the best bits were taken from real life conversations.

DG: What can we look forward to from you next? 

PS: Look out for more Becca adventures sometime in 2015.

DG: Since we’re all fearless here, please tell us one thing you’re afraid of and one thing you’re not afraid of.

PS: I am terrified of rats, but spiders don’t phase me.

About Philip Siegel:

Philip Siegel author photo_color

Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, which he insists is much nicer than certain TV shows would have you believe. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC page. He likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he works in downtown Chicago by day while he writes novels at night and during his commute sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El. To learn more, you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.

 

Diana GallagherDiana Gallagher is a gymnastics coach, writing professor, and country music aficionado. She holds an MFA from Stony Brook University and once had a story published on a candy cigarette box. Her contemporary YA novel, WHAT HAPPENS IN WATER, releases in Fall 2015 from Spencer Hill Contemporary. For deep musings on gymnastics and Game of Thrones puns, follow her on Twitter.

All Four Kids: An Interview with Emery Lord, Author of OPEN ROAD SUMMER

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Today, I’m thrilled to highlight Emery Lord’s debut novel, OPEN ROAD SUMMER, a contemporary YA about friendship, love, and learning to trust yourself and others. It releases today!

Open Road SummerAbout OPEN ROAD SUMMER: After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

 AmazonIndie BoundBarnes & NoblePowell’sBooks A Million

CR: Can you start by telling us about how you became interested in writing YA and about your publishing journey?

EL: I found a Sarah Dessen book at the library when I was 13 and fell down the YA rabbit hole. Haven’t left since! I majored in English Lit, and so many Important Works I read lacked YA’s emotional honesty and unflinching earnestness. Once I started writing after graduation, it was always going to be contemporary YA–my first love!, and here I am! (Okay, that’s a really truncated version 😉 There were many late nights represented by the “and” in last sentence.)

CR: Reagan is a complex character on the mend after some serious events in her life linked to people she once trusted. Yet, she loves, supports, and protects Dee. I like that we see multiple sides to her, that she is not one- or two-dimensional. Can you talk about creating her as a character?

EL: Thanks! Unlike Reagan, I grew up with a happy, stable home life, and I stayed pretty close to the straight-and-narrow. In fact, I think Reagan is someone I would have judged…because she comes off cold and she wears very small clothes and, frankly, isn’t nice to other girls, or anyone. So that’s exactly why I wrote her the way I did. In the hopes that I could dig beneath the icy veneer to a hurt but fierce girl who has a lot to offer. I believe so much in the power of will, especially as a teen. Sometimes changing your life is a simple as a decision or two, and that’s what I wanted to show with Reagan.

CR: I love that this story is as much about best friends as it is about falling in love. How refreshing that it wasn’t a love triangle! Can you talk a little about why you decided to develop both of these relationships in Reagan’s life?

EL: Thanks! I was really interested in Reagan being a fully all-or-nothing girl, including her relationships. Dee is her only friend, really, but she’d do anything for her. I like the idea of very devoted friendship, chosen sisterhood, because it’s a part of my own life. My girl friends are not people I spent time with on the way to finding my husband. They’re like family to me, permanent fixtures even if we change or move or fight or whatever. It was fun to write a relationship like that because I know it well! 🙂

CR: What inspired you to write this particular story? Are you a singer or musician?

EL: Until I started writing, I never really thought of songs as writing! So I was partially inspired by that overlap, between penning fiction and music. Personally, I’m nothing special as a musician, but I have a lot of talented friends who are. So, I’m familiar with the particular swooniness of a boy writing a song for you, haha 😉

CR: Can you tell us anything about your next novel, which comes out Spring 2015? Is it also being published by Bloomsbury?

EL: Yes! It’s out with Bloomsbury! It’s another contemporary YA, about a girl named Paige who is determined to use her junior year to become herself again, after a tragic loss at the beginning of her sophomore year.

CR: As this community is “fearless,” we’d like to know one thing you’re afraid of and one thing you’re not afraid of.

EL: I AM afraid of driving through an actual downpour. I am NOT afraid of driving through life in a metaphorical downpour 😉

Emery LordAbout Emery Lord:

Emery Lord is a 20-something Midwestern girl who writes stories about high school and best friends and weird families and the crushes that make you feel combustibly alive and also more awkward than you thought was possible. If you’re not sure how to pronounce Emery, try slurring the name “Emily,” and that will get you really close.

She lives in Cincinnati in a 100 year-old pink row house with her BFF/husband, a closet full of dresses, and lots of books. If karaoke-ing in grocery store aisles or guzzling coffee while impulse shopping were illegal, Emery would be writing her overemotional YA books from jail. Also, she makes up words sometimes. Like combustibly.

OPEN ROAD SUMMER, her first YA novel, is out April 15th, 2014. A second YA novel TBD will be released Spring 2015. You can contact her at emerylord@gmail.com and you can find her on Twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, and her website.

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.