Fearless Fridays – Alison DeCamp Faces Her Fear of Aliens (They’re Real!)



I used to be afraid of aliens. Oh, who am I kidding. I’m still afraid of aliens.

Once my brother and his girlfriend saw strange lights in the sky while driving a portion of deserted highway. I was probably eleven years old at the time. It was my first almost-UFO sighting. It was also in a section of the state where there was an Air Force base located nearby. I’m sure that had nothing to do with anything.

Years later, after I was married (I’ll admit, I was in my late twenties), a couple came over for dinner and brought a movie with them. FIRE IN THE SKY. A movie so frightening I squeezed my eyes shut and plugged my ears whenever the trailer was shown on TV.

Based on a true story (I know!), FIRE IN THE SKY (in case you are too young to remember) is about a man who is abducted by aliens while his logging coworkers look on. He disappears for five days and resurfaces with no memory and no clothes. Later he has flashbacks about the experiments the aliens performed on him.

There was NO way I was watching that movie. So after dinner my husband and guests slid the movie into the VCR, and I retreated to our bedroom where I turned on the radio and covered my head with a pillow. For two hours.

That was a fun night.

The next morning I called my mother and relayed the entire story. She listened without interrupting me or telling me I was ridiculous. All she said at the end was, “Alison, what makes you think any aliens would want you?”

From then on I haven’t been nearly as freaked out by aliens. Because out of 7 billion people in the world, why WOULD a bunch of aliens want me?

But I’m still not watching that movie. And what I just said isn’t true either. Because I just googled all this information about UFOs and alien sitings and Travis Walton to write this post and I might not sleep tonight.

Alison DeCamp grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where she heard many stories about lumber camps, scary grandmothers, and outhouses. She taught middle school for eight years, stayed home with her two adorable children (now adorable teenagers) and works at a bookstore in Harbor Springs, Michigan. MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES (99% True!) is available Feb. 24. You can find Alison on Twitter and Facebook where she loves to posts old pictures and kids’ art.

All Four Kids: An Interview with Jen Swann Downey, Author of The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand


Today we’re talking with Jen Swann Downey, author of the madcap middle grade adventure, The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand.


Cover of 'The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand'When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase Moe—an unusually foul-tempered mongoose—into the janitor’s closet of their local library, they make an astonishing discovery: the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians.

Their mission: protect those whose words get them into trouble, anywhere in the world and at any time in history.

Petrarch’s Library is an amazing, jumbled, time-traveling secret base that can dock anywhere there’s trouble, like the Spanish Inquisition, or ancient Greece, or…Passaic, New Jersey. Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society, fighting injustice with a real sword! But when a traitor surfaces, she and Marcus are prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

The Ninja Librarians will be published on April 15th 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | BAM | Powell’s | Goodreads

Hi Jen. Congratulations on the publication of The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand! Can you start by telling us what or who inspired you to become a writer in the first place?

I explicitly said “I want to be a ____” MANY times in my young life. Often I shouted it. For instance, after watching a mini-documentary on Zoom (old PBS kids show for those not quite as ancient as I am.) about a kid who jogged regularly, I absolutely instantaneously wanted to become a “jogger”. (I did get a “jogging suit” for my birthday but sadly, after two very demanding “jogs” around the block, I gave up on the Zoom “kid-jogger” dream.

I’m not sure, however, that I ever said (or shouted) “I want to be a writer”. I just wrote. From the time I was eight, when I got my first diary. (Blue with gold lines inside. “Today, Alexis and I bothered her next door neighbor…” Riveting stuff!).

Before anyone despairs about ever publishing a book because of how you didn’t start writing when you were eight, let me assure you that I was almost entirely disinterested in writing stories. I wrote journal entries, to do lists, rules for neighborhood clubs, letters to George McGovern (He sent back a pin!), notes home from camp, more diary entries detailing all the ways in which I had fallen madly in love with Steve Dent, and then his friend Norby Bryzinsky, and then his friend Lyle Dalton, and neighborhood newsletters, and then articles in grubby neighborhood newspapers, and then not so grubby publications, and then one day I did feel inspired to say: I want to write a book. A kid’s book. For the not so young, not so old kids. A book about a kid and a library.

Petrarch’s Library, the headquarters of the Lybrarians, into which Dorrie falls is a chaotic collision of libraries from throughout history. If you found yourself in accidentally dropped into Petrarch’s library, what would you go looking for first?

You’re with me, right? Well, first we’d strap on some roller-skates since Petrarch’s Library is such a sprawling place, and roller-skating across marble floors is just undeniable fun. Mind the priceless urns! Hard to choose, but I’d probably plead that we check out the visual feast of the Admont Abbey Library.

Admont Abbey Library, Austria

Admont Abbey Library, Austria

Once there, we’d take off our skates and have a contest to find the secret doors that lead to the galleries above the main floor. Up in the galleries, we’d pull out random white leather-bound books from the shelves, sit in one of the sunny window alcoves that overlooks the sea that surrounds Petrarch’s Library, and take turns reading passages out loud, hoping to stumble on a long-lost secret. Don’t tell Mistress Wu, but we may eat some PB and J sandwiches up there, too.

Reading The Ninja Librarians, I can tell you had a fantastic time writing it. What’s your personal favorite bit of the book?

Wow, it would sound pretty vainglorious to say I’m having a hard time choosing but I’m easily overwhelmed, and I never thought about how I’d answer if some roughs put me up against a building and said, “Your Favorite Part, or Your Life”! Um…sweating it out here. Okay. Favorite emotional moment? Probably when Dorrie, near the end of the story reminds Savi about the question he asked her earlier in the story, and then gives her answer. Favorite goofball moment? Probably when Dorrie and Marcus, after chasing Moe the Mongoose into the library, have to confront one very unhappy librarian.

Personally, I single-handedly fund my local library with my overdue fines. Tell the truth. What’s the most overdue library book you’ve ever had out, and how did you escape the wrath of the librarians?

I am the WORST patron! Like you, I play a huge inadvertent fundraising role for my own beloved local library. Over the years there have been books that were unearthed from behind car seats and under beds months and even a year after they were checked out and promptly misplaced. Once we rented a beach house that we had rented five years previously, and discovered one of our missing library books there! I’m ashamed to say that I still own a copy of Henry Huggins that was checked out decades ago from my childhood library…

Cutlass or foil?

One in each hand, but totally made of cardboard for everyone’s safety, but mostly my own.

Rollerskates or bicycle?

Both at once probably wouldn’t be such a good idea, but I might be tempted to try!

As this community is ‘fearless’, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.

I am afraid of people with cold eyes, the idea and reality of snake venom, Scotchguard, the banality of evil, and raw wiggly things that come out of shells and pose as food.

I am not afraid of spending time alone, mice, or chipped nails.

Thanks, Jen! Everyone should go out and pre-order The Ninja Librarians right away! It’s an enormous amount of fun.


Photo of Jen Swann Downey.Jen Swann Downey’s non-fiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Women’s Day, and other publications. Jen divides her time between libraries and other places, and will never stop looking for lickable wallpaper.

You can find Jen on her website, on Twitter, or on Goodreads.

Photo of Patrick SamphireDinosaur hunter. Accidental archeologist. Armchair adventurer. Some of these things may not be true about Patrick Samphire. What is true is that Patrick is the author of the extremely thrilling and sometimes funny middle grade adventure, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb (Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt / Macmillan), coming your way in Spring 2015. He lives in Wales, U.K., where it occasionally doesn’t rain.



Today we’re talking to Marcia Wells, whose middle grade debut, EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE released on April 1st!



About the book: Sixth-grader Edmund Xavier Lonnrot code-name “Eddie Red,” has a photographic memory and a prodigious talent for drawing anything he sees. When the NYPD is stumped by a mastermind art thief, Eddie becomes their secret weapon to solve the case, drawing Eddie deeper into New York’s famous Museum Mile and closer to a dangerous criminal group known as the Picasso Gang. Can Eddie help catch the thieves in time, or will his first big case be his last?



GN: Congratulations on your debut, Marcia! What inspired you to write Eddie Red?

MW: Thank you! During the summer of 2010, I was reading some Latin American mysteries for a high school class I was teaching that fall. I was also reading a lot of industry articles about the need for more kid mysteries and books for boys. I woke up one morning and Eddie was there. He wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote his story.

GN: The setting in Eddie Red — New York City — seems to play a big role in the book. How did you decide where to set the book? And did you get to do any fun research trips? 

MW: I don’t remember making a conscious decision about setting it in NYC- my husband’s family is from there, and we were visiting them in the Adirondacks, so perhaps that’s when it all clicked. I did a lot of research online before visiting New York City and Museum Mile. (At the time of my visit my kids were pretty small, so I wouldn’t call it the most productive of trips- the internet has been my biggest research tool in this process.) Eddie’s next adventure takes place in Mexico, so I went with my family down to Cancun over Thanksgiving. THAT was a lot of fun!

GN: I love that Eddie Red is illustrated! Is that something you’d imagined for the book when you started writing it? How does the author-illustrator partnership work?

MW: I didn’t imagine it illustrated, although because Eddie is a police sketch artist, it certainly makes sense. I was thrilled when Houghton Mifflin told me the direction they wanted to go with the project. My illustrator Marcos Calo is perfect for the job. He did the sketches quickly, and then sent them to me for comment. There were very few adjustments to be made- he brought the characters to life perfectly! Working with him has been an amazing part of the journey.

GN: I marvel at writers who can pull off a mystery. How did you make it work?

MW: I just dove in- I didn’t realize how tricky it was until after the fact. Maybe that’s a good thing? I did A LOT of rewriting. I attended some great classes at conferences about how to write a good mystery. Those classes have come in handy while writing the second book. One writer said, “If you can plot a mystery, you can plot anything!” I have to agree- there’s a real need to examine the information given throughout the book and make sure that the pacing is where it should be. It takes some time.

GN: What are you working on now?

MW: I’m revising Eddie Red Two with my editor right now, and also waiting to hear back about a YA fantasy project (this one starring a 15-yr-old girl) Fingers crossed!

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

MW: Recently I fell while skiing and sustained a mild concussion. It has been an awful feeling, not being able to read and write. So I guess my biggest fear is not being able to create, to run dry on new ideas. I am not afraid of criticism of my work, and in fact, I welcome it. (After five years of trying to get published, I’ve developed very thick skin!) Some criticism really resonates with me, and I use it to produce something better in the end. Other criticism I confidently ignore. I’ve really gotten to know myself as a writer, and I am always open to learning new things.


marcia-headshotABOUT MARCIA WELLS: Marcia Wells has a Master’s degree in Spanish literature and has taught writing, Spanish and math to middle and high school students for the past fifteen years.

When she’s not visiting relatives in New York City and planning new adventures for Eddie Red, she’s at home with her kids, husband, and other farm animals in Vermont. 

Visit Marcia at her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Gail NalGail Nalll lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She spends her early mornings writing, her days practicing law, and her evenings trying to stay up past eight o’clock. She chats about writing and figure skating on her blog Writing and Stuff, and spends too much time on Twitter. Her debut contemporary MG novel, DON’T FALL DOWN, will be out from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in Spring 2015.

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


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

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

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

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

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

–Horn Book, starred review

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

–School Library Journal, starred review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for having me!


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


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