Fearless Friday with Alexandra Sirowy & Shannon Grogan

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August YA Thriller Debuts Shannon Grogan and Alexandra Sirowy teamed up to ask their MC’s a few questions!

Introducing, Kara, the main character of FROM WHERE I WATCH YOU:

Dealing with the aftermath of betrayal, her sister’s death, and the collapse of her family, 16-year-old Kara focuses on her dreams of becoming a professional baker. Winning a national baking contest could help her escape to a prestigious culinary school.

But someone is watching.

Someone hides, follows, and leaves her creepy notes.  If she doesn’t figure out who it is, she could lose everything. Her chance of escape. The boy she’s beginning to love and trust. Even her life.

 

And, Stella, the main character of THE CREEPING:

Stella is the lucky one. When she was six, Stella and her friend Jeanie went into the woods to pick strawberries. Stella came back. Jeanie never did. Eleven years later, Stella is over it, even if whatever happened to Jeanie is still lost in her messed up memory. Stella has a summer full of cove days, best friends, and her gorgeous crush to look forward to, that is, until the fresh corpse of a little girl with eerie similarities to six-year-old Jeanie is found on the anniversary of her disappearance.

What are you most afraid of losing?

Stella: My friends! Especially my three bests, Zoey, Michaela, and Cole. I’d be lost without them.

Kara: I’m most afraid of losing my mom. She’s really all I have left. Even if she is a nut job and she drives me crazy. After everything, I guess I still need her. As long as she doesn’t turn into the mom from “Carrie”.

 

What are you afraid of that you’d never admit to aloud?

Stella: Ouija boards completely eek me out. Totally crazy, I know. I can handle the real stuff that goes bump in the night, but just whisper something like Bloody Mary to me three times in the same zip code as a mirror and I can’t sleep for a week.

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Kara: Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary! No, just kidding, Stella! I’d never admit this to anyone but you, but I’m afraid of pigeon germs. I kinda live in the city and they’re dirty and everywhere and they poop everywhere! I swear there is going to be some kind of pigeon flu outbreak. It’s gross.

Pigeons Pigeons Pigeons!

Pigeons Pigeons Pigeons!

Which scary movie or book would you cast yourself in and why?

Stella: I don’t like all those scary movies that have the girl always shrieking her head off or running the wrong direction or waiting for someone to save her.
I wouldn’t be that type of heroine. Whatever movie or book I’d be in, I’d be the one figuring things out and saving the day.

Kara: Me too, Stella. I think maybe “Silence of the Lambs”. The heroine in that was kick ass smart, in FBI training. Oh, FYI, that one is a book and a movie. Creepy!

Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs

Would you rather be covered by spiders or snakes?

Stella: Snakes for sure. Anything but spiders.

Kara: Yuck, neither! I think I agree with Stella. Snakes. At least if you stand up they will fall off. Spiders cling! Ick!

What’s your most embarrassing moment ever?

Stella: Ummm, hello? I already get enough sideways glances and stares. Invite more attention or whispers? Not gonna happen.

Kara: Ooh Stella, what secrets are you hiding? Why are people whispering about you? Hmm. Well, I try to keep mostly to myself so as not to bring attention either. But I think my most embarrassing moment was in 9th grade when I dropped an F bomb in Home Ec after I burned my hand pulling cookies out of the oven. That wasn’t really the embarrassing part though, the embarrassing part was Mr. King making me repeat it and spell it on the white board, and then use it in a sentence. And then giving me a detention.

 

Shannon writer photo crop 2Shannon Grogan teaches 2nd grade by day, and writes at Starbucks while her kids are at ballet and baseball. If she can stay off Twitter and stay awake, she writes at night, in a tiny logging town near Seattle, Washington. Her debut, FROM WHERE I WATCH YOU, will be published by Soho Teen, August 2015.
Alexandra Sirowy PhotoAlexandra Sirowy is the author of THE CREEPING, a debut thriller for young adults coming August 18th, 2015 from Simon and Schuster’s Books for Young Readers. To learn more, visit Alexandrasirowy.com or follow her on Twitter.

Release Day: THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND … in 3 Gifs!

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I can’t believe it’s today!

I started writing THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND in 2012, sold it in 2013, and now—February 17, 2015—it is officially on the shelves. While I continue to remind myself to breathe, why don’t you gather around the fire with me?

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND is about two journeys. There’s a physical one, when Hallelujah “Hallie” Calhoun, her former friend Jonah, and new girl Rachel get lost in the Smoky Mountains and have to find their way back to civilization. But there’s also Hallie’s emotional journey—arguably the tougher of the two—wherein she has to figure out how to bounce back and redefine herself after an incident with the preacher’s son turned her into a social outcast. I hope the book will take you on a journey as well, whether you’re an avid hiker/climber/camper/nature lover…

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…or you’re allergic to the Great Outdoors.

I’m doing a mini-blog-tour this week to celebrate the book’s release, and you can learn more about that HERE. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND!

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

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

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

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

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | INDIEBOUND

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.

INTRODUCING NATASHA SINEL

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Here’s how to become a published author in five steps. (Notice I didn’t say five easy steps. Nor did I say they’d all be forward-moving steps.)

1. Live Your Childhood Inside Books

I was a reader. When I finished one book, I’d start the next. Books dictated the ups and downs of my moods (This probably confused the hell out of my parents—well, what is she crying about now?) I wrote stories too. People would say, “She’ll be a writer someday.” But people aren’t books, so I didn’t listen.

2. Go to Business School by Default

Having grown up in Washington, D.C., I assumed I’d be a lawyer, a lobbyist, or a politician. But…eh. A doctor was out of the question—I was one of those faint-at-the-sight-of-blood types. So, I went to business school. Maybe I’d be some sort of business-type person.

3. Do Something That Makes You Feel Horrible About Yourself

During business school, I miserably failed my internship at one of the big investment banks. (Why did I even try it? Because someone—I won’t mention names, but it starts with a D and ends with a D—always told me I could do anything I set my mind to. Investment banking, however? Not in my “anything” category.) Turns out, I wasn’t interested in any of the MBA-type jobs at banks, consulting firms, and product marketing companies. I had no job-worthy interests, period. Then, after listening to me whine long enough, my dad asked one simple question:

“When you pick up the New York Times, which section do you read first?”

The Book Review, duh. Also TV and movies. So something clicked there, and I set my mind to a more appropriate “anything.” After a grueling independent job search, I landed a job at Showtime Networks. I was on the business side, but I was working in TV. I loved watching TV! One of my interests plus job equals happy/successful.

4. Spend $$ on Gas and Parking

Many years later, I put work on hold to start a family. I had an idea for a story, so I signed up for a YA novel workshop. Driving an hour to SoHo every week would give me a kick in the pants to write, and that would make me feel creative, productive, and good. What I hadn’t expected was for my instructor (fabulous author/yoga instructor Kristen Kemp) to say, “Girl, you can write. There is no reason why you can’t get published, if that’s what you want to do.”*

Whoa. That was an option? Sure, I’d fantasized about being an author. Who doesn’t? But, that was just fantasy, right? But something clicked, and I set my mind to another “anything”—being a writer.

5. Fail and Fail and Fail Some More

After ten years, two and a half manuscripts, and numerous heartbreaking but necessary failures, the fantasy is a reality. And it feels like the right “anything.”

*My fellow Fearless Fifteener, Sona Charaipotra (PRETTY LITTLE THINGS) was in that class with me, and I’m so glad to reconnect with her here during our debut year!

Here’s a description of my debut YA contemporary THE FIX, which comes out this September:

One conversation is all it takes to break a world wide open.

Seventeen-year-old Macy Lyons has been through something no one should ever have to experience. And she’s dealt with it entirely alone.

On the outside, she’s got it pretty good. Her family’s well-off, she’s dating the cute boy next door, she has plenty of friends, and although she long ago wrote her mother off as a superficial gym rat, she’s thankful to have allies in her loving, laid-back dad and her younger brother.

But a conversation with a boy at a party one night shakes Macy out of the carefully maintained complacency that has defined her life so far. The boy is Sebastian Ruiz, a recovering addict who recognizes that Macy is hardened by dark secrets. And as Macy falls for Sebastian, she realizes that, while revealing her secret could ruin her seemingly perfect family, keeping silent might just destroy her.

The Fix follows two good-hearted teenagers coming to terms with the cards they were dealt. It’s also about the fixes we rely on to cope with our most shameful secrets and the hope and fear that comes with meeting someone who challenges us to come clean.

“First shot out of the gate, Sinel bravely addresses tough topics, demonstrating that the weight of secrets can pull us under—and their release can save us from drowning.” —Holly Schindler, critically acclaimed author of A Blue So Dark and Feral

“A bewitching, beautiful, and brave debut. Readers will marvel at Macy’s resilience. Natasha Sinel’s writing devastates and uplifts, by turns. An important story of one girl’s journey to rewrite the blueprint of her own life by facing the truth inside herself.” —Carrie Mesrobian, award-winning author of Sex & Violence and Perfectly Good White Boy

Natasha Sinel writes YA fiction from her home on a dirt road in Northern Westchester, NY. She drives her kids around all afternoon, but in her head, she’s still in high school, and hopes no one near her can read minds. Find her on Twitter and on YA Outside The Lines. Natasha’s debut YA novel THE FIX will be out from Sky Pony Press in September 2015.

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.

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

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.

Website | Twitter

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.

ONE FOUR KIDS: Interview with Kate Hannigan, Author of CUPCAKE COUSINS

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I had the great pleasure of interviewing OneFourKidLit author Kate Hannigan, whose middle grade novel, CUPCAKE COUSINS, debuts today! About the book:

Cupcake Cousins Cover medium file“Meet Willow Sweeney and Delia Dees, cousins who are embarking on their annual summer vacation together to the sleepy beach town of Saugatuck, Michigan, and the old Victorian house called Whispering Pines. Willow and Delia love gathering with the aunts and uncles, grandparents and kids all together for one fantastic week every August. But this year is special. Aunt Rosie is getting married, and she’s asked Willow and Delia to be her flower girls.

“But who ever heard of fourth-grade flower girls? Willow and Delia want to avoid those babyish pink dresses at all costs. They’d much rather beflour girls instead and prove themselves to the whole family – and to the intimidating new caterer at Whispering Pines – by whipping up some amazing dishes in the kitchen. But their cooking plans have a tendency to go awry, and culinary chaos ensues.”

Order Cupcake Cousins now from your local independent bookseller. Or visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble to get your copy today!

CH: When did you first decide to pursue writing? How did you decide on middle grade books? What do you find most appealing about them? Do you write in other genres as well?

KH: I’ve identified myself as a writer since I was in grade school. I think I first became hooked on storytelling and creating my own worlds in Mrs. Tucker’s third-grade class, when we wrote our own Encyclopedia Brown stories complete with surprise endings. I was obsessed!

I write for the reader I was then, attracted to wacky characters and adventures. I think middle-grade is where the truths are. It’s full of heart and honesty and searching. I’ve tried my hand at picture books, but they are so difficult! I find it hard to distill my thoughts down to a few hundred words! I like how we can stretch out in middle-grade and have a bit more room to say what we want.

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Down the bluff staircase to the dunes and Lake Michigan near Saugatuck, Michigan, where the story is set.

CH: The setting of the story really comes alive—I would say it earns a place as honorary character. How did your own childhood vacations/experiences contribute to the story?

KH: It’s funny, there are many really important things in my day-to-day functioning that I should be able to remember but cannot. But I can recall the way our Volare station wagon smelled when I was a kid, and what the green plastic seats felt like in the summertime. I can remember what it was like to run barefoot on crabgrass when we played outside in the evenings in my neighborhood. So many things about summer vacations and being a kid are right there in the front of my mind. These memories do seem to make it into my stories.

I spent a great deal of time outside when I was growing up in Oklahoma. When I think of today’s kids, who spend much of their days indoors and experience the world via screen instead of their five senses, I feel like something is being lost. So when I wrote Cupcake Cousins, I wanted to conjure up those sensations. I want readers to think about watching a sunset or sunrise and maybe feel compelled to go do it themselves. By including a lot of tactile things – picking blueberries, playing on the sand, getting up before the sun rises – I wanted to remind kids that it’s all still out there for them to explore and experience.

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Kate’s malted milk ball cake at Christmas

CH: Do you cook? If so, what’s your specialty? Are the recipes your own creations? Do you have a favorite dish/type of cuisine? Tell us about your worst kitchen disaster.

KH: I do love to cook! It’s the best time for letting my mind wander and sort of plot out my next project. I am not a big meat-eater, so I tend to cook a lot of Thai, Chinese, and Indian fare. My kids call my various pots “Mom’s veggie concoctions.” I’m more like the Willow character in the book, throwing things into the mix and winging it, rather than like her more precise cousin, Delia, who measures things and plans out.

For Cupcake Cousins, I messed around with recipes and tested them out on my kids, who were willing guinea pigs! They patiently endured having to eat multiple batches of cupcakes and whoopee pies and peach pancakes.

And like the cousins in the book, I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters. So many, in fact, that I don’t even know which to share here. Fires on the stovetop, explosions in the microwave, adding cooking oil instead of water and making a wide hockey puck rather than a chocolate cake. My best cooking disaster is probably the time I poked a wooden spoon into the blender and wound up with woodchips in my batter. That dish was for a young man whose heart I was trying to win, and since he wound up marrying me, I guess it wasn’t a complete disaster!

CH: Do you envision any more adventures for Willow and Delia?

KH: Plenty! And Disney-Hyperion has asked for two more, so Cupcake Cousins is officially a three-book series. Willow and Delia are very clear in my mind, so I feel like I can return to them again and again.

CH: Do you have a writing routine? What’s your favorite place/time of day for writing?

 KH: I am a weirdly superstitious person, so I have a few rituals that are much too embarrassing to share. But I do tend to sit in the same spot at my kitchen table when I write, using the same mug for tea or the occasional decaf (which I put in the same spot near my laptop). I have a desk in a downstairs office that I use to, so I choose one or the other for long stretches.

As an online writer and editor, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work from home. So I get everything done while my kids are in school, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. When I was working on Cupcake Cousins, that meant getting up sometimes at 4 a.m. to work on the manuscript before sitting down to the day job. Lately I’ve been able to shift to writing books full-time. But I still like writing in the mornings, when the whole house is asleep, even my dog. After 3 p.m., I run a chauffeur service.

CH: Any advice for aspiring writers?

KH: Read. Read everything. Read the books you want to write, and really study how the authors did it. Even take a passage that moves you, and write it down, so it flows from your head, through your fingers, and onto the page. You get a sense of how the author did it, and you can take that feeling and make it your own with your own words.

CH: What did you find most surprising about the process of getting published?

 KH: That. It. Moves. So. Slowly.

I used to work in newspapers, which was thrilling. The work you did in the newsroom was there in the next morning’s paper. You read it over breakfast! But with books, it can be a few years between an editor acquiring a book and the finished product sitting in your hands. The result is still a complete thrill! But the journey is a long one. And my personality is more like, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” So I wound up starting other projects along the way.

CH: Willow dreamed of becoming a chef. What would you tell a real-life 10-year-old who is having doubts or fears about pursuing a dream?

KH: Just stick with it! Sometimes it might seem that the people who are so successful got there quickly and easily. But that’s rarely the case. They were at it every day. And when you’re doing something you love and value, it doesn’t feel like work.

And do not be afraid to make mistakes. How does a baby figure out how to walk? She falls down. A lot. Babies fall down spectacularly. But before long, they get the hang of it, and they move on to skipping and jumping and galloping and running. The same will happen to you.

Kate Hannigan Head Shot smallLearn more about the fabulous and talented Kate Hannigan at katehannigan.com.

Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading about the creatures that curl your toes, the legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Christine lives near Chicago with her family, her dog, Chewie, and a house full of quirky vintage objects that she secretly hopes might be haunted. Her MG suspense novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, debuts spring 2015 with Roaring Brook/Macmillan. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Horn Book, starred review

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

–School Library Journal, starred review

AMAZON B&N | INDIEBOUND GOODREADS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for having me!

skilaABOUT SKILA BROWN:

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

 

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

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

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

18060008ABOUT UNDER THE EGG:

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

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

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

Amazon / IndieBound / Barnes and Noble / Books-a-Million / Powell’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JCB: What are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT LAURA MARX FITZGERALD:

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

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