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

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

Here’s the specifics on GRACEFULLY GRAYSON:

gracefullygrayson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview With 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: An Interview with Dahlia Adler, Author of BEHIND THE SCENES

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Today we’re interviewing OneFourKidLit author Dahlia Adler, whose YA contemporary BEHIND THE SCENES comes out today!

About BEHIND THE SCENES:

behindthescenes

High school senior Ally Duncan’s best friend may be the Vanessa Park – star of TV’s hottest new teen drama – but Ally’s not interested in following in her BFF’s Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally’s ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father’s mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van’s on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors’ publicist arranges for Van and Liam to “date” for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she’s capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can’t play by Hollywood’s rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.

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BA: So, of course, I have to ask: what inspired this east coast girl to write a book about Hollywood?

DA: I wish I could remember! I know I was coming off of having shelved a book that was really character driven, and feeling like that had really hurt me in the query process, so I was determined to write something more plot driven. I know I originally thought I’d do a celebrity POV, but then thought it’d be so much more interesting to do her best friend’s instead (there are more of these now, but it was a rarity back then, I swear!), but…that’s where the memories end!

BA: BtS is such an addictive read that the complexity of the story almost takes you by surprise. How much of this story was planned or outlined prior to drafting? Were there any characters who took on a life of their own?

DA: This book was outlined to death far more than any other book of mine, because it was my first time doing NaNoWriMo. We’re talking eleven pages, single-spaced. And from the material that was produced during the first draft, there actually haven’t been tons of revisions. However, I added a ton during each of two rounds, so while I outlined tightly for the original 67K, another 21K came out of revisions that were completely out of nowhere.

As for characters, yes—Josh. Josh was supposed to be in the book for, like, five seconds. But as soon as he got the mic, he was just…on. Could not shut him up. And of course, he ended up being most early readers’ favorite.

BA: One of my favorite things about BtS was the focus on Ally and Vanessa’s efforts to navigate a complicated friendship, even as romantic and career developments threaten to come between them. Did you find that any of your own experiences with friends were reflected in their relationship?

DA: There’s definitely nothing in BtS that was pulled from any of my personal friendships, but the general concept of being overshadowed by your best friend is something I can relate to. Waaaay more than I’d like to admit.

BA: Another thing I adored about this book: your thoughtful, careful attention to diversity issues. Most notably, Ally often speaks candidly about Vanessa’s experiences finding work as an Asian-American actress. What inspired you to give this issue extra attention?

DA: So, Vanessa Park was actually originally Vanessa Parker, back when I was just starting to draft. I always sort of fish around in my brain to see if I can mentally fancast any of my characters, and as I was doing it this time, I realized that my whole book was super white. So I thought about fancasting with an Asian-American actress, and realized I couldn’t think of a single one for Vanessa. I promptly turned her into Vanessa Park and then unleashed my feelings on the utter ridiculousness of that throughout BtS, because seriously? How is that even possible? It shouldn’t be.

BA: I know I’m not the first person to mention this, but Ally’s love interest, Liam, is down-to-earth, smart, and ABSURDLY hot. (Wait. Wait. Interview will resume after the interviewer stops swooning.) Any thoughts about how Liam has managed to cause such a sensation among your adult readers?

DA: Ha, my CPs just might be willing to fight you for him! It was actually really strange for me to write a love interest who’s kind of a physically perfect specimen; that’s really not my preference. But Liam really had to be, and it’s hard to argue with flawlessness. And good abs. Good abs are really key.

BA: And in your interview with One Four Kid Lit, you mentioned that Liam is physically based on Matt Lanter. (Pause for additional swooning). Who, if anyone, do you picture in your head when you think of Ally and Vanessa?

DA: No one really. I have a weird thing against strongly picturing my main characters, and for some reason this was particularly true for Ally. If you said I had to choose one on pain of death, I’d probably say Lyndsay Fonseca (circa How I Met Your Mother) for Ally and Jamie Chung (circa her season of The Real World) for Vanessa.

BA: You’ve written several books, including two more scheduled to release from Spencer Hill in 2015! In what ways has your writing process stayed fairly consistent over time? How does it tend to change from book to book?

DA: I’ve done really different things with my books in terms of POV since BtS, and that will throw consistency right out the window. For every part of my process I could tell you remains the same, it’ll be a lie for one of my books. BtS was really heavily outlined, and I never did that again, because the next time I tried, I ended up deviating from it every five seconds. I try to be consistent in not editing while I write, but I’ve had a couple of manuscripts throw me early on, and then with the help of my CPs acting as alpha readers, I’ve made exceptions there too. I have a rule about not writing out of order…and then I went ahead and did it. My feeling is that you just have to do what’s begging to be done. It makes a world of difference when you just go with your gut.

BA: Without giving away any spoilers, what was your favorite scene in BtS to write? What scene gave you the most trouble?

DA: Hmm, good question…I wrote some of them so much more recently than others that it’s hard to be sure! My favorite scenes to write are always either kissing or fighting (and a lot of my scenes include both), so I’d say probably either the first kiss between Ally and Liam, or the first time he comes over, or the night before he goes to Berlin…yeeeeah, there was a lot to enjoy writing in this book!

As for the most trouble, I’d say probably the scenes with Lucy. I’d never written a younger sibling before, and have no experience with them, so those were a struggle for me.

BA: I know you’re a voracious reader and a huge contemporary YA fangirl. What has it been like having fans and supporters of your own? And what would be the ultimate author fantasy moment for you?

DA: You know what’s terrible? I’ve had people be utterly wonderful about my book, and my reaction is always, “(S)he’s just being nice because (s)he’s a nice person,” or something along those lines. Supporters’ capacity for kindness is pretty amazing. So for me, the ultimate author fantasy is anything that’s really incontrovertible proof that someone who didn’t have to love my book for any reason just…did. Especially a reluctant reader. I think having a book that appeals to reluctant readers is an amazing thing.

BA: Your fans know that you juggle multiple professional identities – you’re an editor, a prolific blogger, and – OFFICIALLY – a published young adult author. Beyond your exceptional time management skills, what keeps you sane during the crazy parts of this process?

DA: Deadlines, to-do lists, and close friends. The first two help me organize my brain and are tremendously helpful to me, but it’s really the close friends that make me function. I have the world’s most incredible CPs, who manage to make me feel like all my stuff is worth reading, and who are always willing to alpha, beta, talk things out, and cheerlead. I also have a couple of friends who are just tremendous at letting me talk about my emotional crazy. And I have to give the world’s biggest shoutout here to Fearless Fifteener Maggie Hall, because she is in both of those categories, and is there for me literally every single day, even when traveling the world. I have no idea where I’d be without her.

And my husband. Not to be a cliché, but my husband is pretty much the greatest rock I could ask for.

BA: Since this is an official Fearless Fifteeners interview, my last question is, as always: what is one thing you’re afraid of? What is one thing you’re not afraid of?

DA: I’m afraid of driving—I don’t have a license, and I honestly don’t know when I’ll get one, even though I clearly need one.

I’m not afraid of being myself. I don’t always love what I do or how I feel, but I’m very grateful to be someone who can comfortably tell you everything I am. Or, you know, tweet it.

Thanks so much for the interview, Dahlia, and congratulations on your debut! 

About Dahlia:
DahliaAdler (533x640)Dahlia Adler is an Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and a YA author and blogger at every spare moment in between. You can find her on Twitter at @MissDahlELama, and blogging at The Daily Dahlia, YA Misfits, and Barnes & Noble. She lives in New York City with her husband and their overstuffed bookshelves. Behind the Scenes is her debut novel.

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Becky AlbertalliBecky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, D.C. She now lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, will be released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in April of 2015. Follow Becky on Twitter at @beckyalbertalli.

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

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Jessie Humphries, author of KILLING RUBY ROSE

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I’m so happy to interview my Greenhouse Literary sister Jessie Humphries, whose YA thriller KILLING RUBY ROSE is out right now!

 

Killing Ruby Rose_FINALIn sunny Southern California, seventeen-year-old Ruby Rose is known for her killer looks and her killer SAT scores. But ever since her dad, an LAPD SWAT sergeant, died, she’s also got a few killer secrets.

To cope, Ruby has been trying to stay focused on school (the top spot in her class is on the line) and spending time with friends (her Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks are nothing if not loyal). But after six months of therapy and pathetic parenting by her mom, the District Attorney, Ruby decides to pick up where her dad left off and starts going after the bad guys herself.

When Ruby ends up killing a murderer to save his intended victim, she discovers that she’s gone from being the huntress to the hunted. There’s a sick mastermind at play, and he has Ruby in his sights. Ruby must discover who’s using her to implement twisted justice before she ends up swapping Valentino red for prison orange.

With a gun named Smith, a talent for martial arts, and a boyfriend with eyes to die for, Ruby is ready to face the worst. And if a girl’s forced to kill, won’t the guilt sit more easily in a pair of Prada peep-toe pumps?

Available at Amazon, BAM, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s

And other local & national retailers.

SG: Hi, Jessie! Congrats on your book and thanks for stopping by our blog!

JH: Thanks for hosting this interview, Shannon! It’s nice to have an agency sister involved. Go Team Greenhouse!

So, I decided that I’m going to answer ALL of your questions! But not like I normally would, more like rapid fire! Like Ruby Rose cocking and pulling the trigger, I’m gonna bullet point out these answers like an automatic rifle with night scope vision!

SG: Awesome, I’m ready! So tell us where did the idea for KILLING RUBY ROSE come from?

  • From watching/reading the DEXTER series by Jeff Lindsay and reading the HEIST  SOCIETY books by Ally Carter.

SG: Jessie, do you outline or use any visual plotting method when you write? Or bullet points, ha ha 🙂 ?

  • Yes, I use the beat system from Blake Snyder’s book, SAVE THE CAT. Me and my CP’s call our system of outlining, “Brushing Our Cat.” ;0

SG: Oh I love that book! What are your favorite revision tools?

  • Babysitters, busy cafés with high energy, caffeine, and a reward system including chocolate.

SG: How could we ever get through revisions without chocolate! When do you write, when are you the most creative, and what does your schedule look like?

  • In the morning. It’s when I’m most focused and creative. I usually have to get up between 5-6:00 am to get any amount of work done because I have to be home by 8:00 am for carpool.

SG: Wow, you are dedicated for sure! So when you venture out so early, where do you write?

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SG: Of course! And, where is the weirdest place you’ve written down story notes?

  • On the back of a fortune cookie. (Don’t remember what the fortune cookie said though).

SG: Okay, I’ve never heard of anyone writing notes on a fortune cookie! Jessie, did you research much for KILLING RUBY ROSE?

  • A little bit. Three years of law school and a grueling bar exam also helped with the legal aspects of the book.

SG: What a perfect background for writing crime! Can you tell us what was the hardest part of writing this book?

  • The ending. Before my agent signed me, she made me change the ENTIRE ending. It was hard, I might have had a series of mental breakdowns, several stages of giving up, and a popped out rib from the stress…but I did it!

SG: Ugh! Endings are so hard! I’m so glad you made it, and I sure hope your rib is better! How did you come up with the title for KILLING RUBY ROSE?

  • I didn’t. My amazing agent, Sarah Davies did. The second she said it, I knew it was the one. (The title I had come up with was total crap).

SG: Just one of Sarah’s many talents, right? So, Jessie, is this your first book? If not, did you learn anything new when you wrote this?

  • No, it was my third (or fourth book–depending on how many times I revamped that first book). I learned a ton from those first couple attempts, namely: stop writing sucky books.

SG: I know what you mean! Have you ever wanted to strangle or shake one of your characters?

  • Yes, and then I did. Literally, have them strangled, stabbed, shot, set on fire, etc. What? My MC is a serial killer!

SG: Oh yeah! LOL! SO when you’re sitting at your computer, stuck, what distracts you?

  • Checking Facebook for what fabulous things my friends are doing while I’m stuck and suffering.

SG: Jessie, what is your favorite part of the whole process of getting this book from your idea and into the hands of readers?

  • Experiencing the making of the book trailer. From hiring the director and actors, to being physically present for the filming, to sharing it with the world. Seeing my characters come alive right before my eyes is cool beyond description. Also, the filmmaker, j.j. huckin, has decided that the footage he’s got is so good that he can’t stand to waste any of it and is turning it into a short film!

SG: Wow! That is incredible! I can’t wait to see it! Okay one more writing question: How long did it take to write the first draft of KILLING RUBY ROSE? Revisions?

  • First draft: 6 months. Revisions: 18 months (because revisions started all over again once I sold my book)

SG: And worth every minute of work and popped ribs, etc., I’m sure! Last question, Jessie. As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

  • I’m afraid of shins. (It’s weird, I know).
  • I’m not afraid of failure. (I move past it all the time).!

 

JessieHumphriesAuthorPhoto

About the Author: Jessie Humphries was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV. She received a BA from San Diego State University, where she cultivated her love of the beach, then lived in France, where she cultivated her weakness for shoes, and finally earned a law degree from UNLV, where she cultivated her interest in justice. After practicing law for several years she began writing, and, appropriately, her debut novel Killing Ruby Rose is a thriller about vigilante justice set in sunny southern California with a shoe-obsessed protagonist. Jessie currently writes and practices law in Las Vegas, where she lives with her husband and children.

Find Jessie online: website, blog, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads

 

Shannon writer photo crop 2Shannon Grogan teaches kindergarten 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, Spring 2015.

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.

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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.

ALL FOUR KIDS: Interview with Marcia Wells, Author of EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE

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

marcia-eddie-book-cover

 

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 LISA COLOZZA COCCA, AUTHOR OF PROVIDENCE

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Today we are featuring OneFourKidLit author Lisa Colozza Cocca, whose YA debut PROVIDENCE came out on March 18!

About PROVIDENCE:

“I first met Baby Girl in a freight car.
I was carrying a bag.
She was sleeping in one.”

ProvidenceCover-largeWhen Becky runs away from home she sees it as a temporary solution to a problem. Finding an abandoned newborn is nowhere on her radar. Yet only hours after leaving home, she finds herself in a new town making decisions that will affect both Baby Girl and herself. As she forges bonds with the people in town and the infant she has rescued, Becky becomes more tangled in the web of lies she has hidden behind. Who can she trust with the truth?

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Sharon Roat: Congratulations on your debut, Lisa! Can you tell us what sparked the idea for your novel?

Lisa Colozza Cocca: Thank you. Quite some time ago, I saw a news story about a girl who found an abandoned newborn on the roof of the apartment building in which the girl lived. She immediately told her mother, who called the authorities. Later, a news reporter interviewed the girl and told her she was a hero for saving the baby’s life. This little girl was having none of that. As far as she was concerned, she had found the baby, the baby needed a family to love her, she and her mom were a family with plenty of love to spare, so who were these people taking the baby away? It seemed totally unjust to her.

When I decided to write the book, I knew the protagonist couldn’t be a ten year old girl. She needed to be old enough to keep the baby safe and thriving and there needed to be no adult intervention keeping her from caring for the child. Hence, my main character, Becky, became a sixteen year old runaway.

SR: PROVIDENCE takes place in a small Georgia town, far from your stomping grounds of upstate New York and New Jersey! What inspired you set your novel in the south and what kind of research did you do to capture the feel of the place?

LCC: One of my favorite things to do in life is explore and what better way to do that than a road trip? I’ve been on many and love to cruise through small towns along the way. So often, these towns make me feel like I’ve traveled back in time. Watson’s Grove is really a compilation of all of those towns – the ones’ whose main streets have seen a revival and those who are still suffering from neglect. As for why it is set in the south, I hope my answer doesn’t make me sound strange. I knew I wanted it somewhere freight trains still stop with some regularity. Beyond that, I had Becky’s voice in my head and that voice told me this was the South. Things like adoption laws and GED policies can easily be researched.

SR: I love your title, PROVIDENCE, which is simple yet represents a complex concept. How did you choose the title and how does it reflect the theme of your novel?

LCC: Thank you. For a while I had thought about Serendipity for the title. Although outcomes are dependent on how each character reacts to the various situations in the book, the opportunities seem to simply fall into place. The more I thought about it though, Rosie, one of the other main characters in the book, is very religious. She would have never thought the intersection of the characters’ lives was pure chance. She saw God’s hand in it and acted accordingly. So I guess in a way, Rosie chose the title when she told Becky their relationship was providence.

SR: While PROVIDENCE is your debut novel, you’ve written quite extensively for young readers as an author of school and library materials. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer and where you hope that path will take you in the years ahead?

LCC: A little more than a decade ago, I went to a writer’s conference. We were seated in a large room waiting for the keynote speaker. The woman sitting next to me started chatting about her work. She was the director of the art department at a publishing house. They specialized in educational materials and she told me a bit about the products they were working on. I’m not an illustrator, but I was familiar with the reading program she was discussing. She offered me her card and the name of a colleague who was looking for another writer for the program. I followed through and was soon writing for this program. (Serendipity? Providence? Hmmm…) This led to many other jobs and after about two years, writing and editing became my full time job as a freelancer. Originally, I thought this move would give me more time for my own writing. Wow, was I wrong. After writing and editing for eight to twelve hours a day, it was tough to sit back down at a computer and write some more. Eventually, I worked it out and although I’m not perfect at it, I am better at keeping a balance between the two worlds. As to the future, I would love it if someday I could cut back on my day job and devote more time to my personal writing. I don’t think I want to give up the educational work entirely though. For one thing, it pays the bills and I like things like electricity, heat, and health insurance. For the other, I really love my job. I work on so many different kinds of projects. They feed my self-discipline, my creativity, and make me think. I’ve met some wonderful people through it.

SR: What are you working on now?

LCC: I’m polishing another novel. It is a bit younger YA, I think than PROVIDENCE. It is set in the early sixties and has quite a bit more humor in it.

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

LCC: I am intensely afraid of heights and speed. This makes me no fun at an amusement park. One thing I’m not afraid of anymore is failing. I’ve lived long enough to know I can bounce back from a failure. It might mean I have to adapt in some way, but it won’t be the end of me. I think once you realize something doesn’t have complete control over you, you’re no longer afraid of it. Now, if I could only apply that philosophy to heights and speed!

Lisa, thank you so much for the interview, and huge congrats on your debut!

ABOUT LISA COLOZZA COCCA:

Lisa grew up in upstate New York between Albany and Saratoga, and lives in New Jersey today. She has always worked around books as a teacher and school librarian. She’s also authored tons of school and library materials. PROVIDENCE is Lisa’s first published novel. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter!

SharonHussRoatSharon Roat is the author of IVY’S TOWER (HarperTeen), a contemporary young adult novel coming in summer 2015. She lives in Delaware and can be found online at YA Q&A and on Twitter @sharonwrote.

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!

lamafitz

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.