Check This Out: The Door at the End of the World

Hello! Help yourself to a breakfast pastry and have a seat. With me on the blog today is the awesome Caroline Carlson, who is here to talk about her middle grade science fiction novel, The Door at the End of the World, which debuted on April 9.

  

The Door at the End of the World was published by HarperCollins. Like the cover? The cover artist is Poly Bernatene.

Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies. She also is a member of steaMG. See this post about that organization. Be sure to stay till the end for information on a giveaway of this book. Yeah!!!!! Now let’s talk to Caroline!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Caroline: (1) I love to bake because baking feels like the exact opposite of writing a book: you just follow the instructions in the recipe, and a few hours later, you have a finished product! Books don’t work that way at all.
(2) My least favorite noise is the sound that Styrofoam makes when you lift it out of a cardboard box.
(3) When the zombie apocalypse comes, I would prefer to be one of the first people eaten so I don’t have to deal with all the stress of trying to survive in a zombie-ridden dystopia.


(4) I have been told that I have natural ghost-repelling qualities.

El Space: Wow! An awesome ability to have! You’ve written books about pirates and detectives. Now you’ve written a portal story. C.S. Lewis once said that a faun carrying an umbrella was the image that started his writing of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. How did The Door at the End of the World come to be? Is this a stand-alone or the start of a series?


Caroline: The Door at the End of the World came to me in a way that most stories don’t: It started with the title. I’d been wondering what it would be like to write a book about the end of the world, and then I thought, What if the end of the world isn’t an event? What if it’s a place? What if it’s where our world meets the next world over? And what if there were a door between the two worlds that you could travel through? Would you need a passport? Would someone stand guard at the end of the world to make sure people weren’t sneaking through the door illegally? What if there were a whole series of worlds, all connected by doors, each with its own unique characteristics? The story really took off from there. It’s a stand-alone novel, but I barely scratched the surface of some of the eight worlds my characters visit, so maybe I’ll set another story in this universe someday.

El Space: Without giving any spoilers, what can you tell us about your world building and how you came to develop characters like Lucy and the worlds mentioned in your book?
Caroline: There are eight different worlds in the book: a magical world, a high-tech world, a world covered in oceans, another world that’s full of cows, and our own world, just to name a few. Each of the worlds is special in its own way, but the world called Southeast, where a lot of the action is set, is a little bit . . . ordinary. Lucy, the heroine, is a little bit ordinary too. It’s her job to file papers and stamp passports at the end of the world, but she doesn’t get to go on any grand adventures, and she knows she only got the job because her parents and her older brother are very famous and important. Over the course of the story, though, Lucy meets a couple other ordinary kids, and they discover together that even though they’re not famous or important, they’re capable of doing truly extraordinary things—like saving eight whole worlds from destruction.

 

El Space: That sounds awesome! How did the process of writing this book compare to the writing of The World’s Greatest Detective or any of your Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates books?
Caroline: I’m usually the sort of writer who plans a book before I start writing. I outlined each of the three novels in my Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series, and I had to make an extensive and complicated outline for The World’s Greatest Detective, which is a murder mystery. When you write a mystery, you need to know exactly how the crime is committed, how the criminal will cover their tracks, where all the clues and red herrings will appear, and how the detective will put together all the pieces to arrive at the solution. I can’t imagine writing a book like that without planning in advance!

    

    

When I wrote The Door at the End of the World, though, I didn’t outline at all. Most days I’d sit down to write without knowing what was going to happen next in the story. For a writer like me, who loves structure and planning, it was kind of a terrifying experience. But it was also invigorating, like reading a favorite book for the very first time. I didn’t know what would happen on the next page, but I kept writing because I was excited to find out. Fortunately, it all came together in the end, and a few rounds of thorough revision with my editor helped to make the story nice and tidy.

El Space: Kirkus likens your book to those by Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson, How do those comparisons make you feel?
Caroline: That was one of the nicest compliments I’ve received on my writing. Both women are among my literary heroes, and Diana Wynne Jones’s work in particular was a huge inspiration for The Door at the End of the World. As a young reader, I sped through her Chrestomanci books—a series of stories set in linked parallel worlds that were painted so vividly—I felt as if I’d visited those magical worlds myself. The worlds-wide adventure that my own characters embark on is very much intended as a tribute to Diana, and I hope that readers who love her books as much as I do will enjoy this story, too.

    

El Space: What will you work on next?
Caroline: I’m not sure what my next published book will be, but right now I’m working on another middle grade fantasy novel that’s full of magicians, spies in hot-air balloons, and an opinionated talking goat.

Thanks, Caroline, for being my guest.

Looking for Caroline? Check out her website, Facebook author page, Twitter, Instagram, and steaMG.

The Door at the End of the World can be purchased at your local independent bookstore, as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, and Powell’s. But two of you—that’s right, two—will be given a copy of this book, simply by commenting. Winner to be announced on the day after Easter—April 22!

Henry is hoping that this door will take him to one of the worlds described in Caroline’s book. I fear that he is doomed to disappointment.

P.S. My heart goes out to the citizens of Paris and those all over the world saddened by the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of Caroline Carlson. Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Other book covers from Goodreads. Zombie from somewhere on Pinterest. Henry photo by L. Marie.

Guest Post: Nicole Valentine of steaMG—The Middle Grade Sci-Fi Authors Alliance

Today, I’ve turned over the reins of the blog to my good friend, Nicole Valentine, whose middle grade novel, A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, will be published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner this October (but is available for preorder now). Nicole is here to talk about her latest venture.

A big thank you, L. Marie. for giving me the opportunity to answer two questions here on your blog. She asked me, “What is steaMG and why did you create it?”

SteaMG.org is a collective of authors who want to celebrate sci-fi and science-inspired fiction for middle grade readers. Currently, there are fifteen of us. Our member authors contribute to the blog and we have special guest posts too. Our aim is to add new member authors twice a year, while always looking for interesting guests. Every member has a middle grade book either published or on contract that can be described as sci-fi, spec, or science-inspired fantasy or fiction. We write about time travel, parallel universes, strange new worlds, outer space, and nature doing weird and wonderful things—all subjects that inspire wonder and awe.

As to why I made this collective, when I first had the idea, I wanted an online space where fellow authors could talk about their love of the genre, be an online source of information for librarians, teachers and readers—and also for each other. I envisioned a discussion board where fellow middle grade sci-fi authors could talk and schedule events with each other and share ideas. My biggest worry was no one else out there would join me! I decided the only way to see if it would work was to start it—an “if you build it, they will come” approach. I posted on several discussion boards and talked to other friends in the industry and that is how I found the initial fifteen. I give them a lot of credit for signing on to something that did not yet exist. It’s a bit like agreeing to take a voyage before the ship is built.

My initial blog post at steaMG.org, “The Science of Awe,” talks about why the emotion of awe is so important and why I think it’s important that we foster it in children at an early age. I credit sci-fi books with saving me as a kid. I read whatever I could find about time travel after losing my father to a sudden heart attack. To adults, trying to learn how to time travel sounds like an illogical solution to grief, though in many ways, it worked! Those books taught me hope. They gave me something to chase after—the feeling of wonder and awe. They gave me tools to cope.

That’s just my own personal story about how I relate to the genre, but there are so many ways it works well in children’s books. It’s full of possibility in creating empathy, introducing children to the possibility of worlds and people beyond their own, and seeing their intrinsic value. It helps children step outside of their viewpoint and witness their own world as an objective visitor. You don’t need to travel through outer space to do that either! Fellow steaMG author Caroline Carlson’s novel, The Door at the End of the World [debuting this April] does this really well with a fun, sly wink. I hope she’ll talk a bit more about that in her upcoming post. I’m really looking forward to seeing all my fellow steaMG members talk about what inspires them and why they write what they do.

    

As to what you can expect in the coming year, we will keep you up to date on middle grade books coming out in the genre. We have thought-provoking guest posts lined up in the next few months: one takes a deep dive into middle grade sci-fi from an academic viewpoint, another will talk about the genre in short story form for middle grade. There will be brilliant insights on the craft of writing from member authors, and an interview with the artist whose sci-fi art graces a fair portion of our site and the very strange coincidence that brought him to us.

And that’s all just the beginning. It’s a big universe and there’s a lot to explore. We are accepting guest contributors and traditionally published authors who would like to join are welcome to head over to steaMG and say hello.

Nicole Valentine has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is her debut novel. She teaches writing at the Highlights Foundation. Previously, Nicole was a Chief Technology Officer at Sally Ride’s Space.com, Figment.com, and an early member of the web team at CNN.com. Nicole resides outside of Philadelphia with her family, two large dogs named Merlin and Arthur, and two small cats named Pickwick and Tink.

L. Marie here. I hope to have Nicole back at a later date for the cover reveal of her novel. And speaking of novels, Melanie Crowder, whose novel, The Lighthouse between the Worlds, was featured in the Christmas giveaway (see this post), also is a steaMG author.

 

SteaMG Logo by Jim Hill. Nicole Valentine author photo by Nina Pomeroy Photography. Space image from graphicsbeam.com. Caroline Carlson author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Infinity clock image from ufo-spain.com.

Check This Out: Every Shiny Thing

Today on the blog, you will find not one, but two of my incredible VCFA classmates: the marvelous Cordelia Jensen (left) and the awesome Laurie Morrison. They are here to discuss their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing, which was published by Abrams in April. Click here to read the novel’s synopsis.

   

Cordelia and Laurie are represented by Sara Crowe. After the interview, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of their novel.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: 1. I used to be able to hula hoop for hours on end, doing all kinds of fancy tricks. 2. I ran three marathons before hurting my knee while training for a fourth. 3. I think chocolate chip cookies are pretty much the world’s most perfect food. 4. I have a brother who can play the piano by ear, like Ryan can in Every Shiny Thing.

Cordelia: 1. I was a certified scuba diver in high school. 2. I was a camp counselor for eleven summers. 3. When I turned 39, I got my first cavity, my first dog died, and I broke my first bone. It was like I turned 9 not 39! 4. I have boy girl twins who are 12, now we all read the same books!

El Space: How did your premise—two middle graders who come up with what has been described as an ill-advised Robin Hood scheme to raise money for people in need—come about?
Laurie and Cordelia: We started with a vision for our two characters and the relationship they would form, and we thought it would be compelling if Lauren developed a compulsion to shoplift and Sierra felt like she had to cover for her. But Laurie, who wrote Lauren’s point of view, is terrified of breaking rules and couldn’t fathom why Lauren would shoplift until she thought of the middle school students she taught and how passionate many of them were about social justice. We thought: what if Lauren is angry about the inequality she sees in the world around her and wants to do something to make the world a fairer place, sort of like Robin Hood…but then she gets carried away and her well-intentioned scheme spirals out of control?

El Space: The book was written in prose and poetry. What was your process for writing? What was your favorite thing about working together?
Laurie and Cordelia: Laurie wrote Lauren’s sections in prose and Cordelia wrote Sierra’s sections in verse. We had a big brainstorming session before we began writing, during which we figured out the midpoint and ending, and once we had written a little more than half of the book, we met again to plan a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the story so it wouldn’t run away from us. But for the most part, we just went back and forth in a Google doc, one of us writing a chapter, then the other building off that chapter to write the next one, and so on. We both found the process incredibly energizing because we could bounce ideas off each other and improvise with each other as we went. And it was pretty great to get immediate feedback on the sections we wrote so we knew right away what was working and what wasn’t. And we gave each other lots of compliments as we went, which was also very fun and validating!

El Space: Talk to us about your main characters—Sierra and Lauren. How are they different than or similar to middle grade you? What advice would high school you give to Sierra and Lauren about surviving middle school? Why is this important?
Laurie: I was conscientious and loyal, like Lauren is, and I had brothers I felt somewhat protective of. I cared about injustice, but not as single-mindedly as Lauren does. And I was a rule-follower, so I never would have stolen! I think high school me would have been overwhelmed by the misguided intensity of Lauren’s Robin Hood plan. There were a couple of times when I was in high school when I really wanted to help a friend but realized I was not equipped to figure out how to do that, so I went to a trusted adult—the guidance counselor at my school—to ask for advice. High school me would have gone to the guidance counselor to work out a plan to help Lauren, and I likely would have tried to help her talk to someone she trusted, like her Aunt Jill or her teacher, Mr. Ellis. I would have advised her that there are times when things get intense and hard enough that you may need adult reinforcements and sometimes you may want to turn to adults other than your parents, and that’s just fine.

Cordelia: I was definitely a caretaker like Sierra is, which is part of the reason I wanted to write this book. I would tell Sierra (1) you are safe now, let yourself trust in your new environment and the people who are caring for you (2) if you feel overwhelmed in a relationship, seek help and support. Dare yourself to ask for help even if it feels impossible. Feeling like you are the only person who can help someone can become an addiction itself.

El Space: Social justice is a big theme in society and in your book. What do you hope kids will take away from your book?
Laurie and Cordelia: The School Library Journal review of Every Shiny Thing says the novel may encourage some readers to examine their privilege, which we were thrilled to see because we definitely like the idea that the book would make readers stop to think about things in the world that aren’t fair and things they can do—without resorting to illegal measures like Lauren does—to make a difference.

In addition, if kids are struggling with an addicted parent, we hope they will see that there are resources out there that can offer help.

El Space: Please tell us how your passion for writing books for kids developed.
Laurie: I only began writing fiction after I began teaching middle school. There was something about my students’ passion, humor, creativity, and honesty that inspired me deeply. I also went through a lot of big life changes when I was in middle school and high school, and I very vividly remember what it felt like to be that age and deal with big revelations and relationship shifts. I feel a lot of empathy for my middle school and early high school self and am moved to explore some of the intense feelings I had at those ages.

Cordelia: I have always been a writer and even concentrated in Creative Writing at Kenyon College as an undergrad. However, I began writing for kids after working with them. Besides having an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I have an M.Ed in School Counseling. I worked as a counselor in my twenties and was also a camp counselor for a long time (see fun fact). Once I became pregnant with my own kids, I was drawn to write stories and poems for the kids I had worked with for so long. I felt I had a lot more to say to kids and teens than to adults.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m finishing up edits on my next middle grade novel, Up for Air, which is a summer story about competitive swimming, self-esteem, fitting in, and standing out that will come out next spring, and I’m working on a couple of other projects that are in much earlier stages.

Cordelia: I’ve been working on a picture book, a MG novel, and a YA—all in verse!

Thank you, Cordelia and Laurie, for being my guests!

Looking for Cordelia and Laurie? You can find them at these locations.

Laurie Morrison: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Cordelia Jensen: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Every Shiny Thing is available at a bookstore near you and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound.

If you’re a teacher and need resources to teach about the topics in Every Shiny Thing, click here.

One of you will be given a copy of this book simply because you commented. Check back on June 21 to discover the winner. 

Having read Every Shiny Thing, Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron are inspired to do something to help others in need.
What would you do?

Cordelia Jensen author photo by Marietta Pathy Allen. Laurie Morrison author photo by Laura Billingham. Hula hoop from keywordsuggest.org. Scuba gear from ladyasatramp.blogspot.com. Social justice image from stephenandmary.org.au. Google docs image from heavy.com. Robin Hood image from freepins.com. Middle school image from sites.google.com. Shopkins Shoppie dolls—Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron—by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

What Makes You Nostalgic?

The other day, I watched a YouTube video where the producers tried to recreate Dunkaroos (photo below). You can find that video here, if you’re curious. Or click here to learn a little more about Dunkaroos.

I’m seldom nostalgic over childhood snacks. As a matter of fact, I’m content to never eat a Twinkie again. (Now Hershey’s Kisses on the other hand . . .)

No, what gets me nostalgic are libraries and bookstores. Just the sight of a book still retaining its Borders sticker—like this one below—gives me the feels. I really miss Borders Bookstore. I used to shop at one in Wheaton, Illinois (photo at the right). It had a coffee shop, where I’d meet friends on many an evening. Local musicians would play on Friday nights. Sometimes poetry slams were held there. I attended many book signings there also.

   

See the photo below? This is my childhood library—the Walker Branch Library in Chicago (the far south side). Just looking at this photo causes a wave of nostalgia to wash over me. I used to go every week, up the hill to the library. I can still remember the children’s section, and the librarians who gave book suggestions to a curious kid like me who loved to read. I used to carry home several books, and gradually worked my way through the books in the children’s section. I read anything and everything.

I also miss the Barnes and Noble that also used to be in Wheaton—not too far from Borders, actually. When Barnes and Noble closed many of its bookstores years ago, the Wheaton location was an unfortunate casualty. I used to get my copies of the Harry Potter series at midnight every year at that store (along with hundreds of other people). The salespeople in the children’s section knew me.

What about you? What makes you feel nostalgic? While you consider that, as promised, I will now reveal the winners of Yoga Frog by Nora Carpenter and The Mortification of Fovea Munson by Mary Winn Heider. (For the interviews with these authors, click here and here.)

  

     

Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of Yoga Frog is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

The winner of The Mortification of Fovea Munson is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nicki Chen!

Congrats to the winners! Please comment below to confirm. I hope you enjoy these books!

P.S. Normally, I post once a week. But stay tuned this Wednesday for a special guest post by Sarah Aronson, whose third book of her Wish List series recently debuted. Yay! More on that on Wednesday!

Dunkaroos from thesobremesa.com. Twinkies from tested.com. Author photo of Mary Winn Heider by Popio Stumpf. Book cover art by Chi Birmingham. Author photo of Nora Carpenter by Chip Bryan Photography. Walker Branch Library photo from the Walker Branch website. Borders photo from Yelp. Barnes and Noble logo from comicsbeat.com. Other photo by L. Marie. Lemony Limes Shoppie Doll by Moose Toys.

Check This Out: The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo!

Ahoy there, mateys! Glad I am ye stopped by today. With me on the blog is the awesome Steve Bramucci, who is here to talk about his middle grade adventure novel, The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! ’Twas illustrated by Arree Chung, and then published by Bloomsbury on August 1. For a synopsis, go here.

 

Steve is represented by Sara Crowe. In a few minutes, I’ll tell ye all about a giveaway for The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! But first, let’s have a chat with Steve!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Steve: Random facts? Book related facts? Important life facts? Orangutan facts? I’ll try one of each!
1. Even though I write about exotic food, my all-time favorite meal is just rotini overloaded with parmesan cheese. It was my favorite as a boy and the draw of “flavor nostalgia” still gets me at least once per week. I was traveling around the world a few years ago and missed pasta with parmesan so badly that I had a friend bring me some Kraft parmesan when we met up in Cambodia.


2. The first page of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo!in which the narrator introduces himselfremains virtually unchanged from its very first incarnation, written during a break at an SCBWI conference. Everything else has changed drastically from those early days.
3. My dad died two weeks after the book sold.

El Space: So sorry. You have my condolences.
Steve: He was such an amazing guy that I’ve always worried I won’t be able to measure up to his legacy. That, really, is the theme of the book: One boy’s longing to impress his parents and step out of their giant shadows.

4. Orangutans are a truly astounding species and critically endangered due to habitat encroachment. A portion of my proceeds from the book go here. Anyone who decides they want to donate to that charity, or any other orangutan initiative, can email me on my website for some free Danger Gang swag!

El Space: Awesome! You wear a lot of hats, including managing editor at Uproxx, and you’ve written travel articles for many publications. How did you come to write children’s books?
Steve: I’m actually surprised that more travel writers don’t start writing for kids. Travel is basically the real life incarnation of our childhood fantasies about adulthoodthe way that we thought adulthood would feel when we were young. For me, travel writing is the chance to live out my boyhood adventure dreams, and writing this book was right in line with that.

Photo credit: Jake Anderson

The journey to writing for kids was actually a little longer than me just pivoting all at once. I’ve been telling pirate stories to kids at schools and events near my home for more than a decade now, I’ve been involved in SCBWI, and even written another, unsold, novel. It wasn’t until I went to the Vermont College of Fine Arts that all the pieces congealed.

The author, livin’ the life

El Space: The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo reminds me of the fun of adventure stories like the Indiana Jones moviesat least the earlier onesand The Goonies. What was the inspiration behind it? How did your main character, Ronald Zupan, come to be? Why was a pet cobra an ideal pet for him?
Steve: I definitely wanted the book to feel pulp-y, like an old-timey serial. The Indiana Jones connection was obviously intentional and you can see that in the way the book is packaged. Semi-side note: For me, modern technology rarely serves adventure, so Ronald and his friends sort of exist in a vague pre-tech era (50s? 40s?). You won’t see cell phones or computers or… I actually made great efforts to avoid mentioning any plastic objects all together.

The Goonies is a huge reference point too. I love stories where the basic pitch is: “Kids go on an adventure and learn stuff along the way. Also, there are mean bad guys with bad oral hygiene.” Bloomsbury calls the book Indiana Jones meets Lemony Snicket which is the most flattering “blank meets blank” analogy I could ever hope to receive.

As for the cobra, there are a few big reasons:
• I’m highly allergic to cats and house dogs, so I always had reptiles as pets. My dad would take me to a farm and let me keep whatever snakes I could catch.
• Indiana Jones hates snakes and I love them, so I wanted to give that massive series a little poke in the ribs by having Ronald be a snake lover.
• Ronald would never have an ordinary pet, so the choice feels very natural for the character.
• But mostly, it just came to me and people laughed. When I read something and people laugh, I suddenly become very attached to that bit.

EPSON MFP image

El Space: Are you a pantser or a plotter? What’s your writing process?
Steve: I’d say I’m … a little of both. I’ll outline, but if some idea strikes me, I’m quick to ditch my notes. I’ll follow whims without much convincing. I also don’t outline before the first major turning point. I like to keep the early pages moving and full of that electric energy.

In this series, Ronald and I are so similar in mindset that most of the time I just have to ask: “What would I do next in this situation?” By following that thought process, I manage to get Ronald in a lot of trouble.

El Space: You’ve traveled extensively. Of the places you’ve visited, which is/are your favorite place/places to return to again and again? Why?
Steve: I get asked the “favorite place” question a lot and my answer hasn’t changed in a long time now: Madagascar is my #1 place on earth. It’s just … for the adventure traveler, it’s really perfect: Affordable, exciting, not over-touristed, and unique, with incredibly kind people and a fascinating local culture. Also, the whole mini-continent has a rich pirate history and, as you know, I love pirates.

As for a place to return to, I’m going to say the American Southwest. It’s just so iconic, so different from citified-America, so full of sprawling landscapes and potential for adventure. Every few years I go to Canyon de Chelly and ride Navajo ponies through the canyon for a few days. That’s one of my favorite shorter trips on earth.

El Space: You’re going around the world, but can only take three things besides a passport. What would you take and why?
Steve: Objects? A surfboard, an iPod without internet capability, and a good bookmaybe a compendium of Twain or a copy of The Princess Bride. With that set up, I could travel for a year without much complaint.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Steve: I’m finishing the edits on The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts right now!

Thanks, Steve, for being my guest!

Where in the internet world is Steve Bramucci? You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Uproxx.

The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s. But one of you will find a copy of it at your doorstep—or tablet if you prefer—simply by commenting. Winner will be announced on August 14.

Photos and book cover courtesy of Steve Bramucci, with the exception of the Canyon de Chelly photo, which is found at galleryhip.com, the rotini photo, which is from 34st.com., and The Princess Bride book cover, which is from Goodreads. The Goonies movie poster from movieposter.com. Pirate from clipartlord.com.

Check This Out: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

Today Sarah Aronson is in the hizz-ouse. She is an author, teacher, mentor, and all around awesome person. She wears a ton of hats, some I haven’t even mentioned! She’s here to talk about book 1 in her Wish List middle grade series, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! which was published by Scholastic with covers illustrated by Heather Burns.

      

Sarah has written these young adult novels . . .

   

. . . and is represented by Sarah Davies. Now, please give it up for Sarah!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sarah: I am the oldest of three sisters, but was no Clotilda!
My first favorite book was The Carrot Seed. I am still an effort girl—not so much into momentum.


I met my husband when I mistook him for someone else, and before I could stop myself, kissed him on the cheek.

I am very fond of shoes! And handbags!

El Space: This book is very different from your other novels. What inspired you to write it?
Sarah: A lot of people have been asking me that. The short answer is, I wrote this for myself. For fun! The idea made me laugh. I like the idea of fairy godmothers, and I wanted to see if they still fit into my feminist mindset. When I thought about them, I realized: they didn’t do that much! And that today’s princess needed a godmother with more skills. Training was imperative!

But I also wrote it because I had come to a turning point in my writing life. Up until September 2014, I was a writer who grappled with tough topics. I went for it all—unlikable characters, themes filled with conflicts, questionable morals, provocative endings. Although I found these books grueling to write, I told myself that the work was worth it—these characters and ideas were calling me. And up until then I felt pretty good about it. I had a great agent. There were editors willing to read my next WIP. My family might have been confused about why I wrote such dark, sad books, but they supported me. 100%. I was not deterred by the mixed reception my last novel received.

That changed, when I got some bad news that had followed other bad news: the editor who loved my newest WIP—a story I had taken two years to write—could not get it past the acquisitions committee. The novel needed to go in a drawer. I began to doubt myself. I don’t know a writer who hasn’t experienced doubt and fear, and yet, when it happened to me, I felt unprepared. I wondered if perhaps my writing career was coming to a close.

Lucky for me, I was at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop, and I was surrounded by friends. I also had the best kind of work to do—writers to counsel—writers who trusted me to help them work on their novels. I had to get over myself fast. I had to stop worrying about my ego. Product. News. All those obstacles. I had to embrace creativity the way I had when I first started writing.

So right there, I gave myself a challenge: For the next six months, I was going to PLAY. I was going to reclaim my intuitive voice. I wasn’t going to worry at all about finishing anything.

My only goal was to work on projects that made me happy—books that my ego had convinced me I couldn’t/shouldn’t write: picture books, humor, essays, an adult novel, poetry, and most important, my peach sorbet: a chapter book about a very bad fairy godmother. For six months, I was going to write fast. I was not going to edit myself. I was going to focus on accessing my subconscious with drawing and writing and listening to new music and having fun. If I liked an idea, I was going to try it. I was going to eat dessert first. In other words: think less. Smile more.

In my newsletter, i wrote about this a lot. How freeing it was. How happy I felt to be writing for the sake of story and nothing else.

When I was done, I had written a lot of terrible manuscripts. But some held promise. I dipped back into the revision cave. When i was done, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever sold. So did a picture book biography about Rube Goldberg. And I was once again a writer with a lot of energy and ideas.

El Space: Please tell us about the girlgoyles—what they are, and how you came up with them.
Sarah: The girlgoyles came from a great moment of inspiration. Isabelle’s safe space—her cozy spot—is up at the top of Grandmomma’s tower. I pictured that tower like the churches of France and England—with ornate architecture. And gargoyles. Of course, this was a world of all women and girls. I couldn’t believe it—they weren’t gargoyles. They were girlgoyles!!! Even they don’t talk—they can’t, they’re made of rock—they are Isabelle’s friends. They’re really good listeners.

   
Illustrations by Heather Burns

El Space: How is Isabelle, your fairy godmother protagonist, like you? Different from you?
Sarah: Oh, my mom would love to answer this one!!! But since she’s not here, I’ll tell you: I was not the best student. I still have a hard time paying attention and I never read the fine print. I learn more by doing. Just like Isabelle, I can be a bit impulsive. And just like Nora, I can take things WAY too seriously!

El Space: In a Psychology Today article, “Why We All Need a Fairy Godmother,” the author gave some characteristics for the ideal fairy godmother:

The fairy godmother (or “guidemother”—or, for that matter,“guidefather”) that I have in mind here is one that would encompass a broad array of caring, nurturant qualities: such as empathy, compassion, understanding, trustworthiness, and respect.

I couldn’t help thinking of the list on the synopsis for your book. Why do you think fairy godmothers are such nurturing icons in literature?
Sarah: In theory, I think we all love the idea of a fairy godmother, a nurturing character that makes us happy and wants nothing else in return. But the truth is, there is nothing more satisfying than making the world better! Already, I have spoken to readers who want to be real-life fairy godmothers. I made a Wish Wall for families and classrooms who want to establish “Be a Fairy Godmother” programs.


I believe that today’s fairy godmother needs compassion and kindness, but also gusto! A big, big heart is essential, too. When you think about it, it’s sort of like writing a book!

El Space: What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
Sarah: First, I hope they laugh! I laughed a lot writing it. But to be serious, I hope they’re excited about sharing the sparkle and helping each other!!! Today’s world needs fairy godmothers. Empathy makes us all happily ever after. Right?

El Space: Yup! What will you work on next?
Sarah: Well, we just released the cover of book two, Keep Calm and Sparkle On! I’m getting ready to revise book three, and book four is not far away. I’ve also got a picture book biography to finish and a brand new peach sorbet to play with. For now, that’s a secret!

Thank you, Sarah, for being such an inspiring guest!

Want to find Sarah online? Check out her website, Facebook, Twitter.

The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

But I will be a fairy godmother to one of you! Poof! You’ll find a copy of The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! at your home! But first, you have to comment to be entered in the drawing! Winner to be announced on June 19.

Lippy Lulu and Kirstea are excited about Sarah’s series. They’re wondering how they can get a fairy godmother.

Author photo and Wish List series covers courtesy of the author. Other book covers Goodreads. Fairy godmother from clipsarts.co. Magic wand from clker.com. Creativity image from weerbaarheidlimburg.nl. Peach sorbet photo from dessertbulletblog.com. Shopkins Shoppie dolls Kirstea and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Maud—A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery

With me on the blog today is the awesome Melanie Fishbane! She’s here to talk about her novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery. Yes, that Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon fame. Maud was published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017.

    

If you follow my blog, you know the drill. I’ll discuss a giveaway at the end of the interview. If you’re new to the blog, well, the same information is appropriate. Now, let’s talk to Melanie!

El Space: What made you decide to write a novel based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery?
Melanie: I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery for most of my life. I first read her when I was about 11 and was enamored by the woman behind the books. I’ve also always wanted to write historical fiction for kids and teens. It was one of the reasons I did my first M. A. and studied biographies for children—in that case it was Joan of Arc—so when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say, “No.” It was the perfect symmetry of everything I loved coming together. Maud’s teen years are also something rarely explored, so it felt like I would be telling a new story. This story has never been told, and it felt important to show a side of Montgomery that many people had not seen. Essentially, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.

L. M. Montgomery

El Space: What was your process for researching this project?
Melanie: It was important to me that I visit where the novel took place, so I spent about a week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and returned often to Prince Edward Island to do research. In fact, I travelled to all the places Maud lived, including Leaskdale, Norval and Toronto, Ontario.

I also interviewed as many people as I could. In Cavendish and Park Corner, PEI, I interviewed Maud’s relatives and in Prince Albert, I spoke to the archivist at the Prince Albert Historical Society, as well as a local volunteer who drove me around and showed me where things once were.

There were also many hours in the various archives that included Montgomery’s journals, book collection, and other artefacts, such the L. M. Montgomery Institute, and L. M. Montgomery Collection Archives and Special Collection at the University of Guelph. Then I went to the secondary sources and her times, including the history of PEI, a local history of Prince Albert, and Saskatchewan, as well as a book on indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan. I also used websites with old newspapers, such as Island newspapers and Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Prince Edward Island

I included a selected list of these books and the websites at the back of Maud and in my References and Resources section on my website.

El Space: I love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and other books. Anne was irrepressible. Was L. M. Montgomery anything like Anne or like Emily Starr, or another of her heroines? Why or why not?
Melanie: Montgomery encouraged a connection between herself and her characters and the world she built. In her autobiography, The Alpine Path, she shows particular places in Cavendish, such as the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane, that appear in the Anne series. Avonlea is inspired by the village that Maud grew up in. Anne’s situation, being an orphan and her imagination, is reflective of Maud’s experience. Maud felt like she was. Her mother died when she was 21 months old and she used her writing as a way to channel these feelings. Montgomery, however, said that it was Emily Starr, the character in the Emily series, she was probably most like, and that the series would be the most autobiographical, because it was the story of a young writer.

     

El Space: What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on this novel?
Melanie: I have so much to learn. 🙂 Seriously, I discovered a lot about how much I enjoyed the revision process. While some writers might like the first draft, I found that it was getting into the weeds of the revision process where I could really find my story—Maud’s story. I also see how close I can become to things, and the importance of the editor in the process. My editor was amazing in pushing me to the next level, and gave me room to make mistakes. And there were many. . . .

El Space: What writing advice do you have for authors who want to write novels based on real people?
Melanie: Depending upon who you might be writing about, people have particular ideas about who that person is. Having some compassion too—that is important, but it is also important to allow your character to emerge. Be true to the story you need to tell, that your character is inspiring you to. I would also say that it should be realistic.

One of the things that I had to realize is that the real Montgomery was quietly subversive, mostly in her writing. She never stood up and marched or was an activist in our contemporary understanding of what that might mean. She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” She didn’t even call herself a suffragette. But her books are feminist. At this point she would have to learn how to navigate these constricting spaces and that meant being true to this. As much as modern Mel would have liked Maud to stand up for certain injustices she saw or fight for things in the way we would like to today, it wouldn’t have been true to her character. So, I stayed true to that. I got out of my own way. Be true to the character, his/hers/their times and story.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Melanie: Currently, I have two essays due at the end of the month. So I’ll be working on that. 🙂 In terms of fiction, there are two novels that are whispering to me. We’ll see which one will win this summer.

Thanks, Melanie, for being my guest!

Looking for Melanie? Check out her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can find Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But stop the presses! One of you will get a copy sent to your address! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 29.

The girls wonder when Melanie will write a series about them, since they’re irrepressible too.

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari. L. M. Montgomery photo from freeclassicebooks.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Map of Canada from commercialpropertycashflow.com. Prince Edward Island map from commons.wikimedia.org. Writer thinking image from clker.com. Stick figures from clipartpanda.com. Rosie Bloom, Kirstea, and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.