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.

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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.

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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: The World’s Greatest Detective

Hi, ho! Please help me welcome back to the blog the one and only Caroline Carlson. (Click here for Caroline’s last visit.) Today is the birthday of her latest middle grade novel, The World’s Greatest Detective! It was published by HarperCollins with a cover illustrated by Júlia Sardà. You can read an excerpt of the book at Entertainment Weekly’s website. Click here to do so.

    

Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies. Now, grab your deerstalker and magnifying glass, and let’s talk to Caroline!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Caroline: I believe there is an inherently delicious way to cook any vegetable, but sometimes that way is hard to find.
I can tap dance. I’m pretty good.
I am that obnoxious sort of person who likes to get to airports several days in advance of my flight.
I’ve been visiting schools and bookstores talking to kids for five years now, but I still get nervous every time!

El Space: You’re known for your pirate series—The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates. So, what inspired your new middle grade mystery novel, The World’s Greatest Detective? Is this a series also?
Caroline: I’ve always loved reading mystery novels and have wanted to try my hand at one for a while now. All three books in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series have elements of mystery in them, actually, but The World’s Greatest Detective is the first book I’ve written that’s styled after classic whodunits. Readers who are familiar with Sherlock Holmes or with Agatha Christie’s novels will probably recognize a lot of the story’s elements, and that’s intentional—one of my goals was to honor my favorite mystery icons and introduce kids to the genre in a fun and humorous way.

     

The World’s Greatest Detective isn’t part of a series, at least for now. I’d love to send Toby and Ivy on a new adventure someday, but I don’t want to write another mystery novel unless I have a really good idea for the mystery at the heart of the story, and that hasn’t happened just yet. It’s also been lots of fun, after working on a trilogy, to write a book that can stand on its own metaphorical feet.

      

El Space: Batman considers himself to be the world’s greatest detective. But he’s got money and gadgets to help him out. Without giving any spoilers, what do Toby and Ivy have to help them solve mysteries?
Caroline: I don’t know if Toby and Ivy would be any good at saving Gotham, but they do the best they can with their limited resources. Toby has learned a little bit about detective work from his uncle Gabriel, who has an office on the famous Detectives’ Row, and he also happens to be enrolled in a correspondence course to become a junior detective. Ivy’s got a huge library of true crime stories, a clothes rack full of disguises, a skeleton named Egbert, and a knack for setting traps with tablecloths and trip wires. Ultimately, though, they’ve got to put away their gadgets and rely on their powers of deduction to solve the murder that happens right under their noses.

El Space: Sounds exciting! Steve Moser, who was a former police detective in real life, gave some tips from this article at the Police Magazine website. Here is one of them:

Take time to step away and regroup. Sometimes you have to step back and either do something else or just take a break. Many ah-ha moments occur this way.

Would your characters agree? Why or why not? Why is this also good writing advice?
Caroline: Toby and Ivy would hate to step away from a good case, but I think they’d grudgingly agree that some of their most crucial insights have come at the moments when they’ve been forced to remove themselves from an investigation. And I certainly agree that breaks are essential to my own writing process. By the time I’ve finished a first draft of a book, I’ve been working on it nonstop for months, and I usually don’t have much of a sense of what’s working and what’s not. It’s hard for me to view the manuscript objectively—as an editor or a reader would—until I’ve taken some time away from it. Sometimes a writing problem that seems intractable can be solved with a little bit of time and distance.

  

El Space: Did you have a favorite mystery book or series when you were a kid? If so, what? Why?
Caroline: Yes, lots! I particularly loved mysteries that encourage readers to solve a puzzle along with the characters. My favorite example of this type of book is Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. There are a few subtle Westing Game references in The World’s Greatest Detective; let me know if you find them!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Caroline: I’m just finishing up a draft of my next book, which is a fantasy adventure tentatively called “The Door at the End of the World.” It has a little bit of magic, lots of jokes, and too many bees.

Thanks, Caroline, for being my guest!

And thank you to all who stopped by to chat with Caroline. Looking for Caroline? You can find her at her website, Twitter, Facebook.

The World’s Greatest Detective and other novels by Caroline can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But I will send a copy of The World’s Greatest Detective to one of you who comments below. Winner to be announced on May 29. (Another giveaway also will be announced then.)

Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. The World’s Greatest Detective cover courtesy of the author. Other covers from Goodreads. LEGO Batman from fanpop.com. Detective images from cctvcamerapros.com and clipartpanda.com. Veggies from clipartlord.com. Bee image from Pinterest.

Still Beckoning the Lovely

My continuing quest to beckon the lovely took me to the gym of a church this past Saturday, where I helped organize the games for a five-year-old’s birthday party. (If you have no idea what beckoning the lovely means, click here for the post that provides more information.) Picture twenty-one shrieking kids eight years old and under (most around four years old or five years old), racing at top speed across a gym—sometimes colliding with each other—and you’ll know what my day was like.

    

   

Sorry. I’m just showing photos of decorations. No one gave me permission to show his or her kids on this blog.

I know what you’re thinking. You and I are close like that. You’re thinking, How is being in a room with twenty-one children lovely?

Well, I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I can’t have biological children. But I appreciate the miracle that is a child.

That doesn’t mean I have a Pollyanna view of children. I know kids can be cruel to each other. After all, I was not a nice child. I remember how a friend of mine and I made up a mean song about a girl named Jennifer, whom we didn’t like for some reason. We sang it with gusto in her presence. See? Not a nice kid.

Plus, I’ve been around kids all of my life in some capacity or another. I’m related to some, I’ve taught others, babysat them, scolded them, and planned parties for them. Their sense of wonder and their skill at getting on your last nerve are what inspire me to write books for and about them.

So, helping out at that party, as tiring as it was, is what I would describe as lovely. Seeing how much fun the kids had, as well as the dads who courageously allowed groups of small children not necessarily their own to dress them as jellyfish, reminds me of the creative ways adults can be present in the lives of children.

Speaking of present, that’s my cue to segue to the winner of Second Chance Romance, a novel written by your friend and mine, Jill Weatherholt. Jill is giving away a signed copy as a present to a commenter. (See what I did there with present? . . . Okay, I’ll stop.)

  

The winner is . . .

Is

Is

Is

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Laura, please comment below to confirm. I will then pass along your email address to Jill. Thank you to all who commented!

Lift Ev’ry Cup of (Butter)beer

The night was warm and the beer was butter.

It was the return of The Party That Shall Not Be Named. I went with a friend to meet up with more friends in downtown Naperville, Illinois, where sixty businesses teamed up with the ring master—Anderson Bookshop—to throw the biggest party of the year around these parts. All to celebrate the release of this book:

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My copy. Wheee!!!

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The Party That Shall Not Be Named was a regular occurrence during the series’ heyday. On Saturday, there were Harry Potter-themed contests, plays, crafts, merchandise, and a ton of butterbeer. Check out this article in the Chicago Tribune or click here for more details about the festivities.

Several streets had been roped off and traffic diverted for this event. Thankfully, I only had to wait five minutes for a parking space!

To say there were thousands of people in attendance is an understatement. If you read the Tribune article, you know how many people were expected. By the way, that article provided old information about the number of books sold. By the end of Saturday, employees at Anderson had taken orders for well over 2,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I know, because a friend of mine had number 2073. I bought my copy at Barnes and Noble and was number 678 in line.

Actors stood in the windows of Anderson Bookshop and simulated the wizard cards you get in the Chocolate Frogs boxes. (Sorry about the quality of many of the photos in this post. I had to snap each photo quickly. We were on the move a lot. And there were so many people dashing in and out of the shots. Sometimes, I couldn’t move closer due to the size of the crowd.)

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After walking around a bit, we headed to the candy shop near Anderson, which had been turned into Honeydukes Sweet Shop (naturally).

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The line to get in was a block long, but we were willing to wait. This is where we purchased our butterbeer, which was part ice cream, part cream soda, and butterscotch flavoring. But I totally avoided Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, having ingested some pretty disgusting ones in the past (like the vomit one).

We then watched some live performances of scenes from the first seven books. Then after grabbing a snack at Jimmy John’s, we watched the judging of the costume contest for adults (the kids’ portion of the contest having been judged earlier in the day).

Jimmy John’s contribution to the cause:

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Some photos from the contest are below. Wish they were better! I failed to get a good photo of the winner: a woman in a Mad-Eye Moody costume. The crowd favorites (Moaning Myrtle [the person at the far right in the second photo below], Hagrid, and Voldemort) did not win, so the result was a bit controversial. Another crowd favorite was a couple who called themselves Expecto patronum (first photo, the people at the far right). The guy dressed as Harry Potter, while a woman dressed as Harry’s patronus had a white, filmy cord attached to her that led to “Harry’s” wand. If you know about the Patronus Charm from the Harry Potter books (particularly Prisoner of Azkaban), you’ll see immediately how clever that costume was. Most of the crowd expected them to win. But they came in second.

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I know there have been some awful things in the news lately. That’s why I loved seeing so many people rallied around something fun. Everywhere, people smiled and talked to one another, instead of gazing at their phones. While I stood in line in various places, I talked to a number of people, some with kids in tow. Kids and adults were in costume, making wands, answering trivia questions, drinking butterbeer, and cheerfully waiting till the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I especially love that everything centered around a book everyone was eager to read. How wonderful for an author. But how wonderful for us too. We had a great time on a perfect summer night, a night for making memories. Now to avoid internet spoilers until I can finish the book!

Party flyer from visitnaperville.com.

Saying No to Pokémon Go

Between finishing my middle grade fantasy novel (and by finishing, I mean getting it to the point where beta readers will read it), copy editing a book someone else wrote (still doing that), taking job-related tests, and attending various parties of the graduation and birthday variety, I have been a bit delayed in posting. And I had grand plans to approach authors for interviews. Sometimes life gives a “Ha ha ha” to plans made.

So instead of an author interview, you get this rambling post. (When life serves you lemons . . .)

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I’m sure I don’t have to ask you if you’ve heard of the Pokémon Go app, since that’s been all over the news. Maybe you’re already sick of hearing about it. I’ve played various Pokémon games since 1998. And I actually have the Pokémon Go app on my phone. But I clicked on it only once. I decided I didn’t need another obsession, especially with the schedule of the activities I described in the first paragraph. So Pokémon Go app, you’re about to go away.

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I have to hand it to the Nintendo Company for creating an app that has so many people discovering Pokémon and exercising while doing so. Click here to read an article on the popularity of this app. What a novel way of celebrating the game’s twentieth anniversary.

Yet I can’t help recalling some criticism I received when I played Pokémon a few years back. Some adults claimed that the game was for kids and, therefore, beneath their dignity. Now many adults around the world are playing the app version of the game. Interesting. But sadly, some players have sustained injuries while doing so. And predatory individuals are taking advantage of the game’s popularity to rob others. 😦 Click here or here for an article on other issues with the game. If you’re playing the game, a little bit of common sense goes a long way! The game might tell you where the Pokémon are, but won’t remind you that you could be hit by a car or fall into a ditch.

I’m a bit of a curmudgeon in that I can’t help turning away from items that become fads. Take Doctor Who on BBC America for example. I grew up watching the show. But when it became a fad that made entertainment magazine headlines, I wanted to give it up, especially when twenty people asked me the same question—“Have you seen Doctor Who?”—yet refused to acknowledge any of the incarnations of the Doctor before Matt Smith.

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So though I will definitely play a Pokémon game at some future point when a new one for the Nintendo 3DS/2DS is released, I will continue saying, “No go” to the app. At least for now.

What fads have grabbed your attention lately? While you think of that, here’s a random photo:

These flowers at my apartment complex are almost five feet tall.

These flowers at my apartment complex are almost five feet tall.

Pokémon Go app logo from forbes.com. Matt Smith from wallpaperup.com. Lemon image from pachd.com. Flower photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Lost Celt

Happy Memorial Day! I’m back on the blog finally! And I’m not alone—I’m with the awesome A. E. (Amanda) Conran, author of the middle grade novel, The Lost Celt, which was published by Gosling Press/Goosebottom Books this past March. This book is very appropriate for a holiday like this. I’ll tell you about the giveaway for it at the end of the interview.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Amanda: I’m originally from Leicestershire, England. It’s a county suddenly in the news, as you’ll know if you’re a historian or a soccer fan. (Richard III and Leicester City!)

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I moved to the Bay Area when my first child was six-weeks old. My husband had been offered a job at Industrial Light and Magic working on the new Star Wars films. It was his childhood ambition to work for Lucas. We only came for two years, but that’s what everyone says when they move here.

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I have a scar on my nose from being hit by a field hockey ball. I needed 12 stitches.

I’ve done a catch on the flying trapeze.

El Space: Wow! How did you come to write a middle grade novel about two boys—Mikey and Kyler—who think they have found a Celtic warrior in the twenty-first century?
Amanda: The Lost Celt is about how people return from war, how their return affects their families, and how we deal with this in society as a whole. It was inspired by a conversation with two emergency room doctors at a local VA Medical Center. They told me there were always more admissions in the ER on “certain nights,” when war stories or natural disasters were in the news. One friend remembered a man with red hair and beard, acting very much as I describe my Celt. My friend, who was truly worried for his patient, could not help but think he was witnessing a warrior, a Viking, in the ER. That idea, of the continuity of the potential effects of war through history, stayed with me.

There are many other factors at play in the inspiration for this story. I was fascinated by ancient history as a child. I painted tiny Roman and Celtic soldiers and visited historic sites across the UK, including walking Hadrian’s Wall. I read a lot of historical fiction, especially the works of Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, as well as Greek classics like Homer. Most of these were stories about living through, and returning from, war.

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Add to this the fact that I grew up in a small English village where there were still veterans of the First World War and the Second World War. We even had a German ex-POW still living in our village working on the farms just as he’d done when he was a prisoner. Their stories surrounded us. One great uncle survived the trenches in the First World War only to die as he returned home. He was so eager to see his family that he jumped out of the train before it stopped at the station. He was trapped between the train and the platform and died two weeks later of his injuries. My Grandma’s favorite uncle joined up for the First World War at age sixteen. He was recommended for a medal for commandeering a tank, but refused to accept it. He said he acted only out of anger, not bravery, because his friends had been killed around him.

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It’s strange, but the fact that my generation was brought up by people intimate with the effects of war did not fully strike me, however, until I came to live in America. One particular incident really hit home. My mum was visiting and we went for a meal with a group of friends my age. When we left the restaurant, my mother burst into tears. “They ordered so much food,” she said, “and they didn’t even eat it. There was more food on that table than we had for our entire family for a week during the war . . . and they didn’t even eat it.”

There was definitely a disconnect between my mother’s experience, my own upbringing, and that of my friends. I think it was this that led me to make one of my main characters a veteran of a recent war. I hadn’t planned to, but as I listened to the news, I became aware how deeply the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were affecting a relatively small portion of our society. Unlike the experience of previous world wars in Europe, it struck me how large a gap there was between those who were serving and their families and those of us who were not. That did not feel right. I wanted to write a book that addressed that gap a little. Stories were not being shared, as the stories of earlier wars were shared when I was a child, or even the stories that the ancients told. I sometimes wonder whether the ancients were more willing to tell it, and accept it, how it is. Their understanding of a hero was more complex and maybe more helpful than ours today. As Grandpa says, they were all closer to war than we are.

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El Space: Mikey and Kyler play the type of videogame that a lot of my friends love to play—military strategy. Are you and/or your kids gamers? Did you have the game in mind when you first developed the book? Why or why not?
Amanda: Yes, my son really enjoys playing military strategy games, particularly Rome Total War. It was a subject of some debate/ambivalence in our household, which I reflected in Mikey’s mom’s attitudes in The Lost Celt.

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In earlier drafts Mikey played with toy soldiers. The video game only came into the story when my editor asked me to make Mikey absolutely sure he was seeing a real live Celt from the word go. Immersing Mikey in a video game world that pitched Romans against Celts was the obvious choice. I could move his focus directly from the screen to the world in front of him in the VA and make the connection very easily.

El Space: You deal with a subject I haven’t seen much in middle grade books—PTSD. Without giving spoilers, why is that important to you and/or for young readers to learn about?
Amanda: I was brought up by children of war whose parents experienced and fought in both the Second and First World Wars. I think we are only just acknowledging their experiences, how they dealt with them and how some trauma/issues may have been passed on. At the time, everyone was in the same boat and they just got on with it.

According to the VA, 7–8% of the general population will experience PTSD at some point in their life. Depending on the conflict, 11–30% of service members will experience PTSD at some point. It’s really important to recognize that most service members don’t return from war with PTSD, but it’s also important to recognize that your mental health is important and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help. I don’t want to think of children or adults dealing with the after effects of trauma on their own. I think that is the key: being in a community, not alone.

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El Space: If you could go back in time to witness any event in history, which would you choose?
Amanda: I’d like to see my village before and after the Roman invasion. There’s a Roman villa on the hill above my village and, although it’s hidden underground, artifacts come up to the surface after every ploughing. I’d love to know who lived there.

El Space: What kinds of stories delight you?
Amanda: The Owl Service by Alan Garner, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, or The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo epitomize the sort of story I adore: books that resonate with a sense of place and the strength of our connection with the past, both real and mythical/magical. All the books I read as a child were like that: When Marnie was There by Joan G. Robinson, Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, Elidor and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner and the historical fiction of Rosemary Sutcliffe, Henry Treece, and Roger Lancelyn Green.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Amanda: I’m working on two projects. The first is a middle grade based in France in World War One. The second is a historical middle grade based in a town much like San Rafael in the 1870s.

Thanks, Amanda, for being my guest!

You can find Amanda at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Lost Celt is available at these fine establishments:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Goosebottom Books
Indiebound

But two of you will get a copy of your very own. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing! Winners to be announced on June 6.

Book covers from Goodreads. Star Wars logo from hr.wikipedia.org. Rome Total War image from gamehackstudios.com. PTSD image from talesfromthelou.wordpress.com. Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial from old.mcallen.net. First World War Memorial from oxfordhistory.org.uk. Hadrian’s wall from medievalhistories.com. Leicester City Football Club logo from ebay.co.uk. Richard III from abc.net.au.