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.

Cover Reveal: A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity

I love cover reveals, especially the ones in which I get to participate. The marvelous Nicole Valentine, whom you remember from this guest post, is back with the cover of her middle grade science fiction novel, A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner) due out October 1. Nicole is represented by Linda Epstein.

Take a good look. Drink in the greatness.

Now, let’s talk to Nicole.

El Space: For quick facts about yourself?
Nicole: I love falconry and want to train my own hawk or falcon someday.
I am a technologist and author, but I also used to design cross stitch samplers! They were from the vantage point of famous classic characters in classic literature.
I also knit and I used to be the Chief Technology Officer of a site called Craftopia.com which was great because I got free yarn.
All our family pets have literary names, Merlin, Arthur, Tink, and Pickwick.

El Space: Oh man! Wish I could get free yarn! Now, let’s talk about that cover. It is fabulous! So colorful! I also loved your first cover reveal at MG Book Village. How long did it take you to write this debut novel? What made you stick with this story?
Nicole: It’s so hard to say how long it took. I’ve been writing this novel on and off for years and the novel has changed many times. The first seed of the idea came to me when I was just a teenager. I didn’t start writing it in earnest till I went to VCFA where I met you! Almost all of the stories I have came to me when I was younger or are built on ideas from the past. Everyone should hold on to their journals!

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is about a very practical, science-loving boy who discovers all the women in his family can time travel. I have been fascinated with time travel since I was a child and this story explores not just the adventurous side of being able to travel in time, but all the emotional and moral conflicts that would arise. I describe it as A Time Traveler’s Wife meets Tuck Everlasting. While there is plenty of page-turning adventure inside, it is also a heartfelt story about family and loss.

   

El Space: What expectations, if any, did you have about the cover? What elements did you hope to see? Who is responsible for the cover design and illustration?
Nicole: I was hoping that the artist would not give the main characters a certain look that would color the reader’s perception. I know when I was a kid I liked to picture the characters for myself. I was thrilled when this was the route that Alice Brereton took. She also goes by the name Pickled Alice. I’ve yet to meet her, but I’d love to thank her.

El Space: What was your response to seeing the cover for the first time?
Nicole: I was thrilled at how it jumped off the page and hopefully it will jump off the shelves come October too! It captures the magic and the mystery of the book really well.

You can pre-order A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity now from Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. But one of you will receive a pre-order of the book just for commenting. Winner to be announced on April 2 (rather than April 1, lest you think this is an April Fools Day prank). (I will not have a post next week, by the way.)

The official book synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Finn is used to people in his family disappearing. His twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. A few months ago, his mom abandoned him and his dad with no explanation. He clings to the concrete facts in his physics books and to his best friend, Gabi to cope with his sadness. But when his grandmother tells him the family secret: that all the women in their family are Travelers, he realizes he has to put his trust in something bigger than logic to save his Mom.

Looking for Nicole? You can find her at her website, steaMG.org, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity book cover and author photo courtesy of Nicole Valentine. Other covers from Goodreads. Hawk from dreamstime.com.

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.

Chillin’ Like a Villain

Lately, I’ve been reading a novel by Timothy Zahn about a Star Wars character—Grand Admiral Thrawn—and how he came to power.

    

Thrawn’s like Machiavelli and Sun Tzu—known for his ingenuity and military prowess. However, if you side with the rebel characters in season 3 of the animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, you’ll have only one word to describe this guy: villain.

I haven’t read many novels in which the antagonist is the main character. It’s interesting that a number of novels this year feature compelling villains or villains searching for redemption. Charles Yallowitz wrote one. A friend who had read other novels by Zahn encouraged me to read Zahn’s latest. And since I’ve written a novel in which one of the main characters is the primary antagonist, I wanted to see what made Thrawn tick.


Thrawn in Star Wars: Rebels

In an interview, which you can read here, Zahn, who created the character, discusses why he made Thrawn so compelling:

Readers like their villains to be a challenge to the heroes because that forces the heroes to bring their best game to the field. The more clever the opponent, and the more difficult the fight, the more satisfying the victory.

I’m down for that! An ingenious antagonist means the stakes will be high, especially when the hero is thwarted at just about every turn.

I’m enjoying the book so far. Thrawn is a fascinating character with a mind like that of a chess grand master. And how nice that this fan favorite is now canon in the Star Wars universe (hence this novel published by Del Rey/Random House).

What brilliant, but controversial characters have you read about (fictional or nonfictional) lately? While you think about that, I’ll move onto the giveaway, which I discuss here, if you missed that post. Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of the $25 Amazon gift card is

Is

Is

Is

Is

Is

(Okay. I’ll stop.)

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Thank you to all who commented. Have a happy and safe Halloween! Are you planning to dress up? What is your costume?

Grand Admiral Thrawn image from starwars.com. Star Wars Rebels logo from denofgeek.us. Book jacket photos and eerie pumpkin luminary photo by L. Marie.

Winning World-Building

The other day I watched a YouTuber talk about his love for all things Pokémon—the games, the anime series, and movies. He could probably name all 800+ Pokémon, including the regions in which they can be found, and also the different towns players visit in the games and anime.

Now, that’s a fan! When you create a world, you want it to be appealing enough to attract dedicated fans like this who love visiting over and over.

   

Who wouldn’t want to visit a world with creatures as cute as Torchic (right) or as majestic as Xerneas?

With the subject of world-building, maybe by now you’re thinking of the various planets in the Star Wars series or fantasy places like Westeros (George R. R. Martin), Hogwarts (J. K. Rowling), Pixie Hollow (where the Disney fairies live), Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), Narnia (C. S. Lewis), Oz (L. Frank Baum), Windemere (Charles Yallowitz), or Middle-earth (J. R. R. Tolkien).

I think about Lothlórien or Narnia, and how I’d love to live in either place for the rest of my life. (Mordor is a definite no as a place to retire, however.)

 

Hogwarts would be fun also, now that He Who Must Not Be Named isn’t an issue any more. I also think of Oz, since I’ve been rereading some of the books. Who wouldn’t want a lunch or dinner pail full of food that you can pick ripe off a tree the way Dorothy, the plucky orphan from Kansas, did in Ozma of Oz?

       

Even if I wouldn’t want to make my home in a land (looking at you, Westeros), I still enjoy a visit via a book in the comfort of my own home. I love to learn about the different animals and plants in a land. Like Fizzle in Windemere. To learn more about him, click here.

But the aspects of a world that really resonate with me usually meet a felt need. Sometimes when problems crowd the horizon and I feel helpless, I long to escape to a land of magic where full-course meals grow on trees and adventure is just around the corner. Or sometimes, I crave a place suffused with wonder (look—tiny fairies) and peace when life seems gray or full of battles.

Yet many of the worlds I read about have problems like wars and hunger. In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy wound up lost and hungry. Maybe that’s why that dinner pail tree made such an impression on me. She found it after a struggle.

And how could I forget that the peace in Narnia came after the defeat of enemies like the White Witch?

So, maybe the world-building in each series I mentioned really resonates with me, because a skilled author has shown the compelling efforts his or her characters made to overcome their problems, and thus build a better world.

Now, that’s winning world-building!

What is your favorite fictional world to visit? What do you love about this world?

Dorothy illustration by John R. Neill found at the Project Gutenberg website. Westeros/Essos map from geek.com. Lothlórien image from somewhere on Pinterest. Oz map from fanpop.com. Narnia map from toknwasiamknown.wordpress.com. Torchic from imgarcade.com. Xerneas from pokemon.wikia.com. Star Wars planets image from somewhere on Pinterest. Hogwarts from rmvj.wordpress.com. Disney fairies from fanpop.com. Ozma of Oz book cover photo by L. Marie.

A Dad, a Day, and a Book Giveaway

I’m writing this post on Father’s Day. To all of you dads out there—a toast to you! I live a thousand miles away from my dad, so I didn’t see him today. Instead, I talked to him on the phone and gave the requisite greetings. My younger brother, who also is a father, went there to be with him—his Father’s Day present from my sister-in-law.

The desire to be eloquent rises within me as I think about Father’s Day. But whenever I try to be what I’m not, I come off sounding phony. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll ignore that desire and just be myself.

Know what I think of when I think of my dad? I think of how he taught me to draw, how he read fairy tales to me at bedtime, and taught me to ride a bike. And every Christmas, like clockwork, I could expect the latest Stephen King novel from him.

I remember as a teen how embarrassed I was to buy feminine products at the store. If the cashier was male, I’d balk and refuse to make the purchase. But my dad had no problem buying what I needed.

“Got you some on sale,” he’d say proudly, as he plunked a bag on the kitchen table.

I remember my first car—a Hornet station wagon. (Yeah, I’m old. But it was old when I got it, so, yeah.) It had a tendency to break down on various roads. Dad would have to come get me, sometimes in the dead of winter. Dads do things like that, see.

The test of a father’s influence is when you still love something when you become an adult. My dad infused within me a love of animation, science fiction, and mysteries, fortified by the books I discovered on the bookshelves at our old house (Ray Bradbury; Isaac Asimov; Agatha Christie; Erle Stanley Gardner) and the shows we’d watch together (Doctor Who; Looney Tunes, Star Trek in various forms).

    

    

Each week, my father and I discuss books that we read or are currently reading. Right now, he’s into a series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

I’m also reading a mystery:

So, though I’m not with my dad on this special day, we’re still together, sharing the love of a good mystery book.

Speaking of good books, I have one to give away: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! by Sarah Aronson. (Click here if you missed the interview with Sarah.)

    

The winner of The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marie of 1WriteWay!

Marie, please comment below to confirm.

While we wait for Marie, do you have a great dad story you’d like to share? Please comment below!

Small critters wishing their dads a Happy Father’s Day

P. S. Thank you, Dad, for everything. 😀

Book covers from Goodreads, with the exception of the ones photographed by L. Marie. Father’s Day image from clipartpanda.com.

“You Put Your Left Hand In . . .”

img_4153

What song/dance did you think of immediately when you read the title of the post? It’s considered a novelty/fad dance because of its popularity for a time at wedding receptions and large gatherings of kids. (If you still aren’t sure what that song is, I’ll whisper it to you in the comments if you ask.) I didn’t notice anyone suggesting it at any wedding reception I’ve attended in the last few years. The “Chicken Dance” is still hanging in there as a wedding reception staple.

img_4151Connie Willis’s 1996 science fiction novel, Bellwether, is all about fads and trends. Dr. Sandra Foster, the main character, is a sociologist who studies them. Like this one:

dance marathon (1923—33) Endurance fad in which the object was to dance the longest to earn money. Couples pinched and kicked each other to stay awake, and when that failed, took turns sleeping on their partner’s shoulder for as long as 150 days. (Willis 105)

And yes, Barbie herself (pictured above) has endured past her early fad-dom. (If that’s even a word, which I suspect it isn’t.)

This is not a review of Bellwether, by the way, though I loved the book. (Which I guess is kind of a mini-review.) I’m more interested in the central concept of the book: the bellwether. (Maybe now you’re thinking of the Bellwether character in Zootopia.)

bellwether_zootopia

Assistant Mayor Bellwether

According to Merriam-Webster.com, a bellwether is

one that takes the lead or initiative : leader; also : an indicator of trends

States can be bellwethers too. You can check out Wikipedia (click here) for more information on the bellwether’s antecedents. Willis’s book addresses the notion of the bellwether in a very creative way.

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I’ll be bahhh-ck. (A sheep’s impression of Ah-nold Schwarzenegger)

We can’t always predict what will become a fad, thanks to the fickle nature of humans. Even if we’re contemptuous of the fads others follow (especially if they seem dangerous or dumb), if we’re being honest, we’ll probably admit to having followed a few fads at some point in our lives.

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Blue hair on a dude is not uncommon nowadays.
Is this a passing trend? Who knows?

Bellwethers set the trends, sometimes inadvertently. Think of the artists who are simply being true to themselves, but who wind up starting fads, thanks to the adoration of fans.

Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as trendsetting bellwethers. But sometimes, for good or ill, we are bellwethers in the lives of someone impressionable. I can’t help thinking of some children I’ve babysat, who use some of the same exclamations I’ve used. “Oh good grief!” a three-year-old said in frustration, using the same inflection I used. This taught me to keep a careful watch on what I say around him.

What fads or trends have you noticed lately that you like or wish would go away? Do you know who started them? Have you ever started a fad? What was the result?

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Willis, Connie. Bellwether. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

Assistant Mayor Bellwether image from thefandomnet.tumblr. Bellwether sheep found at Goodreads.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Barbie and Kris dolls by Mattel for the movie Barbie Video Game Hero.