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.

The Prism Effect

When I was a kid, I was given a prism to use in one of my science classes in elementary school. I thought it was the most awesome thing ever. (Yes, this was way before cell phones were invented.) We discussed Sir Isaac Newton’s experiments with light refraction. As it passes through one object to the next object, light bends. Newton used prisms in his experiments.

As an article here mentions

Newton was the first to prove that white light is made up of all the colors that we can see.

In science class, we duplicated Newton’s experiment with a light source, cardboard, and a prism. (Yes, this was back in the day.) I don’t have photos from that experience. But this one comes close.

The white light containing the color spectrum makes me think of something else: a blank page. I see that confused look on your face. Let me explain what I mean. First, let’s switch out the phrase color spectrum and insert words. Now, think of a blank page as something containing all of the words that can be seen—wonderful, colorful words describing vivid images. A prism is needed for those words to be seen and understood. The writer is the prism that helps others see those words.

My mind turns on odd things sometimes. This was something I was thinking about recently. 😀

If the writing aspect doesn’t fit your life, think of the prism analogy this way. Our minds are prisms. We often take whatever is beamed into us and show the world the result. For example, let’s say we hear a lot of negative comments. Such a drab view of life might result in a negative mindset that spills over in our dealings with others. We tell everyone, “This is how life is—drab.” But unlike an actual prism, we have a choice as to what we do with what we’re given. We can either show the drab colors and say, “This is how life is and always will be,” or we can show something else: the colors of hope. Even if we can’t see them yet. By this we say, “This is how life can be. And it starts with me.”

For someone like me who is prone to depression, the latter is a challenge. But I’m still willing to give it a shot. How about you?

     

I saw this rainbow months ago while standing outside of a grocery store. A rainbow is a nice example of refraction.

Prism image from 924jeremiah.wordpress.com. Refraction experiment image from myscienceacademy.org. It is from an MIT YouTube video. Blank page from imgarcade.com. Rainbow photographs by L. Marie.

“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.

16574946-_sx540_

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.

img_4157

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?

img_4164

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.

Gender Talk

When you see photos like the ones below of girls talking in a group (just hanging out at a sleepover or at some other gathering), what do you imagine they’re saying to each other? (Okay, yes, I know they’re all dolls of a sort. Just pretend, okay?)

025   010

Raise your hand if you think they’re talking about boys. Or hair and makeup. Or collections of tiny things like Shopkins. Or perhaps you think they’re gossiping about their friends or other people. Now, raise your hand if you think they’re talking about quantum mechanics (“the science of the very small,” according to Wikipedia), earth science, psychology, or what’s trending on the internet. Anybody? Hello?

Now look at the photo below. Think of them as boys having a conversation. (Um the one in purple is Batzarro, who is in Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League.) What do you think they’re discussing? Sports? Quantum mechanics? Girls? Cars? Videogames? Collections of tiny things like Shopkins?

037

Many of us have preconceived ideas about what girls or boys talk about or like. Some of these ideas have to do with how we were socialized, and the expectations with which we grew up. You know the ones: girls like dolls and colors like pink and purple; boys like cars and trains and colors like blue or green. Girls talk about boys and hair at a sleepover. If a kid stepped out of the “bubble,” he or she was “corrected,” sometimes by other kids.

Think times have changed, now that we’re so “enlightened” about preconceived gender issues? Think again. A little boy I know used to love the color purple until he was told by another kid that purple is a “girl” color.

If we have kids, we want them to be all that they can be. But sometimes what we think someone else “should” like or be like has more to do with our own frustrated hopes than that person’s natural bent.

I read an article a few weeks ago (wish I could find it again) where a father mentioned the Girl Toy of the Year and the Boy Toy of the Year for 2015. The Girl Toy of the Year was the Shopkins Small Mart Playset (by Moose Toys). The Boy Toy of the Year was the Zoomer Dino (by Spin Master). There was a general Toy of the Year too. But in the article I read, the father complained about the girl toy and how it lacked action. Never mind the fact that a girl moving a doll around the market shows action and especially imagination. I can’t recall if this father had daughters or not. If he did, more than likely they should not expect to get this Small Mart Playset. (By the way, I’ve seen kids play with remote-controlled toys. They grew bored with them fairly quickly.)

Zoomer-Interactive-Dino-Boomer-1024x1024  Shopkins-Small-Mart-Playset

I wonder if this dad would be appalled if he saw some little boys I know happily playing in the giant toy kitchen set up in their home. They know their way around the kitchen, because their dad is an awesome cook who probably could open his own restaurant.

At this same house, I watched the kids at a birthday party recently. Now in this family, there are three kids: a girl and two boys (same as my family). The family will soon grow with the addition of a baby girl this summer (also the same as my family, though my sister didn’t live).

It’s fascinating to me to see to what toys and games children naturally gravitate. Though lightsabers and Nerf guns abounded in this house for anyone to use, the girls at the party chose to play quietly in a bedroom away from the raucous lightsaber/Nerf gun battle in which the boys participated. Every once in awhile, the girls would emerge from the room with a doll or doll blanket. (All of these girls were under the age of eight.) But they refused to join the battle.

lightsaber

Yet when I babysat the children of the host family, all of the kids participated in a game I introduced to them that I used to play with my brothers. We called it Houseboat. The couch was the houseboat. The floor represented the shark-infested waters. The object was to dive for pearls or other treasure and make it back onto the houseboat without being attacked by sharks. The lookout (usually me) would call out, “Sharks!” Everyone would have to get out of the “water” and back to the houseboat. There were always some casualties. 🙂

Dreadful_Sharks_Free_Screensaver-323931

It’s fun to watch kids be kids whether they pick up a doll or a lightsaber. (And I’ve picked up both.) They can be all they can be as long as they know there is no shame in what they choose.

By the way, a girl at church who has been the beneficiary of some of my Shopkins mentioned that her brother wanted some of them too. Just sayin’.

Shopkins Small Mart Playset image from crossencreations.com. Zoomer Dino from norcalcoupongal.com. Shark from download32.com. Lightsaber from unity-technology.com. Other photos by L. Marie.