Deck the Halls with Three Good Books (Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la)

santa 9Ho ho ho! Santa’s got a brand-new bag. (If you’re a James Brown aficianado, you’ll have “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in your head now. Mwahahaha!) Today on the blog, I’m thrilled to welcome three great authors and fellow VCFA alums: Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, and Skila Brown. They agreed to a quick interview without any coercion from moi or that cupcake-wielding supervillain, Hello Kitty. If you’re totally confused by that last statement, go here.

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Melanie, who also wrote Parched, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult historical novel-in-verse, Audacity, which will be coming to a bookstore near you on January 8, 2015 (published by Philomel Books/Penguin). Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Caroline is here to discuss The Terror of the Southlands, book 2 of her middle grade series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, published by HarperCollins. If you were around last year, you’ll remember that Caroline stopped by just before the first book of her series debuted. (See here and here.) Good times. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies.

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And last, but certainly not least, Skila is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel-in-verse, Caminar, published by Candlewick Press. Skila is represented by Tina Wexler.

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After our discussion, I’ll talk about a holiday giveaway that I hope will be an annual thing.

El Space: Greetings and welcome to the blog. Could each of you provide an elevator pitch for your book to bring readers up to speed about it?
Melanie: Audacity is the inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

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Caroline: Hilary Westfield is a full-fledged pirate now, but if she doesn’t prove her boldness and daring by rescuing a kidnapped Enchantress, she’ll be kicked out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates for good.
Skila: Set in 1981 Guatemala, this novel-in-verse tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

El Space: Awesome. So, tell us what inspired you to write your book.
Melanie: Clara’s story just wouldn’t let go of me. I first discovered her in 2010, while looking for topics to try my hand at picture book biographies during the second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. But the more I read about Clara, the more I was captivated. I began to suspect that this would turn into a novel-length book. And then her voice showed up—in free verse, no less! I had to follow. . . .
Caroline: The Terror of the Southlands is a sequel to my first book, Magic Marks the Spot. I wanted to continue the story of Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, explore more of her world, and learn more about the characters I’d created for the first book. Also, I love detective stories, and this book, while not a traditional mystery, is absolutely swarming with detectives. Pirates too, of course!

pirate_clipart_ship_2Skila: I spent a long time reading and learning about Guatemala’s Armed Conflict and the role that the U.S. played in that violence. It made me angry—angry about what happened and angry that not many people know about it. There are so many things I can’t do about so many issues in the world. But one thing I can do is tell a story. So that’s what I did. I told a story about a boy who survived. I think survival stories are the best kind of stories to read.

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El Space: You’ve all intrigued me! If you had a choice of educating, astounding, amusing, or challenging a child or a teen with your writing, which would you choose? Why? You can pick a combination of two if you wish.
Melanie: Challenging. Definitely. This is a book for teens, and Clara was a teen when she became an activist. I absolutely want readers to find her story and to know that they, too, can change the world.
Caroline: I love reading and writing humor, so one of my main goals every time I sit down at the keyboard is to amuse both myself and my eventual readers. That said, I hope that while kids are laughing, they’re also being challenged, astounded, and only very occasionally educated.
Skila: Challenging. I was the kid who loved to be challenged and also who loved to challenge. There’s always that one kid in every class, right? Raising her hand in class to say, “I think you’re wrong,” to the teacher. I would love the idea of my book challenging what you might believe about war, or the way you think about the world, or the capabilities of a child. I love books that make me think. I hope Caminar is a book like that.

El Space: If your main character had a Christmas stocking or made a Hanukkah wish, what would this character wish for? Why?

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Melanie: Books! Clara loved poetry, and she loved learning—languages, social theory, literature—all of it!
Caroline: Hilary’s Christmas stocking would probably include a sword-polishing kit, a packet of homemade cookies from her governess, and a good book she could read aloud to her gargoyle.
Skila: Carlos would probably wish for food, for obvious reasons. But on a lighter note: candy! And maybe a radio.

Thanks, Melanie, Caroline, and Skila for stopping by! I’d love to have you guys come back again!

And if you’ve popped over to check out these authors, thanks for stopping by. There are other places where they can be found. Looking for Melanie? Look here. Looking for Caroline? Look here. Looking for Skila? Look here. You can find each wonderful book by clicking on its title:

Audacity (preorders only)
The Terror of the Southlands
Caminar

You can also find each book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. If you’ve been wishing for more books this holiday season, your wish is about to be granted. I’m giving away a preorder of Audacity and a copy of The Terror of the Southlands and Caminar. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 22.

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Jordie and his archnemesis have agreed on a truce during the holidays. Each is hoping Santa will bring him/her books by Melanie, Caroline, and Skila. Um . . . yes, Jordie and Hello Kitty still believe in Santa. Don’t you?

Christmas ornament from realestateyak.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. Christmas stocking image from dryicons.com. Santa bag from its-so-cute.blogspot.com. Pirate ship from free-clipart-pictures.net. Strike photo from historymatters.gmu.edu.

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Check This Out: Strange Sweet Song

adiruleGreetings one and all. I feel like singing. Know why? Here today is the awesome Adi Rule, author of the young adult novel, Strange Sweet Song (St. Martin’s Press), which releases today!

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Here is a synopsis:

18112933Music flows in Sing da Navelli’s blood. When she enrolls at a prestigious conservatory, her first opera audition is for the role of her dreams. But this leading role is the last Sing’s mother ever sang, before her controversial career, and her life, were cut tragically short.

As Sing struggles to escape her mother’s shadow and prove her own worth, she is drawn to the conservatory’s icy forest, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. She soon realizes there is more to her new school than the artistry and politics of classical music.

With the help of a dark-eyed apprentice who has secrets of his own, Sing must unravel the story of the conservatory’s dark forest and the strange creature who lives there—and find her own voice.

Adi is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Let’s talk to Adi, shall we?

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Adi: I am left handed. I have never had a cavity. My favorite band is My Chemical Romance. I love video games.

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El Space: No cavities, huh? I wish I could say that about myself! How long was the process of writing Strange Sweet Song?
Adi: About two years.

music-note-icon-psd-psdgraphics-124893El Space: I didn’t know you were a singer until I read your bio on your book. So the obvious question is what commonalities or differences do you share with Sing da Navelli? But I have to ask what other character(s) do you see yourself in most?
Adi: In a way, of course, everything and everyone in the story is me, but I don’t see myself particularly in any of the characters. Sing deals with some psychological issues that are common among singers, so we share some of that. And she’s not always likable—that controversial word—which some readers have responded negatively to at first. But I tried to write honestly; classical singing is so cutthroat that a certain amount of puffy confidence is a matter of survival—but along with that is constant, vicious self-doubt. Sing’s emotional journey is her attempt to navigate between these two extremes to a place where she can actually grow as an artist and as a person.

MacawEl Space: Understandable. What was the inspiration behind characters like Nathan Daysmoor? The Felix?
Adi: Nathan, to me, is that unadulterated love of music that all the best musicians have at their core. He exists outside of the politics of academia and the music world in general, but that also isolates him. I’m actually not sure where the Felix came from. I think her name came first; I have a macaw named Felix—who is nothing like the Felix! OK, sometimes I can tell he wants to rip my throat out—and he’s gotten comments along the lines of, “Isn’t Felix a cat’s name?” But despite Felix cats of varying renown, the name doesn’t come from feles—“cat”—it comes from felix—”happy”—and I guess that train of thought was the seed of a character.

El Space: Reading Strange Sweet Song was like watching a staged musical. What musicals, if any, influenced the book? I couldn’t help thinking of Phantom of the Opera and operas like La traviata.
Adi: Angelique, which the students perform, is a gentle parody of nineteenth century opera. It’s the play-within-a-play that mirrors the events of the novel itself, except that Sing—who loves opera, and Angelique especially—has to eventually come to terms with its flaws.

Sunday_patinkin_peters_aThere are no musicals that specifically influenced the book, although I am a big fan of musicals as well. I like Maury Yeston/Arthur Kopit’s Phantom very much, though strangely enough, I didn’t have it in mind while writing SSS, even though the stories both feature young female singers and sort of darkly attractive mentors. Must have been my subconscious! My other all-time favorites are Sunday in the Park with George, Moby Dick: The Musicalone of the funniest things I’ve ever seen—and, I will admit proudly, Cats. Because, come on. Cats is awesome! And the brilliant Growltiger “opera excerpt” is one of the reasons I got into actual opera.

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Frozen-Soundtrack-frozen-35659358-1280-1280El Space: What songs would you put on a Strange Sweet Song playlist? I ask this, because I’m listening to the Frozen soundtrack on my phone. 😀
Adi: The Frozen soundtrack is very appropriate for the northeast right now! Ha ha! While some of the music and composers in SSS are invented, there are quite a few real pieces throughout the novel. I wanted to throw in pieces people might be familiar with, but they’re all easily accessible on the amazing Internet, anyway. 🙂 Definitely Brahms Opus 118, No. 2 (Intermezzo in A), because that piece features prominently in the story. Pamina’s aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” from The Magic Flute, plays an important role as well. And two heartbreakingly gorgeous soprano arias that influenced my idea of what Angelique’s aria might sound like are “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka and “Ain’t it a Pretty Night” from Susannah.

El Space: Which authors influenced you as a writer?
Adi: As a kid, I adored Roald Dahl and James Howe, and I still do. They taught me so much about how to use words and how to be funny, coming at it from opposite ends of the spectrum. Dahl is so delightfully big—just look at all those italics!—and Howe was that hilarious American-dry before it was mainstream. I love Diana Wynne Jones‘s simple, subtle, crystal-clear style that socks you right in the guts. I love every sentence Frances Hardinge has written. I will never be as clever or insightful as Terry Pratchett, and it makes me so happy that he intends to keep writing for as long as he is able. I’m inspired by Lemony Snicket, a master somewhat disguised as frivolous, who often prompts me to wonder, “Can he do that?” And for just perfect words, I am continually delighted by Alicia Potter.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to incorporate their previous job experience in their novels—i.e., they’re musicians and want to write about the industry; they’re actors or lawyers—whatever? How should an author guard against information overkill?
Adi: That’s a great question. I’d say start—and end—with character. Having real-world experience with the nuts and bolts you’re writing about will lend an easy authenticity to the story, but at its heart, the story is probably about someone who faces a difficulty and undergoes some kind of change. Readers will connect with the emotional arc of the main character regardless of the environment or field she’s in. In terms of info overload, I think it’s important to remember that readers are smart. They’ll get it! Define profession-specific words and situations by context whenever possible—a character’s reaction to something tells us a lot more about it than straight-up exposition. Also, give us the right details rather than all the details. The emotion and the sensory aspects of a scene have to come first, so choose actions and descriptions that both educate and illustrate. And if you have to pick one, always illustrate.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Adi: My next novel from St. Martin’s is called at the moment Redwing, and we’re currently in the editing stage. It’s a bit industrial revolution and a bit mythological. Plus ostriches! I’m very excited about it.

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Thanks, Adi, for being my guest! Happy Book Release Day!

Strange Sweet Song is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Looking for Adi? You can find her at her website, EMU Debuts blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

I’m giving away a hardcover copy of Strange Sweet Song. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on the Ides of March. (Um, that would be fifteenth.) Thanks for stopping by!

Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Music note from wallsave.com. My Chemical Romance photo from Wikipedia. Covers from Goodreads. Author photo courtesy of Adi Rule. Phantom of the Opera logo from ukfrey.blogspot.com. Sunday in the Park with George image from Wikipedia. Cats image from catsthemusical99.blogspot.com. Macaw photo from adaptingeden.com. Ostrich from freefoto.com.