Quite the Feather(s) in Their Cap

I’ll get to the winner of Janet Fox’s book in just a minute. (Go here if you’re totally confused by that statement.) But first, Happy Chinese New Year! (And post-Super Bowl Sunday. Sorry, Panthers fans.)

500_F_92701992_OEpj6F8cslLat2ABI7lazQh02vobfZPt  super-bowl-50

Second, I’d like to discuss something that has fascinated me lately: birds have a lot of feathers. (It’s okay if you suddenly realize you have somewhere else to be or some urgent laundry to fold. I’ll keep going, even if I wind up talking to myself.) For example, did you know that bald eagles have over seven thousand feathers? Yes. They do. A tundra swan, however, has around 25,000. Ha! In your face, eagles! Songbirds like a sparrow might have between one thousand and four thousand feathers. And get this: close to 40 percent of those feathers are located around the head and neck. A swan, however, might have 80 percent of its feathers in that region. There is a good reason for that.

Bald-Eagle-2 Eurasian_Tree_Sparrow-Manado


Have you taken a closer look at a bird’s feather lately? If so, you’ve probably noticed that, depending on type of the feather (tail, wing, down, contour, filoplume, and so on), it was either very smooth or downy. Perhaps it was both.


The smooth feather or feather part (pennaceous) has interlocking barbules that zip together neatly. Kinda like Velcro, according to some internet sites. You can only see this aspect at the microscopic level. The downy feather or feather part (plumulaceous) is a lot fluffier. But the pennaceous part is what gives a bird wind and water resistance. Feathers insulate a bird against the cold. This is why a large percent of their feathers are located at their heads and necks—for brain protection in cold weather.

Feathers are made of beta-keratin. Birds secrete an oil that helps feathers stay flexible and waterproof so they don’t become waterlogged and sink! A bird preens its feathers to spread the oil and rehook the unhooked barbules of feathers. And all this time I thought preening had a negative connotation, thanks to its use with vain humans. Perhaps that image seems particularly apt because the barbed part of a feather is called the vane.


Go here for a great video on a preening bird. (Sorry. I had trouble embedding it.) But one video I could embed came from Cornell Lab’s website, where Dr. Kim Bostwick talks about the male club-winged manakin and the amazing feathers of his wings. (There are actually several videos at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site. Go here for yet another one.)

A great website on birds and their feathers can be found here.

Now for the winner of a preorder of Janet Fox’s middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rooskill Castle, and the swag.

IMG_8226b CharmedChildrencover (1)

And that person, thanks to the random number generator, is




Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, Charles! Please comment below to confirm!

Balicassiao (Balicassiao)—Dicrurus balicassius balicassius/abraensis
Philippines, Laguna ML 461028 © 2016 Cornell University

Feather images from publicdomain.net and birdsoftheair.blogspot.com. Eagle from animalscamp.com. Swan feather from pixabay.com. Eurasian tree sparrow from Wikipedia. Chinese New Year image from fotolia.com. Super Bowl 50 image from overtimetkro.wordpress.com.

Check This Out: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Today on the blog, you can help me welcome the awesomely splendid Janet Fox. I met Janet in a workshop during my first semester at VCFA. Janet is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, which includes an element of magic.

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Janet is represented by Erin Murphy. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle will be published by Viking on March 15. Go here to read the synopsis and to watch the book trailer.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Janet: I love gardening and hiking in the mountains. Once upon a time I thought I would be a musician. I’ve been to the bottom of the sea floor in a submersible several times while researching my MS degree. I write every day, including weekends.

El Space: You’ve written a number of young adult novels. What inspired you to write this middle grade story?

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Janet: Great question. This story was inspired by a picture of an odd piece of jewelry, which then ignited the premise. In fact, I was so inspired by that picture and premise that I began to write in a fever and had forty pages—most of which are still in the novel—written in five days—a record for me. The story came out in a younger voice, because the premise that grew in my mind slanted younger. I really had no choice in the matter!

But as with all my work, I had to write an ugly first draft before I understood who my protagonist was, and then I had to “find” her through revision and a lot of effort. In the end, only 12-year-old Kat could have told this particular story.

El Space: Congratulations on your starred reviews for Charmed Children! What was your process for bringing this turbulent time period to life in the twenty-first century?
Janet: Thank you! I’m thrilled, and so much credit goes to my agent, Erin Murphy, who made me polish to a shine before she subbed, and my incredible editor, Kendra Levin. Once I’d established the premise and the characters, I knew it had the feeling of a story set in another time, a time of turmoil. And by the very nature of the jewelry that inspired the story—a chatelaine*—I felt it had to be set in a castle. I chose the start of World War II because the Blitz would give me a reason to send children away from home and away from helpful adults, and because the war itself provided opportunities for additional threats to them and to those they loved. And, of course, the war was much more strongly felt in the UK than it was here in the US.

The London Blitz aftermath

The London Blitz aftermath

I do love research, and I tend to research a topic as I go. When I’d decided on the UK in 1940, I focused on all the details necessary to bring that time period to life for kids. Specifically, I wanted to focus on spying, because Kat’s father is a spy missing in action.

The main thing about bringing history to life in any book is to focus not on the history but the characters, because it’s the characters that readers relate to. Yes, getting the historical details right is important. But having the characters right is crucial.

Homeless children in London after the Blitz

Homeless children in London after the Blitz

El Space: I agree! How have your travels been a help to you in your writing?
Janet: I’ve been to Scotland three times—the third while the novel was in edits. I think having a feeling for a place is important—the smells and sounds, the food, the weather, the habits—there are so many little things that we take for granted that don’t exist elsewhere and vice versa. How would I know how water is such a factor in Scotland if I hadn’t seen the number of small streams and driven along the coast and hiked in the pouring rain? And I love learning about how other people in the world think and feel. Plus, travel is fun.

El Space: A drafty castle in Scotland is a great setting for a spooky story. But what’s the scariest place you’ve ever been?
Janet: Here’s an interesting tidbit, since readers seem to think this is a pretty scary story: I don’t do scary! I can’t watch scary movies, I don’t visit haunted houses, I avoid dark alleys. When I was a kid, I slept with the lights on and a huge pile of stuffed animals around me, like a fortress. Now, I did once live in a house I’m sure was haunted, and had several haunting experiences there. And the basement of that house gave me the creeps. Needless to say, I spent as little time as possible in that basement. But as to scary places in general? I avoid them!

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

El Space: I do too! I understand you also make jewelry. Please tell us about that.
Janet: I don’t make jewelry as a rule. But I did make some with charms that relate to the novel to give away to readers. Once you have the right tools and the right “ingredients,” jewelry-making is very satisfying and relatively easy. Etsy is a great resource, but I also found things in my local shops. Normally, my relaxing craft of choice is knitting.

I do think doing something with my hands—knitting, jewelry-making, piano playing, whatever—is a great way for me to relax the right brain and let it stew on a thought, and putting the left brain, which demands productivity and is a relentless editor, to sleep.

El Space: If you could recommend any book to your main character, Kat, to keep her encouraged during the time frame of your book, what book would you recommend? Why? What children’s story has been a help to you when you needed to be brave?
Janet: Interesting question! My favorite books, ever, are C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I must have read them a hundred times each when I was young—and even now, for inspiration. I’d definitely recommend them to Kat because they feature children who brave pretty scary things alone and who succeed, even when some of them slip up. And if they’d been available, I’d recommend the Harry Potter books, because, like Kat, Harry faces some awful and even deadly trials, and, like Kat, he’s not perfect and makes mistakes; yet in the end he prevails.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Janet: I have a few things cooking that I’m excited about. First, another middle grade that’s a fantasy but also quite different from Charmed Children. Then a young adult contemporary with magical realism. And I’m playing with a possible sequel to Charmed Children—just for fun, because nothing’s settled there. My agent is also shopping a picture book, and a speculative YA, which you actually saw a bit of in workshop at VCFA! I like to have a bunch of things going at once.

El Space: Thanks for being my guest, Janet!
Janet: Thank you so much!

*If you want to learn about chatelaines, go here. If you’d like to check out the reviews of this book, go here.

You can catch Janet at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also preorder a copy of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle at these sites:

Barnes and Noble
Country Bookshelf

But one of you will win a preorder of Janet’s book from Country Bookshelf, plus some sweet swag. Comment below to be entered into the drawing. You might tell us a book that helped you when you needed to be brave. The winner will be announced on February 8.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of Janet Fox. Other book covers from Goodreads. London blitz photo from peanutonthetable.com. Children after the Blitz photo and caption from Wikipedia. Eilean Donan Castle from worldfortravel.com.

The Winner’s Circle

Bless you, Random Numbers Generator. I would give you a present, but you’re software. Still, you’ve been a big help to me today.


The winners of Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Sharon Van Zandt and beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes!!!

Books will be ordered from Amazon, so please email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to confirm snail mail addresses.


The winner of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Professor VJ Duke!!!

Please email to confirm your snail mail address.

            Faithful_SALESmech.inddSirens front cover.indd


For Janet Fox’s books, I’ve got a winner and a surprise winner.

The winner of the $20 gift card to purchase two of Janet’s books, one of which has to be Sirens, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andra Watkins!!!

But I’m also giving away a copy of Faithful—surprise—to someone. And that person is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!!!

Andra and Jill, please confirm your snail mail addresses. Janet will also mail a bookplate to you.

Thank you to all who commented. Winners, please email me to let me know email addresses and all of that good stuff. Congratulations to you all!

Naruto-Opening01_222Recently, I watched two movies based on the popular manga series starring Naruto Uzumaki, a kid ninja in training. One was Naruto the Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom.
Anyway, a quote of Naruto’s struck me:

I’m not giving up. Ever.

Maybe someone needed to see these words and take them to heart today. Maybe you’re a NaNoite who wonders if you’ll really crack that 50,000 words. Or, maybe you’re just someone who has a big task ahead and aren’t sure you can do it. Or, maybe you think you’ll never be published. The winner’s circle isn’t just for people who’ve won books. It’s for people who face the dance with discouragement, but like Naruto commit to keep going. That’s you, right?

I thought so.

P. S. A special shout-out to another good friend—Laura Sibson—who is running a marathon today. Run well, Laura! You can do this!

Infinity and Me cover courtesy of Kate Hosford. Naruto image from Wikipedia. Charlotte’s Web cover from Goodreads. Janet’s covers from her website.

Check This Out: Sirens

Hola! Everything’s copacetic because with me today is the deft and delightful Janet Fox. I first met Janet when I was a “freshman” at VCFA. We were in the same workshop. Janet was about to graduate, so she was a figure of awe. Since then, Janet has written three historical novels, including Faithful and Forgiven. Welcome, Janet!


Aren’t those covers the cat’s meow? Sirens front cover.inddJanet is here to talk about her latest novel, Sirens, published by Penguin/Speak. Here is a synopsis:

Josephine Winter, seventeen, is sent to live with relatives in New York City after her bootlegging father receives a threat, but bookish Jo harbors her own secrets. She finds friendship with lively Louise O’Keefe and romance with sweet jazz musician Charlie. But haunted by the spirit of her missing brother, Jo uncovers a nest of family lies that threaten everyone she loves, and Lou, in the thrall of the dangerous, seductive gangster Daniel Connor, is both Jo’s best friend and potential enemy. As Jo unlocks dark mysteries and Lou’s eyes are opened, the girls’ treacherous paths intertwine. Jo and Lou together will have to stand up to Connor in order to find their hearts and hang onto their souls in the “decade of decadence.”

“There you are. Hiding. It’s time we put you right,” she said as I stood up, and then she looked down at my old black shoes. “Good grief. First order of business is new shoes. And for pity’s sake take off those awful stockings before we leave the apartment.”

“I’m not a flapper,” I said.

“Yeah? Well, we can fix that.”

Keen, huh? One of you will win a $20 Amazon card so you can get Sirens and another of Janet’s books. Hey, I’m on the level here. But before we get to that, let’s talk to Janet!

300px-ALVIN_submersibleEl Space: Janet, please tell us four quick facts about yourself.
Janet: I have a new puppy. I live year-round in Montana now; my hubby and I have been dreaming of this for 30 years. I’ve been to the bottom of the ocean in the submersible ALVIN. I once dreamed of being a rock-star singer, and came this close.

El Space: Wow! I’m picturing you rocking out on stage. What was the catalyst for your writing Sirens?
Janet: That’s an interesting question. It was my publisher’s request. After Faithful was published and Forgiven was about to come out, my publisher contacted my agent and asked if I would be interested in writing a book set in the 1920s. And I said yes right away—which I don’t always do, just FYI. But I find the 1920s to be a fabulous era in which to set a story.

1920s2El Space: What a fascinating and glamorous era. What appealed to you about it?
Janet: Exactly! Fascinating and glamorous and an era of revolutionary change. From clothing styles to the birth of the auto and the cinema, from women’s suffrage to Prohibition—the 1920s was a decade of monumental upheaval. There were many reasons for this: the end of World War I, industrialization, an influx of immigrants from Europe to the U.S., and economic prosperity. But I think that the introduction of women into the work force during World War I was a principal factor in this revolution. And I love to write about strong young women taking charge and standing up for themselves, so this fit perfectly with my worldview.

Incidentally, my publisher also asked if I would write a novel set in the Mad Men era, and I said no. Why? Because it was a time when young women were treated indifferently at best.

charleston-dance-1920sEl Space: If you had to live in the 1920s, what is the one item you don’t think you could do without? Why?
Janet: Hmm. I can’t think of a thing. Technology is highly over-rated. Indoor plumbing was available. I think I’d have been very happy living there just as it was.

El Space: How do you prepare to write historical fiction? What tools, if any, are a help?
Janet: I do a lot of reading of newspapers of the time. They give me an indication of tone, and they let me know what people wanted through advertisements, and I can find out how much things cost. Plus the news articles steer me to what concerned people of the time.

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If archival newspapers aren’t available, then I try to read things written during the era. And if those aren’t available, I try to read as close to that era as I can.

El Space: Looking at your point-of-view characters, how was Jo “born”? How about Lou? How is either like you? Different from you?
Janet: Hah! Both are like me, and both are not. Jo is much like me in her independence and determination and in her intellectual nature. Lou is like my alter ego —she’s the dangerous “me” inside. But Jo is terribly naïve, and Lou is terribly jaded, so I suppose I think of them as my personality extremes.

El Space: What was the most challenging about writing from different points of view?
Janet: I actually love writing from different points of view. I love the different voices. The hardest part is making sure the story weaves together, structurally—that I don’t lose or repeat factual information.

El Space: What tip do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?
Janet: Voice and tone are important to historical fiction, so I would read as much as possible that was published at that time. And get the facts right, because if you make a mistake, someone will take note.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Janet: Total departure! I have four projects in various stages: two middle grade fantasies, one young adult contemporary, and one young adult futuristic. I’m excited about them all.

Thanks again, Janet, for hanging out with me! You’re the bee’s knees.

Janet can be found at her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Sirens is available here:
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books

One of you will win an Amazon ecard to purchase Sirens and another of Janet’s books (your choice). Get a wiggle on and comment below. As always, you’re the cat’s pajamas for stopping by.

Faithful and Forgiven covers from Goodreads. Fashion photo from list17.blogspot.com. Charleston dancers from charlestonchallengedownunder.com.au. ALVIN photo from Wikipedia. Vintage ads from proprofs.com and vintageadbrowser.com..