Check This Out: How The Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

With me on the blog today is the always lovely Kate Hosford. She’s here to talk about her latest picture book, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, which was illustrated by the amazing Gabi Swiatkowska. This book, published by Carolrhoda Books in March 2017, is too delightful for words.

  

Check out the book trailer:

Now, let’s talk to Kate!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kate: (1) I love the tea set that my grandmother left me.

Kate’s grandmother’s Spode china

(2) When I studied in India during college, I loved drinking chai on trains.

Indian chai at the launch party at Books of Wonder in New York

(3) This summer, I got to drink tea at the Buckingham Palace Garden Café, where they have really nice paper cups.

Fancy to-go cups

(4) My new favorite place in New York is the Japanese tea house, Cha-An, where they have wonderful Matcha and a great selection of desserts.


Matcha with something sweet at Cha-An

El Space: How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Kate: At first, I simply had a vague idea about a queen going around the world and drinking tea with children from different cultures. But after several revisions, the story became about a lonely, pampered Queen who thinks she is searching for the perfect cup of tea, when she is actually searching for friends and meaning in her life. In the final version, tea still has a multicultural function in the story, but it is also a metaphorical device for tracking the Queen’s emotional state. Gabi Swiatkowska did such a great job showing the Queen’s many emotional states not only as she learns to make tea, but as she learns how to do other things as well, like snuggle a kitten.

El Space: This is your second collaboration with illustrator Gabi Swiatkowska. What was your process for working with Gabi? How long was the process from writing to production?
Kate: Gabi and I met in an illustrators’ group in 2000, back when I was doing illustration. We were good friends before we became collaborators, which was probably helpful. This book has a complex emotional arc, with the Queen making a bit more progress in each place she visits, but then backsliding to her old haughty ways at the beginning of each visit to a new place. Gabi did an amazing job of conveying all the emotional complexity in the book. Sometimes I offered opinions that Gabi took, and other times, she would stand her ground. I have learned that when Gabi stands her ground, she is always right!

Gabi and Kate at their launch party at Books of Wonder

I started this book with my faculty advisor, Uma Krishnaswami, in 2009, when I was getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I sold it to Carolrhoda Books in 2013, and it came out this spring. In my original drafts, I had the children in each country giving the Queen little gifts, and acting deferential. Uma encouraged me to “turn colonialism on its ear,” and create child characters that are completely unimpressed with royalty. This is when the book really came together. When the children treat her like a normal person, the Queen begins to evolve emotionally.

Interior illustrations © 2017 by Gabi Swiatkowska

El Space: Favorite tea? What, if anything, do you take in your tea?
Kate: I drink a lot of peppermint tea and honey, lemon tea and honey, green tea, and chai.

El Space: In a discussion of why picture books are important, Kwame Alexander said

Picture books are the great experience equalizer. We don’t have to leave the comforts of the beds in the rooms of our houses, and yet we can still travel through time and place and circumstance.

Erzsi Deak said

Picture books are also the groundwork for understanding innately how Story works, as the reader anxiously turns the page to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Why do you think they’re important?
Kate: Oh there are so many reasons! I agree with everything that Kwame and Erzsi said, and here a few other reasons as well:

Picture books can create intimacy. Often picture books are read out loud, either by a teacher or parent. This sort of intimate experience allows the child and adult to bond over the book together, which then gives the child yet another reason to continue reading.

Picture books hone a child’s ear. When picture books are read out loud, they allow children to hear the rhythms and cadences of beautiful language, which hopefully makes them want to read more.

Picture books are good for the brain. The child who is seated next to a picture book reader is synthesizing the words on the page, the language of the reader, and the illustrations. The constant toggling back and forth between these elements is stimulating and complex, forging the neural pathways that are essential for increasing intelligence in a young child.

El Space: Name a favorite picture book from your childhood. Why was it a favorite?
Kate: Probably my favorite book was called Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Martha Sanders and Philippe Fix. It is a gorgeous, eccentric book about an old lady who lives on the top of a hill with a Magical Mouse, a Brindle London Squatting Cat, a Yak, and an alligator. One day, the Magical Mouse predicts that the town below will be endangered by thirty days of rain. It is then up to Alexander to make the treacherous journey into town to warn the mayor about the rain. The book’s illustrations are just spectacular, and I loved the fact that this eclectic group of animals lived with the Old Lady.

The cover where the Old Lady is serving tea

Strangely, I didn’t realize until I just reread the story that tea plays a rather important role in the book. The Old Lady gathers her friends every day in the drawing room for tea, she nurses Alexander back to health with ginger tea when he returns from warning the mayor, and at the end of the book, when the mayor comes to honor the Old Lady for saving the town, she gives the medal to Alexander instead, and invites the mayor and her animal family to tea.

  

The Old Lady, nursing Alexander back to health with ginger tea (left); the mayor, having tea with the Old Lady and her friends at the end of the book

El Space: What will you work on next?
Kate: A poetry collection about how brilliant the octopus is! I read Sy Montgomery’s incredible book, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonders of Consciousness. and then was lucky enough to meet Sy and interact with her namesake, Sy the Giant Pacific Octopus at the New England Aquarium. I also want to do something funny related to the life of a classical musician. This is a bit of a challenge since most of them had really difficult and tragic lives. However, Jonah Winter was able to do it in his fabulous picture book, The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven, where he tries to figure out how Beethoven could have moved five legless pianos to 39 different apartments. It’s such a unique topic, and his treatment of it is wonderful.
I’m also very excited about a picture book I have coming out next spring with Abrams called Mama’s Belly. It’s about a little girl waiting for her sister to be born, and wondering if there will be enough love to go around. (Spoiler alert: There is!)

    

Thanks, Kate, for being my guest!

And thank you to all who visited this blog. You can find How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

Want a curriculum guide for How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea? Click here.

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

One of you will find her book in your mailbox or tablet. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. You could name your favorite tea as you comment. The winner will be announced on May 1.

Kirstea, the tea-loving Shoppie, gives Kate’s book five stars!

Book covers, author photo, interior illustrations, and book signing photos courtesy of the author. The Soul of an Octopus, Surf’s Up, and Pumpkin Time covers from Goodreads. Kirstea photo by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys.

Cover Reveal: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

I’m always excited to see great book covers. And when a cover belongs to a book written by one of my VCFA classmates, well, I’m overjoyed! Feast your eyes on the cover for The Unbinding of Mary Reade, a young adult historical novel written by the awesome Miriam McNamara. Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency.

Summary

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession―and her safety―depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything―her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade will be published by Sky Pony Press on February 6, 2018. Now, let’s talk to Miriam!

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Miriam: I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Reade. They are such mythical people: two women who joined a pirate crew in a time when women had no power. I was particularly drawn to Mary Reade, who was raised as a boy by her family―so the story goes―as part of an elaborate scheme to keep them off the streets. The idea of someone being raised as someone they know they are not is very timely, even if Mary Reade’s story is unique. I thought it would be an interesting lens to examine gender through. As a queer teenager, it was hard for me to unravel the connections and differences between gender and sexuality. I wanted to tell a story about a character for whom no easy lines could be drawn regarding either. Mary doesn’t fit any convenient labels, so she really has to figure out who she is starting from scratch.

I love outsider cultures, the communities that are formed by those who don’t fit into the mainstream. I love to explore what happens when people break the rules, especially when they break them just by being who they are. I love to explore what happens when people follow the rules and are still let down by them, as so many people often are. I also just wanted to write a love story about queer girls, because there aren’t enough of them.

El Space: What a gorgeous cover! What, if any, suggestions were you expected to provide for the cover? Did you have any say over what was depicted on it?
Miriam: I was not expecting to have any say regarding the cover, so I was thrilled when my editor, Rachel Stark at Sky Pony Press, asked me if I had any input. I found a couple of covers of other books that I absolutely loved and put together a mood board with the covers and a few other images, and wrote a paragraph or two about what I envisioned. Fonts, color schemes, images, etc. Nothing too specific. When I sent it to Rachel, it turned out that we’d picked out mostly the exact same book covers as comps! So I knew we were on the right track.

El Space: Who worked on the cover? How long was the process?
Miriam: It was almost exactly a month later when I heard back from Rachel. I was psyched about the cover, but both of us had the same concern about one tiny detail. Rachel relayed the feedback to the design team, and I received the final cover the next day!

El Space: How did you react when you saw the cover?
Miriam: I was really pleased. One idea I’d thrown out was having the font of the title be kind of like a binding coming undone, with a ribbony, fabric-like quality to it. You can see that they nailed that! And I love the ship! And the color scheme is PERFECT. It’s got a great romantic feel to it. So yes, I’m very happy!


Author Bio

Miriam McNamara was born in Ireland, raised in the Southern US, and is a new, proud resident of the Midwest. She has dressed up as some variation on pirate for Halloween more years than she has not—her favorite still being Rollerskating Pirate, circa 2003. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where The Unbinding of Mary Reade won the Norma Fox Mazer Award for a YA work-in-progress. She lives with her wife, two dogs, and two cats in a tiny house in North Minneapolis, but she also calls Asheville, North Carolina home. You can find her at www.miriammcnamara.com or on Twitter at @McNamaraMiriam.

Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Book cover courtesy of the author.

Check These Out: Picture Books by Eric Pinder

Greetings from the frozen north! (Yes, we had a snow visitation recently.)

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’Tis the season to be jolly as the well-known Christmas carol goes. And I can guarantee some jolliness when you check out the following picture books by the erudite and extraordinary Eric Pinder.

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Both books were illustrated by Stephanie Graegin and published by Farrar, Straus Giroux. Eric is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette. Stick around till the end of the interview to learn about the giveaway. Ho-ho-ho!

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Kitty dressed as Santa? Perhaps she has something to do with this giveaway?

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Eric: (1) Once upon a time, I worked at an observatory on top of a mountain and commuted home—well, partway home—by sled. As job perks go, it’s hard to beat an eight-mile sled ride.
(2) The last time I bought a new vehicle, it was a unicycle.
(3) My summer job in high school was working on a dairy farm. But the cows there couldn’t type.
(4) I still want to be an astronaut when I grow up.

The author reading one of his picture books to a library lion

The author reading one of his picture books to a library lion

El Space: You’ve written two books in the sharing with a bear series. They are utterly delightful! What inspired this series?
Eric: Thank you! Building blanket forts and blanket caves with nephews inspired the setting of the first book. Usually character or plot comes to me first, but this time the first thing the Muses gave me was a clear image of the setting for the opening scene. I could picture the room, and the cave, and someone reading inside it by flashlight.

For a long time, the working title of what became How to Share with a Bear was just “Cave.” I didn’t have any idea yet how the story would end or even who all the characters were. But I knew right away it would start with a blanket cave. And what lives in caves? A bear!

After reading How to Share with a Bear, students at Polaris Charter School made blanket caves.—Polaris Charter School, Manchester, NH

After reading How to Share with a Bear, students at Polaris Charter School made blanket caves.—Polaris Charter School, Manchester, NH

The themes about sharing and siblings developed from there.

El Space: Picture books have had a resurgence in publishing lately. Why do you suppose that is the case?
Eric: Picture books are such amazing works of art that adults often appreciate them too. At craft fairs and book signings, sometimes adults will wistfully browse the picture books and confide, sounding almost embarrassed, “I wish I had grandkids, because I still love picture books.”

Of course, the elaborate pictures and design also make them expensive to print, which probably makes publishers and readers alike choosier when budgets are tight. I don’t know, but I’d guess the resurgence is a combination of the economy improving and the Millennial generation starting to have children and looking for good books.

White Birch Books made bear-shaped cookies for a recent How to Build a Snow Bear book signing. The kids approved.

White Birch Books made bear-shaped cookies for a recent How to Build a Snow Bear book signing. The kids approved.

El Space: What drew you to picture books?
Eric: Until almost age 30, I had no inkling that I’d someday write books for children. In high school, I wanted to write science fiction like Ray Bradbury. In college, a class about nature writing introduced me to writers like Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez, and since I’d always liked the outdoors, that became my focus. Then a funny thing happened: everyone in my circle of friends started having kids. Suddenly, their houses were full of books by Seuss and Boynton.

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There’s a poetry to picture books—a kind of music. While hiking with two friends and their six-month-old on the Imp Trail in the White Mountains one day, I heard them recite from memory the entire text of a Dr. Seuss book. The humor and the rhythm of the words, and the obvious delight of the audience—their toddler—gave me a real appreciation for the work and lyricism that go into picture books.

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I just wish I had the talent to illustrate them, too. I admire and envy those who do. At the end of one book signing, when things were slow, I was absentmindedly doodling on a scrap paper. A customer across the room noticed the book cover on display, and her eyes lit up. “Ooh!” she said excitedly. “Are you the illustrator?” Then, walking closer, she noticed my drawing, frowned, and said, “Oh. No, you’re not.

El Space: Oh my goodness! I guess she didn’t realize how rude that sounded. . . . In an interview awhile back with CNN, famed picture book author Mo Willems was asked how to create a timeless tale. Is that something you think about when you write a picture book? Why or why not?
Eric: I like that quote by Mo Willems, “Always think of your audience, but never think for your audience.” I think there are certain universal emotions or experiences, like sharing or anxiety or trying new things, that can help keep a story timeless even if it’s presented in a topical way. A century or two from now, I’m sure, there will be kids who want to drive the family spaceship instead of the bus. But I’d bet Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus would still resonate with them, because it’s not so much the topical vehicle that matters—it’s the underlying idea of imagining a pigeon or a child driving something big and bulky and thus capable of fun mayhem, which usually only the adults get to drive, that’s amusing and timeless.

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El Space: What advice do you have for budding picture book authors?
Eric: Because picture books are real aloud, performed in a sense by the parent or teacher or babysitter, the cadence of every sentence and the sound of every syllable is important. I recommend reading poetry, as well as picture books, to get a feel for the sounds of words and the moods and nuances they can convey. I like to think of poetry as “using the language as a musical instrument, to convey emotion or meaning.” Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled is a funny, informative book about poetic meter. It’s helped me a lot with writing picture books. But the biggest help was taking the picture book semester at VCFA.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Eric: New ideas for picture books spring up all the time. Sometimes just witnessing a silly pet pratfall, or hearing a heartwarming anecdote, or noticing a strange word combination or phrase on a billboard can start the wheels in motion on a new story. Recently I’ve been revising a picture book about a little girl on Mars. I’m also finishing up a narrative nonfiction book about the joys and challenges of teaching in the era of standardized tests and student loans. When I teach nature writing at our college, we go on a lot of class field trips in the woods, so there’s a bear in that book, too.

My next picture book, The Perfect Pillow, is forthcoming in 2018. Surprisingly, that one does not include a bear, but there’s still a lot of sharing. And a dragon.

Thank you, Eric, for being my guest!

Looking for Eric? You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.

You can find How to Share with a Bear, How to Build a Snow Bear, and other picture books by Eric Pinder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, Powells, and possibly on your own front doorstep. One of you will win How to Share with a Bear and How to Build a Snow Bear. Simply comment below, giving the title of a favorite picture book you had as a child (or now), to be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced on December 15. Stayed tuned for more book giveaways and information on Kitty Santa!

Author photo by Jenn Pinder. Cookie photo by Eric Pinder. Book covers from Goodreads. Dr. Seuss image from cliparts.co. Snow and Kitty photos by L. Marie.

Wall-to-Wall People

IMG_3542Admit it. You tuned in to see who won a copy of Louise Hawes’s young adult novel, The Language of Stars. (The interview with Louise can be found here.) Well, I’ll get to that right after this.

The last five days have been wall-to-wall people days, starting on Wednesday with my weekly train ride into what’s known as the Loop in the city of Chicago. I left a crowded train station with thousands of people and blended into the well over half a million people headed to work or school.

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I pass by this sculpture every week. If you want more information about it, click here.

On Thursday, a friend and I headed into a crowded mall for a quick merchandise return, then into a crowded theater to watch Star Trek Beyond.

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The weekend featured activities that fit the full spectrum life, starting with a funeral in a crowded chapel one day, and a baby shower the next. (I ducked out of the baby shower, due to feeling under the weather.) In between those events were a dinner at a crowded restaurant with a family of friends and a lawn/garage party with another crowd of people. (Almost 200 people were invited.)

Getting back to Chicago, I realize the difference between what seems “crowded” in Chicago, versus “crowded” in New York City, or “crowded” in Shanghai, having been to all three places. Though I grew up in Chicago, I felt dwarfed by the sheer mass of people on the streets in New York and Shanghai.

But walking through the Loop each week, I can’t help noticing the diversity of the crowds. Now, I realize the word diversity gets some people’s hackles up for various reasons. Some see the outcry for diversity in literature or other media as an attempt to shoehorn people of various ethnicities into stories, as if staffing a meeting at the UN. Others see it as a challenge they can’t surmount, and resent being told what they “need” to add in their stories, particularly ethnic or gender perspectives they know next to nothing about or may not want to know anything about. Still others might want to add the perspectives of people different from them, but fear insulting those cultures by the use of careless, uninformed language. I understand the latter desire all too well, since I struggled with that issue in my WIP.

Walking in an area with wall-to-wall people helps me see what diversity looks like on a daily basis. It’s not tokenism, but rather, a natural occurrence. The crowd is what it is. But I live near a city that is a melting pot. I’ve walked the streets of other cities or towns with a very different ethnic profile—one that is homogeneous, rather than diverse.

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I can’t pretend I know “all about” the perspective of someone who is different from me—even if I have  a diverse group of friends. But I know my own perspective in a diverse world, and can address my observations. And I can keep asking questions to get to know people who are different from me.

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What are your thoughts about diversity in literature, the movies, or elsewhere? While you think of that, I’ll move on to the winner of The Language of Stars.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Congrats, Lyn! And thank you to all who commented!

Star Trek Beyond poster from ign.com. South Park image from nakanoasam118.wordpress.com. Photos of the My Mini MixieQ’s figures and the Calder stabile by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Language of Stars

Today on the blog, it is my privilege to welcome the wise and wonderful Louise Hawes, who is here to talk about her young adult novel, The Language of Stars, the latest of her many novels. I met Louise my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she is on the faculty. Click here to read a synopsis of The Language of Stars.

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Louise is represented by Ginger Knowlton. The Language of Stars, published by Simon & Schuster, debuted in May of this year. At the end of the interview, I’ll tell you how you can get this book. Now, let’s talk to Louise!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Louise: 1) I’m allergic to chocolate. I know, I know! Weep for me! 2) I’m part of a group that meets every week to share responses to our dreams. 3) Before I was an author, I was a sculptor, in wood and stone. 4) My three sisters and I give creativity Playshops all over the world.

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El Space: The premise for The Language of Stars is so intriguing. What inspired its inception?
Louise: The summer residency schedule at Vermont College of Fine Arts must have had some “air” in it in 2008. Although VCFA’s students and faculty are usually busy morning to night, I somehow found time to pick up a paper, sit down, and read it! What caught my eye was a story about a group of teens arrested for vandalizing Robert Frost’s historically preserved summer home in Ripton, Vermont [below]. Because they were all underage, and couldn’t serve jail time, the teenagers were “sentenced” to take a course in Frost’s poetry.

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I’m sure you can imagine how this article triggered my writer’s “What if?” machinery: what if the poet wasn’t Robert Frost, but a fictional celebrity poet from North Carolina—where I live—who’s done for the landscapes and people of the South, what Frost did for New England? What if this poet, unlike Frost, was alive when his house was vandalized? What if he decided to teach the course himself? And what if he met a young student who . . . well, you get the idea. I just couldn’t stop!

El Space: Your prose has such verve! I love your play script sections. Words and sounds seem very key in this book. Is this your first novel to include poetry? Please tell us how that came about.
Louise: I knew from the beginning that Stars would include both prose and poetry. After all, most of the characters in the novel are writing poetry instead of doing hard time! And two of the characters, Rufus Baylor, my Superstar Poet, and Sarah Wheeler, the 16-year old student whom he meets and mentors, hear the whole world talking to them. That’s where the snippets of dialogue, those play scripts, come in. Sarah, I learned after months of free writing with her, is a wannabe actress, and so this third format was included for her. The lines of dialogue in these scripts aren’t usually people, but things—plates spinning, furniture breathing, sand crabs busy under the beach. Everything has a voice!

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And yes, this is first novel of mine that’s featured poetry as an integral part of the book. Actually, though, the poetry in Stars was the least difficult part of bringing this story to life. While the research into Frost’s life and work, which entailed reading everything he ever wrote and everything written about him, was a long, hard process, the poems? They flowed, they filled me up. You see, I’ve always read and written poetry. In fact, I often write a poem for each prose chapter as I’m drafting a novel—not for publication, but to provide an emotional benchmark, to make sure I’ve got the feeling tone I want. So poetry wasn’t new for me, but making it public was. I’d never thought of submitting it, instead I’d kept it private, close to the bone. So even though I’m a bit old to be a “debut novelist,” I guess, in that respect, Stars is a first for me!

El Space: What aspects of your personality, if any, did you donate to Sarah? To Fry? Why?
Louise: Wow! I can tell you’re an author yourself, Linda! We writers know so well that a large part of what we do is building bridges between ourselves and our characters, finding the parts of us that feed them. So far as Sarah, the teenage narrator of Stars, is concerned, there are a lot of bridges: once I’d free written with her—I keep a notebook of free writes for every book I work on—I discovered that she, like me when I was young, wants to be an actress. I even had a brief and supremely mediocre acting career out of college. I learned, too, that, like me and so many other adolescents, she cares achingly about what other people think, so much so that she has trouble finding herself in the mix. As for Fry, her popular, seductive boyfriend? He reminds me of that part, in all of us, that takes good things for granted until it’s too late. It’s funny, because just a few days ago, I got a letter from a reader who wrote me that, although she never expected to feel sorry for Fry, by book’s end, she did. I did, too. . . .

El Space: A poet mentors Sarah in the novel. Who mentored you as an author?
Louise: I am so grateful to you, Linda, for asking this question. It gives me a chance to pay tribute to a teacher I took for granted, someone whose role in my life I failed to recognize at the time. His name is Calvin Atwood, and he was my high school English teacher. He gave me my first book of poetry; I still have it, and it’s inscribed: “For Louise, who will find and give treasure . . . everywhere, always.” That’s a mantra I say every day now. What a blessing it is when someone believes in you that much!

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El Space: So true! What writing advice would you like to share about writing for teens or about poetry?
Louise: Three other VCFA faculty members and myself put together a panel on poetry just a few semesters ago. We all wore berets and sunglasses and flounced to our seats as Dave Brubeck music played in the background. Then, of course, we took off the hats and sunglasses and got real. Our point? You don’t have to suffer or live in a garret or exist on some esoteric, unreachable level of sensitivity, to love, read, and write poetry. Its rhythms and music are as essential as a heartbeat, and often just as necessary for survival. So have fun and get down with poetry, don’t put it on a pedestal. Love it, don’t leave it. Feel it, don’t analyze it. Your life will be richer, wider, deeper for it.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Louise: I’m working on two novels right now—an historical fiction called The Gospel of Salomé—yes, she of the seven veils!—and a book for middle graders called Big Rig, about a father-daughter trucking team. I love having two projects going at the same time; that way you never get bored or over-stay your welcome with one story’s characters!

Thank you, so much, Louise, for being my guest!

Looking for Louise? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Language of Stars can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

But one of you will be given a copy of this book just for commenting below. Winner to be announced on August 15.

Chocolate allergy image from stickyj.com. Teacher image from globalcatalystgroup.com. Robert Frost from writingasaprofession.wordpress.com. Poetry image from annawrites.com. Sand crab from milkweedpods.blogspot.

Check This Out: Charlotte Cuts It Out

Yes, today is the day that I reveal the winners of The Lost Celt. (Click here, if you’re totally confused by that sentence.) But first, please help me greet the still fabulous Kelly Barson, who is back on the blog to talk about her latest contemporary young adult novel, Charlotte Cuts It Out. This book was published by Viking this past April. If you are a regular follower of this blog, you might remember Kelly from this interview a few years ago when her first novel debuted.

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Kelly is represented by Sara Crowe. Click here to read a synopsis of Charlotte Cuts It Out. We’ll wait till you return. You’re back? Just in time to hear some good news. One of you will win a copy of this book. Now, let’s talk to Kelly.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kelly: 1. I’m a grandmother.
2. I—well, my family really—collect antique steam tractors.
3. I’m left-handed and can write in mirror image, like Leonardo Da Vinci.

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4. I’m an INFJ who married an ESTP six months and one day after our first date.

El Space: I don’t think I’ve seen a book recently where a teen pursues a vocation. Very refreshing! So, what inspired you to write Charlotte Cuts It Out? I couldn’t help thinking of someone I know who participated in the cosmetology program of her high school. She’s out of high school now and working at a salon in my area.
Kelly: My daughter was a high school cos student. She’s now working as a stylist. Out of my four kids, only one went to college. The other three work in the trades, and each of them got their training while still in high school. Trades are viable career options, and they’re often misrepresented, if presented at all.

cosmetologist-student

El Space: What were the challenges and joys of creating a character like Charlotte, who really seems to know her own mind?
Kelly: Charlotte was both fun and challenging to write. Her sass was fun to write, but the annoying parts of her often mirror my own nature, so that was weird/interesting. The hard part was allowing her to be herself while still trying to present her as somewhat likeable, so readers care. Was I successful? That depends on the reader, I guess. My critical thesis at VCFA was on unlikeable protagonists, but that didn’t make writing one any easier.

El Space: If Charlotte had to create a style palate for Michelle Obama, what would she do first and why?
Kelly: This is hard because Michelle Obama doesn’t really need style help. She is already fierce and awesome. Charlotte (and I) would love to see her hair in its natural curl. She typically has it straightened with a flat iron, and it always looks fabulous, but she could mix it up a bit by going natural now and then. As for colors, she looks amazing in bright jewel tones. She and Barack are a stunning couple who can light up a room. No need to hide that. Her makeup is usually understated and accentuates her beautiful features, which is perfect for her. Oh, man, I’m going to miss her in the White House!

Michelle-Obama

El Space: If you had a chance to name a nail polish color, what name would you choose?
Kelly: This is easy. I did this in Charlotte: Iridescent Iris!

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El Space: What’s the best writing tip you’ve heard recently?
Kelly: This tip is from the prolific Cori McCarthy (AKA Cori McAwesome): Plot, but then don’t be beholden to it. Cori plots out her books, but isn’t afraid to let the story evolve how it needs to and change the outline as needed. She is fearless.

El Space: What are you working on next?
Kelly: I have several works-in-progress. One is another YA project about a girl and her sister who live with their hoarding grandmother. Another is a dual-POV story that takes place in 1976 and explores affirmative action. I worked on this at VCFA with Rita [Williams-Garcia]. I’m also working on a MG Christmas story. Then there are the stories that are still marinating in my brain space.

Good to have you as my guest, Kelly!

You can find Kelly at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Charlotte Cuts It Out can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

Do you know someone who pursued a trade, rather than attending a liberal arts college? Comment below to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Charlotte Cuts It Out. (Please comment, even if you don’t know someone.)

Now let’s get to the winners of The Lost Celt by A. E. Conran.

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Those winners are

Andy of City Jackdaw

and . . .

and . . .

and . . .

Penny of Life on the Cutoff!

Congrats to the winners. Please comment below to confirm. The winner of Charlotte Cuts It Out will be announced on June 13.

Author photo by Hal Folk. Book covers from Goodreads. Michelle Obama photo from africancelebs.com. Iris image from clisawrite.files.wordpress.com. Nail polish photo from Pinterest. Da Vinci mirror writing image from imgarcade.com. Cosmetology student photo from sites.google.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:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
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.