Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Research, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE by Amy Trueblood

I’ve had a crazy month and so haven’t had time to post here on the blog, but I had to make time to shout about Amy Trueblood’s new book, ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE. It released on Nov. 5, and I’m going to give away a copy to one of you lucky readers, but if you don’t win, please please please go out and get it for yourself anyway!

I had the privilege of reading an early version of this book, and I loved it then, but when I read the final version–wow! Just like with NOTHING BUT SKY, Amy invested an incredible amount of time and energy into researching the historical time period for ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE, and she also delivers a powerful young woman who stands up for herself believably in that time. Here’s the cover and description, followed by the interview.

Across a Broken Shore by Amy TruebloodThe last thing eighteen-year-old Wilhelmina “Willa” MacCarthy wants is to be a nun. It’s 1936, and as the only daughter amongst four sons, her Irish-Catholic family is counting on her to take her vows—but Willa’s found another calling. Each day she sneaks away to help Doctor Katherine Winston in her medical clinic in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

Keeping secrets from her family only becomes more complicated when Willa agrees to help the doctor at a field hospital near the new bridge being built over the Golden Gate. Willa thinks she can handle her new chaotic life, but as she draws closer to a dashing young iron worker and risks grow at the bridge, she discovers that hiding from what she truly wants may be her biggest lie of all.

And here are Amy’s answers to my five questions!

1. I love how rich and nuanced Willa’s family is. Yes, they have a lot of expectations for her, but it’s obvious there are many layers behind those expectations, as well as past hurt that informs the views of each character. How did you ensure each family member was unique and contributed to the family dynamic in their own way? Do you have a favorite MacCarthy brother?

One of my big goals with the MacCarthy boys was to have their views evolve over time. The only way I felt I could do this coherently was to have each of them yearn for something more for their lives like Willa. This allowed me to not only share their struggles, but also allow them to identify with Willa in a way they never had before.

I started out loving Paddy (and I still do), but Nick became a favorite toward the end of the book. He loves Willa very much and he struggles the most with accepting the change he knew was coming.

2. I love how this book weaves a story into an interesting slice of history–the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. What is your favorite fact–or the most interesting–that you were able to include? On the flip side, what’s something you wanted to include but couldn’t fit in?

After doing so much research, I knew I wanted to include some reference to the “Halfway to Hell” club. This was what a group of 19 workers called themselves after each one had their own harrowing experience with falling into the safety net tethered below the bridge.

I do highlight some of the safety measures used on the bridge, but I would have loved to include more of them in the story. For example, one of the biggest safety issues developed early on in the construction. Men who worked inside the steel towers starting getting very sick. Their hair and teeth were falling out at alarming rates and people couldn’t figure out why. They brought in experts and discovered that the heat of the metal rivets against the lead paint they were using gave off toxic fumes, which caused the rampant sickness. After this was discovered, men working inside the towers were required to wear air respirators.

3. I loved the 1930s medical advice you shared on Instagram leading up to the book’s release. Out of that research, what medical practice/advice has stood the test of time?

This is a great question. I think one of the things that struck me most was the early discovery of issues with bacteria. Even in the 1930s textbooks I studied, there were many, many chapters devoted to keeping bacteria at bay not only in wounds but when cleaning instruments. One thing that still floors me though is that back in the early twentieth century doctors were still using their bare hands to treat patients. Gloves were only used for surgery. It wouldn’t be until 1964 that disposable gloves were introduced and used more regularly.

4. While the book focuses mainly on Willa deciding what she wants to do with her life, really there are several characters trying to figure out their place in the face of parental and societal obstacles. What do you want readers to take away from that?

There is the universal theme of following your dreams of course, but for me this book also challenges the role we play in our families. If you have several siblings it seems like each one is always cast in a certain role. The oldest becomes the pseudo-parent. The middle child is often overlooked, and the final child gets the moniker of being the “baby”. With this book, I wanted to question and challenge those familial roles. Force each sibling to see their brother or sister in a light outside what was the normal family order.

5. Is there anything you learned about the 1930s or San Francisco during that time that you wish you could have experienced firsthand?

I would have loved to have seen the Sutro Baths in its heyday. Even by 1936 it was in disrepair, but I think it would have been interesting to see how the water flowed into the pools from the Pacific Ocean just outside. To walk along the promenade overlooking the pools and see all the animals and birds housed in the glass exhibits scattered throughout the building. I imagine it was quite the experience!

Thank you, Amy!

If you can’t tell, I love this book, and I urge you all to go out and buy it yourselves! Or ask your library to order it. However, I will give away one copy here on the blog. North America only, please. Leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter for additional entries. Open until next Monday, Dec. 2. Whether you win the giveaway or not, definitely add ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE to your TBR list!

Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, PitchWars, Reading, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca

When I first read the description for Rajani LaRocca’s MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM during PitchWars in 2017, I was immediately intrigued–and so were an agent and editor. I mean, baking + Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; what’s not to love? The book released last month, and I picked it up right away, devouring it in a couple of days (yes, total food pun). Rajani graciously agreed to an interview here and has also offered up a copy of the book for one lucky winner (details at the bottom). But first, for those of you who haven’t heard about the book yet, here is the gorgeous cover and description.

Eleven-year-old Mimi dreams of winning a baking competition judged by her celebrity chef idol. But she loses her best helper when her food writer father returns from a business trip mysteriously unable to distinguish between delicious and disgusting. Mimi follows strangely familiar music into the woods behind her house, meets a golden-eyed boy, and bakes with him using exotic ingredients they find in the woods. Then everyone around her suddenly starts acting loopy.

Squabbling sisters, rhyming waitresses, and culinary saboteurs mix up a recipe for mayhem in this Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking.

Here are Rajani’s answers to questions about the five things I loved most.

1. I love how you wove Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my favorite of his plays!) into MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, particularly how Mimi’s older brother was starring in the play so that explaining it to the reader was so seamless. When you first conceived the idea of mixing Shakespeare and baking, was it clear to you that incorporating the play within the story was the way to go, or did you have to work to get to this solution?

I figured that most young readers (and many adult readers!) wouldn’t be familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I knew I’d have to explain the story in order to set the stage properly, so to speak. When I first conceived of my book, I knew that Mimi’s older brother would acting be in a production of the play and that Mimi would learn about it through him. The challenge for me was to keep the references relatively short and interesting while still giving readers a taste of Shakespeare’s humor and beautiful language, and to allow Mimi to learn about the most important components of the play at different times. One of my favorite scenes in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM involves two characters hurling Shakespearean insults at each other; it was so much fun to write!

2. I also love Mimi’s family and how you implemented the story lines of A Midsummer Night’s Dream within the love lives of her siblings—although my favorite was probably Henry and how technology played a part in his, er, love story. Shakespeare would have loved it :). How did you go about modernizing Shakespeare for a middle grade audience?

One of the most appealing aspects of Shakespeare’s plays is how he captured universal emotions. The conflicts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—between friends (two of whom are as close as sisters), between parent and child, and between men and women—are echoed in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, as is the idea of magic unintentionally gone awry. But my book, while it is inspired by Shakespeare’s play, isn’t a straight retelling. I envisioned MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM as more of what might happen after Shakespeare’s play was over. I wondered how the fairies would act now, and how they’d seem to a modern-day girl. That’s how I brought Shakespeare’s story into our world and made it relevant to kids today.

3. I’ve read a lot of books that include baking, but Mimi’s approach was  completely unique, with the use of herbs and spices you don’t usually think about for pastries. What was your inspiration for her creations?

I love using herbs and spices in cooking, and as I’ve become a more confident baker over the years, I’ve tried to introduce the same types of adventurous flavors into my baking, too. Like Mimi, my ultimate inspiration was to take other desserts, including some favorites from my own childhood, and turn them into baked treats.

4. I loved the two main friendship story lines–and I don’t want to spoil either of them–but it would be great if you could speak a little to how you approached writing realistic friendships for this age, when it’s often hard to find confidence in your friendships.

Middle grade readers are in that in between space where they are still really connected to their families, but they are also growing more independent and navigating friendships without the help of their parents. They are figuring out who they are and what they believe in and making their own decisions about right and wrong, but they are still at the mercy of the adults in their lives, and they often have no say in those adult decisions. In writing this story, I went back to how it felt as a kid to have a best friend, lose that friend, and go about the painful business of finding your way forward. There’s also a tension between being vulnerable to new friends and holding back out of fear of getting close to someone who might hurt you—and I also tried to portray that in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM.

5. I loved the portrayal of Mimi’s family and how she felt a bit lost within their success and yet during the book she was finding her place with her siblings, and it was clear they loved her. What tips do you have on writing strong and nuanced family relationships?

I knew from the beginning that Mimi’s family was a happy family with a lot of love, so I started with that foundation. I also know that there is competition, misunderstanding, and strife in even the happiest relationships. I played that up as much as I could, with the parents and the older siblings being so preoccupied with their own pursuits that it was easy for Mimi to feel a bit forgotten, and to be the only one who notices that there is something really wrong with her dad.

Thank you so much, Rajani!

Definitely go pick this book up. Not only did I love the book, but my 11-year-old son read it within 24 hours, even choosing it over watching a movie. If that isn’t a glowing recommendation, I’m not sure what is :).

Rajani is also offering a copy of the book to one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter for additional entries. The giveaway will close at 12 a.m. on Monday, July 15.

NOTE: THE GIVEAWAY HAS NOW ENDED.

Blogging, Giveaways, Middle Grade

Happy 7th Blogiversary to Me! With a mystery signed book giveaway!

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my blog. I’ve made a lot of changes to the blog in the past seven years, starting out with a focus on middle grade, finding my writing voice in young adult, querying for many, many years and sharing that process. I foresee this blog changing again as I approach the publication of my debut novel in winter 2021. I don’t know what that will look like; I’m still thinking through it all. But for today, I’m going to stick with my tradition of pulling statistics from the last year and sharing them here on the blog–mostly because I just enjoy analyzing the blog for myself. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting, too :). But definitely read through to the end, because I will have a celebratory giveaway as usual. It seems appropriate that it has a middle grade theme in keeping with the blog’s beginnings :).

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. FINDING AUDREY and a Couple of Other YA Books You Should Read – This 2015 post was in my top ten last year as well. It includes mini-reviews of FINDING AUDREY by Sophie Kinsella, THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy, and THERE WILL BE LIES by Nick Lake.

9. Your Life Has Been Delayed (YA Time Travel) – Hey, thanks for reading about my book! It will be out in winter 2021, and I will be sharing all sorts of news as it’s available. That’s one thing I know for sure about where the blog is headed :).

8. Happy Sixth Blogiversary to Me! With a $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway for You … – Maybe you guys do like my statistics. Or an Amazon gift card? 🙂

7. YA Series Recommendation: The Selection by Kiera Cass – Great books!

6. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – Three years ago this past January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and I am glad people continue to read about her here and honor her memory.

5. What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying – Ah, my other annual post–which I will no longer be writing. However, if you are still querying, I encourage you to check out this series because querying can be a long journey, and this particular post is all about perseverance. In my case, I ended up signing with my agent a few months after the seven-year mark.

4. YA Review: NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter + Bonus Writing Tips – I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ally Carter twice, and she’s just lovely. This book is a fantastic page-turner, so definitely check it out, but she also gives some great tips for writers as well.

3. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – I wrote this post in 2013, and people keep coming back to it. It’s a good reminder for all of us. We don’t write in a vacuum. It’s important to get feedback from others on your manuscripts.

2. I Have An Agent! – Well, hey, I was hoping–and sort of figured–this post would be high on the list. I searched for an agent for seven years before connecting with Elizabeth Bewley at Sterling Lord Literistic, but it was so worth the wait. She’s so fantastic to work with and my debut book is now forthcoming from Bloomsbury in winter 2021. Go team!

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – Even though I’m no longer researching agents myself, I continue to maintain this list for those who are. I think it’s super helpful to know what sort of books agents represent to get a feel for their tastes.

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

Interestingly, most of these are different this year. However, there are several MG books, which is a reflection of their longevity on my blog. When I first started out, I wrote an MG review every week.

10. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – There’s the subjectivity post again!

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – Only one of my favorite MG writers ever.

8. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – The second book in a popular middle grade series.

7. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – A popular series. I’m still baffled by those movies 🙂.

6. About – Hey, thanks for reading about me :).

5. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – In previous years, this book has been in the top 10 for the year as well. It’s the first in an eighteen-book middle grade mystery series. I haven’t made it through all of them yet as I’ve been spreading them out, but they are fantastic!

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – This post is listed on a Scrivener site somewhere and so continues to receive many visits.

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent.

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

Unfortunately there are more than 235 search terms WordPress is unable to identify for me, but here are the top five searches WordPress can tell me.

5. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books & Searches about me – I was quite surprised to find there were an equal number of searches for agents as me leading to my blog this year. I must be moving up :).

4. Random questions – My favorite was: “advantages of making your own money 8th grade.” I probably had some review about an MG book with an eighth grader making their own money that led them here. I hope they found an answer!

3. Searches about Ashley – As I stated above, I hope friends of Ashley continue to find comfort in my post about her.

2. Writing-related searches – Several visitors ended up at my blog due to some variation on the question, “Should I get multiple opinions?” This definitely explains the popularity of the subjectivity post. But there was also someone who stopped by questioning whether they should quit after querying for two years. I hope they left with the answer of “Don’t give up!” Because as I’ve already stated, I queried for seven years, and I now have an agent and a book deal.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – By far the most searches that led people to my blog were for books I’d reviewed. It’s quite interesting to see the questions people ask, often about particular plot points or simply for a review. Either way, I’m happy to be a resource.

So what am I giving away this year? Well, if you happen to follow me on Twitter as well, you may have noticed I’m excited about a particular event happening this Saturday, the Oh Middle Grade BookFest. I mean, how often do twenty-four middle grade authors come to town? Since I will be there, I’d love to pick up two signed books for one of you. The giveaway will be open for the next week, but if you comment by end of day Friday, May 3, you can give input on which two authors I should choose :). Sound fun? Here is the list of authors: https://omgbookfest.org/omg-missouri

Oh, and if you are here in St. Louis, come check out the event and bring any other middle grade readers you know along.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries.

 

UPDATE on May 6: Below is a picture of all the books we had signed at OMG BookFest. Many of these belong to my kids, but two are for the lucky winner of this giveaway. Which two? You’ll find out if you win :).

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Research, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by Gail Shepherd

Last week I promised I would feature additional middle grade books by writer friends, and I’m so pleased to host Gail Shepherd here on my blog for MMGM. Gail and I met nine years ago through a critique partner match-up on a blog and swapped chapters on middle grade novels we were working on at the time. I can’t believe it was so long ago! As soon as I read THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, I reached out to Gail to ask her for an interview, and she graciously answered my questions and has also offered up a signed ARC and some swag for one lucky winner. Details are at the bottom.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail ShepherdLyndie B. Hawkins loves history, research, and getting to the truth no matter what. But when it comes to her family, her knowledge is full of holes. Like, what happened to her father in the Vietnam War? Where does he disappear to for days? And why exactly did they have to move in with her grandparents?

Determined to mold recalcitrant Lyndie into a nice Southern girl even if it kills her, Grandma Lady starts with lesson number one: Family=Loyalty=keeping quiet about family secrets. Especially when it comes to Lyndie’s daddy.

Then DB, a boy from the local juvenile detention center, comes to stay with Lyndie’s best friend, Dawn. He’s as friendly and open as a puppy. There to shape up his act, his optimism is infectious. But it goes against everything Grandma Lady insists upon.

And here are Gail’s answers to five questions about the book.

1. I loved how seamlessly you wove history into the story–through a school project, research about D.B., a visit to the history museum, etc. How did you decide which historical accounts to include and the best ways to do so?

There were two main thematic threads I wanted to tease out in Lyndie B’s story: The first was the idea of how countries and communities become divided by politics or ideology—I mean, obviously this is still a contemporary question. So there’s a natural fit with the Vietnam War and the American Civil War, where a country is at war with itself. And then the second thematic question was about how families get fractured, or heal themselves from fractures. So the research on D.B.’s family history fit well with that theme.

Those two themes intertwine and are related—in both the Vietnamese war and the American Civil War, particularly in Tennessee, families often split—some sided with the Confederacy and others with the Union. The idea of families split apart runs through the book, of course. D.B. was abandoned by his mom. He’s taken away from the foster family he loves. He’s lost touch with his uncle. And Lyndie’s family is coming apart at the seams in quite a different way—her father and mother are at odds, Lyndie is not getting along with her grandma. But also, other people in the community had fathers or brothers who were lost in the Vietnam War, like Lyndie’s nemesis, Pee Wee, and the homeless woman, Bernadette. Really, the entire community (a kind of family writ large) has been fractured by the war. So the research fell naturally along those thematic lines.

It’s a particularly interesting question to me, how we heal or bridge our differences in a family or community so that we can thrive.

2. The friendship storyline is so believable, particularly for Lyndie’s age, how she allows her grandmother’s attitude to influence her insecurities about her best friend. What made you decide to tap into that aspect of MG friendship?

Little kids bond without a lot of baggage. When you’re six or seven or eight, you just tend to like people unless they rub you the wrong way or they’re mean to you. But at eleven or twelve, like Lyndie, you’re just beginning to lose your innocence around friendship. You start to be influenced by social pressures. Lots of “best” friendships split up at this age (mine certainly did)—often because we’re aware of how others are seeing us.

Lyndie is coming of age, and part of her job in growing up is to figure out how much truth there is in what she’s being told—she’s struggling with it. She’s struggling with her own insecurities, too. She doesn’t see herself as a “good person” in the way her best friend Dawn is. She doesn’t always know what’s right. So she’s subject to a lot of self-doubt that can interfere with the purity of her friendships.

3. The family dynamics are also very believable and heart-wrenching, from private, organized Lady and gentle Grandpa to tormented Dad and broken-hearted Mom. How did you determine what characteristics to give each of these family members to make this family what it is?

Lyndie’s grandma, Lady, was always very real to me. She’s the one character who really didn’t change much in revision. Maybe because I come from a Southern family. Some of my relatives are very iron-willed, judgmental, upright, dignified, exacting, in this way, so she came to me naturally. As for Lady’s husband, Grandpa, I wanted him to be the one person that Lady could feel safe with, taken care of. He’s a hint that even Lady has vulnerabilities.

I made Lyndie’s father and mother political opposites (Daddy a war veteran with PTSD, Ma a former hippie peace protester) so we could see that it is possible to love across a political divide, even though it’s not always easy.

4. The story’s setting a decade after the Vietnam War brings to light the issues faced by soldiers who fought in the war and families who lost soldiers to the war—both immediately and due to trauma afterward. What made you decide to set a story at this time, and how did you research it?

I grew up with the Vietnam War in the background, running on the TV, in every newspaper. Families I knew had brothers and fathers going away. That war has shaped my world view in a very deep way. I became an adult in the 1980s, and my memory of the time is very sharp. So those two things together influenced the setting and time period. I did a ton of research—every book I could get my hands on—The Things They Carried, Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, and many others, plus books on PTSD and trauma—The Evil Hours was the one that really shook me. Not much of the research made its way directly into the book. But the background was necessary so I could understand Lyndie’s daddy.

5. I loved the feeling of hope at the end, for Lyndie’s family and friendships. What do you hope your readers leave the book feeling?

Oh, my. Well, that the truth is worth pursuing, even if it feels hard. I do entirely believe that. That families and friendships can be resilient, they can recover from great stresses. That our country and our communities, like the flag on the gate at Lyndie’s grandma’s house, are worth caring for, worth fighting for.

But there are lots of ways to care and lots of ways to fight—you don’t have to physically go to war, necessarily. History has taught us what a dead end that can be. Caring for your country can mean being honest about its history. Caring for your family can mean being honest with each other. I want readers to feel that we can get better. And that it’s worth trying.

Thank you so much, Gail!

As I mentioned, Gail has offered a signed ARC, plus swag (book plates, bookmarks, pins), for one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment here or click on the Rafflecopter for extra entries.

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: WHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson

Friends, I am so excited because today I get to share a book with you that I have a close personal connection to–WHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson. Kip and I have been critique partners since 2012, and so I’ve walked with her through this journey to her debut book. I couldn’t be more excited to see WHITE ROSE hit shelves next month (April 2), and I will be giving away a pre-order to one lucky reader.

From the moment Kip first told me about WHITE ROSE when we were sitting in a hotel room at NESCBWI in 2016, I was immediately gripped by the story. It’s compelling, heartbreaking, and moving. I could keep adding more adjectives, but instead, I’ll carry on to the description, followed by the interview, and let Kip tell you more about the book.

White Rose by Kip WilsonDisillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.

1. This story is so powerful, and while you give an explanation in your author’s note within the actual book, could you share here why you felt compelled to tell Sophie’s story?

Back when I first learned about Sophie Scholl in high school German class, I was so inspired by her courage. A girl not much older than I was standing up to the Nazis? I was all over it. After reading everything I could about the White Rose over the years, I was further driven by a curiosity to really get to know who this girl really was, so I read more and more, went to Munich and Ulm on more than one occasion, and became frankly obsessed with the details of her life. She’s of course very well known in Germany, but here many people in the U.S. haven’t heard of her, and I’m convinced she’ll be a great inspiration to others as well, especially teenagers.

2. While WHITE ROSE is classified as historical fiction, it’s based on actual events and people. How did you balance staying as true as possible to Sophie and the other characters while adding voice and details to the story?

This was definitely the hardest part! In my original draft in verse, I was determined to stick as close to all the facts as possible, but one astute beta reader (the oh-so-wise Joy McCullough) noted that this was hindering me from getting at the heart of the story. Only after her critique was I able to let my firm grip on the facts relax a tiny bit and experiment with imagining what Sophie might have thought or felt in specific situations. The good thing is that because I’d already done so much research, I discovered I actually knew her well enough to be able to make this leap. This is what really brought me—and hopefully readers of the book—closer to Sophie.

That having been said, I was quite obsessive about the facts, and maintained a spreadsheet that lists each poem, the source or sources that informed it, and did multiple rounds of cross-checking. I did have to make some decisions without knowing certain facts (things that only Sophie herself would have known), and I made those based on what I had learned about her as a person and what I knew about the historical setting.

3. You decided to tell Sophie’s story in verse, a shift from previous manuscripts you’d written. What made you choose verse for Sophie? (An obviously perfect choice!)

Well, back in 2005, I wrote a completely different manuscript about the White Rose that was nonfiction, but it wasn’t working, and I ended up setting it aside for ten whole years. It was always there bubbling in the back of my mind though, so when a couple of verse novelists happened to mention to me in a chat that tragic, emotional subjects are often well-suited to verse, it was like a billion light bulbs going off in my head. Once I began writing WHITE ROSE in verse, I couldn’t believe I’d never tried it before. I have to admit, I’d always struggled to write in prose, but writing in verse was the first time that writing felt completely natural, so I knew I was on to something.

4. I love how the story alternates between timelines. It’s so seamless and provides a perfect forward momentum for the story. How did you determine where each scene would go?

 Thank you! Since you were one of the few people who saw the first draft, you probably remember that I initially drafted the story completely in reverse, starting at the end and making my way to the beginning. Unfortunately, this didn’t work—it was too confusing to readers. But I didn’t feel like a straightforward linear timeline would do the story justice either, and when one of my critique partners (the fabulous and brilliant Beth Smith) suggested two timelines, I began experimenting with ways I could make it work.

As far as where to place each individual scene, I really enjoyed figuring out this puzzle. I am a huge fan of index cards. I use physical ones, and move them around a board until it feels like the right order, but I’ve also used the Scrivener cork board in the past for the same thing. Either way, finding the right order was actually a lot of fun.

5. I appreciated how real the protagonists are. They aren’t just heroes charging to change the world automatically. They stumble and don’t always make perfect choices right away—I’m sure because they are based on real people. Was that an important consideration for you as you were writing?

This was actually one of my most important considerations. The thing is that Sophie and her brother and their friends were absolutely real people, who made mistakes and weren’t perfect. They were members of the Hitler Youth! And their initial motivations for resisting weren’t all that altruistic, either. They weren’t initially as concerned for Jewish people and others being persecuted by the Nazis as for themselves and what this war meant for them and their friends. However, what makes their story so compelling is that they’re proof that it’s never too late to change, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. After word began to leak out about the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes, Sophie and the others realized that their government was a criminal one and that the core of their fight wasn’t an intellectual one, but a moral one. In the end, their courage speaks for itself. They certainly knew what their consequences for their actions would be, and yet they did it anyway. So even if they weren’t your typical heroes, they became heroes to me at least in part due to the rocky path they took to get there.

Thank you, Kip!                                                                 Rafflecopter link

If you can’t tell, I absolutely adore this book, and I urge you all to go out and buy it yourselves! Or ask your library to order it. However, I will give away one copy (a pre-order) here on the blog. North America only, please. Leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter for additional entries. Open until next Monday, March 11. Whether you win the giveaway or not, definitely add WHITE ROSE to your TBR list!

 

Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Interview & Signed Hardcover Giveaway: EARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer

I’m thrilled to once again host my friend Krista Van Dolzer for her third middle grade book, EARTH TO DAD. With each book, she gives a glimpse into a new world, from the 1950s in THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, to contemporary middle school in DON’T VOTE FOR ME, and now the future! Krista has graciously offered a signed hardcover to one lucky reader, and you definitely want to get in on this giveaway, but first, let me tell you about the book.

Earth to Dad by Krista Van DolzerThe distance between Earth and Mars is more than just physical.

No one knows that better than eleven-year-old Jameson O’Malley. When Dad left for Mars, Jameson thought technology would help shorten the millions of miles between them, but he’s starting to realize no transmission can replace his father.

When a new family moves onto Base Ripley, Jameson makes an unlikely friend in Astra Primm, who’s missing a parent of her own. But as their friendship grows stronger, Jameson starts seeing the flaws in his own family. Mom is growing distant, and something is wrong with Dad. He’s not sending transmissions as frequently, and when he does there are bags under his eyes.

Soon Jameson realizes there’s more to the story than he knows–and plenty people aren’t telling him. Determined to learn the truth, Jameson and Astra embark on a journey exploring life, loss, and friendship that will take them to the edge of their universe.

Here are Krista’s answers to questions about the five things I loved most.

1. The premise of an asteroid sending Earth off-orbit so it’s steadily moving toward the sun is intriguing. How did you research the science of what that might be like?

Suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time clicking around NASA’s website (and quite a few other scientific organizations’ websites, too). 🙂 First, I looked for ways to put Earth’s future in jeopardy. Then, once I decided to give Earth a decaying orbit, I looked for ways to mess with the solar system’s equilibrium. As it turns out, Jupiter plays a pretty crucial role in holding the rocky planets in place, so if you mess with Jupiter, there’s at least a decent chance that you’ll mess with Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, too.

2. I love the friendship angle of the story, how more than anything what Jameson longs for is a best friend. What made you decide to focus on that as the central relationship in the story?

I tend to write children’s books with lots of adult characters, so to balance out that imbalance, I hone in on the relationships between my child characters. It worked especially well in this case, since I wanted Jameson to learn how to live a richer, fuller life and that’s what his friendship with Astra is all about.

3. I love the variety of your stories, how you’ve written historical (THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING), contemporary (DON’T VOTE FOR ME), and now futuristic. How do you put yourself in the mindset of kids from each of these different time periods?

I certainly try to vary my characters’ vocabularies so they don’t sound anachronistic, but beyond that, I don’t really think about it overtly. Kids are kids are kids, whether they’re living in 1952 or 2047. Though the trappings of their lives might change, kids from every age and walk of life probably still worry about the same sorts of things: finding friends, dealing with parents, and figuring out where they belong.

4. Astra is such a fun character. Did you develop her independently of Jameson, or were you particularly thinking of her as a foil for Jameson?

I’m so glad you liked Astra! I must have a soft spot for spunky tween girls. 🙂 I definitely wanted her personality to contrast with Jameson’s, so in that way, yes, I did write her as a foil for Jameson. They have so many things in common, but they process those experiences in such different ways.

5. I love the feeling of MAYBE throughout the book. As an adult, there were several scenes I read thinking “there’s no way this will work, but maybe … ” What tips do you have on retaining that optimism that kids have as they’re reading while still keeping the plot believable?

One thing I always remember is that kids’ brains aren’t fully developed—I don’t think a person’s brain is considered to be fully developed until, like, age twenty-two—so something that might seem completely ludicrous to me might seem plausible to a twelve-year-old (or, you know, a twenty-one-year-old). I think that gives us writers a certain amount of leeway when it comes to plotting. 🙂 That said, we did end up cutting and/or tweaking several scenes just to boost their plausibility. Maybe if the book becomes a runaway best-seller, I’ll have to share the scene in which Jameson steals a spacesuit…

Oh, I’d like to read that scene!

And if you’d like a chance to read EARTH TO DAD, you can enter by commenting below. For extra entries, click on the Rafflecopter. North America only, please. Open until next Monday, Sept. 17.

Whether you win the giveaway or not, definitely add EARTH TO DAD to your TBR list!

Blogging, Giveaways

Happy Sixth Blogiversary to Me! With a $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway for You …

On May 2, 2012, I hit publish on my first blog post, basically a “Hi, I’m here!” in preparation for the next day, when I posted my entry for The Writer’s Voice contest. Today I’m celebrating six years of blogging. I love all of the people I’ve gotten to know through blog hops like Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, other writing contests, and just blogging about the writing and querying process. I look forward to several more years! Whether you’ve been following me for six years or just stopped by for the first time today, thank you!

One of my favorite things about my blogiversary is pulling together statistics about my top posts and searches for my blog. It’s fun for me, so stick around, and at the end I will be giving back to YOU with an opportunity to win a $25 Amazon gift card. I’m excited there are some new posts in this year’s top 10!

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – The finale in Mr. Riley’s HALF UPON A TIME series. I highly recommend it, as well as his STORY THIEVES series. I just reviewed the final book on Monday.

9. How to Research Agents: Creating a Detailed Spreadsheet – This post is the first in a series on how to research and track agent responses. If you are a spreadsheet junkie like me, you will love it!

8. What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying – This post is my annual roundup of what I’ve learned each new year of the querying process. In year six: increasingly difficult talks with non-writer friends, trying new writing/critiquing strategies, the value of pursuing an R&R even if it doesn’t turn into an offer, becoming numb to rejections, and living off moments of hope. Look for what I’ve learned in seven years July 11–unless an agent offers before then (HINT HINT).

7. FINDING AUDREY and a Couple of Other YA Books You Should Read – This 2015 post is new to my top 10 list this year. It includes mini-reviews of FINDING AUDREY by Sophie Kinsella, THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy, and THERE WILL BE LIES by Nick Lake.

6. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent (see No. 2 below).

5. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – The next two on the list are both popular YA series.

4. YA Series Recommendation: The Selection by Kiera Cass

3. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – Subjectivity is such an important aspect of the journey to publication. I’m not surprised this post continues to see a lot of visits. It’s so important to get MANY opinions on your manuscripts.

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – I created this page a few years ago because I couldn’t find anything like it, and apparently others can’t either since it’s so popular. I maintain it as a resource for writers who want to read up on agents’ books before querying.

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – Two years ago this past January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and for the third year in a row this post has been the most visited on my blog. Unfortunately, last year another young woman who shared her name also died unexpectedly and people who were searching for answers ended up on my blog, so friends of both Ashleys continue to return to this tribute.

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

Some of these are the same, but humor me :). Also, it’s interesting to note that when I started this blog, I was writing middle grade and reviewing a middle grade book every week, so these older MG reviews are likely to have more traffic over time.

10. MMGM: WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME Trailer Reveal, Interview and Giveaway! – An excellent middle grade book that isn’t part of a series, per se, but several books that are connected.

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley

8. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth & MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – These two have the exact same number of views! What are the odds? Since DIVERGENT was already in my other list, I’ll focus on THE UNWANTEDS: ISLANDS OF SILENCE, which is the second book in a popular middle grade series. I’m sure if I had reviewed the first book, it would be on here instead.

6. About – Hey, thanks for reading about me :).

5. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – In previous years, this book has been in the top 10 for the year as well. It’s the first in an eighteen-book middle grade mystery series. I haven’t made it through all of them yet as I’ve been spreading them out, but they are fantastic!

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – This post is listed on a Scrivener site somewhere and so continues to receive many visits.

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

Unfortunately there are more than 400 search terms WordPress is unable to identify for me, but here are the top five searches WordPress can tell me.

5. Random questions – My favorite was: “is mason ment to be with a girl michelle”. I wonder if this was a guy named Mason trying to answer this question or if it has to do with some book/movie/TV show?

4. Writing-related searches – By far the most common writing question that led to my blog was why you needed to get multiple opinions on your work. I wonder if this question originates with new writers because I remember being afraid to put my work out there with my first manuscript. Now it seems so obvious to me that we need multiple opinions, but it wasn’t then. Definitely find those other writers you can trust with your work. Different readers will interpret your words differently, and it’s best to get those opinions before you approach agents or editors.

3. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books – Most were searches for particular agents, but there were several searches for agents who represent either middle grade or young adult, and they definitely can find that on my list of MG/YA agents and the books they represent!

2. Searches about Ashley – People continued searching for answers about both Ashleys and arrived at my blog.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – I’m sure you can tell which books topped these searches based on the books listed in my stats above.

So that wraps up my statistics. Now on to the giveaway! Because all anniversaries deserve celebrating, I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card that you can use toward anything you choose. I’m happy to make suggestions :). To enter, comment on this post by May 9 or, for extra entries, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And as always, let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover on the blog. I’m open to suggestions!