Leslie Connor, to my blog today to talk about her middle grade novel, Crunch. Leslie’s books have won numerous awards, and Crunch is no exception. I counted ten on her website, including Kirkus Best Books of 2010.
Since April 22 is Earth Day, and I have my own environmental book coming out this month, When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story, I just couldn’t pass up this title.
Crunch’s main character, Dewey Marriss, has promised to manage the family’s bike repair business just when the gas pumps run dry. Now his parents are stranded up north, and everyone in town needs a bike.
Dewey and his older sister Lil must look after their younger siblings and run the bike shop on their own. But bike parts are going missing. Is the thief someone they know?
Hi, Leslie! Crunch deals with the energy crisis and the danger of relying on fossil fuels. Yet you are never heavy-handed with that message. Could you tell us a little about why you chose to write about this topic and how you developed the story idea?
Hi, Linda. Thank you for inviting me to visit you at your blog today. I am charmed to be here.
So, I had the idea for Crunch percolating in the back of my mind basically because I am a drifty, dreamy sort who likes to drive down the highway imagining what it’d be like out there with no cars or trucks. (Oh! Smooth and easy biking!)
A few summers ago, gas prices began to rise—a lot. I was being more careful to combine my errands and I made fewer trips out. I wondered what it’d be like if gas got too expensive for most of us…or if the pumps went dry. I remember the energy crisis of the ‘70’s when we went to odd and even (by license plate numbers) at the pumps. My Mom would go and wait in line and sometimes not be back for an hour or more.
I did a lot of thinking about the inventiveness and resourcefulness of human beings. When I thought about travel, the immediate answer was BIKES.
I admire authors who can write in an authentic first person kid’s voice. Did Dewey’s voice come naturally or did you have to work at it? What was your process?
Characters seem to make their way to my ear naturally. (I’m a lucky writer in that regard.) It was interesting for me to write in first person from a male point of view. But I had two brothers growing up and I raised two sons and I am a terrific eavesdropper. Every so often I asked the males in my household, “Hey, would a guy say this?” (My family loves to take me to task.)
As a kid, I was drawn to books where kids had to manage on their own, without adults. You get Dewey’s parents out of the way, stuck in Canada without any gas to get home, and you keep other helpful adults on the periphery with Lil’s prickly pride in handling things on her own. Did you consciously try to keep the adults out of this story?
Yes, having Dewey’s parents away was always in my vision for this story. That was one more problem I could throw at poor Dewey. But I can never bear to leave my young characters completely without some adult nearby who could step in. (That is for my comfort and for the comfort of the reader.) I saw the Marriss’s as a family that had friends in the wings.
There was a lot of stuff about bike repair in this story. The Marrisses also live on a farm and sell eggs and goat’s milk. Are you a biker? Did you ever live on a farm? How much personal experience and how much research went into this book?
I do draw on personal experiences for my projects, Linda. I ride a cruiser/hybrid bike, outfitted with a nice front basket and a rear rack. I can get downtown in under twenty minutes if I pedal hard. For years my husband I rode a tandem together, and I loved that because I could sit on the back and look around while he steered. Both my sons work in a bike store, and my husband has built several bikes from parts while I…ahem…watched. (And if your chain fell off, I could most likely get that back on for you.) So once again, I had good help when it came to writing Crunch!
As for living on a farm, well I have lived in farmhouses, and very close to farms without ever really being The Farmer, though I dream of it. I garden, and I did own two little red hens for a while. I’m on a first-name basis with my neighbor’s goats and sheep, and I will confess right here that I like the smell of horse manure.
Will Dewey and his younger brother Vince be able to keep up with the demand at the bike shop? When will their parents make it home? Who’s stealing those bike parts? Who can they trust? The pace of this story never lags. How did you manage to juggle all these story strands?
Yikes! Your questions take me back to the months when I was writing the story. I worried about those threads—a lot! I’m glad it worked out, but believe me, that manuscript looked like a big crazy forsythia bush for a while and had to be pruned without feeling. When I am working on a novel there is a little bell inside of me that occasionally dings and tells me, hey, you haven’t mentioned such-and-such for six chapters!
In era of angst-driven novels, the Marriss family is refreshingly different. They work together well, taking responsibility for the bike shop and each other. Dad guides Dewey but never tells him what to do. Yet each member of this family is a distinct individual. How did you come up with these marvelous characters?
Wow. Thanks so much! The answer is I’m a good spy! The Marriss’s are, at least partly, spun from some dear friends of ours. They had five kids when we met them and went up to eight. I was always impressed with how responsible the older children in that family were for the youngest members. My characters are always composites of people I know, people I’ve heard about, or people I can imagine. Serendipity becomes a wonderful tool in that regard too.
You didn’t always envision yourself as a writer. Could you tell us about your winding journey to this career? How do your past careers influence your writing?
I came to children’s books thinking of myself more as an illustrator. I fell in love with art very early and earned a Fine Arts degree in college. I felt my compass was pointed straight at picture books: art, with a narrative in mind. But then novel writing surprised me the way a friendly tap on the shoulder might. I’m not sure why it took me so long to acknowledge that there was a writer in me. The signs were there; I had always written behind closed doors. I find art and writing very similar and I guess that isn’t profound since both are creative processes. Like many authors, I think in pictures and I run mental movies and snippets of dialog. All. Day. Long.
Your first book, Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel was a picture book. Next came a YA novel in verse, Dead on Town Line. Your two more recent books Waiting for Normal and Crunch were middle grade novels. Your writing has taken you in many different directions. How do you feel about your varied career? Do you have a favorite genre or age group?
I’m surprised! And pleased! I feel not very responsible for the way these projects arrive to me. One thing I love about genre hopping is that, for me, it seems to keep the writing crisp. I like “Beginner’s Mind” and so if I’ve been away from a genre for little while, I feel new to it again when I come back. If I have a favorite genre, it is probably older middle grade, or ‘tween. Interestingly, that was a time of struggles for me as a kid. Perhaps I set some roots down.
I hear you’re currently working on a YA Contemporary novel, The Things You Kiss Goodbye. Could you give us a sneak preview of what that book will be about?
Oh, sure I will. The story is about sixteen-year-old Bettina Vasilis. A history of restrictive parenting has her dipping her toe into the social scene at her high school a bit behind the rest of the crowd. In spite of that, she finds herself beginning her junior year in a serious romantic relationship with the high school basketball star. She has even won a spot on the cheerleading squad at his urging. But it is all a bad fit. For one thing, the adorable guy bouncing the orange ball is furtively abusive. One day, while Bettina is running away from him, she runs smack into someone incredible—someone kind, enticing, and completely forbidden. So begins a tricky walk on a tightrope of deception.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Yes! I’d like to tell you how much I am looking forward to your important new title, When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story. I am an avid reader of powerful nonfiction, and I know your book will not disappoint.
Wow! That's high praise, especially coming from an accomplished like you. Thank you! And thanks so much for joining me today. I loved Crunch, and I’m so pleased that I had a chance to share it with my readers.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions and for your graciousness, Linda. Let’s make sure our paths cross again! Cheers! ~Leslie
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Thursday, March 14, 2013
I've been busy preparing for the April launch of my latest book:
When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story
I wanted to let you know about a few of my upcoming events.
First, is a workshop for adults interested in writing for children:
Young at Art: Writing for a Young Audience
Date: Friday April 5 6:30-8 pm
Place: One Yoga Center
Foster Market Place
142A Danielson Pike
Foster, RI 02825
To register for this event, contact Ellen Schaeffer
Phone: 401-368-YOGA (9642)
During this 1 ½ hour session, we’ll explore a variety of avenues to writing for kids. We’ll do some writing exercises to see where you might fit best. We’ll talk about the elements of story and discuss where to find support for your writing. Participants are invited to share up to five pages of a previously written work. Please note that new writers and curious non-writers are certainly welcome.
As an "Author for Earth Day," I'll donate half my fee from this event to the RI Audubon Society www.asri.org and the Nature Conservancy www.nature.org.
Next, my book launch: (Yay!)
Join Apprentice Shop Books www.apprenticeshopbooks.com as we celebrate the movement that changed the world with the release of
When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story
Book discussion, question and answer session, and light refreshments served throughout the afternoon.
When: Sunday, April 21, 2013
Time: 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Audubon Society of Rhode Island
Audubon Environmental Education Center
1401 Hope Street
$1 from each book purchased on 4/21/13 will be donated to the Earth Day Network www.earthday.org.
Monday, February 4, 2013
Barbara O’Connor is the author of over a dozen books for intermediate readers, including the award-winning Moonpie and Ivy, How to Steal a Dog, and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.
She’s here today to talk about her most recent novel, On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s, which was named one of the best children’s books of the year by School Library Journal and won a Parent’s Choice Silver Award.
You open your book with a description of Highway 14 in South Carolina. Then you pull off the highway, following a small green sign to Meadville. There are no characters in sight until you get to town. Stella, the young main character doesn’t show up until page 5. Isn’t this a risky way to start a novel for kids? What made you take this approach?
Yes, risky. Kids usually want to jump right into the action. But I wanted to create a mood. More importantly, I wanted a sort of panoramic view of the town so the reader gets a sense of it right away. Then when the characters are introduced, they will “fit” in their places. The first chapter is very quiet, I know. That’s why I added the last “cliffhanger” sentence so that the reader will know that the pace will pick up in the next chapter.
A one-legged pigeon launches the plot. Stella wants him. So does her brother, and a number of the town worthies. Each chapter revolves around someone’s relationship with this pigeon. How did you come up with such an unlikely plot?
I knew from the get-go that I wanted multiple viewpoints. Once I decided on the homing pigeon (originally Sherman was a racing pigeon), then I needed a thread to tie all of the characters together. Wanting to catch Sherman was the perfect thread.
It’s unusual for a children’s book to feature so many adults. How did you make that work so well?
I’m glad you think it worked well. Thanks. That, too, can be a risky move. But since I had so many points of view, I definitely didn’t want them all to be children. I needed a balance. And I used Sherman to add interest to the adults. Giving an adult a pet always helps to make them more kid-friendly, too. (For instance, in my novel Greetings from Nowhere, one of the main characters is an elderly woman. I gave her a cat named Ugly, who helped make her more kid-like and, thus, a character whom kids could connect with.)
Actually, my favorite characters in On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s are the older couple, Amos and Ethel. I gave them the little brown dog so that their story would be more appealing to kids.
Each character in this book is unique and memorable. Can you tell us a little about how you developed your characters?
Character development in multiple viewpoint stories is critical. Each one has to be identifiable and distinct from the others. I try to establish their uniqueness immediately, to reinforce that distinction periodically, and to stay consistent. For instance, Gerald is meek, nervous, and not a risk taker – the complete opposite of Stella. So his actions and dialogue needed to reflect that. Mr. Mineo is a bit cranky. I used his dog, Ernie, to help me establish that because he could talk to the dog, expressing his aggravation over Sherman to Ernie.
So, bottom line, the trick is to give each character a specific personality trait that the reader will recognize throughout the story.
Many of your books feature animals, from the dog in How to Steal a Dog, to the frog in The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Do animals hold a special place in your life? What role do they play in your fiction?
I love animals! I’m a big dog lover. And as for frogs, I was one heck of a good bullfrog catcher back in the day. (I lived in Louisiana for a few years as a child and once caught a giant bullfrog using a birdcage in a drainage ditch.)
I use animals often in my work because kids love animals. And as I mentioned in an earlier answer, animals often help make an adult character more kid-friendly and attractive to young readers.
You live in New England, yet most of your books are set in the south. Why does that setting resonate with you?
I was born and raised in the South. I didn’t leave the South until several years after finishing college. My heart’s home will always be there. I love everything about it: the people, the food, the landscape. And because that’s where I spent my childhood, that’s the setting that helps me feel like a child again and helps me create stories about and for children. If I tried to write a book set in New England, I don’t think I could conjure up the feelings I need. And it would be harder for me to add the rich details that make a story special because the details of New England don’t speak to me the same as the details of the South: the dialogue, the weather, the businesses, characters, trees, food, etc. All of those things are vital to the story as a whole.
Your books make delightful read-alouds. I love Mr. Mineo’s daily roll call of his pigeons:
Edna, Frankie, Martha, Samson, Leslie, Taylor, Amy, Joe, Christopher, and Martin.
But not Sherman.
Do you pay special attention to the sound of the words as you write? When does this happen in your process?
Definitely!! The rhythm of the writing is critical to my style and writing voice. For that reason, I use a lot of short, incomplete sentences. (I drive copy editors crazy.) I also love repetition, as in the example you cited. Kids enjoy that. It establishes a familiarity with the story for them.
As for when in the process this happens, I’d say right away. The rhythm and sound of the words set the tone for the book and that needs to be established very early on. Also, I’m a polish-as-I-go kind of writer. I never leave anything messy behind me. It’s too distracting to me.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the very early stages of a middle grade novel. I’m hoping to try something new (for me) but it’s tricky and I’m not sure I can pull it off. I’m not going to divulge what it is in case I DON’T pull it off.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Just a thank you for stopping by this terrific blog and reading my interview. Thank you, Linda.
Thank you so much for talking with us today!
Monday, January 28, 2013
Thanks to my friend, Kim Newton Fusco www.kimberlynewtonfusco.com/, award-winning author of Tending to Grace and The Wonder of Charlie Ann, for inviting me to participate in the online literary blog called MY NEXT BIG THING.
The blog is a series of questions about works-in-progress and not yet published titles. Many national and international writers have participated in this. It gives readers a glimpse into the working life of a writer. Part of the fun is tagging someone else. It is with great delight that I will be tagging two other writers at the end of this post.
MY NEXT BIG THING is a book about the events that led up to the first Earth Day and the men who were instrumental in its development.
What is the working title of your book? When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story
Where did the idea come from for the book?
My publisher, Muriel Dubois of Apprentice Shop Books, was developing a series on pivotal moments in history. She invited authors to submit ideas.
I struggled all day to come up with something fresh, and at dinner asked my husband if he had any ideas. He’s a pharmacist, and at first he suggested things like the development of penicillin. That didn’t excite me. Then he mentioned a broadcast he had heard on NPR for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. It talked about the impact Earth Day had on environmental legislation in our country.
This was a topic that combined two of my passions, history and nature. I was hooked. After dinner, I had a meeting to attend, but I turned around midway there, went home, wrote up the proposal for the Earth Day book, and fired it off. By seven the next morning, Muriel had accepted it.
What genre does your book fall under?
The book is nonfiction for ages ten and up. It touches on history, politics, and the environment.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
There are many “characters” in the book, but the main ones are Gaylord Nelson, the senator from Wisconsin who came up with the idea for Earth Day, and Denis Hayes, the college student who organized it. I’m dating myself, but I can see Jimmy Stewart as Gaylord Nelson; and maybe Jeff Bridges as Denis Hayes.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A series of ecological disasters leads Gaylord Nelson to organize the largest demonstration in US history, forcing a dramatic change in environmental policy.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took me six months to write the first draft, because that’s how long my publisher allowed me. (Otherwise, I’d probably still be working on it.) We spent about three months more on revisions.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The book that comes to mind is Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts because both books combine many people's stories to give a glimpse of a particular time and place.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In one sense, this book was publisher-generated. I came up with something to fit Apprentice Shop’s Once in America Series.
But in a deeper sense this book was inspired by many things: my experience living through the sixties and seventies—1970 was the date of the first Earth Day—and my concern for the natural world. I worry that our abuse of the environment will have enormous, even life-threatening, repercussions. Yet many have tuned out the folks who try to warn us of the danger.
What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
I had the opportunity to interview Denis Hayes, who was the grad student who organized the first Earth Day. (Unfortunately, Gaylord Nelson has passed away.) Denis was incredibly generous with his time, answering my countless questions.
He gave me an inkling of what was involved in planning a political event of this magnitude. Earth Day was the largest demonstration in US history. It was estimated that a tenth of the country’s entire population took part. Denis Hayes was also instrumental in keeping attention focused on the environment afterward, when other world events threatened to eclipse the issue. We can learn much from his methods.
When and how will it be published?
When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story will be published by Apprentice Shop Books this spring. We’ve planned a special launch on April 21, 2013 at the RI Audubon Society.
Now it is my honor to tag and introduce you to two other marvelous authors:Joyce Ray and Leslie Bulion
Joyce Ray’s forthcoming early YA novel, Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen (Apprentice Shop Books, fall 2013), is an intriguing look at a dynamic woman of the Middle Ages. Hildegard became the 12th century’s foremost female writer and composer and has recently been named a saint and a Doctor of the Church. Joyce is co-author, with Andrea Murphy and other contributors, of a forthcoming title in the America’s Notable Women Series – Women of the Pine Tree State, 25 Maine Women You Should Know. The following series’ titles also contain short biographies written by Joyce: Women of the Golden State, Women of the Empire State and Women of the Prairie State. Her work-in-progress is a middle-grade historical novel. Joyce is a poet, contributes to Poetry Friday and reviews books on her blog Musings at http://www.joyceray.blogspot.com
Leslie Bulion’s first two poetry books, HEY THERE, STINK BUG! (Charlesbridge 2006) and AT THE SEA FLOOR CAFÉ: ODD OCEAN CRITTER POEMS (Peachtree 2011), combine humor, science, rhythm, and rhyme in themed collections that have garnered accolades in the science and kidlit communities including NSTA, AAAS, Bank Street College, Book Sense, and ABC Best Books. Her third collection sports the favorite of her book titles: RANDOM BODY PARTS: GROSS ANATOMY RIDDLES IN VERSE (Peachtree 2013). Leslie is also the author of a picture book, titles for the education market, and three middle-grade novels, most recently THE UNIVERSE OF FAIR (Peachtree 2012), in which she explores various facets of string theory and lemon meringue pie. For more fun, explore Leslie’s website and blog at
Friday, January 11, 2013
Welcome, Terry! Thanks so much for agreeing to be a guest on my blog.
Terry Farish is the author of a number of acclaimed books for children and teens. She’s here today to talk about her latest, THE GOOD BRAIDER. It’s a young adult novel in verse about a South Sudanese girl’s experience of war and immigration. In a starred review, School Library Journal wrote, ” Viola’s memorable, affecting voice will go far to help students step outside of their own experience and walk a mile in another’s shoes.”
You work with refugees from Sudan, Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries. I’m assuming that Viola’s story grew out of your experience. Was it inspired by a particular individual or event?
THE GOOD BRAIDER came from a thousand places. I worked in Portland where half the novel is set. It was 2001 when many South Sudanese families had obtained refugee status. Catholic Charities in Maine worked to resettle many of the families between 1999 or so until 2005 when a Peace Accord was signed between southern Sudan and the Government of Sudan. I met many teenagers when they were first making their homes in the U.S., first attending U.S. schools, and first facing the challenges of living as Americans and, at the same time, honoring the African traditions of their elders. From the many stories I heard, research about the war in Juba, and travel to nearby Kenya, I wrote the novel.
How did you deal with the challenge of writing about another culture? How have readers and reviewers reacted to this?
I did not consider the fact that I was writing outside my culture until the book was about to be published. For the first time, then, I had space to imagine the impact on readers of writing in the voice of a young Sudanese girl. I first wrote in a more distanced 3rd person and had trouble entering the book. When I put all the research away, and began to write from inside the main character's experience and emotions, I was able to tell the story and that drove the whole process. I researched the book for so many years, was immersed in the culture, and listened to the voices of so many people from South Sudan that the voices were deep inside me as I wrote. The book has been well received as a window on experience unknown to many American young readers or adults.
You’ve said, “Writing is a way for me to try to make sense of what I care most deeply about.” Viola certainly tugs at the reader’s heart. How did you manage to instill such emotion into THE GOOD BRAIDER?
I have written about immigrants before. I wrote about a young woman from Cambodia in IF THE TIGER but viewed her from the point of view of an American character. I could not write from that distance in THE GOOD BRAIDER. It wasn’t a deliberate choice. But the first verse I wrote was the scene in which Viola and her mother are in conflict. I wrote it in first person, very intimate, and in spare lines that worked for me to attempt to capture the tension. I think it was the emotion of the situation I was trying to capture that forced the spare lines.
I love understatement. I am drawn to leave meaning between the lines for readers to explore. I tend to fault on the side of leaving too much between the lines and my challenge in THE GOOD BRAIDER was to heighten the emotion by extending a scene and speaking the impact of a situation on the main character.
In working with my editor, I considered the structure of the novel. I experimented with opening in the present and returning quickly to the past - the war in Sudan. In the second half of the book set in Portland, I reached back to the emotion of a Sudan scene to pull it forward to the Portland scene. Much of my rewriting was the process of remembering with Viola and pulling the memory forward to her present life so that the war became a more visceral part of her process of making sense of Portland.
What does hair braiding symbolize for you and for Viola?
As a child, Viola learned to braid hair by following the movements of her mother's fingers as she braided the hair of women in the compound. Along Viola's journey from Juba to Cairo to Portland, she ceases to care for or braid her hair. She has suffered great loss, the strands of her life, and the braiding to her is like the strands she can no longer bring together. In Cairo, her friend tells her, "You will braid when your are ready. Braiding is from our culture." I wanted braiding to be a metaphor for Viola's evolving skill in leaning to live in a new culture. Braiding also represents her deep bond with her mother.
Viola and her mother have a difficult relationship. Can you talk a little about that element of the book?
Viola and her mother enable each other to survive in Sudan. When they come to the U.S., American culture divides them. I found this intergenerational conflict to be one of the most heart breaking challenges that many South Sudanese and many people from other cultures face as immigrant and refugee families make their homes in the U.S.
THE GOOD BRAIDER is written in verse. You wrote a series of interviews with authors who wrote in verse. Was that in preparation for this project? Can you tell us a little of your process of writing in verse?
I interviewed a number of verse novelists after I finished THE GOOD BRAIDER. Talking to others who have worked in the form was fascinating. I was interested in cultural connections. Can culture be reflected in the form? I had not asked this of myself, but I heard a good response from a reader and reviewer. She suggested that the shape of the poems on the page resembled the shape of braids. My overt intention in writing in verse was to capture the intensity of the scene with spare language and breath. The short lines demand pauses. In writing the articles about other writers' use of verse, I also came to understand my own work better. I enjoyed the conversations I had with the writers I interviewed. So much of the marketing and public presentations I've done since THE GOOD BRAIDER came out has been in collaboration with other writers and I've loved that.
South Sudanese American rapper OD Bonny is writing a song about Viola for his new album. How marvelous! How did that come about?
I am delighted! O.D. Bonny, who is now a student at the University of Southern Maine, wrote a song called , "A Girl from Juba." He is going to produce a video for the song with footage from South Sudan and Portland that we will use as a trailer. I met O.D. through the wonderful Kirsten Cappy of Curious City in Portland. O.D. was a star of the Portland launch of the book and so was a student in the acting group, A Company of Girls, who did a reading from THE GOOD BRAIDER.
You worked with the American Red Cross in Vietnam. Your book, Flower Shadows, is set there. Many of your other books have dealt with war and displacement. Can you tell us about them and your experience in Vietnam?
Yes, I worked for the American Red Cross during the war and was stationed in Cu Chi and Qui Nhon. When I came back to the U.S. I began to meet Vietnamese families who were coming here as refugees. FLOWER SHADOWS was the first book I wrote that drew on research and experience with immigrant families. They helped me understand the culture that I had lived in and had taken me years after the war to begin to make sense of. I think we have experiences in our lives that we may tuck away. But each one shapes us and may form what will become integral to stories we are drawn to tell decades later.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a chapter book about a young boy who lives in Kakuma Refugee Camp and moves to the U.S. with his sister and grandmother. I am traveling to Kakuma in January, 2013.
Thank so much for sharing with us today. We wish you a good journey to Kakuma and look forward to reading your next book!
Friday, November 30, 2012
Today we welcome Lynda Mullaly Hunt http://lyndamullalyhunt.com/,
debut author of the moving novel, One for the Murphy’s (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin 2012)
In the wake of heart-breaking betrayal, Carley Connors is thrust into foster care and left on the steps of the Murphys, a happy, bustling family.
Carley has thick walls and isn’t rattled easily, but this is a world she just doesn’t understand. A world that frightens her. So, she resists this side of life she’d believed did not exist with dinners around a table and a “zip your jacket, here’s your lunch” kind of mom.
However, with the help of her Broadway-obsessed and unpredictable friend, Toni, the Murphys do the impossible in showing Carley what it feels like to belong somewhere. But, when her mother wants her back, will she lose the only family that she has ever known?
You can view her book trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBFUPBw7KLI
1. Is it true that the idea for this book actually pulled you away from washing dishes? Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for the book, and the path the book took as you developed it? Were there false starts and revisions along the way or did it pour out seamlessly?
I was actually working on what will probably end up being my third book. I stopped writing it to begin Murphys. My exasperated writing partners couldn’t understand why I would jump from a book that had some editor interest to write this one. I finally told them that it was the book I was afraid to write and so I thought it time that I just do it.
Once it started, it poured out (Although all of the chapters were written out of order!). Although my editor, Nancy Paulsen, asked me to significantly cut the word count, and then deepen the characters of Mr. Murphy and Toni, the book was published pretty close to its original form. (Although, those are big changes huh? )
As far as inspiration, many things came together to create a book about a self-protective kid in foster care.
The first piece was that I lived with another family for a few months when I was young. Staying with that big, bustling clan gave me a close look at a kind of life I had not been familiar with—but the kind of life I knew I wanted when I got older. The first night I was there, I leaned forward and stared down the center of the dinner table. I heard myself say, “So, this is what it’s supposed to look like.” The time in that home changed my view on what my life could hold. And all of its possibilities…
Also, only months before starting One for the Murphys, I’d seen the Broadway show, “Wicked”, and was struck by several elements in the storytelling. First off, the writing and music are incredible! I thought a lot about the idea of “Defying Gravity” since I’ve had my share of doing that. I played the Wicked soundtrack while writing a good chunk of the book which is surprising, as I usually cannot write while listening to music with lyrics. However, it seemed to propel the story forward.
Following this trip to see, “Wicked,” I had a conversation with my nine-year-old son about Luke Skywalker of Star Wars and how, in one sense, he wanted to have Darth Vader be his father, yet also wished it away. I began to think about what that would be like. To long for something and wish it away at the same time.
And then, yes, Linda…about two weeks later, while rinsing a plate at the kitchen sink, I heard Carley speak the first line in my head. I “tore myself away” from the dishes to write the first chapter of what would become One for the Murphys. Once that was done, I just had to finish it—like having a sliver in my hand. Painful, at times, but I just had to get it out. The book was finished in ten months. However, revisions would follow. Don’t revisions always follow?
2. You’ve said that a wish underlies everything you write. What is the wish underpinning One for the Murphys?
I guess the wish would be that someone had taken me aside when I was twelve and told me the things that Mrs. Murphy helped Carley learn. I would have worried a lot less about the future. Having a compass is so important for kids.
3. Heroism is a major theme in this book. Who are the heroes in this story? Are they modeled after any heroes in your life?
Well, I have been working on the teacher’s guide and this is a question in there! Really, there are few characters in the book that aren’t heroes in one way or another.
Mrs. Murphy is modeled after a teacher that I met as a young teacher. She was twenty two years older than me and taught me a lot about the world. About marriage and teaching, and raising children. She also demanded that I look upon myself differently than I had.
Carley is me. The facts of the story are made up but her emotional journey is one that I have taken. Some of my friends in SCBWI know this. I think it’s heroic to come out of any difficulty life hands you looking upward and to the future. Opening myself up to Carley and the other characters in One for the Murphys was the last leg of that race.
4. Wicked plays a big role in this book. What drew you to the play personally? What does the play mean to Carley?
Well, I think we all feel like we don’t fit in at one point or another. I guess this is what drew me to the story. I loved Elphaba from the beginning—not because she didn’t belong, but because she is a fighter. Because she speaks up for both herself and others who have no voice. Because she is tough yet deeply vulnerable.
At the end of the first half of Wicked there is a song entitled, Defying Gravity—I have never seen anything so visually, musically, and emotionally stunning. I love the message of rising above the difficulties in your life. Let’s face it—it’s necessary to have a happy life. But let me be clear—rising above is not the same as forgetting or dismissing.
And, that’s what it means to Carley.
5. Are you working on another book? Can you tell us a little about that? Is the process different than what you went through writing One for the Murphys?
I am working on another middle grade entitled ALPHABET SOUP. It is about fifth grader, Lucy Nickerson, who is growing up in 1973. He beloved brother is in Vietnam and she is always in trouble at school, as she uses misbehavior to hide the fact that she can’t read. However, she finally comes across a young teacher who sees through her bluster.
The process is the same—a bit nutty! I typically write the initial three chapters first, then the final chapter and then I spend the rest of the time connecting the beginning to the end. A strange process but an effective one!
6. Is there a question you’d like to answer that I didn’t think to ask?
Well, actually, I’d like to know a little more about YOUR Earth Day book that is coming out in the spring. Care to give us some details???
Thanks for joining me on Lupine Seeds! You can find out more about Lynda and her work at her website at http://lyndamullalyhunt.com/ and at her blog http://lyndamullalyhunt.wordpress.com/
And to answer Lynda's question, When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story, the story of the creation of the first Earth Day, should be out next spring.
Friday, November 16, 2012
A Snowzilla-sized welcome to acclaimed picture book author, Janet Lawler! She’s here to talk about her latest book, Snowzilla. In this delightful winter tale, Cami Lou and her brother build the hugest snowman the world has ever seen. Snowzilla is a sensation, drawing tourists from near and far. But neighbors complain that Snowzilla is a giant problem. Can Cami Lou find a way to save him?
I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book. To be entered in the drawing, just leave a comment after this interview.
Janet, can you tell us what sparked the idea for Snowzilla?
In 2008 I read an online news report about an injunction issued to prevent an Anchorage, Alaska man from building a 25-foot snowman. It seemed like a sad commentary on our times. So I ruminated for several months before writing my tall tale about a giant snowman. I decided that my Snowzilla would be built by kids, and that, in spite of the big problems he causes, his story would have a happy ending.
The book is in rhyme. You make this look easy, but I know how difficult rhyme is to write. Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
There is certainly an element of my writing process that is intuitive. I have been writing in rhyme since I was a little girl, and I love the way rhyme can weave a web of sounds to further a good story and enchant little ones. Over the years, I have analyzed and broken down the steps I take while writing in rhyme, and now I consciously work on creating smooth beat/rhyme patterns, and revise many times to eliminate forced rhyme, inconsistent rhythms, trite rhymes, and words that don’t “flow.” I also focus on eliminating too much description, so an illustrator will have some room for creativity, and I strive to focus on action and “fun” verbs. Whenever I get stuck, I ask myself, “What if?” and “What else?” and try taking the story or couplet in a whole different direction that might open up new rhyme possibilities. I always read my work out loud, many times, before deciding on the best choice for a word or a line.
This book tackles a sticky issue, a community controversy, yet it remains upbeat and age-appropriate. How did you manage to pull this off? What do you see as the theme of your book?
We all can benefit by living more like kids, finding joy in the world around us (building snowmen!), and figuring out ways to get along and solve conflicts. So right from the beginning, I kept thinking, what would a kid do? I had a lot of fun having Cami Lou use modern technology, in an age-appropriate way, to send out an S.O.S (Save Our Snowman!). She doesn’t generate any negative energy or attack the nay-sayers. Her approach is all positive, solution-seeking, genuine effort. It is how we all should tackle problems and controversies.
My theme is that if you dream big and take positive action, anything is possible.
Cami Lou is a delightful, take-action kind of character. Do you see her as a role model for girls?
Yes. I definitely see Cami Lou as a role model and I hope she inspires girls (and boys) to dream, create, and most importantly, communicate. She orchestrates family cooperation to build Snowzilla. Then she encounters very big obstacles when neighbors complain and lawsuits are filed. But she reaches out and draws the entire community into a workable solution. And she doesn’t stop there—what will she dream of next?
Would you like to share a little of the book’s journey to publication?
After a few rejections on an early round of submissions, I let the story percolate a bit and went back and revised some more to start the action quicker and eliminate too much description.
In February of 2010, I decided it was a perfect time to get an editor’s attention, since the record-breaking snowfall of that winter had much of the Northeast shoveling, piling, slogging—and building snowmen! Within a few weeks, I had two publishers interested in the project at the same time! I ultimately continued discussions and accepted an offer from Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. I revised a bit more with my editor that spring, and illustrator Amanda Haley started work shortly thereafter. The book released on October 2, 2012 by Amazon Children’s Publishing, which acquired Marshall Cavendish earlier this year.
You’ve published a number of other picture books, including If Kisses Were Colors and Tyrannoclaus. What draws you to writing picture books? Is there a thread that connects all your work?
The threads of nature and family bonds are woven in much of my writing. I am always inspired by the beauty of nature. I also believe that the bonds of love that tie families and friends provide a foundation for lives well lived and dreams realized. And I suppose the thread of “wonder” is there, overriding everything. Kids view so much of the world with a sense of wonder, and I still think I have that sense too, which is why I am drawn to writing picture books. I can wonder about what Christmas might be like in the time of the dinosaurs, or share the wonder of showing love to a newborn baby. And the very act of sharing picture books reinforces the bonds of which I write, and that gives me a very good feeling!
Could you tell us about what you’re working on now?
I just finished writing an early non-fiction counting book for National Geographic. Ocean Counting, which comes out next spring, features breathtaking undersea photographs by Brian Skerry. I truly had a sense of wonder as I gazed at the pictures and wrote text to describe the sea animals. I also researched and wrote interesting “Did you know?” facts to share with little readers.
I am also working on a couple of other picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel that was inspired by a family trip to Vietnam five years ago. I am enjoying the challenge of writing in a new genre (and am more than ever in awe of my colleagues who write novels).
Thank you, Janet! And thank you, kind reader, for visiting my blog. I’ll be thinking of Snowzilla on the next snowy day. And for those who would like to find out more about Janet and her books, you can visit her website at http://www.janetlawler.com/
Don’t forget, if you’d like to be entered in the drawing for a signed copy of Snowzilla, just leave a comment after this interview.