Friday, October 28, 2011

Greg Fishbone's Galaxy Games Tour

Welcome, Greg. Thanks for dropping by my blog on your whirlwind tour!
Greg’s latest book, Galaxy Games: The Challengers, is a madcap space adventure, starring Tyler Sato, his Tokyo cousins, and the tentacled captain of the Mrendarian team, M’Frozza. I happen to know at least one kid who will absolutely love this book. Happy Birthday, Daniel! (And belated birthday to Hannah!) And now, Greg, could you tell our readers a little about the book and what inspired you to write it?
Sure, Linda. The book is about how Earth gets invited to field a team in a sports tournament against kids from all over the galaxy. The main character, Tyler Sato, is a boy who gets a star named after him on his 11th birthday--except that it’s not really a star. At first, it seems to be an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, and then it turns out to be an alien spaceship! The cool part is that I get to put together a team of kids from all over the world to represent the entire planet. You spent some time in Japan, could you tell us a little about that? How did your experiences there feed into this book? I lived in Japan during an interesting time. There was a major earthquake in Osaka as well as a doomsday cult that released a batch of nerve gas on the subway in Tokyo! When I was first plotting a story where the characters thought the world was about to end, I couldn’t help thinking first of my experiences in Japan. Where did you get the idea for the young Mrendarian girl, M’Frozza? Will you tell us how she became her planet’s captain in one of your future books? M’Frozza is a fun character to write because she’s so proactive. She’s been groomed from birth to lead her team in the Galaxy Games--so there’s not really a story about how that happened--but suddenly she found herself unable to bring her team to the tournament. She could have moped around more but instead she found a way to avoid dishonor and really kick-started the entire series in the process. M’Frozza and Tyler assembled an Earth team for the galaxy games comprised of kids from around the world. Can you tell us a little about each of them? Do you see yourself in any of your characters? In the first book we have a luchador named El Gatito from Mexico, who wears a blue cat-shaped mask to hide his identity even from other members of the team. We also have a soccer player named Felix from Germany, whose previous experience has been mainly as a team mascot. There’s another soccer player from Brazil, named Weez, who’s a total conspiracy buff and believes that aliens abducted his younger brother. There’s a Chinese gymnast named Ling-Wa who gives up everything to join the team, and a Japanese judo champion named Tomoko that we get to know pretty well throughout the book because she’s a friend of Tyler’s cousin in Tokyo. There will be additional characters from other countries that we’ll get to meet in future books. I don’t know that I see myself in all of them, but there are probably bits and pieces of me in there somewhere. Personally, I identify most with Tyler. You seemed to have a lot of fun writing this—giving free rein to all the wacky turns of your zany imagination. What was the most enjoyable part of writing this book? Were some parts more of a slog? I spent a lot of time editing and revising this book to get it just right. That could have been a slog but it was actually a lot of fun as well, coming up with little ways to make things better and better. Do you have any advice for folks who’d like to write a series of their own? Some of the last changes I made in The Challengers were meant to provide hooks into future books in the series, and I nearly painted myself into a corner when it came time to pick up those hooks and run with them in the second book. My advice would be to do your advance planning as well as you can but feel free to pitch the plans out the window if you come up with something even better.
I’m cackling now as I think of what’s coming up in Book #2. :D Thanks so much for stopping by! To find out more about Greg and his books, go to his website at and the Galaxy Games series site at And for all our treasure hunting readers, here is the next clue in the Galaxy Game!
--- Greg R. Fishbone, Author - - Twitter @tem2 The Challengers - Book #1 in the Galaxy Games Series Follow the Galaxy Games Blog Tour, all October long!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poem a Day

Inspired by my interview with Kim Newton Fusco, I have committed to writing a poem a day for a month. If I succeed, I may even go longer. (Jane Yolen has been writing a poem a day for over a year!) Why? I hope to learn how to put words together in an effective way. I hope to learn how to capture the emotion of a moment. I hope to learn how to truly see. I'm using Cindy Rogers' book, Word Magic for Writers to guide me through a Greek welter of rhetorical techniques--alliteration and onomatopeoia, polysyndeton and asyndeton, anaphora and epistrophe. So far, none of these poems has been fit for publication. But I'm exercising my writing muscles, building verbal strength and flexibility. If anyone of you has made a similar commitment, I'd love to hear from you. I'd also like to know of other books to help me hone my poetic skills. And just a reminder, Greg Fishbone will be dropping by on October 28 to talk about his latest book, Galaxy Games: The Challenges. I'm also delighted to announce that Padma Venkatraman has agreed to come and discuss her latest title, Island's End. I'll have a date for that visit soon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview with Kim Newton Fusco

Kim Newton Fusco's first novel, Tending to Grace, won the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award. According to Booklist's review, “Like Katherine Paterson’s classic The Great Gilly Hopkins…this quiet, beautiful first novel makes the search for home a searing drama.” The Wonder of Charlie Anne is Kim's latest title, and according to Kirkus, “Fusco’s mellifluous style often sounds like singing: “Go do this, the new mama tells me, and I do it, just because.” When the story opens, 11-year-old Charlie Anne is furious that her papa and older brother are leaving to find work. It’s the Great Depression and times are tough and Charlie Anne, who has a supernatural way of interacting with the world (her recently buried mother, the river, the molasses-eyed cows and even the clothesline) is stuck at home with her siblings and the overbearing, much-older cousin Mirabel, who insists on ladylike behavior and “The Charm of Fine Manners.” But things begin to brighten for Charlie Anne when new neighbors move in — a white woman (who wears red pepper red pants) and her African-American adopted daughter, Phoebe. Two conflicts loom largest: dyslexic Charlie Anne’s battle with “jumbled letters” and her controversial friendship with Phoebe, which stirs up the town’s “backwater” hatred. “We’ll just see about that!” becomes Charlie Anne’s battle cry. Welcome, Kim! It's a pleasure to have you here. Could you tell our readers what drove you to write The Wonder of Charlie Anne? I wanted to write something hopeful because I was very discouraged. I had published Tending to Grace and it had done very well, but the years were passing. I had one novel sitting on my editor’s desk in NYC, but, despite two revisions, it wasn’t going anywhere. I started getting up at 5 a.m. and working on another novel as a way to get a positive start on my day before getting my children off to school. That draft was a study in sheer determination. Then spring came and the snow melted and I started hiking along the brook that ran behind my house and I got to thinking about a little girl who lived across the road from my grandparents' farm in Maine. She had a pony, which I wanted to ride very badly, but she had to watch her little brother and do chores from morning until night (or so it seemed to me). I thought a lot about all those chores and I knew how I would have acted: I would have REBELLED. That’s when I heard Charlie Anne's voice for the first time, and I scrapped that other draft because Charlie Anne's voice was so powerful and strong. She was a spirited, tough little nut. There was no looking back. Charlie Anne’s voice is so memorable. I loved listening to her speak. Her voice was lyrical, yet she always sounded like a child. How did you work such a miracle? Thank you. When I heard her voice in my head I was so excited I ran to my computer and let her talk and start telling her story in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way. Each day when I sat down to write I would reread one of the early chapters, like the first chapter or the one about her cow, Belle, getting stuck in the brier patch. Sometimes I would retype whole sections of her feisty voice so I could absorb it and keep going. You are also a poet. Does your poetry feed your prose? I read a lot of poetry for inspiration and I write poetry to improve my prose. I find that writing a poem is a wonderful way to delve deeply into my character’s emotions. The first page of The Wonder of Charlie Anne began as a poem. Most of the chapters in Tending to Grace began as poems and then I rewrote them into prose. That’s one of the reasons the chapters are so short. One example comes from the first page. I could have written that my main character, Cornelia, had a really rotten life. But when I wrote a poem about what it feels like to have a hard life, this is what came out: “I want to jump out of the car as it rushes along and wrap myself in a row of sheets hanging so low their feet tap the grass. I want to hide because my life, if it were a clothesline, would be the one with a sweater dangling by one sleeve, a blanket dragging in the mud, and a sock, unpaired and alone, tumbling to the road with the wind at its heel.” The river, Charlie Anne’s dead mother, the cow Anna May, and even the fence talk to Charlie Anne. This feels totally reasonable from Charlie Anne’s POV as the anthropomorphizing of a child. Yet it is more than that. It is real. Charlie Anne’s dead mother alerts her when Phoebe is hurt and leads Charlie Anne to her friend. Can you talk a little about this aspect of the book? When I was writing I was Charlie Anne and in order to make the supernatural parts of the book believable I absolutely knew they were happening. Charlie Anne is talking to her mama and her mama is talking to her. I know no other way to approach a book. Phoebe is African-American and one of the strands of your book is how Phoebe is treated when she arrives in this all-white northern town. As a white writer, how did you approach this issue? I approached this as Charlie Anne would. She has an interesting and very smart girl her own age move in across the road. They have a great deal in common. They see their differences, and misstep many times, but ultimately learn to concentrate on their similarities. One of the themes of the book is when Charlie Anne tells the townspeople, “You can’t love somebody if you don’t know somebody.” She’s talking about empathy, about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins, about how once we really get to know somebody, walls that separate us start crashing down. The book is set during the depression. Could yet tell us a little about your research for the book? I read a lot of history. I scrolled through Library of Congress archives and listened to audio stories of the Great Depression. I love reading old cookbooks and sifting through old recipes. I think they are a window to another time. I found Dorothea Lange photos of girls from the 1930s who looked like my idea of Charlie Anne and Phoebe. I pasted these to the top of my manuscript so I could look at them every day. Here they are:
As a former journalist, I know that the difference between a great story and a lousy one is research, and that the very best research usually comes from a great interview. I was thrilled when two women who attended a one-room schoolhouse in Rehoboth, MA, sat down with me and talked about life during the Great Depression. Where else could I have found the “standing in the trash bucket” punishment? Your first book, Tending to Grace, won the American Library Association's Schneider Family Book Award. Could you tell us a bit about this book? How did the experience of writing it compare to writing The Wonder of Charlie Anne? I wrote Tending to Grace after I met my editor, Michelle Frey of Knopf/Random House, at an SCBWI conference. I had submitted ten pages of a different novel and she told me that I had written a plot-driven novel, and that Knopf only publishes character-driven novels. “But I think you could write the kind of literary novel we publish. So if you go home and try again, I’ll take another look.” I don’t think my feet touched the ground for the next month. Then I started wondering, how exactly am I going to do this? I knew a character-driven novel features a protagonist who changes internally, and I was rather surprised I hadn’t accomplished this on my first try, but when I reread it, I knew Michelle was right. After a while I realized that if I had any hope of writing a character-driven novel, I needed a character that faced adversity and changed because of it. And then it hit me: I knew something about that! And that’s when I decided to write about stuttering, which is something I battled as a child. I remember the moment I walked over to my computer and closed my file that held that old novel, opened a new file, and started over. It took a lot of courage to write each day because I was writing about something I had tried to keep hidden. A lot of the things that happened to Cornelia in school happened to me. And then one day I wrote a scene where her Aunt Agatha says: “You know what I say? I say that when you got a voice, you damn well better tell the world who you are. Or somebody else will.” I realized that was exactly what I was doing by writing, and I better keep going. It paid off, because three months after I mailed the completed manuscript off to NYC, Michelle Frey called and offered me a contract and she’s been my editor since. Are you working on any other books? Could you tell us a bit about them? Yes, my next novel is scheduled for publication in 2013. The idea came from a little girl I met while I was writing about a carnival back in my reporter days. Do you have any final thoughts for our readers? Many people have asked for the recipe for vinegar pie. I found this one during my research. If you close your eyes, a “hard times vinegar pie” really does taste a lot like lemon. VINEGAR PIE 1/2 c. butter, softened 1 1/4 c. sugar 3 eggs 2 tbsp. cider vinegar 1 tsp. vanilla 1 (8-inch) unbaked pie shell Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean. To find out more about Kim and her books, visit her website at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Overcoming Challenges

This past weekend I attended “Overcoming Challenges,” an event sponsored by SCBWI New England at the Danforth Museum of Art The speakers included two Newbery medalists, Lois Lowry Kathryn Lasky, plus acclaimed author Jacqueline Davis and award-winning illustrator Bill Thompson Unlike most conferences, where each speaker has an hour on stage, this event had a panel format, and our faculty spent four hours discussing their life and work. Moderator, Melissa Stewart asked probing questions. What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career? In your writing? How do you know when a book is done? What is your definition of success? At first, they were rather stiff and formal, reading prepared speeches. But as the day unfolded, an intimacy grew between speakers and audience. I stopped taking notes and leaned forward to listen as the speakers shared the stories behind their stories. Here is just a sampling: Kathryn Lasky is trying to force her way past a barrier of silence to tell the story of gypsy children from concentration camps who were filmed during WWII. Early in his career, Bill Thompson took on an illustration assignment for a book he wasn’t particularly excited about, until he envisioned his subject from a whole new angle, looking up from a child’s perspective. Lois Lowry decided to write a book about the boy in one of her aunt’s photographs and then realized her character couldn’t speak. The book became The Silent Boy. Jackie Davis took ten years to discover what she was writing about in her book, Lost. After it was published, she was faced with her own grief. She reread the book to glean the wisdom of her former self. Thanks to Bill, Lois, Jackie and Kathryn for their generosity in sharing these stories, and to Melissa for gathering together such a stellar faculty. Please stop by next Tuesday, October 11, when I’ll be interviewing award-winning author Kim Newton Fusco about her book, The Wonder of Charlie Anne.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Galaxy Games Tour Launches

Galaxy Games: The ChallengersCelebrate the release of The Challengers by Greg R. Fishbone! This is the first book of the Galaxy Games series, published by the Tu Books imprint of Lee & Low Books. In this hilarious middle-grade romp through space, eleven-year-old Tyler Sato leads a team of kids representing all of Earth in a sports tournament against alien kids from across the galaxy.

Great Galactic Blog Tour

Join Greg during the month of October for the Great Galactic Blog Tour! Every day for 31 days, Greg will spotlight a different children's literature blog with book giveaways, author interviews, in-character interviews, excerpts, deleted scenes, and more. Happening right now is the Launch Day Giveaway. There are lots of ways to enter!

Puzzle Piece #1

The site of the day will also feature one of 31 "puzzle pieces" that will lead one reader to a grand prize. Here is the first piece in the contest:

Galaxy Games: The Challengers

Book Info

  • Series: Galaxy Games
  • Title: The Challengers
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-60060-660-1
  • Author: Greg R. Fishbone
  • Illustrator: Ethen Beavers
  • Publisher: Tu Books / Lee & Low Books
  • Ages: 9-12

The Challengers is available now from online and offline booksellers and as an ebook. Read more about the Galaxy Games series and be sure to follow the Blog Tour!