Thursday, April 05, 2007

Author Interview: Rose Kent on Kimchi & Calamari

Rose Kent on Rose Kent: "Rose Kent is a Navy veteran and former public relations manager. She lives near Albany, New York with her husband and blended tribe of six children. Kimchi & Calamari is her first children's novel. It publishes from HarperCollins on April 10th."

What about the writing life first called to you? Were you quick to answer or did time pass by?

Two comments always appeared on my report cards in elementary school: "shy" and "loves to write." I was a quiet, little freckle-faced kid. I think writing stories became a means for adventure. I wrote mysteries and melodramas that took hundreds of pages of loose-leaf paper. And they all featured gutsy girls tracking down the bad guys and righting the world. Come to think of it, my protagonists were all tall too, with cool names like Marlo or Chastity (this was the 1970s, after all).

With time I outgrew the shyness. In fact, I attended the United States Naval Academy, in one of the first classes that admitted women. That rigorous experience and later my five years of service as a naval officer were wonderful and demanding. But even in those action-packed years, writing was an anchor in my life (whoops, there goes the Navy reference). I kept a journal during training tours aboard ship. I edited a newsletter at the joint command where I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas. Later, when I left the Navy, I worked in public relations for a food company. My favorite part of that job was writing news stories about food and the people who made it and sold it. You can really get wacky with words when you're hyping Kraft Mac and Cheese and Oscar Mayer wieners. I even got to ride in the Wienermobile, a feat that impressed my own children more than publishing a novel.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

In part writing for young readers evolved as my own children grew. My four kids and I read hundreds, even thousands of books together that made us laugh and cry and often left me amazed at the talent of countless children's authors. My older kids are in college now, but reading out loud together is still part of the nightly routine at our house with Connor, age eleven, and Theresa, eight. And I can still remember the rainy day that I sat down, alone, and read Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (Scholastic, 1992). I was blown away by the power of this seemingly "quiet" story. That book inspired me to write my story. That was seven years ago and here I am, still at it.

On a deeper level, I wasn't drawn to young readers simply because I had children. I've always respected children as readers. You can't pull the wool over kids' eyes--they'll sniff out stale characters from under a heap of perfumed prose. Kids want to know who to root for, and they want rich stories. And I appreciate how young people have minds that still seem to be open to new ideas and perspectives.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

My path has been long and windy with plenty of sprints and stumbles. But reflecting on it makes me think of that terrific essay collection by Maya Angelou, "Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now" (Random House, 1993). I jumped into writing my first middle-grade manuscript, finishing it in four weeks.

And boy did that story read like I jumped into it, with a runaway plot and way more telling than showing. Then I began to take writing classes and connect with other writers and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). That was the best thing I ever did. And I attended conferences where I listened to the voices of experienced writers and editors.

It was at a conference that I first met my editor. That led to a submission of a new story (the first one stayed in the drawer for good reasons), an exciting I want-your-manuscript email, and lots and lots of revisions.

I heard Joan Bauer, a writer I greatly admire, once say that we are as much writers for the stories that are published as we are for the ones that don't. I believe that, and I am grateful for my past writing, missteps and all.

Congratulations on the publication of Kimchi & Calamari (HarperCollins, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

My inspiration came wrapped in a blanket and drinking a bottle of soymilk--all the way from Pusan, Korea. I'm referring to my son Connor, who I nicknamed Buddha Baba because of his plump cheeks and glowing smile.

Adopting is a true joy and blessing – and I felt that so deeply, but it also involves a primal loss for the child and birth parent. I remember holding Connor in my arms and worrying about how he would cope later, especially during puberty, a natural time for such reflection. I knew I couldn’t spare him from some hurt, but I wanted him to know that I "got it"— that I understood that who he was as a person didn’t begin the moment he arrived in America.

So while Joseph's story is all his own, Kimchi & Calamari came from a place where I wanted to connect with kids reflecting on their identities. I love that old proverb that says children need to know their roots to develop their wings. And it isn't just adopted kids needing this knowledge; all kids do. Nobody cruises through middle school without some struggling to figure out who they are and where they fit in.

Could you briefly describe the story?

Kimchi & Calamari introduces Joseph Calderaro, a quirky drum-playing eighth-grader who describes himself as an ethnic sandwich: "Korean on the inside, Italian on the outside, and some days, the other way around." Joseph's life takes a complicated twist when he's assigned an ancestry tale for school that he can't write. But what he does, instead, leads to a catastrophe messier than a table of broken dishes.

I'm thrilled that some nice reviews are already coming in from Adoptive Families Magazine and ALA's Booklist. And I think it's a book for all kids because in different ways, they all feel "sandwiched" between expectations, different interests, ethnicities and friend groups these days.

One of the many aspects of this book that I appreciated was its depiction of a loving interracial family. Are there other such books in children's literature that you especially recommend?

Thanks, Cynthia. I like showing diversity in my stories, which of course includes interracial families. And I think showing interracial friendships and loving ethnic families is important, too. The 2000 Census reported that 2.8 million children under age eighteen identify themselves as being more than one race in our country, so certainly our readers are getting more diverse, and so should our characters.

A book I read early on that influenced my thoughts on race and writing was Necessary Roughness by Marie Lee (HarperCollins, 1991). This YA novel depicted a loving (however imperfect) Korean family coping with life after moving to a lily white suburb in Minnesota. I read this book three times because I thought the characterization was incredible and because Lee dealt with racism head on but still focused the story on Chan, a teen all kids could relate to.

Other books I love with an interracial family, interracial friendship or ethnic family presented include Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow, 2001); Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee (Scholastic, 2006)(author interview); Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003)(author interview); Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes (Hyperion, 2005) and, of course the classic, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (Dial, 1976). There's also a charming picture book-Russian tale that celebrates a different child called Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome and illustrated by Tom Bower (Frances Lincoln Publisher, 2005).

I also appreciate a book you may have heard of, Cynthia, called Rain Is Not My Indian Name, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. (HarperCollins, 2001). I admired your novel because, as my kids would say, "you kept it real." Rain's Indian heritage is relevant to the plot of the Indian camp, of course. But because of her grief over Galen, Rain also epitomizes every kid who has experienced loss. I think it's important that we authors present "diverse" characters in a way that readers can appreciate their unique attributes, but the difference alone doesn't become the story.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I'd offer the same advice that I need to remind myself of every day: To have a NIKE attitude about writing and just do it. Don't just talk about writing. Don't plan to write or wish you could write if you had more time and talent--just do it. Writing comes from this deep well of pain and joy that all humans experience, and you have a story to tell. Jump in and tell it. Maybe you are afraid. Maybe you have a pesky gremlin bothering you and suggesting your story isn’t worth telling. Well tune him out, put your butt in the chair, and write anyway.

Just do it.

What are some of your favorite recent reads?

My children and I just finished reading out loud Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005). I loved getting to know Comfort and her energetic little cousin Peach, and I admired how Wiles portrayed the grieving process so honestly and beautifully--all the while still making it a deliciously fun read.

Now I'm reading A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick Press 2006). So far I'd say the Newberry committee made a terrific choice in giving this title an honor award. I like Maude's spunky, survivor instinct, and the book is chockfull of suspense. I just found out why the Hawthorne sisters took Maude from the Barbary Asylum and it's one doozy of a reason.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I read. I run. I laugh. I watch movies. I snack on gummi bears, and I drink a lot of tea. I listen to Eva Cassidy CDs.

At school visits, children often ask what they should do to become writers. I say, "Write--and be a liver." At this point some of the kids wrinkle their noses and say, “Yuck, like in your body?” I tell them I mean to live, to put their hearts and souls in full gear every day. Taste, smell, touch, see and hear everything. I truly believe that those who experience life fully--the good, the bad, and the ugly--have something to say, and so I try to do that with my wonderful family and friends. Oh, I make plenty of mistakes, too.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My work-in-progress is a baseball story, in tribute to the men in my life and their maniac obsession with this game. (I live with a Yankees fan, a Mets fan, and a member of Red Sox nation. Now there's true diversity.) This story is set in Albany in 1974, and I'm having a ball writing it--pun intended.

Cynsational Note

See my bibliography of Children's and YA Books with Interracial Family Themes.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

don't you forget about me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes

don't you forget about me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes by Jaime Clarke, foreword by Ally Sheedy (Simon Spotlight, 2007).

From the promotional copy: "No one captured the teen portion of the eighties as poignantly as writer-director John Hughes. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Some Kind of Wonderful are timeless tales of love, angst, longing, and self-discovery that illuminated and assuaged the anxieties of an entire generation. Fondly nostalgic, filled with wit and surprising insights, don't you forget about me contains original essays from a skillfully chosen crop of novelists and essayists on the films' far-reaching effects on their own lives--an irresistible read for anyone who came of age in the eighties (or just wishes they did)."

Featured writers include: Steve Almond; Julianna Baggott; Lisa Borders; Ryan Boudinot; T. Cooper; Quinn Dalton; Emily Franklin; Lisa Gabriele; Tod Goldberg; Nina de Gramont; Tara Ison; Allison Lynn; John McNally; Dan Pope; Lewis Robinson; Ben Schrank; Elizabeth Searle; Mary Sullivan; Rebecca Wolff; and Moon Unit Zappa.

My Thoughts

I graduated from high school in the mid 1980s, so I was the original target audience for the John Hughes films, all of which I've seen except Some Kind of Wonderful.

I read the essay collection last weekend. It's conversational, not academic. Writers look back on the films, how the movies related to their lives at the time, and how their own perspectives have changed since then.

For example, Steve Almond writes about how the character of Cameron provided the heart of Ferris Bueller and also took the film beyond a light teenage romp.

Julianna Baggott tooks a looks at the "Prude/Slut" trap that Allison articulates in The Breakfast Club: "Well, if you say you haven''re a prude. If you say you're a slut! It's a trap. You want to but you can't. And when you do, you wish you didn't, right?"

Although "fondly nostalgic," the writers don't shirk from criticism. Quinn Dalton reconsiders the insensitive depictions of Long Duk Dong and "Neck Brace Girl" in Sixteen Candles as well as what happened between Farmer Ted and Caroline in the car after the dance--"of course she was passed out, drunk, but she was pretty sure it happened and she'd enjoyed it!"

Many of the writers touch on the signficance of the secondary characters. Of interest to me was that the original ending of Pretty in Pink paired Andie with Duckie rather than with Blane.

Inspired, Greg and I also watched Weird Science and The Breakfast Club this past weekend.

Although an argument can be made (and is in the essay collection) that Ferris Bueller crosses over to fantasy ("Dunkeshein" anyone?), Weird Science definitely stands out as the one clear speculative fiction film in the collection. Both of us found it to be better than we remembered, especially with regard to the Frankenstein nods.

Yet I was struck by how Lisa both removes all evidence of the weekend's magical journey before Wyatt's parents come home and toys with Gary's parents' memories.

Other than Chet's likely future therapy, there's no price to the magic, making for a hollow victory. (Consider in contrast the high cost of Willow's mojo in Joss Whedon's Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, which makes the seventh season finale triumph so much more resonant.)

Fantasy with no costs may have its appeal, like calorie-free deep dish pizza would have its appeal. Yet the illuminating aspect of fantasy is in its metaphors to reality. In the real world, there are costs. Choices have consequences. Eliminating that from fantasy, well, cheapens it.

What intrigued me about The Breakfast Club was that the essayists' consensus was that the teen characters would go back to their old cliques and shun one another come Monday morning. The question is specifically addressed in the film, and it seems (Brian and Allison aside) the answer is no. But afterward, the friendships and romances continue to deepen.

Call me an optimist, but I believe more than one connection between those five stereotype-inspired characters (Claire/princess, Andy/athlete, Brian/brain, Bender/criminal, and Allison/basketcase) lasted in a meaningful way--either immediately or after graduation. After all, if our heroes haven't changed and grown, what's the point?

Bumps aside, I can't deny that John Hughes films were a big part of my adolescence. For GenX readers especially, I recommend don't you forget about me. It'll make you remember.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Writer's Conference: The Anxiety and the Ecstacy by Krysten Lindsay Hager from Absolute Write.

What will happen to Harry? Predictions, forecasts and guesses on what the future holds for the boy wizard by Howard Shirley from BookPage.

Dotti Enderle blogs about the launch party for her new picture book, Grandpa for Sale, also written by Vicki Sansum, illustrated by T. Kyle Gentry (Flashlight Press, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Dotti.

It's Zimmer Time: an interview with Tracie Vaughn Zimmer by Jo Knowles. Tracie is the author of Reaching for Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007). Here's a sneak peek: "Free verse is definitely my most natural voice, as a writer. Even my journal entries back to when I was ten often take this format. It fits Josie too- she knows how important each word is and she doesn't waste a syllable." Jo is the author of Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick, 2007). Read the whole interview.

Sarah Aronson: Writer for Children and Young Adults: official author site launch. From her bio: "Author Sarah Aronson received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College in July 2006. She has been an aerobics instructor, physical therapist, and religious school principal. Currently, she works for Jewish Lights Press in Woodstock, Vermont. Head Case [Roaring Brook, fall 2007] is her first novel." Learn more about Sarah. Read her article on getting an MFA in writing for young readers. See what she's reading. Find out more about Sarah and her fellow debut authors at the Class of 2K7. Leave a comment on Sarah's LJ.

True Blue: Kathleen Krull from the Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books. Sneak peek: "Kathleen Krull is a fixture in the children's literature world, a reliable contributor who in her over twenty years of publishing has produced over fifty titles." See also How Does Your Garden Grow?: A Garden Dozen selected by Cindy Welch from BCCB.

Two children's-YA book literary agents at Curtis Brown Ltd. have MySpace pages. Visit Nathan Bransford and Anne Webman. Read an interview with Nathan at Alma Fullerton's site.

Journey of a Novelist: Christine Kole MacLean on How It's Done (Flux, 2006) from Kimberly's Wanderings: Thoughts, Musings, and the Writing Life of YA Author Kimberley Griffiths Little.

Hey Batta Batta Swing! and other baseball books by Chris Barton at Bartography. Pay as much attention to Mr. Barton as the books he cheers--if there's one thing I'm good at, it's spotting rising stars.

An Interview with Lisa Yee by Debbi Michiko Florence. Lisa's latest book is So Totally Emily Ebers (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2007)(excerpt).

Shop Talk Tuesday with Barry Lyga by Laura Bowers. Barry is the author of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). Laura is the debut author of Beauty Shop for Rent (Harcourt, May 2007). After you leave the shop, read a Cynsations interview with Barry.

The latest issue of Papertigers focuses on Children's Books about the Natural Environment.

Attention Austinites: tell all your friends to buy books at the Barnes & Noble Westlake (TX) from April 23 to April 29th and tell the cashier that they want the sale to count for the Austin SCBWI book fair. Austin SCBWI will receive a portion of the profits. Local authors and illustrators will be there to autograph books on April 28. Although I won't be able to attend, autographed copies of my books, including Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) will be available. Note: in addition, autographed copies of Tantalize are now available at Borders at the Domain and at Borders on South Lamar.

More Personally

Calling Olivia Birdsall, author of Notes on a Near-Life Experience (Delacorte, 2007). Note: if anyone has contact information for Olivia, could you please ask her to get in touch with me? Thank you!

Thanks to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature for her thoughtful post about Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002), its reader's theater, and the greater context of the story.

Thanks to Gail Gauthier at Original Content for highlighting two of my recent author interviews and her related comments.

Thanks also to Deborah Lynn Jacobs at The Reluctant Blogger for her kind words about me and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): "She makes you believe, with a capital B. Werepeople? Of course they exist. Shapeshifters? Absolutely. Vampires? Well, you'll have to read the book!" Read an interview with Deborah on Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006) from Cynsations.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Author Interview: Deborah Heiligman on Celebrate Easter: With Colored Eggs, Flowers, And Prayer

See part one: Author Interview: Deborah Heiligman on Celebrate Passover (National Geographic, 2007).

Are you part of a writers' critique group and/or active in any writer organizations? What role does community play in your writing life?

Community plays a huge part in my writing life because I am a social person and too much time alone drives me crazy. For eighteen years I lived in Bucks County, PA; and I built up a great community of writers there.

The Bucks County Authors of Books for Children has been meeting for more than ten years, and they are still my best writing buddies even though I have moved to New York. I go back for meetings as often as possible because they are just the best. They are all brilliant and talented authors and terrific friends. And I can call up any of them on the phone to discuss just about anything. I could go on, but I don't want to gush too much.

I also have a best writing buddy who lives in California. We met online and have met in person; we talk on the phone, e-mail all the time. With all of these people we talk about writing a lot, the business, and life (kids, etc.).

Fortunately I am also meeting wonderful people in New York. Children's book authors are seriously the nicest people in the world. I go to a class where I meet lots of people, I go to SCBWI things, and I've got a tiny critique group here. I have to be careful not to socialize too much, though--gotta write, gotta write.

Oh, one more huge part of my community is my husband. He's a writer (for adults) and also now a professor of journalism, so I've got it made!

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning writer self, what would you tell her?

That's a really good question. I don't know. Maybe I'm not old enough? I sometimes lament the fact that I don't have a cohesive list--I have just done books as they've come to me, either though my heart and mind, or from an editor's request. Maybe I should have had more of a plan, created more of a "brand." But I love writing about all different kinds of things in all different formats, so I would probably still tell my younger self to follow your heart.

Congratulations on the publication of Celebrate Easter with Colored Eggs, Flowers, and Prayer (National Geographic, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thanks. It's book number six in the series that's been a joy and a challenge to do. My inspiration for this book was to really learn about a holiday that I've heard about and been next to forever but really didn't know much about. I always wanted to celebrate Easter as a kid, but I also felt uncomfortable around it being Jewish.

One of my favorite things to do is to write about things I (initially) know nothing or little about. For me writing is learning, and I get paid to learn. It's a dream!

Could you briefly describe the content?

It's a global look at Easter--how it's celebrated, as well as the history of the holiday.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

This was an interesting and difficult book to write, as they all are. The biggest challenge was balancing the religious aspects of the holiday with the secular one. I was really worried about how to write about the crucifixion and the Easter Bunny in the same book. I talked a lot with my consultant and with other people about that. My editor was a big help, too. I believe we've done a good job with it.

What is it about holidays that appeals to you as a writer? Have you done other books in this area?

I am fascinated by religion and the role it plays in people's lives. I also think it's so important to share religions with people not of the same faith and background.

When I was deciding to do the series one of my writing friends said, "Do it. You will be contributing to world peace."

I hope she's right. I truly believe that if all kids learn that people so much like them have different traditions, and that those traditions have a lot in common with their own traditions--as well as differences--then they will be less likely to hate those people when they grow up.

What are some of your favorite recent reads?

I read a lot of different kinds of books. I'll list some of my favorites in different varieties: Desperate Characters by Paula Fox; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley; Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon by Sally Keehn; Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson; Suite Francais by Irene Nemirovsky. I have many more on my to-read pile, of course.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I read, go on long walks with my husband, spend time with family and friends, go to movies, cook, go on the treadmill (usually watching episodes of TV shows I like), and now that I live in New York after many years away, explore the city.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am working on a number of books right now. One is a picture book about a fascinating mathematician, Paul Erdos. That book will come out from Roaring Brook in a couple of years. I am also working on a biography of Charles Darwin for publication in fall 2008. It is for the YA market and is focusing on his relationship with his wife, Emma. Henry Holt is the publisher. I am also working on a YA novel, and I have a couple of fiction picture books in the works and a stack of ideas I hope to turn to.

Cynsational Links

Editor Interview: Nancy Feresten of National Geographic Children's Books from Cynsations.
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