Friday, April 28, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

An Interview With Loving vs. Virginia Illustrator Shadra Strickland by Jennifer Tolo Pierce from the Chronicle Books blog. Peek: "The challenge for me was to retain the looseness and spontaneity of the drawings as if I were drawing right in front of each scene. I had to make up each scene by constructing collaged elements using photographs of the Lovings that I found online."

Six YA Titles That Epitomize #OwnVoices by Sarah Hannah Gomez from School Library Journal. Peek: "#OwnVoices is an adjective that describes a book, not a person. By definition, writing about a person who shares your identity makes your story #OwnVoices, and the point of the hashtag is to identify characters who are marginalized." See also, Sarah's There Is A Difference Between Middle Grade and YA Lit & It Does Matter from The Learned Fangirl.

Kwame Alexander Joins Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Board of Advisors. Peek: “'The SCBWI Board of Advisors is comprised of the most prominent, thoughtful, and devoted creators in the field of children’s literature, who help define our mission, establish new programs, and serve our membership. Having Kwame come aboard, bringing his commitment to the field and ardor for literature, is a gift to us all.'”

Illustrator Roundtable by Jennifer Baker from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "Arigon (Starr): I broke into the industry as a writer. Super Indian was created as a radio series, and I adapted the scripts I’d written for the radio show into longer, more detailed comic book scripts. Luckily for me, I had drawing and art skills and didn’t fear learning new computer skills..."

We're The People: Summer Reading 2017. Peek: "Books written or illustrated by Native Americans or people of color? Books that include characters who are Native? People of color? People with disabilities? LGBTQ? Take a look at these!"

Rick Riordan Imprint Acquires First Three Titles by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Riordan paused from his own writing to work with editorial director Stephanie Lurie in selecting manuscripts for the imprint, which has a goal of publishing stories from underrepresented cultures and viewpoints." Authors Yoon Ha Lee, Jennifer Cervantes and Roshani Chokshi will lead the imprint's list in 2018.

Why I Wrote That Thing We Call A Heart by Sheba Karim from Epic Reads. Peek: "Growing up, I couldn’t find myself in any books I read; in the realm of books, TV and Hollywood films, South Asian-Americans simply didn’t exist. This childhood longing to see myself reflected even once in books or pop culture is what motivates me to write books with South Asian and Muslim characters today."

When Writing is Actually About Waiting by Joe Fassler from The Atlantic. Peek: T. S. Eliot's poem East Coker, written after a four-year drought "....is a prayer for creative release: for the ability to remain patient, to find peace inside of doubt, to hear music in the quiet....(Hannah) Tinti explained how the poem taught her to push the outside world away and write for the right reasons—without hope for success or fear of failure..."

Growing a Writer's Tree by T.A. Barron from his blog. Peek: "How can I possibly make sense of a craft so amorphous and shape-shifting that it seems to have no rules or boundaries? The answer, I’ve found, lies in treating your creation as a living, breathing organism. A tree."

Melanie Fishbane and Maud by Adi Rule from the VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "For some people who write historical fiction the issue is not enough material, but with L.M. Montgomery, the issue is that there is so much. Montgomery was very particular about what she left behind. She burned her correspondence before she died, and copied out her journals into uniform ledgers, destroying the originals."

The Complex Power of Mapping the World of Your Novel by Barbara O'Neal from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "As I make a map of my imaginary world, I make it less imaginary and much more real by walking through it over and over, crossing the street to the bakery....I create new neurons, real neurons, even if the map is of an imaginary world."

On Writing Lessons and the Power of Failure Learned from NASA by Shelley Sackier from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek:"Yeah, you read that right. NASA. I’ve learned more about craft of writing from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration than I have from the one gazillion how to books lining my workspace shelves."

How I Learned to Query by Working as a Lit Agency Reader by Shannon M. Parker from Writer's Digest. Peek: "As I was reading submissions, I became skilled at seeing where writers buried plot under too much backstory. Used too many 'info dumps.' Filled the manuscript with 'telling' instead of 'showing.'"

How to Optimize Your Amazon Author Central Pages by Penny Sansevieri from Jane Friedman's blog. Peek: Readers tend to use Amazon to look at an author’s complete list of books, so by optimizing your Author Central page, you’ll find that you draw in more repeat readers than before....Every author, regardless of when or what they’ve published, has an Author Central page."

Should You Have More Than One Bio? YES. Here's Why... by Sophie Masson from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "Each of them will be written for particular purposes, whether that be pitching for genre-specific projects, for festivals and conferences, or for book proposals and blurbs. Each of them will have a slightly different angle, though they encapsulate the same basic biographical and bibliographical information."

Guard Your Time by Jane LeBak from QueryTracker. Peek: "...note that some people are not going to give as much as they expect you to give them. They think it's fine to join a query-letter critique forum and immediately post their critique, their synopsis, and their first five pages, then never comment on anyone else's submissions... they don't want a give-and-take relationship, so it's okay to back off."

A Dead End that Changed My Direction by Lindsey Lane from Storeybook Reviews. Peek: "Each time we come to the pages of our manuscripts, we bring our history as well our intention to tell a true and honest story. We quarry for the best nuggets and we line them up one by one leading the reader deeper into the world we have created."

New Book, New Writing Process? Why Changing It Up Works by Heather Webb from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "Each of your manuscripts will have different characters. plotlines, structures. Different needs. This will undoubtedly affect your writing process. This is not only okay, it’s good. It means you’re probably doing something right. It means you’re growing."

When Good Characters Behave Despicably (and They Should) by Kim Bullock from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "Characters who infuriate can leave more of a lasting impression upon readers than ones who are simply likable. Think Nick and Amy in Gone Girl or Humbert Humbert in Lolita. I despised all of them, but I remember their stories years later."

How to Make Your Readers Believe the Unbelievable (or, The Importance of Facts in Fiction) by Colleen Oakley from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "Though fiction I’m obviously making up, I rely heavily on the research and reporting skills I honed in journalism to help guide and craft my novels....the best fiction always has at least a small basis in fact."

Brendan Reichs on Nemesis by Amanda West Lewis from the VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "I had to cut a lot of information I’d included about the vacation town of Fire Lake...I spent months diligently constructing and building up my imaginary community, and I wanted it all to go into the book. But, sadly, including it made the first part read like a travelogue and slowed the plot...."

The Outsiders - and YA Lit - at 50: An Interview with SE Hinton by Kelly Jensen from BookRiot. Peek:"....the intensity of the feelings at that age–the awareness of injustices, the emotional responses, I felt like that at sixteen and the readers realize they are not alone in that. I couldn’t have written it four years later. And that’s why I will never attempt it."

Connections Through Books by Katherine Sokolowski from Read, Write, Reflect. Peek: "My goal is simple, I want everyone to find a book they love. I want everyone to have a reading role model in case they don't live with one. I know the power of that role model. I know the power of a love of reading. My goal is next to impossible, but it doesn't mean I will give up."

Kate Hosford and How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea by Adi Rule from the VCFA Launchpad. Peek: Uma (Krishnaswami) really encouraged me to turn colonialism on its ear and create child characters that are thoroughly unimpressed with royalty. Thank goodness she did. At that point the story became more meaningful, and also funnier.

Congratulations to Frances Hardinge, winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize for YA Literature for The Lie Tree (Harry N. Abrams, 2016) and winners and honorable mentions for the Freeman Awards from the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia.

For SCBWI members, second-round voting for the Crystal Kite ends on April 30. Log in to vote for the finalists in your region.


This Week At Cynsations


More Personally - Cynthia

The precipice! I always say that about short stories, that they should lead the reader to the precipice of change.

(I'm sure I'm not the first writer to say so, but there it is.)

This week I've been wearing my Teacher Hat, grading my third of six rounds of packets by VCFA students. Both of my critical thesis students have much to celebrate! Huzzah!

As for me, I'm about to embark on the last rung of revision before sending my YA realism manuscript back to my Candlewick editor.

To be honest, I've been fiddling over the week, adding the smallest brushstrokes of clarity, of culture, of personaliy and dialogue. Probably readers will never notice them in specificity, but in this moment, they feel crucial to me and will, ultimately, matter to the novel in the whole. Um, or not.

What does that mean in practical terms? It's Friday! Between now and "Star Wars" Day, I can probably read the whole thing and key in changes five times. And then the lovely Gayleen will read aloud to me to double check line edits.... And then? Well, kittens, May the Fourth Be With Us!

Meanwhile, do you have a question for me? If so feel free to send it in the comments or via DM on Twitter or by email. If enough of interest come in, I'll answer them in an interview format. Thanks!

Personal Links

More Personally - Gayleen

Gwendolyn and Gayleen
In between revising my WIP, I'm still sorting through my visit to the Texas Library
Association conference.

As a first-time attendee, I felt a little overwhelmed and spent all my time walking back and forth through the exhibit hall racing to signings and taking pictures.

I managed to catch Gwendolyn Hooks with the last copy of Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Lee & Low, 2016), winner of the NAACP Image Award for outstanding literary work for children and listed on The Best Children's Books of the Year by Bank Street College of Education.

On Saturday, I attended Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick's BookPeople party for Bob, Not Bob, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Disney, 2017). The authors wore bathrobes to read the book and activities included trashcan basketball. See Liz and Audrey's Cynsations post on collaboration.


Personal Links

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Edward Gets Messy Wins Anna Dewdney Read Together Award

Compiled by Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Penguin Young Readers, the Children's Book Council, and Every Child a Reader announced yesterday Edward Gets Messy by Rita Meade, illustrated by Olga Stern (Simon & Schuster, 2016) is the winner of the first Anna Dewdney Read Together Award.

This award is to be given annually to a picture book that is both a superb read-aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.

The award commemorates the life and work of author/illustrator Anna Dewdney and celebrates her commitment to reading with young children and putting books into as many little hands as possible.

Rita Meade,
photo by Michael Bialaszewski
Rita Meade is a public librarian who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Rita is a contributor to BookRiot and formerly hosted the Dear Book Nerd podcast, a bi-weekly bookish advice show.

Her writing has appeared in American Libraries Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Wire, and more.

Rita also reviews children's books for School Library Journal, occasionally writes about library-related things on her blog Screwy Decimal, and even less occasionally sings with a librarian band, Lost in the Stacks.

Olga Stern is a passionate illustrator and visual development artist. She loves using her imagination to create new worlds full of colorful environments and characters.

Olga Stern
When Olga is not drawing, she is off surfing somewhere around the globe. She currently lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

In Edward Gets Messy, a very particular little pig discovers the joys that come with getting messy in this sweet and fun debut picture book.

Edward the pig never pets friendly dogs on the street. He never, ever eats food that spills or splatters. And he never, ever, ever uses markers or glue sticks or paint. They are just too messy.

But what happens when a big tub of paint falls on Edward's perfectly neat little head? Well, it might just turn out that getting messy has its upsides, too.

Copyrighted interior illustration by Olga Stern, used with permission.
Meade and Stern will share a prize of $1,000 from the Children's Book Council, and Penguin will purchase and donate 250 copies of Edward Gets Messy to a school, library, or literacy organization chosen by the award winners. There will be a ceremony to honor Edward Gets Messy at the
Brooklyn Public Library's Bay Ridge Branch at 10:30 a.m. May 4.

Anna Dewdney was the New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of Llama Llama Red Pajama (Penguin, 2005). Other award-winning books in the Llama Llama series include Llama Lama and the Bully Goat (Penguin, 2013), Llama Lama Time to Share (Penguin, 2012), Llama Llama Misses Mama (Penguin, 2009), Llama Llama Holiday Drama (Penguin, 2010), and Llama Llama Mad at Mama (Penguin, 2007). She was also the author/illustrator of Nobunny's Perfect (Penguin, 2010), Roly Poly Pangolin (Viking, 2010), and Grumpy Gloria (Viking, 2006).

Anna worked as a rural mail carrier and taught at a boys' boarding school for many years before becoming a full-time author and illustrator. A committed advocate of literacy, she spoke regularly on this topic and published articles in the Wall Street Journal and other outlets. Her essay, How Books Can Teach Your Child to Care, garnered national attention in 2013.

Penguin Young Readers Group is one of the leading children's book publishers in the United States. The company owns a wide range of imprints and trademarks including Dial Books, Dutton, Grosset & Dunlap, Kathy Dawson Books, Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Workshop, Philomel, Puffin, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Viking, Razorbill, Speak, and Frederick Warne.

Every Child a Reader is a 501(c)(3) literacy charity dedicated to inspiring a lifelong love of reading in children and teens across America.

Their national programs include Children's Book Week, the longest-running literacy initiative in the country; the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards, the only book awards chosen by children and teens; and the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature program in partnership with the Library of Congress.

Individual and corporate donations, grants, and the CBC support Every Child a Reader.

Every Child a Reader works in partnership with the Children's Book Council, the nonprofit trade association for children's book publishers in North America.

The CBC offers children's publishers, from smaller independent presses to large international houses, the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, diversity in employment and books, literacy advocacy, and partnerships with other national organizations.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Author Interview: Courtney Stevens on Faith in Lit & Life

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Courtney Stevens to discuss her upcoming YA novel, Dress Codes for Small Towns (Harper Teen, August 22, 2017). From the promotional copy:

The year I was seventeen, I had five best friends...and I was in love with all of them for different reasons.

Billie McCaffrey is always starting things. Like couches constructed of newspapers and two-by-fours. Like costumes made of aluminum cans and Starburst papers. Like trouble. 

This year, however, trouble comes looking for her. 

Her best friends, a group she calls the Hexagon, have always been schemers. They scheme for kicks and giggles. What happens when you microwave a sock? They scheme to change their small town of Otters Holt, Kentucky for the better. Why not campaign to save the annual Harvest Festival we love so much? They scheme because they need to scheme. How can we get the most unlikely candidate elected for the town’s highest honor?

But when they start scheming about love, things go sideways.

In Otters Holt, love has always been defined one way—girl and boy fall in love, get married, buy a Buick, and there’s sex in there somewhere. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple. Can the Hexagon, her parents, and the town she calls home handle the real Billie McCaffrey?

Could you tell us about Dress Codes for Small Towns? What inspired you to write this book?

Hmm. 80's movie antics plus 90's rom-com heart plus a faint Women’s March beat?

When I began Dress Codes, I described it as "Ferris Bueller meets 'The Breakfast Club'" for lines like this, “The year I was seventeen, I had five best friends—a pixie, a president, a pretender, a puker, and a douchebag—and I was in love with all of them for different reasons.”

Now, I usually describe Dress Codes as sexually fluid "Footloose." Preacher’s daughter. Reluctant small town. A pack of kids to change their hearts.

My inspiration was walking barn beams and climbing on top of old elementary schools and wearing my older brother’s clothes. You know, #girlstuff.

Is Otters Holt similar to the town you grew up in?

If you picked up Matchbox car sized Bandana (my hometown) in the palm of your hand and plucked it down alongside the Kentucky Dam, you’d have Otters Holt. Well, if you added a forty-foot Molly the Corn Dolly roadside attraction. And I personally think you should.

Bandana (Courtney's hometown)
Faith is a subject that doesn't show up very often in YA books, especially books that explore the gray areas of love, gender and sexuality. How did you create the delicate balance in exploring those subjects?

I’ve spent nearly all my adult life working with teens and here is what I’ve learned: every young adult has a spiritual life. Some exercise that life through churches or organized religion; some through atheism; some through questions brought up reading The Kite Runner (by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead, 2004) or playing Grand Theft Auto or watching footage from the news.

So, very basically, I love to include faith because students are thinking about it.

As for the gray areas, I have two beliefs that guide my writing. One, people are never ever just one thing. And two, it is not my job to draw conclusions—for the church or this generation—but to love them enough to have the conversation.

What appeals to you about writing for young adults?

Young adults will always be the next generation of world changers. Writing for them gives me a chance to partner with them, which I consider a privilege and an honor.

What are the craft challenges of writing for this age group?

Writing is gloriously, wonderfully hard, regardless of audience. I am currently drafting an “adult” book and there appear to be very few, if any, challenges that aren’t present in both crafts.

I like to say that I write coming-of-truth novels rather than coming-of-age novels. So, the thing that makes the adult book “adult” is the protagonist comes of truth in adulthood rather than in her teen years.

With either audience, the bar is the same: write something that makes a reader love reading more today than they did yesterday.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

I’m mostly in it to see how many tattoos I can inspire.

No, seriously, there is a moment near the beginning of every draft when I realize Why I’m writing the book I’m writing—the reasons do vary widely—and I feel like I’m doing what I was made to do in the universe.

That deep connection of purpose and intention fuels my career and joy.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I often say, I type sitting down, but I write standing up.

If you want to know when and where I type: in my personal office on long binges that rival a Netflix addiction of Stranger Things.

Next writing episode starts in 15, 14, 13, 12 …

If you want to know when and where I write: when I’m rock climbing, or walking The Narrows in Utah, or assembling scaffolding to cover a skylight at church, or asking a librarian if I can drive my sports car through the hallway of a school, or walking 1,000 miles last summer, or planning how I will build a 40-foot roadside attraction in my yard, or ….

Next life episode starts in 15, 14, 13, 12 …

When you look back on your writing journey, what are the changes that stand out?

Looking back, I can see several cairns that marked my path:
  1. Joining SCBWI as a baby writer
  2. Meeting my critique partners
  3. Swapping from fantasy to contemporary (but back to fantasy soon.)
  4. Prioritizing the continual study of craft
What are you working on next?

My next book (working title: BOOM), my fourth contemporary novel with HarperTeen, follows four teens who are the soul survivors of a bus explosion.

Cynsations Notes

Courtney “Court” Stevens grew up among rivers, cornfields, churches, and gossip in the small town south.

She is a former adjunct professor, youth minister, and Olympic torchbearer. She has a pet whale named Herman, a bandsaw named Rex, and several novels with her name on the spine: Faking Normal (Harper Teen, 2014),  The Lies About Truth (Harper Teen, 2015), and the e-novella The Blue-Haired Boy (Harper Teen, 2014).

As an educator and author, she visits schools, designs retreats, and teaches workshops on marketing, revision, character development, and Channeling Your Brave. She also likes chips and queso and feels deeply sorry for the lactose intolerant.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Author Interview: Anne Marie Pace on Writing Gothic Picture Books & Vampirina on TV

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Today we welcome Anne Marie Pace to discuss her latest picture book, Vampirina At The Beach, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Disney-Hyperion, April 2017) and it's forthcoming animated series on Disney Junior. From the promotional copy:

When the summer moon is full, a beach trip is an epic way to spend the night.

With her signature poise, Vampirina gears up for a festive time at the beach. 

Keeping her ballet lessons in mind, Vampirina demi-plies on a surfboard, leaps for a volleyball, and finishes each competition with style, even if she doesn't always come out on top.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

More than anything else, writing is like solving a puzzle for me, finding the right words to snap into the right place to communicate what I want to say in the right way. 

You know how when you’re working a jigsaw puzzle, there’s this huge jumble of pieces waiting for you to build the outer edge and then fill in the middle section by section? At first it feels overwhelming but the more you do, the faster you can move, and it becomes really satisfying to begin to see the art. 

With writing, the pieces are words, and you aren’t limited to 500 or 1000—you’ve got tens of thousands, and you get to design the outer edge and you get to create the picture. I find picture books very rewarding because every word—every piece—matters so much.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I don’t have a set schedule the way some authors do. I heard Eileen Spinelli say at Chautauqua years ago that she taught herself to “write in the cracks” of the day, and that’s something I’ve worked on being able to do. 

I can see the appeal of setting aside a block of time daily in which you devote yourself to your writing, but with four kids (even though they’re pretty big now), I’ve never been able to count on that time, so it’s better that I simply write when I can, rather than assuming that a particular time of day when I must work will be available to me. 

I’m not saying there are never days when I sit and write for hours, because there are, but it’s not a regular thing for me the way it is for some writers.

And I mostly write these days on my green sofa. There’s room for my two cats and two dogs to sit with me, and it’s rather peaceful. They are with me as I type this.

Could you tell us about your new release?

Vampirina At The Beach is the third in the Vampirina Ballerina series. 

Vampirina and her family hit the surf in what I’ve referred to from the beginning as “Monster Mash meets Beach Blanket Bingo.” I even watched a lot of Annette Funicello videos on YouTube to get in the beach party mood while I was writing. 

LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are phenomenal in this book. The pages are chock-full of surprises for kids to find. And our first editor, Kevin Lewis, whom we dedicated the book to, is honored in the illustrations as Vampirina’s new friend, so it feels special in that way, too. I’m so tickled Uyen thought of that. 

Then again, I’m always tickled at the wonderful elements she brings to each book in the series.

What appeals to you about writing gothic picture books?

I’ve thought a lot about this because I’m not really a fan of vampire movies or books, or in fact, any kind of scary element (although my TV viewing does include a couple of police procedural dramas, so maybe real life is scary enough for me). 

So why vampires? Five of the six birthdays in my family fall in the autumn months, so as a mom,
October was always a very stressful month, with several birthday parties (even though I throw pretty casual, at-home parties) and four Halloween costumes to create for my kids. So I think Vampirina Ballerina has been a way for me to enjoy the Halloween season that I never enjoyed when my kids were little!

Anne Marie's kids and few of their friends from a long-ago Halloween
Of course, now I’m getting to know Vampirina outside of her Halloween-y self, and that’s even more fun.

What are the craft challenges of writing a series like this?

There are a few craft challenges that come to mind. 

Of course, you want each book to be as inviting to children as the first. Subsequent books need to carry a sense of the familiar without being a complete retread. 

Uyen suggested early on that Vampirina grow not only in the course of a story, but over the course of the series, so the theme of making friends has carried throughout. 

In the first book, she feels like an outsider; in the second, she learns that she can trust her friends to love her for who she is; and in the third, she befriends someone who fears being seen as an outsider. 

The biggest challenge for me with the text is that a lot of the humor comes from puns and words with multiple meanings and I don’t want to be repetitive with either vampire/monster words or ballet terms. Especially with the vampire terminology, I need to be very careful not to cross the line into anything scary. But I want the language in each book to stay fresh.

Image from Disney Junior
Tell us about the Disney series. When will it be broadcast? How involved are you?

The Disney Junior series debuts this fall. I don’t know an exact date, but I follow Chris Nee, the executive producer, on Twitter, and at one point, she said it would be before Halloween. 

Actually, almost everything I know, I know from Twitter. I am not involved at all in creating the show—Uyen and I do our thing, Disney Junior folks do theirs—so I am watching it unfold like a fan. 

I know Chris said there is a “dream cast” so I’m anxious to know whose voices we will hear in October. A lot of the creative people involved have also worked on the award-winning Doc McStuffins, so I feel confident that the property is in the best of hands.

Cynsational Notes

Anne Marie Pace is the author of Vampirina Ballerina (Disney-Hyperion, 2012) and Vampirina Hosts a Sleepover (Disney-Hyperion, 2013), both illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

Publishers Weekly gave Vampirina Ballerina a starred review. Peek: "The underlying messages are familiar: there are no shortcuts to achieving an ambitious dream, and persistence and a sunny outlook (even when one is a creature of the night) pay off. But seldom have these lessons been expounded with so much charm."

Anne Marie's other books include Pigloo, illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Henry Holt, 2016) and A Teacher for Bear, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (Scholastic, 2011). Forthcoming is Groundhug Day, illustrated by Christopher Denise (Disney-Hyperion, December 2017) and Busy-Eyed Day, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband and four teenagers. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Author Interview: Jenn Bishop on Stormy Middle Grade Emotions

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Jenn Bishop to talk about her upcoming middle grade novel, 14 Hollow Road (Alfred A. Knopf, June 13, 2017). From the promotional copy:

The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie; she’ll wear her beautiful new dress, she’ll hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. 

Most importantly, she’ll finally leave her tiny elementary school behind for junior high. But as the first slow song starts to play, her plans crumble. Avery asks someone else to dance instead–and then the power goes out. 

Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes.

Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie’s and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Sharing the same house . . . with Avery? For the entire summer? 

While it buys her some time to prove that Avery made the wrong choice at the dance, it also means he’ll be there to witness her morning breath and her annoying little brother. Meanwhile, she must search for her beloved dog, who went missing during the tornado. At the dance, all she wanted was to be more grown-up. 

Now that she has no choice, is she ready for it?

What inspired you to write this book? Have you experienced a tornado?

Much like Maddie, the main character in 14 Hollow Road, as a kid growing up in Massachusetts, about the last weather disaster I expected to experience in my home town was a tornado.

Blizzards: been there, done that. Hurricanes: yup. But a tornado?

Well, in June of 2011, a series of strong thunderstorms rolling across western and central Massachusetts spawned an EF-3 tornado.

Tornado damage near Jenn's home the following winter
I was living in Boston at the time, but my parents still lived in my childhood home, and I remember getting a call from my mother. Apparently while my dad was in his office in Springfield, he saw the funnel cloud forming over the river. There were a lot of frantic phone calls that afternoon between the three of us, as it was clear that a tornado was on the ground, taking essentially the same path my dad was taking home from work.

While most homes in Massachusetts do have basements, we do not have tornado sirens, so you really have to stay on top of severe weather yourself. My dad made the smart choice to pull off the road and stop in at my grandmother's apartment.

Meanwhile, as my mom huddled in the basement with her cat, the tornado, still a mile-wide at the time, crested the top of the hill where I lived and crossed my street about a half-mile from my parent's house.

When I return home for a visit, I'm still startled every time to see how bare the top of the hill is now.

While the events of that day certainly served as inspiration for the book, I think I was equally inspired by my own memories of junior high.

It's such a fraught age, filled with so much change and uncertainty: shifting friendships, crushes, cliques--all while your body is managing mood swings and hormones and growth spurts. I joked that 14 Hollow Road was basically a tornado of tweenage emotion.

What appeals to you about writing middle grade?

Everything?! The funny thing is that I came into writing middle grade almost accidentally.

I started out writing YA, having been a teen librarian, and only decided to try out middle grade on a whim while a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and fell in love with it.

I love the brevity of middle grade -- the economy of prose and storytelling and audience expectations that put middle grade in that 40,000 to 60,000 word sweet spot, instead of 80,000 plus, like most YA these days.

I love the audience -- school and Skype visits with 4th-6th graders are so much fun. There's such an energy to that age.

It's still okay to be yourself and unabashedly love things-- the self-consciousness of the teen years is only just starting to arrive. Most of all, when I think of middle grade, I think of the stories that made me a reader. The books that I read at that age held such a power over me. And the truth is, they still do.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

The surprise of it, I think.

There are good surprises--and occasionally bad surprises--but I think the one constant in the life of an author is that you can't really predict much.

While that can be terrifying for some, I've been trying to appreciate the positive aspects of it. Your next creative idea could come from the place you least expected it.

What are you working on next?

Weirdly enough, I've been trying my hand at writing picture books!

I don't know where this will lead, but I've spent the last month intensely reading and studying them and it's been such a breath of fresh air.

If you want to see the world from a new angle, try reading 100 picture books aloud in a month. I guarantee it will change you.

Cynsational Notes

A Booklist review of 14 Hollow Road said, "Bishop nails the tween voice: Maddie is a realistic heroine who deals with typical middle-grade problems amidst disaster, and she navigates upheavals with occasional grace and more frequent missteps. Tornado or not, growing up is a tempestuous business."

Jenn Bishop grew up in a small town in rural Central Massachusetts.

A lifelong reader, she was formerly a youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. 

Along with her husband and cat, Jenn lives in Cincinnati, where she roots long-distance for the Red Sox. Her debut novel, The Distance To Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) was described as a "piercing first novel" by Publishers Weekly.
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