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GETTING LUCKY: An Interview with Tara Sullivan, author of GOLDEN BOY

Golden BoyLucky 13 debut author Tara Sullivan has a fascinating life story of her own. An American born in Calcutta, she spent her childhood moving around South America and the Caribbean with her parents who were international aid workers. Tara moved to the United States her freshman year in high school. Because Tara’s novel GOLDEN BOY has a foreign setting and an intriguing social issue, I felt privileged to read her ARC and interview her. 

Thirteen-year-old Habo has always been different—light eyes, yellow hair and white skin. Not the good brown skin that his family has, and not the white skin of the tourists who come to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but the kind of skin that burns easily in the sun and keeps him hidden in the shadows. The kind of skin that makes the kids at school call him ghost boy and refuse to play with him.

But Asu, Habo’s beloved sister, calls him golden boy. She is the only member of Habo’s family who loves him well. His two older brothers scorn him, his mother can barely look at him, and his father, unable to accept Habo, left the family to fend for themselves years ago.

With their farm now failing, Habo and his family must flee their small Tanzanian village and take refuse in Mwanza, a fishing town. There, Habo learns, a new name for himself: albino. But they kill albinos in Mwanza. Their body parts are thought to be lucky, and soon Habo is hunted by a fearsome man wielding a machete. To save his own life, Habo must run, not knowing if he can ever stop.

Affectingly written, Golden Boy is a haunting and wrenching story of survival and hope.

Welcome, Tara, to the OneFour blog, and kudos on the publication of GOLDEN BOY! Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication? How did you get your agent, and then how long did it take before she placed your novel at Putnam?

I kind of snuck in a back door to getting my agent, truth be told.

A few years ago, my writer’s group received a development grant from our local New England chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). We used it to do an informational interview with (the amazing) Caryn Wiseman at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, about the query and agent process. She offered, in addition, to critique each of our query letters… and she ended up extending an offer to two of us (one third of the group!) to formally query her when we finished our manuscripts.

Caryn and I signed a contract in May of 2011. One fact-checking trip to Tanzania and a few revisions later, she sold Golden Boy to (the also amazing) Stacey Barney at G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Books for Young Readers) in December of that year.

Thirteen-year-old Habo’s harrowing tale takes place in Africa. Please tell us why you decided to write about this particular social problem, and in Africa?

When I came across a small article in a non-profit journal in 2009 that told about the kidnapping, mutilation, and murder of African people with albinism for use as good-luck talismans, it really upset me. I was upset both at the horrific story and by the fact that I had never heard about the tragedy before. I started looking for books on the subject, trying to learn more, and found none. The most I could find were a few articles from international newspapers and a documentary produced by Al Jazeera English: Africa Uncovered: Murder & Myth. This haunting documentary touched a nerve and sent me down the path of writing Golden Boy.

The grown-up in me, the one that studied for a dual Masters in Non-Profit Management and International Studies and worked with village micro-finance and refugee resettlement programs, wanted to publicize the human rights tragedy. The kid in me, the one who always had to hide from the sun and could never blend into a crowd as she grew up overseas, wanted to tell the story of what it must feel like to experience these problems in the extreme.

What prompted you to travel to Africa and at what stage in writing your novel? What did you discover from primary research in Africa that you couldn’t have learned otherwise?

I wrote the first draft based off of the best research I could do from my home in Massachusetts: reading memoirs and travelogues of people who lived in and visited Tanzania; watching documentaries and scouring news sources for concrete reporting on the issue; making connections with non-profit organizations working in the field; zooming Google maps in and out to plan Habo’s journey; struggling with learn-Swahili books and CDs. The character development came from merging my own experiences as a kid with the facts I found through my research.

Once I had finished the first draft, however, I knew I wanted to trace the path of the novel on foot and make sure I had gotten things right. So, in the summer of 2011, I headed off to Tanzania. It was an amazing trip, and I learned so much that I couldn’t get from sitting at my desk: the smell of the air, the color of the dust, the things my internet research had gotten wrong.

I also was able to meet with people working in the field to rescue people with albinism, move them to safe houses, and educate society about their condition and their worth. These people were so inspirational—working in spite of death threats, some of them living under twenty-four hour guard, and when I asked them what I could do to help, they said: write a story where we’re human. Their dedication and self-sacrifice pulled me through the difficult process of seeing the book to publication.

How has researching and writing this novel impacted you personally?  

It’s living a dream. And, let’s be honest, we all have a lot of dreams, but one of the parts of growing up is realizing that most of your wild wishes won’t come true. I have, for example, given up on the idea of a pony, telepathic communication, having hair long enough to sit on, and mastering all languages known to man, to name just a few. But getting a book published, being a published author, that was one of those wild and wooly dreams that you hold lightly because you know they’re a long shot. To be living it… is just amazing.

What will you be doing for a launch?  

I’ll be having a launch part at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA at 7pm on my release date, June 27th. (If you’re in the area, please feel free to stop by and say hello!) The day after that, (at an ungodly hour of the morning) I’m hopping onto a plane to Chicago in order to present on a panel with the other members of The Class of 2k13 at the American Library Association annual conference. If you’re at ALA for the weekend, stop by and say hello: our panel is Friday 6/28 at 11:00 am, and I’ll be signing in the Penguin booth on the floor Saturday from 1-2pm.

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a child.

As a child I read voraciously but a couple of the books that really stood out for me were Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER, Orson Scott Card’s ENDERS GAME, and pretty much anything by Ellen Raskin, Nancy Farmer, and Susan Cooper. I was also a sucker for Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes… to the extent that I forced all my friends to learn the “dancing men” code and passed all our class notes using them. (This ended when I got tired of receiving one-word answers to my lengthy letters.)

Thanks so much for stopping by, Tara. Happy debut!

Tara Sullivan - high res copyAbout the author:

Tara Sullivan was born in India and spent her childhood living in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic with her parents, who were international aid workers. She received a BA in Spanish literature and cognitive science from the University of Virginia, and a MA in Latin American Studies and a MPA in non-profit management from Indiana University. To research Golden Boy, Tara traveled to Tanzania, where she interviewed those working to rescue and educate Tanzanian people with albinism. She currently teachers high school Spanish and lives in MAssachusetts. Golden Boy is her first novel.

Here’s where you can buy GOLDEN BOY:

Amazon / Powell’s / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

Christine Kohler worked as a political reporter covering the West Pacific. Her YA novel is set on Guam during the Vietnam war: 15-year-old Kiko finds out that his mother was raped during WWII. When Kiko discovers a WWII Japanese soldier is hiding in the jungle behind Kiko’s house for 28 years, will Kiko take revenge? NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, Merit Press, Jan. 18, 2014.
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Vivi Barnes: OLIVIA TWISTED

We have a lot of fantastic authors at OneFour KidLit and are excited to introduce them all to you. Today we’re talking to Vivi Barnes, author of OLIVIA TWISTED, coming from Entangled Teen in 2014. One author, four questions. Here we go!

Hey, you’re getting published! How’d that happen?

Some writing, some wine, some rejections, some wine, some crying, some wine, some offers, some wine. You know—wine. 😉

I went to my son’s school to talk about the process of getting published and held up a picture of a crying baby to sum it up. It’s a tough process. I’ve always heard that you don’t write to make money. This is so true. We write because we can’t not write. Either that, or we’re just gluttons for punishment. Seriously, though, I’ve been fortunate to have such great people helping me through the craziness, including my critique partners, my agent (Pam Van Hylckama Vlieg) and editors (Stacy Cantor Abrams and Nicole Steinhaus).

I look forward to seeing my book on the shelves in November! Then it might actually feel real.

What’s your debut book about? Can you share any cool details with us?

OLIVIA TWISTED is a contemporary reimagining of the Dickens’ classic, OLIVER TWIST. However, the gang that recruits Olivia is made up of hackers instead of pickpocketers. It was a (happy) challenge to follow along the general plot lines of the original story but make them more relevant to today, including making the protagonist not a victim of society but someone who shapes her own destiny. My favorite part of the story is the romance between Olivia and the “Dodger” character, Z, and the way they both question their choices, some of which might be surprising to the reader.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Tossed from foster home to foster home, Olivia’s seen a lot in her sixteen years. She’s hardened, sure, though mostly just wants to fly under the radar until graduation. But her natural ability with computers catches the eye of Z, a mysterious guy at her new school. Soon, Z has brought Liv into his team of hacker elite—break into a few bank accounts, and voila, he drives a motorcycle. Follow his lead, and Olivia might even be able to escape from her oppressive foster parents. As Olivia and Z grow closer, though, so does the watchful eye of Bill Sykes, Z’s boss. And he’s got bigger plans for Liv…

What cool facts might readers not know about you?

—I love adrenaline sports. Not sports like soccer or softball—I kind of suck at those (like fall-and-scrape-my-knees suck). But the kind that sends your heart flying into your throat, like skydiving, rafting, skiing and ziplining. I would love to go hang gliding—that’s high on my to-do list.

—I love acting and being silly. I dressed as Honey Boo Boo at the last SCBWI conference ball in Miami and, well, it was interesting! I think my critique group was ready to smack me after enduring elevator rides with my telling strangers that they better “redneckognize.”

—I am an extrovert. Big time. I love people (unless you’re bad people) and get a lot of energy from being in big groups (with the exception of being in Wal-Mart, which totally stresses me out). I also love hugging, so watch out!

Do you have any writing quirks–places you need to write or things you need to have with you?

I absolutely must have music. This isn’t an option. If I don’t have music playing while I write or revise, I will stare around at the scenery, at the people walking by, at the empty Diet Coke can. I get totally distracted. Type of music varies from Linkin Park and Three Days Grace to Harry Potter soundtracks. I also enjoy writing on a desert island with a pina colada, but that just doesn’t happen often enough (or ever). Actually, I can write anywhere but a desk or table. For some reason, having proper ergonomics when typing really bugs me. Give me the big comfy chair any day!

Vivi Barnes was raised on a farm in East Texas where her theater-loving mom and cowboy dad gave her a unique perspective on life. Now living in the magic and sunshine of Orlando, Florida, she divides her time writing, working, goofing off with her husband and three kids, and avoiding dirty dishes. OLIVIA TWISTED debuts November 5, 2013, from Entangled Teen.
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YouTube: Act Out a Scene by Sara Raasch

For this month’s YouTube videos, we acted out scenes from our books. Today we’ve got Sara Raasch, author of the YA fantasy SNOW LIKE ASHES, playing with dolls and making stuff up.

Sara Raasch has known she was destined for bookish things since her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Her debut YA fantasy, SNOW LIKE ASHES, is coming out Fall 2014 from Balzer + Bray. It does not feature her hand-drawn pictures. She can be found on Twitter at @seesarawrite and blogging over at the Valentines. She is represented by Charlotte Sheedy Literary.

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YouTube- Acting Out a Scene from GILDED

This month’s YouTube topic is Act Out a Scene from our books. Today I’m acting out three scenes from GILDED: one is a reenactment at my main character’s international school and the other two are martial arts scenes set in Seoul, Korea.

You can also visit my YouTube page to watch the full playlist for GILDED. Don’t forget to add GILDED to your Goodreads page here.

If you could act a scene from a book, which character would you be and what scene would you act out?

After teaching and traveling internationally, Christina Farley started writing about her adventures, tossing in a little fiction for fun. This inspired her to write GILDED, a YA about a Korean-American girl with a black belt and deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows to be published by Amazon Children’s spring 2014. Besides writing, Christina loves traveling, running, hanging out with her two Jedi warriors, and eating dark chocolate.
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Laura Wettersten: MY FAIRE LADY

We have a lot of fantastic authors at OneFour KidLit and are excited to introduce them all to you. Today we’re talking to Laura Wettersten, author of MY FAIRE LADY, coming from Simon & Schuster BFYR in 2014. One author, four questions. Here we go!

Hey, you’re getting published! How’d that happen?

As usual, it’s a long story. I started writing seriously in 2004, but it wasn’t until about 2009 that I felt comfortable enough with any of the novels I’d written to send them out. For the first time, I’d written a young adult novel and felt like I’d finally found my voice. It was kind of crazy. I sent it out to maybe 21 agents, but just had a gut feeling about one of them in particular: Kenneth Wright, who worked at Writer’s House, and wouldn’t you know? He offered me representation. He’s since left agenting to be the VP  at Viking Press, which meant that my book kind of got stuck in the submissions process. But no worries, I met my editor at Simon & Schuster through the submission for that book, one thing led to another, and I started a brand new book for them, MY FAIRE LADY.

What’s your debut book about? Can you share any cool details with us?

Here’s the blurb from GoodReads:

Rowena Duncan is a thoroughly modern girl with big plans for her summer—until she catches her boyfriend making out with another girl. Heartbroken, she applies to an out-of-town job posting and finds herself somewhere she never expected: the Renaissance Faire.

As a face-painter doubling as a serving wench, Ro is thrown headfirst into a vibrant community of artists and performers. She feels like a fish out of water until Will, a quick-witted whip cracker, takes her under his wing. Then there’s Christian, a blue-eyed stunt jouster who makes Ro weak in the knees. Soon, it’s not just her gown that’s tripping her up.

Trading in the internet and electricity for stars and campfires was supposed to make life simpler, but Ro is finding that love is the ultimate complication. Can she let the past make way for her future?

Cool details. Well. The boys in this book are dreamy, plain and simple. And it’s as close to a fairy tale as you can get in today’s world. I mean, Ro, my main character, gets to wear beautiful Renaissance gowns, have troubadours sing to her, and hang out with knights. You can’t beat that.

I had a lot of fun researching this book, that’s for sure. I sat for several hours with a face painter at a local Renaissance faire, watching her work. (And stuffed myself with turkey legs, apple dumplings, and mead while she worked. I was really helpful.) She shows up in my book as Robbie, one of the artists at King Geoffrey’s Faire. I also based the layout of King Geoffrey’s on Ohio’s Renaissance Faire, so if you read the book and visit that faire, you might experience some intense deja vu.

What are you most excited about in the debut process?

Really, each step along the way has been thrilling. From the initial email from Simon & Schuster to everything about the editing process (no, really) to meeting other debut authors and looking forward to things like seeing my cover for the first time. Honestly, the thing I’m looking forward to most is just seeing it on the shelves. I won’t lie – when I’m in Barnes & Noble I often gaze wistfully at the spot in the W’s where the book will be placed.

What cool facts might readers not know about you?

  • When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be the next Jim Henson. I had probably 50 stuffed animals, and each had their own personality, story, and voice. (Probably good practice for this writing thing).
  • I was born on Dec. 27th. People feel sorry for me because my birthday is so close to Christmas. They obviously don’t understand how awesome that is.
  • I truthfully like caramel more than chocolate.
  • I totally believe in ghosts. I lived in a haunted house for a year when I was little.
  • My most embarrassing moment was one day my classmate discovered that my mother’s underwear was in my book bag because it had been used the week before as a vacation bag. My mother’s purple-flowered undies ended up on the classroom ceiling fan.
  • My maid of honor (a friend since high school) told this story during my wedding toast. I didn’t blame her one bit for using such great material.
Laura Wettersten lives in Ohio with her wonderful husband and their two neurotic dogs. She has degrees in both music education and library science, and when she’s not writing or teaching she enjoys directing middle school musicals, dancing awkwardly around her kitchen, and watching WIPEOUT and 30 ROCK reruns. Her debut novel, MY FAIRE LADY, releases from Simon & Schuster BFYR in 2014.
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GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Kristen Kittscher, Author of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW

Today we’re here with Lucky13 author Kristen Kittscher, whose debut THE WIG IN THE WINDOW is now in bookstores, calling your name. Seriously, it is! Can’t you just hear it? “[Insert your name here], please read meeeee!”

This book is unbelievably fantastic, and I’m SO EXCITED for you all to read it! But instead of listening to me talk about how wonderful it is, I’ll let the blurb speak for itself:

Best friends and seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game out of spying on their neighbors. On one of their midnight stakeouts, they witness a terrifying, bloody scene at the home of their bizarre middle-school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward).

At least, they think they do. The truth is that Dr. Agford was only making her wiginthewindowCoverSept copyfamous pickled beets! But when Dr. Agford begins acting even weirder than usual, Sophie and Grace become convinced that she’s hiding something—and they’re determined to find out what it is.

Soon the girls are breaking secret codes, being followed by a strange blue car, and tailing strangers with unibrows and Texas accents. But as their investigation heats up, Sophie and Grace start to crack under the pressure. They might solve their case, but will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny middle-grade mystery with a REAR WINDOW twist.

And just in case you’re a visual person, here’s the link to the fantastic trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9UezzKbyCA

Doesn’t it sound like the most MARVELOUS book ever?! I just kne—

Wait—what was that? Did you hear that? It… it sounded like a scream!  Hold on, guys. Let me just crawl around the corner and check to make sure everything’s okay. Shhhhhh….

SMACK. I tumble right into Kristen Kittscher, who’s wearing a splendiferous wig.  “Phew!” I sigh, “False alarm. I guess reading WIG all day has me a bit jumpy. But now that I’ve got you, Kristen, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”  Not waiting for a response, I pull out my handy-dandy spy notepad and my spy pen. Kristen gives me a nod of approval.

LM: How did you come up with the idea for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW?

KK: The Wig in the Window was inspired in part by my own adventures as a childhood spy with my friends. I briefly lived in a seaside suburb not unlike “Luna Vista,” and we regularly dreamed up hare-brained theories about our neighbors that we pretended to investigate. We didn’t do a whole actual spying, though: it was more about hiding up in our “spy headquarters” in a loft above her garage and making lots of ID badges and “Most Wanted” posters!

I also taught seventh grade English at an all girls’ school for a good long while. The funny, clever students I taught there inspired me—I wanted to write a story they would enjoy: fun, with high stakes, that would nonetheless tell some truths about the ups and down of middle school friendship. I hope I did…

Childhood spy group?! That must have been the best thing ever! The fifth grader in me is so envious! So what was the writing process for your debut like? Did you already know the end of the mystery before you started, or did you figure it out as you went along?

Writing WIG was circuitous to say the least. It was my first attempt at writing a manuscript, and I just didn’t believe I could do it—so I was constantly writing a few pages and putting it away and moving onto more practical things, like laundry—or more fun things, like going to parties. Not only did I not know the end of the mystery before I started, I didn’t even really understand I was writing a mystery, believe it or not. I started out thinking I was just writing a story about two unlikely best friends. It was a very episodic collection of antics between Sophie Young & Grace Yang, who—practically as an aside!—suspect the middle school counselor is a fugitive. I threw it out and started over again, understanding at last that I was writing a mystery (psychological thriller, really!), and set to work. I wasted a lot of time not believing in myself—so it’s no surprise that self-doubt turned out to be a major theme in the book.

Your perseverance is so inspiring! Self-doubt is definitely one of those universal feelings that hits all writers at some during the publication process. I know I sometimes feel it! *clutches the shambles of my current work-in-progress and mutters feverishly* So, while we’re on the topic… How did you overcome your self-doubt, and what advice do you have for any writers who might be experiencing that feeling?

Oh, I don’t know that I have overcome my self-doubt, really—but rather I’ve accepted it as a natural part of my writing process. If I weren’t feeling a little doubtful, I’m not sure writing would be fun for me! Getting in over my head, casting about in the dark, and muddling my way through is just part of it.

I wish I were seasoned enough to give advice! I’ll offer this: it seems to me that time, effort, patience and feedback cure all (most?) manuscript ills!

So let’s chat about the time long after you casted about in the dark and muddled through–back to when you had a beautiful, finished, beta-read manuscript-version of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW on your desk, all ready to send out into the Internet aether. Talk us through your path from that moment to the book deal!

In September of 2010, I had my shiny manuscript all ready to go! I queried five agents, one of whom was Jennifer Laughran. She’d been cracking me up on Twitter for some time, and I really hoped she might enjoy WIG. Several months of silence and few rejections on partials followed, then—at last—in mid-November both Jennifer and another wonderful agent offered representation just when I was about to send out another round. What luck! I chose Jenn, she gave me fabulous revision notes, and we went out on submission a couple months later. Shortly after, Rosemary Brosnan at HarperCollins let Jenn know she was taking my manuscript to acquisitions. I was over the moon! I was such a fan of so many of her authors (Rita Williams-Garcia, Norma Fox Mazer, Lauren Oliver). The story takes a sad turn there, though. Just days before Harper’s offer came in, my father died in a freak accident right in front of me. Traumatized and reeling, I didn’t care much that WIG had sold. It was just a footnote at a very dark time. A sudden tragedy like that certainly puts all of our writerly angst in perspective. Fortunately, there have been so many other happy milestones in this debut journey that I’ve been able to relish. I’m so glad that WIG will be coming out just after Father’s Day this year—it’s a perfect time to celebrate this accomplishment and remember my wonderful dad. He would’ve been very proud.

My gosh, I’m so sorry; that is really the absolute worst. WIG’s release certainly sounds like a great way to commemorate your father. You mentioned some of the milestones in the debut journey… Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process? What was the most exciting milestone?

Thanks so much, Lauren. He would have found this all to be quite a kick, and I’m looking forward to the celebrations.

The first time through it’s all sort of a surprise—particularly that part where a check arrives in the mail for something you made up. I think I was most surprised by, in the later stages, how much my editors and I worked by hand. They sent their line edits in pencil, I entered in all copyedits and changes to the “first pass pages” in pen, which were then entered in by someone else.

As for milestones, don’t get me started! I’ve been treasuring this newness— and fearing someday I’ll think all this gloriousness is old hat.

It was particularly special when author Kirsten Miller (KIKI STRIKE, HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME) wrote me a funny, kind, complimentary note after she read THE WIG IN THE WINDOW. She then tweeted about one of my girl sleuths being her new favorite character and “one of the most fascinating masterminds around.” Praise from an author I admire so much would have meant a great deal as it was, but it was all the more special because KIKI STRIKE inspired me to write for middle graders in the first place.

Awww full circle! I love that! So… inquiring minds NEED to know: what’s next for you? More middle grade?

You bet! There’ll be a sequel to THE WIG IN THE WINDOW : THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE. We’ll see from there… I certainly enjoy my sleuths and have plenty more ideas of adventures for them. Care to suggest future (strange head thing) on the (outward facing architectural feature) titles?

In TIARA, Young & Yang go undercover in their town parade’s “Royal Court” to stop a murderer: Miss Congeniality, middle-school style! It’s been challenging for me to write because I’m not used to big bombastic crowd scenes and parades and known nothing about beauty contests, but I think this story and the setting are just so much fun.

OHMYGOODNESS GIVE ME NOOOOOWWW! I can’t wait! TIARA ON THE TERRACE looks fantastic!!! Middle school Miss Congeniality is pretty much the best pitch ever. Anyway, we’ve sort of danced around other authors you admire in other answers, but let’s end on that note: as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d love to know two or three books that inspired you as a kid!

Ha!—And thanks for the enthusiasm! Puts some wind in my sails. Oh, I could go on for hours about books I love. Favorites as a kid? From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg, Judy Blume’s Blubber, KristenKittscherJacketPhotoThe House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs were at the top of my list.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Kristen! We at OneFourKidLit have all suspected that you were the loveliest author ever, and now we know you are! Mystery SOLVED!

Kristen Kittscher is a writing tutor in Pasadena, California, where she lives with her husband. She is a graduate of Brown University and worked for several years as a middle-school English teacher. The Wig in the Window is her first novel. You can visit her online at http://www.kristenkittscher.com.

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
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GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Amanda Sun, author of INK

Today we’re excited to interview Lucky13 author Amanda Sun,  whose YA Novel INK is the first book in the Paper Gods trilogy. INK hits the shelves June 25. Check out the blurb from Goodreads:

9780373210718_TSF_SMP.inddOn the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they’ll both be targets.

Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive.

Hi Amanda and welcome to the OneFourKidLit blog.  I’ve been super excited about doing this interview ever since I read INK.  It’s an amazing book, and obviously I’m not the only one who thinks so.  INK made it onto USA Today’s list of “Best Reads for Summer”(!!!!) and you were featured in an article in Writers Digest Magazine.  That’s pretty amazing advance attention for a debut book.  But before I get too far ahead of myself, can you give our audience a quick overview of the plotline of INK?

Sure! INK is the story of Katie, an American teen who’s lost her mother and moves to Japan to live with her English-teaching aunt. There she crosses paths with Tomohiro, the kendo star of her new school, and soon discovers that his drawings come to life in dangerous ways. They find themselves on the run when the wrong people notice. There’s danger, kendo, hot Asian boys, Yakuza gangsters, kissing, and lots of tasty Japanese food. ^_^

The book has also been designed beautifully, with a watercolor-paper textured cover, illustrations, and flip animations in the corners. The ebook is enhanced with moving drawings on ereaders which support video. So it’s a very cool, immersive experience that I can’t wait to share with everyone. ^_^

The visuals sound fantastic!  The plotline is, too, with its setting in Japan and its tie-ins with Japanese history.  How much did the mythology and history of Japan influence INK?

Well, INK is actually influenced by both Japanese and Egyptian mythology. I tried to stay as true to the mythology and history as I could, looking for instances where I could twist the truth just a little for INK. I’ve always been interested in Japanese mythology, starting with a book my mother gave me about Izanami and Izanagi. Japanese kanji, originally Chinese writing characters, have their roots in communicating with the spirit world, and I was also influenced by my studies in Egyptian Hieroglyphic. All the snake symbols in the Egyptian tombs were often chiselled through to “kill” the snakes so they wouldn’t come alive in the After Life. I loved the idea of the drawings coming to life, and combined that with the research I’d done into Japanese mythology and history.

I also really liked a cartoon as a child called Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings. Does anyone know it? *laughs*

There’s a lot of mentions of food in INK. I found myself getting hungry and wishing I could taste some of the delicacies Katie was enjoying!  What’s your favorite Japanese food?

It has to be katsu curry rice. I love it so much and make it for my family all the time. I also love nikujaga (beef and carrot stew), okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake-type dish) and omurice. On the dessert side, I love purin, melon soda, and kakigori (sno-cones). And now I’m starving! 😀

You obviously love Japan, and your description of the park during cherry blossom season was incredible.  It made me want to book a flight to Japan for next spring!  What is your favorite place in Japan to visit?

My favorite place in Japan is definitely Takatsuki, Osaka. It’s where I lived as an exchange student in high school, and it always feels like returning home to go there. They have a beautiful park filled with cherry trees, and I also love Kabusanji Temple, up the mountain. Kabusanji was the first place I heard about kendo–one of the monks played a video of his family member (nephew, I think?) competing, and I was taken with the sport right away. I had the opportunity a couple years ago to back to Kabusanji for a tea ceremony. The temple grounds are really beautiful and filled with old treasures–one of their historic fire-proofed rooms was the inspiration for a room in Itsukushima Shrine mentioned in INK. So this temple, and my exchange student life in Takatsuki, really brings back a nostalgic feeling that is linked to The Paper Gods. As they say in Japanese, natsukashii! So nostalgic and bittersweet.

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.

Growing up, my favorite authors were Lloyd Alexander, Jane Yolen, and Bruce Coville. I still have my editions of these books like Taran Wanderer, the Pit Dragon Trilogy, and the Unicorn Chronicles saved to give my daughter when she’s old enough. They inspired me to become a writer, and what I loved most about the books was how they spoke to me as a person–not condescending at all, but trusting me to understand and experience everything in the books.

As a YA author, my favorite books are Mort by Terry Pratchett, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. They inspire me to push myself to be better, to be brave enough to take my characters into those dark, uncharted waters where anything could happen, and to write books which aren’t safe.

Amanda, it’s been wonderful hearing about INK and the experiences that inspired it.  I’m sure it’s going to be flying off the shelves as soon as it’s available on June 25th.  Your schedule is crazy busy these days, I know,  so I really appreciate that you made time to visit with us.  And thanks for the signed advance copy of INK and the signed bookmarks you’ve contributed for us to give away.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today! 🙂

AmandaSunABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Amanda Sun was born in Deep River, a small town where she could escape into the surrounding forest to read. An archaeologist by training, she speaks several languages and will write your name in Egyptian Hieroglyphic if you ask. She loves knitting, gaming, and cosplay, and lives in Toronto with her family. You can find Amanda online at:

Website | Twitter | Facebook

Gayle Rosengren loves story (and chocolate) in all forms. If she’s not at her laptop writing, she might be spotted at a bookstore, a stack of children’s books piled to her chin. She is endlessly fascinated by families–their quirks and their stories–as evidenced in her forthcoming book, WHAT THE MOON SAID (February 20, 2014, Putnam/Penguin).