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Writing in the Cracks

“How on Earth do you find time to write with all those kids?” is the question I get asked constantly when people discover I have a large family.

My tribe.

My tribe.

The very wise and kind Eileen Spinelli (mother of six) once told me to “write in the cracks.” At that point, I was at Chautauqua for a Highlights Retreat and expecting my ninth child. (I was able to go on that retreat because my husband, who is the fueler of all my dreams, had taken a week of vacation to watch our kids.) At that point the cracks in my life were only big enough to cram in a short story, or snippets of poetry, so that’s what I focused on writing.

During that time I wrote during ballet practices and for a couple of hours in the evening when I would shut myself in my bedroom while my husband cared for the kids. But I really wanted to work on novels, so I decided to carve out more writing time. After the kids went to bed, I would hit the keyboard, writing until the words swam on the screen. I’d snag a nap in the afternoon (on good days) while the little ones napped and repeat the process at night.

Tight deadlines have forced me to find more productive writing times, so I’m currently trying to condition myself to getting up at five in the morning and writing until the kids wake up. I’ve found that my head is much clearer and drafting flows far better than when I’m tired at the end of the day. The problem I’m having is that I want to spend time with my teenagers and husband at night, so I don’t get to bed early enough to function without a nap next day, and the three-year-old has decided to boycott naps.

So, I’m still trying to figure out how to make more productive “cracks,” but if I can do it, anyone can! What about you? When do you do your most productive writing?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn’t writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.
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Happy Release Day, Caminar!

Happy Release Day, Caminar!   caminar

What people are saying:

Exquisitely crafted poems are the basis of an unusually fine verse novel…”

–Horn Book, starred review

“…a much-needed addition to Latin American-themed middle grade fiction.”

–School Library Journal, starred review

A moving introduction to a subject seldom covered in fiction for youth…A promising debut.”     

–Kirkus

A Junior Library Guild Selection

From the jacket flap:

Carlos knows when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it’s time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet—he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist.

Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

Here’s where you can get your copy of Caminar:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Indie Bound

Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.
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A Middle Grader Reviews a Middle Grade Novel: THE LOST PLANET by Rachel Searles

As a huge fan of MG science fiction, I was totally excited to read Rachel Searles’s debut THE LOST PLANET, which released in January. I was going to review the book myself until I realized I have a much bigger authority in the household: my 10-year-old son, Jonah. He’s generously agreed to answer my questions (and I didn’t even need to bribe him with extra TV time)!

Hey, Jonah. What’s up?

Wait, that’s one of the questions? For real?

Tell us about the story in THE LOST PLANET.

So Chase doesn’t have any memory. And the whole story, he’s trying to find his memory again. He’s on a planet called Trucon. He meets a kid named Parker, and he has a robot named Mina. Chase has a message, “Guide the star.” But he doesn’t know what that means. He’s told to stay away from the fleet, and there’s a mysterious fleet soldier named Lieutenant Maurus.

What was the coolest part of the book?

The coolest part was when the Goxar were attacking the ship Chase is on. That part was cool because it was a mini-battle, because Mina and Maurus were fighting the Goxar.

Which character did you like the most, and why?

I liked Lieutenant Maurus, because you never knew which side he was on.

As you know, I love monsters. Were there any great monsters in the book?

Yeah, like I mentioned earlier, there were the Goxar, who were aliens with poisonous spikes on their back. There were also these cool creatures with claws on their backs. And there were also these monsters called Ambessitari. They were tricky, and they served their master, who was called Rezer Bennin.

Now for the final and all-important question: on a scale of 1 to 5, how many little green space dudes would you give THE LOST PLANET?

I give it a 4.5:

5 little aliens

Thanks, Jonah! Be sure to tell me about the next cool book you read, okay?

Yup, and I’m out!

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since age eight (though his first few were admittedly very short). His debut YA science fiction novel SURVIVAL COLONY NINE will be published in September 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Josh likes (in no particular order) gorillas, frogs, monsters, and human beings.
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Rachel M. Wilson: DON’T TOUCH

DONT-TOUCH-HC-1(1)

DON’T TOUCH, HarperTeen, September 2, 2014

I lift my gloved hand to catch his wrist. It feels strong in my hand, and his fingers, his
palm, burn an inch away from my already hot cheek. It would be a choice to let him
touch me. I almost want to pull his hand to my face, close the gap and let go.

_________________________

Today, we’re chatting with Rachel M. Wilson. You know the drill: one author, four questions! Rachel’s YA contemporary, DON’T TOUCH deals with anxiety, theater, divorce, and so much love. It will be out from HarperTeen on September 2, 2014.

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

Well, my college roommate was a witch and . . . No. Nope. Not telling that story . . . For the record, while my debut is realistic contemporary, I’m a big fan of fantasy and horror!

In reality, I’ve been working toward publication for a long time. A few lines of this book were written when I was in college, but I didn’t develop the story into a novel until years later, when I was studying for my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I wrote two full drafts during the program, and the second was a major rewrite. To give you some idea, the book used to be called Manatee, and a manatee played a major role in the plot. Today, the book contains a total of zero manatees.

After I graduated, I continued revising, cutting, adding, until I got the guts to submit to agents. My dream agent, the amazing Sara Crowe, had seen me read from the book at an alumni retreat at VCFA and seemed to like what she heard. When I queried her, she accepted, and the book sold at auction to the delightful people at HarperTeen in February of 2012.

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

Don’t Touch is the story of Caddie, a 16-year-old girl who’s recently been accepted to an arts high school to study theater. Caddie wants to play Ophelia in the academy’s production of Hamlet, and she wants to renew her friendship with her former best friend, Mandy, but she’s troubled by a fear of touching other people’s skin. Caddie’s parents are trying out a separation, and she creates a rule for herself that if she can avoid touch, she might be able to prevent her family from falling apart. Of course, it’s difficult to act without touching other actors. It’s hard for Caddie to act normal in front of her friends when she so clearly isn’t, and it’s hard to deal with her feelings for her fellow actor, Peter, who seems like a shoe-in for the role of Hamlet.

Cool details? I think it’s pretty cool that the book is set in Birmingham, AL, my hometown. Birmingham is a decent-sized city, an old iron town built around train tracks, but it definitely has some Deep South flavor–red-orange clay, hills covered in kudzu, plenty of BBQ and ham-laced greens and grits . . . There are some scenes set in old Irondale, by the train tracks, and around an abandoned swimming pool in the middle of the woods. These settings are inspired by real places. During revisions, my sister accompanied me in taking pictures for inspiration.

My sister Laura on the tracks

DSCN3745
Baby pool with the big pool in the background.

This is the wreckage of Irondale Swim & Tennis where I used to swim as a kid. I visited it while drafting Don’t Touch, and was surprised to find it abandoned. That inspired a scene which is still part of the book. The picture you see here was taken a year or two later–on my visit that inspired the scene, the pool had not yet been filled with dirt, much less grass, and still had water in the bottom.

Why the fear of touch?

As a kid, I had OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) starting around age ten. For several years I was afraid to touch lots of things–not just people–and I was a magical thinker, constantly worried that I might cause something bad to happen just by thinking about it. By the time I was in high school, I’d gotten help for it, but I still had a lot of anxiety, and that made it hard to be open with other people.

At the same time, I was good at putting on a happy face and hiding what was going on with me. Like Caddie, I loved acting because it allowed me to hide behind a character and to connect with people in ways I wasn’t bold enough for in real life. So while the plot and characters are definitely fictional, the novel had its spark in experience. Fear has loomed large in my life. I wanted to explore how fear can separate us from other people and from our passions, and how those same people and passions can sometimes combat fear.

I decided to focus on the fear of touch because it serves as an extended metaphor for Caddie’s struggle to be open and vulnerable to other people. You don’t have to have experienced mental illness to relate to that. Caddie’s fears are heightened versions of the fears we all feel . . . the fear of abandonment, the fear of change, the fear of coming into one’s own power . . .

What do you do when you’re not writing?

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That’s me, front and center, rocking my Halloween Monkey shirt

I do a lot of work with an amazing theater company called Barrel of Monkeys. We teach writing workshops in Chicago Public Schools and adapt the students’ writing for the stage, often with comedy and music. I coordinate our after-school program, teach, and play roles ranging from a homicidal church bell to a two-timing cheerleader to a rampaging American Girl Doll–whatever the kids can imagine. It’s the most fun ever. If you want a little taste, here’s a link to one of my favorite Monkey songs, “Bad Car,” which is adapted word for word by musical theater guru, Jonathan Mastro.

Aside from that, I do lots of odd jobs–the oddest involves pretending to be sick to help doctors learn. Sometimes, I get to pretend to be a surgeon or nurse and save mannequins’ lives. It’s always educational, and a not-so-terrible side effect is that I want to set all my scenes in hospitals these days.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 9.59.19 PM

My coworker had a rough day.

Lately, I spend way too much time on Tumblr. For myself, for the OneFours, and for my PhD in Superheroes!

Thanks for asking!

Rachel M. Wilson‘s DON’T TOUCH stems from a personal vendetta against anxiety and a love of all things theater. After studying acting at Northwestern, Rachel earned her MFA in Writing for Children & YA at VCFA. Originally from Birmingham, AL, she now lives in Chicago, IL, where she writes, acts, teaches, and spoils a dog named Remy Frankenstein. DON’T TOUCH releases September 2, 2014 from HarperTeen.
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Rin Chupeco: THE GIRL FROM THE WELL

The Girl from the Well (August 5, 2014; Sourcebooks)

You may think me biased, being murdered myself. But my state of being has nothing to do with the curiosity toward my own species, if we can be called such. We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night.

A dead girl walks the streets.

She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret – one that would just kill to get out.

—–

We have a lot of fantastic authors at OneFour KidLit and are excited to introduce them all to you. One author, four questions.  Today we’re talking to Rin Chupeco, author of THE GIRL FROM THE WELL.  And while not technically an undead spirit herself, Rin has been mistaken enough times as one hat she feels she can  competently write about them.

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

It almost didn’t. I live in the Philippines, where writing speculative fiction locally was discouraged – mostly because nobody has ever eked out a decent living from them. The chances of successfully establishing myself as an author in the international scene was even lower. For the longest time, I believed people when they said it wasn’t worth the effort, until a chance encounter with a rather famous writer (here’s a hint: his name starts with an ‘N’, and ends in an ‘eil Gaiman’) convinced me I’ll never know if I never try.

The thought of a nine to five job for the rest of my non-pensioned life finally scared the crap out of me, and I began to write. At first they were short stories, which got me into local and online indie publications, but with little financial compensation. From there I soon graduated to novels. I wrote a book, queried it for awhile, then shelved it after realizing I’d made the neophyte’s mistake of querying too soon. My experiences in an old building where I used to work, combined with an odd conversation with a friend about horror movies, inspired me to write a second book, which I did in roughly three months, falling back on my love for creepy Asian things and psychological ghost stories.

I knew this was THE ONE after I penned the final draft; I knew it was different, I knew there was nothing like it out yet, and I thought the concept was unusual enough to be noticed. Requests started coming in as soon as I started querying, and I eventually signed on with Rebecca Podos and Nicole LaBombard from the Helen Rees Agency. A few months later, I accepted a publishing deal with Sourcebooks, and have been thrilled ever since.

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

THE GIRL FROM THE WELL is based on the Bancho Sarayashiki, which is one of the most popular ghost stories in Japan. It’s about a young maidservant accused of something she didn’t do, but was thrown down a well as punishment. Now her ghost rises nightly from that well, unable to rest in peace. It’s the same story the movie Ringu / The Ring was based upon, but while the relentless Sadako is driven by hate and rage with little reason, my protagonist has something few ghosts are able to retain in the afterlife: a conscience, however slight that may be.

This doesn’t stop her from being violent when the situation calls for it, and while she considers most of what she does true justice, I wouldn’t say she’s been able to temper it with mercy when it comes to many of her victims – though she’s forced to reassess her centuries-old vengeance when innocent humans become involved. It’s a tale of redemption, a love story without necessarily being a romance – and it’s a story about how even the worst of monsters might still deserve what most people are often given: a second chance.

Are there any other ghost stories / urban legends you enjoy other than the Bancho Sarayashiki?

Right off the bat, I’m gonna say that Japan has some of the weirdest ghosts you will ever read about. One is Hanako-san, a little girl who has a predisposition for haunting toilets. She appears only after you knock at the  third stall of a school bathroom on the third floor, and ask for her by name, much like the Bloody Mary legend. Outcomes vary, from apparitions of a bloody hand, to her killing the caller rather gruesomely. Another more horrifying ghost is the Kuchisake-onna, a woman who wanders around with a mask on who stops and asks people if she’s pretty. If they say no, she kills them; if they say yes, she takes off her mask and shows them a mouth that has been slit from ear to ear, and asks them again. Another “no” gets them killed, and a “yes” will make her slash their mouths to give them the same disfigurement. Not exactly a good outcome for both answers.

Philippine mythology doesn’t get as much popularity as I think it deserves, too. There’s the legend of the manananggal, who’s usually a pretty girl in the daytime. At night, she has the ability to sever her body from the waist up, sprout wings, and fly over rooftops looking for babies and pregnant women to feast, on with a long prehensile tongue that can slip through small cracks in ceilings for this purpose. And there’s the tiyanak, which manifests as a crying baby apparently left in the woods or at an abandoned lot, and turns into basically an evil gremlin the instant you pick them up. I am a huge sucker for stories like these!

What cool facts might readers not know about you?

1. I was born and raised in the Philippines, but am ethnically Chinese for the most part. (I’m something of a mutt, with some Malay / Thai / Spanish / etc. trawling through the family bloodstream, though we’ve never been able to pinpoint a more definite ratio). This might explain why I’ve got huge eyes for an Asian, but STILL does not explain why I’ve got the body of a short thirteen year old girl while other family members are built like models.

2. I have foldable hands, in that I can fold them lengthwise, due in part to an old diving-into-a-shallow-pool-because-I’m-an-idiot incident. This gives me no superpowers whatsoever, other than the ability to gross people out.

3. I grew up on a steady diet of television and books, and Conan O’Brien was my babysitter for the latter part of my childhood. (On the other hand, Remington Steele appeared to be my favorite series during my toddlerhood. My father has stories  where, at two years old, I would point to Pierce Brosnan on-screen and yell: “That’s my boyfriend!”)

Despite an uncanny resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin has always maintained her sense of hummus. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps eight pets: a dog, six birds, and a husband. She’s been a time traveler, a Starfleet captain, and a mutant, because real jobs are overrated. Her YA horror, THE UNNATURAL STATES OF DEAD GIRLS IN WELLS (Sourcebooks), pitched as Dexter meets the Grudge, is due out Fall 2014.
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For the Love of Little People

I’ve always loved tiny creatures: fairies, sea monkeys (yes, they ARE people, haven’t you seen the ads?), and even leprechauns. So it’s no surprise that my debut novel, BY THE GRACE OF TODD, is about a boy and the tiny civilization of humanoids that have sprung from the grime of his grungy baseball sock.

Today, I’m going to discuss how I developed the Toddlans. When Todd first discovers the tiny race on his sock, they are dressed in togas made from fibers and live in crude huts made of his filth. Their language at this point is a series of grunts and coos, which Todd’s baby sister, Daisy, happens to speak fluently. They live like cave men, roasting toe jam over tiny fires.

As the Toddlians are exposed to TV (specifically The Bachelorette, QVC, and John Wayne) they learn English using context clues. It was fun to intersperse their dialogue with snippets of commercials and TV lingo. But the language also posed a challenge: how does someone who’s never seen a pencil before describe it? Carpet becomes a fiber forest, cars are metal monsters, and dental floss is a lasso (for Persephone, the cowgirl Toddlian. Yeehaw!)

Todd interior final #8

Illustration by Patrick Faricy

Despite the difficulties of seeing the world though a Toddlian point of view, there were also some delightful things about working with little people. For instance, I had to be extra creative to accommodate them–almost like playing with dolls. They drink from Lego heads, sleep in a fluffy slipper, and swim in Lake Parkay (a margarine tub lid.) Plus, they can ride around hidden in Todd’s hair, although they might be heard screaming, “Slow down, for the love of all things tiny!”

I’ll close with my favorite bit of Toddlian trivia, the Toddlandian National Anthem:
Toddlandia, Toddlandia, our home upon a sock,
Toddlandia, Toddlandia, of forest, hill, and rock,
From the salty Sweat River to the wide Sebaceous Sea,
Toddlandia, Toddlandia, our love we pledge to thee.

How about you? Do you believe in wee folk? What’s your favorite read involving little people?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn’t writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.
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Dana Alison Levy: THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER

Today we’re talking to Dana Alison Levy. Unlike her characters, she does not have an invisible cheetah, or an endless desire to make cat barf jokes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some true facts buried in her funny Middle Grade debut, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER, which will be out in July from Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House. She’s just not telling what they are.

Hey, you’re getting published! How’d that happen?
The old-fashioned way. I wrote a book, then I wrote another book, then I queried literary agents, then I wrote another book, and so on. THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER was, I think, my fourth book, and when superagent Marietta Zacker called to offer representation I was downright giddy.

In all honesty, it seems I spent my career writing but pretending I wasn’t writing. By that I mean I worked in marketing, small business management, executive recruiting, and more, and in each job, what I was best at and enjoyed the most was…wait for it…writing. I lost my job in the 2009 recession. While I looked for work and hung out with my young children, I decided that what I really wanted to do next was the same thing I had wanted to do on Career Day in third grade: I wanted to write. Now I freelance for for a bunch of clients, writing on a variety of random and weird topics. And I write books for kids and young adults (also, honesty compels me to state, on a variety of random and weird topics).

What’s your debut book about? Can you share any cool details with us?
It’s a story about the new school year for a wacky and shenanigan-filled modern family with four adopted boys, two dads, and an ever-changing number of pets. Someone called it THE PENDERWICKS meet Modern Family, and that’s probably about right.

As for a cool detail…well, originally, the dog’s name was Walter, and someone pointed out the folly of another boy’s name in a family that already had six of them. So I asked a group of writers — I was at a writing retreat — for advice. And one of my writer friends, who has an awesome southern drawl, said, “Well, growing up our dog was Sir Puggleton!” Boom. A new dog name was born.

What cool facts might readers not know about you?
Well, one very cool fact is that I actually come from a distinguished line of writers! Both my aunt, Elizabeth Levy, and my cousin, Robie Harris, are children’s book authors, with well over a hundred books between them. So I’ve been lucky in that I have sympathetic mentors and cheerleaders throughout the grueling process. In case anyone’s wondering though? Nepotism doesn’t really get you anywhere in publishing. I was pulled from the slush pile, like everyone else. (But my collection of signed books is pretty impressive)!

Also, I can wiggle my ears.

What are your desert island books?
I can’t even…DON’T ASK ME THAT. I wish for an unlimited number of wishes!! Oh wait, that wasn’t the question. Well, it feels like it. I don’t believe it favorite books (or movies, or kids…it always leads to heartbreak), but here are a few I love:

Picture book:
TIME OF WONDER by Robert McCloskey: Oh, the evocative images and language used to convey coastal Maine in all its glory!

Classic Middle Grade:
ALL OF A KIND FAMILY series, by Sydney Taylor: Loved these stories of a Jewish family in New York in the first half of the twentieth century. (Hmmm…four girls in the their family, four boys in the Fletchers. Never thought of that).

Newer Middle Grade:
MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool: This one did everything right. Complex, beautiful, and redemptive historical fiction. Puts the “literature” in the term “children’s literature.”

Humorous Young Adult:
ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING by Louise Rennison: Writing the funny is hard, and this author nails it again and again. Laugh out loud silliness.

Lyrical Young Adult:
JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta: Beautifully written, incredible characters, and a plot that pulls together so perfectly I want to weep.

Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true-—she just likes to make things up, which is why she writes books. Her middle grade debut, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER, is due out in July 22, 2014, from Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House. She really hopes it’s funny.