Archive for the ‘Oklahoma authors’ Category

Doug Solter is a delightful addition to our local SCBWI family and he has to be the hardest working author on the self-publishing front. I read all his notices about the daily word counts he pushes to achieve after a long day at work and I see him all the time on the Twitter chats interacting and encouraging his fellow writers. So when Doug asked if I’d liked to be a part of his cover reveal, I didn’t hesitate.

There’s also a giveaway for those paying attention, so make sure you’re one of them!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

doug-solter

 

Growing up in Oklahoma, Doug Solter began writing screenplays in 1998 and became a 2001 semi-finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. His script Father Figure was one of 129 scripts left from 5,489 entries. Doug made the switch to writing young adult novels in 2008. Doug is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Doug respects cats, loves the mountains, and one time walked the streets of Barcelona with a smile on his face.

 

ABOUT RIVALS

Eighteen-year-old Samantha Sutton is back for a new racing season in Formula One. The hot new racing star of Wolert Porsche has everything she wants. An awesome team. An awesome car. And the perfect boy. But her optimism sinks when her boss steals arch-rival Emilio Ronaldo away from Ferrari and makes the jerk her team’s number-one driver.

Stressing about Emilio, Samantha struggles with her new public life as a teen sports star. Finding time to be the best girlfriend to Manny proves more and more difficult. It also doesn’t help that Manny’s ex-girlfriend Hanna shows up. The girl treated at a mental hospital for poisoning his grandmother’s dog.

The pressure on Samantha becomes unbearable. Paranoia, mistrust, and jealousy take over. She lashes out at everyone as the world seems determined to bring her down.

Can Samantha rise above it all and win the world championship? Or will this be the end of everything she’s worked so hard for?

This novel is the sequel to Skid which is available for free download in either eBook or Audiobook form when you sign up to the author’s free email list.

 

RIVALS RELEASE DATE

Tuesday, September, 23rd

 

EXCERPT FROM RIVALS:

“Are you ready to meet your new teammate?” Benito asks.

            Not really.

            Outside the main garage, the three of us take the little sidewalk that leads to the scenic overlook near the back of the office building. The overlook is this cozy spot with chairs and benches. Lots of Wolert Porsche employees walk over here to have lunch or to take a break from work to stare at the pretty view of the deep valley and the pointy tops of the Alps surrounding it.

            A slight breeze runs up the valley and smacks the side of the mountain we’re on. The sun spreads Emilio Ronaldo’s shadow over the molded-stone pavement as he leans against the wood safety rails that prevent people from falling over the steep drop.

            I join him along the rail.

            Emilio takes a long drag from a cigar, blowing out a large plume of smoke. He tucks his hand inside his sport coat and pulls out another cigar. “Do you smoke?”

            “Seriously? You’re offering me a cigar?” I ask.

            “They’re very good. Very strong. Grow hair on your chest.” Emilio grins.

            Yeah, right. Smoking a cigar is a macho-guy thing. They need it to feel like men. Hmm. I wonder if little-old me is intimidating him again. The same girl who made him flinch during that race at Spa. That would be awesome if I’m getting under his skin.

            Emilio slips the cigar back into his coat. “But if you don’t feel adventurous I understand.”

            Wait a second. Is he saying I’m too timid? That I can’t handle a cigar just because I’m a girl?

            “I’d love a cigar,” I say, acting like it’s no big deal.

            Emilio pulls out the cigar. I snatch it and place it in my mouth. The foreign object lays heavy on my tongue and feels like I have a wad of paper stuffed in my mouth.

            “You need to cut off the end first.”

            “I know that.” I pull the cigar out and notice the round end that isn’t cut off. I bite into that and rip it off with my teeth. I taste flakes of pure tobacco on my tongue and it’s like ash and it’s disgusting and I spit it all over the stones at my feet.

            Emilio smiles and holds up some rectangular-looking tool with a round hole in it. “I have a cutter. You don’t have to bite the end off.”

            Now I feel like an idiot. Emilio must be enjoying this. Another genius plan to embarrass and humiliate me. Too late to stop now. I hold out the cigar and he cuts off the end. I put the cigar back in my mouth.

            Emilio takes out a lighter and flicks. The flame licks the end of my cigar. “You must inhale to draw the flame in and light the tobacco.”

            I breathe in and smoke fills my lungs.

            Oh My God! I cough hard and bend over, belching smoke from my mouth like a dragon. I feel my eyes watering. A definite sign my body is yelling. What the hell are you doing to me, Samantha?

            Enjoying my discomfort, Emilio inhales his cigar, the end of which glows bright red. Like a demon.

            I take another drag on the cigar and my lungs belch out the foul smoke again. But I try to stand casual. Like the smoke doesn’t bother me.

            “I would like to begin,” Emilio says. “By mentioning that our past grievances should be left in the past. We are both competitors. We both fight to win. But starting today, we will be teammates. Do you understand? When both of us do well, the team does well. The team will always matter more than one driver. I look forward to working with you. Not against you.” Emilio takes a moment for a puff on his cigar. “What is your opinion on that?”

            My opinion? Someone actually wants to hear my opinion? It’s a mountain of cow puke. That’s my opinion. This is still my team and Emilio is not going to come in here and take it away. All this crap about team this and team that. It’s only to put a pacifier in my mouth so I won’t complain. Be the good little girl, Samantha. Play nice and get along with the boy who stole your place on the team.

             I puff the cigar and cough. Jeez. That’s what this cigar is. It’s a pacifier. Make baby Samantha shut up.

             I take the cigar out of my mouth.

            “Is it too strong?” Emilio asks.

            This guy can read people crazy-well. He read me like a book right before our final race at Spa. Emilio detects weakness in others like a hawk drifting over a limp sheep, patiently waiting for it to fall over before attacking.

            I won’t let him read me ever again.

            “I agree. We so got into it last year and it was insane.” I use my sweet girlie voice that fools most guys. “And there were times I actually wanted to kill you. Like that time at your home in Brazil?”

            “I remember,” he says. “I mentioned something about how you could never win the world championship.”

            “Because I was a woman and didn’t have the killer instinct or something like that.”

            Whoa. Easy, Samantha. Don’t lose it. Stay under control. Do not let Emilio beat you.

            “Yes. Something like that,” Emilio says, his voice quieter. “You proved me wrong. The way you hunted me those last few laps at Spa. You were ruthless. Unyielding. You chased me down like a cunning animal that had learned patience and the art of intimidation. My observations please you?”

            Crap. He caught me smiling.

            “It was impressive. We are teammates now so I can mention this. You are not some female racer who shows off her body more than her racing skills. You are quite different.”

            If that’s his version of a compliment, I guess I’ll take it.

 

COVER REVEAL

Now that we’ve built up plenty of anticipation, without any further ado, here it is…

 

rivals_large

 

Jealousy is a powerful emotion, it can destroy even good people.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of this reveal. For participating, you can enter the Giveaway below to win either a signed copy of RIVALS, SKID 2 or a signed copy of the first book, SKID. Simply click on the link and follow the directions.

Learn more about Doug Solter here.

Follow Doug on Twitter here.

➤ ➤ ➤ ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE!!! a Rafflecopter giveaway

The very first person I met through SCBWI was Barbara Lowell. She epitomizes the spirit of our SCBWI Oklahoma group – open and generous and willing to help anyone who asks. I am so grateful that she was the first to make a permanent impression on me. We met at one of the fall conferences, my first ever to attend. How lucky was I that she also soon became one of my very first critique partners, as well? I’m happy to say that she is still my critique partner to this day. We’ve both learned so much from when we started out as newbie writers, making typical mistakes and writing awful stories. Our whole group has grown and we have all come a long way from those stumbling beginnings. Barbara has fantastic suggestions that help me take my stories in much better directions, and even though she swears she could never write something so long herself, I’m not so sure she couldn’t if that’s where her passion led her. Fortunately for us, she loves writing dynamic and intriguing picture book biographies. I adore Barbara’s writing and have felt it a privilege to be a part of so many of her great stories. I’m so happy that the first of these has finally found its way to publication.

GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL
Grosset & Dunlap. June 26, 2014.

 

George Ferris Book

 

George Ferris, ever confident, didn’t know that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair would make him famous, but when engineers were challenged to build something unique and original, he knew he was the person to create it. George had to convince the fair officials, find the money and design and build an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 people at the same time, something no one had ever done before.

 The Interview

 

Barbara was kind enough to stop by my blog to answer a few questions about her writing process and how she came to be the writer she is today. And she’s also donated not one, but two of her books for a fantastic giveaway! (I told you she was generous.) More details on that later. First, the questions!

Barbara Author PhotoValerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this story? What made you want to tell it?

Barbara Lowell: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. What amazed him most was that George Ferris had built an amusement wheel with train-sized cars that could hold 2,160 people at the same time.

As soon as he finished the book, I read it. Those two details and George’s confidence that despite overwhelming odds, he could and would build his wheel inspired me to write his story as a nonfiction picture book.

I also loved how Mrs. Ferris absolutely believed in George. She rode in one of the six cars mounted on the wheel for a second trial trip. The glass for the windows hadn’t been installed. When the car she was riding in reached the top of the wheel, 264 feet, she stood on her chair and cheered.

 

VL: I loved those details about the story. What devotion his wife had to test such a contraption. Mrs. Ferris must have been quite a character herself.

I was surprised by the sheer size of this first Ferris Wheel – so big that each car could hold a 40-piece marching band. Would you ever ride in a Ferris Wheel that big?

BL: I might try the new High Roller in Las Vegas. It is twice the height of George Ferris’s wheel, but holds 1,120 passengers verses George Ferris’s 2,160. 

 

VL: A book of this type requires an extensive amount of research. What is your writing process? How do you start a project like this?

BL: I love history, especially American history and researching is fun. There are many interesting stories to find that are not well-known. I try to research the person or story I am writing about as thoroughly as I can. Since I learned about George Ferris’s wheel in Devil in the White City, I first looked at Erik Larson’s sources. His sources that I couldn’t find in the Tulsa library system, I either found at the University of Tulsa or bought online.

One that I consulted over and over is Norman Anderson’s impeccably researched book Ferris Wheels. I researched the sources used for every book I read and dug deeper and deeper. I was able to find at the NOAA website that the lowest recorded temperature in Chicago in January 1893 was -16. I look for as many primary sources as I can – books written by and interviews conducted with the subject of my book, original documents and artifacts. I found an interview with George Ferris from 1893 – that was a great find. When I was unable to locate the answer to a question I had about George Ferris, I contacted the Chicago Historical Society.

 

VL: That is very diligent researching. It must have been amazing to read George Ferris’s own words and then incorporate that into your story.

Who were your childhood heroes and role models? What drew you to them?

BL: From the time I was in third grade, I loved reading biographies, especially about people I could learn from. My favorite autobiography was Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life. I read many books about Eleanor Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. All three subjects faced enormous challenges with great courage. I still read lots of biographies and nonfiction history.

 

VL: I have such a strong memory of learning about Helen Keller, too. I thought she was amazing. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

BL: I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer, but I never tried seriously to become one until my daughter started high school. I thought, now I have the time to work on this and it maybe now or never.

I tried on my own, but I was going nowhere until the wonderful Oklahoma writer, Anna Myers started the SCBWI Oklahoma Schmoozes (writers and illustrators meetings.) I attended the meetings and conferences, took online classes and joined a critique group. I began to learn how to write for children and continue every day to learn and improve. This is a tough business and the support of my fellow writers has given me the strength to pursue my writing goals.

 

VL: You are so right! The need for support cannot be emphasized enough. I may have given up long ago if not for my SCBWI family.

Tell me about the most memorable adventures you had with your friends outside of school.

BL: I loved the summer. I lived in a neighborhood with lots of children. We spent our summers dreaming up adventures and then acted them out. A friend’s father helped build sets for a local theater group and one day he brought home a full-size Conestoga wagon. We had a great time traveling out west in our imaginations. One summer we set up our own outdoor laundry and went around the neighborhood asking for things to wash. We played all kinds of outdoor games. There was so much to do that every day seemed to last forever. I loved being a kid and that’s why I like writing for them.

 

VL: Wow! A real Conestoga wagon? You kids must have had a field day with that. I think I would have wanted to camp out in it. Maybe sleep under the stars like a cowboy. I loved being a kid, too. I think you may have something there. 

What are you currently working on?

BL: I finished researching a picture book biography, and I am working on the first draft. I have also recently worked on the first picture book I ever wrote and have rewritten it, not just revised it, for about the sixth time. I think I have finally made it work – but I have thought that before. I also have a new idea for a picture book biography and will start my research by reading the subject’s autobiography. I hope I can find a great story arc there.

 

VL: I can’t wait to take a peek at it. :)

What are some of your favorite books for kids?

BL: I think I can agree with almost every fan of YA – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I also love his book An Abundance of Katherines. I recently read Kathi Appelt’s latest middle grade novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and her book The Underneath is one of my favorites. Karen Cushman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anna Myers write some of my favorite historical fiction novels.

My favorite book period is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a huge collection of picture book biographies and historical fiction picture books. My two favorites are Deborah Hopkinson’s Apples to Oregon and Patrick McDonnell’s Me…Jane (Jane Goodall.) I think his is the best picture book biography written. I also like all of Barbara Kerley’s biographies and one of my new favorites is On a Beam of Light (Albert Einstein) by Jennifer Berne.

 

VL: There were some favorites of mine there and some new ones I need to read. Great suggestions.

What has been the best part of being a writer?

BL: Becoming friends with children’s writers. I absolutely love spending time with them and being part of this close community.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

Thank you so much for being here, Barbara. And I hope to have you back very soon!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

BUY THE BOOK:

indiebound

 bn-24h-80amazon

 

The Giveaway

 

And now for the fabulous giveaway!

Barbara has generously donated two hardback editions of her new book GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL. So there will be TWO WINNERS! This contest is open to everyone. The contest will run through July 18th and you can enter once a day. Good Luck! The winners can now been seen when you click on the giveaway site. Congratulations!

 

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Barbara Lowell Rafflecopter giveaway

The Academy of American Poets have declared April National Poetry Month, so I’m here to share my latest poetry read with you. Also, a reminder that April 24th is  Poem in Your Pocket Day where poetry fans throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it. Join it the fun by tweeting about your poem of choice on Twitter this year at #pocketpoem.

OKLAHOMA POEMS… AND THEIR POETS
edited by Nathan Brown

I met Nathan Brown, the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate, and editor of this anthology, during a summer course I took from the University of Oklahoma that was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few years ago. I actually wrote about meeting him here. Nathan put together this fantastic book of poems about Oklahoma by some well-known poets from Oklahoma to give readers a taste of what Oklahoma is like, in all its many subtle forms. And what an amazing job he did.

(Not to play favorites, but our own Anna Myers has a talented son who writes poetry. Ben Myers contributes a poem entitled “Deep Fork”. Ben is a phenomenal poet whose work I’ve reviewed right here on this blog and if you haven’t read his books you must go out a procure them now or you’ll regret it deep in your soul forever. Okay, maybe playing a little favorites.)

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An anthology edited by Nathan Brown, the 2013 – 2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. It includes poems “about” Oklahoma that are written by natives, ex-pats, and visitors alike. These poems are an honest, and sometimes raw, look at the state’s past and present by way of three chapters titled: People, Places, and Odds & Ends. Among the poets represented are Pulitzer winners Stephen Dunn and N. Scott Momaday, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, George Bilgere, Ron Padgett, and many others.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

As someone who has always felt like an outsider, one who could not easily identify with a particular group comfortably, I’ve struggled to place myself somewhere – to understand where I come from.

What are my roots? Who are my people?

I’ve always thought of myself as some homogenized American mutt, with no special culture to speak of – a slice of white bread in a world of whole grain artisan loaves.

Void of nutritional value.

Tasteless.

Boring.

Strangely, this poetry collection helped me see glimpses of my childhood, reminding me of things I’d forgotten through its portrayals of rural life, the deep connection to the land and weather, the sense of community when tragedy strikes, and even the naked bigotry and oppression portrayed in some poems. These are some of the forces that molded me. This is where I come from. I am pieces of all of them, in some ways – the good and the bad. These are my people.

Here is an example of one the poems that sparked a sense of nostalgia for me. A short, but brilliant poem by Joey Brown

 

MERIDIAN, OKLAHOMA

Three boys wake up in a town that’s not really

a town, weighted down by the early morning

summer, and breathe sour sulphur from the refinery

that clanks and churns or whatever refineries do

to make someone some little bit of money.

It’s not them, not their house, so what do they care

but for the nagging smell.

Three boys pump their bicycles on the highway

past the yard of rusted-up drill bits. You’d be afraid

for them were this a highway anywhere else. In the

convenience store they take two Cokes and an

orange Fanta from the lay-down cooler. They like the

pop & sigh the bottle opener makes. When the door

opens again, the air conditioner pleads.

Three boys wait in the parking lot but don’t know

they’re waiting. Sit astride the bikes, bottles clinking

here and there, don’t speak. They stare at the white

day reflecting off the school across the road,

blistering their eyes. You just know they don’t

imagine the size of it all. They can’t. One of them

keeps firecrackers leftover in his pocket.

 

Just a simple summer afternoon in a small town, but holy cow, did this light up my brain with a flood of memories and sensory images!

How had I forgotten that we used to live two doors down from a small fire station? In the summer time, we would always go over there and bug the crap out of hang out with the firefighters. Not really for very long, just to say ‘hi’ and snag a super frosty Coke or orange Crush from their lay-down cooler, just like in this poem. It only cost a quarter and it was so cool to get pop in a bottle.

And we would ride our bikes everywhere. All over town, on busy streets, from sun up to sun down. On the best days, we’d end up at Champlain Pool. We’d swim all day – jumping off the high dive and dreading adult swim. Ah! Some of my best summer memories. All uncorked by a simple poem.

And there is a fantastic poem by George Bilgere entitled “Cordell”, that I truly love, and not just because the title has a familial connection for me. It’s all about a first solo road trip on a grasshopper green motorcycle. It’s a little long to share the whole thing here, but I encourage you to find it and read it. Well worth the search.

Here’s just a few lines to give you a taste:

For the first time

I pondered the venous skin

of a map and chartered a route from Burns Flat

to Cordell, a little town

on the Oklahoma plains. The day

was sparkling and unrehearsed, the air

cool in the morning, and for the first time

I went out on the public roads alone,

despite having no license, the world

for the first time passing by in a rush

at the tips of my handlebars,

a pick-up passing now and then,

the farmer inside raising the index finger

of his left hand precisely

one inch above the wheel, a man

greeting me as a man

for the first time,

 

It goes on and on and I could just drink it up like a cool glass of iced tea.

How that poem brought me back to the day I got my driver’s license and the freedom that was now mine. And all the crazy adventures I had with my friends out on the open road. When you’re from a small town, sometimes there’s nothing to do but pile into your car with your friends and drive. Sometimes you end up at the lake, sometimes you end up at a keg party in a wheat field, and sometimes you just end up in trouble.

Best not tell about that last one.

There are several poems that talk of the land and weather where you can almost smell rain in the air right before a good thunderstorm.

Here’s beautiful one by N. Scott Momaday.

 

 THE LAND

The first people to enter upon it

Must have given it a name, wind-borne

      and elemental,

Like summer rain.

The name must have given spirit to the land,

For so it is with names.

Before the first people there must have been

The profound isolation of night and day,

The blazing shield of the sun,

The darkness winnowed from the stars -

The holy havoc of myth and origin,

True and prophetic, and inexorable,

Like summer rain.

What was to become of the land?

What was the land to become?

What was there in the land to define

The falling of the rain and the turning of the seasons,

The far and forever silence of the universe?

A voice, a name,

Words echoing the whir of wings

Swelled among the clouds

And sounded on the red earth in the wake

      of creation.

A voice. A name.

Oklahoma.

 

Just gorgeous imagery.

I always learn so much from reading poetry. This book brought me closer to home than I realized I needed to go. It’s a well-chosen collection, diverse in topic and voice and all very, truly Oklahoma. I hope you’ll take the time to read it yourself.

One more great thing about this book is that the proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Humanities Council.

Learn more about Nathan Brown here.

Follow Nathan on Facebook here.

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I met Hannah Harrison a few years ago at one of our local SCBWI OK conferences. I was immediately struck by her open, friendly demeanor and her amazing artistic talent. Also by the fact that she had a head of hair even curlier than mine. Hannah won the Illustrator’s Best Portfolio award that year and the next. Still, she remained grounded and humble and just as sweet as ever. As some of you may remember, Hannah gave the keynote speech at this fall’s Agent Day Conference where she told us all about her journey to publication, culminating in a two-book deal with Dial Books. 

Hannah’s first book coming out is EXTRAORDINARY JANE, releasing this February. We’re all so very proud and excited for her.

Extraordinary Jane cover

For anyone with a beloved pet, this delightful and heartwarming story set at the circus shows that quiet qualities like friendship, kindness, and loyalty are important and worthy.

Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Hannah was gracious enough to stop by for an interview, going into even more detail about her work and her life.

Valerie Lawson: I loved reading in your bio how your kindergarten teacher recognized your obvious artistic talent and put you in “Special Art” with the fifth graders. How huge an impact did that teacher make on you and in helping to develop your craft?

Hannah Harrison: So huge! Marlene Witham just made me feel so, well…special! She made me feel like everything I created was really something to behold—whether it be paint, or clay, or dry macaroni. It was so kind of her to have such confidence in me—to single me out the way that she did. Here I was, just a frizzy-haired pip-squeak in hand-me-down clothes, and she noticed me, and believed in me, and made me feel like my talent was unique. So, yes, her impact on my life was huge.

VL: She was bound to single you out when you drew yourself in profile when asked to draw a self-portrait. What Kindergartner does that? Incredible!

Smoking Bunnies

Bunny Smoking Pipe (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) by Hannah Harrison 1.25″ x 1.25″ acrylic on museum board. This won Best in Show 2013, awarded by the Cider Painters of America

Your miniature paintings just fascinate me – some as small as one inch by one inch! How did you get into this “small” world of miniature painting? 

HH: Well, I realized that it would probably be a good idea for an aspiring children’s book illustrator to know how to paint children. So I started doing little paintings from old photographs of me as a kid. Since they were just studies, I painted them small (I figured it’d be faster). I thought they turned out kind of snazzy, so I hung a few of them up in the artist co-op that I was a part of as an example for commissions. One of the other artists in the co-op, Irene Goddu, was a miniaturist, and when she saw my tiny portraits, she invited me to join The Cider Painters of America. Before this, I didn’t realize that miniature painting was something people did! There’s a niche for that? Turns out, there’s a pretty big niche with miniature painting societies all over the world. There’s even a World Federation of Miniaturists! Who knew?! So now I’m a Signature Member of The Cider Painters of America and The Hilliard Society, and I feel pretty fancy.

VL: They are really incredible – so much detail for such small works.

HH: Aw, thanks! What is it Bob Ross used to say? Three hairs and some air? It’s kind of like that.

VL: The number of paintings you have of animals far outweigh those of humans and yet the animal pictures tend to have human characteristics, wear clothing, etc. Are you more comfortable with animals or are they just more fun to draw?

HH: I love painting animals and people. But for illustration, I think I am more comfortable with animals—it’s easier for me to paint them from my imagination. People are hard to get just right (painting flesh tones is tricky business, and it’s hard to keep continuity of character), but with animals, as long as they’re good and fuzzy, and have soulful eyes, they’ll at least be endearing (I hope). A badly painted person? Not so cute. Sometimes creepy. Plus I love animals for picture books because 1) they can get into whatever kinds of shenanigans you want them to without too much regard for personal safety or rules or parents, 2) any kid, regardless of race, can relate to and identify with animals. I will also confess that as a kid, I often enjoyed dressing my pet cats up in doll clothes (I was an only child, leave me alone). The cats were not amused. I, however, thought it was stinkin’ hilarious. I still think animals in clothes are funny.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison, image from artist's website.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison

VL: Ah, those are excellent points. It’s really important for kids to be able to identify and connect with the characters. (I also can’t imagine someone wrestling a tempermental cat into a costume. That would take special talent, or little concern for danger.)

HH: Ha! It helps to use the element of surprise!

VL: Your paintings are so detailed and yet you are also such a prolific painter, your website has pages and pages of exquisite paintings posted in the gallery, how long does it take you to complete each piece?

HH: Thanks, Valerie! It’s hard to say how long it takes to complete a piece—they all vary so much. But I will say that the plethora of paintings on my website are a result of 10+ years of portfolio building in an attempt to break into the business combined with artwork created for various exhibitions. Show deadlines have a way of bringing the prolific-ness out of you! And being a “starving artist” doesn’t hurt, either.

VL: Ah ha ha! Yes, I agree. Hunger can be quite a motivator.

As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

HH: On the whole, I think I was a pretty good kid. My mouth, on the other hand, liked to get me into trouble. And when it did, into the corner I’d go! We spent a lot of quality time together, me, my mouth, and The Corner.

But I do remember this one thing….

Royal Pig Hannah Harrison

Royal Pig by Hannah Harrison

It was winter in New Hampshire, and me and the little boy that lived across the street (let’s call him Ishmael), were in my back yard playing and shoveling snow. We were probably about seven or eight. Anyway, I had this kid-size shovel—probably about three feet long—and the blade was made out of blue metal. Anyway, I got it in my head that Ishmael would be impressed if I got a big shovel full of snow and hurled it over my shoulder—you know, show off my big Popeye muscles. So I got a big shovel full of snow, hurled it over my shoulder, and… THUNK, nailed poor Ish (who was standing right behind me) square in the eyebrow with the metal blade. Oops. Well, if Ishmael was impressed by my super-human strength, he didn’t take the time to say so. He was too busy crying and running back to his house across the street. I knew I was in for it. I had been showing off, and I might have even killed Ishmael. Forget the The Corner—that was kid stuff. Surely the dreaded spoon was more befitting. But I didn’t get the corner or the spoon. No. My punishment was much, much worse. My mother marched me through the snow over to Ishmael’s house and made me…APOLOGIZE! Apologize? The horror! By this point, I was crying pretty good myself. But I did manage to stutter out a snot-filled apology. And, despite his scar and my wounded pride, Ishmael and I were able to stay friends.

VL: Is it wrong that I find that story hilarious? I can relate to poor Ishmael, though. My brother once thought it would be a great idea to throw a shovel up in the air. I caught it with my forehead.

HH: Oh nooo! I’m glad you lived to tell the tale.

VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

HH: Oh, man. I have always wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to draw. As a kid, I would spend hours on the living room floor sketching out the stories from my Little Thinker Tapes (do you remember those?). And then, when I was in second and third grade, I won the Young Author Book Awards, and got to represent my elementary school at a statewide conference. I was able to hear real-life authors speak about making books, and I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I couldn’t think of anything better!

VL: When did you know you wanted to be a writer/or to pursue the career you chose? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison, image from author's website.

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison

HH: Like I said, I’ve always known I wanted to do this, and so I’ve been taking baby steps towards the dream for pretty much my whole life. I always took art classes in school. And whenever there wasn’t an art class that fit my schedule, my teachers let me make art classes that fit my schedule. I took private art lessons, too. I majored in art, and minored in creative writing at Colby College. I created an independent study in children’s book writing, and did an internship with Kevin Hawkes. As a Senior Scholar, I explored the connection between writing and painting. After graduation, I worked for a sign company and in an art gallery, I painted theatre sets, and worked in an elementary school—all jobs that, to me, related back to the ultimate dream of doing books. But I guess you could say that I really got serious in 2002, when I joined SCBWI. That’s when I realized just how much work I still had cut out for me if I ever wanted to get published. Who knew there was so much to learn about the craft and the industry!? Who knew it was going to be so competitive?! Who knew it was going to be so…hard? I pursued children’s books seriously(ish) for 10 years before I got my first offer on a book.

VL: It’s amazing that people think writing books for children is easy, isn’t it?

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

HH: Yes, yes, and YES! That’s why I always remained under the covers up to my nose, and never, ever, let an appendage drift too close to the edge of the bed. Ever. And if I had absolutely no choice but use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I leapt like a gazelle from said bed in order to completely clear the grabbing zone. And then I scampered. I scampered like my little life depended on it. Because it did.

VL: Ha ha! I would do the same thing. One of the drawbacks to having a very active imagination is that you can visualize monsters right into being.

Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

HH: Yes! My dad built me the most amazing treehouse in our back yard. It had stairs, a wrap-around porch, a skylight, a dutch door, windows with shutters, gingerbread trim, and carpeting…it sounds a lot nicer than the house I live in now, actually. Did I mention my dad’s the best? My friends and I had a lot of macaroni and cheese lunches up there. And I do remember my cousin and I camping out up there one night…until our imaginations got the best of us (see above), and my dad pretended to be a bear. It was also my favorite place to practice my flute. I’m guessing it was my parent’s favorite place for me to practice my flute, too (not so sure about the neighbors).

Top Hat Terrier

Top Hat Terrier by Hannah Harrison

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

HH: I was once attacked by a bear in my tree house.

VL: Yikes! I hope the bear was your dad.

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

HH: The summer I spent in a factory packaging up heat-sinks was pretty awesome.

VL: Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?

HH: Nope. Strangely enough, no one wanted to spend their summer afternoons hanging out in the dark, windowless, unconditioned, heat-sink factory. But fortunately, the three older ladies I worked with took care of the embarrassment factor by giving me the nickname “Sasquatch”. Apparently, the work boots at the end of my skinny little legs were quite becoming.

VL: Oh, what an unfortunate nickname!

HH: Tell me about it.

VL: What are you currently working on?

HH: I’m currently working on raising our four year old daughter. I am also working on the illustrations for my second book with Dial, Bernice gets Carried Away.

VL: How exciting! I can’t wait to see it.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

HH: Hmmm. I’m not really sure! Maybe something with a koala bear in it? Oooh! Or a duck-billed platypus? They’re kind of adorable. See, it’s dilemmas like these that remind me just how much I LOVE MY JOB!

VL: We’re so very glad that you do! I sense there will be plenty more books from you coming our way. Thank you for being here, Hannah. I look forward to seeing your work in print very soon!

HH: It’s been my pleasure! Thanks so much for having me, Valerie!

Learn more about Hannah Harrison and see more of her artwork on her website here.

EXTRAORDINARY JANE is now available for preorders. Click on any of the retailer logos below to order your copy, today.

Extraordianry Jane art

Pub date – Feb 6, 2014 by Dial

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sonia-gensler-225I first met Sonia Gensler at a SCBWI LA Summer Conference dinner for all the people attending from our state. It was a banner year for Oklahoma with more than ten people crowded around the table. I had the good fortune of sitting near Sonia and her husband. I remember having a delightful time getting to know the two of them. At one point, there may or may not have been a discussion about the extreme hotness of Edward Norton in The Illusionist and a few other notable sexy nerd-types. Thus, a writer friendship nicely cemented, we saw each other over the years at local conferences. Soon Sonia was a guest speaker at our own SCBWI Oklahoma Fall conference with the exciting announcement of her first two-book deal. We were all so excited for her.

Sonia is a lovely writer who embraces things on the eerie end of the literary spectrum. Gothic architecture, haunted pasts, dead bodies, and restless spirits. You’ll find it all in her first dark mystery, The Revenant, set in a Cherokee Female Seminary in Indian Territory. The rich setting and fully developed, fabulously flawed characters were easy to fall in love with. As for the spooky elements, I did indeed get goosebumps. It reminded me of reading Agatha Christie novels as a young girl, under the covers, way past lights out because I had to know how the mystery ended.

Sonia’s latest book, The Dark Between, set in Cambridge, England, shows just as much promise for a delightfully spine-tingling read. And I just love the cover.

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Kate is a schemer,
Asher is a skeptic,
Elsie is a dreamer . . . who can speak with the dead.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

The Dark Between, a supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, is perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray. (Plot summary from Sonia’s website.)

Following the success of her first book and on the eve of her second book’s release, I asked Sonia if she’d spare some time away from her hectic schedule (and from summering overseas in England – so jealous!) for an interview. Gracious as always, she agreed.

Valerie Lawson: Tell us about your latest book, The Dark Between, what inspired this story?

Sonia Gensler: The Dark Between is a paranormal murder mystery set in 1901 Cambridge, England. I was first inspired to write the story when I was researching The Revenant and happened across Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life after Death, an engaging look at a group of 19th century scholars and scientists who investigated paranormal phenomena. I found these men and women fascinating, but couldn’t help wondering what their teenaged children might have thought of it all. So I wrote a story about that!

VL: That does sound right up your alley. And I can only assume your delightful summer surroundings inspired the setting. England always seems a bit spookier to me. Great choice.

You just filmed the book trailer for The Dark Between right there in Cambridge, how was that experience?

SG: Stressful! Time-consuming. The actual trailer for the book is a 1 minute intro with text and images — that’s pretty much finished and I’m quite happy with it. What we filmed was a “behind the scenes” look at the town and university, and we were fortunate to have a Cambridge student helping us with historical context and the local perspective. At this point, it’s a matter of cutting all the material down. So difficult.

VL: Excellent! I can’t wait to see the finished trailer.

We have to talk about your affinity for watching television, how are you handling the withdrawal while across the pond?

SG: Strangely enough, we don’t have time to watch much TV, though we do see plays and concerts while we’re here. We’ve watched a few BBC shows on my computer. (The White Queen is entertaining — it comes to the US on STARZ soon.)

VL: Ahh! Plays, concerts! Don’t forget the circus. That does sound better than television.

What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

SG: I’m pretty sure I wanted to work with animals. I was fascinated by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, who worked with chimpanzees and gorillas respectively. In grade school I probably would have said I wanted to go into primatology or zoology. My, how things change!

VL:  That is surprising. I wouldn’t have guessed chimps. Maybe a cat wrangler.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer/or to pursue the career you chose? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

SG: My high school students truly were the ones who inspired me to pursue a career in writing. Some of them were so committed and fearless that they challenged me to up my game. I finished my first novel (the one that will forever hide in a drawer) while I was teaching. Soon after that my husband encouraged me to take a year or two off to see if I could actually get something published. From the time I finished that first story to the publication of my first novel was probably about 5 years.

VL: That is so great! I love that your students inspired you. I can only imagine how inspiring you must be to them now.

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

SG: I was ALWAYS afraid of the dark, and I was quite certain that scary things lurked under the bed or in the closet. I lost a lot of sleep over this and at times got so scared that I curled up under the covers at the foot of the bed in hopes that any monsters would think the bed was unmade and empty. The next morning my mom would lift the covers and find me drenched in sweat and gasping for air. She thought I was weird, but I preferred to smother under the covers rather than be eaten by a monster.

VL: I can definitely see where a seed may have been planted for stories to grow.

What are you currently working on?

SG: Right now I’m working on a middle grade contemporary story in which a group of kids are filming a ghost movie. It’s been a pleasure to take a break from historicals and to write for younger readers.

VL: A new writing challenge. Nice. Way to keep upping the game for yourself.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

SG: Splendours and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz was the perfect book for me — I loved the Victorian Gothic setting, the magic and mystery of the plot, and most of all, the unique and sympathetic characters. It was such a joy to read!

VL: Thank you so much, Sonia, for sharing your time with us here, today. Enjoy the rest of your English summer and good luck with your book release! I, for one, can’t wait.

The Dark Between, arrives on August 27th. Preorder your copy, today!

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Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeI had so much fun mentoring my fellow writers and seeing the immediate progress my little group made after just one day of revisions. I also thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with my writers friends and staying up way too late to get to know some of them better.

I ended the weekend by attending a party for my lovely writing friend, Gwendolyn Hooks who just received a fantastic book deal on a much-anticipated project. We’re all so excited about this book that we felt like it was our success as well as Gwen’s. I couldn’t be happier for her. I didn’t even mind being “volunteered to participate in an original skit written and narrated by Anna Myers (who somehow got out of wearing any kind of ridiculous and embarrassing costume – the rest of us weren’t so lucky!)

 

 

Karen Grencik played by Jerry Pati played by Helen

 

The not-so-lucky ones – some of my fellow cast members

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt so inspired after such a beautiful weekend that I’ve worked my ass off this week. I’m so excited about the trajectory I’m on right now. Friends and unconditional support can sometimes make all the difference. Thank you to everyone who has inspired me this month! You all rock.

book pornI also returned home to find this lovely literary pile of gifts waiting for me, including two books signed by Maureen McGowan. I’m looking forward to reading the first two books of her Dust Chronicles series. All of this swag, including the Dan Krall book I received earlier in the month, was the result of entering contests on fellow writer blogs. It does pay to engage! This collection is an awesome way to add to my TBR pile! I don’t know which one I want to read first…decisions, decisions, decisions!

Here are my #writemotivation goals for June:

1. Submit Museum Crashers (MG mystery) to editor who requested the full. Tons of progress made. Should be sending out by the end of the month. Tentatively marking as DONE because of all the progress made.

2. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. DONE! I actually submitted to six agents. Two were rejected. Four are still out. (Five counting the full requested and submitted to an agent four months ago.) Waiting, waiting, waiting. Blech! Not my favorite.

3. Work on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). No progress on this one. I’m going to use this as my Camp Nano project for July. I will get a rough draft of this completed by the end of the summer! I will. I WILL!!!

4. Read at least five books – review one on the blog. I will finish Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk before the end invisible-monsters-us-trade-3of the month and I discussed Tara Hudson’s Hereafter in my last blog post, so I’m marking this one as DONE! 

5. Work on outlining new blog project idea. DONE! More exciting ideas are coming next month.

6. Exercise 3 times each week. DONE! I’ll be increasing this for next month. :/

7. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. Finally started this! Will have to move over to July’s goals to complete – hopefully by my friend’s birthday.

I hope you all took a velociraptor-sized bite out of your writing projects this month. Don’t forget to sign up for next month! Visit KT Hanna’s site here to join us for #writemotivation in July.

tara hudsonTara Hudson, author of the spooky Hereafter trilogy, was the honored guest and speaker at our Tulsa schmooze anniversary dinner earlier this month. She discussed her writing journey and spoke frankly about the realities of publishing and what happens after you get a book deal. She began by telling us all about her childhood reading habits – mostly magical and paranormal books by Christopher Pike and R.L. Stein – and how these books later influenced her writing. She said a good tip for any aspiring author when picking their genre is to pay attention to the books you devoured as a kid.

“There’s a reason you picked those books. You’ll spend a lot of time with your stories, so you have to love the world you’re writing about.”

Tara went through many ups and downs with writing during her college years, bouncing from being a science

Tara speaking at the Tulsa Schmooze

Tara speaking at the Tulsa Schmooze

major to a writing major, then finally settling on the law. “I fall in love with something, then panic and move on to something else.” She almost did this with her first novel, instead she pursued in further.

While working as a lawyer at an unsatisfying job, Tara began tinkering with an old short story she’d written in college about a girl walking through an old Texas town who doesn’t realize that she’s dead. Tara was inspired to write this story when she drove through a small, creepy town and she really wanted to capture the memory down on the page. This was the first time an experience, an idea, had compelled her to write, to record it on paper before it vanished into the ether.

So she started writing her first book, one chapter at a time. She shared each one with some co-workers, friends who begged her for the next chapter. She thought at the time, “I can write a second chapter – not a fifth, maybe, but I can write a second”. She wrote this way, with a growing list of readers – her first beta readers, she later realized – until the book was finished. She left her job shortly afterwards and began the long, arduous editing process. The result was Hereafter.

Tara then began researching agents. As a lawyer, she said it is great to have an agent: “Those contracts are slippery little minnows.” She said she was so excited about getting published that they could’ve asked for the blood of her first born and she would’ve said, “That sounds reasonable”.

After 38 rejections, she changed her approach and soon caught the interest of Catherine Drayton from Inkwell Management. When she finally got the call, Catherine told her that after chapter nine, it was crap. She wouldn’t represent her. She said it “needs more ominous and sense of community”. Revise and resubmit. Tara went through a few days of just being angry. That direction was too vague to of any real help, but then she realized Catherine was right; she started revising.

Luck finally fell on Tara’s side. A few days after her initial rejection, Catherine called her back. Harper Teen was putting together a book tour and they needed one story set in a rural location. Tara’s book fit the bill. Catherine asked if she could pitch it, although it still needed work and there was no promise of representation. Tara agreed and Harper Teen bought her book eight days later.

“You’ll be put through a rigorous writing schedule after a book deal.” Once you’re signed up, you’re expected to have ideas for what to write next. You’ll have to write up synopses and submit them right away.

Tara and SCBWI gang 2

Tara with some of the SCBWI OK gang

During her querying process, Tara had returned to work full time and had learned that she was pregnant. To keep her health coverage, she had to continue working full time. On top of that, she now had three months to revise book one and then write a draft of book two.

She wrote book two during her maternity leave. “That’s why it’s the best and so dark”.

The Hereafter trilogy begins when Amelia Ashley, a ghost just awakening to her spiritual consciousness, saves a living boy when he almost drowns in her river – the same river she drowned in twenty years earlier.   The trilogy continuing with Arise follows the tale of their haunted love to an intense conclusion in Elegy, the final book of the series.

The final book, Elegy was just released this month. I raced through the first book and cannot wait to read the rest of the series. Here’s hereafter-200the plot summary for Hereafter, the first book, from the author’s website:

Drifting in the dark waters of a mysterious river, the only thing Amelia knows for sure is that she’s dead. With no recollection of her past life—or her actual death—she’s trapped alone in a nightmarish existence. All of this changes when she tries to rescue a boy, Joshua, from drowning in her river. As a ghost, she can do nothing but will him to live. Yet in an unforgettable moment of connection, she helps him survive.

Amelia and Joshua grow ever closer as they begin to uncover the strange circumstances of her death and the secrets of the dark river that held her captive for so long. But even while they struggle to keep their bond hidden from the living world, a frightening spirit named Eli is doing everything in his power to destroy their newfound happiness and drag Amelia back into the ghost world . . . forever.

Tara’s website has lots of extra goodies for fans of her Hereafter series. There are pictures from different settings, including the town of Wilburton, Oklahoma, the setting for the first book, and playlists of songs that inspired Tara while she wrote the books. There are also spine-tingling book trailers that make you want to pick up each book right away.

To learn more about Tara Hudson and the Hereafter trilogy, visit her website here.

Follow Tara on Twitter here.