Archive for the ‘Oklahoma authors’ Category

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Next up in the series celebrating fantastic local SCBWI talent, I give you the dynamic Anna Myers. Anna is my first repeat interviewee on the blog, so she’s a pro at answering in-depth questions. I’m so happy to have her back!

Anna is stopping by to tell us all about her latest book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, which was just released this month. It is her 20th book. It is also her first picture book. (Stay tuned! At the end of this post, Anna is giving away a copy of her book.) There’s quite a difference between writing picture books and writing historical fiction novels – like her story set during the Tulsa race riots in TULSA BURNING or the one where she created a fictional character that existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln in ASSASIN.

But don’t take my word for it.

Before we get to the Q&A, let’s learn more about Anna’s debut picture book. One could say that this is the tall tale of how Anna herself came into the fold of her own large family. For those of us who know Anna and have had the pleasure of watching this story’s evolution, it is such a delight to see this become a living, breathing picture book.

The Book Tumbleweed Baby 2

TUMBLEWEED BABY written by Anna Myers, illustrated by Charles Vess

Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers

Release date: October 7, 2014

Genres: Picture Book

A large, loving family in the 1930s Dust Bowl finds a “tumbleweed baby”—a wild baby—in the plains near their cozy farm home. The baby’s new siblings discover the ways she fits and doesn’t fit into the family, ultimately deciding that her wildness makes her one of them. The rhythm and voice of the text make this feel like a classic tall tale, and it pairs perfectly with the dreamy, warm art from master illustrator Charles Vess. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Tumbleweed Baby3

The Fabulous Kirkus Review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A family gets a new addition in a tall-tale sort of way.

The Upagainstit family (say it out loud) has five children in their “falling-apart house.” Coming home from school one day, they discover a baby in a tumbleweed, and they promptly bring her home. “She’s a wild-all-over baby,” says the “littlest-of-all girl,” and she is, with hair down to her little naked ankles. Tumbleweed Baby does not take well to bathing or to sleeping, although she is very enthusiastic about dinner—messily so. The next morning, the littlest-of-all girl is still insistent that the family cannot keep her, although the “biggish boy,” the “not-so-big girl” and all the other siblings find ways that they can help to do so. When Tumbleweed Baby kisses Papa’s cheek, it’s all over but finding the right name for her. Much later, the littlest-of-all girl shares a secret that will not surprise adult readers and will probably delight the younger ones. Myers’ consistently idiosyncratic nomenclature is charming, as is her matter-of-fact tone. Vess does the most expressive hair—each Upagainstit has distinctive locks, but none more so than Tumbleweed Baby’s. As usual, his color and line are expressive and rich while staying within a gently rainbowed palette.

An adoption story, a feral child story, a foundling story, a child-of-difference story—perhaps any and all of these; certainly wise and full of delight. (Picture book. 4-8)

The Interview
Anna Addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.

Anna addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Anna Myers: I was born in west Texas, and my big brother always told me that he found me in a tumbleweed.

VL: And I bet for years, you actually believed him. Aren’t older brothers wonderful?

After writing 19 novels, what was the biggest challenge of writing a picture book? How did you go about learning to write a picture book?

AM: Getting a story down to picture-book length is hard. I had some help from writing buddies during the writing. One friend told me I didn’t leave enough to the illustrator in my first draft.

Another friend gave me an idea for the ending.

VL: That was a surprising thing to learn about picture book writing, that you needed to leave part of the story out so the illustrator could fill it in.

What surprised you most working in this different medium?

AM: I am surprised how excited I am about this book. Only my very first book made me more excited. I love having my words turned into such beautiful pictures.

VL: Working in a different medium invigorated you, that’s so wonderful. We should all strive to remember to keep trying new things.

Tell us about the difference between how you imagined the illustrations and how they turned out. What did you learn about the art of illustration?

AM: If I had been choosing illustrations, I would probably have chosen bright colors and a cherub-like baby. Neither of those would have been right for the story. Charles Vess knew what colors went with the story and how the characters in a tall tale should look. I learned writers should have nothing to do with the illustrations.

VL: And what gorgeous illustrations – those southwest landscapes! Vess really knows how to evoke a mood.

Tell us about your story of the Tumbleweed Baby.

AM: On their way home from school, five siblings find a baby in a tumbleweed. The smallest girl declares that the baby is a “wild-all-over baby” and that they should

put her back. They take her home. The baby is indeed wild. The question is whether or not the family can keep such a baby. Of course, they do keep her, and the story

ends with a surprise revealed by the girl who used to be the smallest.

VL: Your use of language is just so playful and perfect for the setting, like the Upagainsit family. I love it. 

What are you currently working on?

AM: I am revising Trashy Women, a book for adults about three teachers who form a garbage company to supplement their teaching income. I thought the book was

finished, but I don’t want it to be a pretty good book. I want it to be the best book I can make it.

VL: I’m so excited about TRASHY WOMEN! I’m glad you’re working on it. And it’s your first novel for adults, too. More playing with new mediums.

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

AM: I think my favorite book this year has been The Book Thief. 

I have also read lots of books written for adults and have loved all of the books by Alice Hoffman.

VL: THE BOOK THIEF is just wonderful, isn’t it? And I do like Alice Hoffman. I’ve read about four of her adult novels. I didn’t even realize until recently that she wrote teen novels, too.

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

AM: I would like to write another picture book, but I have to find the right story. The idea for a picture book needs to be unique.

VL: Thank you stopping by, Anna, and for sharing TUMBLEWEED BABY with us. We wish her a very successful journey.

For those of you lucky enough to be within driving distance of the Oklahoma City area, Anna is having her book launch party, today, at Best of Books in EdmondThe fun starts at 5:30pm, where I’ve heard tale that there will be a readers’ theatre, answers to weedy questions, and refreshments with tumbleweed tea. Meet Anna and pick up an autographed copy of her book.

For those not so lucky, you can still order your own copy here:

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Learn more about Anna Myers here.

Follow Anna on Facebook here.

The Book Giveaway

Anna has graciously donated a copy of TUMBLEWEED BABY to giveaway here on the blog. To enter, simply click on the link below and follow the instructions. Contest is open to everyone! Deadline for entering is Tuesday, October 28th.

Tumbleweed Baby 2

Win a hardback copy of Tumbleweed Baby by Anna Myers

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Anna Myers Rafflecopter giveaway

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Continuing our celebration of phenomenal local talent plucked from the branches of our SCBWI Oklahoma family tree comes debut author Jennifer Latham. Her first novel, SCARLETT UNDERCOVER, comes out this spring on May 19, 2015, and I for one am thrilled. I met Jen a few years ago at a local Tulsa schmooze and immediately took to her. I’ve had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at some of her manuscripts for critique sessions and I love the way she writes fully developed characters and scenes that evoke a mood. I’m so glad she was able to take time out of her hectic schedule and stop by to answer some probing questions.

First, a little bit about her upcoming novel.

The BookScarlett Undercover

SCARLETT UNDERCOVER by Jennifer Latham

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 19, 2015

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

When 15-year-old Muslim-American detective Scarlett agrees to investigate a local teen’s suicide, she figures she’s in for an easy case and a quick buck. But it doesn’t take long for that suicide to start looking a lot like murder, and for cults, ancient artifacts, and a very private billionaire to figure into things. To save the scared little girl who hires her, Scarlett has to face her family’s brave past, her own future, and maybe even a jinni or two. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

So many things to love about that! I am a sucker for a great detective novel. And throw in a great female character and I’m pushing people out of the way to grab it off the shelf. (Well, maybe, kindly nudging them, and at the same time pointing out what fab book I’m reaching for.)

Let’s hear some details about how this creation came into being, shall we?

Jen LathamFBThe Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Jennifer Latham: Honestly, I’m not sure there was any one particular inspiration – it’s more like my brain spent a long time gathering bits and pieces and then, when I started playing around with actual words on a page, they collided and made a book. Some of those bits and pieces were: a little girl playing in a giant sandbox at the state fair with her biker-dude grandfather (they became Scarlett and Manny); my obsession with hardboiled detective stories; my disappointment over all the vitriol aimed at Muslim-Americans; the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy; and the sudden rash of jinn sightings across the country.

 Well, OK…I made that last one up.

VL: Ha! you had me worried for a moment. It sounds like Scarlett was a great conglomeration that came together at just the right time, with just the right ingredients.

I love the idea of a young female detective and Scarlett sound like my kind of sassy; tell us more about her.

JL: This seemed like such an easy question when I first saw it. Then I realized it is so not. Because, corny as this may sounds, talking about Scarlett is like talking about my kids. I mean, to me, she’s amazing. Brave. Imperfect. Generous. Stubborn. Kind. Short-tempered. Strong. And entirely capable of being a complete pain in the ass. But I have no clue how other people are going to see her. My one great hope is that she’ll be more to readers than just a smart aleck, or a black, or a Muslim. I want them to see her for what she is: a complex teenage girl

 

VL: In essence, she’s feels very real to you. I’m sure this will translate to your readers. 

How much research did you have to do to create an authentic character of such a diverse background?

JL: A lot. I’ve worked really hard to be accurate and respectful when it comes to Islam, Middle Eastern folklore, and religious texts. I even hired a Muslim PhD student in English Lit to consult on the manuscript. There were some tricky issues to navigate; as I mentioned, Scarlett is complex. She’s not a “perfect” Muslim. But when she’s doing things that a more devout Muslim wouldn’t, I’ve done my best to point the discrepancy out.

VL: Fantastic! Extensive research for something like this is so vital. I’m thrilled that this book will add to the much-needed diversity landscape H2cWxknS_400x400in our literary world. I also love that although her Muslim heritage and her struggle with it is part of her, and it does come into play, but it’s not the main focus of the story. The mystery is the focus.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during this process to get your first book to publication?

JL: How long everything in traditional publishing takes. And that there is nothing – nothing — you can do to change it.

VL: Amen to that!

Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?

JL: True confession: most of my heroes were authors. Their power was that they could tell stories that people wanted to read. And I feel even more like that now. My favorite writers are rock stars.

VL: Mine, too! I’d stand out in the rain to see an author I love, probably not for my favorite bands – priorities!

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

JL: I always knew, I was just afraid to really try. So I worked a lot of strange jobs after college. Then went to grad school (I’m half a dissertation short of being a PhD in Psychology) Then had babies. But when my older daughter turned three and it still felt like she was brand new, I realized how fast babies grow up. That was ten years ago. And it’s when I started drafting my first (still unsold) manuscript.

VL: Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

JL: Hmm…there was the time Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which used the tesseract to transport me across space. And the time that mean girl at school dumped a bucket of pig blood on me at prom…
Oh wait. That’s right. I didn’t actually have a lot of friends. My best adventures were the ones I lived through books.

 

VL: Ha! That sounds eerily familiar.

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

JL: I don’t think anything was really scary. Hard, yes. But not scary. The really bad stuff has happened to me as a grown-up.

VL: My teen-aged daughter would agree that becoming an adult IS the scariest thing.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

 

JL: So here’s where I’ve lived: NYC; San Francisco: West Point, NY; Augusta, Georgia; Buffalo, NY, Philadelphia; Madrid; Rhode Island (4 different towns); and Tulsa, OK. Honestly, Tulsa wins. Maybe its because I’ve been here longer than anywhere else. Or maybe it’s because this place refuses to be defined, and manages to both frustrate and surprise me (in good ways) every day. Someone once told me, “It’s a great place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit.” And that kind of fits.

VL: That is some serious globe-trotting. I’ve never thought of Tulsa like that before, and yet, I totally see it.

In your bio, you mentioned that you’ve had some really weird jobs, tell us about the worst job you ever had while going to school?

 

JL: This is a tie. Both jobs came after I’d graduated from college. The first was cleaning up in a virology lab at Brown University. It wasn’t so much the work (though autoclaving test tubes is a joy, let me tell you) as the nasty woman I worked for. I thought the job would give me an inside track if I decided to apply to the med school there. It didn’t. And I didn’t apply, either.

The second was working for this nutball guy who ran an interior decorating business. I literally spent days peeling stickers off the backs of carpet samples and gluing new ones on. See, he didn’t want customers to be able to find the same carpet at other stores, so he changed the product info. Again, it wasn’t so much the actual work as it was the way he treated me. No matter how menial the job, people who work hard deserve respect. And neither of those two crazy bosses gave me that.

VL: Bored to tears and no respect? Sounds like my idea of hell on Earth!

What are you currently working on?

JL: Well, I’ve been fiddling around with a second Scarlett mystery, and a historical fiction story set in Tulsa. I’ve also finished about 1/3 of a noir mystery for older young adults that’s kind of The Black Dahlia meets Oklahoma!

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

JL: I loved GOING BOVINE, by Libba Bray. And MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTLEPIECE by Annabel Pitcher. But those are just the first two that popped into my head. There are so many amazing books out there. It blows me away.

VL: GOING BOVINE was fantastic! (Of course, I love anything Libba Bray writes.) I will have to add the other to my must check out list. Always looking for interesting titles.

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

JL: Not a clue. I guess I’ll just keep writing until I figure that out.  :)

VL: Jennifer, thank you for so much for joining us and sharing your story with us, today. I wish you well with your debut of SCARLETT UNDERCOVER and look forward to its release date this spring.

Learn more about Jennifer Latham here.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

Follow Jennifer on Facebook here.

Follow Jennifer on Tumblr here.

You can preorder SCARLETT UNDERCOVER here:

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October is all about celebrating the fantastic local talent here within our SCBWI Oklahoma group. I’ll be sharing great insights from our phenomenal fall retreat and highlighting some of our brave authors who allowed me to interview them here on the blog.

doug-solterFirst up is YA author Doug Solter.

No stranger to this blog, back in early August, Doug shared the cover reveal of his latest book with us. Doug’s third self-published book, RIVALS (SKID #2), is celebrating its book launch this week. Doug really knows the business of self-publishing and knows how hard one has to work to take this challenging route to publication.

Now for the even harder part, answering my probing interview questions.

(Make sure you stay tuned. There’s a chance for awesome prizes at the end.)

 The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Your protagonist in RIVALS is a female racecar driver, what unique challenges did writing about her world from her POV present for you?

Doug Solter: Well, one big challenge was writing from a teenage girl’s POV. Honestly, I couldn’t have done that without reading piles of young adult novels by female authors. This allowed me to step inside Samantha’s head and present her in what I hope is an honest representation that other girls can empathize with. Another challenge was exposing female readers to the world of racing without turning them completely off. Maintaining a balance between Samantha’s person life and racing was crucial is this regard. Based on feedback from readers of the first book, many were surprised how interested they were in the racing scenes. I think it was because they were experiencing it through the eyes of a character they’re invested in and so they’re willing to open themselves up to that strange world of racing.

VL: Tons of research and engage the reader by making them care about the character. Very sound advice.

What was the inspiration for this book?

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DS: Rivals is the second book of my Skid young adult racing series. The inspiration for Skid was initially a screenplay I wrote called Season of Speed. I wanted to do a racing story involving someone from Oklahoma who moves away from a small town and steps into a much larger world. One big thing was that I wanted the driver to be a young woman instead of the usual guy. When I made the switch to writing young adult novels, this screenplay became a book and I knocked down Samantha’s age to 17 instead of 23. Rivals is a continuation of Samantha’s story, dealing with her second season in Formula One.

VL: We’ve personally talked about your background in screenplay writing and how you’ll write screenplay adaptations for your novels. I love how you do this just as an exercise and how it helps you write more visually. 

 

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

DS: It happened in two stages for me. My brain was always filled with creative juices leaking out in the form of day-dreaming and thinking about “what if”. But then I didn’t know how to channel that creativity in some form of art. Creative writing itself seemed too daunting at the time. But in my twenties I worked as a production assistant on a local film that a friend of mine at the time was producing. The script was awful. Bad dialogue, cardboard characters, predictable ending. It caused me to think about writing my own screenplay. I did write one and it got me hooked on screenwriting. After my fourth script made the semi-finals in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, I finally believed that writing was something I did do well and I should really pursue it.  Stage two. I wrote eight scripts and submitted those to film production companies and Hollywood agents with some interest here and there but no deals. And then the economy in 2008 tanked and the screenplay spec market dried up. No one was buying scripts from unknown writers, so I switched tactics and decided to write my first book. And here we are.

VL: Switching gears a bit, let’s talk about your formative years. What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

DS: I didn’t work during high school, but on one summer break from college I worked at a telemarketing company. I would call people using the phone book (pre-internet) and tried to convince them to buy passes for a charity event that was suppose to help local kids. It was awful and I hated it. Plus I wasn’t sure if the passes we were selling actually did raise money for the kids. I quit after like a month or two.

VL: Yikes. That definitely qualifies as an awful job. I applaud you for lasting that long.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

DS: After graduating college, I lived in Fairfield, Iowa for two weeks to work at a video production company that did info-commercials. What I didn’t know was that Fairfield is the center of the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation movement. Almost everyone there is a self-proclaimed “meditator” so I instantly felt like an outsider, especially when people were constantly asking me if I was one of them. The town was out in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing to do there but…meditate. The only good thing was meeting Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) of Gilligan’s Island fame when she came to do an info-commercial about rice cookers.

VL: That is completely surreal. And sounds like the plot of a great story.

Tell us about your self-publishing experience. What’s harder/easier about this path to publication? Why was this path right for this story?

DS: Self-publishing takes more work. It’s all up to the writer to handle all the publishing steps and to maintain a level of quality that the reader expects when they hand over their money. The book must go through beta readers, a thorough editing process, and finally a proofread to purge as many errors as possible. I can distribute the eBook quite easily on-line and also have a paperback version available for giveaways, local signings, and those readers who prefer paper. Do I get into Barnes & Noble? No. But 90% of my sales are through eBooks anyway so it’s not that big of a deal.

I went the traditional publishing route with my first book Skid. Queried over 60 agents. Sent out manuscripts to publishers and all that. I did receive positive feedback from a few people, but not enough to take on the book. So after that process, I decided to try the self-publishing route as an experiment in order to learn the process and see if it was a viable last option. The process was harder than I thought going in, but I’m still glad I did it. I’m convinced that Skid or Rivals would have never been published otherwise.

VL: Any tips you’d give other writers considering self-publication?

DS: You still must act like a professional. That means don’t take short cuts with your work. Hire out professionals to do your book cover and editing. If you can’t create the eBook or paperback yourself, you can hire those professional services too. The eBook revolution is not a gold mine. You must publish a lot of books and readers must find them among the sea of titles that are available. You must build up a fan base from scratch. This takes time, good marketing, and patience. You must think and act like an entrepreneur because your writing is a business and you must treat it as such.

VL: Very sound advice. And it looks as if you followed it to the letter. Your covers are so captivating and from the pages I’ve read, you’ve really taken the time to craft your story. I love Samantha. We need more characters like her.

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

DS: I finally read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell this year and loved it. The setting took me right back to school in the 80’s. I was on that very same bus that was described in the book. Perfect representation of that time period. I loved both characters and the story itself felt more down to earth and real. Not so much plot driven but character driven in many aspects.

VL: Loved, loved, loved, that book! I felt my hair getting bigger as I read each page.

What are you currently working on?

DS: The next book I’m working on is Skid #3 which I hope will be out by early spring of next year.

VL: Doug, thank you so much for sharing your time and your knowledge with us.

Good luck with your book and the rest of your tour!

Book Tour Itinerary

To Learn more about RIVALS (SKID #2) and to follow Doug on the remainder of his launch tour or to catch up on stops you may have missed, here are stops:

September 29th – Guest Post – BC Brown – http://bcbrownbooks.blogspot.com

September 30th – Character Post – Jess Mountifield – http://www.jessmountifield.co.uk/

October 1st – Guest Post – Mandy Anderson – http://twimom101bookblog.blogspot.com/

October 2nd – Guest Post – Skyler Finn – http://randomofalife.blogspot.com/

October 3rd – Author interview – Valerie Lawson – http://valerierlawson.wordpress.com/

October 6th – Character Interview – Jessica L. Brooks – http://www.coffeelvnmom.blogspot.com

October 7th – Character Post – Melissa Robles – http://thereaderandthechef.blogspot.com

October 8th – Author interview – Dani Duck – http://daniduckart.blogspot.ca

October 9th – Gif Interview – Kate Tilton – http://katetilton.com/blog

October 10th – Guest post – Jasmine  – http://bookgroupies2.blogspot.com

Learn more about Doug Solter here.

Follow Doug on Twitter here.

The Giveaway

Doug has a fantastic launch-wide giveaway that you can enter right here. He’s giving away two autographed copies of his books – one copy of SKID and one of RIVALS.  Click on the link below to enter.

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book One

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book One

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book Two

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book Two

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Doug Solter’s Rafflecopter giveaway

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:

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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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