Gaye Sanders and the Survivor Tree – Author Interview

Gaye Sanders is one of the local talents from our SCBWI OK group whose debut picture book, THE SURVIVOR TREE, is coming out this week. I’m delighted she’s stopped by to talk with us about it.

 

About Gaye

Gaye has been teaching elementary children for over 30 years and is currently a fourth-grade teacher in Mustang, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

She is an active member of the Oklahoma Region of SCBWI and will assume the monumental role of Assistant Regional Advisor this coming December. We’re excited to have you on board!

Gaye was in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed, killing 168 people, 19 of whom were children under the age of six. Every year she makes sure to share the historic story of the Oklahoma City bombing with her students.

 

Before the interview, let’s take a closer look at Gaye’s book:

THE SURVIVOR TREE by Gaye Sanders illustrated by Pamela Behrend

Release Date: November 1, 2017

Publisher: Roadrunner Press

Genres: Picture Book, Historical Fiction

 

BOOK AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER: amazon

BOOK SOON AVAILABLE:

indieboundbn-24h-80
*A portion of all books sales will go to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in downtown Oklahoma City.

Plot Summary:

A family plants an American elm on the Oklahoma prairie just as the city is taking root—and the little tree grows as Oklahoma City grows until 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, the day America fell silent at the hands of one of its own.

As rubble from the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is cleared, the charred tree—its branches tattered and filled with evidence—faces calls that it be cut down. The only obstacle: a few people who marvel that, like them, it is still there at all.

The next spring when the first new leaf appears proving the tree is alive, word spreads like a prairie wildfire through the city and the world. And the tree, now a beacon of hope and strength, is given a new name: The Survivor Tree. (Plot summary from author’s website.)


 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Gaye Sanders: When you are a writer, you rotate between writing, editing, and revising. But you are also, at all times, thinking about what your next story will be.

Many times, we choose the story we are writing. We may get a spark of an idea, and work to develop it into a full story. But sometimes, in those rare moments, a story finds us.

Almost four years ago, on a visit to New York City, my sister and I got to experience the 9-11 Memorial. During our visit to the gift shop, I discovered a book about the 9-11 Survivor Tree. Until that moment, I had not realized they had a survivor tree.

Their tree has a much different story than ours. It was recovered from some of the rubble and replanted, nursed back to health and transplanted to the grounds when the memorial was finished.

I decided to buy that book, and then find the book about our Survivor Tree. I came home and began to look for one, and that was when I discovered there wasn’t one.

There needed to be. That idea sat on my heart for a couple of years. The seed of the idea planted itself there, and wouldn’t go away. And, I knew that a story had found me. A story that needed to be told.

VL: How fascinating! From one survivor tree to another. Love it!

This is a very emotional story still for many Oklahomans, did you find this a difficult thing to translate into a picture book format?

Illustration by Pamela Behrend from the book THE SURVIVOR TREE

GS: I think that turning it into a picture book softened the subject matter. There were a lot of hard details that have been omitted, because they simply aren’t appropriate for the age group. But through the entire story of the tree, the bombing, and the healing afterwards, the theme is love conquers hate and hope can bring you through even the darkest times. Along with the promise that we will never forget.

VL: You tell this story from the perspective of the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, located on the site of the Murrah Federal Building bombing, what were the benefits/challenges to using a tree as your main character?

GS: Writing a book about this subject for children presented its own set of challenges. The story needs to be told, but in a more delicate manner, so as not to scare them about our world. I wrote my first version in third person, but it didn’t have the heart I wanted it to.

As writers, we often gain inspiration for our works from other books or pieces of literature. I reread The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. And even though that book is set in third person, that’s when it hit me. The tree needed to tell this story.

When I changed the point of view, I knew it was the right thing to do.

VL: Ah! THE GIVING TREE! Another tree giving your story inspiration. Let’s hear it for the trees!

You were able to visit the Memorial archives for your research, what was that experience like?

GS: The Oklahoma City National Memorial was more than helpful in allowing my research. I was honored to spend an entire day in the archives, going through photos, evidence lists, FBI notes, and more. It was a crucial part of the research. But, you can’t research something like this without feeling it from the very depths of your soul.

I lived here when this awful travesty occurred, I knew people who lost family members, and I knew others who survived.  So, needless to say, I have shed more than my share of tears through this journey.

VL: Tell us about your writing journey. How did you begin to write books for children?

GS: I began thinking about writing for children over ten years ago. Having been around children’s literature basically my entire life, I thought I knew all I needed to know to write my own books.

I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing, or how the publishing industry works.

It wasn’t until I joined SCBWI that I learned enough to really begin writing. It has been such a great journey, and I would not be where I am today without this amazing organization. And tribe. I have made lifelong friends, and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

VL: Woohoo! Yay, SCBWI! Best thing I ever did for my writing, too. 

Tell us something about your childhood. As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into?

GS: I was one of those kids who really didn’t get in trouble much. Probably the biggest trouble was staying out too long on my bicycle.

Until I was a Senior in High School. I got my first “licks” with two months of high school left to go, because two of my friends and I told our bookkeeping teacher we were going to the library, when all along we were planning to go get cinnamon rolls in the cafeteria.

Yep. Got caught and got paddled.

VL: Oh, no! First time out and caught!

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

GS: I grew up in a small, sheltered town. Probably the scariest thing was when my older sister, a friend of mine, and I were all at home alone one night, and heard a tap on the window. It was a peeping Tom! In Fritch, America!

The scariest moment in my childhood was probably the assassination of President Kennedy. I’ll never forget the moment they broke in on “As the World Turns” (I wasn’t in school yet) and Walter Cronkite announced that the President had been shot. The world stopped. And even though I was only five, I knew that our world had changed overnight.

VL: Wow. That was life-changing. Even at five.

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

GS: That’s such a hard question, and there’s no way I can narrow it down to one. So, here are my top three of the year:

Dreamland Burning, by Jennifer Latham

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

And, believe it or not, I had never read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton before this year.

Every one of these touched me deeply, and were un-put-downable.

VL: Absolutely loved THE CROSSOVER. So, so good!  Of course, I blazed through THE OUTSIDERS when I read it a long time ago. Wouldn’t mind reading it again. The 50th anniversary edition just came out! I’m just now starting to read Jen Latham’s book. I’ve been so looking forward to it!

What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

GS: I am currently in the trenches of Pitch Wars. For those of you who don’t know what that is, go to www.pitchwars.org. It’s a fabulous process, where you submit to be matched with a mentor. You work with them for two months to get your manuscript ready for the agent round. My current WIP is called HURRICANE HARPER. It’s a contemporary fiction, middle grade set in coastal Mississippi.

In the editing lulls for Pitch Wars, I’ve started outlining my next one. It has a title right now of “1972”. It’s historical fiction with an alternate set of events, set in Washington D.C. Let’s just say it has something to do with a certain wiretapping activity that occurred that year.

And, I have a couple of ideas for picture books to follow up The Survivor Tree. They both have a connection to things that are tied to the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

VL: That all sounds fascinating! And good luck with Pitch Wars, Gaye! We’ll be routing for you!

Thanks so much for joining us. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

 

Book Launch

For those who are interested and who live within traveling distance, Gaye is having a book launch for THE SURVIVOR TREE on Saturday, November 4th, from 1-3pm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. The event will be held under the Survivor Tree, weather permitting. The book launch will move inside the foyer of the museum store in the event of inclement weather.

Illustration by Pamela Behrend from the book THE SURVIVOR TREE

 

Learn more about Gaye Sanders here.

Follow Gaye on Twitter here.

Follow Gaye on Facebook here.

Follow Gaye on Instagram here.

 

 

 

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2017 SCBWI LA Summer Conference Highlights – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the conference highlights. View Part 1 here.

 

DAY TWO

There were so many wonderful speakers and panels on Saturday that heads would explode if I covered everything. I’m skipping ahead to my favorite breakout session of the day.

 

STEPHANIE GARBER SHARES SECRETS TO ENDINGS

 

Stephanie Garber, author of CARAVAL, the phenomenon of a debut novel that has everyone talking, ran a fabulous breakout session entitled “Five Steps on How to Write Five Star Endings”.

 

She began by sharing a list of six classic story endings:

  • Happy Ending – Disney ending. Hero versus Villain with hero triumphant. The Happy Ever After
  • Tragic Ending – Hero gets what he wants, but loses something in the process
  • Unhappy Ending – Romeo and Juliet (works because reader is told from the very beginning this is a tale of woe)
  • Bittersweet Ending – Main Character makes sacrifice for the better good, i.e., Batman in The Dark Knight lets people believe he’s a villain because it’s what the city needs.
  • Vague Ending – open to interpretation, makes people question.
  • Series Ending – Cliffhanger or Hero gets what he wants, but Villain gets away.

While twists and surprises are awesome, you don’t want to spring an ending on readers that is unexpected; not in line with their expectations.

The tone of the ending should align with the tone of the book.

Think of the Harry Potter books, which were progressively darker with progressively darker endings. All deaths were earned and endings expected.

Think about whether or not the price for your story ending has been paid. Has the success been earned by the hero or villain? Think about endings not just for your main character, but for all of your characters. Make them all earn their endings. Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter earned her ending.

One of my favorite tips she gave was about villains. She said you should makes sure to give them screen time. Put them in the path of your main character. A face-off with the villain is a great opportunity to show character development.

Have a kick the cat moment versus a save the cat moment.

Don’t just say they are the villain; show it. Show the villain arc.

She ended with stating you should leave readers with a sense of hope, even if your story is a tragedy.

Think about this: What is the final message you want to leave readers with?

 

LUNCH BREAK

There were so many fantastic places to eat near the hotel. Some of us had lunch at Katsuya. Great sushi and a lovely atmosphere, including a most fascinating bathroom. Everyone took turns checking out the unconventional sinks. (Yes, just like tourists.)

 

Yum!

 

“The ‘there is no sink’ aesthetic .”

 

At some point one afternoon, we had a gathering of all SCBWI Oklahoma members and tried to pose for a group photo. After three attempts, we succeeded in capturing 13 out of 14 of us. So close! Here’s the collective result.

This photo was blatantly stolen from Jerry Bennet’s Instagram feed. Don’t worry, he won’t even notice. 🙂

 

CONVERSATION WITH KWAME ALEXANDER AND SONYA SONES

Two phenomenal poets having a conversation about poetry. Wow! Was this amazing! I can’t share the live poetry that flew back and forth – beginning with Sonya’s awesome intro – or the chemistry they had, or the humor that filled the room. Just imagine that this experience was unforgettable.

Sonya Sones asked the questions and this was her first one:

SS: Tell me about the moment of your conception.

KA: 1967. Harlem, New York. A dormitory at Columbia University.

(I mean, honestly! They had us rolling.)

SS: When did you first know you were wonderful?

KA: At 12 years old. When I wrote a Mother’s Day poem.

Dear Mommy.

I hate Mother’s Day

In my heart

Every day is

Mother’s Day.

That’s when I first knew words were powerful.

SS: How does the study of poetry help children?

KA: Poetry is a rhythmic, concise, emotional way of sharing view of the world. If a child gets through it and understands, they can crossover and it’s profound.

SS: What’s the first book you ever wrote?

KA: A book of love poems inspired by a woman. I wrote her a poem a day for a year – and it worked. (He married her.)

There was so much more. I wish I could share it all. It was a fantastic conversation.

PORTFOLIO TIME

One of my favorite events is the Portfolio Showcase. I love looking over all the artwork of so many talented illustrators. This year, I had the pleasure of running into our very own Illustrator Coordinator, Jerry Bennett, while I was perusing the portfolios. Always a treat to get an artist’s take. And he’s somewhat amusing company as well. 🙂

Hanging out with some tough Illustrator Coordinators, Jerry Bennett and Karen Windness.

 

Wall to wall people for this popular event.

 

SILVER LININGS GALA

Saturday night means party time!

This group knows how to let loose! (All videos I recorded have been deleted to protect your, um, signature dance moves, let’s say – and you’re welcome.)

 

Hope you enjoyed the Day Two highlights. Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon!

 

2017 SCBWI LA Summer Conference Highlights – Part 1

I was very honored this year to be a winner of the SCBWI Tribute Fund. (Even if it meant I had to stand up in front of over 1500 people!) A brief moment of awkward public embarrassment was well worth what I received in return. I honestly can’t thank the entire staff of SCBWI enough. From Stephen and Lin for providing this grant and selecting me, to everyone in the main office I interacted with regarding all the details – they were all just so lovely.

And of course, a huge thank you to Helen, my Regional Advisor, who nominated me. (Who also took this awkward picture of me waving awkwardly to a crowd of 1500 people. AWKWARD!)

Now I would like to share with you my favorite parts of the SCBWI LA summer conference that I was able to attend this past July as a winner of this wonderful grant.

DAY ONE

One of my favorite things about attending these conferences is how energizing they are, how they recharge my creative battery, and remind me that what I do is important. Especially in these uncertain times, it was such a reassuring thing to hear Lin welcome us into our own “Bubble of Love” (complete with actual bubbles).

Lin Oliver welcoming us to the beginning of another wonderful SCBWI Summer conference.

 

Bubble Love photo credit: The Official SCBWI Conference Blog

It was also nice that our region got a shout-out for having such a large group in attendance, along with a handful of other states, but you know ours was the LOUDEST!!! We got a few more shout-outs, just so everyone could hear us make some more noise – something we were not shy about doing! (This happened several times during the conference, which was fun.)

Most of our SCBWI OK group on Day One. Such a large group was hard to corral into one place at any given time.

VANESSA BRANTLEY NEWTON – SPREADING SUNSHINE

Vanessa Brantley Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER and MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM (written by our own Tammi Sauer! OKLAHOMA SCBWI in the house!), opened the conference by making us get up out of our seats and dance.

In her keynote entitled, “Diversity Designed by Adversity”, Vanessa said we could let adversity ruin us, make us sad, or lean into it, wrap our arms around it, shake it off, and pack it under.

To illustrate her point, she told a story of a farmer who had a goat that fell down a well. Bemoaning the loss of the goat, he threw dirt down the well to bury it, but the goat just shook it off, and packed it under. Soon, it had a pile tall enough to climb out of the well.

“That’s been my life.”

She was born with dyslexia, synesthesia, and she also struggled with stuttering. Her dyslexia caused her to to go inward, to draw pictures. The synesthesia influenced the use of bright colors in her art. Her parents were both singers and helped her deal with her stuttering. “I sing in my head” the words she wants to say out loud. All these things didn’t stop her, they influenced her work.

Vanessa talked at length about the need for diverse books. She told the story of wanting to be a Breck shampoo girl when she was younger. She thought to have blonde hair, she just needed the shampoo.

She didn’t see herself reflected.

Then came Ezra Jack Keats and THE SNOWY DAY. She didn’t remember the words, but the pictures were powerful.

Little Vanessa and her teacher who read her the story.

She told us how Ezra Jack Keats said, “I drew Peter because he should have been there all along”.

Vanessa called on us as artists, as writers to embrace our own challenges.

“You’re built for adversity.”

Some of the best stuff is raised out of adversity. You gotta be willing to put in the hard work.

 

You need to dream so big that it scares the hell out of you.

 

She ended by singing to us, and I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the room when she was done.

Honestly I couldn’t see…

 

 

TRANSFORMING LIFE INTO ART

photo credit: The Official SCBWI Conference Blog

PANEL DISCUSSION WITH ALEX GINO, AISHA SAEED, RUTA SEPETYS, AND KIM TURRISI (MODERATED BY EMMA DRYDEN)

Emma Dryden led a thoughtful discussion with this fantastic panel of authors.

Question #1: What led you to express the experience in your own life in novel form?

Alex Gino – Middle Grade is a big part of my heart. The only time I experienced any instance of transgender as an adult was as a joke. “I knew GEORGE was the book I wanted and needed to write.” It took 10 years.

Aisha Saeed – She never saw herself in books with the exception of the role of the bad guy until she went to college. She knew she had to tell her story. She wrote her debut novel about forced marriage because she had many friends who were going through this experience. If they said no, their parents would disown them. She writes to make sense of the world. She wanted to understand why parents who loved their kids would do this.

Ruta Sepetys – “Much of my identity is wrapped up in being an immigrant’s kid.” Not a lot has been told about Stalin and what happened in Siberia. She wanted to bring this story to young readers because YA readers are deep feelers and deep thinkers. Books we read as kids have the potential to make a profound effect.

Kim Turrisi – When she was 15, her sister committed suicide. Her story is about the aftermath of suicide. She didn’t see herself in any books like this back then. She wrote about the experience to help.

Question #2 – Glimpse into choices you had to make to stray away from the truth to serve the story.

Ruta Sepetys – She was interviewing human beings condemned to death who then survived. “There’s a tension between history and memory.” She will interview 100 people and interweave the stories to create a single one – very different from nonfiction. This will hopefully be more representative.

Kim Turrisi – She used notes from 25 different people to cobble together the backgrounds of the secondary characters.

Alex Gino – Many people assume that my book is autobiographical. The way my character is transgender is not the same way that I am. My main character isn’t much like me, but the way people respond is.

Question #3 – Talk about the process of going deep into the story.

Kim Turrisi – I had the suicide letter. I put it on the wall to challenge me. My editor challenged me by saying some things that actually happened may not feel authentic. Give more. It was tough.

Ruta Sepetys – As writers, we should go there. Emotionally we need to get in the trenches. If I feel loss, I have loved. If I feel it, hopefully my readers will too. Amplify the hope in the hardship. Someone has to make it out.

Aisha Saeed – She did the emotional digging. What would it be like to go through this? Why would she run away? Her editor helped her bring out the nuances.

Alex Gino – You have to have a balance between optimism and realism. My responsibility was to provide a mirror for kids who are Trans. We get to have nice stories, too. Then my editor had to remind me that bad things have to happen, so we feel better when there’s redemption.

 

NOVA REN SUMA – QUEEN OF THE UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

Break Out Session, “The Power and Possibility of the Unreliable Narrator”

POV is one of the most exciting tools you have as a writer. Make good use of it.

What is an “unreliable” narrator?

  1. Withholds information from the reader
  2. Breaks your trust (We expect to trust the narrator)
  3. Drives the plot

Should be unreliable for a reason – an important mechanism for the plot.

Unreliable Narrator often has a surprising, unexpected secret.

WHY is your narrator not telling the whole truth?

WHY is the big mystery.

You as the author need to know the answer.

Favorite example: Mary Katherine Blackwood from WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

More Unreliable Narrator examples:

Mica from LIAR by Justine Larbalestier

Julie from CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

Mary from Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Whim from CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

Caden from CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman

Nova went on to explain how using craft choices can help you show your unreliable narrator to your readers and ways to create an unreliable character.

This was such a helpful session! Nova really is a fantastic teacher.

 

DINNER

After a full day of amazing keynotes and breakout sessions, our SCBWI OK gang met up for dinner with a former member who recently relocated to LA. She may have moved to California, but she’ll always be a part of us, too!

(Almost) our entire SCBWI OK gang after the first day of the conference.

 

Jerry and Britt (our wayward member) doing their best Oh My Disney! pose – Aren’t they just too adorable for words?

 

Hope you enjoyed the first part of my conference experience highlights. Stay tuned for Part II coming soon!

 

Kim Ventrella – Author Interview

I’m so happy to be interviewing the delightful Kim Ventrella, today. Kim is an SCBWI Oklahoma region member I’m just getting to know, and I’ve been dying to ask her some in-depth questions. Like what’s behind her extensive skeleton collection? How much does her dog, Hera, actually help her writing process? And more importantly, what inspired her highly anticipated debut novel, SKELETON TREE, which comes out this month?

Let’s find out.

 

About Kim

Kim lives in Oklahoma City with her faithful furry companion, Hera. She moonlights as a children’s librarian when she’s not writing books, fighting crime, or killing houseplants. (I’m beginning to think her bio has been padded. That houseplants thing is a little far-fetched, if you ask me.)

She has been know to actually seek out places where skeletons dwell. To even pose for pictures with them, and dress them up in fancy hats and wigs. Some might call that weird, I call that amazing! How else would we get such an awesome-looking book?

 

Before the interview, let’s take a closer look at Kim’s book:

SKELETON TREE by Kim Ventrella

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy

BOOK AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER:
indieboundbn-24h-80amazon
Plot Summary:

Twelve-year-old Stanly knows the bone growing in his yard is a little weird, but that’s okay, because now he’ll have the perfect photo to submit to the Young Discoverer’s Competition. With such a unique find, he’s sure to win the grand prize.

But, oddly, the bone doesn’t appear in any photos. Even stranger, it seems to be growing into a full skeleton…one that only children can see.

There’s just one person who doesn’t find any of this weird–Stanly’s little sister. Mischievous Miren adopts the skeleton as a friend, and soon, the two become inseparable playmates.

When Miren starts to grow sick, Stanly suspects that the skeleton is responsible and does everything in his power to drive the creature away. However, Miren is desperate not to lose her friend, forcing Stanly to question everything he’s ever believed about life, love, and the mysterious forces that connect us. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)


 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Your debut novel, SKELETON TREE, has such an intriguing premise, what sparked the idea for this story?

Kim Ventrella: I wondered what would happen if a boy discovered a finger bone growing in his backyard. The story evolved from there, becoming much more than I had anticipated.

VL: What a great beginning. I can’t wait to read where the story goes from there!

I absolutely love the book trailer for THE SKELETON TREE, what can you tell us about it? (You can view the book trailer below.)

KV: Artist Jerry Bennett and Filmmaker Zac Davis did an amazing job putting together the trailer. I had gone to see their award-winning short film, Even in Death, and after that I knew they would be perfect for the job. It captures just the right mix of wonder, spookiness and whimsy.

VL: You seem more than fascinated (dare we say obsessed?) with skeletons – I love following your hashtag #skeletonspotting, by the way – where did this deep interest in skeletons come from?

KV: I don’t know if it’s a deep interest (ha!), but I have always been fascinated with the macabre. Scary stories are a great way to confront monsters in a safe environment. Readers can learn from the character’s journey that it’s possible to overcome those spooky skeletons we all have in our closets.

VL: So true! Better to tackle them in the pages of fiction than in real life. (Checks closet for skeletons.)

Your story tackles the difficult subject of death, one not many adults are comfortable dealing with. Talk about why you thought it important to address this issue in a children’s book.

KV: My grandfather passed away suddenly not long before I started Skeleton Tree. I didn’t initially intend for it to be a book about death, but that was just how the story unfolded. It became a sort of canvas on which I could put forward my own vision of how Death could look, if we chose to experience it through a different lens.

I wanted to create a Death full of meaning, beauty, friendship and understanding. I strongly believe that books are one of the best ways for children to make sense of the world around them, to experience tough topics in a safe space, and that includes dealing with death.

VL: How beautiful. That’s quite an homage to your grandfather, too. I just love that.

What were some of your biggest fears as a kid? Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

KV: I was very scared of ghosts in particular when I was a child, which is perhaps why I embraced the macabre. I used to have night terrors, night paralysis and visual disturbances (i.e. I very vividly ‘saw’ ghosts on several occasions as a child).

For me, reading scary stories has always been the equivalent of performing a big Riddikulus spell on those creepy real-life monsters. Seeing others triumph over evil, whether it’s watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer or reading Roald Dahl, gives me confidence that I can also defeat the big baddies out there.

VL: Wow! Very in touch with your spooky side, even as a kid. Destined to write this genre! I love that seeing others conquer their fears in books gave you courage, too. Books are so powerful!

You discussed in a post recently that you like to begin writing a story by thinking about its emotional catharsis and working back from there. That’s almost like starting at the ending and working your way back to the beginning. I love this idea. Can you expand on this?

KV: My writing style has changed and continues to change a ton. I always used to write completely organically, with no plotting ahead of time, like with Skeleton Tree. Now that I have to send off proposals for stories before I start writing (for the most part), I’ve started thinking more strategically.

In the end, the important aspect of a story for me is what emotional impact readers will feel after they turn the last page. Has the book changed the way they see the world? Has the character’s journey taught them something about themselves?

Starting with that in mind can speed up the process, but it’s not always possible, because sometimes you can reach a more powerful conclusion if your destination is unplanned.

VL: Excellent advice, to focus on the emotional impact.

Your dog Hera features prominently in your Instagram posts, how does she factor into your writing process? (I have heard tale that you like to write in her dog bed.)

KV: Yes, I wrote Skeleton Tree sitting in a dog bed, while Hera sat on the couch behind me looking over my shoulder. I now have an office chair, ha!, but my dog is still a big help. I even mention her in the acknowledgements of my book. She’s sweet, silly and scared of everything, but most of all she’s the perfect co-writer.

VL: Who were your childhood heroes/role models?

KV: I don’t know about role models, but I was obsessed with Billy the Kid, Al Capone and Charlie Chaplin. I also loved Agatha Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot, and his sidekick, Hastings. The Addams Family was another huge favorite, as were Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl.

VL: What a wonderfully eclectic collection! I’m also a huge Agatha Christie fan! I read so many of her books when I was a kid.

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

KV: I love The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan. It’s a sad, happy, heartfelt story about a poet who lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog. It’s practically my life story.

VL: Beautiful cover. Thanks for recommending it. 🙂

And thank you so much for joining us, today, Kim! It’s been such a pleasure talking with you and getting to know you better!

 

The Trailer

And now for your viewing pleasure…

The official book trailer for Skeleton Tree!

Local talents Jerry Bennett and Zac Davis created this trailer for Kim. They both worked on the award-winning short film, Even in Death. Jerry is an amazing comic book artist and illustrator who’s done work for companies like Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Topps. Zac Davis is a filmmaker and program director for Invisible Layers productions, a pre-employment program for young adults on the autism spectrum with an interest in film, video production, or animation.

Enjoy the trailer!

 

Don’t forget to pre-order Kim’s book SKELETON TREE! It releases on September 26th!

 

indieboundbn-24h-80amazon

 

 

 

Learn more about Kim Ventrella here.

Follow Kim on Twitter here.

Follow Kim on Facebook here.

Follow Kim on Instagram here.

 

 

 

Book Review – FROEHLICH’S LADDER by Jamie Duclos-Yourdon

I received this book from the beguiling Laura Stanfill. Not only is she a champion for independent books in her home state of Oregon, she’s the founder and publisher of her own independent publishing house, Forest Avenue Press, and she can wear a fancy hat like no one else I know.

 

I met her through our mutual love of books and blogs a few years ago, and I was lucky enough to read the very first book her house released. She’s been on a roll ever since. She thought I might enjoy this latest story and sent me a copy. So thoughtful!

FROEHLICH’S LADDER by Jamie Duclos-Yourdon

Published by: Forest Avenue Press

Release Date: August 9, 2016

Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

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Plot Summary:

Froelich nurses a decades-old family grudge from his permanent perch atop a giant ladder in this nineteenth century madcap adventure novel. When he disappears suddenly, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked adventure across the Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

This is such a unique and wonderful tale, a truly magical romp of a story. Although I found it hard to readily describe – it’s kind of a folk tale with tall tale leanings filled with the most fascinating cast of characters – I did thoroughly enjoy reading it.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

The brothers’ land (two plots arranged end-to-end) was adjacent to Boxboro – less of a town at the time than the notion of a town. The previous year, the United States Congress had passed the Donation Land Act. Harald and Froehlich, being of voting age and white (by accident of birth, and without conscious design), were entitled to three hundred twenty acres in Oregon Country, provided they make improvements to the land and remain for four years. At nineteen and eighteen years old, respectively, they received no greeting when they arrived, nor did anything but a handwritten mile marker signify their property.

 “A bog,” Forehlich noisily observed. “It reminds me of a bog, Harald, only without the charm. In California, at least it’s sunny. At least the people were civilized! Did you see that coot at the general store? His mouth looked like the back of your knee! Is it any wonder they’re giving away land? If a person were to come up to you and say, ‘Here, take my daughter – my pride and joy, a vision to see,’ would you think to yourself, ‘Oh, lucky day!’ Or would you think, ‘Let me see this daughter of yours.’ Maybe it’s not even his daughter, Harald, but a man dressed as a woman, lying in wait! And when I pay her a visit, with my chin shaved and my hair nicely parted, he jumps out from behind the wardrobe, strikes me over the head, and-“

“Enough, Froehlich!” Harald shouted, finally compelled to open his eyes. Staring down at his brother, he asked, “What are you trying to say?”

What am I trying to say?” The volume of Froehlich’s voice was enough to startle the birds. “I’m saying it’s abysmal here! I’m saying this has been a terrible mistake! No one should suffer such indignity, unless they’re being punished for a grave sin-which to my knowledge, I am not.”

“But I like it here,” Harald said. “I enjoy this weather.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Froehlich snapped. “Go live at the bottom of a well, if that’s your preference. I say California was superior in every way. Or New Orleans – I rather liked the Port of New Orleans. Let’s go back.”

This statement caused Harald’s jaw to swing open, as if on a great hinge. For a moment he was rendered speechless, his face all but frozen, except for a distressed vein that pulsed in his temple. Finally, when it appeared he might’ve been struck dumb, he offered a smile.

“Go back?” He chuckled.

“Yes – go back. What’s so amusing?”

“Walk all the way to the Fort Astoria? And how will you, with your feet in that condition?”

Froehlich folded his arms and scowled. He’d thought his limp was less noticeable, even as it had grown more and more pronounced. He felt it was cruel for Harald to make light of his affliction. After all, his brother stood head and shoulders above normal men and was strong as a locomotive.

“You’ll have to carry me, of course,” Froehlich said.

Harald threw his head back as his laughter turned to howls. The rain dappled his forehead and ran in rivulets down his cheeks.

“Carry you?” he gasped, when he was finally able to speak.

Froehlich, who was beginning to lose his patience, confirmed, “Yes – carry me. Don’t pretend for a second that I’m too heavy.”

“Of course you’re not too heavy – I could put a wagon on my back. But why carry you? Why should I leave? This is my home, now, Froehlich. The contract requires that we stay for four years.”

Now it was Froehlich’s turn to gape. The betrayal he felt stemmed less from what Harald wanted, and more from what he didn’t want. Harald, with his unique physical gifts, could’ve made a name for himself in Deutschland, when no such option had been available to Froehlich. His only chance at upward mobility had been to pursue his fortune, and that pursuit had led him to this wilderness.

“Come with me,” Froehlich said. “I want to show you something.”

Technically, they were standing on Froehlich’s land. Slogging to the middle of an empty pasture, where the drizzle had turned the ground to slurry, he spun around to face his brother.

“There,” Froehlich said, pointing at his feet. Rain was dripping down his brow and under his collar, not that he noticed anymore. “Look right there, and tell me what you see.”

“There?” Harald frowned. “All I see is mud.”

“It’s your grave,” Froehlich sneered. “Yours and mine, both – but you first, if rank stupidity has anything to do with it. We’ve traveled tens of thousands miles, Harald, and for what? The privilege of drowning while standing up? If that’s the case, I’d rather spend what time remains alone. Oregon Country is big enough that I don’t have to see your idiot face.”

Hobbling toward the wall of the trees, he paused to correct himself. “My home,” he said. “My land. You go and live someplace else.”

Things only get more unpleasant between the two brothers when a love-interest come into play leading to a full-on feud of ridiculous proportions until Froehlich banishes himself up a ladder, the fourth largest in the land, and refuses to come down. For years.

But don’t let the whimsical side of this story fool you. There is a darker, more haunting side explored as well. Almost all the characters suffer from one form of alienation or another and all struggle to find their place in this new world – longing for a sense of connection. Many of these struggles felt very relevant to today.

I really enjoyed the wild ride this story led me on. I think you will, too.

 

Learn more about Jamie Duclos-Yourdon here.

Follow Jamie on Twitter here.

 

Tracey Baptiste – Author Interview

I was introduced to Tracey Baptiste (pronounced buh TEEST) through a mutual writer friend who asked if I’d be interested in reading her book, THE JUMBIES, a few years ago. Of course I said yes, and that’s how I had the pleasure of reviewing Tracey’s first Middle Grade book, THE JUMBIES, on this blog.

I’m so excited to be talking with her, today, about her latest book in the series.

About Tracey

Tracey grew up with a love of Grimm’s fairy tales and has wanted to write since she was three years old. She was inspired to write for kids after reading Rosa Guy’s “The Friends”.

She worked as an elementary teacher before entering the world of publishing in the education market. She later moved into editing nonfiction books for kids. Now, as well as being an amazing author of books for kids, she is also a freelance editor for publishers and individual clients.

Tracey’s debut novel, ANGEL’S GRACE, a YA contemporary novel, was named one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing by the NYC librarians.

Her first Middle Grade novel, THE JUMBIES, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a New York Public Libraries Staff Pick, one of Brightly’s Best Kids Books of 2015, a We Need Diverse Books “Must Read,” and named to Bank Street’s Best Books of 2016.

Tracey is a contributor to the outstanding blog The Brown Bookshelf that pushes awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Tracey’s latest book:

RISE OF THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste

Release Date: September 19, 2017

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy

BOOK AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER:
indieboundbn-24h-80amazon
Plot Summary:

The sequel to the highly praised novel The Jumbies takes Corinne and her friends on another spine-tingling adventure under the sea.

Corinne LaMer defeated the wicked jumbie Severine months ago, but things haven’t exactly gone back to normal in her Caribbean island home. Everyone knows Corinne is half-jumbie, and many of her neighbors treat her with mistrust. When local children begin to go missing, snatched from the beach and vanishing into wells, suspicious eyes turn to Corinne.

To rescue the missing children and clear her own name, Corinne goes deep into the ocean to find Mama D’Leau, the dangerous jumbie who rules the sea. But Mama D’Leau’s help comes with a price. Corinne and her friends Dru, Bouki, and Malik must travel with mermaids across the ocean to the shores of Ghana to fetch a powerful object for Mama D’Leau. The only thing more perilous than Corinne’s adventures across the sea is the foe that waits for her back home.

With its action-packed storytelling, diverse characters, and inventive twists on Caribbean and West African mythology and fairy tales, Rise of the Jumbies will appeal to readers of A Snicker of Magic, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.


This book has already garnered rave reviews:

Kirkus starred review

“A stirring and mystical tale sure to keep readers thinking past the final page.”

Booklist review

“Young readers are probably familiar with Greek myths, thanks to Rick Riordan, and other enduring European classics, so this series with twists on Caribbean (particularly Haitian and Trinidadian) and West African tales is a welcome change.”

School Library Journal starred review

“The novelty of the fantasy elements, the complex characters, and the superb world-building combine in a tale well worth reading, both as a sequel and a stand-alone . . . A stellar recommendation for fans of edgy fantasy such as Aaron Starmer’s ‘The Riverman Trilogy’ or Adam Gidwitz’s ‘A Tale Dark and Grimm’ series, and, of course, fans of the first book.”

I’m so excited to read this book! The first one was so wonderful, and looking at these reviews, I have high hopes for this next one.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: I absolutely fell in love with THE JUMBIES, your first middle grade novel. From the fantastic cast of characters to that lush, vibrant setting, you make the Caribbean come alive. What made you want to tell this story?

Tracey Baptiste: I’d always wanted this story as a kid. I grew up on Grimm’s fairy tales, and wanted to see a jumbie story in an actual book, but there weren’t any.

I also wanted my children to know about jumbies. They knew a little, but got really interested when I started telling them about what I was writing. It was wonderful to pass on that bit of culture to them because they were so receptive.

VL: So wonderful that you’re passing on these stories.

I love the gorgeous mermaids on the cover for your next story, RISE OF THE JUMBIES. Does this give some hints about what’s in store for Corinne and her friends, what more can you tell us?

TB: Yes! The mermaids were actually the creatures that were the most compelling for me in this story because they lay out a very complicated statement that I wanted to make about enslaved people, forced assimilation, and losing/finding one’s culture.

It’s a difficult thing to try to discuss with children, so the mermaids were very helpful in bearing that out in the story. This is really separate from Corinne’s story. In the main story arc, the mermaids are there to transport Corinne and her friends on a quest.

 

 

VL: You spooked us into not wanting to go alone into the woods in your first book, looks like your next book might do the same for the ocean. Is this Jaws with a twist for kids?

TB: In the first one, most of the scary stuff happens on land, and in this one most of the scary stuff happens in the sea, but the fear factor comes almost entirely from jumbies. A shark appears, but only very briefly.

VL: Ha! Those jumbies are indeed more frightening than a shark! 

You pull no punches when putting your characters through difficult situations and having them face scary creatures, what’s the scariest nightmare you ever had as a kid?

TB: I had a recurring nightmare where I was running down a dark hallway with someone following me, but I was moving molasses-slow so I knew I would be caught. I always woke up before that happened, though.

VL: Yikes! I always hate when I can’t move fast enough in dreams. Good thing you woke up in time. 

THE JUMBIES series is a departure from your debut YA novel and your non-fiction writing, talk about the creative process for bringing these books to life. How was it different from your previous writing?

TB: My first novel, ANGEL’S GRACE, was really an exercise in seeing if I could finish an entire novel. I had tried and abandoned novels before, but I was determined to finish this one. Making it a mystery was a bit of a trick, because mysteries have a structure built in. You have to get to the “what/who/how” that closes the story.

Writing nonfiction is very different because it’s a matter of stringing together the available information into something that has appeal, but that doesn’t have bias. It’s like putting together a puzzle where you have to actively go out, find, and verify each of the pieces.

VL: Writing the second novel in a series is always a challenge, how was the process different/more difficult than the first? Did you write the first book as a series in mind?

TB: I had an idea for a second book when I wrote the first one, but it wasn’t bought as a series, so I didn’t give a lot of thought to what would come next. Then when they asked for a sequel, I struggled to make things fit, maintain the continuity of the story, and still up the ante. It was very, very difficult.

I tooled around with THE JUMBIES for about 9 years before I finally sold it, and I had 9 months to write RISE. Even coming up with the title was rough. It came down to the day before the sequel was announced, and we were still going back and forth on possible titles.

VL: I think good titles are so difficult. That really came down to the wire!

Corinne and her friends have many memorable, and scary, adventures while battling the Jumbies, what’s the most memorable adventure from your childhood? 

TB: The dad of one of my best friends was a captain of the MV Tobago, a ferry that went between Trinidad and Tobago, and one week he took us on board and we got to have some adventures in Tobago where we were pretty much by ourselves for a week. (Her dad was nearby, but we had a wide rein.) We were 14 and there were…some shenanigans…

VL: Hmm…sounds like a story’s in there somewhere. 🙂

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

TB: I loved THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill, which rightly won the Newbery. It’s a modern classic fairy tale (my favorite) but also delves into the idea of people who create and maintain their own power through lies.

I was also very excited about TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, which is a sweet story in two voices about girls who are dealing with their parents dating each other, and being thrust into each other’s lives.

VL: I absolutely adore the cover of THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON! I put that on my must-read list just for that. I will definitely add TWO NAOMIS to that list, too.  

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

TB: I have so many things floating around in my brain. I’d by happy if people would just allow me to keep writing and they would read it. But I’m most excited to write books that have a heavy science base. I quite like science and math, and I think it would be fun to come up with a story that gets geeky kids (like me when I was a kid) excited.

VL: Geeky is right up my alley! Sounds fun! 

Tell us what’s coming up next for you? What are you currently working on?

TB: I’m working on another nonfiction book that uncovers some parts of history that have been absent in our culture and in our educational offerings. (I’m still at heart, a teacher, so I can’t help thinking about what kids are doing in the classroom.)

There’s not much I can say about it now because I’ve only just begun researching, and the fun of researching is you never know what’s going to turn up.

VL: We will definitely keep an eye out for your future projects.

Thank you so much for joining us, today, Tracey. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you!

 

And remember, you can pre-order Tracey’s new book RISE OF THE JUMBIES. It releases on September 19th!

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Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.

Follow Tracey on Facebook here.

Follow Tracey on Twitter here.

Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.

 

 

The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the summer session of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club.  We’re having one each quarter and instead of revisiting a favorite read from the past, I’m reading a book for the first time right along with you.

This selection is from an author I’ve never read before – always exciting! I met the beguiling Ms. Brockenbrough at the SCBWI LA conference last summer and have been looking forward to reading her book ever since. It’s a book well worth reading.

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough

Published by: Arthur A Levine Books

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

indieboundamazonbn-24h-80

 

 

Plot Summary:

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. HELEN OF TROY AND PARIS. ROMEO AND JULIET. AND NOW . . . HENRY AND FLORA.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Martha Brockenbrough here.

Follow Martha on Twitter here.

Follow Martha on Facebook here.

Follow Martha on Tumblr here.

 

It’s hard enough being in love without immortal forces interfering or outright plotting against you, especially when you have no idea it’s even happening. Their subtle moves shape your life views and change small steps that might have made big changes in your life you’ll never know about. Such a fascinating premise for this story.

Here’s a look at the first chapter:

Chapter 1

Friday, February 13, 1920

     The figure in the fine gray suit materialized in the nursery and stood over the sleeping infant, inhaling the sweet, milky night air. He could have taken any form, really; a sparrow, a snowy owl, even a common housefly. Although, he often traveled the world on wings, for this work he always preferred a human guise.

     Standing beneath a leaded glass window, the visitor, who was known as Love, removed a small, pearl-headed pin from his tie and pricked his his finger. A bead of blood rose and caught the reflection of the slice of moon that hung low in the late winter sky. He bent over the cradle and slid his bleeding fingertip into the child’s mouth. The baby, a boy, tried to suckle, his forehead wrinkling, his small hands curling into fists.

    After a time, Love slipped his finger out of the boy’s mouth, satisfied that the blood had given the boy a steady heart. He replaced his pin and regarded the child. He removed a book from his pocket, scribbled a few lines, and tucked it away again. When he could stay no longer, he uttered two words, as softly as a prayer: “Have courage.”

———————————————————————

The next night, in a small green house across town, his opponent made her choice. In this house, there was no leaded glass in the windows. No gracious nursery, no wrought-iron crib. The child was a girl. A girl who slept in an apple crate – happily so, for she did not yet know of anything else.

     In the house’s other bedroom, the child’s grandmother slept lightly, listening from some ever-alert corner of her mind for the sounds that would indicate the child’s parents had returned home: the creak of a door, the whisper of voices, the careful pad of tiptoeing feet.

     The old woman would wait forever to hear those sounds again.

     Wearing a pair of soft leather gloves, Love’s opponent, known as Death, reached for the child, who woke and blinked sleepily at the unfamiliar face overhead. To Death’s relief, the baby did not cry. Instead, she looked at her with wonder. Death held a candle near so the child might have a better view. The baby blinked twice, smiled, and reached for the flame.

     Pleased, Death set the candle down, held the baby close to her chest, and walked to the uncovered window, which revealed a whitened world glowing beneath a silver flannel sky. She and the baby watched the snow fall together. At last, the child fell asleep in her arms.

     Death concentrated on her essential task, relieved when she at last felt the telltale pressure behind her eyes. After much effort, a single black tear gathered in her lashes. Death removed her glove with her teeth. It made hardly any noise as it hit the floor. With her index finger, Death lifted the tear.

     She held her fingertip over the baby’s clean, warm forehead. Slowly, carefully, she wrote directly on the child’s flesh a word that would be invisible. But this word would have power over the child, and later the woman she would become. It would teach her, shape her. Its letters, seven of them, gleamed in the candlelight.

     Someday.

     She whispered this into the baby’s ear:

     Someday, everyone you love will die. Everything you love will crumble to ruin. This is the price of life. This is the price of love. It is the only ending for every true story.

     The letters sank into the infant’s dusky skin and vanished as if they’d never been there at all.

    Death put the baby down, removed her other glove, and left the pair of them on the floor, where they would be discovered by the baby’s grandmother and mistaken for something else. The gloves would be the only things she would give the girl, though there was much she had taken already, and more she would take in the years to come.

———————————————————————

     For the next seventeen years, Love and Death watched their players. Watched and waited for the Game to begin.

 

I was hooked from the opening. And I found myself rooting for the two wee babes, who grew up to be very intriguing, complex characters, hoping they’d find a way to beat the odds and defy the influence of Love and Death and forge their own path.

How about you? Did this opening grab you from the start or did you need more to get invested in the story?

The Discussion:

Flora and Henry, our “players”, both have really big dreams that they are very determined to achieve. Flora wants to be the next Amelia Earhart, and even though she’d rather earn a living flying, without serious sponsorship money – rarely given to women, yet alone a colored woman – she must spend her evenings singing at Domino’s.  Henry loves the connection, the rhythm, of baseball and is good enough that he received a full scholarship to the all-boys preparatory academy, which could lead to a college scholarship and a bright future. If only he could keep his focus on his studies and off of music, his real love.

Things really get interesting when their worlds collide, and then Henry hears Flora sing for the first time.

Here’s the scene where Henry has convinced Ethan, his foster brother, to go with him to Flora’s nightclub, The Domino, on the pretext of writing a story  for Ethan’s father’s newspaper, about Flora, the girl pilot they met earlier that day:

   On the far side rose a stage flanked by red velvet curtains and pearly lights. Everything had seen better days, to be sure. But it was the biggest, brightest thing Henry could remember since before the Crash, and for a moment, he almost felt as if he were back in that old world, the one he’d lived in with his family before the influenza took his mother and sister, before his father…Henry stopped the thought in its tracks. Now wasn’t the time.

   A group of musicians stood on one side of the stage, and the drummer kicked off a new song. Center stage, stepping down a wide white staircase and curving handrails, was Flora, looking paradoxically the same and yet so different from the way she looked on the airstrip. She smiled as she walked, but it was clear she couldn’t care less about the audience clapping and hooting on the floor below. A spotlight pinned her in front of a nickel-plated microphone.

     “Something wrong?” Ethan said. “Don’t tell me you’ve come to your senses.”

     “It’s not that. I just -” Henry shook his head. “The singer.”

     “Not that it matters, but she’s not bad-looking out of that canvas getup,” Ethan said. “I’ll grant you that. Even if her dress looks like something that was in style twenty years ago.”

     Henry didn’t care about the dress. It looked fine to him. More than fine.

     Flora opened her mouth to sing and Henry swallowed hard. He’d never heard anything like her voice, which made him wish he had his bass in his hands, just so he could return the sounds, a mix of chocolate and cream, something he wanted to drink through his skin.

Once upon a time I dreamed

Of how my life would go…

     He recognized the song: “Walk Beside Me.” But her voice nailed him to the floor. It made him feel as though something had slipped under his skin and was easing everything nonessential straight from his bones.

     “Cigarette?” A blonde wearing a short red dress and a tray of Viceroys slung from a strap around her neck leaned in toward them, blocking Henry’s view.

On that day I saw you

It wasn’t love at first sight

But slowly, like a sunrise

You revealed your light

     Henry craned around her as Ethan waved the cigarette girl away. “Your kind always says no to mine,” she muttered as she left. The maître d’ approached holding menus.

     “Follow me, gentlemen,” he said. “It’s your lucky night, We have a table right up front by the dance floor.”

     Henry had heard “Walk Beside Me” many times on the wireless. But he had never heard it like this, slow and tender. And the accompanying music was nothing like the orderly, upright way the Ozzie Nelson Band played it. This was something unsettling here, something unpredictable, as if some set of rules, both written and unwritten, was being shattered like glass. The awareness of it dampened his forehead and made his blood sing, raising all the tiny hairs on his arms and the back of his neck.

     Flora moved on to the chorus.

I may have dreamed before you

Of how my life should be

The only thing I want now

Is for you to walk beside me

   Beneath her voice, a skinny young bass player plucked a steady rhythm, holding her on a sturdy web of notes. For some reason, Henry immediately hated the man, his mustache, his pompadour, his trim tuxedo, the way he looked at Flora as though she were a thing he owned. The music picked up a notch, taking Henry’s pulse with it as the song traveled back to the main melody, now with the full band. It was a conversation with a piano, a guitar, a saxophone, two trombones, and a pair of twins playing trumpets that turned the reflection of the chandeliers overhead into movable stars.

So Love’s player is on the hook, but will Death’s player forsake her goals and ambition for Henry?

As Henry visits the Domino almost every night, getting closer to Flora, neglecting his responsibilities and letting his grades suffer, putting his future college scholarships in jeopardy, we begin to see the effect the actions Love and Death have on each of the “players”. One side isn’t above shoving obstacles in the way to move the players in the direction that suits their outcome of the game even if that means causing them a great loss.

This is a beautiful story that will have you rooting for Henry and Flora (and maybe even against Love and Death) and have you thinking about the balance between love and self-sacrifice.

What wouldn’t you give up for love? Heavy question.

What did you think of the story?

 

Up next…

 Fall Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy

Published by: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Release Date: May 9, 2017

Genres: YA, Contemporary

indieboundamazonbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family.

Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected.

With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Julie Murphy here.

Follow Julie on Twitter here.

Follow Julie on Tumblr here.

Follow Julie on Instagram here.

Follow Julie on YouTube here.

 

I’ve interviewed Ms. Murphy right here on this blog a few years ago and finally got to meet her in person during her Epic Reads tour for this book. Such a delightful person! While I’ve enjoyed reading her other books, like SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY and DUMPLIN’, she said this one took her the longest, and it’s because it’s a reflection of her inner self as much as DUMPLIN’ was a reflection of her outer self. Wow! Does that make me want to read it all the more!

We’ll reconvene this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs in the fall. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional, as always!)

Happy reading!