The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)
What a fitting title for this time of year, eh? I won this book last year after participating in an online chat with the Colleen Houck Book Club on Goodreads. We talked with Amy Plum about the first book in her latest series, AFTER THE END. (It is also fantastic, and I highly recommend it, too.)
When Kate Mercier’s parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life—and memories—behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.
Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate’s guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he’s a revenant—an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
When I first read the flap copy, I was a little hesitant because it sounded more like a run-of-the-mill romance. This is so not that! Besides there being so much more sword-fighting and ass-kicking of epic proportions going on, Kate is no damsel-in-distress. She is very much a girl making decisions about her life – good or bad. And the revenants are so fascinating! I love the detailed design of their world, how they crave to sacrifice themselves for someone, almost like an addiction or sickness, until it becomes overwhelming – so interesting. And let’s not forget the setting! Plum really brings it to life. While reading, you feel totally immersed in this gorgeous city.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the beginning to whet your appetite:
There’s nowhere I’d rather be than Paris in June. Even though I’ve spent every summer there since I was a baby, I never fail to get that “‘Paris buzz” as I walk down its summer streets. The light is different from anywhere else. As if pulled straight out of a fairy tale, the wand-waving brilliance makes you feel like absolutely anything could happen to you at any moment and you wouldn’t even be surprised.
But this time was different. Paris was the same as it had always been, but I had changed. Even the city’s sparkling, glowing air couldn’t penetrate the shroud of darkness that felt superglued to my skin. Paris is called the City of Light. Well, for me it had become the City of Night.
I spent the summer pretty much alone, falling quickly into a solitary routine: eat breakfast in Papy and Mamie’s dark, antique-filled apartment and spend the morning entrenched in one of the small dark Parisian cinemas that project classic films round-the-clock, of haunt one of my favorite museums. Then return home and read the rest of the day, eat dinner, and lie in bed staring at the ceiling, my occasional sleep jam-packed with nightmares. Get up. Repeat.
The only intrusions on my solitude were emails from my friends back home. “How’s life in France?” they all started.
What could I say? Depressing? Empty? I want my parents back? Instead I lied. I told them I was really happy living in Paris. That it was a good thing Georgia’s and my French was fluent because we were meeting so many people. That I couldn’t wait to start my new school.
My lies were meant to impress them. I knew they felt sorry for me, and I only wanted to reassure them that I was okay. But each time I pressed send and then read back over my email, I realized how vast the gulf was between my real life and the fictional one I created for them. And that made me even more depressed.
Finally I realized that I didn’t actually want to talk to anyone. One night I sat for fifteen minutes with my hands poised above the keyboard, searching for something even slightly positive to say to my friend Claudia. I clicked out of the message and, after taking a deep breath, completely deleted my email address from the internet. Gmail asked me if I was sure. “Oh, yeah,” I said as I clicked the red button. A huge burden lifted from my shoulders. After that I shoved my laptop into a drawer and didn’t open it again until school started.
Now that is disconnecting from the world. Sad to say, I’ve actually been in that headspace. Things take a very interesting turn for Kate very soon after this. No spoilers here. You need to pick up this book to find out what happens.
This was such an intense, fast-paced and heart-felt read. I tore through this first book and continued on through the rest of the series in less than a week. Such wonderfully developed characters and rich story lines, it was a wonderful world to get lost in for awhile. I just loved it.
Today I may have to cut down on the caffeine intake because I’m already buzzing enough with excitement over my two guests. Jennifer Mathieu and Julie Murphy both had extraordinary debut novels that made quite a splash in the world of contemporary YA fiction. (I seriously raced through them in record time. Loved loved LOVED!!!) And now, they are putting all of their fabulous talent together to host a workshop this February for Madcap Retreats. (Yes, THAT Madcap Retreats. The brainchild of Natalie C. Parker.)
One lucky reader will win $100 off this workshop! Stay tuned to enter!
Jennifer Mathieu is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mom who writes books for and about young adults. Her favorite things include chocolate, pepperoni pizza, and the super hilarious 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls. She can basically quote every episode. Jennifer lives in Texas with her husband, son, one rescue dog, one fat cat, and another cat that is even fatter than the fat cat.
When it comes to what she reads, she loves realistic young adult fiction (obviously), creative nonfiction, super scandalous tell-all memoirs, and anything that hooks her attention on the first page. She is the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE (2014) and DEVOTED (2015). Her debut novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, won the 2015 Children’s Choice Book Awards’ Teen Choice Debut Author Award.
Julie Murphy is a potty-mouthed Southern belle who was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but found her home in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s never seen Star Wars, but has yet to meet a made for TV movie she didn’t love. When she’s not writing, Julie can be found cruising Costco for free samples, watching Sister Act 2, stalking drag queens on instagram, obsessing over the logistics of Mars One, and forever searching for the perfect slice of cheese pizza. She lives with her bearded husband, two vicious cats, and one pomeranian that can pass as a bear cub.
Her debut novel, SIDE EFFECT MAY VARY (2014) was a NYT Bestseller. Her second young adult novel, DUMPLIN’ (Sept 2015), received glowing reviews including two stars from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and in less than a month after its release, hit #1 on the NYT best seller list for YA Hardcovers. The film rights for DUMPLIN’ have been optioned by Disney.
Valerie Lawson: You both have written stunning debut novels, which received much critical acclaim. Tell us about life as a debut author. What was the most surprising experience? What lessons did you learn?
Jennifer Mathieu: To be honest, I’m still surprised that I wrote a book and it got published. It took me seven years to publish my first novel. My first two manuscripts got very close but never sold. So I spent my debut year sort of in a haze that THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE was not only getting published but was getting a very warm reception.
I’ve learned to approach this writing career with enormous gratitude. It’s my childhood dream come true. It’s so easy to get sucked into the worry cycle or the gossip of the industry. But the bottom line is that once my debut novel hit the shelves, I became a published author. Nothing can ever happen that can take that away from me.
Julie Murphy: First, thank you! I am that horrible type of person who believes they can handle anything no matter how many times and how many people have warned them that the road ahead is difficult. There were so many incredible highs, but there were also so many lows that I never believed I’d actually experience or thought I was more emotionally equipped to deal with. I’ve learned that no matter how sane you are, planning a wedding or large family function can turn you into a special kind of crazy. That’s how the debut year is. You’ll be yourself, yes, but it may not be a version of yourself you’ve ever met.
The good news is: you are not alone. You will make fast friends with fellow debuts, because no one else can relate to you like they can. I would have to say the friendships were the most surprising experience and I’d go through it all over again to for these women if I had to. I poured so much of myself into SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY that I felt like I had nothing left to give and that this was my one and only chance, because I would never be able to recreate this magic. But that’s not true. My second book just came out and I love it just as much. I’m working on my third and am contracted for a fourth. There will always be more books. Sometimes publishing them won’t be so easy, but you will write another book.
VL: Gratitiude, yes. And realizing you’re not alone sounds especially important. I love how supportive this writing community can be.
How was the process of writing different for you when you wrote your second novel?
Jennifer: I will say writing my second novel, DEVOTED, was very difficult for me. I really had that classic experience you hear about where your debut is warmly received and you feel total paralysis with the second book. I ended up completely throwing out the first draft of DEVOTED and rewriting it from scratch. I was incredibly late on every deadline which is so not me. I cried multiple times.
Fortunately, my amazing editor at Roaring Brook, Kate Jacobs, talked me through it and in the end, I’m so enormously proud of my second book. I stretched myself as a writer and I’ve had multiple readers tell me that they can see my growth as a writer in DEVOTED. That makes me feel so good.
Julie: I was totally blind when I wrote my debut. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong or what I was doing right. Because of my huge ego, I assumed that if it didn’t feel off, it must all be perfect. DUMPLIN’ was an eyes wide open experience.
I knew my flaws. I knew the mistakes I’d made in my first book. For me, that knowledge was almost crippling. I knew what a published book looked and felt like and nothing about those early drafts matched those expectations. I had to learn to forgive myself of those mistakes and explore the narrative.
VL: Throwing out an entire draft? How terrifying!
Learning to forgive your mistakes and explore the narrative – love that.
You are co-hosting an intriguing Madcap Retreat this February entitled “More Than a Beach Read”, how did you come to be a part of this project?
Jennifer: Well the lovely Julie Murphy approached me and told me about Natalie’s plan to create Madcap Retreats. I immediately wanted to be involved. I think there’s so much to be gained from working intimately on your art with other artists in a concentrated period of time. I’m a huge fan of Julie’s work and Natalie’s work, and I knew I just wanted to be a part of anything they were involved with.
Julie: Natalie Parker is my partner in crime in many ways and when she floated the idea by me, I said I’d think about it. When she said it would be on the beach, I couldn’t say no. I knew I wanted to do something voice and critique intensive, and I knew that would be a lot to carry on my own. When we began to discuss bringing another author on, Jennifer was my first and most obvious choice. I have so many writer friends that I love and respect, but our styles and approaches really click. We both love contemporary and have the same type of values when it comes to storytelling. Let the record show: if I dropped dead tomorrow, I would have faith in Jennifer to finish my work in progress.
VL: That is a stunning compliment, Julie! (Please don’t drop dead.) That does speak well to how you must compliment each other.
What can you tell us about the workshop? What special programming do you have in mind?
Jennifer: Julie and I have been working on the agenda and we are looking forward to having roundtable workshop-style critique sessions as well as one on one time with each writer. We’re also planning on bringing in guest authors to tackle different topics. Julie and I really aim to focus on voice and building your writer voice. Some say that voice can’t be taught. While I do believe most writers have an innate ability to craft some sort of voice, I believe there are techniques and strategies you can use to strengthen your ability to make your work really come alive.
Julie: We actually just finished the whole agenda! Jennifer did a great job answering this one, so I’ll just add that the attendees will spend their morning with us really focusing on voice and in the afternoons while Jennifer and I (yes, we’re both reading each attendee’s submission), and supporting faculty members will help paint a broader picture by discussing critique, revision, and plot. In the evenings we’ll also be doing casual but themed panels to discuss our dealings in publishing and the business aspect of all of this.
VL: That’s a wealth of knowledge crammed into five days. And so much focus on voice! Wonderful. I know several authors who’d jump at this opportunity.
You both come from different occupational backgrounds – one an English teacher and one working with teens in public libraries – where you have worked intimately with young people. What has this experience added to your writing?
Jennifer: For me, the teaching feeds the writing. I mean, I basically get paid to do my research. I’m surrounded by the rhythm of adolescence on a daily basis, and it’s so energizing and inspiring. I hear snippets of teenage conversation all around me at all times. On a daily basis I’m reminded of the heartbreak and excitement associated with being a teenager. Of course, my plots are fictional, but my students certainly help me create what I hope are realistic characters.
Julie: Like Jennifer, working with teens hugely impacted my writing. I think it’s easy for young adult writers to romanticize the lives of teens, but seeing them every day, you are reminded of their limitations. The same limitations you most likely experienced as a teen, too. On the other hand, I was constantly reminded of how each generation is defying the boundaries set by those before them. I really miss working with my teens!
VL: Being surrounded by your inspiration. Excellent!
Your workshop focuses on enhancing character and voice in manuscripts. What can you tell us about your writing process that helps you bring these two elements to the forefront in your own work?
Jennifer: For me, the characters become real in my mind. I think about them all the time. I miss them when I’m done with the book and still think about them after the book comes out. For me, I believe crafting a character you almost believe actually exists out there is key to writing a memorable novel.
For the first time ever I struggled with that when writing DEVOTED. I was writing a story about a young woman in a very insular and conservative religious sect. I’d done all this research on the sect and was just information dumping throughout the entire book, but the truth is, I didn’t know my main character Rachel at all. My editor was like, “Who is she really?” and I realized I didn’t know.
That was such a terrifying experience because in my first novel (and in subsequent novels) my characters came into my mind fully-formed. I spent a full weekend fixating on Rachel, doing all these exercises like imagining what she kept in the drawer of her nightstand. Finally, she started to come alive for me and the book became much easier to write. I really do believe it all begins with character.
Julie: Voice and character are huge for me, and yet they never come first in my writing process. I never start with a detailed plot, but I always have the pitch and premise and from there is how my voice and character evolve. I usually like to hammer out setting as well since it’s such a huge contributing factor. I like dissecting the situation and deciding what type of person might exist inside the premise and setting.
But when it comes to actual writing, I can’t start anything in earnest until I have a fully formed character. That character and your voice are sort of like a lantern in a dark tunnel, especially in contemporary. You will get lost–and sometimes it’s even helpful to get a little lost–but as long as you’ve got that lantern, you will eventually find your way.
VL: Oh, that’s good!
So if you don’t know your character inside and out, maybe spend some time getting to know them better. Your story will thank you.
Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? What was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?
Jennifer: Freud would have a field day with me. I hated high school so much and looking back I can see I was actually fairly depressed throughout my high school years. And here I am teaching high school and writing books for and about high school students. It must be some form of catharsis. There is no one singular embarrassing incident. I was embarrassed constantly, and most of it was over silly stuff I’m sure no one noticed. I ran with a very good girl crowd. I would say my most memorable adventure would be staying up all night at a sleepover and eating too much raw cookie dough. Honestly, that’s as crazy as it got for me.
Maybe the most embarrassing thing for me happened after some girlfriends and I went to see that movie The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. They were all so moved by the film they were sobbing hysterically as they walked out of the movie theater and everyone was staring at us and I wanted to die. And all I could remember thinking was, “That was one of the stupidest movies I have ever seen.” I loved old black and white movies from the 50s and 60s like The Bad Seed and The Last Picture Show. I thought there was something wrong with me. I just hadn’t found my tribe yet, but eventually in college, I did.
Julie: Those were some wild years. I was a horrible student. You know those videos of cats knocking things off tables? That was me and rules. I carried myself with this false but impenetrable confidence, so even if embarrassing things happened, I played them off as jokes no matter how mortified I really was, so I can’t think of anything in particular.
But I really did have great friends who on very rare occasions I was even vulnerable with. We always went on great mini roadtrips or had ridiculous parties or even went to some amazing concerts, but what I remember most is just hanging out at home with my closest friends, rolling around on the floor laughing and creating inside jokes. We were all theater kids though, so we were constantly performing and cracking jokes.
VL: Ha! Fantastic stories.(I’m really partial to The Bodyguard one. I can so relate to feeling like that!)
What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?
Jennifer: Well I adored Julie Murphy’s DUMPLIN’ of course! I remember her reading a few pages from it at a retreat she and I went on over a year ago now, and I was so excited for the book and I loved it even more than I thought I would.
There’s another book I want to mention that I had the opportunity to blurb. I read an advance copy this year, but it won’t be out until March 2016. It’s called SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN and it’s by Jenny Manzer. She and I share the same wonderful agent, Kerry Sparks. I loved this book so very much. It’s fresh and nostalgic all the same time. Gorgeous, lyrical writing and a plot that kept me guessing until the very end. I think she’s going to be a voice to watch.
Julie: Sadly, this has been such a dry reading year for me. I’ve bought so many books, but time hasn’t allowed for me to start most of them. (Here’s looking at you, DEVOTED!) However, I am listening to the audio of SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA and the voice is incredible! Simon is someone I would have been friends with in high school and that makes for an authentic reading experience if you ask me.
VL: More fab books to add to the TBR collection. Nice.
What can you tell us about what you are currently working on?
Jennifer: I have my third book coming out with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan on September 20, 2016 and I am having the most infuriating time coming up with a title. But I can tell you it’s told in dual POV and it’s about two teenagers, Ethan and Caroline, and how their lives are linked by a tragic crime. It’s about healing from trauma and finding a soul-saving friendship in the most unexpected place.
(Update: Julie has a title! Her 3rd book has been christened AFTERWARD, and it comes out 9/2016.)
Julie: Sort of. Kind of. Maybe. Ha! I’m working on my third novel, which is currently titled RAMONA DROWNING. It’s about a too tall lesbian who lives in a trailer park with her well-meaning dad and pregnant sister. All is sort of okay until Ramona realizes she’s falling for a friend, who happens to be a boy. It’s a story about sisters and friendship and sexuality and the labels we assign to ourselves. I’m still drafting, so I’m sure it will end up being about more things. My publisher is referring to it is a YA Chasing Amy, which seems like a fair assessment.
VL: Ohh! Both sound exciting! Can’t wait to read more from you ladies!
Thank you both for sharing with us, today. It has been an honor and a great pleasure having you here on the blog.
To entice you further to try out Madcap Retreats, we are giving away $100 off the cost of Jennifer & Julie’s upcoming workshop, “More Than A Beach Read“!
I met Natalie while attending her Critique Camp a few years ago. She really helped me learn how to dig deeper with my critiquing skills. I am now able to be more specific with my suggestions, and tie them in to direct examples from the manuscript instead of making vague statements like, “the pacing is too slow” or “I can’t identify with this character”.
Natalie’s suggestions for my own manuscript pages were insightful and direct. She really knows her stuff. And such a delight to work with!
This year, she was one of our first guests for SCBWI OK’s monthly Twitter chat, #okscbwichat. Natalie talked about the art of critique. She so was fantastic. (You can read the Storify version of that chat here.)
Before we get to the interview, let’s learn about Natalie’s debut novel:
It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in May when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp — the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.
Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance — and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
So fantastic! Natalie infuses her story with a thick layer of bayou atmosphere and local folklore that sets a fantastic stage for this eerie tale. It took me no time at all to care for Sterling, the main character, and I never got tired of the language. Such a fantastic read from beginning to end. I couldn’t put it down.
Valerie Lawson: You provide many fantastic services for your fellow writers – Critique Camp, Agented Author Hookups, and your latest project, Madcap Retreats – what inspired you to take on these projects? What can you tell us about them?
Natalie Parker: The writing community has been so supportive of my journey that anytime I find a way to give something back, I try to make it happen. That’s how each of the services you listed above came to be — I saw a need and decided I could do something about it.
We are told over and over again to find critique partners, but figuring out how to be a critique partner is a skill that can take years to develop. Critique Camp is a 2-week online course meant to help writers hone their analytical skills.
The Agented Author Hook-up is just that. I have a public application form for writers who are in that weird in-between space of having an agent and no sales. It’s a truly strange time in a writer’s life. When I have 10(ish) names, I connect a group and send them off to form a new, small, supportive community.
Ah, and Madcap Retreats. Well, frankly, I love writing retreats and my career would not have advanced quite as quickly without them. So much of the writing process is and needs to be solitary, but we also need places were we can come together and pool our wisdom about both the craft and the business. That’s what I’m doing with Madcap — creating space for writers to meet, network, and grow.
VL: I honestly wouldn’t have thought about an awkward growing stage. Who would, really, until you’re in it? We’re all so focused on getting to that agented level. So wonderful that you did.
Putting together a writing retreat sounds like a monumental
undertaking, where do you start?
NP: I start with the goal of the retreat. If it’s going to be loosely structure (mostly free writing time with a few group activities), then I go for a house with a beautiful view; if it’s going to be highly structure (mostly content-driven activities with a little free time), then I go for maximum comfort in the working spaces.
VL: That’s really smart. You’ll get the most productivity and enjoyment out of your environment either way.
Tell us about the road that led to your working with social scientists studying climate change. How do you balance this work with your writing? Has this career impacted your work as an author?
NP: That was sort of an accident…. I was restless in my job and cruising through openings at my same institution. The climate change job wasn’t advertised as such, but as a research administration position. When I interviewed for it and heard the kind of work they’d be doing, I knew I was in the right place.
Balancing that kind of career with a writing career has been difficult. The thing that’s been the hardest to learn is that one of them has to move more slowly and for all the usual reasons, that’s the writing for me. But I love all of my work and I want to love all of my work so slow is okay with me.
VL: Dealing with the slow pace of the publishing world is always challenging. It’s good that you’ve been able to accept that element.
Your first book, BEWARE THE WILD, was so delightfully creepy. I loved the spooky atmosphere the rural Louisiana setting provided, and the tale of vanishing and forgotten loved ones kept me up late reading to the end. What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid? Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?
NP: I loved being afraid as a kid. But I think the scariest thing I every experienced was the movie Little Shop of Horrors. *shudders* It’s still deeply unsettling to me.
VL: That’s surprising. Some wouldn’t consider that a very scary movie. For me, I was traumatized by the movie version of Oliver! Some scene where he almost died? Really stuck with me when I was twelve. Guess it’s all about perspective.
Coming from a military family, you must have lived in many different places. Talk about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?
NP: We didn’t move as much as many military families. I was in Virginia for 12 years as a kid. Then, one day my mother made sushi and asked me how I’d feel about moving to Japan.
“Not great,” I answered, thinking surely she was just musing about the food.
“Well,” she said, and she said it very carefully. “Well, we are moving to Japan.”
So, the thing I hated most about it was moving there my freshman year of high school. But it’s where I met my best friend and partner, so I really can’t complain.
Also, once I got there, I loved EVERYTHING about it.
(Translation: I love Japan!)
VL: Ha! That would be quite a culture shock! So wonderful that you were able to embrace it.
Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. Like what was the worst job you ever had? Or what was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? Or what was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?
NP: I should preface any stories I tell about my teen years with this: I am both a Sagittarius and a Gryffindor and I do not always make the safest choices.
But here is one.
Once, I was backpacking through Europe with my best friend and we were young college kids with no money. We were in Greece and we needed to get to Italy and to accomplish this feat required money. So we pooled our shrinking handful of coins and found a ship that would take us across the Adriatic Sea if we agreed to sleep on the deck out in the elements where the wind might sweep us overboard without anyone the wiser and we would be adopted by mermaids and never seen again…..
So, of course we did.
VL: OMG! I love that! Such great story fodder, and all because you just took a wild chance.
What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?
NP: I’m sort of ridiculous about Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie. It’s gorgeous, complicated, genderqueer science fiction and I cannot WAIT to read the other two.
VL: I absolutely loved your debut novel, BEWARE THE WILD. Tell us about your latest book, BEHOLD THE BONES, the second book in the series. How does it differ from your first book?
Ah! Well, BEHOLD is a companion and switches narrators from Sterling to her best friend Candy who has an incredibly low tolerance for anything that looks even remotely like hogwash, so when ghosts appear in Sticks and everyone can see them except for her, she’s both frustrated beyond belief and determined to get to the bottom of things. It’s very much in conversation with BEWARE, but with a bit more bite.
VL: Ooh! Skeptic gets mixed up in the supernatural. And more bite? Yes, please!
What can you tell us about what you are currently working on?
NP: Mostly Madcap Retreats. And I’ve just sold an anthology called Triangles: The Points of Love which will include 15 new stories from YA authors all featuring some variation/ complication/ exploration of the love triangle trope. All the juicy details are at this link! 😉
As for novels, I’m working on two young adult novels — one that deals with greek myth in the contemporary world, and one that’s set in my home stomping grounds of Gulfport, Mississippi.
VL: That all sounds exciting. I love a good anthology! And look at all of those great names! Should be interesting to see their different takes on the topic.
Thanks so much for sharing with us, today. I look forward to your next book, and to spending some time at a Madcap Retreat in the future!
I received a copy of CLAYTON STONE, AT YOUR SERVICE from the publisher, Holiday House. It’s one of the new releases from their Fall catalog. I love a good middle grade mystery. Throw in some fast-paced action, along with a surprisingly large dose of heart, and you have the makings of a pretty good story.
Clayton Stone has suffered through a lot of loss in his family. With the death of his grandfather, and both of his parents before that, it’s just him and his grandma. And the guys on his lacrosse team. He does okay most days, but then some small thing happens and he feels the loss all over again. That’s when he goes up to his grandpa’s old office to hang out with Bart the stuffed buffalo. Then a mysterious phone rings…
When the President calls asking him to help catch a kidnapper, 12-year-old Clayton’s life is hijacked into the family business his grandmother has worked hard to keep him out of—the secret agent business.
In an instant, Clayton’s world has changed. As the mystery of finding and catching the kidnapper escalates, it begins to mean even more than risking Clayton’s life. It means lying to his best friend, putting the lacrosse season in jeopardy, liking the girl he hates, and then risking his life again.
Join Clayton as he races against time to save a senator’s family.
This is more than your average spy guy story. Clayton is such a wonderful character. You really feel his struggle as he tries to work through the discovery of this exciting new world before him, how he can connect with the lives of his parents and this grandparents, and yet how not to disappoint his friends who don’t understand why he’s suddenly changed and why he’s letting them down.
Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:
I’m up in my grandpa’s office hanging with Bart, the stuffed buffalo, after a long, wet afternoon at lacrosse practice. The third floor was a better place to hang out when he was alive.
Sometimes I can even forget that Bart’s the only to talk to up here, but then there are other times. Like right now, when I tell him the guys are coming over tomorrow and we’re gonna play some video games and order burgers from Big Stone’s, the diner my family owns. Gramps would have gotten real excited, maybe asked if he should run out and get the latest Madden for us. Bart just stares at me with glazed, indifferent eyes.
Gramps’s office is in the attic of my grandparents’ super-old stone house, with a view over the treetops. In the winter, if you stand on your tiptoes and find the exact right angle, you can see the Potomac River.
I don’t do that anymore.
Anyway, after a couple of turns at Gramp’s indoor putting green, and a few throws at the dartboard, I slide across the wide-planked floor in my socks. I can smell Gran’s pot roast, and the thought of a good dinner is making my stomach gurgle. Practice today was tough. and I am hungry.
Photos and awards line the long attic walls, so thick I can barely see the whitewashed plaster underneath. When I was little, Gramps used to carry me from one end of the room to the other and point out all the important people he and Gran were photographed with. “This is the secretary of state in 1982.” and “This is the president of France.”
I don’t get why so many important people wanted a picture with the Pickle King of the world. If they only knew how much Gramps hated the pickles that made him rich!
I’m looking at a photo of Gran and Gramps with the first President Bush when a ringing phone startles me about two inches off the floor. Even though it’s an office, I’ve never heard a phone up here before. Seriously, never.
My sock and I slide over to Gramp’s desk, and I pick up the receiver. But all I get is dial tone. The phone rings again. The sound is coming from across the room…Gran’s desk? If I’ve never heard a phone ring up here, I’ve twice as seriously never seen my grandmother sit at that desk. And I’d swear on a stack of Bibles she hasn’t been inside this room for the last year. She won’t even come up the stairs.
I fly across the room – well, not literally – and land in the chair so hard it rolls backward. I scoot forward and scan the top of the desk. I still don’t see a telephone, and the high-pitched ringing seem sot be getting louder. The sound is coming from somewhere inside. I tug at the top drawer. It’s locked, and so is the next one. The third drawer opens, and there’s nothing. Until I look more closely.
In the back left corner gleams a small gold key. I grab it – could this be what I need? Only one way to –
Ha! The key turns and the top drawer opens, and there it sits: a plugged-in cell phone flashing a red strobe light and blaring long streams of noise.
Something about the ring feels wrong. My stomach forgets about the pot roast downstairs long enough to tighten, warning me to leave the phone where it is; telling me, Don’t even touch it. And for sure don’t answer it.
I met K.T. Hanna a few years ago through mutual writing friends, and by participating in her #writemotivation project. I’ve since come to know and love her dearly. Not only is her brain dark and twisty when it comes to plotting, she’s just the right kind of nerdy – the extreme kind.
I had the pleasure of celebrating with her this past summer in her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, along with a jovial gathering of family and friends, when she released the first book in the Domino Project series. What great fun! Now, I’m delighted to be participating in the cover reveal event for her second book in the series, HYBRID.
KT Hanna has a love for words so extreme, a single word can spark entire worlds.
Born in Australia, she met her husband in a computer game, moved to the U.S.A. and went into culture shock. Bonus? Not as many creatures specifically out to kill you.
When she’s not writing, she freelance edits for Chimera Editing, interns for a NYC Agency, and chases her daughter, husband, corgi, and cat. No, she doesn’t sleep. She is entirely powered by the number 2, caffeine, and beef jerky.
Note: Still searching for her Tardis
About the Book
HYBRID (The Domino Project #2) is the sequel to CHAMELEON. It’s set in the wasteland of earth after a meteor shower causes ecological disaster, damages the atmosphere, and gives the gift of an alien parasite to the world. Book two furthers Sai, Bastian, and Dom’s journey in their fight to live free from GNW imposed rules.
As Sai recovers from her life-threatening injuries, she struggles to piece together her damaged relationship with Dom. He fights the parasite within, suddenly freed from the interference of the other Dominos in his head.
Inside Central, Bastian’s Shine dosing has become a dangerous dance. Enhanced security protocols and endless meetings have him on a tightrope, with little room to move without revealing himself.
When the GNW release the Damascus to begin their systemic hunt of the Exiled, the noose closes around the rebels and their allies. If they can’t disable the threat, the Exiled won’t be the Damascus’ only agenda. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Without further ado – here’s a teaser of the cover by the amazingly talented S.P. McConnell.
The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)
I won this book through a blog contest a few years ago. I’m not certain, but it may have been during the first YA Scavenger Hunt I ever participated in. I won a slew of books that first time – nothing like beginner’s luck, eh? When the book arrived, I drooled over the cover.
So enticing! Here was a book with secrets to reveal! Then I cracked it open and read the blurb inside. I needed to read this book! And yet, somehow, it drifted to the middle of my TBR pile where it languished in unread misery. Thankfully, I found this challenge and rescued this fine tale from book purgatory.
People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy.
I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn’t understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.
Jimmy’s dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands.
What I don’t know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don’t know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead? (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Gripping, right? Still gives me chills.
This is not a book for the faint of heart, or for those who like easy answers, or who need a cut and dried ending. As the cover suggests, this book is about life in all its messiness, and how deciding what to do can sometimes not be so simple as choosing between right or wrong.
I really enjoyed this book, especially how it shows the way we make subtle choices in our lives that didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time, but we soon wish we could take back or do over. Bick does an excellent job getting us into the skin of the main character, Ben, and watching the ever-devolving situation through his eyes. We feel his frustration and impotence. And maybe we even forgive his sins, in the end.
To say any more would risk ruining a fantastic story. You’ll want to experience it first-hand yourself.
I have come to know Tammi Sauer over the years through many OK SCBWI events, and I have been delighted to watch her publishing career grow. We’ve been plotting and planning for her to stop by for an interview for awhile now, but busy lives and crazy schedules – mostly hers – have prevented this. I mean, what’s gal to do when the mayor names a day after you? This year she has three books being published, with the latest one, ROAR!, releasing in no time at all on October 6th!
Busy, busy busy!
Somehow, we finally managed to align the planets so this bright and shiny Oklahoma star could come by for a visit to the blog.
We’ll get to see the fantastical, star-studded trailer for ROAR! a little later in this post.
And one lucky reader will win a signed copy! So stay tuned!
Tammi Sauer grew up on a farm in the vast metropolis of Victoria, Kansas, where she liked to play tag with the pigs in her cheerleading uniform when not embezzeling money from her siblings.
She worked as a teacher and library media specialist before turning to a life of crime beginning her career as a full-time picture book author, and going on tour with some funky dancing chickens. (I may be mixing up some of my facts a bit, but I like this version.)
She really is a picture book author and has actually sold 24 books to major publishing houses. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. MOSTLY MONSTERLY was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. ME WANT PET! was recently released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. And NUGGET AND FANG, along with Tammi herself, appears on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which is seen by millions kids across the nation.
Before we dive into the interview, let’s learn a little bit about Tammi’s latest book:
With scissors and tape a boy transforms himself into…a dragon! “ROAR!” he says. He is BIG. He is SCARY. Well, not really. When two dragons come over for a play date, what on earth will these three find to do together? The boy doesn’t have big teeth and he can’t breathe fire. He is just a boy. And the dragons can’t eat ice cream or do cartwheels. They are just dragons. Luckily, the dragons care more about what they all can do together, like make silly faces and do the funky monkey dance. What they really care about is being friends.
That looks so awesome, I just want to dust off the old dragon costume (doesn’t everyone have one?) and stomp around the office.
Valerie Lawson: ROAR is your first picture book written completely in dialogue, why did you make this creative choice?
Tammi Sauer: I have always enjoyed using the classic picture book structure: character has a problem/want, character faces obstacles of escalating difficulty, character encounters a black moment in which all seems lost, character manages to solve the problem by the story’s end.
A few years ago, though, I challenged myself to try a variety of different approaches for telling a story, and writing a book entirely in dialogue was one of them. I wanted to stretch as a writer.
It was fun. And hard.
VL: Even though you were successful with those classic structure books, I love that you took the chance on trying something new. It’s really paid off!
The only character in the book with a name, Stanley the cat, was the creation of the illustrator, Liz Starin. What other surprises did you find when you saw the drawings for the first time?
TS: I discovered that the story was set in the boy’s world. When I was writing the manuscript, I envisioned it set in the dragons’ world. Also, I pictured Standard Issue Dragons. Liz’s dragons were a fresh, wonderful, and welcome surprise.
VL: You do a lot of school visits each year, what’s your favorite part about interacting with the kids? Any standout memories/stories from the last year or two?
TS: As a former teacher and library media specialist, I love visiting schools and getting kids fired up about reading and writing. These visits have resulted in marriage proposals, invitations to play dates, and lots of great fan mail.
There are beautiful, quiet moments as well. Following a recent presentation for a large group of fourth and fifth graders, a girl waited for the room to clear. Then she came up to me, gave a shy smile, and said, “I’m a writer, too.”
VL: Oh, that last one just gives you tingles! Inspiring another generation of writers.
And when can we expect to see another dance video like the Librarian?
TS: Ha! I think I am a one-hit wonder in that department. I do, however, make a cameo in the ROAR! trailer.
VL: Nice segue! We will get to view that wonderful trailer right here after this interview.
In many posts talking about revising a manuscript, you’ve mentioned being happy after taking an entire day to change or cut a single word. What can you tell us about your revision process?
TS: Oh, I am a revision nerd!
Getting a manuscript juuuuust riiiiiiight is my favorite part of the process. It feels like a game to me. I strive to use only the best words. I remind myself to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.
Reading my manuscript aloud is another must—it helps to ensure that the rhythm is there. I also step away from my manuscript and grab lunch or run an errand. Getting away from it for an hour or so helps me to return refreshed. OH. The revision process ALWAYS involves ice tea. I am currently hooked on OnCue’s unsweetened tangerine green tea. It sounds gross. But is it good. I promise.
VL: Great ideas! I always find taking a break works wonders, too.
This is your thirteenth published picture book, what’s the best piece of advice you can pass on to fellow authors?
TS: My best advice came from a quote I once read in a Cynsations blog post (blog by author Cynthia Leitich Smith).
“My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”—Lynn E. Hazen.
VL: No easy task, indeed. Fantastic quote.
What can you tell us about what you are currently working on/soon to have released?
TS: I’m usually pretty hush-hush about my current projects. They feel like eggs in the incubator to me. Not all of them will hatch, but I always hope for good.
I can, however, tell you what’s in store for 2016. I have four upcoming titles:
Mary Had a Little Glam, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Sterling), is my first rhymer. It was an incredible challenge. I recently saw Vanessa’s sketches, and I am in love with sweet and sassy Mary.
I Love Cake! Starring Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose, illustrated by Angela Rozelaar (HarperCollins), is about some of life’s finer things—good friends and cake. It also involves some spectacular sweaters.
Ginny Louise and the School Field Day, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Disney*Hyperion), is a sequel to Ginny Louise and the School Showdown. In book two, the irrepressibly cheerful Ginny Louise takes on the Truman Elementary Troublemakers in a whole new way.
Your Alien Returns, illustrated by Goro Fujita (Sterling), is a companion to Your Alien. This time around, the boy goes on a play date that is out of this world.
VL: Whew! Another busy year for you! Two sequels, how wonderful! And cake! I can’t wait to see them all.
Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Tammi. Always a pleasure.
And now for your viewing pleasure…
The trailer for ROAR! includes cameo appearances from some of today’s fiercest authors and illustrators. You’ve been warned. Please view responsibly.
Tammi is giving away a SIGNED COPY of her new book ROAR! to one lucky reader of this blog!
To enter, all you have to do is name every author and illustrator who appears in the ROAR! trailer, along with their complete body of work listed in chronological order from bestselling to – JUST KIDDING!