Book Review – SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

I adore everything about Laurie Halse Anderson, from her kickass attitude to her uncompromising writing to her posts about weird Scandinavian breakfasts when she’s on vacation and fully embracing the hygge philosophy.

I absolutely loved her book SPEAK, and this more personal, more intense follow up, SHOUT, I loved even more.

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

Published by: Viking Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Poetry

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Plot Summary:

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning Laurie Halse Anderson!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.

I almost cried just from reading the dedication page.

“for the survivors.”

This book may hit a little close to home.

But then, we are all survivors, right? We’ve all survived some kind of hell. Not all of us are brave enough to explore it so thoroughly in our writing and put it on display for others to see, to share, to learn from.

I had no idea before I started reading this book that SPEAK was based on Anderson’s own experience of being raped as a teen. This book, SHOUT, is a response to SPEAK, and it talks a lot about what she went through at the time of her assault and how it shaped her life afterwards.

This should give you an idea of how that went:

“…too many grown-ups tell kids to follow 

their dreams

like that’s going to get them somewhere

Auntie Laurie says follow your nightmares instead

cuz when you figure out what’s eating you alive

you can slay it”

Fucking powerful.

Here’s another passage that stopped me in my tracks – probably because it  was way too relatable to me.

“…the overlap of my stories and my life

is a garden courtyard, sky-strung with stars

and scars where planets were torn

from their orbits

the courtyard where that stump grows

is surrounded by stone walls

three miles high, carved

with thousands of locked doors

and secrets that bloom open

in the moonlight”

Ouch. Ouch. OUCH.

But don’t get me wrong, this book is not all sadness and pain. There is definitely hope and strength and joy.

I absolutely loved this poem called “yes, please”. I think it should be distributed far and wide to all, especially those confused about consent.

yes, please

“yes”

sounds like heaven falling from the sky

yes smells like hot, hot

sweet apple pie

yes dances hip to hip, eye to eye

sober, yes

demands very sober, cuz yes shares this body

touch me

with permission only, yes–signed, sealed

deliverance from evil, no sin to be

tempted, but only with yes in the sheets

yes in the backseat, yes to a condom

yes, please go down on me until yes!

because yes is not swipe right, yes is hello

I want to get to know

you because maybe we

might yes, but the dance comes first, yes

the interplay of hey, flirt, hey, the pounding heart 

of questioning yeses and not, let’s go

slow revolyestionary notion

that behold, this body and soul

that yes welcomes yes embraces yes

that taste of someone who has proven

worthy

of your yes

is worth the questing, slow beckoning

interrogating, interesting, conversating

adventuring yes is ongoing 

yes enthusiastic 

yes informed

yes free-given

yes the truest test

of sex

the consent of yes is necessary

Every woman human should read this book.

Young, old, and in-between.

Period.

Thank you, Ms. Anderson for having the courage to Shout about this important issue and to share your story with us.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

 

Highlights from the Middle of the Map Conference SCBWI KS/MO

Last month, I attended the SCBWI Middle of the Map Kansas/Missouri Fall Conference in Overland Park, Kansas, put on by the fantastic SCBWI Kansas/Missouri group.

The conference started on Friday evening with a Mix and Mingle while critiques with speakers were held. On Saturday, the main event began with an all speaker panel and then most of the day was spent in breakout sessions, with a closing keynote and book signing with reception ending the day.

All Speaker Panel

All of the speakers at the conference participated in a panel answering questions from the moderator as well as questions from the audience.

Sarah Jane AbbottAssociate Editor for Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books at Simon & Schuster. She started her career at S&S as a publicity assistant before joining Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books as editorial assistant in 2014. She is also on the editorial board of Simon & Schuster’s OfftheShelf.com. She has had the pleasure of working on books such as The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark and Blue & Bertie by Kristyna Litten. She loves quirky, character driven picture books with a lot of heart; non-fiction picture books, especially about little-known, strong women; and unique, literary middle grade novels. Find her on Twitter at @SarahJaneEyre.

 

Katie HeitEditor for Scholastic. Katie Heit edits nonfiction picture books and chapter books, as well as select fiction picture book titles. She edits books by Sandra Markle, Monica Robinson, and Nick Seluk, among others. She is actively building her list and is interested in books that approach nonfiction in a unique, kid-friendly way. Find her on Twitter at @katieheit.

 

Jim HooverArt Director at Viking Children’s Books. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design in Illustration, Jim has been in publishing now for twenty years. He speaks regularly at SCBWI and has designed and art directed hundreds of books including: PICTURE BOOKS (Tea Party Rules with K. G. Campbell, Shy with Deborah Freedman, Ella with Marcos Chin, Bus! Stop! with James Yang) NOVELS (Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch books, Max Brallier’s New York Times best-selling series The Last Kids on Earth) NONFICTION (National Book Award Finalist Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom, Printz Award-winning John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, and the up-coming Boots on the Ground, and the children’s book adaptation of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) Jim lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. Find him on Twitter at @JimHoover17.

 

Alyssa Eisner HenkinLiterary Agent, and Executive Vice President, at Trident Media Group. After earning her Bachelors from the University of Pennsylvania, Alyssa fulfilled a childhood dream that she professed on a home video at the age of six: move to New York and work with books. In 1999, Alyssa began her career in editorial at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Here she found “kindred spirits” who loved Anne of Green Gables as much as she did and a kids book space that was rapidly growing. In late 2006 Alyssa (and her inner-entrepreneur) headed to Trident to expand the firm’s children’s book business. Over twelve years, hundreds of deals, and numerous bestsellers and award-winners later, Alyssa still delights in nurturing her books at every stage. From editing and idea-honing to collaborating with marketing, foreign, dramatic, merchandising, and audio partners, Alyssa works hard to ensure longevity for her authors’ work. She represents multiple award-winning and bestselling authors, including Julie Berry, Ruth Behar, Jen Bryant, and R.J. Palacio, whose novel Wonder has been on the New York Times Bestseller list since it came out in 2012 and was turned into a feature film by Lionsgate which came out in 2017. Find her on Twitter at @AgentHenkin.

 

Quressa RobinsonLiterary Agent with Nelson Literary. Quressa Robinson joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 after working at a previous agency as an editor for five years. She is originally from San Francisco, but has been living in New York City for over a decade. As a New York based agent, she is eager to build her MG, YA, and Adult lists. When not curled on her couch reading, she plays video games, enjoys too much TV-mostly Sailor Moon and Harry Potter (Slytherin!), eats delicious things, drinks champagne, hangs out with her very clever husband, and adds another “dramatic” color to her lipstick collection. Quressa is also a member of the 2017-2019 WNDB Walter Grant Committee and holds an MFA in Creative Writing: Fiction from Columbia University. Find her on Twitter at @qnrisawesome.

 

Alexandra LevickLiterary Agent with Writers House. Alexandra Levick has worked with a wide range of established New York Times bestsellers, national award winners, and debut clients. After graduating from the University of Rochester with a degree in English focused on Creative Writing, Alexandra attended New York University where she received her Masters of Science in Publishing with a specialization in Content Development. Prior to Writers House, she spent time at Sterling Lord Literistic, in publicity at Bloomsbury, and as a bookseller for Barnes and Noble. Today, she is building a broad list and works on everything from picture books to speculative adult fiction. Find her on Twitter @AllieLevick.

 

Giselle Anatol Moderator   Author/Professor – Gisell is a professor of English at the University of Kansas. She has edited three collections of essays on popular literature for children and young adults. She is also the author of THE THINGS THAT FLY IN THE NIGHT: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circus-Caribbean and African Diasapora.

 

First question asked was describe a typical day from your side of the desk.

Most of the speakers said they started by reading up on industry news and checking emails before diving in to their day.

Jim Hoover said, “Ideally I’ll have a cover up.” He likes to look at a piece of artwork first thing.

Katie Heit said that since her work is mostly focused on nonfiction, she hits those type of sites first, like the Smithsonian and National Geographic.

Alexandra Levick and Quressa Robinson agreed that there wasn’t really a typical day in the life of an agent. Alexandra said, “If I try to plan, it’s disastrous.” Quressa said that instead of a daily to-do list, she does weekly lists.

Next question asked about their pet peeves.

Almost all responded that it really got under their skin when they received submissions addressed incorrectly, with their name misspelled, queries addressed ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, or addressed to multiple people. (Although Quressa Robinson said she doesn’t like it when you misspell her name, she won’t hold it against you.)

Katie Heit said she also didn’t like it when authors included more than one manuscript in an email submission.

Sarah Jane Abbott clarified her pet peeve a little further: “When people haven’t done their research and send a query way out of my wheel house.”

Next question delved into what writers/illustrators should ask when choosing agent/editor to work with, specifically regarding chemistry.

Sarah Jane Abbott said you should ask about the vision your editor has for your story. If it doesn’t mesh with yours, this is important to know before you get started.

Alexandra Levick said you should ask about edits. Hopefully the goal is to make the book more your own – stronger. Also ask for references from their clients, who will be more honest about how agents work.

Quressa Robinson said you should definitely ask about their agenting style. “Some people aren’t phone people – like me.”

Last question asked when they would be willing to take a risk on a project.

Most responded with a need to feel passionate about the project as the precursor to championing a project.

Jim Hoover said simply if he sees the potential is there.

Katie Heit asked “Does it have a lot of potential?” Then after conversation with the author, can we craft this together? Does this make me really excited?

Alexandra Levick said she needs a really strong vision on how to edit it. Very solid ideas on how to edit and get to end goals.

Alyssa Henkin said if she feels the voice and feels so certain in her love for the story. The plot can be a mess – the plot is fixable.

Breakout Sessions

Alexandra Levick – How to Find the Right Literary Agent

Alexandra did her first internship at the University of Rochester. She worked for Bloomsbury for two years while pursuing a Masters degree where she fell in love with Children’s literature when she took a class on the subject. She currently works with senior agents Rebecca Sherman and Brianna Johnson at Writers House. She started there as an intern under Merrilee Heifetz, Neil Gaiman’s agent.

Alexandra had many great tips on how to go about the process of submitting, including what questions to ask and what information to include in your query letter.

One of the first things you need to have before you get started is a COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT. That’s right. You shouldn’t be querying unless your manuscript is completed. So, if that’s you, stop right now and get back to to your pages.

Finish.

Write on until you reach ‘The End’.

Then, continue reading. (Yes, I am also talking to myself.)

What you will need if you are querying:

  • Query letter
  • Sample pages
  • Synopsis
  • FULL manuscript (which, if you’ve read this far, you now have)

Every agent’s submission guidelines are almost always different. Make sure to do your research so you know what each one expects with a submission. What is important about following these guidelines is to show that you can follow instructions. (Yes, it is a test.)

Another interesting tip Alexandra gave was about using comp titles. The purpose of comps is to convey mood or a book’s place on the shelf. It’s better to have NO comps than to have ‘meh’ comps. Think of your examples in terms of “plot meets tone”. Give one comp title that has a comparable plot to your novel, and one that has a comparable tone. Using movies and songs as well as book titles are fine as well as any combination of the three. Also make sure your comp titles are RECENT! Published within about two years.

You can read about the submission guidelines for Alexandra Levick at Writers House here.

 

Sue Lowell Gallion – Beginnings, Endings, and That Murky Middle

 

 

 

 

Sue Lowell Gallion is the author of PUG MEETS PIG and PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT, which both received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly. Her latest books are the TIP AND TUCKER early reading series. Sue is the former SCBWI regional advisor of the KS/MO region.

Sue is no stranger to us here in the Oklahoma region of SCBWI. She has been a guest speaker at some of our SCBWI OK events as well as a guest on our monthly #okscbwichat on Twitter.

Sue gave some excellent advice on keeping your writing focused on its true purpose and how to get it unstuck when in the “murky middle”.

She said in the Beginning, sometimes we shortchange the rest of our manuscript when we agonize over the first sentence, the first page, the first hook.

She suggested READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See by Megan Dowd Lambert. It will help you think of all the elements as you create your story.

Examples of stories with great beginnings:

  • ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME by Juana Martinez-Neal
  • PENGUINAUT by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Emma Yarlett
  • QUACKERS by Liz Wong
  • THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Sue said the Middle is where her stories begin to wander because she gets tired of it or it’s time for recess.

Being too predictable can get you stuck in the middle. Ask yourself, does every sentence further the story? Does each trial and failure increase the tension? Make sure to stretch the tension out so your readers want to turn the page.

If you’re feeling lost in the middle, try writing the flap copy.

Examples of stories with great middles:

  • JABARI JUMPS by Gaia Cornwall
  • A KITE FOR MOON by Jane Yolen
  • TRUMAN by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Sue said you’ve got to stick the Ending! Don’t rush it or short-change it. The ending needs to be logical AND completely unexpected.

Most picture books end with hope, even if the story is not happy. And the main character needs to have a hand in the conclusion.

More great examples:

  • A LITTLE CHICKEN by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Taylor
  • HELLO LIGHTHOUSE by Sophie Blackall
  • BOOT AND SHOE by Marla Frazee
  • BUNNY SLOPES and HUNGRY BUNNY by Claudia Rueda
  • CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown

The best compliment for a story after getting to the end, is that request to “Read it again!”.

 

Quressa Robinson – Plotting and Characterization: The Art of Conflict and Personality

Quressa brought her extensive knowledge to the task of teaching us to go deeper into our work on plot and character development. She put us through several writing exercises, which I always find painful under the best circumstances. Useful, maybe, but painful nonetheless.

She said the tension where a reader holds their breath when turning the page is what makes writing truly great.

(GOALS!)

She walked us through several different plotting triangle scenarios and discussed ascending and descending forces. It was very intense.

Quressa said that everyone’s story is different. The stakes in your story don’t have to be actual life and death, however, they do need to be high enough to matter.

If you’re having a problem with your plot, something that’s helpful is to try plotting backwards. Start at the climax of your story and work backwards. (This was actually the focus of one of the writing exercises – one I found very helpful.)

Also think about listing the external and internal stakes for each of your characters. Are their stakes high enough? What can you do to make them higher?

At one point during our discussion of the writing exercises, Quressa said, “Writing is a communal process.”

That is my favorite quote from this conference. Bar none.

“Writing is a communal process.”

And man, do I love my writing community.

I had a great time attending this conference and I hope to attend more outside my state. I love meeting new people and being around other writers.

What about you?

 

Whitty Books – Say Hello to a New Indie

 

As an author, I love supporting independent bookstores. Just a few short years ago, there was quite a drought of indies here in the Tulsa area, and now I am happy to say quite the opposite is true!

I want to introduce you to one of the newest indies in our area, Whitty Books. This little jewel opened its doors in July, 2018, in the Kendall Whittier District – just around the corner from the nonprofit Circle Cinema theatre.

The collection found in Whitty Books focuses on small publishing houses, diverse titles, #ownvoices authors, and under-the-radar releases.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, Victoria, when I attended the double book launch for fellow SCBWI OK author Traci Sorell. She said after a year of being open, she really has a feel for her customers and what they want. THAT’S one thing I love about an independent book store!

Oklahoma author Traci Sorell at Whitty Books during her book launch in September.
Traci reading from her gorgeous picture book AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE, published by Kokila.

 

I loved all of the artwork on the walls in the store and the friendly atmosphere. Books titles were easy to browse on the shelves – nothing felt overcrowded or uncomfortable. Victoria was approachable and friendly.

They have several book clubs at Whitty Books, and Victoria actually invited us to attend one the very next day, for a book by Joy Harjo – our current Poet Laureate, who just so happens is from Oklahoma. ( I do love her writing! If you haven’t checked her out, she’s amazing.)

The book clubs are held at the store – about one a week – all with categories like Sci Fi/Fantasy, True Crime, Native American Lit, Truth and Reconciliation, and Women in Horror. Visit their Facebook page to see what’s on the calendar this month.

Victoria ringing up my purchases.

The next time you’re thinking about buying a book, BUY LOCAL! And why not stop in and check out Whitty Books? Tell Victoria I sent you!

 

Book Review – STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A.S. King

 

I am a huge fan of A.S. King and have been ever since I read her novel PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. The voice was so authentic and gut-wrenching. Part of me WAS Vera – at least, my teen-self floating close to the surface could really relate to the heavy shit Vera was going through. (Honestly, you should stop whatever you’re doing and go read this awesome book right now. Seriously. I will NOT be offended.)

Each book of hers that I have read has been just as stellar as the first. And did I mention that she always adds a dash of magical realism just to make things even more interesting?

STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King

Published by: Penguin Young Readers Group

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism, Contemporary

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she explores the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall.

After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original —and yet it still hurts. Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of everyday abuse and survival that will linger with readers long after the last page.

Sarah’s crisis starts when her art teacher tells her that there is no such thing as an original idea and that’s it. She can no longer create. That “truth bomb” explodes her entire world and she starts spiraling. But is that really what happened? Is that really where the problem started?

Sarah starts bumping in to her past and future selves who have a few things to say about Sarah’s crisis. At first, she thinks maybe she’s hallucinating, but other people can see her other selves, too. Her other selves have memories she can’t remember and opinions that rub her the wrong way. Will she listen to them or continue to self-destruct? (Even though self-destruction isn’t an original idea.)

That’s the other thing I love about King’s books, they are deceptively deep. You’ll be seeing things from the perspective of a pagoda, learning how to build an invisible helicopter, sending passengers love as they fly overhead in airplanes, or having conversations with different versions of yourself then BAM! You realize she’s hit you across the brain with some heavy philosophical shit out of nowhere that makes you disoriented for days. (In a good way.) She tackles heavy issues in a fantastical way like no one else.

Trust me, once you read one of her books, you’ll want to read them all. You can start with this one. It’s amazing.

Learn more about A.S. King here.

 

Fall is for Festivals! Book Festivals are Everywhere

Nothing makes a bibliophile happier than going to an event that celebrates books, where they have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language of books, hang out with other like-minded booklovers, and BUY MORE BOOKS! Or maybe that’s just me.

Original Photo credit Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

I, for one, am thrilled at how much our literary world has grown in Oklahoma in the past few years – from the increase in independent book store openings (which has led to an increase in author events!) to new book festivals and book cons, I’ll take it all!

Here are a couple of great events that are fairly new to our state coming up this fall that you won’t want to miss!

OK Book Fest – September 21, 2019 – Oklahoma City Boathouse District

The Mission of this festival is to bring “authors and readers together to create an exciting venue where literacy, artistic expression, and cultural experiences are celebrated”.

This is a completely FREE event. Featuring over 100 authors from around the country, including some of our own SCBWI OK favorites!

 

Tammi Sauer                                        Jerry Bennett      

 

 

 

 

Gwendolyn Hooks                               Brenda Maier  

 

 

 

 

Traci Sorell                                             Kim Ventrella 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Lowell                                       Brad McClelland     

 

 

 

 

Mariana Llanos                                      Mike Wimmer     

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Lynn Barnes                          Una Belle Townsend

 

 

 

 

Susan Myers                                          Alexandra Ott

 

 

 

 

There will be panel discussions, presentations, crafts, poetry readings, book signings, food trucks, and more. Check out the website for a full listing of authors and for a schedule of events.

 

Oklahoma Teen Book Con (OKTBC) – November 16, 2019 – OU Memorial Union Norman, OK

 

The OK Teen Book Con is a FREE event that strives to connect teens to YA authors and their books. There will be author panels, book signings, author meet ups, a teen artist gallery and more!

It has a new home in Norman, OK, this year which will probably make it much better attended than when it was in Guthrie. Last year they had the awesome Maggie Stiefvater of the RAVEN CYCLE books – I’m a HUGE fan!

This year, the phenomenal Neal Shusterman will be the Keynote Speaker! I had the pleasure of seeing him speak at the LA SCBWI conference a few years ago and he was wonderful. He talked about his fabulous book CHALLENGER DEEP. So moving.

 

The fine folks at OKTBC keep announcing other authors that will be attending a little at a time, just to keep us hungry for more. You can follow along on their Twitter or their Instagram account to see who else will be announced and to keep up with information on this event.

If you are a YA author and would like to attend this event, you can find an author submission form and the submission criteria on the event website.

How about you? Are you planning on attending any book-related events this fall?

Brenda Maier – Author Interview

I met Brenda Maier through our local SCBWI Oklahoma chapter, and I’ve been thrilled to watch her grow as an author. It’s such a pleasure to help her celebrate the debut of her very first picture book.

About Brenda

As a young child, Brenda had a grand total of six books; consequently, she spent her summers walking to the local library to get more. Now she spends her summers driving her own children to the local library, where you may find her in a corner with a stack of picture books. If she’s not there, she’s probably at a bookstore, adding to her much-larger-than-six-books collection.

Brenda lives in Oklahoma with her husband and their five children, who provide endless inspiration for more stories. She also works with gifted children at a large, local school district.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Brenda’s debut picture book:

THE LITTLE RED FORT by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Release Date: March 27, 2018

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genres: Picture Book

BUY THE BOOK HERE:
indieboundbn-24h-80amazon

Plot Summary:

​In this retelling of THE LITTLE RED HEN, Ruby wants to build a fort, but her big brothers refuse to help her. When the boys see the finished product, they really want to play in it, but it’s too late to do anything about it. Or is it?


Maier’s publisher describes this book as “one of those multi-layered gems” in this YouTube video.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Congratulations on your debut picture book, Brenda! I’m so excited to see this book published.

What inspired the idea for this story?

Brenda Maier: Thanks for inviting me to chat, Valerie.

My children inspired this idea. A few years ago, my youngest son was four, and he was in a The Little Red Hen phase; consequently, that story was on repeat in my mind.

One day I put him down for nap and went to check on the other kids in the back yard. They’d found some boards and lattice. Guess what they’d made? So the classic tale and my own kids’ ingenuity kind of converged that day, and I began thinking about a girl building a fort instead of a hen baking bread.

VL: Isn’t it exciting how our experiences can mesh together like that?

I just love the illustrations by Sonia Sánchez. What was it like seeing your words come to life for the first time? Is that how you had imagined them?

BM: I can’t say enough about Sonia’s beautiful art. Her unique style complements the text beautifully. The details keep me looking for new things. She has such a grasp of the characters, and she brought them to life in such a way that I can’t imagine them ever being anything other than what they are now. It’s like they’re real to me, and her illustrations are a big reason for that.

Illustrations from The Little Red Fort written by Brenda Maier. Art (c) 2018 by Sonia Sánchez. Used with permission from Scholastic Press.

 

VL: You work full time as a teacher and have five children at home. Talk about your writing routine. As in, where do you find the time to enjoy a moment’s peace, let alone find time to sit down and write?

BM: Kids will find you no matter where you are, and kids always come first. Therefore, I avoid this situation entirely by escaping for Panera at least a couple of times a month to write.

I write more regularly during the summer, when I can get up early and work for a few hours, but during the school year I have to be content to do the best I can. I might write before everyone wakes up, before I fall asleep at night, or even during my lunch break.

If it’s important to you, you will find a way to do it.

VL: Very true. You have to find that time to write anywhere you can.

As a debut author, what’s the best piece of advice you can pass on to fellow authors working in the pre-published phase?

BM: You should read. Reading helps you internalize so many things about stories—pacing, rhythm, page turns.

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

BM: I don’t know if I can only pick one. At this moment, I would have to say it’s a tie between two YA novels: Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. As different as they are, I appreciated the perspectives they both made me feel privy to.

You don’t want me to get started on favorite picture books.

VL: I love that you read widely – not just picture books! That’s so important. 

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

BM: The Little Red Fort comes out in Spanish this June. A second book, Peeping Beauty, will be released next February from Aladdin, a Simon & Schuster imprint.

Peeping Beauty is a tale of chicks who resort to creative problem solving when their sibling won’t come out of the egg. It’s not a retelling, but it does give a subtle nod to the classic Sleeping Beauty.

VL: That sounds like another great story!

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

 

Learn more about Brenda Maier here.

Follow Brenda on Facebook here.

Follow Brenda on Twitter here.

 

 

 

The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – CARAVAL

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to a new year of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club.  This year is all about the debut author! Yes, with each book, we’ll be discovering someone brand new. What fun!

This first book the season, CARAVAL, by Stephanie Garber was a smashing debut from last year. It wasn’t however, this author’s first book out of the gate. It wasn’t even her second attempt or her fourth. As I mention in this post, the story of her overnight success took seven years and six attempts. Talk about persistence! And let me just say, totally worth the wait!

Her second highly anticipated book, LEGENDARY,  comes out later this year. I will be pre-ordering that one, no doubt!

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

Published by: Flatiron Books

Release Date: January 31, 2017

Genres: YA, Fantasy

indieboundamazonbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Stephanie Garber here.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter here.

Follow Stephanie on Facebook here.

Follow Stephanie on Instagram here.

 

The Discussion:

Besides being a fabulous story set in a dazzling playground of magic where anything can happen, with a dark and twisty mystery, this is at its core, a story about two sisters with an unbreakable bond trying to save each other. And I’m a sucker for those. And trust me, you will get swept away by the story. I read this book so fast.

Here’s a peek from the opening of the book:

 

     Scarlett’s feelings came in colors even brighter than usual. The urgent red of burning coals. The eager green of new grass buds. The frenzied yellow of a flapping bird’s feathers.

     He’d finally written back.

     She read the letter again. Then again. And again. Her eyes took in each sharp stroke of ink, every waxy curve of the Caraval master’s silver crest — a sun with a star inside and a teardrop inside of the star. The same seal was watermarked onto the enclosed slips of paper.

     This was no prank.

     “Donatella!” Scarlett plunged down the steps into the barrel room in search of her younger sister. The familiar scents of molasses and oak snaked up her nose, but her scoundrel of a sibling was nowhere to be found.

     “Tella — Where are you?” Oil lamps cast an amber glow over bottles of rum and several freshly filled wooden barrels. Scarlett heard a moan as she moved past, and she caught bits of heavy breathing as well. After her latest battle with their father, Tella had probably drunk too much, and now dozed somewhere on the floor. “Dona–“

     She choked on the last half of her sister’s name.

     “Hullo, Scar.”

     Tella flashed Scarlett a sloppy grin, all white teeth and swollen lips. her honey-blonde curls were a mess as well, and her shawl had fallen to the floor. But it was the sight of a young sailor, with his hands wrapped around Tella’s waist, that made Scarlett stutter. “Did I interrupt something?”

     “Nothing we can’t start up again.” The sailor spoke with a lilting Southern Empire accent, far smoother-sounding than the sharp Meridian Empire tongues Scarlett was accustomed to.

     Tella giggled, but at least had the grace to blush a little. “Scar, you know Julian, right?”

     “Lovely seeing you, Scarlett.” Julian smiled, as cool and seductive as a slice of shade in the Hot Season.

     Scarlett knew the polite response would be something along the lines of “Good to see you, too.” But all she could think about were his hands, still coiled around Tella’s periwinkle skirts, playing with the tassels on her bustle, as if she were a parcel he couldn’t wait to unwrap.

     Julian had only been on the isle of Trisda about a month. When he’d swaggered off his ship, tall and handsome, with golden-brown skin, he’d drawn almost every woman’s eye. Even Scarlett’s head had turned briefly, but she’d known better than to look any longer.

     “Tella, mind if I pull you away for a moment?” Scarlett managed to nod politely at Julian, but the instant they’d woven through enough barrels to be out of his hearing she said, “What are you doing?”

     “Scar, you’re getting married; I would think you’d be aware of what occurs between a man and a woman.” Tella nudged her sister’s shoulder playfully.

     “That’s not what I’m talking about. You know what will happen if Father catches you.”

     “Which is why I don’t plan on getting caught.”

     “Please be serious,” Scarlett said.

     “I am being serious. If Father catches us, I’ll just find a way to blame it on you.” Tella gave a tart smile. “But I don’t think you came down here to talk about that.” Her eyes dropped to the letter in Scarlett’s hands.

     The hazy glow of a lantern caught the metallic edges of the paper, making them blaze a shimmery gold, the color of magic and wishes and promises of things to come. The address on the envelope lit up with equal luster.

     Miss Scarlett Dragna

     Care of the priests’ confessional

     Trisda

     Conquered Isles of the Meridian Empire

     Tella’s eyes sharpened as she took in the radiant script. Scarlett’s sister had always liked beautiful things, like the young man still waiting for her behind the barrels. Often, if Scarlett lost one of her prettier possessions, she could find it tucked away in her younger sister’s room.

 

Garber paints a scene like an artist – just enough brilliant detail to make you live in it, to breathe in the surroundings. And her use of colors – just as fantastic. I love how she connects it to Scarlett’s emotions.

We soon learn why Scarlett wants to leave home, but won’t risk running away again. Instead, to escape her father’s brutal clutches, she plans to marry a man she’s never met — she doesn’t even know his name. The only hint she has of him comes from carefully censored letters her father gives her.

Here’s a scene where we discover the two sisters very different future plans:

 

     Scarlett could still smell her father’s perfume. It smelled like the color of his gloves: anise and lavender and something akin to rotted plums. It stayed with her long after he left, hovering in the air around Tella while Scarlett sat by her side, waiting for a maid to bring clean bandages and medicinal supplies.

     “You should have let me tell the truth,” Scarlett said. “He’d not have hit me this badly to punish you. Not with my wedding in ten days.”

     “Maybe he wouldn’t have struck your face, but he’d have done something else just as vicious–broken a finger so you couldn’t finish your wedding quilt.” Tella closed her eyes and leaned back against a barrel of rum. Her cheek was now almost the color of her father’s wretched gloves. “And I’m the one who deserved to be hit, not you.”

     “No one deserves this,” Julian said. It was the first time he’d spoken since their father left. “I’m–“

     “Don’t,” Scarlett cut in. “Your apology will not heal her wounds.”

     “I wasn’t going to apologize.” Julian paused, as if weighing his next words. “I’m changing my offer about taking you both from the isle. I’ll do it for free, if you decide you want to leave. My ship sets off from port tomorrow at dawn. Come find me if you change your mind.” He divided a look between Scarlett and Tella before he disappeared up the stairs.

     “No,” Scarlett said, sensing what Tella wanted before she said any words aloud. “If we leave, things will be worse when we return.”

     “I don’t plan on returning.” Tella opened her eyes. They were watery but fierce.

     Scarlet was often annoyed by how impulsive her younger sister was, but she also knew that when Tella finally set her mind to a plan, there was no changing it. Scarlett realized Tella had made her decision even before the letter from Caraval Master Legend arrived. That’s why she’d been with Julian. From the way she’d ignored him as he’d left, it was obvious she didn’t care about him. She just wanted a sailor who could take her away from Trisda. And now Scarlett had given her the reason she needed to leave.

     “Scar, you should come too,” Tella said. “I know you think your marriage is going to save and protect you, but what if the count is as bad as Father, or worse?”

     “He’s not,” Scarlett insisted. “You’d know this if you read his letters. He’s a perfect gentleman, and he’s promised to take care of us both.”

     “Oh, sister.” Tella smiled, but it wasn’t the happy sort. It was the way someone smiles just before they say something they wish they didn’t have to. “If he’s such a gentleman, then why is he so secretive? Why have you only been told his title but not his name?”

Great set up for the adventure to come. And Garber wastes no time getting right to the good stuff. Before dawn, Scarlett ends up on Julian’s ship knocked out, against her will — all a part of her sister’s fake kidnapping plot. The next thing she knows, she’s arriving on Legend’s private island just in time for Caraval, only her sister is nowhere in sight.

Here, Scarlett gets a taste of the magic on the island as she tries to find her sister:

     Julian’s dark brows slanted up. “You’re actually considering his offer?”

     “If it will get us to my sister faster.” Scarlett would have expected the sailor to be all for shortcuts, but instead his eyes darted around almost nervously. “You think it’s a bad idea?” she asked.

     “I think the smoke we saw is the entrance to Caraval, and I’d rather keep my currency.” He reached for the front door.

     “But you don’t even know the price,” said Algie.

     Julian threw a look at Scarlett, pausing for the click of a second hand. Something unreadable flickered in his eyes, and when he spoke again she would have sworn his voice sounded strained. “Do whatever you want, Crimson, but just a friendly warning for when you do get inside: be careful who you trust; most of the people here aren’t who they appear.” A bell chimed as he stepped outside.

     Scarlett hadn’t expected him to stay with her forever, yet she found herself more than a little bit unnerved by his abrupt departure.

     “Wait–” Algie called as she started to follow. “I know you believe me. Are you just going to chase that boy and let him decide for you, or make a choice for yourself?”

     Scarlett knew she needed to leave. If she didn’t hurry, she’d never find the sailor, and then she’d be utterly alone. But Algie’s use of the word choice made her pause. With her father always telling her what to do, Scarlett rarely felt as if she had any genuine choices. Or maybe she paused because the part of her that had not quite let go of all her childhood fantasies wanted to believe Algie.

     She thought of how effortlessly the door had formed and how every clock had gone silent when Algie had touched the door’s peculiar handle. “Even if I was interested,” she said, “I don’t have any money.”

     “But what if I’m not asking for money?” Algie straightened the tips of his mustache. “I said I’m offering a bargain: I’d just like to borrow your voice.”

     Scarlett choked on nervous laughter. “That doesn’t sound like a fair trade.” Was a voice even a thing someone could borrow?

     “I only want it for an hour,” Algie said. “It will take you at least that long to follow the smoke and make it into the house and start the game, but I can let you inside right now.” He pulled a watch from his pocket, and wound both the hour and minute hands to the top. “Say yes, and this device will take your voice for sixty minutes, and my door will lead you right inside the heart of Caraval.”

     She could find her sister right now.

     But what if he was lying? What if he took more than an hour? Scarlett was uncomfortable trusting a man she’d just met, even more so after Julian’s warning. The idea of losing her voice terrified her as well. Her cries never stopped her father from hurting Tella, but at least Scarlett had always been able to call out. If she did this and something happened, she’d be powerless. If she saw Tella from a distance, she’d be unable to yell her name. And what if Tella was waiting for Scarlett at the gate?

     Scarlett only knew how to survive through caution. When her father made deals there was almost always something awful he failed to mention. She couldn’t risk that happening now.

     “I’ll take my chances with the regular entrance,” she said.

     Algie’s mustache drooped. “Your loss. It really would have been a bargain.” He pulled open the patchwork door. For a brilliant moment Scarlett glimpsed the other side: a passionate sky made of melting lemons and burning peaches. Thin rivers that shined like polished gemstones. A laughing girl with curly spires of honey —

     “Donatella!” Scarlett rushed for the door, but Algie slammed it shut before her fingers grazed the metal.

     “No!” Scarlett grabbed the notched wheel and tried to turn it, but it dissolved into ash, falling into a gloomy pile at her feet. She watched hopelessly as the puzzle pieces shifted again, clicking apart until the door was no more.

     She should have made the trade. Tella would have done it. In fact, Scarlett figured that was how her sister had gotten inside in the first place. Tella never worried about the future or consequences; it was Scarlett’s job to do that for her. So while she should have felt better knowing Tella was definitely in Caraval, Scarlett could only worry about what kinds of trouble her sister would find. Scarlett should have been in there with her. And now she had lost Julian as well.

     Hurrying out of Casabian’s shop, Scarlett rushed onto the street. Whatever warmth she’d felt inside immediately vanished. She hadn’t thought she’d been there very long, yet the morning had already disappeared along with early afternoon. The hatbox shops were now obscured in a din of leaden shadows.

     Time must move faster on this isle. Scarlett worried she would blink and the stars would be out. Not only had she been separated from Tella and Julian, but she’d wasted valuable minutes. The day was almost over, and Legend’s invitation said she only had until midnight to make it inside Caraval’s main gates.

     Wind danced along Scarlett’s arms, wrapping cold white fingers around the parts of her wrists her dress didn’t cover. “Julian!” she cried out hopefully.

     But there was no sign of her former companion. She was totally alone. She wasn’t sure if the game had started yet, but she already felt as if she were losing.

Aren’t the characters fascinating? I love how it’s more important to Scarlett for her to make her own choices than to be right. She does make many mistakes, but she’s not a weak character by any means. Watching her grow into a strong, formidable competitor in the game is very satisfying. And Julian is no typical two-dimensional pretty boy, he’s got depth and there are many interesting twists to his storyline as well.

This book will kept me turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning. I could not stop reading it! I may just have to read it again before LEGENDARY comes out.

What did you think of the story?

 

Up next…
I cannot wait to get my hands on this next debut novel. Historical fiction written in verse? Based on the true story of a young female artist in Rome? I’m all over it. And look at that stunning cover!
It comes out next month, but you can pre-order it right now!

NEXT RELAXED AND GROOVY BOOK CLUB PIC 

BLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough

Published by: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Poetry

indieboundamazonbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

A stunning debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

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

Happy reading!