2020 SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chat Season Begins! January Guest – Traci Sorell

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it an agent, editor, author, or illustrator. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

Our 2020 Twitter chat season starts on Tuesday, January 28th. I hope you’ll join us!

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


I’ve had the pleasure of meeting our first guest, Oklahoma Children’s author, Traci Sorell, and she is having an amazing debut year!

Her first picture book, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA, is such a delight and has won critical acclaim. She followed that up with a double book launch for two more amazing books and then traveled all over the country promoting her wonderful work. We are truly privileged to have her as our first guest.

Here’s an introduction to Traci:

JANUARY 28th – Traci Sorell – Children’s Author

Traci Sorell grew up immersed in stories. The ones her mother told at bedtime and the accounts of her ancestors’ lives mirrored her Cherokee heritage. Books she brought home from the library and selected during her school’s annual Reading is Fundamental (RIF) Day showed a world beyond her life in rural northeastern Oklahoma.

As an adult, Traci has lived in four U.S. time zones and abroad in Madrid, Spain. Her early writing reflected the Native American history, law, and policy focus of her educational and professional background.

Now she lives back inside the Cherokee Nation with her family. She started writing for young people when she wanted more contemporary fiction and nonfiction children’s books featuring Native Americans to share with her son. Traci’s first nonfiction picture book, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA (Charlesbridge, 2018), features the universal spirit of gratitude as experienced through modern Cherokee culture across the four seasons. Her other works include: AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE (Kokila, 2019), INDIAN NO MORE with Charlene Willing McManis (Tu Books, 2019), and POWWOW DAY (Charlesbridge, 2020).

Traci’s debut picture book WE ARE GRATEFUL: Otsaliheliga, was awarded the 2019 Sibert Medal Honor Award, the 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Award, the 2019 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, and was an Oklahoma Book Award Finalist.

Learn more about Traci by visiting her website: https://www.tracisorell.com

Her Twitter handle is @tracisorell 

This first #okscbwichat of 2020 should be an exciting one! I hope you’ll join us for our conversation with Traci!


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

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

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

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.

 

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.

 

2019 SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chats

 

 

One of my favorite “jobs” is that of Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, and one of my favorite things about that position is hosting a monthly Twitter Chat for our members where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it an agent, editor, author, or illustrator. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

 

We meet on the fourth Tuesday of the month from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, join us! We love meeting new people.

Here are details on the chats we’ve already had so far in 2019, plus those still remaining. You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.


 

JANUARY 22nd– Jonathan Koelsch

Jonathan Koelsch has been illustrating professionally since graduating with honors from the University of Central Oklahoma in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design, and attended Kansas City Art Institute’s illustration program for 3 years.

Jonathan frequently incorporates graphic design in his illustration work, and as an illustrator skilled in design is often hired by designers to create icons and logos. He has illustrated and designed comics, covers, posters and graphic novels for several independent publishers, in many art styles, from “American” style, to cartoon, to manga.

Most recently, Jonathan fully illustrated the two-thirds (42 pages) and cover of the Luther graphic novel, for Faith Inkubators, a Lutheran curriculum publisher (lutherstudy.com).

You can learn more about Jonathan on his website.

His Twitter handle is @jkArts 

You can read the chat recap with Jonathan HERE.

 

FEBRUARY 12th– Jennifer March Soloway – SPECIAL CHAT

Jennifer March Soloway is a literary agent who represents authors and illustrators of picture book, middle grade, and young adult stories. She enjoys all genres and categories, such as laugh-out-loud picture books and middle-grade adventures, but her sweet spot is young adult.

A suspense junkie, she adores action-packed thrillers and mysteries. Throw in a dash of romance, and she’s hooked! But as much as she loves a good thriller, she finds her favorite novels are literary stories about ordinary teens focused on family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or addiction. Regardless of genre, she is actively seeking fresh new voices and perspectives underrepresented in literature.

Jennifer is actively building her client list and welcomes queries to soloway@andreabrownlit.com.

Find out more about Jennifer and about her full wish list by visiting her agency’s website.

Her Twitter handle is: @marchsoloway

You can read the chat recap with Jennifer HERE.

 

FEBRUARY 26th– Mekisha Telfer

Mekisha Telfer is an associate editor at Roaring Brook Press (Macmillian), where she is building a list of picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels. She got her start in publishing in 2014 as an editorial assistant with Simon and Schuster BFYR/Salaam reads, and has also worked briefly at Glasstown Entertainment.

Some titles she’s had the privilege of working on include the New York Times bestselling series TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han, EMERGENCY CONTACT by Mary H. K. Choi, THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi, and Stuart Gibb’s Moon Base Alpha series. Mekisha is committed to supporting unrepresented voices and is always on the hunt for character-driven stories with a mix of humor and heart.

You can learn more about what Mekisha is looking for from her manuscript wish list here.

Her Twitter handle is: @MekishaTelfer

You can read the chat recap with Mekisha HERE.

 

MARCH 26th– Alex Slater

Literary Agent Alex Slater has been with Trident Media Group since 2010. For many years he oversaw the foreign rights sales of all of Trident’s young adult and children’s projects, which includes the work of R.J. Palacio and Louis Sachar.

Now with his own list, he’s kept his focus on YA and middle grade with an eye towards contemporary fiction, light fantasy, narrative nonfiction, and any work in general that expands the ideas of representation in children’s literature. Particularly, his manuscript wish list includes graphic novels, stories that blend genres, and historically underrepresented voices. Some of his clients today include Keah Brown, Jodi Kendall, Adam Perry, and SCBWI’s 2017 Emerging Voices Award Winner Anuradha D. Rajurkar.

You can learn more about what Alex is looking for from his manuscript wishlist here. Or by visiting his agency website here.

His Twitter handle is: @abuckslater

You can read the chat recap with Alex HERE.

 

APRIL 23rd – Jess Rinker

Children’s author Jess Rinker received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has won many awards for her work including short story, creative nonfiction, and most recently an honorable mention for the Katherine Paterson Prize from Hunger Mountain for her middle grade novel THE YOUNG TRAVELERS CLUB.

In addition to writing, Jess also teaches in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and works as a freelance developmental editor.

Jessica Rinker’s debut picture book biography, GLORIA TAKES A STAND, comes out March 12, 2019 from Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Her second biography, SEND A GIRL: The Brenda Berkman Story, comes out March 2020.

​Jess also writes middle grade and her debut novel THE DARE SISTERS comes out Fall 2020 and Fall 2021 from Imprint/Macmillan.

​Currently she lives in New Jersey in a tiny town along the Delaware River with her husband, Joe McGee, who is also a children’s author.

You can learn more about her by visiting her website.

Her Twitter handle is: @jm_rinker 

You can read the chat recap with Jess HERE.

 

MAY 28th– Lisa Papademetriou

Lisa Papademetriou is the author of A TALE OF HIGHLY UNUSUAL MAGIC (a South Asia Book Award Highly Commended Title), the New York Times-bestselling novel MIDDLE SCHOOL: MY BROTHER IS A BIG, FAT LIAR and HOMEROOM DIARIES (both with James Patterson), the CONFECTIONATELY YOURS series (over 750,000 books in print), and many other novels for middle grade and young adult readers.

Her books have appeared on many prestigious lists, including Bank Street Best Books of the Year, the NYPL Books for the Teen Age, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, andtranslated into French, German, Spanish, Polish, Italian, Portuguese, & Japanese. Her latest book, APARTMENT 1986, was a School Library Journal Popular Pick.

She has written for the Washington Post, authors the StART Up Studio column for Innovate413, and serves on the faculty of the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College. A former editor, she is the founder of the humorous grammar website, IvanaCorrectya.com.

Lisa evinces her passion for community and education by serving on the board of the Northampton Education FoundationClick Workspace, and Athena Girls, and by giving workshops locally and across the United States on the subjects of writing, grammar, and creative courage.

You can learn more about her by visiting her website.

Her Twitter handle is: @axyfabulous 

You can read the chat recap with Lisa HERE.

 

JUNE 25th– Joe McGee

Children’s author Joe McGee writes funny, quirky, offbeat stories for kids (and adults who still hold a piece of the magic). He has two picture books published, PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS (Abrams) his debut PB which came out in 2015, and the sequel, ALIENS & JELLY (2017). A third book in the series, PEANUT BUTTER & SANTA CLAUS is scheduled for release in 2019.

Joe also has two series of Chapter Books coming out with Simon & Shuster (Aladdin) with the first book in the CREATURE CAMPERS series coming out this January 2019, and the first book in the JUNIOR MONSTER SCOUTS series scheduled for release in Fall 2019.

Joe is also on the faculty of Sierra Nevada College, Writing for Children & Young Adults low-residency MFA program, and is on the faculty of Rowan University, Writing Arts department.

You can learn more about him by visiting his website.

His Twitter handle is: @mcgeejp

You can read the chat recap with Joe HERE.

 

JULY 23rd– Sharon Martin

Sharon Edge Martin has been a writer since she wrote her first poems at the age of eight.  She has worked as a waitress, an artist’s model, a musician, a bookkeeper, a jewelry designer, a newspaper editor, and a teacher, but no matter what other job she is doing, Martin is always a writer.

 Martin’s fiction stories have appeared in adult and juvenile magazines, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Her poetry for children and adults has been published in Amelia, BylineEllery Queen Mystery Magazine, and dozens of small press and literary magazines and anthologies, including Elegant Rage, Dragon Poet Review, Malpais Review, Poets’ Market from Writers’ Digest Books, and in Michael Bugeja’s The Art and Craft of Poetry.  Her poetry chapbook, No Sanctuary, was published by Amelia Press in 1997.  In 2017,  Froggy Bottom Blues, a picture book illustrated by Timothy Lange, was published by Doodle and Peck. She won the OWFI Best Book of Poetry for her book, Not a Prodigal, and was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award for the same book in 2019.

Martin is an active member of SCBWI Oklahoma and is past president of Oklahoma Writers’ Federation.  In addition to her writing for children and young adults, she pens a weekly column on education and politics.  The essays appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer.  She is active in the spoken poetry scene in Oklahoma and hosts a monthly reading in the historic Tidal School.  The building, now owned by Tidewater Winery, was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller to serve the children of his oil company employees.

Sharon and her husband, artist Dale Martin, live on a farm in Oklahoma. When she isn’t writing, you can find her tending chickens or working in her garden.

You can learn more about Sharon by visiting her website.

Her Twitter handle is @sharonedge.

You can read the chat recap with Sharon HERE.

 

SEPTEMBER 24th– Rachel Murray

Associate editor Rachel Murray started at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers in 2014. She has experience with picture books, chapter books, middle grade fiction, and young adult novels in a variety of genres. She has had the pleasure of working on projects such as Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T. L. McBeth; First & Then and subsequent books by Emma Mills; and the NYT-bestselling Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson.

Rachel has begun building her own list with picture books and is looking to expand into the middle grade and young adult space. She has particular interest in horror/ghost stories/anything that gives her chills, contemporary romance, and magical realism. She welcomes characters with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

You can learn more about Rachel by visiting her publishing house website.

Her Twitter handle is @rachelrmurray

You can read the chat recap with Rachel HERE.

 

OCTOBER 22nd– Gwendolyn Hooks

 Gwendolyn Hooks is the author of the NAACP IMAGE AWARD winning picture book biography, Tiny Stitches-The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas and Block Party, a Junior Library Guild Selection. Her newest books are The Garden and If You Were A Kid During the Civil Rights Movement. Gwen’s next book, Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom,is scheduled to release on October 1stof this year.

Other books include the popular Pet Club and Confetti Kids series. She writes both fiction and nonfiction, early readers, and chapter books from her home Oklahoma. An advocate of diverse books, Gwendolyn shares their beauty by encouraging young readers to explore the world through them.

You can learn more about Gwen by visiting her website.

Her Twitter handle is @GwentheGweat


We take a break in November and December due to the holidays. We’ll return again in January 2020 with a brand new Twitter chat schedule! It’s filling up fast, but if you have a suggestion for a guest, feel free to let me know. I’m happy to hear your ideas.

In Support of Beth Revis

One thing I absolutely love about the kid lit community is how we rally behind a good cause and put our sorrow, our anger, our love into action.

In the latest kid lit community rising to action, it’s all about showing our love for YA author Beth Revis.

Here’s a little bit about Beth:

She is a NY Times bestselling author with books available in more than 20 languages. Her most recent title, GIVE THE DARK MY LOVE, is a dark fantasy about love and death. Beth’s other books include the bestselling science fiction trilogy, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and a novel in the Star Wars universe entitled REBEL RISING. She’s the author of two additional novels, numerous short stories, and the nonfiction PAPER HEARTS series, which aids aspiring writers. A native of North Carolina, Beth is currently working on a new novel for teens. She lives in rural NC with her boys: one husband, one son, and two massive dogs.

 

Back in July, Beth posted on social media about her husband going into advanced heart failure without warning. One can only imagine what she and her family have been going through with the long hospital stays and multiple surgeries involved, all of which have taken her away from her work as an author. Appearances had to be cancelled and there was no time for her to promote her latest book, BID MY SOUL FAREWELL, coming out in September.

Enter fellow author Amie Kaufman (co-author of the IILUMINAE FILES series) who helped mobilize the writing community in support of Beth with an outstanding Preorder Giveaway to help promote her next book.

That’s right, Amie got 150 authors to participate in this giveaway! And we can all do our part by preordering Beth’s book and spreading the word.

I absolutely loved Beth’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series. And I enjoy listening to her writing advice videos that she shares on Instagram. She is definitely a kind soul that deserves our support. I’ve preordered my copy. I’m encouraging you to do the same.

To learn all about the giveaway and how to preorder your copy of Beth’s new book BID MY SOUL FAREWELL, visit Amie’s website here.

The giveaway is open through September 30th.

 

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!