Monday, November 19, 2012

Author Interview with Lindsay Eland

It's Thanksgiving week so I thought I should feature a book that touches on themes of food, family, and friendship. I read Lindsay Eland’s SCONES AND SENSIBILITY (Egmont USA), a MG novel about a 12-year old girl named Polly who tries to play matchmaker with the people in her life. Her attempts to pair people up and break up couples seem like fun and games until her well-intentioned meddling starts ticking people off. What made SCONES AND SENSIBILITY a particularly fun read was Polly’s delightful narrative voice- she speaks and thinks like a character in an old school Jane Austen novel even though the story is set in contemporary times.  

I got ahold of Lindsay Eland for an interview. Lindsay was born in  Cincinnati, Ohio but grew up in several places all around Pennsylvania, including Pittsburg and Punxatawney. She spent what she calls her “growing up years” in State College where her family resides.  Lindsay now lives in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Can you share a favorite childhood memory?
I have so many amazing childhood memories that it’s hard to pick just one! But I’d have to say it would be sitting at the big wooden table at my MomMom and PopPop’s house eating mashed potatoes and peas and listening to the stories that my parents and aunts and uncles told. That table and those stories hold just as much magic for me now as they did when I was eight.

I get a strong vibe from reading SCONES AND SENSIBILITY that you're a Jane Austen fan. What is it about Jane Austen's work that appeals to you?
Yes, I adore Jane Austen. And really, everything about her work appeals to me. The atmosphere she creates, the characters she develops, the dialogue, the elegant romance, her witty humor. I just adore it all.

In SCONES AND SENSIBILITY, the protagonist Polly has such a distinctive voice. She is prim and proper, a little pretentious, and at the same time, she really means well and wants to help others. How did you get the inspiration for such a character and voice?                                                                                  
My inspiration for Polly came in a variety of ways. First, I adore both Jane Austen and the character Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. Polly is a modern-day version of those two. My daughter also has a friend who, at the time, was very Polly-esque and I got such a kick out of listening to her. I also had a deep desire to come up with a heroine who didn’t have an ounce of tom-boy in her. 

There is also a fun baking theme in SCONES AND SENSIBILITY. What tip(s) do you have for writing a story where food plays a "supporting character?"
I think food is a very important element in writing that can add that bit of humanity, universality, and detail to any story. We all eat. We all need to eat. And, if you’re anything like me, you LOVE to eat.

What do you like to bake besides scones?  
I love to bake just about anything! Pumpkin bread, chocolate ├ęclairs, chocolate-chip cookies, brownies, cakes (chocolate preferred…are you sensing the pattern? 

What books did you like to read growing up?
I adored Roald Dahl (still do), Katherine Patterson, and any story about animals.

Are there any other projects you'd like to mention? 
Yes! My next book with Egmont USA titled A SUMMER OF SUNDAYS will be released on July 9th, 2013. It is the story about a twelve-year-old girl who is stuck, smack-dab, in the middle of her large family and spends her summer vacation trying to make her mark on her world. It’s a story full of friendship, laughs, and mystery. 

Thanks so much, Cynthia!

You're welcome, Lindsay! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Quotes to Inspire

We're officially halfway through NaNoWriMo. To offer some encouragement to others who are pounding away at their keyboards toward that 50,000 word finish line, I'm sharing some inspirational quotes shared by authors who know what they're talking about. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. -Mark Twain

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. -Robert Frost

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. -Stephen King

Critics sometimes appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing. -Joyce Carol Oates

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. 
-Edith Wharton

For those of you doing NaNoWriMo, how are you holding up?
Feel free to share any motivational quotes that you live and write by.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

KidLit Cares: An Online Auction to Support Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts

Author Kate Messner is hosting an online auction to raise funds for Hurricane Sandy's relief efforts. She is auctioning off manuscript critiques, Skype visits, and other neat stuff  offered by industry professionals. Check out the auction.

On that note, I just want to say that I am going to be a bit low key this month as I do NaNoWriMo.  I will still post stuff -in fact, I have an author interview coming up soon- but I might not be around as much. 

If anyone has heard of other fundraisers benefiting the relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy, feel free to share about them.

If anyone has started on NaNo and want to dish on how your first day is coming along, go for it. If anyone wants to add me, my profile name on NaNo is CynthiaWrites.

Update 11/6/12: I recently came across another online auction you can check out hosted by author Jen Malone. You can check out the auction here. The auction closes tomorrow. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people on the East Coast as they brave it out through Hurricane Sandy.  

If you're in the affected areas, and you're not busy evacuating your home, gathering food and supplies for your emergency kit, trying to locate a source of power, or overseeing your family and loved ones, and you just happen to be online, feel free to share or vent about what's going on.

Hang in there, East Coasters!  *Virtual hugs!*

Monday, October 8, 2012

When You Don't Get Back What You Put In

I do a mental eye roll whenever I hear someone say, "You get back what you put in." It's a presumptuous comment to make about anything, even if it's spoken in the spirit of encouraging someone to do their best so they can reap the rewards of their hard work.

Here's why I don't like this misleading adage:

1. By the logic of "you get back what you put in," when someone doesn't get the end result they were aiming for, must that mean they didn't utilize enough of themselves into reaching their goal? Of course not.  So this saying sets someone up to feel like they didn't try hard enough when in reality, they might've done all that they could. 

2. What if someone worked and worked and worked towards a goal, and the prize they feel is due to them is forever out of their reach? The "you get back what you put in" finger wagging in your face can leave someone feeling like they have been cheated, as if the universe now owed them something big.

3. It can tear someone up inside when they observe another person getting what they themselves had labored and sweated away for, and the cut goes even deeper when the "chosen one" appears to have been less deserving of the prize.

Self-doubt, entitlement, and bitterness are undesirable pieces of baggage for anyone to lug around. 

Here's how I would put it:  Sometimes you get back what you put in, and sometimes you don't. You don't always have full control over the results of your efforts. 

What do you think of "You get back what you put in?" Have you ever NOT gotten back what you put in? How did you react to that disappointment?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Creating Universal Appeal Across Age Lines

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the beginnings of pilot episodes from two TV dramas I hadn't seen before- some networks show reruns before they launch into new seasons. I started watching one show with the anticipation I would like it. But within the first 20 minutes, I turned it off. I watched the second show's pilot straight through and now I'm going through its first season on Netflix. I'm hooked!

The first pilot, I believe, tried too hard to cater to all audiences, from small children to adults. So the parts that were supposed to appeal to young viewers bored me. On the other hand, the  second pilot held my interest even during the parts featuring younger characters.

There are many TV shows, movies, and books that appeal to audiences of all ages. To accomplish this, the writer and director must know how to make the parts intended to attract children engaging for adults too, and the parts intended to entertain the grown-ups also accessible for children. Of course, this is easier said than done. The reason why some animated films, such as Shrek or The Incredibles, appeal to all age groups, is because the writers know how to use humor that kids understand while subtly injecting the wink-wink kind of humor for the grown-ups. 

Audiences and readers also better connect with characters whose  experiences can mirror universal experiences. For example, it has been awhile since most of us have experienced first day of school jitters, but as adults, our response to seeing a child experiencing those things can resonate with the emotions we might feel when we start a new job or move to a new neighborhood or join a new community group. So that could be another way a character's experience can transcend age lines on the screen or on a page.

What other qualities should a book, TV show, or movie have to appeal to more than one age demographic?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Author Interview with Jennifer Hubbard

This month I bring to you Jennifer Hubbard, author of two YA books- THE SECRET YEAR (Viking) and TRY NOT TO BREATHE (Viking). THE SECRET YEAR is about a boy who revisits the year of his secret romance when he gets ahold of his girlfriend’s journal after her sudden death. TRY NOT TO BREATHE is about a boy recovering from a suicide attempt. A fan of Jennifer’s writing style, I also visit Jennifer’s author blog frequently for her perspective on a variety of topics related to writing and her life as a writer. Jennifer lived in New England as a child and then went to Philadelphia where she attended college and majored in science. She lives in Philadelphia today.  

Any childhood memories of New England you’d like to share?                         
One image I associated with my childhood is Mount Tom, which you could see from our first house. I’ve now lived in Pennsylvania longer than anywhere else, and that’s probably my home now, but there’s something anchoring about seeing Mount Tom. It has a very distinctive profile, that mountain. It looks like a mountain that partly melted and had its top smushed to one side.

In THE SECRET YEAR and TRY NOT TO BREATHE, you write from a male perspective, and you pull it off very well. How do you pull off writing a convincing male perspective?                                                           
I think of my characters as people first. I grew up having male friends and relatives, reading male writers. I don’t think it’s strange that I have the voices of male characters as well as female characters in my head.

In THE SECRET YEAR, Colt relives the steamy relationship he had with Julia as the reader looks on. What are elements that make a romance captivating to readers?                                                              
I believe romance in general is captivating because it plays such a big part in our own lives. The quest for a mate—whether for one night or a lifetime—is something we spend a lot of time and energy on. It’s a near-universal human experience. We want to be loved; we want people to find us attractive. Most of us can identify with the feelings of longing, doubt, jealousy, anger, and elation that Colt goes through in The Secret Year, and that Ryan experiences in Try Not to Breathe.

It’s funny that you use the word “steamy” for The Secret Year. There is an intensity between Colt and Julia, but those scenes are not particularly graphic. I usually say, “It’s all done with atmosphere.” In other words, there’s more focus on emotion than on body parts.

I notice that THE SECRET YEAR has two different book covers. Was this a marketing decision?               Yes. Books are often rejacketed in paperback, or for new editions. Although I love the original hard cover of The Secret Year, I’m happy with the paperback cover as well. Not only because it’s beautiful, but because variety gives more people more chances to find the book. There’s also a Walmart edition with a third cover. And at some point there will be a Turkish edition; I look forward to seeing that cover.

What inspired you to write TRY NOT TO BREATHE, a book about the aftermath of a boy’s suicide attempt? I like that you wrote a book about an “issue” without making it an “issues” book. How were you able to do that?                                  
The flaw in an “issue” book, or “problem novel” as it’s sometimes called, is when the character is just a prop to explore an issue. I try to make my characters fully fleshed—flawed, multidimensional, with some sense of humor. They sometimes do the right thing and sometimes the wrong thing. And their problems are complex. We do see a resolution to the story in the novel, but it doesn’t mean all their problems are forever fixed, or that their lives are neatly tied up with a bow.

In TRY NOT TO BREATHE, Ryan accompanies Nicki to see several psychics so Nicki could attempt to reach her dead father. How did you do the research on how psychic sessions are conducted?                   
I read several nonfiction books and articles by people who consulted psychics, investigated psychics, or worked as psychics (those who believed they had powers, and those who didn’t). I’ve also heard a few readings on TV and radio, and talked to a couple of people who’ve had private consultations. And I had my Tarot read once.

There is no one universal way that readings are done. Different psychics use different practices, and they don’t all claim to have the same powers. Technically, the psychics that Nicki consults claim to be mediums—that is, to be able to communicate with the dead.

What were your favorite books/authors in kidlit and YA while growing up?                                                                                                                            Beverly Cleary, Ellen Conford, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume, K.M. Peyton, Marilyn Sachs, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Paul Zindel ... you can see they range from funny to serious. I preferred contemporary realism but was OK with some paranormal elements, as in the work of Lois Duncan and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I usually liked to feel that the events in a book could happen to me; that explains my fondness for realism. 

Any other projects you’d like to talk  about?                                                        
I’ve had short stories published in a 2011 anthology called Truth & Dare, and in Hunger Mountain and Cricket magazines. I’m currently working on another YA novel.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Winners of My One Hundred Follower Giveaway

First, thanks to all of you who have commented on my post for my One Hundred Follower Giveaway.  I appreciate the interest of everyone who had requested a book.

Congratulations to the winners:

Grigory wins THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan 

SC wins CHILDREN'S WRITER'S WORD BOOK by Alijandra Mogilner & Tayopa Mogilne 

I will be contacting the winners through email. Thanks again for playing, and I hope to host another giveaway sometime in the near future. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Revenge: Does It Have a Place in Children's Literature?

R is for Revenge...There are plenty of books  with feel-good revenge themes for adult readers. We marvel at Edmond Dantes' stamina in THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO when he makes trouble for those who had him wrongfully imprisoned. Many years ago, when I watched the movie version of WAITING TO EXHALE in the theater, a chorus of "You go girl!" sounded around me as Bernadine sets fire to her cheating husband's fancy clothes and car. In MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, even Hercule Poirot sympathizes with the murderers who took their revenge on the evil Ratchett.

I wonder if feel-good revenge is a concept intended only for adults to enjoy. Although there are definitely stories about revenge involving adolescents in young adult lit, I see stories about revenge in picture books or middle grade novels less frequently. When a young character is mistreated or maligned in  most children's books, the subtle message of taking the high road or using your wit to outsmart the villain often overrides the notion of "playing dirty" to even the score. Even when a revenge seeker makes an appearance in children's literature, they are often adults or non-humans.  In HOLES, Madame Zeroni,  stinging from a broken promise, places a curse on the protagonist's ancestor. In SHREK! (the picture book, NOT the movie) Shrek fights the aggression he encounters from others with even more aggression.

Many young characters, especially in contemporary fiction, encounter hindrances or backlash for seeking revenge. In RAMONA THE BRAVE, Ramona gets in trouble for destroying her classmate Susan's owl after Susan wins praise by copying Ramona's owl. In DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, Greg is ready to fight his former friend Rowley for taking sole credit for their comic when a group of older kids come by to harass them both.  In THE SHADOW CLUB, members initially take revenge on rivals by playing silly pranks, but as the dirty deeds become more vindictive, the perpetrators eventually have to face their guilty consciences.  Attempts at revenge  don't often play out well for young characters.

...But there are exceptions.  In MATILDA, Matilda plays all sorts of tricks on the adults who cut her down, from putting crazy glue on her father's hat to using telekinesis  to intimidate the headmistress at her school. And she gets away with all this consequence and guilt-free.

Can you think of more exceptions in children's books where revenge is considered acceptable behavior, for example, in fairytales? How about books where revenge is a no-no? Should there be boundaries on how revenge  is presented in children's books, young adult books, or adult fiction? Do you like stories where revenge is part of the plot?