Monday, April 30, 2012

A Very Special MMGM Interview with Jerry Spinelli, author of JAKE AND LILY -- And a GIVEAWAY!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger.  For others, please see my MMGM bloglist! Today, I'm excited to be interviewing the one and only Jerry Spinelli, the beloved author of many wonderful middle grade novels including the Newbery-winning Maniac Magee.  He has a new book coming soon.

Jake and Lily, by Jerry Spinelli (May 8, 2012, Balzer + Bray, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher):

This is a story about me, Lily.
And me, Jake.
We're twins and we're exactly alike.
Not exactly!
Whatever. This is a book we wrote about the summer we turned eleven and Jake ditched me.
Please. I just started hanging out with some guys in the neighborhood.
Right. So anyway, this is a book about
goobers and supergoobers
true friends
things getting built and wrecked and rebuilt
and about figuring out who we are.
We wrote this together
(sort of)
so you'll get to see both sides of our story.
But you'll probably agree with my side.
You always have to have the last word, don't you?

Why I liked it:  The special bond between Jake and Lily is unlike anything Jerry Spinelli has ever written.  Yet the book is chock-full of his signature funny dialogue and situations.  It's a great book for summer, because it takes place in one summer, a summer full of changes and possibilities, a summer for growing up.  Jake and Lily are eleven now, so their parents decide to put them into separate bedrooms. And that's just the beginning. When Jake starts hanging out with a neighborhood gang, Lily feels lonely.  So she spends most of her time with their hippie grandfather.  I won't spoil it by telling you what happens, but rest assured the ending is perfect.

I loved the train connection.  Trains play a special part in Jake and Lily's childhood.  I'll delve into this more in the interview below.

Another thing I loved about this book was that Jake and Lily still have both parents, who are still married to each other!  That's beginning to seem like a rarity in children's books.

Photo source

1) Welcome, Jerry!  Thanks for joining us here today.  You've written more than 25 books for children, including the Newbery-winning Maniac Magee and my personal favorite, Stargirl.  Of all your books, which one is your favorite?

My first, Space Station Seventh Grade.

2) How long did it take you to write the rough draft of Jake and Lily?   And how many times did you have to revise it?
Eight or nine months, I guess. I don't do successive drafts. I'll edit yesterday's work today, then fix whatever at the end.

3) That's great to know, Jerry.  Jake and Lily are twins who communicate in a very special way.  This is a departure for you. You've written about sibling rivalry before in books like Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush? but isn't this the first time you've had twins as your main characters?  What made you decide to write about twins?  And what made you decide to add that delicious hint of fantasy to your novel?
Yes, first time. I've always found the notion of sibling bonding appealing, and I guess it finds its fullest expression in twins. The ESP-type communication adds an intriguing dimension, and one that many will say is not entirely fantasy.

4) As the daughter of a train nut, I appreciated the train connection (the twins were born on the California Zephyr, Lily collects model trains, plus the twins experience an unusual dream every year on their birthday).  Would you consider yourself a train nut?  Have you always liked trains?
Yes, I'm a train nut, though more the size of a peanut than a brazil nut. I've ridden the California Zephyr coast-to-coast a number of times. When I was in grade school freight train steam locomotives hammered the night a stone's throw from my bedroom.

5) Bullying is a huge problem in our society and you delve into that when Jake joins a neighborhood gang called The Death Rays. Their favorite occupation that summer is to make fun of a new kid named Ernie, who's a total nerd, a "goober" in Jake's eyes.  When you were a kid, were you ever part of a gang like that? Or were you the one being picked on? 

No, I was neither a bully nor, except on two brief occasions that I recall, a victim.

6) Can you let us know what your next book is about?
Actually, two more are coming. First will be Third Grade Angels which is a prequel to Fourth Grade Rats. That will be in the fall.  Then in spring 2013 will come Hokey Pokey, a story that reimagines childhood as a place rather than a time.

7) Oh, that sounds wonderful! I understand that you wrote four adult novels that were rejected before writing Space Station Seventh Grade and becoming a published author.  How many years did it take you to get to that point?  And what advice would you give to aspiring writers? 
I collected rejection slips on those four unwanted novels for over a dozen years. There's only one secret formula: keep writing. And I would add: Write what you care about.

Thank you so much, Jerry!  I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions.

And thank you, Joanne. I miss being closer to the bookstore.

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Doesn't that sound like a great book?  And wouldn't you like to read it?  Well, you're in luck, because I have a hardcover copy of Jake and Lily on order and I'll be giving it away to one lucky winner!  Jerry's coming to the bookstore on May 22nd, so I will get it signed at that point.

To enter, you only need to be a follower and leave a comment on this post!  It's as simple as that.  I'm very sorry but this one is going to have to be limited to United States entries only. You have until 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday May 13 (yes, that's Mother's Day) and I will announce a winner on Monday May 14 (that way if you want it personalized on the 22nd, I can ask Jerry to do that).  Good luck! 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Coming soon...

I'll be back on Monday April 30th with an exclusive interview with Jerry Spinelli and a hardcover giveaway of his new book, JAKE AND LILY!   See you then.

In the meantime, please visit Shannon's blog for the usual MMGM links -- or see my sidebar on the right.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Class of 2K12 - Guest Post with Jennifer Shaw Wolf, author of BREAKING BEAUTIFUL

Breaking Beautiful, by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (Walker, coming April 24, 2012, for ages 12 and up)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.

When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

 Links you should visit:
 --  Class of 2K12
 --  The Apocalypsies
 --  Jennifer's website
 --  Jennifer's blog

I'm thrilled that Jennifer agreed to take over my blog for the day and write a guest post!  Welcome, Jennifer!

Jennifer Shaw Wolf (from her website)

The Books that Influenced Me as a Young Reader
At some point in when I was writing BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, the thought occurred to me, “This is turning into a mystery.” This idea was immediately followed by, “I can’t write a mystery.” Mysteries involved suspense and clues and complex plot structures and I wasn’t sure anything in my background had prepared me to write a book like that. Then I remembered what I’d read as a kid. There were a lot of mysteries. From Homer Price, to Nancy Drew, to Agatha Christie, to old Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines, I loved trying to solve a puzzle.
I think that it started when I was about ten, with a series called THE THREE INVESTIGATORS. One of my first trips to our small public library, when I was old enough to pick out my own books, I stumbled upon THE THREE INVESTIGATORS. They were three boys who solved mysteries and they had the coolest hideout; an old trailer, buried under a pile of junk in a salvage yard. The hideout had entrances with names like “Tunnel One” and “One Eyed Dog.”
THE THREE INVESTIGATOR books were the first series I devoured from beginning to end. (At least to the end of the books our small town library had in its collection.) It didn’t matter that the protagonists were boys, or that they were older than me. Every couple of weeks I’d finish my pile of books and beg to go back to the library, so I could get more “THREE INVESTIGATORS” books.
I have since looked up THE THREE INVESTIGATORS to learn more about them. I found out that there were 43 books in the original series, with a 44th book unfinished because the series was canceled. (However, in Germany the series lives on.) The first book came out in 1964 with THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE and the series had four different authors starting with Robert Arthur, then Dennis Lynds writing as William Arden, Kin Platt writing as Nick West and Mary Carey writing as M.V. Carey. When I looked through the list of titles I could remember reading over twenty of them.
Recently as I watched my son discover and devour books for the first time with the Percy Jackson series, I thought back to THE THREE INVESTIGATORS. I can honestly say that those books were the books that turned me into a reader, and eventually lead me to being a writer. Maybe even a little bit of a mystery writer.  
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Jennifer, thanks so much for being a guest blogger today!  Oooh, I remember reading those old Ellery Queen mystery magazines.  And I read plenty of Agatha Christie, too.  

I can't wait to read your book.  Congrats on your debut next Tuesday.  Readers, what mystery novel has influenced you?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Class of 2K12 -- A special MMGM Guest Post from the author of The Mapmaker and the Ghost

Meet Sarvenaz Tash, Class of 2K12 author!  

From her own website, here's how to pronounce her name:  My name is pronounced Sar (like the first part of Sara) - ve (rhymes with yeah) - naz (rhymes with 'cuz). Or you can just listen to me pronouncing it here(Joanne's note: I love Teaching -- there's a link right over there in my sidebar!)

Sarvenaz Tash

Her debut novel, The Mapmaker and the Ghost, pubs on April 24, 2012 from Bloomsbury/Walker, for ages 8 to 12. 

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Goldenrod Moram loves nothing better than a good quest. Intrepid, curious, and full of a well-honed sense of adventure, she decides to start her own exploring team fashioned after her idols, the explorers Lewis and Clark, and to map the forest right behind her home. This task is complicated, however, by a series of unique events—a chance encounter with a mysterious old lady has her searching for a legendary blue rose. Another encounter lands her in the middle of a ragtag gang of brilliant troublemakers. And when she stumbles upon none other than the ghost of Meriwether Lewis himself, Goldenrod knows this will be anything but an ordinary summer . . . or an ordinary quest.

Welcome to My Brain on Books, Sarvenaz!  And I'm looking forward to your release day next week.  Thank you so much for agreeing to do a guest post!  Take it away, Sarvenaz.

My Favorite Childhood Book

Reading was one of my favorite pastimes as a kid. This is probably not surprising given what I do now! But it was a little surprising, I think, for my family back then. With the exception of my dad (who’s big into history and non-fiction books,) no one in my family was particularly into reading fiction.

I discovered books when my 2nd grade teacher read Beverly Cleary books to us in the classroom. At first, I wanted to buy the books, too, so that when I played teacher with my stuffed animals, I would be doing so more faithfully. (I was a stickler for accuracy.)

But then I discovered the joy of reading them on my own. There were all sorts of stories, all sorts of people to meet and places to go, and they were just waiting for me on thousands and thousands of pages. Even though my family wasn’t big into reading themselves, they sure encouraged my voracious love of it. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

If I had to pick one author who influenced me and my childhood reading (and my writing later on), it would have to be Roald Dahl. The Witches, in particular, was my favorite book of his. But, really, I loved them all. I loved his dark and dry sense of humor. I loved how the adults in his book were at the very least a little twisted and, more often than not, rather sinister. I loved how it never felt like he condescended to kids, like his books always were telling you that--in some ways (like recognizing witches)--kids knew more than adults did.

I think that’s an extremely powerful message when you’re a kid, when it feels like most things are out of your control and like your choices are mostly those of your parents or teachers or other adult figures. There’s something wonderful about being let into a secret club or being told there are some things that are meant just for you.

Roald Dahl passed away when I was nine. And I remember when I heard about it being so sad, because I knew there were only a finite amount of his books I could ever read. I doled them out to myself over the next two years, only taking one out of the library for every other five or six books I checked out. The last one I read of his (for the first time) was The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. I remember that distinctly.

And I’ve never forgotten what his books meant to me. I know that a lot of the humor and adventure in The Mapmaker and the Ghost, my debut middle grade book, is inspired by him and his work. And maybe, even, a sinister adult or two. 

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Thanks so much for joining us today, Sarvenaz!  I love Roald Dahl too.   For me, it was reading James and the Giant Peach in second grade that made me want to write.  What about you, readers?  Was there a particular book in your childhood that made you want to write?  Or made you love middle grade novels?

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger.  For other MMGM bloggers, see my new bloglist over on the right!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Class of 2K12 -- Interview with J. Anderson Coats, author of THE WICKED AND THE JUST

J. Anderson Coats
Today, I'm thrilled to be interviewing J. Anderson Coats, author of the upcoming YA novel, The Wicked and the Just,  9780547688374, coming April 17, 2012, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for ages 12 and up.

Class of 2K12 website

J. Anderson Coats's website

Her blog

Synopsis (from Indiebound):  The year is 1293.  The setting:  Wales.

Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house.

Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl.

While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.

Oh, that sounds intriguing!  I'm lucky to have friends who live in Wales and I've visited them there.  Welsh history is fascinating.  

Jillian, welcome to My Brain on Books!  Do you outline before you write? If so, does it end up changing before you finish the first draft? What change surprised you the most?

For W/J I didn’t outline; I really didn’t have to.  I had a skeleton of historical events to follow and a series of conditions to impose that just required some research to dust off and spit-shine.  All that remained was creating some characters and populating the world.  All the stuff in W/J – the corruption and unfair laws and extortion – all of it was real, and I just gave it voice.

Tell us a little about getting your agent. How many queries did you send out? How long did it take before you got an offer of representation?

I queried four different books over ten years before I sold W/J.  The Erin Murphy Literary Agency was always at the top of my list, but they don’t take unsolicited queries.  I queried like crazy all around them – I have something like two shoeboxes filled with rejections - and I came close to getting an offer of representation a number of times, but I always kept one eye on EMLA’s requirements for any change.

So when I got the chance to query Joan Paquette, I leaped on it.  What followed was a sort of courtship over nine months where she kept on asking for revisions and I kept making them, preparing for the eventual “no.”  But that “no” never came, and the ink wasn’t quite dry on my agency contract when W/J sold to Harcourt.  It was something like ten days between being unagented and my first sale.

Wow!  That's fantastic. Congratulations!  And I must say I really admire you for sticking with it for ten years and never giving up.  

So tell us, how much of your main character is really you in disguise?

Very little, actually.  I’m not nearly as bold as either of my protagonists.  I don’t have Cecily’s overwhelming hubris (although it was fun to write) and I don’t have Gwenhwyfar’s singleminded ferocity.  I can only dream of having Gruffydd’s pragmatism, and I’m quite a bit brighter than Emmaline de Coucy.  But even my secondary characters share parts of me, because human beings are complicated creatures and we go through phases and have experiences that shape us.  It’s those feelings we draw on when we create characters, not necessarily the traits themselves.

Tell us what darling you had to kill that you really really wish you could have kept.

Definitely the kids next door.  Cecily’s neighbors originally had a slew of kids that made her life hell, but I had to cut them (and a lot of other small details of medieval urban life) because they didn’t advance the plot.  Oh, and Cecily’s kitchen disaster.  That one’s going to get recreated sometime in the future.

Jillian, thanks so much for joining us, today!  I'm looking forward to reading The Wicked and the Just.  Readers, what do you think of Jillian's amazing journey to get her agent?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Out of Print -- Out of Mind?? A special MMGM post

Have you ever forgotten a really good book?  One that's out of print now?  And then suddenly you come across it, maybe in a library, or a used bookstore, or even (in my case) on your own very crowded bookshelves, and you say, OH!  That book!

That was my reaction when weeding out my bookcases recently to try to squeeze in more acquisitions, and my eyes lit upon this:

The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh (first published in the UK in 1993; US edition published by Harper, 1996, for ages 8 to 12).  First in a sequence of five books which includes:

(And if these titles remind you of The Borrowers, you're close!)

I nearly cried when I learned these books were going out of print, soon after I started working at the bookstore ten years ago.  I purchased all of them in paperback, read them several times and put them away on a shelf.

Who are the Mennyms?  They're a family of life-size dolls created by a lonely British woman, and when she dies... they come to life.  But they still have button eyes (take that, Neil Gaiman!) and they look, well, like dolls.  Soobie, the teenaged son, is blue.  The rest are more realistic, but they're still dolls, so they must stay close to home and not go out unless wrapped up in enough clothing to disguise themselves. They never age, they don't eat or drink, but they can communicate with the rest of the world by telephone or by writing letters (keep in mind, these books were written before computers and cell phones).  They're even clever enough to earn a living (Vinetta sews dresses, for instance, and Granpa, also known as Sir Magnus, writes articles for the Times).  

But trouble arrives in the form of a letter from their new landlord, who lives in Australia, and who has decided to pay a visit...

Wish I could tell you to go out and buy these books, but they're all out of print.  You know by now that I don't own an e-reader (and I'll resist as long as possible), but I can see that these are great candidates for e-books, if only to keep them from disappearing forever.

What out of print treasures do you wish would come back into print?

MMGM is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger.  For other MMGM bloggers, see my new list in the sidebar on the right!  If you don't see your own blog in there, let me know.  I'll update as needed. 

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For the next week and a half, I'll be taking a blogging break to spend some time with my family, but I'll be back on Friday April 13 with a Class of 2K12 interview with J. Anderson Coats, author of THE WICKED AND THE JUST, and on Monday, April 16, I have a special MMGM guest post from Class of 2K12 author Sarvenaz Tash, author of THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST.  See you then!