Monday, July 30, 2012

On vacation!

I'm away for two weeks, searching for some cooler weather.  Hoping to enjoy some of this:

Photo credit

And maybe we'll see one of these:

Photo credit

Points to anyone who guesses the significance of this photo:

My own photo from 2010

See you in a few weeks!  Oh, and today is seven years exactly from the day I survived a ruptured brain aneurysm. Here's to good health for all of us.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Yes! I signed up for WRiTE CLUB!

I did it.  I just signed up for WRiTE CLUB, DL Hammons' epic head-to-head writing contest.  (Thanks, Christine Danek, for the nudge).  This might be just what I need to get me out of the doldrums.

What is WRiTE CLUB?  Go to DL's website for details.  In essence,  all you have to do is write a 500 word sample and submit it, under an alias of your choosing.  It's completely anonymous.  No one knows who wrote each sample.  Everyone votes on the two each week, and the winner of each round moves on.  So if you win your round, you can keep going!  If you lose, no one has to know.

Come on.  Do it.  Get over your fear!

Monday, July 23, 2012

What Came From the Stars by Gary Schmidt

Today, I want to talk about loss and grief. Those who know me personally may know why I'm in this kind of mood.  I've learned it's possible to grieve for a place almost as much as for a person. I'll go into more detail in a future blog post but it occurred to me that the book I planned to discuss today deals with both kinds of loss and does so beautifully.

What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt (coming September 4, 2012 from Clarion Books, for ages 10 to 14)

Synopsis (my own this time!): In a faraway world under siege, Young Waeglim forges a chain, holding all the art and beauty of his world. He flings it into space and the chain hurtles all the way across the universe and falls into the lunch box of Tommy Pepper, sixth-grader, of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

And then everything begins to change. Wearing the chain, Tommy can suddenly speak an odd language that his teacher and classmates don't understand. He can draw pictures that move. He can catch the football every time James Sullivan yells, "Go long!"

Grieving for his dead mother, Tommy is barely holding it together. But he's trying to be strong for his father, who has given up painting, and for his little sister, who has stopped talking. Then the local real estate developer announces plans to put condos on their beach. Tommy and his father know it will ruin everything, but they're powerless to stop it.

When a dark lord from the faraway world arrives in Plymouth and takes over as their teacher, Tommy is the only one who realizes it. Somehow, he has to convince his classmates to help him fight back before everything is destroyed.

Why I liked it: For the first time, Gary Schmidt (Newbery honor winner for both Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and The Wednesday Wars) has written a fantasy. And what a touching and gorgeous fantasy it is!  I truly admire the voice of this novel. It's a haunting voice of grief and loss, yet with a marvelous sense of hope too. I'm also impressed by the strong sense of place. Even if you've never been in Plymouth, you'd be able to picture it.

The Mayflower replica, Plymouth Rock, the beach, the cemetery, it's all described perfectly. The town becomes a character in itself.

But perhaps the best part is the way Tommy and his friends, James, Alice, and Patrick, band together to fight the Dark Lord. It's not Harry Potter, but you'll cheer all the same.

For other MMGM love, see the links in my sidebar (and if you're not there, and you believe you should be, let me know).

Do you have a favorite MG book that deals with grief and loss? 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Class of 2K12 -- Meet Gina Rosati, author of AURACLE!

Auracle by Gina Rosati, coming August 7, 2012 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, for ages 12 and up

Trapped outside her body, Anna sees and hears but cannot touch the one she longs to hold. Anna has a secret: she can astrally project out of her body. But when there's an accident and her classmate Taylor gets into Anna's body, what was an exhilarating gift threatens to become a terrifying reality. Anna and her best friend Rei form a plan to set things right, but they don't anticipate the feelings that are beginning to grow between them. Auracle by Gina Rosati is an exciting, sensual novel that explores the relationship between body and soul and the power of a single touch.

Meet Gina Rosati! As soon as she could ride a bicycle, she’d visit her local public library and check out as many books as she could fit in her bike basket. When she was 15, Gina got her first ‘real’ job in the Newton Free Library shelving books.  Leaving the library for a job as a supermarket cashier was a huge mistake … not only did she have the misfortune to be working the night three guys showed up with panty hose masks and sawed-off shotguns to rob the store, but Gina became trapped in the food industry. After many years of scooping ice cream, decorating cakes and assorted secretarial drudgery which included fetching coffee for a boss who called her his “Tomato”, she finally escaped.  Now Gina happily writes and volunteers at her local middle school library in southern New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband and two teenagers. Auracle is her first novel.

Gina's website
Her blog
Gina's facebook page 

Hi, Gina and welcome to My Brain on Books!  Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Did the idea for Auracle spring from your own childhood or from some other source? And did you start with a character or with an image or phrase or setting?  The idea of a novel using the concept of astral projection sprang from several dozen episodes of what I assume was sleep paralysis that I experienced from my late teens to my late twenties. If you’ve never experienced sleep paralysis yourself, it’s scary and bizarre and you can read more about it here. For the longest time, I was never sure exactly what was wrong with me, but I eventually read a book by psychic Sylvia Browne who described exactly what I was going through, right down to the deafening buzz I always heard. Her explanation was that I was having an out-of-body experience and waking up while my spirit was half in/half out of my body. I never say never, but since I was under a considerable amount of stress when it all began, I thought that might have something to do with it. The writer in me was intrigued by the idea of astral projection, though, and since I started writing Auracle, I’ve bought books about astral projection and tried, oh, how I’ve tried to get out of this body, but I can’t do it. Whether I ever did during those ten long years of bizarre dreams, I don’t know. I know people who say they’ve traveled astrally, and I do not doubt them, but I still think what I had was plain old sleep paralysis brought on stress. I started writing with only a “what if” … what if you could astrally project and witnessed a death? A murder? And what if you couldn’t get back into your body … yes, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it.

       Do you outline before you write? I did not outline Auracle. I pantsed my way through the entire thing, and I ended up rewriting about 95% of it before it reached its final draft. In the future, I will outline, especially since I’ve read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (Writers Digest Books, 2011). I’ve read dozens of excellent books about the art and craft of writing, and this one has been the biggest help to me. It breaks down what Larry Brooks calls the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing (concept, character, theme, story structure, scene execution, writing, voice) and explains them in plain English. It’s the best investment I’ve made to improve my writing.

Wow, that’s great advice, Gina!  So…Coffee, tea or hot chocolate when writing? Vanilla Diet Pepsi.  Ah. And where do you write? Briefly describe your writing space.  Since no one has eaten a meal in our dining room for over ten years, I claimed it as my office. My laptop sits on an oval table that’s a hand-me-down from my husband’s Auntie Ethel, and I share my ‘office’ with assorted clutter, my fairy collection and an Abercrombie bag I named Inspiration. 

      Nice! Tell us what darling you had to kill that you really wish you could have kept. My editor (Katherine Jacobs from Roaring Brook/Macmillan) didn’t force any changes on me. She had good reasons for the changes she suggested, and there were several instances where Kate made a suggestion, I explained why I felt we needed that particular character, scene or element, and she was happy to leave it in. She always reminds me that it’s my book and my decision, which is one of the reasons I love her so. A tremendous amount of teamwork went into the making of Auracle, from my agent, Andrea Somberg, to the entire team at Roaring Brook/Macmillan. 

      Auracle is a paranormal romance, but there were originally some strong urban fantasy elements woven through. My idea was that every living thing has a life force and its energy manifests in certain ways, so the energy from a flower would manifest as a fairy, while the energy from seaweed would manifest as a mermaid. Clever, huh. The life force of the willow tree in Auracle manifested as a talking tree spirit that Anna could communicate with, and he served as a mentor, answering the many questions about the spirit dimension that Anna had. After some discussion, I agreed with Kate that it was too convenient to have this tree explaining things to Anna that she should be discovering on her own, and that the urban fantasy element diluted the paranormal romance factor, so the talking tree was cut (of course a pun was intended there … I couldn’t resist!) Here’s why it hurt … I loved the idea of a talking willow tree so much that I had a cool Celtic tree tattooed to my wrist.
    Taking the concept of author branding to a whole new level!

      The good news is there is still a very significant willow tree in Auracle … it just doesn’t talk.

      Thank you for having me on My Brain on Books!!
      Thanks so much for visiting, today, Gina!  Readers, doesn't this sound like a fantastic book?

Monday, July 16, 2012

JUMP INTO THE SKY for a marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

Jump Into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall (Knopf,  August 14, 2012, for ages 10 and up)

Source: advanced reader's copy from publisher

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Levi Battle's been left behind all his life. His mother could sing like a bird and she flew away like one, too. His father left him with his grandmother so he could work as a traveling salesman—until Levi's grandmother left this world entirely. Now Levi's staying with his Aunt Odella while his father is serving in the U.S. Army. But it's 1945, and the war is nearly over, and Aunt Odella decides it's time for Levi to do some leaving of his own. Before he can blink, Levi finds himself on a train from Chicago to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where his father is currently stationed—last they knew.

So begins an eye-opening, life-changing journey for Levi. First lesson: there are different rules for African Americans in the South than there are in Chicago. And breaking them can have serious consequences. But with the help of some kind strangers, and despite the hindrances of some unkind ones, Levi makes his way across the United States—searching for his father and finding out about himself, his country, and what it truly means to belong.

Why I liked it:  This is historical fiction at its finest. Told in a realistic 13-year-old boy's voice, Pearsall's moving and at times humorous novel isn't afraid to tackle tough topics like discrimination and abandonment.  You'll also learn about a little-known aspect of World War II: the black paratroopers of the 555th battalion. The characters are wonderful, from Levi to Aunt Odella, to Cal and Peaches, the Fayetteville couple who give Levi a temporary home, to the mysterious old Maw Maw Sands, who seems to know everything, and finally to Levi's father himself, the almost legendary Charlie Battle. 

As you read, you'll feel you are right there, in 1945. The scene in the grocer's in Fayetteville is etched in my memory, and I read this book more than two months ago.  Levi's just gotten off the train from Chicago.  He's hot and thirsty and he sees a Coca-Cola sign in the grocer's window.  But when he enters the shop and puts his money down on the counter, the grocer hands him a dusty grape soda instead and points a gun in Levi's face.  It's Levi's first experience with a white man in the South. And it's dramatic and intense.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if this novel wins a Newbery honor in January.

For more MMGM recommendations, please visit the blogs in my sidebar to the right.  And if you're not in my sidebar, and should be, please let me know! 

Please remember to stop by Literary Rambles today for Natalie Aguirre's interview with Lenny Lee and a giveaway!

Monday, July 9, 2012

I'm back with a Marvelous MG Monday: CHAINS and FORGE... and writing advice from Laurie Halse Anderson!

I'm back! Did you miss me?  Okay, show of hands, how many people didn't even realize I was gone?? 

Yes, I'm back from Revision Beach (sorry, I hate caves!) and I managed to finish Draft 5 of the MG novel that I've been working on for three years. Woo hoo!! So I'm here, at least for a few weeks.  I've really missed keeping up with all your wonderful blogs, but I stayed away for a reason. My hero, Laurie Halse Anderson taught us something during a workshop at the Eastern PA SCBWI Poconos retreat in April.  It was her "magic formula" for writing success.

And I'm going to share it with you, because I feel selfish keeping it a secret.  Are you ready?

For every 10 hours you spend writing, you may spend 5 hours reading and ONE HOUR on the internet OR watching TV.  That's right.  One hour.  I can hear the groans now, but that, my friends, is how Laurie Halse Anderson got where she is. 

And to prove that she does have a sense of humor and isn't just a harsh taskmaster, this is how Laurie signed my copy of FORGE:

Now, on to today's double MMGM:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Seeds of America, Book One, paperback published January 2010 by Atheneum, for ages 10 and up)

Source: paperback purchased from the bookstore where I work!

Synopsis (from Indiebound):  If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

Why I liked it: Isabel is such a smart, strong character and so full of life and humor and love for her sister that you just can't help admiring her. You also can't help being incensed by her lack of freedom and the atrocities that she and the other slaves had to endure (which is why this isn't appropriate for younger readers). I learned an incredible amount about the Revolutionary War through the eyes of a young slave.  How many of you knew that landowners in Rhode Island had slaves, just as those southern plantation owners did?

The story continues in Forge, but this time it's from Curzon's point of view.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Seeds of America, Book Two, paperback published April 2012 by Atheneum, for ages 10 and up)

Source: hardcover purchased at the SCBWI Poconos Event (thanks to bookseller Lucy!)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Blistering winds. Bitter cold. And the hope of a new future. In this compelling sequel to Chains, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson shifts perspective from Isabel to Curzon and brings to the page the tale of what it takes for runaway slaves to forge their own paths in a world of obstacles—and in the midst of the American Revolution.

The Patriot Army was shaped and strengthened by the desperate circumstances of the Valley Forge winter. This is where Curzon the boy becomes Curzon the young man. In addition to the hardships of soldiering, he lives with the fear of discovery, for he is an escaped slave passing for free. And then there is Isabel, who is also at Valley Forge—against her will. She and Curzon have to sort out the tangled threads of their friendship while figuring out what stands between the two of them and true freedom.

Why I liked it:  I loved seeing things from Curzon's perspective after we'd gotten to know him slightly in Chains.  And since I live in Pennsylvania, not far from Valley Forge, I was fascinated by the details about that long winter encampment.  This is actually a great read for a hot summer day, because you'll feel half frozen along with Curzon and his fellow soldiers.  There are moments in this book that make you gasp, and moments that make you cheer.

I'm looking forward to the third book in the trilogy, Ashes.  But there isn't even a publication date yet.  Laurie told us she has to finish her current YA novel, then she'll write Ashes.  So it might be Fall 2013 or even later.  Sigh.

For other MMGM participants, please see my sidebar!