From the Journal of Susan Vaught (Who is Not Afraid of Walruses), Plus a GIVEAWAY!!!!

I asked my friend Gisele to interview me for this article, so I could be like my main character, Footer Davis. Gisele rolled her eyes a lot, but in the end, she surrendered. I knew she would.

Why am I interviewing you?
Because interviews are fun. And because my latest book has a lot of interviews in it.

I’m only doing this for brownies. You know that, right?
Yes, I know.

Brownies and cake.
Got it.

What do you do for a living?
By day, I’m a neuropsychologist who works in a haunted monolith I call the Old Asylum. By evening and night and wee hours of the morning, I make up worlds and people and all manner of chaos. I try to paint with words. I live and write in that strange hinterland between psychology and creativity, between seeing patterns and laboring to describe them.

Did being a psychologist help you write your latest book?
Sometimes my two lives intersect, and my stories include characters who have mental health issues. That’s definitely the case in Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy, coming in March, 2015 from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books. Footer’s mom struggles with Bipolar Disorder, and Footer lives with the fear that she’ll wind up battling the same illness. That doesn’t stop her from exploring a big mystery, trying to save some missing kids, and working on her upcoming career as a journalist. She’s decided she can’t be an artist since she can’t draw–not that lack of talent stops her from illustrating her own story, especially when she wants to annoy a stodgy teacher, show somebody what snake guts look like, or explain her walrus phobia. Some things, like mutant alien rock monsters and mysterious sneakers, just work better in pictures.

Alien mutant rock monster, drawn by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, not me, because I can’t even draw stick figures.

Alien mutant rock monster, drawn by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, not me, because I can’t even draw stick figures.

 

I was able to ask Jennifer Black Reinhardt, the book’s illustrator, a few questions, so, bonus!

Me:     What does it feel like to be able to draw something other than a stick figure? Because I’m way envious. Even my stick figures stink.
Jennifer:     I’m not sure if I’ve always loved to draw because I was good at it? Or, if I got good at it because I loved to draw? I think it might be the latter. I can remember being very little and having an idea and being absolutely consumed with hurrying to finish my bath so I could go draw. I would spend hours drawing different noses on a person in profile and was mesmerized by how just that one line could transform a darling little girl into an evil witch. But I did have that love and passion for it at a very early age.
Me:        Envy       

Me:           I panicked when I heard they were getting a real artist to draw Footer’s sketches, because like me, Footer can’t really draw! You did such an awesome job of making wonderful pictures that weren’t perfect–and yet were, in every way. How hard was it to draw like Footer?
Jennifer:     I did have to think about how to do them, but it was really fun! Are you sure Footer can’t draw? Because the fact that she liked to document some rather odd/difficult things with her drawings seemed to indicate to me that she thought she could succeed? I looked through some of my daughter’s old sketchbooks from about that time to get a feel for what Footer might do. I thought Footer would spend some time on them. So, I didn’t want to make them as quick as single line. I kind of wanted Footer to think she did a good job.
Me:         love  

Me:     What are you working on now? Where else will readers be able to see your masterpieces?
Jennifer:     This very moment I’m doing sketches for “Yaks Yak” a word play picture book by Linda Sue Park published by Clarion. And right before that I finished final art for a book by Suzanne Slade, published by Charlesbridge  about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. So I’ve gone from non-fiction inventors, to a possibly crazy Footer Davis, to definitely wacky animals! I love being an illustrator!
Me:     You are awesome. Thank you for bringing Footer’s pictures to life. (And, get this, Gisele, she didn’t even charge me brownies for the interview…)

 

Now back to our regularly scheduled questions.

Are you afraid of walruses?
No. That’s Footer.

Suuuuure it is.
Really. I’m not afraid of walruses.

I want oatmeal raisin cookies, too.
FINE.

Have you ever written a middle grade book before?
Footer’s tale is my first published middle grade story, after years of writing for adults and young adults. Writing middle grade fiction is something I’ve always wanted to do . . . well, that and picture books, but the whole picture book thing—yeah. Still working on that (see above re: stick figures). Despite my issues with drawing anything other than ugly blobs, I started this story by sketching a really awful doodlebug, and labeling its parts and looking up its scientific classification. Footer Davis CvrFooter researches doodlebugs as part of a paper where she’s supposed to explore the origins of her town, Bugtussle. Bugtussle got its name from its surplus of doodlebugs, and Footer thinks that’s pretty freaky, but not as freaky as her mom shooting a snake off the pond in their backyard with her dad’s elephant gun. That’s how Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy begins, and it’s how my third grade summer began, too. My mom really did that. I don’t think the elephant gun left any permanent scars on Mom’s shoulder, but it definitely left its mark on the snake. The snake Mom shot was a copperhead, just like the one Footer’s mom removes from the land of the living. The snake ended up on the book’s wonderful cover. I really love the cover, and all the  little bits of Footer’s story tucked into it.

So, how did you get “the call” about this book?
This book sold at auction, so I got several calls from Erin Murphy across the day. When she told me Footer had a home with Sylvie Frank at Simon and Schuster, I was thrilled.

Does your new editor know you’re scared of walruses?
I AM NOT SCARED OF WALRUSES! Besides, Sylvie is completely wonderful and she wouldn’t care.

When you’re not writing or working at the Old Asylum, what do you do with your time?
I spend time with my family, including my adorable new grandson Anthony. I also spend time with my pets–too many dogs, a few cats, some chickens, a peacock, and a parrot.

No walruses, eh? I rest my case. Are the brownies ready yet?
Time to end the interview…

 

Thanks so much, Susan!! Susan is giving away THREE copies of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy, leave a comment and be entered to win!

You can also purchase Susan’s book here:

The Flying Pig Bookstore

Indie Bound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

 

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Filed under Illustrators, Introduction, The Call

From the Files of FOOTER DAVIS (and Friends)

Susan Vaught’s disarming, delightful, devourable middle-grade debut features a trio of young people who are truly worth spending time with. Luckily, in FOOTER DAVIS MIGHT BE PROBABLY IS CRAZY, we get a chance to know these wonderful characters intimately, as Susan lets us peek inside their journals. We get to read Footer’s school papers, complete with doodles, tangential thinking, and teacher commentary. We watch over her shoulder as she lists and crosses out information that’s key to her uncovering the truth about the fire. We keep track of Peavine’s detective journal, where he faithfully records all suspect interviews and makes his personal observations in the form of stage directions. We even get glimpses into Angel’s astronaut journal, when she puts her oar into the investigation.

Susan so deftly uses these devices to draw us ever deeper into the world of Bugtussle that it got us thinking: What other books do we love that make use of characters’ journals and notebooks as central elements of the stories?

From the nifty notebook of Penny Parker Klostermann:

I loved THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson. The main character, Lennie, writes poems on scraps of paper, lollipop wrappers, to-go cups, etc. The poems are interwoven in the story to give readers a glimpse of Lennie’s emotional journey as she deals with the untimely death of her sister. The inclusion of the poetry is powerful and moving.

In EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN by Lindsey Lane, main character, Tommy, disappears. We learn about Tommy from other characters that answer the sheriff’s questions and speculate about his disappearance. But Lane also includes excerpts from Tommy’s journal which add to the mystery of his disappearance.

From the dangerous diary of Mylisa Larsen:

One of my favorite uses of a notebook in a book is Vida’s (“My public calls me Velveeta.”) letters to Calvin in Bluefish.  You’ll have a couple chapters of narration and then you’ll read one of Velveeta’s letters and getting to see what happens to Vida from the outside (narration) and the inside (the letters) is fascinating.

From the marvelous missives of Megan Morrison:

Right now, I’m rereading MONSTER, by Walter Dean Myers – a powerful book about a young, black male who is on trial for murder. The protagonist, Steve Harmon, deals with the surreality of his situation by setting down every word and action of the experience as if it’s happening in a film. The book flips between the courtroom scenes, which are formatted exactly like a screenplay, and Steve’s personal journal, scrawled in his messy handwriting. The journal is where Steve becomes vulnerable and emotional, processing the horror of his situation on a more personal level. The journal is where he deals with the fact that, after court is finished each day, he has to face the realities of jail, where he might well be stuck forever.

From the fabulous files of Maria Gianferrari:

One of the most ingenious ways I’ve seen visuals incorporated into a story, literally, is in Jennifer L. Holm’s Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff. As the subtitle suggests, newspaper clippings, to-do lists, report cards, post-it notes, school assignments, even police blotters about garden gnomes and wheelchairs gone missing (thanks to Ginny’s older juvenile delinquent brother) are woven into the fabric of the story.

I also love the way Abigail, the protagonist in Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s Always, Abigail narrates the story through a variety of letters, both sent, and un-sent as well as her favorite to-do lists. Cavanaugh also does a similar thing to great effect in This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, where homeschooled Ratchet tells the story in journal form where she writes poems and completes her school assignments, making it an emotionally engaging and fast-paced read.

From the authorial archives of Laurie Ann Thompson:

The first one that comes to mind for me would have to be the delightful Ellie McDoodle series, starting with Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel, by Ruth McNally Barshaw. Here’s a bit of that first book’s description:
Twelve-year-old Ellie McDougal, aka McDoodle, is a prisoner. Sentenced to a week-long camping trip with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, she is determined to hate every single minute of the experience. Thank goodness she at least has her sketch journal, in which she records all the excruciating details. Mosquito bites and trips to the Fred Moose Museum she can handle, but how will she keep her journal from falling into Er-ick the Enemy’s hands? And what will happen if-gasp-she actually starts having fun? Part graphic novel, part confessional journal, part wilderness survival guide, Ellie’s story is a treat for young campers, vacationers, or any kid looking for a great summer read.
I loved it, my sketchpad toting kid loved it, and everyone who has met Ruth can’t help but love her, too, so this one will always have a special place in my heart.

 

And finally, from the lyrical letters of Tamara Ellis Smith:

I second Ellie McDoodle!

And we all second, third, and fourth FOOTER DAVIS!

Footer Davis CvrWelcome, FOOTER, to the ranks of these unforgettable books.

 

Don’t forget, to enter the drawing for a free copy of FOOTER DAVIS MIGHT BE PROBABLY IS CRAZY, please comment on any post this week! 

You can also buy your own copy of Footer Davis at The Flying Pig BookstoreIndie BoundBarnes & Noble, or Amazon!

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Book Promotion, Celebrations

Our Favorite Detectives Plus a GIVEAWAY of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught!!!

In Susan Vaught’s funny and touching middle grade novel, Footer Davis Might Be Probably is Crazy, set in Bugtussle, Mississippi, main character and budding journalist Footer investigates the murder of a farmer and the disappearance of his two grandchildren in a barn fire, along with her best friend and detective-in-training, Peavine. To celebrate this book, and Peavine’s clever investigative notebooks, I asked my fellow Emu’s Debuts about their favorite detectives from literature, film and TV.

 

Footer Davis Cvr

 

Let’s start with Peavine’s favorite detective: McCloud, from the 1970s TV series. It’s never mentioned directly in the story, but Peavine admires McCloud because “… [he’s a] polite, witty, straightforward, fairly by-the-books Marshal who ‘got his man’ through dogged determination and good, solid detective work. Peavine’s strategy is honesty and thoroughness, covering all of his bases, leaving NOTHING out–even maybe when he should. He disarms people he’s interviewing with gentle honesty and kindness. Plus, McCloud was southern, so points for that!

 

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Who’s Susan’s number one detective: Columbo, “the rumpled, brilliant guy everyone dismisses (as he’s totally solving the crime in the background).

 

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Carole Gerber likes Sherlock Holmes: “… not THE Sherlock Holmes, but the S.H. character on the TV show ‘Elementary,’ played by British actor Jonny Lee Miller. Miller’s character is incredibly observant; in every episode he notices things other detectives miss. He uses his nose as well as his eyes, often literally sniffing out clues. He is wildly eccentric, highly intelligent, heavily tattooed, and slightly Asperger-ish. Did I mention he is a former drug addict? I am horrified by drug addiction but Sherlock’s medical history figures heavily into ongoing plots and adds depth to his character.”

 

And Tamara Ellis Smith’s choice detective is a variation on Sherlock, none other than muppet detective, Sherlock Hemlock, “Egad!

 

sherlockhemlock

 

Mylisa Larsen’s pet detective “will work for cheeseburgers”: top Dog J.J. Tully, from The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin, “whose voice is pitch perfect dog noir and always has me in stitches.”

 

jjtully

For Laurie Thompson, it’s duo Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown and Sally Kimball, “One of my favorite series when I was a young reader was Encyclopedia Brown. Wikipedia tells me there are 29 books in the series, but I must have read them all multiple times because it feels like I’ve read at least a hundred. I loved everything about those books: that Leroy solves the cases his police chief father can’t, that he goes into business with his skills (’25 cents per day, plus expenses – No case too small.’), and that the bully Bugs Meany usually gets his due. Of course, I especially loved it when Leroy’s friend Sally solved the cases. Girls can be smart, too!”

220px-Encyclopedia_Brown,_Boy_Detective_(1963)

 

Megan Morrison applauds Veronica Mars: “… because of her bravery, her smarts, and above all, her willingness to stand up for herself even when she’s the only one on her side. I like that her trusty pitbull is named Backup. I like that her greatest weapon is her zoom lens (OK, and a stun gun). I like that she has a great relationship with her dad, and that she takes care of him as much as he takes care of her. In the first season of the show, the shaming and bullying that she endures at her high school can be difficult to watch, but it’s a scenario that’s unfortunately all too real for too many girls. It’s both grueling and satisfying to see Veronica fight her way through it to the end, solving the mysteries in her sinister town with guts, intelligence, and a delightfully, viciously snarky sense of humor.”

 

581px-Kristen_Bell_as_Veronica_Mars_2

 

Rebecca van Slyke is obsessed with Monk, played by Tony Shalhoub, “He’s SO painfully OCD (Or is that CDO, where the letters are in alphabetical order like they SHOULD be?), and yet he always manages to overcome it just enough to solve the case.”       95px-Tony_Shalhoub

 

stranahan

Kevan Atteberry admires Carl Hiaasen’s reluctant private detective, Mick Stranahan: “Mick lives on an island in a bay on the Florida coast owned by a Mexican novelist. He is a ‘retired’ investigator for the Florida State Attorney’s office. He’s been married a half dozen times and has given up on any future relationships. Yet he gets dragged into solving murders and other crimes by insistent and beautiful women who have penchant for the kind of street dog Mick is. On perhaps a more respectable note, there always seems to be an environmental issue threatening the Everglades or other parts of the Florida wilderness or a particular species of animal. Mick loves his state and everything natural about it. He shuns civilization but keeps getting dragged back into it despite being retired. He lives (or tries to) a life of nonchalance and insouciance. His acerbic wit and disdain for the rest of civilization is both questionable and hilarious.”

 

Can we pretend that a private investigator is the same as detective?” asks Donna Bowman Bratton, “If so, my fave is Magnum P.I. Because, hubba, hubba!”      

     62px-Tom_Selleck_Kahala_Hilton

For Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, fictional sleuth Nancy Drew best fits the bill: “I’ve been a sucker for a good detective story since I was a kid, so it’s hard for me to pick favorites here. But I’m going to have to go with Nancy Drew. Smart, capable, clever, diplomatic, a good friend, compassionate . . . I devoured Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid, and I love re-reading them today.”

 

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Adam Shaughnessy ponders, “Favorite detective? This is a writing blog, so I’m trying to resist the urge to answer, ‘Shawn Spencer, from Psych, because I am a fan of delicious flavor.’ That’s not very literary. Unless they’ve done novelized adaptations of Psych? Is that a thing? That might be a thing. Still, I should probably pick a character that wasn’t a television character first. Got it! Dirk Gently, from Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Hysterical! Hmm. Clearly, the criteria by which I measure a detective’s worth is humor… that might prove problematic if I ever need to hire one.”

 

Who’s Janet Fox’s favorite detective? “Hercule Poirot” created by mystery writer extraordinaire, Agatha Christie: “I love his mustache. Seriously, I love his whole ‘French’ approach – so debonaire and continental, yet clever.”

Logo_Hercule_Poirot

 

Christy Lenzi says, “My favorite detective is Phryne Fisher, from the novels by Kerry Greenwood and I absolutely LOVE the TV show about her called ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’! Phryne is a clever, independent, and independently-minded woman living in Melbourne, Australia in the late 1920s who solves all sorts of crimes with pizzazz and a little sass. Not only does she glide uninvited onto bloody, dirty crime scenes in an elegant white pantsuit, fur, and white gloves, she can fly a plane and drives her own car. My kind of gal.”

 

trixie-horses

As a girl, Christine Hayes gobbled up the adventures of Trixie Belden: “I would haunt the library trying to get my hands on every book in the series. She was spunky and smart and down-to-earth, but she had rich friends so she could do cool stuff. And she rode horses! And solved crimes! Even back then I think I knew the books were pretty dated, but I didn’t care. Many years later, thanks to ebay and used bookstores, I eventually collected the whole set for my very own. Jeepers!

 

For Penny Parker Klostermann it’s none other than Peter Seller’s as clueless Inspector Jacques Clouseau for his “quirky ineptness.”

 

Sellers_pinkpanther7

 

I’m also a fan of clumsy Inspector Clouseau. One of the most hilarious scenes occurs in the hotel when he asks the German hotel manager “Does your dog bite?” When the man answers no, and Clousseau tries to pet the dog, it attacks his glove. Clouseau shocklingly says, “I thought you said your dog does not bite,” and the man replies “that is not my dog.”  (Becca doesn’t bite– feel free to pet her).

 

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I have a few other favorites: I absolutely love Emerson Cod, sardonically witty private investigator and closet knitter, played by Chi McBride, in Pushing Daisies. Cod teams up with Ned the pie-maker, who   can raise the dead (but only for 60 seconds), to solve murders. Cod even pens his own pop-up book, Lil’ Gumshoe, to reunite with the daughter whom he hasn’t seen in seven years.

 

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Like Susan, I’m also a huge fan of Columbo, played with disheveled finesse by Peter Falk, and its undertones of class warfare. This seemingly clueless and unsophisticated blue-collar guy captures the rich and famous.

 

And finally, since she has southern charm, like Susan’s book, I’d be remiss without including Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, who upends her suspects (and colleagues) with politeness, “Thank you so much,” in The

 

Closer, artfully played by Kyra Sedgwick.    109px-KyraSedgwickJune09

 

So thank you so much for joining us on Emu’s Debuts! Is it elementary, or a little more mysterious? Who’s your favorite detective? Please  leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Footer Davis  Might Be Probably Is Crazy!! Susan is giving away THREE copies, so be sure to enter!

 

Footer Davis Cvr

You can also buy your own copy of Footer Davis here:

 

The Flying Pig Bookstore

Indie Bound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

 

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Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July 2015, with a second Penny & Jelly book to follow in Spring 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press,  Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website: mariagianferrari.com, or visit Maria at Facebook.

Photos of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let the launch party (and book giveaway) begin. FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY is here.

This week it’s our great pleasure to introduce you to Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy. It’s funny, it’s got heart and it has characters that feel so real that if I met them at the grocery store, I’d just think, “Huh, there’s Footer and Peavine” and wave. To introduce this fabulous book, we have an interview with author Susan Vaught.

Footer Davis Cvr

One of the things that I loved about Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy is that there’s a strong visual component. In between the narration, we see copies of Footer’s homework, some of her drawings, interviews from her friend Peavine’s notebook, Footer’s lists, photos, emails, all kinds of stuff. All of which is really fun. Is this how you imagined the book from the start? Or is this something that developed as you went along?

Susan: This was how the book started! Before I had any other piece of the story, I made the drawing of the doodelbug and that homework sheet involving how Bugtussle–the town in the story–got its name. Footer’s voice came to me as I worked through that, a strong, funny girl who wanted to draw, loved to draw, really really STUNK at making art, but insisted on doing it anyway! After that, I just drew out or photographed or created any little bit of the story that Footer would want illustrated. Perhaps the funniest moment came when I decided to make a photo of the mysterious shoe in the woods, and I swiped my son’s tennis shoe for the picture. I can still remember his confused, worried voice following me out the door: “Mom, that’s my shoe. Hey, Mom, where are you taking my shoe? Have you lost your mind? Moooo-ooommm . . . !”

Hey, Mom?

Hey, Mom?

Was the title of this book always Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy? If not, whose idea was that very funny title? And who is responsible for this fabulous cover design?

Susan: I never get keep my original titles, so no. My lame initial title was, The Bugtussle Chronicles: Serial Killers Don’t Wear Plaid. I’ll have to give my brilliant editor, Sylvie Frank, credit for the very funny and much better version. The cover design belongs to John Hendrix. I loved it the moment I saw it!

Now, the book’s quirky inner art and sketches–the things Footer draws herself–were done by Jennifer Reinhardt, who was given the impossible task of drawing like an 11 year-old who can’t draw! :)

Something that I love about this book is the wholeness of the characters. Too often, when I’m reading a book that deals with difficult issues, I feel like the characters can become these cardboard cutouts, kind of role players who are just there so that the author can educate me on something they apparently feel I need to be educated about. It makes me a little cranky, because I suddenly start feeling like I’m reading a pamphlet in a doctor’s office instead of a story. And I signed up for a story.

Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy deals with all sorts of difficult things. It’s also hilarious. And the characters felt like real human beings to me. It’s life—funny, sad, happy, scary, everything all jumbled together and we’re watching the characters try to make sense of it. Since most of the people who read this blog are writers, I wonder if you could talk briefly about how you go about creating these kinds of characters.

Susan: The first component in the realness of my characters is that many of them carry some bit of my own experience, or the experiences of people I’ve worked with over decades of being a mental health professional. “Write what you know” rings true to me in this respect, that knowing many family members and other people who have bravely faced struggles and kept right on living beautiful lives, gives me many ideas, and lends a touch of reality to characters in my story. The second and even larger component of writing characters, for me, is voice. I have to have the voice of a particular character to move forward, and I tend to write in first person, which allows me the reality of that character, and how that character perceives his/her world. That has benefits and drawbacks, for sure, but for me, it allows the character to have a life of their own as I’m working through the writing.

Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught

We’ll be celebrating Footer Davis Might Be Probably Is Crazy all week on Emu’s Debuts. To enter the drawing to win a free copy, please comment on any post this week.

And if you can’t wait that long, treat yourself to your own copy right now at Square Books Jr., The Flying Pig Bookstore, Barnes and Noble or at your own favorite bookstore.

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Pretend These Bunnies are Emus

Because I am much more adept at drawing bunnies than emus, I’m going to ask you to imagine the bunnies below AS emus. It will just make more sense as I bid farewell from the active and move into the Emeriti.

emuFarewell

Thank you, thank you all my EMU pals! My active EMU status has expired but the past two years have been special and I will treasure them always. My launch week would have paled without you all and your celebratory levity. I look forward to your launches with joy and will laud each and every one of them. But for now I will be in the Emeriti Lounge.

You all are the very best.

kevan

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Sipping from the Mead of Poetry—But Not Really, Because That Stuff’s Gross

While researching my next book (which is due to mu editor far sooner than I’d like to admit), I came across this terrific passage in The Norse Myths, retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland and published by Pantheon Books, New York, in 1980:

What was his secret? It was as much in his manner as in his mine of understanding. Questions of fact he answered with simple facts. But to ask Kvasir for his opinion—What shall I say? What do you think? What shall I do?—did not always mean getting a direct answer. Sitting back in his ill-fitting clothes, as often as not with his eyes closed, he would listen to recitals of problems and sorrows with a kind, grave, blank face, He took in and set everything in a wider frame. He never intruded or insisted; rather, he suggested. Often enough he answered a question with another question. He made gods and men, giants and dwarfs feel that they had been helped to answer their own questions.

To give the passage some conext—it describes Kvasir, the sage, whose blood was used to make the mead of poetry (well before OSHA standards were enforced in the workplace).

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Odin, in eagle form, delivers the mead of poetry

The passage resonated with me on a number of levels. The educator in me responded to it because I think the words capture the habits that are exhibited by many of the best teachers I’ve known. But the writer in me responded to the passage, too. It caused me to reflect on one of the tasks I always find challenging when I’m pulling together a new work—figuring out how much information to give the reader, and when. I think this issue is particularly relevant when I’m writing a mystery (as I am right now). How many clues does the reader need? Am I being too obvious? Or am I being so vague that no one has any idea what I’m talking about? How do you strike a balance?

The more I think about these questions, the more I find myself going back to the fact that the quote struck a chord with both the educator and the writer in me. Maybe there’s not so much of a separation there, after all. I was always very sympathetic to constructivism, the educational theory that suggests people learn best when given the tools and experiences they need to construct their own understanding. In the end, isn’t that what we hope for as writers? That through our words we give readers the tools they need to construct an understanding of our story-worlds. What does the world look, sound, and smell like? What do the characters feel? I suppose one interpretation of the old “show don’t tell” adage is that it’s constructivism applied to writing.

Perhaps one way to think about how much information to give the reader, then, is to think about Kvasir’s hierarchy of information. Answer questions about facts with facts. After all, facts aren’t understanding. They’re the tools readers need to construct an understanding. So if there’s something the reader needs to know, don’t bury it too deep. But when it comes to the higher order level of thinking—understanding a character’s motivation, for example—be more cautious. Never intrude or insist; rather, suggest. And hope that in the end you give gods and people, giants and dwarfs the tools they need to make their own meaning of your story.

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The Art of Essential Living (and Writing)

My debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was sold on April 3, 2014. On that same day, I got a phone call from our social worker, asking if we would be interested in changing the age range of the child we were willing to adopt. We had been in the process of adopting a child for 3 years, and were approved up to the age of 24 months. She asked if we were interested in, let’s say, changing the upward end of the range to 28 months.

Translation of that question: There is a child that the adoption committee wants to match you with. He is slightly older than the age range you requested. If you change your age range you will be matched with your son.

Answer to that question: Yes. And yes and yes and also yes.

growingPlant1My book sold on the same day I found out about our son. Two excruciatingly long processes in the soil, sun and rain, and they flowered on exactly the same day.

Explain that. (Seriously. I’m collecting reasons, magical and logical, for why these two journeys are so intertwined.)

Or I will explain it. Or I will try, at least. But bear with me? I want to finally write a little about my son, who just came to live with us in December. I’ve been protective of his journey, not wanting to expose him too much in too public a way, but there is a part of it that I want to explore now. Here. With you all. And I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with writing. Maybe. We’ll see.

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In Honduras.

My son was born in Honduras and lived his three years there before we adopted him. He lived in the same town, with the same family. His life with his foster mother was secure and full of love. This is evident. He is fully himself wherever, thus far, he has been – in his home town; in Tegucigalpa, the capitol city of Honduras; on Roatan Island; on my parents’ farm in very rural Vermont; and now, in my town in Vermont, in our little village, in our house. In all of these places, in all of these landscapes, he is…who he is. Do you know what I mean? He’s got a solid sense of self. And he is very comfortable residing there. No need to defend himself, no need to hide himself.

I believe he is like this for two reasons: First, he came into the world this way. He must have. And second, his foster mother nurtured this in him – through her love and gift of security – during those critical early developmental years in his life. (The respect and awe I feel for her, this woman who took in my son with open arms, raised him, and then let him go with those same open arms…that is for another post another day.)

Because he has this innate sense of centeredness, he is very curious about and very comfortable finding the ways that he fits into the landscape of our family. And here is where maybe he and writing overlap? Or are woven together?

My son’s first three years were full of the routines and rhythms of household chores. I’m learning this about him. He loves to do the laundry with me, for example, and learned the order of button pushing to start the washing machine by the second time we did it together. He loves to cook too. He sits on the counter, his short legs kicking the wooden drawer underneath him, and he dumps the flour, cracks the eggs, and pours the milk. Stir is one of his first English words. He watched my other 3 kids come home from school for about 3 days before he began taking their lunch boxes out of their backpacks and bringing them to me – because he realized that was what they did, day after day, right after they piled through the door and spilled into the house.

This kid watches routines. He feels rhythms. And then he acts. He finds the places where he can fit himself into the beat, into the music, into the pauses and patterns – and then he inserts himself. The earnestness with which he pursues this breaks my heart wide open. He is so transparent. He is so clearly identifying and claiming his place in the family, and in this new life. But – or maybe and – at the same time, he is so clearly tapping into something that is familiar to him at his core.

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Trampolining in winter in negative digit temps. Welcome to Vermont, kid.

Rhythms and routines. This is how you write a book too, isn’t it? On a meta-level: make a routine for your writing. On a micro-level: find and follow the rhythms of your characters’ voices and of the story. But it’s deeper than that. And I don’t know if I can describe what I am feeling adequately here. (Maybe someone can give me insight after reading this?) There is an essential quality to my son’s life right now…as in, he is practically all essence. There is an authenticity that buzzes through and around him that’s palpable. Maybe this is because he is, in a way, being re-born right now. And that newborn time is all about essence and core and what-you-see-is-what-you-got, right? Most kids keep this for a while, some for a long while, so I am, by no means, suggesting that my son is unique in this…but I do think that, among the myriad of other reasons I am so lucky to be mothering this kid, I am privileged to be a part of this kind of essentialness in such an intimate way.

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Yup, he’s drinking it all in…

This – this essentialness – is what we strive for in our writing, isn’t it? The transparency and truthfulness of the human spirit that breaks open the hearts (and minds) of our readers? That inspires them – in even the smallest ways – to live fully inside of themselves?

I don’t know. I think so anyway. What I do know is that my son humbles me every single day.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

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Filed under Character Development, craft~writing, rhythms

What Would Garrison Griswold Do?

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If you’re coming back to hear my big plan, scroll down to the end for the update! 

I’ve been in the midst of making promotional plans for Book Scavenger. I’ve sought out advice from other authors on what they recommend and don’t recommend for your debut book, and the only bit of advice that everyone seems to agree on is this: The best thing you can do to promote your first book is write your next book.

Okay, cool, I’m doing that! I have two more books scheduled to come out in 2016 and 2017, and I’m currently working on both simultaneously. One is in the outline/first draft stage, and the other is nearing the end of its second revision. (I feel like those last two sentences make me sound very organized in my writing process. I am not. I wrote “working on two books simultaneously” but really it feels more like spinning in circles while juggling cats.)

But still, even if everyone agrees the best thing you can do is write the next book, I can’t do nothing for my debut. If for no other reason than I’m excited about it! I want people to hear about it. So many people have had a hand in shaping the book–early readers and critique partners, teachers, my agent, my editor, the art director, production editor, copyeditor . . . And the illustrations! Sarah Watt’s work is so freakin’ cool and takes the book to a whole other level. The book that will be in bookstores and libraries has been a team effort, and I’m proud of it. Even if readers hate it, I want Book Scavenger to have a fighting chance of surviving in the retail world, and that won’t happen if readers don’t hear about it in the first place.

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Illustration by Sarah Watts

So I wanted to do something fun to celebrate Book Scavenger and spread the word about its existence. What to do, what to do? That’s where Garrison Griswold comes in.

Garrison Griswold is a central character in Book Scavenger. He’s this larger than life, eccentric book publisher who’s a huge game and puzzle fanatic. He thrives on thinking up elaborate games and making them happen–something that has earned him the reputation of being “the Willy Wonka of book publishing.” A reputation, by the way, that he loves to play up. Book Scavenger is one of his game creations. It’s a website and a real world book hunting game where players hide used books in public places and then upload clues to the website for other book scavengers to solve in order to seek out the books. (Kind of a mashup of Book Crossing, Geocaching, and Little Free Libraries, with a dash of influence from video games I played as a kid.)

I wanted to do something in the spirit of Garrison Griswold, but I couldn’t go all out Garrison Griswold because that guy has resources that I do not. (He rented out the San Francisco Giants stadium in order to break the Guinness World Record for largest group Bingo game, for example. I can’t do that.)

But I did come up with something that’s big, by my standards at least, and fortunately my publisher was on board. I hope it will be fun and will make Mr. Griswold proud. I’ll be putting this plan into action on Wednesday and will update here with a link to the info, but for now here’s a teaser video (which offers a clue–something I know Mr. G would approve of):

 

UPDATE: So I mentioned I have something fun in the works . . . 

I am excited to share the new website for my book series, designed by the awesome Jenny Medford of Websy Daisy. To celebrate this, I’m giving away 50 advance copies of Book Scavenger–yes, 50!–with the hope that the recipients will help launch a book hunting game in the spirit of the one in my novel. Read the post on BookScavenger.com to find out all the details!

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Filed under ARCs, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Illustrators, Promotion, Writing and Life

The Ever-Expanding Table by Susan Vaught

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On October 11, 2013, my son wrote an article for Corrine Duyvis at Disability in Kidlit, entitled JB Redmond: What You See . . . And What You Don’t See. JB talked about being a children’s author with a neuromuscular disability (in his case, Cerebral Palsy), and a reader looking to find accurate and compelling representations of himself. Some highlights were, living in his man-cave on a farm in Western Kentucky, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Twilight, a full-sized suit of armor in his bedroom, 600 movies in his collection, coffee, publishing his first epic fantasy in 2009, and this:

 

“…I’ve never found too many disabled characters in the books I enjoy, unless they’re villains or buffoons. In fantasy, disability tends to equate with evil or sainthood…In science fiction, disability usually gets cured by technology, genetic manipulation, robotic implants or exoskeletons, or advanced surgical techniques and medicines. Disability never seems to be okay, or allowed to exist in futuristic worlds, unless they’re dystopian.”

 

I know what you’re thinking. Wait—what? He has a suit of armor in his bedroom?           image2

 

Why, yes. Yes, he does. This is Sir Rusty. And yes, he’s holding a brand new Nimbus 2000, because, why not, and Harry Potter forever!

 

If you got stuck on the 600 movies, it’s probably closer to 800 now, and he can tell you which numbered slot in his 2 400-DVD jukeboxes you can find every single one of them.

 

As for the epic fantasy, it’s a two-fer, Oathbreaker: Assassin’s Apprentice and Oathbreaker: Prince Among Killers, co-written with me and both published by Bloomsbury, USA

 

The very welcome groundswell of discussion about diverse characters, and how children’s literature might be taking a strong lead in transforming the literal and figurative “face” of what we’re reading to include everyone in our amazing world, brought JB’s article to my mind again. It’s a year later. I know there’s at least one book about to enter the world with a character who has Cerebral Palsy (Peavine Jones in Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy), where the Cerebral Palsy isn’t the focus of the story—in fact it’s barely mentioned. I know this, because I wrote the book. Sadly for JB, Peavine has no magical rocks, doesn’t ride a Pegasus, can’t shape-shift or live forever as a vampire, and hasn’t (yet) visited other planets. Footer’s story isn’t JB’s style. If it doesn’t have robots or a good spell or two, he’s probably giving it a pass. Someone please write a book with people who have Cerebral Palsy in it, living life and being a part of the world. If they could have light sabers or magical powers, or be the long lost ruler of some kingdom in a far away galaxy, that would be seriously peachy, too.

 

image1Which brings me back to this. We do need diverse books. We need diverse books for so very many reasons, not the least of which is, my 30 year-old son has been reading book after book and watching movie after movie, since the moment he understood what swords were, and uttered his first curse in Klingon (he was 8), and more than anything else, he wants to find himself in the pages. He wants to see a true reflection of his life, his hopes and dreams, his experiences, and his stories—just like everyone else.

 

But I also know this: it’s hard to write about his world, in real and accurate ways, unless you’re in it, or unless you share it, or unless you take a lot of time to understand it. Case in point: When JB was 7, I had a real learning experience when I asked him what he wanted more than anything in the world.

 

What I was expecting:

To walk

To be healthy

To marry his then girlfriend (even though she tended to bite)

To rule a sister-free planet full of Mutant Ninja-Turtles

 

What I got:

“To be able to whizz off the porch outside, like Dad.”

 

And, more recently, when his first and only nephew was on the way, and the whole situation got a little scary with his sister and the baby in some distress, I asked him what he was worried about.

 

What I was expecting:

His sister

Anthony (nephew)

Sleeping in the hospital for three solid days with no shower

Indigestion from eating vending machine food

 

What I got:

(Solemn, almost tearful) “I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough to hold him. What if my arms don’t work, and I drop him?”

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(No worries, we got this puppy sewn up with magic thread!)

 

Obviously, we don’t just need diverse books—we need diverse authors, too!

 

Diversity isn’t just about color or culture or size or beliefs or religion or gender or any one specific variable. It’s about everything, and everyone. To me, writing books is like bringing people to a beautiful table to share the best meal ever, whatever food they would like, however they would like to eat it.

 

If we bring more people, and more people, a miracle happens…

 

The table just keeps getting bigger.

 

There’s room for everyone.

 

And we gaze around in amazement, wondering why we didn’t realize that all along.

 

Susan Vaught

 

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Amid the Stress: A Gratitude Attitude Adjustment

I’m having a few weeks when it feels possible to hit a mental saturation point. For the first time ever, I am immersed in revisions on multiple books for multiple editors simultaneously, each with short deadlines. I know, cry me a river, right? It’s a wonderful problem to have and I thank my lucky stars. If only I could squeeze a few more hours out of my day. After all, there are other commitments to consider, too: SCBWI volunteerism, VCFA packet work, works-in-progress, a writing contest to judge, community involvement. Oh, and family. For the past year, my family and extended-family have endured a slew of small-to-mid-sized crisis. Now, my to-do-list feels overwhelming, all-consuming, and physically knot-worthy.

Then today happened. A visit with a friend who shared the news of her recent cancer diagnosis. Yep, that’ll put it all into perspective. She was giggly and chatty, very open and seemingly nonchalant about what comes next for her. But I know that, under the smiles, lies fear. At some point during my two hours with her, I found myself dishing out this: “Sometimes, it just is what it is. So we deal with it.”

Perspective!
What the heck do I have to complain about? Nothing!

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So, today I’d like to dedicate this post to my own gratitude-attitude adjustment. I have a feeling, it will grow as time goes on. Maybe it will inspire you to start your own list.

*I am grateful for my family’s health and vitality.

*I am grateful for my husband, who supports me financially and emotionally, even when I’m not very nice to him.

*I am grateful for my mother who, along with my father, gave me my first typewriter when I was ten. And who, when I began to whine to her about my current writing-related stress, said, “Well, isn’t this what you always wanted, this life as a writer?” Yes, Mom, you are right. And, yes, it is.

*I am grateful for trees, and wind, and sunshine, and rain, and canoes, and camping tents, baseball, football, basketball, and sweaty days, and fishing poles. Because there’s life beyond my keyboard. And it is AWESOME!

*I am grateful for my communities, my tribes, my peeps. They keep me sane when life throws crazy at me. They lend an ear, or a glass of wine, or a session of whine when I need to vent. And, I hope I return the favor with some success.

*I am grateful for my Austin AAW group (they know who they are) every day for their cheerleading, inspiration, counseling, and publishing-related information-sharing. Especially this week when I shared news of my book’s SECOND delay (now spring 2016.) Through forum and private communication, they reached out and reminded me that, though publishing timetables are out of our control, the result is usually beneficial. It is what it is! And they prefaced each wise message with something along the lines of, “damn, that stinks!” They are my chill pill.

*I am grateful for SCBWI because, hello!, they are the center of the biggest writing family in the world!

*I am grateful for my critique partners who tell it like it is. Even when I don’t agree with them.

*I am grateful for the online groups and listservs who support each other by sharing and giving.

*I am grateful for some especially close writer friends who are usually my first contacts. I am not, in fact, crazy, so I won’t name them here. But they know.

*I am grateful for teachers because they help shape our children into the leaders of tomorrow.

*I am grateful for authors, illustrators, books, librarians, teachers, readers, and book stores for keeping literacy alive by opening the world. Or maybe they open the world by keeping literacy alive.

*I am grateful for my non-writer friends, including those who don’t really care about my writing. They keep it real.

*I am grateful to VCFA for 1)admitting me, and 2)welcoming me with open arms, and 3)landing me with an amazing class with whom to share my journey toward MFA.

*I am grateful to the family member who, many years ago, said to me, “Why are you wasting your time writing a children’s book? Anybody can do that!” Thank you, miss-you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about. I took that as a dare. Ha!

*To my agent, Erin Murphy, for never closing the door on me in the years before we actually signed together. And, for eventually welcoming me into this amazing EMLA family. Here, I belong!

*I am grateful for the voices in my head, pleading to be written into books. And to an insane curiosity about history that inspires me to write for young readers.

*I am grateful for the dog who sleeps on my feet when I write, and the cat who doubles as a paper weight at the worst possible times, and the many animals who have loved me unconditionally in the past.

*I am grateful to the Mars Company for making Dove chocolate!

*I am grateful for my peeps here on EMU’s Debuts for paving the way with amazing books, incredible talent, and a club to belong to. You have been patient with me when I don’t commit the time I should.

*I am grateful for all you people. Especially those who are facing challenges with strength, bravery, vulnerability, and faith. You are heroes.

*And I am grateful for reminders, in all their forms, that there are things more important than publishing timelines and books on the shelves. It’s always about people.

 

What, you were expecting something funny?

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