Author Archives: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

About Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Jennifer is the author of BOOK SCAVENGER (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). BOOK SCAVENGER launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Two additional middle-grade mysteries will follow in 2016 and 2017. Jennifer was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has worked for literary agencies, magazines, educational publishers, and as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette. You can find her online at http://jenniferchamblissbertman.com where she runs an interview series with children's book authors and illustrators called "Creative Spaces. Photo Credit: Joseph Jestes

Guess I’ll Be Going Now

I can’t believe today is my day to leave Emu’s Debuts. (Actually, it was yesterday and I’m a day late getting this post up. See how I’m dragging my feet?)

I’ll be honest, guys: I don’t know what to say for this last post. I’ve drafted and trashed two versions so far. One was about the similarities of being a new mom and a new author and the pressures of trying to navigate both at the same time. The other was about the unexpected curveballs of life and how no experience happens in a vacuum; there is always the push and pull of everything else going on in your life, tugging and molding the experience. I like both ideas, but then they petered out in the middle with the whole quandary of is this really how I want to say goodbye?

Argh. I’m never good at goodbyes. I’m always the awkward one leaving the party.

I revisited other Emus’ final posts for inspiration, but instead of thinking about what I should write, I got caught up in the comfort of their advice and experiences. And that is exactly why I have loved being a part of this blog and think it’s an important resource for writers. Being a writer and navigating the publishing world is a tricky, lonely thing sometimes. There are no clear-cut paths, and any given question has a variety of answers. It helps to have a community you can learn from and lean on, and that’s what Emu’s Debuts has been for me.

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How to say “good-bye” in Muppet?

I suppose I should use this last post to sum up what I’ve learned from my debut experience, but that’s easier said than done. I feel simultaneously so overwhelmed with processing everything that has happened in the past year, both personally and career wise, that I couldn’t possibly whittle it down into a pithy post, and also, I feel exactly the same as I did a year ago. But how can that be if I’ve had so many new experiences? I must be different. I’m surely older and wiser, right? But I’m still struggling through the draft of a book–just like last year–still trying to tell a story as best as I can. Still trying to brainstorm how I can reach the readers who will be most interested in my stories. I have not yet unlocked the secret level with all the writerly answers.

One of the things that took me most by surprise about being on the published side of the debut process was how stressful I found it. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone so many times I’ve lost count. But I haven’t regretted sticking my neck out there once, and in fact, after stepping out of my comfort zone the first few times I was encouraged to do it more because my experiences were never as scary or hard as I worried they might be, and so many good things have come out of saying YES.

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Now that’s a cute goodbye, right there.

I had an epiphany about the stress a couple months after Book Scavenger came out, which I shared with my husband. With the enthusiasm of someone crying EUREKA! I said, “It’s like I’ve started a new job!” And he gave me this side-eyed, slightly concerned look, which I’ve seen more often in the past year, and he said, “Yes. It is.”

Because of course it’s like starting a new job. But I hadn’t really connected those dots. Maybe because I sold my books in 2013, so my brain felt like THAT was when I started a new job, only all the work I did between selling Book Scavenger and its publication was largely familiar-to-me work. That was a lot of the sitting by myself playing with words sort of work which I have done for decades.

It has been the experiences that came after publication–largely the experiences of interacting with people who have read my book or who I hoped would read my book or who might help get my book into the hands of the readers who will like it. All of that stuff was totally new terrain. I was suddenly researching things like how to set up school visits, what to say at school visits, how to set up Skype visits, introducing myself at bookstores and libraries, talking up my book at trade shows, deliberating what sort of promotional materials I should invest in, and on and on and on. I paid attention to conversations about these things before, but studying something is not the same as experiencing it. Fortunately, with experience comes familiarity, and that is why it was a relief for me to realize that I’ve started a new job. As with any new job there are learning curves, but soon it becomes familiar and you will settle into a routine.

So I don’t have anything particularly profound to share today. I’m doing my best to enjoy the ride of becoming a published author, and am so grateful to have had the experience of being an Emu. If you’d like to stay connected, you can find me over here on my author blog where I hope to be more active in the future.

And now, um, I guess I’ll be going.

See? I’m awkward at goodbyes.

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger has been selected as an Indie Next Kids’ Top Ten Pick for Summer 2015, an Amazon Best Book of 2015, and was one of five books chosen for the Publisher’s Weekly Best Summer Reads 2015, among other accolades. Two more titles in the Book Scavenger series will be published in 2017, as well as a stand-alone middle grade mystery in 2018. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and worked in publishing for over a decade before becoming a children’s book author. More information can be found about her and her books atjenniferchamblissbertman.com and bookscavenger.com.

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The Aftermath

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Book Scavenger in the wild!

What a wonderful stretch of launch weeks we’ve had around here! Book Scavenger has been out in the world for a little over two months now, and in that time we’ve also celebrated the launches of Mothman’s Curse, My Dog is the Best, Penny & Jelly, Another Kind of Hurricane, There Once Was an Old Dragon, and our latest The Looney Experiment. Whew! It’s been the summer of celebrations!

And speaking of The Looney Experiment and celebrating, a big congratulations to Teresa Robeson! You are the winner of a signed copy of Luke’s new book!

So what do I have to report post-publication? It’s been a whirlwind. It’s felt like a dream. It’s been awesome and stressful and boring and humbling and probably every emotion in-between.

The sequel for Book Scavenger is officially on the schedule for next year, and so I’ve been working on it every spare chance I get. I’ve even been given an official pub date. If all goes according to plan, then you should be able to find The Unbreakable Code in bookstores and libraries June 7, 2016. Gulp. And I’ve also seen a rough sketch for the cover, which, woah! That makes it feel real. (And I’m so excited about the direction they’re going in too! The cover is going to be awesome.)

There is a definite transition you go through having your first book published, at least speaking for myself. Beforehand there were a lot of anticipatory nerves. Most of those stemmed from preparing for something you’ve never experienced before. Before last June, I’d never done a presentation for 200 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I was freaking out about that! I knew what I was going to say, but I wasn’t sure how it would go over and what the overall experience would be like.

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Turned out it was super fun! So much fun, I’m eager to do it again!

And a launch party. I’ve attended launch parties for other authors, but never experienced my own. Would people come? Would they enjoy themselves? If people did come, would I then be totally awkward and weird having people stare at me while I tried to put coherent sentences together in an at least moderately entertaining fashion?

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At the awesome Linden Tree Bookstore, who hosted my first-ever launch party!

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And the equally awesome Book Passage at the Ferry Building, who hosted my second ever launch party!

People did come! I was truly humbled, amazed, and grateful for the enthusiasm and support friends and family showed me and Book Scavenger. And strangers!! There were strangers at my book launch parties! I was so excited, I wanted to run up and hug them and shout “I don’t know you and you’re here!!! You’re here and you’re buying my book!”

I should have done that, shouldn’t I? That would have been kind of awesome.

The nerves do subside with a little experience. I did my first Skype visit with a book group at a San Francisco library recently. I was a kind of nervous beforehand, but not as nervous as I’d been before my other events. And as soon as I saw those kids on my computer screen, I was excited. And in a state of awe–these were kids who read my book! What a trip.

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Hearing from readers has been the coolest part of the debut experience so far, hands down. Young readers, adult readers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers . . . Having people take the time out of their day to reach out and let me know they enjoyed Book Scavenger, that they are glad it exists in the world, that they are happy to have spent some time with these characters I sat with for 12 years . . . I don’t really have the words to describe how that feels. The closest word I can think of is GRATITUDE.

I’m so very grateful to be on this journey.

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger has been selected as an Indie Next Kids’ Top Ten Pick for Summer 2015, an Amazon Best Book of 2015 So Far, and one of five books chosen for the Publisher’s Weekly Best Summer Reads 2015, among other accolades. A sequel titled The Unbreakable Code will be published in 2016, followed by a stand-alone middle grade mystery in 2017. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and worked in publishing for over a decade before becoming a children’s book author. More information can be found about her and her books at jenniferchamblissbertman.com and bookscavenger.com.

 

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Celebrating ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE with Charity

9780553511932If you know Tamara Ellis Smith personally, you know she is a loving and giving person. On her website she writes, “Another Kind of Hurricane is woven with my deep empathy and respect for the people of New Orleans. What they went through with Hurricane Katrina is unfathomable. Their astounding loss—and their astounding recovery—continues to inspire me.”

Two organizations near and dear to Tamara’s heart are doing wonderful work to benefit those affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

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Lowernine.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the long-term recovery of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the levee breaches of 2005. To date, lowernine.org has fully rebuilt seventy-five homes, and has completed smaller repair and renovation projects on hundreds more, bringing home more Lower Ninth Ward families than any other single organization.

 

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Big Class is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating and supporting the voices of New Orleans’ writers ages 6-18 through creative collaborations with schools and communities. Big Class offers a variety of free, innovative programs that provide under-resourced students with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. They also aim to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Their services are structured with the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

You can find more information about supporting these charities on Tamara’s website or click the above links to visit each organization’s websites.

Thank you for visiting this week and helping us celebrating the launch of Another Kind of Hurricane. Remember to comment to be entered to win a signed copy and lucky marble!

You can get your own copy of ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Random House, Powell’sB&Nor Amazon.

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Celebrating MOTHMAN’S CURSE by Christine Hayes!

Mothman's Curse Final CoverWe are on a celebratory roll here at Emu’s Debuts with another book launching into bookstores and libraries near you this week. And you don’t want to miss this one, especially if you are a fan of spooky stories! Mothman’s Curse by Christine Hayes is about three kids who discover a polaroid camera that prints pictures haunted with the ghost of the local town recluse. The kids are quickly sucked into a mystery that involves cursed jewelry, an unhappy spirit, and the legendary Mothman.

Kirkus Reviews gave this middle grade mystery a starred review saying, “Along with a red-eyed, winged monster who is not at all shy about appearing, even over crowds of terrified onlookers, Hayes folds sudden blasts of bone-chilling cold, conversations with the dead, and plenty of other thrillingly eerie elements into a tale that winds suspensefully to a wild, scary climax. An ectoplasmic extravaganza . . . tailor-made for reading beneath the bedcovers.”

Comment on any post this week and you will be entered to win a signed copy of Mothman’s Curse!  Or pick up a copy for yourself or a friend at the following retailers: Amazon, IndieboundBarnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and Powell’s

Before we get to the festivities, we have two winners from our previous launch weeks to announce:

Congratulations Ann Bedichek Braden! You are the winner of a signed copy of My Dog is the Best by Laurie Thompson!

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Congratulations Bridget R. Wilson! You are the winner of a signed copy of Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman!

 

And now to kick off the Mothman party, we decided to share some photos and talk about what scares us, but something seems to have gone awry with our cameras because these photos don’t seem quite right . . .

 

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Here I am enjoying a nice tranquil day by the ocean, thinking about what a great read MOTHMAN’S CURSE is, and appreciating being OUT of the water since I’m terrified of what’s in it, and surely I will be safe if I’m on dry land.

 

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Uh, Maria? I know you and Becca are happily celebrating MOTHMAN’S CURSE but you might want to back slowly away from that fence. On second thought, I’d run if I were you!

 

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I think Megan may have noticed there’s someone else in her reflection besides herself . . .

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Penny is being haunted by a spider as big as her head!

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This photo was taken at the Old Asylum where Susan works. Those are stairs in an observatory tower with restricted access where nobody was supposed to be. The stairs were empty when Susan’s coworker snapped this photo, but when he got home it appears the stairs might not have been as empty as they’d originally thought.

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Tam has a fear of snakes, so I think you should keep drawing happy pictures, Tam, and whatever you do DON’T look over your shoulder.

 

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Carole wants to wish Chris a happy book publication week, but she’s trapped in a phone booth in London, and it looks like she has company.

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Here is our lovable author, Christine, on vacation with her husband but wait . . . What’s that shadow coming over the mountain? Oh no–it’s the Mothman!! Quick! RUN!!! Run to your nearest bookstore or library to pick up a copy of MOTHMAN’S CURSE!

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The Final Countdown

I have two weeks left until Book Scavenger will be found on shelves at bookstores and libraries. TWO WEEKS!

Last week, I received one of these in the mail:

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That’s the real, official hardback you will find on bookshelves on June 2!

 

I’m struggling to think of the words for how I’m feeling right now. There’s gratitude, for sure. Excitement. Some stress and anxiety. But there’s something else too. My launch week is going to bring my writing journey full circle in a lot of different ways. I’ll be doing a presentation for 225 4th-6th graders at my former elementary school, where I first daydreamed about one day being an author myself. I’ll be visiting two Creative Writing classes at my former junior high. My first launch party will be held at the Linden Tree Bookstore, a children’s bookstore right by my hometown. I worked at the Linden Tree over ten years ago when I was in graduate school getting my MFA in Creative Writing. My second launch party will be held at Book Passage in San Francisco. The first children’s writing conference I ever attended (back in 2000, I think?) was put on by Book Passage. (That’s where I learned about, and subsequently joined, SCBWI.) And, of course, San Francisco is the city I lived in when I first began creating Book Scavenger.

Is there a word that means nostalgic satisfaction? I can trace the seeds of Book Scavenger through so many stages of my life, all the way back to when I won the bookworm contest in 1st grade and was awarded a hardback of Little House on the Prairie. The aspiration to be an author has always been there. It sometimes became dormant if I felt like I was kidding myself, but it was still there in its brown and brittle form. It feels good to have finally finished a book, this book in particular, and to be happy with its final form. I’ve never been a runner, but I imagine publishing Book Scavenger is how it might feel to do a marathon. A decade-long marathon. Except with a marathon, you get to the finish and that’s the end of the race. And for me, I’m hoping this is just the beginning . . .

 

(If you will be in the San Francisco Bay Area on June 5 and 6, I’d love to see you at one of the launch parties! Click here for more information about the June 5 event in Los Altos, CA, and here for more information about the June 6 event in San Francisco.)

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Learn more about the book at BookScavenger.com. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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When Your Idea Gets Published By Someone Else First

Writers, does this scenario strike fear in your heart? You’re working on a project, you’re invested in it, excited, feeling confident that finally, finally, FINALLY you’ve hit on an idea that’s really clicking for you. And then *screeeeeching brakes*: A book is published with a too-similar premise.

If you relate to this, or worry about it happening, then I have a story you might like to hear:

51ysrNDhV3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I started writing Book Scavenger in 2003. The beginning seed of my idea was this image of kids finding a mysterious book in a BART station, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I thought maybe the book they found would be special because the characters could come out into the real world. Yes! I got really excited about this idea. It seemed cool and original–and then I read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. If you’re not familiar with Inkheart, read it, it’s fantastic, but it has a similar premise to my initial idea and I lost all confidence in myself being able to do something similar.

But I was stch_book1till stuck on this image of kids finding a book in a BART station and having an adventure in San Francisco. I switched gears and latched onto a new puzzle mystery direction, and came up with the idea for this website/real world bookhunting game . . . In 2004, there was still a big divide between the internet and publishing. Terms like “multiplatform storytelling” and “transmedia” weren’t being thrown around for books back then. I was sure I had latched onto something original and fresh–and then I heard about a new series Scholastic would be launching the following year called 39 Clues with Rick Riordan heading the first book. There would be ELEVEN books, each written by a big name author, with the characters on a worldwide scavenger hunt for clues, and there was also a website/game tie in.

I was crushed. While it wasn’t my exact idea, it shared enough similarities that I no longer felt confident mine would stand out.

9780316003957_p0_v1_s260x420My grand vision deflated like a balloon, and the only thing that kept me moving forward with this now floppy idea of a book was a one-on-one session I had with an editor at a SCBWI conference. She had read the first ten pages of my draft and her written feedback was a short paragraph that began “This is really cool,” and ended with, “Would you send me the whole manuscript? I’d love to read it!”

Wonderful, right? It was, absolutely, but the problem was that I had less than 40 pages written. Not only that, but the idea I had in mind for this book felt too ambitious for my writing skills at the time. I wasn’t sure I could execute it, and definitely didn’t think I could execute it quickly. What if I invested all this time writing this book only to find out I couldn’t pull it off? Or what if I invested all this time and did pull it off, only to have editors and agents point to 39 Clues and say, “Too late. Been done.”

What it bpuzzlingworldoiled down to was this: If I turned down the dial on all the noise–the industry gossip, what else is being published, what do editors want/not want–if I just thought about my characters and my story, I was still incredibly passionate about my idea. I still wanted to understand the mystery behind the book these kids had found in the BART station. I still wanted to see if I could create a Goonies-esque story set in San Francisco. The personal challenge was worth it to me, even if one of my worst-case scenarios came true.

So I kept going with my book. I’d be lying if I said from that moment on I was a fiery ball of confidence that could not be extinguished. But I kept going. I think I was on my third re-write 9780061214509when The Mysterious Benedict Society was published and became a bestseller. There was also The Gollywhopper Games series and the Winston Breen puzzle mysteries, and too many more similar-sounding middle grade mysteries to keep track of.

The summer I sold Book Scavenger in a three-book deal, ALL eleven of the 39 Clues books had been published as well as the first few books of a second 39 Clues series. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was published and has gone on to be a long-running NY Times bestseller.

Fast forward to today16054808, my publisher is including Book Scavenger on a read-alike poster for libraries which says “If you liked The Mysterious Benedict Society, try Book Scavenger.” (They were going to use Mr. Lemoncello, but that title was included on their poster the year before.) And Jody Feldman, who writes the Gollywhopper Games series, was kind enough to blurb my book. I’m friendly with Eric Berlin, who writes the Winston Breen series, and we share the same agent.

In short, I think a lot of the early success Book Scavenger is now finding could be partly attributed to the path paved by these similar books that came before. I didn’t have to fear the familiar. Every title I mentioned here would likely appeal to the same reader, but they are each unique stories. There is room on the bookshelf for us all.

It can be hard to find that balance between looking to what others are doing for inspiration, but then not letting what others are doing deter you from something. It’s important to remember that it is your spin that will set something apart. Don’t let news of a comparable book knock the wind out of your sails. Just look at it as a challenge to make sure you’re digging deep and tapping into the YOU essence of the story. And keep going.

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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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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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Celebrating EMMANUEL’S DREAM: An Interview with Sean Qualls

Sean-QuallsWe continue the celebration for Laurie Ann Thompson’s new book, Emmanuel’s Dream (out today!), with an interview with the illustrator, Sean Qualls. Sean Qualls is an award winning, Brooklyn-based, children’s book illustrator, artist, and author. He has illustrated a number of celebrated books for children, including Giant Steps to Change The World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and her son Slade and Before John Was a Jazz Giant, for which he received a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor. Sean also created the art for Dizzy by Jonah Winter and Freedom Song (The Story of Henry “Box” Brown) by Sally Walker. His work has received two Blue Ribbon citations from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books where he was also cited for his “serious craftsmanship” and an “original style.” Qualls has created illustrations for magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. His work has been shown in galleries in New York and across the country.
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What drew you to this story? How did you research and prepare for working on it?

 

I was drawn to the story by Emmanuel’s determination, his commitment to define himself and not allow the outside world to define him. The film Emmanuel’s Gift was very helpful in preparation. I also visited a few shops in Brooklyn that sell African clothes and beauty supplies.

 

What inspired you to use the silhouettes? 

 

I’m always looking for ways to simplify the art and to visually strengthen the story. Silhouettes seemed like the perfect device.

 

Do you have a favorite spread, and if so, which one? 

 

That’s hard to say, I spent so much time with each one and feel attached to them all. If I had to chose one it would either be the very first spread where Mama Comfort is holding baby Emmanuel or the third spread which begins  – “Mama Comfort told him he could have anything but he would have to get it for himself.”

 

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Work-in-progress spread for the book.

 

Which spread was the most challenging and why? 

 

Several were particularly challenging but the one that immediately comes to mind is the one where Emmanuel pledges to himself to do something with his life. His mother had just died, so much had already happened in his life and so much more would still happen. At one point in the film Emmanuel’s Gift he is standing in a field with a pensive look, almost as if he’s praying. I thought this idea would work well in the book but it really took me a while to figure that out and then after to really get his facial expression right in the art. It’s a simple image but a lot went in to it.

 

IMAG0839_2_2_1

Work-in-progress spread for the book.

 

Could you tell us a bit about your process?

 

 After collecting reference and doing research,  I start by doing a lot of sketches of various sizes, figures, trees and such. I then use a photocopier to enlarge, reduce and flip images. I then start to construct sketches by cutting and pasting these element together. Afterwards, I’ll edit and add to the sketches with pencil and black and white paint.

 

IMAG0838_1_1

Work-in-progress spread for the book.

 

Thank you so much for stopping by, Sean! And congratulations to you and Laurie both on this beautiful book.
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 Remember to comment on any post this week and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Emmanuel’s Dream. Pick up a signed copy at  Secret Garden Bookshop (if you add your personalization request in the comments section, Laurie will sign it for you!) or check out IndieBound for a local bookstore near you. Of course, you can also find it on Amazon.com or BN.com.

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Cover Reveal: BOOK SCAVENGER

On Thursday Mylisa wrote about covers, and I couldn’t agree with her more. Covers are a big deal! My cover was previously revealed on Mr. Colby Sharp’s blog along with an interview, but I also wanted to share a bit about my cover here.

When my editor emailed me with the name of the illustrator she had hired for Book Scavenger, I immediately googled her name: Sarah Watts. I was thrilled with what I found. Sarah is so talented, and her illustration style was exactly the direction I was hoping my publisher would go in. But appreciating someone’s artistic talent is not the same as knowing what your cover will look like. And then one day in November, my editor emailed me the final cover. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I love how the burgundy of the title and the book Emily is holding pop against the blues. I love that you can see a gold bug on the miniature book cover, and that James’s hair is poking up, and that there are two birds hovering in the sky. I love the flying books, and even more so, I love how if I let my vision blur then the books take on the look of fog, which is such a staple of San Francisco. I love the running Emily and James next to my name. I love that this cover says “mystery” to me, but also sets the tone for the type of mystery that it is.

Did I mention I love my cover? Yeah, I do. April Ward designed this beauty, Sarah Watts created the cover art, and I am so thankful to them both.

Book-Scavenger-cover

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Preparing to Leap

small__3965231381I’ve been working on my final edits for Book Scavenger. I began this novel over ten years ago, and I’ve always had the comfort of knowing whatever I put down on paper could be changed. Now I have about two weeks left of revising and fiddling, and then the version I send back to my editor will pretty much be the one that appears in stores. This is exciting and totally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because there’s no turning back now. There are nerves about sharing my writing with a wider audience. I hope people will like my book. I don’t want to disappoint friends and family who have supported me over the years. I want my editor and agent and critique partners to be proud of my book.

It’s exciting because I love my book. Over ten years ago, I set out to write a story I would have loved as a kid. I drew on some of my favorite things from childhood: Goonies; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Westing Game; The Egypt Game; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It took me drafts and drafts and drafts to get all the pieces of my story to work together in a way that finally represented the characters and world I held in my imagination. It’s not a perfect book–I doubt I will ever write something that I would consider perfect–but I love it nonetheless.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what I feel in this moment is similar to something I worry about as a mother: How will the world treat this piece of my heart that I love and have nurtured? Will people buy it, praise it, recommend it? Will they hate it, trash it, make fun of it? Will they ignore it?

The fate of my book will soon be out of my hands and literally in the hands of others. These last moments I have with Book Scavenger are me doing my best to prepare my baby for the big, wide world out there.

It helps that I recently saw the rough sketches for interior illustrations. Not only was this an incredibly happy, surreal moment, but it helped me detach from the book as “mine”. The incredible Sarah Watt‘s rendering of the characters is going to go hand-in-hand with a reader’s consumption of my words. When I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. When I imagine Tara Dairman’s Gladys Gatsby, I picture Kelly Murphy’s drawings. When I picture Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I picture Garth Williams illustrations.

So this is all part of my process right now. Final edits, fact-checking, fussing with words, and preparing myself to let go, step back, and let Book Scavenger leap out of the nest.

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life