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THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE is Launched!

It’s the release date for the incredibly engaging and moving story, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE by Christina Uss and the EMU’s Debut Group couldn’t be more excited! A novel about “a girl who loves her home in the Nearly Silent Monastery, but the pull of friendship leads her on a coast-to-coast cycling adventure, complete with hauntings, runaway stallions, lucky inventions, and a mysterious black-clad pursuer.”

Here is Elizabeth Acevedo‘s interview with the brilliant editor of BICYCLE, Margaret Ferguson.

Interview with Margaret Ferguson, Editor of THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE

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What was it about Christina Uss’ THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE that first got you interested in acquiring it and that made this book strike a chord for you?

Every once in awhile, an editor is lucky enough to have a manuscript come across their desk that seems unique and that’s how I felt about THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE. I loved that it was about someone who is an introvert and that it captured that special relationship some children have with their bicycles and all the freedom that goes with being able to get on a bike and go somewhere by yourself.  And I loved the sense of community and that so many people care and watch out for Bicycle on her journey.

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Would you say you were a big cycling fan prior to acquiring this book?

I will admit that I have never been a fan of cycling–it is a very time consuming sport and my husband spends a lot of time on his bike when I think he should be doing other things–but after I read THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE I came home and said, “I get it now.”

Who is you favorite character from the book and why are you drawn to them?

There are too many to pick from–but if I have to, it would be Griffin G. Griffin, the friendly ghost who haunts Bicycle’s bicycle for part of her journey. He is such a good friend–he sings when the pedaling gets tough, offers wisdom, and has her back. Those kinds of friends are hard to come by.

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A book that reads and fast as Bicycle’s bicycle, Clunk, this is a fresh take on  an adventurous twelve-year old looking to find her place in the world. As the Kirkus
starred review claims: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and “pedal headfirst” into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.” Buy your copy here, or here, or here.

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Thank you, for that fabulous interview, Elizabeth! And now the celebration continues with Hayley Barrett and a Bookish Bike Ride.

A Bookish Bike Ride

The Emus are celebrating with Christina Uss! Her debut novel, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE, follows intrepid cyclist and friend-finder Bicycle as she pedals across the United States.

From the start of her ride in Washington, DC on trusty, rusty Clunk to when she dismounts The Fortune, her whiz-bang, Inspector Gadget-style bike, in San Francisco, Bicycle’s determination and resourcefulness pave the way to her success. She pushes ever onward, through prairies and over mountains, despite challenges and troubles. Along the way, she helps and is helped by others, including a ghost named Griffin, an herbivore named Cannibal, a chef by the name of Marie Petitchou, and a big-hearted pie-fryer called Jeremiah. Finally, Bicycle victoriously concludes her two-wheeled tour of the USA surrounded by new friends and reunited with those who loved her from the start.

I enjoy biking, but unlike Christina, I’m no adventure cyclist. Reading THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE made me realize I’ve rarely pedaled more than a few miles. I wondered where I would go if I decided to try a longer ride. California was immediately out of the question. I needed a doable destination, someplace far but not too far, and because this ride was inspired by a book, someplace with a literary connection. The answer was easy:

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House!

For now, I’ll pedal there in my imagination. Let’s go!

Orchard House is two hour bike ride from home, but given my lack of experience, I’ll probably get there in three. I coast past my own childhood home, but I have to walk (and huff and puff) my bike up the steep Lowell Street hill. I remount and continue into Wilmington, Woburn, and Burlington. The roads are busy, but most drivers are courteous. I wave my thanks to those who slow down and give me space.

I spin through neighborhoods, past strip malls and industrial sites. After two hours, I’m in Lexington. The landscape gets greener here, with fewer houses, more conservation land, and almost no commercial areas. I have to hustle through Tophet Swamp to outrace the mosquitoes. (note to self: John was right. Remember bug spray next time!)

When I skirt the edge of the tree-hidden Air Force base, I know I’m in Concord. I pedal along the pretty country roads, listening to birdsong, and appreciating the shade offered by old, gnarled maples with soft, new leaves. I pause by the big farm near the Battle Road and admire their Highland cow’s sturdy calf. 

I go a little further, swing around the bend, and speed down the final stretch of Old Bedford Rd. At last, I reach the big brown house and dismount. I’m glad to see the parking lot across the street is full. A woman in a old-fashioned dress (Marmee?) greets a tour group at the front door. Kids on a field trip laugh and bump each other as they roll hoops on the lawn. I remember doing that with my friend Diane when we were kids.

I park my bike and take my lunch.  The gardens are in their summer glory. Bees zip around the swaying sunflowers and hollyhocks. I choose a spot beside Bronson Alcott’s church-like schoolhouse to enjoy my solo picnic. LITTLE WOMEN’s four March sisters loved to picnic, so I feel right at home. 

As I rest and eat my sandwich, I can almost hear one of Christina’s characters, Sister Wanda. She asks her usual question, “What have you learned from this?”

Here’s what I’d say:

Riding a bike is a great way to experience the world.

Know when to heed good advice about bug spray.

This land is beautiful from sea to shining sea and full of helpful, generous people, delicious food, sunflowers, and wonderful books like Christina Uss’s THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE.

Lastly, cookies rule! Good thing I brought some. I’ll need them for the long ride home.

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Cookies, of course, are good both on and off the bike. You might want to go get some to munch on as you enjoy Anna Redding‘s interview of Christina herself!

Anna Redding’s Interview of Christina Uss

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle launches today and I have to say I was charmed THROUGH and THROUGH by this amazing middle-grade novel. And you will be, too. It’s one of those stories, the world is so richly drawn, the characters so lovingly crafted… that they come to live with you forever. You just find yourself thinking about these characters, their lives, long after you have read the last line.

I am so thrilled to be able to have a conversation with author Christa Uss about her novel, The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.

Anna–  I want to start with a couple of questions about craft. From the first sentence of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I was swept away. Your world building and character development are so complete and rich, and yet effortlessly falls off the page. And into that, you’ve worked in marvelous pacing and tension. (Readers, I’m not kidding, wait until you open this book, better have a comfy seat!) I’m curious about your process. Was this book inside of you and developed that way? Was the conscious effort? Please, give us fellow writers some insight!

Christina –  This book literally began with its title. My husband was commenting on how I was doing a lot of freelance writing about bicycling while also reading all these books from my childhood when I wanted to relax, and he said, “Someday, you’re going to write a children’s book.” And I said, “Oh yeah? What will that book be?” And he replied, “It’ll be called The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.” I leapt out of my chair and said, “YES. I AM going to write that book. Why is she called Bicycle? What adventures does she have? I think she rides her bike across the United States.” And I ran upstairs and the story started pouring out of me. (This was before I had my twins, so I could write on a whim instead of having to schedule and protect writing time like I do now.) I wrote nearly every day for weeks, and edited for months. It was so much fun to dive into this universe that was balanced somewhere between reality and the way I wish reality was and ask my characters What Happens Next? And they always had an answer for me.

Anna–  Authenticity is an important aspect of any writing and it’s clear that you have some experience cycling! Was it fun to bring your own experiences into the book? And how do you mine your own experience to inform your writing?

Christina –   It was THE BEST to bring in my own experiences riding a bike across the United States into the story. I felt completely confident that everything I was writing about cycling was as true as I could make it – the thrills, the exhaustion, the chasing dogs, and especially the unstoppable kindness of people towards a two-wheeled traveler who shows up on their doorsteps. I faithfully kept journals from the two times I rode across the country (first east-to-west, then north-to-south), plus during my years working as an adventure tour guide all over the U.S., and I frequently went back to those journal entries to make sure I was capturing what I’d really felt, heard, seen, smelled, and tasted on my own journeys. 

Anna–  Reading The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I felt constantly surprised which is a rare gift for readers…surprise. Thinking about that, part of the surprise is the sweetness between your cast of characters, and unlikely friendships. There is a real love that comes through the pages of this book and fills you up as you are reading, even though there is still tension, even though we are marching forward. How did you do that?! Where does that come from?

Christina –  Awww, I love that you said this. I certainly hope kids feel the sweetness. Traveling by bike endlessly renews my faith in humanity. I and many other long-distance cycling friends experience so much surprising generosity whenever we pedal into the unknown – people giving us sandwiches! fresh peaches! cookies! ice-cold lemonade in the desert! a place to sleep! a place to shower! letting us borrow a car to watch fireworks! giving us lifts to the emergency room!  – finding those connections time and time again never stops being magical.  I wanted to communicate to kids that when you meet people face-to-face, especially if you’re perched on the seat of a bike, their first instinct is to help you. 

Anna– And on riding! Bicycle’s packing list for her backpack shows us what’s most important to her, the must-have’s before a top-secret cross country journey. What would you put in your own pack?

Christina –  Oooooh. My favorite riding clothes made out of space-age fabric that keep me warm even when I’m wet, as many snacks as I could cram in including lots of Trader Joe’s crunchy peanut butter and a big ol’ spoon, a credit card, maps from the Adventure Cycling Association, a book of Rumi poetry, and a nice thick journal and a pen. And postcard stamps. I would not bring a phone – I’d stop at libraries and email home when I could!

Anna–  I think the idea of having the freedom to find your own destiny, your own identity, and your own friends is so powerful. Has there been a moment in your own cycling where you touched that, an experience, a chance meeting, a decision that really formed you?

Christina –   I moved away from my home when I was eleven due to my dad changing jobs. (I remember telling my parents I wasn’t going to move with them, I was going to live with my best friend and sleep on her family’s couch for the rest of my life instead. Somehow, that plan didn’t materialize.) When I went in to the first day at my new school, the teacher showed me a seat next to a nice-looking girl with very long hair and said, “Nancy, you be Christina’s friend, all right?” And Nancy did just that – she not only became my instant friend, she made sure all of her friends became my instant friends as well. We’re still friends to this day. Something about that convinced me that if you’re open to the possibility, friendships can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone –  it it’s one of the beautiful mysteries of life.  

Readers, all I can say, is we all have some book shopping to do!

Enjoy!
Anna

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To close out our celebration, here’s Ann Braden with Curriculum Connections.

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle: Curriculum Connections

Kirkus gave The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a STARRED review and said: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and ‘pedal headfirst’ into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.”

This will be a fabulous book to have on classroom shelves. Introverts especially will be able to connect with this AND imagine going on an amazing cross-country adventure. As we all know the imagination can be a wide open expanse in the middle grade years, and when we’re willing to tap into it as educators, the learning can be remarkable.

I still remember (in vivid detail) the project I did as a sixth grader for a unit on Canada. With three friends I got to plan our own cross-country trip across Canada’s provinces, determining where to stop and what to do there, driving distances, what to bring, etc. We kept a journal to document our (virtual) trip, and my memories are so strong it’s as though I actually went on the real trip.

Not only is The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a fun story, but it could be a great tool to prompt students to plan out their own cross-country bike trip. Where would they go? How long would it take to get from one place to another? What would they have in their pack? It brings it math, geography, and the all-important investigation into a student’s priorities and passions.

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Here’s to The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle! And here’s where you can buy it: Indiebound (it’s on the 2018 Summer Kids Indie Next List!), Barnes and Noble, and Amazon!

Happy reading!

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Editor, Interviews, Launch, middle grade, Uncategorized, Updates on our Books!

The Countdown to BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES by Kat Shepherd…3..2..1…

Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand by Kat Shepherd is launching into the world TOMORROW, and we are counting the down the minutes!

To start off our countdown, we have Anna Redding with an interview of Kat herself!

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Anna Redding’s Interview with Kat Shepherd

Oh, Friends! Make an appointment for a cozy couch with a comforting blanket and plenty of lighting! When you open the pages of Kat Shepherd’s new Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand, you aren’t going to move until you get to the bottom of this thrilling, spooky and FUN first installment in a new series. Young readers will delight in all the spooks of sounds heard and shadows seen in their own babysitting. And the rest of us former babysitters will adore the chance to remember that deliciously terrifying period of time that occurs immediately after you put the kids to sleep, but an eternity before the parents come home! But first, before you lose yourself in this book, I had a chance to interview author dynamo, Kat Sherpherd!

 Anna–  How I wish I had this series back in my own babysitting days! Were you a babysitter? Did you ever get so freaked out or terrified over the smallest sounds? or did you ever encounter a shadowy hand?

Kat – I babysat a lot when I was younger, and everything always went swimmingly until I put the kids to bed. I never watched horror movies (still hate the jump-scares!), but I did read a lot of horror and suspense, so those quiet hours after the kids were asleep and before the parents got home always had my imagination working overtime. The house always seemed too dark, and the TV room was like a little oasis of light I was loathe to leave except to check on the kids. There were definitely a few thunderstorms, but the power never went out. There was one time I heard a late-night knock at the door. That freaked me out, but it turns out it was just my older brothers’ friends coming by to check on me.

Anna–  One of the aspects of Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand  that really struck me is that you really nail the fun of getting spooked while maintaining the razor edge tension that comes with a good ole fashioned scary read. By the end of the first chapter, you have us. Creaks, sounds, storms, and things out of place, and no explanations for the unexplainable. We MUST read on. And yet, it’s terrific fun ripping through the pages as fast as you can possibly read to find out WHAT IS HAPPENING! So, ‘fear’ and ‘fun’––how did you balance the two?

Kat – I am a former teacher, so I thought a lot about how readers read, and what drives even the most reluctant reader to stick with a book. Short chapters and cliffhangers keep kids turning pages. We speed up our reading for exciting or suspenseful parts, and we slow down for parts with lots of description or exposition. So for those spooky moments I had to intentionally slow the pace to draw out those creepy chills. Much of my storytelling background came from working as a freelance script reader in Hollywood, so everything I write I try to pace the way I would want to see it on screen.

It was also really important to me to write “safe scares.” I wanted readers to have a great ride full of thrills and chills, but I also wanted them to have moments of relief, lightness, and fun. Partly because the contrast makes for a better thrill when something spooky happens, but partly because we need those moments of silly fun to relieve the tension. I also tried to create times when you could stop reading for the night and still be able to fall asleep! At the end of the day, my hope is for the books to feel like a safe place where kids could explore being scared and overcome those fears, knowing that everything would turn out okay.

Anna–   Best news of all for readers, Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand is the FIRST in a series! Without giving anything away, where will you take us next?

Kat – Book 2 is called The Phantom Hour, and it stars Rebecca’s friend, Clio. Clio loves history, and she is thrilled when her latest babysitting gig takes her to a fascinating old mansion that had been vacant for years before the new family moved in. But when supernatural events begin threatening Clio and her friends, they realize the only way they can save the family is by unlocking the house’s secret past. The story has a lot of twists and turns, and it also introduces a new character into the mix. It comes out January 29, 2019, and the ARCs are heading to the printers as we speak. I just turned in Book 3 as well, so we’ll see what it looks like after revisions are done!

Anna–  I love the science pop culture references like NdGT, shorthand for my favorite astrophysicist. Are you a huge science fan and what was it like sprinkling fun references into the pages of your book? And what inspired you to add so much texture to the story with these fun tidbits?

Kat – I do love science, although I love math even more. (I could do algebra all day!) I’ve always been really interested in biology and chemistry, and I read a lot of nonfiction books about science, math, and history. Right now I’m reading The Disappearing Spoon, which is all about the periodic table. I’ve written science curriculum, and I used to oversee the fifth grade science fair at the last school where I taught. I loved helping kids design controlled experiments and thinking about variables and how to correct for them. So I thought about how if I might approach the supernatural from that perspective. I’ve always loved researching stuff, and part of the pleasure of writing is that it’s so much fun to actually use all of that random information I’ve collected over the years! I’m a huge NdGT fan, too; my husband even took me to see him one year for my birthday!

Anna–  I love your main character, Rebecca. Her thought process is so interesting and informed and empowered. For one, the stakes are high. She’s babysitting this cherub she adores. And she has to figure out what is going on. And here is where she really becomes interesting to me because she is going back in forth in analyzing science-based possibilities, and paranormal. And her ability to navigate both worlds as she reasons is sooooo cool. Tell me how that came to be. Why you decided to give her that kind of agency and smarts!

Kat – All of my characters are based in some part on people I know, especially kids I have taught. There is a certainly a lot of me in Rebecca, in that I love to organize and plan and feel in control; when I take the babysittingnightmares.com personality test, I always come out like 100% Rebecca! But for the rest of her I drew a lot from these confident, strong girls I have been fortunate enough to know and teach through the years. I also think Rebecca’s point of view is just as much a function of her age. Middle graders are in that sweet spot where they’re beginning to be educated and informed and form their own opinions, but they’re also still open to the possibilities of the world. They recognize that there’s a lot still left to know, so they don’t rule anything out yet.

And I think that middle graders do have a lot of agency, probably a lot more than we often give them credit for. There are so many kids in the world that look around them and see problems that the adults in their lives can’t or won’t do anything to fix, and so those kids are stepping up and saying, “Well, I guess it’s on me, then.” Our country has an amazing generation of younger activists, like Mari Copeny, Asean Johnson, Marley Dias, and Sophie Cruz. All of these kids were making an impact on the world well before their thirteenth birthdays!

Anna–  Another really cool aspect of the story, is the friendship between Rebecca and her friends. Tell me what inspired you to create these kind of friendships between your characters.

Kat – When I was a kid I loved reading horror and adventure and action, but it was my friendships that lay at the heart of my life. Friendships for me at that age were deep and powerful and complicated, and not always easy to navigate. With this series I knew I wanted it to be spooky and fun, but it was important to me to ground it in the relationship between the girls. And as with any relationship, when crisis arises it either brings people closer or pulls them apart, so I wanted to explore that a little, too. I think a lot about Elly Swartz’s wonderful book, Smart Cookie, which is all about finding your herd. These girls have found their herd, and they’re learning about what it means to really support one another. Nobody can do it alone.

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The countdown continues with Hayley Barrett and a spooky babysitting story of her own…

The Baby That Wasn’t There—A Real-Life Babysitting Nightmare

As the Emu Debuts celebrate Kat Shepherd‘s first book in her creeptastic BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES series, The Shadow Hand, I thought I’d tell a spooky tale of my own. 

But first, a bit of back story.

My late Scottish grandmother, Granny, kept her own counsel. She didn’t like to be questioned, most especially by a child. If she thought a question impertinent, she’d dismiss it with a puzzling retort. For instance, if the phone rang and Little Hayley asked, “Who was that, Granny?” She’d reply, “Och… It was The Little Man Who Wasn’t There.”Granny and Grampa

I spent my entire childhood TERRIFIED of The Little Man Who Wasn’t There, and he lived anyplace she didn’t want me to be. Under the porch? He was there. In the rickety shed? There too. ***shivers***

I never did meet up with The Little Man, but I did experience something—or someone—strange when I was 15.

It was an ordinary afternoon. I was in the kitchen having a cup of tea in with my mother and aunt. My baby sisterHayley and Andrea at Myopia Andrea was napping upstairs. No one else was home.

We all heard the baby’s cry, and because I was closest to the stairs, I jumped up and said, “I’ll get her.” I remember listening to the sound as I climbed. It was a familiar “come get me” cry. There was nothing unusual about it, and I wasn’t at all concerned. Doorknob

But then something strange happened. The split-second I touched the doorknob—to my utter astonishment—the crying stopped.  There was no sound coming from inside the bedroom. Although we had heard the crying downstairs in the kitchen, the upstairs hallway was now silent. I hesitated but knew I needed to check on the baby. I turned the doorknob and eased the door open.

Typically, little Andrea awoke from naps drenched in sweat. She’d fling her blanket off, stand up in the crib, and cry until someone came for her. This time, I tiptoed across the dim room, and peered into the crib to find her curled up, cool as a cucumber, and deeply asleep. I was mystified. There was simply no way this peaceful toddler had been crying a moment ago. I didn’t want to wake her, so I tiptoed out, shut the door, and headed back downstairs.

When I entered the kitchen with empty arms, my mother and aunt looked at me curiously. Without hesitation, Mom exclaimed, “You heard it this time!” Over the years, and well before the arrival of Andrea, I’d listened to stories about a mysterious baby cry heard in our house. It usually happened the middle of the night. Once, both of my parents heard it so clearly they went outside and searched the yard with flashlights, searching for an abandoned baby.

Yes, I had encountered The Baby Who Wasn’t There.

I hope this real-life babysitting nightmare whets your appetite for more shivery stories and exciting adventures from Kat’s BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES series. Start now with The Shadow Hand, and visit the series website for fun crafts, quizzes, and more paranormal pastimes. The next two books in the series, The Phantom Hour and The Ghost Light, will be available in 2019.

 

 

 

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The final stop on our countdown is Educational Connections with Ann Braden

Babysitting Nightmares: Educational Connections

Kat Shepherd has been a teacher, and she knows just the kind of book that students are going to gobble up like candy. This book has been described as The Babysitters’ Club meets Goosebumps, and now that I’ve read it, I can say that that is spot on. This is a book with the relatability of the Babysitters’ Club characters with the page-turning thrill of Goosebumps. It’s spooky in just the right ways, and it will appeal to all kinds of readers. This is a book that you’ll want to have in your classroom library––and once you do, you’ll never see it because it will just go from one student to another.

As educator Michele Knot says on her blog: “A combination of babysitters and scary books….. what’s not to love?  Any series with the word “babysitter” in it is instantly popular.  Scary series are always high on checkout lists.  Combine them?  It’s an instant hit.”

And here’s School Library Journal’s verdict: “Fans of ‘Goosebumps’ and the updated “Baby-Sitters’ Club” graphic novels will find lots to like in this delightfully monstrous mash-up.” Kirkus concludes, “Frightful (but not too frightful) fun for preteens.”

Based on her experience as a teacher, Kat has written about the importance of giving kids the freedom to choose what to read. “To create more joyful, enriching reading experiences in our middle-grade classrooms,” Kat writes, “we have to do one very important thing: We have to trust our readers.” Kat even has a page for teachers on her website that includes some of the strategies she used to build a community of readers in her classroom.

This is a book that will have readers counting the months for the next book in the series. This is a book that will make sure students discover their love of reading.

You can buy it here, here, or here right now! And then tomorrow, you can sit back, feeling accomplished that this fun book is headed your way!

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Filed under Celebrations, Launch, middle grade, Uncategorized, Updates on our Books!

Demi Moore Isn’t The Only One

Demi Moore isn’t the only one who’s ever seen a ghost.

Stories haunt writers. They rattle at us, whisper to us, ceaselessly tap-tap-tapping at our imaginations. When we least expect it, they emerge to surprise and maybe even scare us, leaving us puzzled, shaken, full of longing.

To write is to reach for something you sense could exist, something that almost exists. Occasionally when I read a manuscript, I experience a sort of déja vu. The story reaches for me as I reach for it. It flickers in my imagination, briefly takes form, and becomes a maybe-book. When it happens, the maybe-book feels so real, so familiar, so full of potential, I can almost touch it. 

But alas, it isn’t real, or at least, it isn’t real yet. Turns out, creative clairvoyance isn’t enough to wrest a book out of thin air. Hard work, attention to craft, dedication, and resilience are required before ephemeral maybe-books have a chance to transform and be embodied in smooth pages and dark ink.

It’s up to the individual  writer to pursue their ghostly maybe-books and capture them. This is a daunting prospect and hiding under the covers—a posture which, according to a friend in the know, is universal ghost-speak for “go away”— may seem an appealing alternative.

But there’s a problem with that option. Duck-and-cover won’t work. You can hide but you can’t…hide. Stories know where to find you, and no mere blanket is going to stop them. Perhaps people who don’t believe in regular ghosts never see them, but the ghosts of Stories Yet-To-Come are different. Even if we don’t believe in them, they believe in us, and boy, are they persistent!

So let’s pluck up our courage, throw off the covers, and shoulder our proton packs. We’ll keep the mysterious channels of communication open and reach for what haunts us. Stories know they belong here, and they depend on us, the writers, to invite them into our world.

Here a few of my favorite ghost books:

ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE by Christina Uss. (June 5, 2018)

 

 

 

GUS WAS A FRIENDLY GHOST by Jane Thayer

RULES FOR GHOSTING by Ammi-Joan Paquette

ghost book image credit: BHG.com

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About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press in spring 2019. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in fall 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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The Making of a Book Cover: Behind the Cover Reveal of THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS

The Benefits of Being an OctopusFriends, I know you have met author Ann Braden in our last post, but I have to share with you my amazing interview with Ann about her cover reveal. What was particularly fun is that…well… basically I LOVE to talk to Ann anytime I get the chance and you are about to see why. She is not only a talented writer, but she is a thoughtful, observant, deep human. And I learn something from her every time we talk, like the importance of having a rock in your pocket to keep yourself calm. (No, really.)

This particular conversation with Ann is about what happened when her cover showed up. Not the flannel kind. The BOOK kind. As in, after all the many forms of anguish one experiences in getting published, it’s actually happening and you open an e-mail to look at your actual real live book cover.

Here we go. Enjoy! – Anna Crowley Redding

Anna: You and I first met out in Washington at a retreat. I’ll never forget it. Neither of us had book deals yet and I remember how you shared about managing that anxiety of working hard on writing and waiting for a break through. And here you are now, with your first book baby on the way.  How are you feeling these days?

ANN: Yes! That was soon after I had spent an entire month holding a satisfyingly-shaped rock in my hand because I was on pins and needles waiting to hear news about two books that had made their way to the top of the acquisitions process. That was a good rock. And for the record I think I finally heard the decision (of ‘not quite’) about a year later, so it was good I had that rock to help me settle in for the wait!

As to how I’m feeling right now, I’ve been loving every step of the process. I loved digging into revisions with my amazing editor, getting to copy edits, collaborating on this cover, and then most recently, getting to see it laid out like an actual book! There are even e-ARCs up on Edelweiss! That’s pretty darn real!

But I know that as you put your heart out into the world, it’s always best to have something sturdy to hold onto. For me that ideally means getting deep enough into the next manuscript that I’m able to stay sane while riding this roller coaster. Unfortunately, I’ve been pretty busy getting this book ready, and I’m only at the very beginning stages of the next one. It’s probably time to find that satisfyingly-shaped rock again.

Anna:  Your cover reveal was featured on Mr. Schu’s blog. I mean MR. SCHU!!!! He’s a rock star traveling librarian, a shout-it-out-from-the-mountain-tops book advocate, and all around kidlit hero. Please give us a taste of what it was like flying so close to the sun and having Mr. Schu reveal your book cover!

Ann: I’ve been a huge fan of Mr. Schu since I was on maternity leave from my middle school teaching position back in 2010 and had just discovered Twitter. His enthusiasm for books was (as you know) infectious and as I started down the path of writing MG books, I was propelled in part by the knowledge that out there in the world there were people like him who LOVED good books and introduced them to kids.

I have to admit that when Mr. Schu agreed to reveal my book cover I may have leaped around the house for a good long while.

Anna: I need to know about the first moment you saw your book cover with your name on it . . . as the author!

Ann: Oh my goodness. People had said that moment was amazing, and they weren’t kidding. I looked at it small. I looked at it big. I printed it out. I taped it to actual books. All while flailing around A LOT. Since then, my five-year-old daughter has started proclaiming: “THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS! BY ANN BRADEN!” at random moments.

Anna: THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is such an important book for readers. And grabbing them with the cover, is an important part of getting the book into readers’ hands. I am such a fan of the design. How did that come together? And were you involved in the process?

Ann: I aually got to be super involved in the process. My editor pitched two concepts at the beginning, and I loved one so we went with that. We discussed things every step of the way, and it was such a great collaborative process – and I love love love the end result! I love how bold it is, and I love the way it captures the idea that there is so much going on below the surface of a person. Because isn’t that the truth?

Anna: Now teachers have a crazy good opportunity to win a full classroom set of THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS between now and your book birthday. Tell us about that!

Ann: Yes! I was a middle school teacher before I became a writer and I always thought about how this book could reach those kids feeling alone as they struggle to juggle just as much as the main character Zoey – and how this book could be used in classrooms to start really important and meaty conversations.

Here are the details for the giveaway:

Teachers and librarians have a chance to win a complete class set of books (32 copies!), octopus tattoos, and lesson plans. To enter visit: http://annbradenbooks.com/teachers-librarians/ and click the link at top of the page. While you’re there you can download the brand new Educator’s Guide for THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS. It offers a wide range of discussion questions and activities designed to help kids think deeply about the power of assumptions, the realities of poverty, the ways we can bridge the divides in our society (like about guns, for example), and the importance of finding your own voice.

Anna: Lastly, for writers out there who are still waiting for that first sale, what advice do you have in keeping calm and focused while they are waiting to break-in?

Ann: This advice is said a lot, but that’s only because it’s so darn true: once you put something out into the world, take a break…read some good books, watch some mindless TV…and then get to work creating the next thing. And until then, find a good rock to hold.


Readers, was I right or what? Ann is a gem and I can’t wait to have her book in my hands!

Award winning journalist and author Anna Crowley Redding‘s own debut GOOGLE IT! comes out in August 2018.

 

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THE POET X LAUNCHES (part 2)

The Poet X

Oh friends! How I have been looking forward to this day! We have a book launch to celebrate. Stop what you are doing right now. I’ve got an interview for you to read and book that must be added to your collection. Elizabeth Acevedo’s, THE POET X, is waiting at a bookstore near you. And boy, do we need this book. Acevedo’s novel-in-verse tackles the heart of finding your voice, your power, your place in this world, while challenging preconceived notions, ideas, beliefs . . .  and I am just scratching the surface in this summary. THE POET X is entering this world while teens across the country (and beyond) are finding their own voices and using that powerful energy for change. What timing.

 

Here’s how Harper Collins sums up THE POET X.

 Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

 THE POET X received a star review from Kirkus, saying “It’s about how the power that we find in other peoples’ stories is a power we can claim for ourselves. That we, ourselves, can become the storytellers.

And it’s about how acknowledging and expressing hard personal truths—truths rooted in pain, fury, exhaustion—can lead us to hope and joy and wonder and optimism.”download

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Elizabeth about her book, about this rising voice, the importance of girls of color seeing their own stories on bookshelves. Friends, grab your coffee, you are going to want to savor every word of what Elizabeth has to say. And then RUN to the bookstore and grab a copy of her debut novel-in-verse. This book will move you.

Now, without further adieu, my special conversation with Elizabeth Acevedo, author, slam poet, and woman extraordinaire.

 

ENJOY!

Anna Crowley Redding

 Anna –  One of the powerful things that struck me about THE POET X is your main character, Xiomara Batista, and her struggle to find her voice and thus, her own path, her own journey, her own place in this world. I started thinking about your readers and how that core truth might move them. Do you think about that, too? What do you hope they take from your pages and from Xiomara’s words?

Elizabeth – I definitely want my readers to feel that that their voice matters and that their unique story is important. It’s easy to feel small in this world, and a reminder that you can be your own narrator, and hero, is definitely a theme I hope comes through.

Anna –  Your book is hitting the shelves at a time when young people, teenagers in particular, are reacting to powerful events in our country. They, too, are finding their voice and learning the incredible value it has. What would you say to these teens?

Elizabeth – “Go on! Y’all have the answers.” I really am inspired by the young people I’ve seen in Florida, and the teens I saw protesting in Baltimore and Ferguson before them, and the teens I saw at the Women’s March. Time and again I’m reminded that it’s young people who have led most major movements in this country and it will be young people who will leads us, this country, this world, towards a more empathetic and fuller future.

Anna – Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street, had this to say about THE POET X: “Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” Tell me what it’s like to read that sentence and to add your powerful book to the shelves of young girls and girls of color in particular?

Elizabeth – I loved reading that sentence by Ibi. I think she gets the world in a different level than many readers, firstly because we are friends, but also because we have similar ideas about getting girls of color from the hood into books and showing their full complexity. We both understand that young women from urban areas contain multitudes beyond how they’ve been represented in literature to date. I hope to continuing writing stories that celebrate those many sides.

Anna –  Is there hope that the world is actually changing? We have #metoo, #ownvoices, #blacklivesmatter, #neveragain and . . . on the movie/entertainment front, we have The Black Panther! Is there hope for more diverse books in publishing for children and young adults? And more voices, period. A more authentic view and experience of the actual diverse world we live in?

Elizabeth – I think the publishing industry is beginning to realize that stories from marginalized backgrounds are necessary for the future readers of our country. I think they are responding to the demand that those stories be published, I just hope that they also remember this is not a trend; it’s an ongoing effort to equalize publishing and reflect the many cultural experiences that make up this nation.

Anna –  What would you say to young writers, who are lucky enough to get a copy of your book!

Elizabeth – I hope you enjoy!

Anna – Lastly, if you could hop a plane right now, and sit next to yourself as a junior in English lit class . . . what would you whisper into the ear of your younger self?

Elizabeth – There is no blueprint. There is no one path. No one can tell you how to be the woman you want to became. You must make her up. And you are brilliant and bold enough to do so.


Emu’s Debuts author Anna Crowley Redding‘s GOOGLE IT: A History of Google comes out August 2018 from Feiwel & Friends.

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THE POET X LAUNCHES (part 1)

The Poet X

All the members of Emu’s Debuts are privileged today to help Elizabeth Acevedo celebrate the launch of her gorgeous debut, The Poet X from Harper Teen.  Read on to learn more about this book’s path to publication and the ways the story is bound to touch and enrich readers everywhere.


The Poet X Belongs On the Shelf in Every School – Ann Braden

Last night I had the privilege of finishing The Poet X. I sat there for a long time, holding all of its amazingness inside me and trying not to burst. It was so real, and it explored such timely issues in such a powerful way that it exposed them for all to see – and to feel.

Take this stanza from page 126:

“She knew since she was little,
the world would not sing her triumphs,
but she took all of the stereotypes
and put them in a chokehold
until they breathed out the truth.”

And what filled me up to the point of bursting was thinking about what this book could mean for our students who not only need to see themselves in books, but who need to be inspired to make their voices heard. I used to be a classroom teacher, and my heart is full of all the students who need this book. Our job is to get it into their hands.

This year’s the NCTE has chosen the powerful theme of “Raising Students Voice: Speaking Out for Equity and Justice.” As Franki Sibberson, the program chair of the 2018 annual convention, reminds us: “Our students’ voices matter. Their voices matter in our schools, our communities, and beyond. As teachers, we want our students to discover their own voices.… Our students deserve stories that impact who they are and who they can become.”

The Poet X is a book that needs to on the shelf in every school. It will show students that their voices matter, and it will show them how their own lives can change when they speak out.

As the main character Xiomara says:

“If my body was a Country Club soda bottle,
it’s one that has been shaken and dropped
and at any moment it’s gonna pop open
and surprise the whole damn world.”


ARCs and Electricity – Kat Shepherd

I have been eagerly awaiting the book birthday of Elizabeth Acevedo’s THE POET X for almost a year now, so I felt doubly lucky that not only did I get a sneak peek of an ARC of the book, I also got a chance to attend my first even poetry slam this past weekend, where Elizabeth was the featured performer.

 

For those who don’t know, ARC stands for Advanced Reader Copy. These are early, unproofed copies of an author’s book that are sent out to librarians, teachers, and other reviewers to help build buzz around a book before it’s released. If you’ve ever followed groups like #bookvoyage or #bookexpedition on Twitter, you’re probably used to seeing kidlit folks excitedly tweeting about the latest ARCs making their way to mailboxes across the country. Having the chance for an early read already feels incredibly special, and THE POET X was everything I hoped for and more.

 

Xiomara, or X, is entering high school and working to make sense of the conflicting worlds that try to define her: childhood and adulthood, Dominican and American, skepticism and faith, self-love and shame. Poetry is what allows her to fit the pieces of herself together and share her voice with the world. So it was fitting that I got to get a glimpse into Xiomara’s real-life world just as I was reading her story.

Lightning Strike

Elizabeth Acevedo had been invited as the featured poet at a Macalester College poetry slam in St. Paul last Saturday. I already knew she was a phenomenal poet and speaker, but I had never seen her perform in person before. Have you ever felt that pull in your belly when you see someone do something that they were just absolutely born to do? That’s what it felt like seeing Elizabeth. She read poems, she told stories, she made goofy little asides, and she had us hanging on her every word. She was absolutely electrifying.

And the slam itself: undiluted and intense, with poets sharing their most vulnerable selves. Audience participation isn’t just encouraged; it’s absolutely vital. There are snaps, claps, hoots and hollers, peppered with the occasional hiss or cursing of the judges. It is organized chaos punctuated by moments of the sublime.There are poems with lines that cut into the deepest part of you and leave you struggling for breath. It’s the same rawness and urgency of emotion that is captured so beautifully in Acevedo’s novel.

 

THE POET X reminds of that art is a lifeline, and it’s also a heartline that connects us to one another. It allows us to be our most vulnerable and urgent selves, and still have faith that we will be loved.


The Team Behind the Launch  – Christina Uss

The Poet X began its transformation from manuscript to ARC to full-fledged launching hardcover book when Elizabeth Acevedo signed with her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, who then connected her with the book’s editor, Rosemary Brosnan at Harper Teen. Pre-published writers often agonize over how they’ll find an agent or editor, wondering if there’s some magical, mystical way to get noticed. In Elizabeth’s case, all the magic she needed was right there in her words. Her writing spoke so strongly to these two, they both knew they simply had to work with her on this book.open-a-book

Ammi-Joan Paquette explained how her part in the journey began:

“Liz and I had been in touch a few years before, and at that time she had sent me sample pages of another work she had in progress. Although that was a bit earlier in her writing journey, she definitely had the magic already! We kept in correspondence, and when she eventually sent me the manuscript for POET X, I was hooked. I knew this was what I had been waiting for. Pure magic.” The main character, Xiomara, particularly drew Paquette in: “Her voice rings through so clearly and vividly. From the earliest lines she is a living, breathing, multi-dimensional character, and her personality is exquisitely captured as she develops and grows across the course of the story.”

            Paquette submitted Xiomara’s story to editors she thought might make a good match, and The Poet X ended up selling at auction – an enviable situation when multiple editors/publishing houses all want to be the one to publish a work. “When that happens, the various editors each make their case for why they would provide the best home for the work. That’s what happened with POET X—it’s very exciting, but also a bit nerve-wracking, as you might imagine, for the author to suddenly be in a position to have to choose between such an array of excellent options. In this case, Rosemary Brosnan at Harper Teen was inarguably the top choice for POET X, and I can’t imagine a better home for Liz and Xiomara anywhere!

Rosemary Brosnan let Emu’s  Debuts know she agrees:

Everything about THE POET X drew me in and made me want to acquire it! The voice, the wonderful poetry, the story—everything about this book screamed to me, ‘You must publish!’ I was also quite taken with the Afro-Dominican main character, Xiomara, as she is someone we have not seen a great deal in YA literature. And Liz herself is a force; I watched videos of her performances after I read the manuscript, and I was completely bowled over. (See links below to catch your own glimpse of Elizabeth’s power onstage.)

        Like Paquette, Brosnan found Xiomara to be a unique character. “Some of the issues…in the story have been dealt with by other authors, but Xiomara is a truly memorable character, with her Dominican heritage, her love of poetry, her ultra-religious mother against whom she rebels.” She hopes all the book’s readers will leave its pages knowing “that poetry does not have to be obscure or written by dead white males! That poetry is fun!”


Savoring Poetry – Please Join the Challenge – Hayley Barrett

The Poet X is stunningly beautiful, inside and out.

I tried to read it—to sit quietly and read it—but I couldn’t. My voice wouldn’t cooperate. My ears wouldn’t cooperate. I should have expected as much. I’m predominantly an auditory learner, and my voice is sometimes the best tool I have to explore an idea. As I read The Poet X, my lips began to move. Eventually, I realized I was whispering and began to read aloud. Sweet, poetic relief!

To experience poetry silently, to only ever experience it like that, is to do it a disservice. Poetry does not care to be silenced or made to be less that all it truly is. Poems deserve to be read quietly, to be read out loud, to be shared with many voices. The Poet X certainly deserves that.

Throughout my education—which included an undergrad English major—only one teacher required me to memorize and recite poetry. I often chose the work of my favorite poet, Maxine Kumin. When I recited Kumin in class, I heard her voice and, perhaps as importantly, I heard my own. Savoring her words broadened my poetic palate and whetted my appetite for language. The experience nourished and strengthened me.

There are many videos of author Elizabeth AcevedoElizabeth Acevedo on her website and YouTube, including spoken word, two TEDx talks, and others. I encourage you to seek them out. In a recent one, she introduces The Poet X and talks about how she hopes her readers “hear a voice they’ve never heard.” If they read The Poet X aloud, one of the voices readers hear will be their own. I believe this experience will nourish and strengthen them. They may even discover their own poetic voice. I hope so.

As we celebrate her launch of The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo challenges each of us to identify a female poet, choose one of her poems, and commit it to memory. I didn’t retain the Kumin poems I memorized for Professor Briggs, but I can reclaim them. I accept the challenge.


The rest of the Emus plan to do the same! Will you accept the challenge with us? Please comment below and share the poems and female poets who help you hear a voice you’ve never heard.



The Emu’s Debuts nest is honored to count Elizabeth Acevedo as one of our own! Contributors to this Emu’s Debuts post include middle-grade authors debuting in 2018 Ann Braden , Christina Uss, and Kat Shepherd, and picture book author Hayley Barrett, debuting in 2019.


 

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The Three Questions That Led to BE KIND

Be_Kind

I’m so grateful to the current group of EMU’s Debuts for letting me visit for a guest blog.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was a member of EMU’s Debuts, waiting for SOPHIE’S SQUASH to come into the world. It was a time of excitement and fun and nervousness and wondering.

I’ve had more books come out since SOPHIE, but I still feel the same way when a new book arrives. What will happen? Will people like it? Will it matter?

So I’d like to walk you through the questioning process for my new book, BE KIND, illustrated by Jen Hill, which released Feb. 6 from Roaring Brook Press.

THE IDEA:

BE KIND started with a conversation I had with Editor Connie Hsu from Roaring Brook Press. She wanted to publish a book on kindness and had the title. My job was to write the story. Which led to question No. 1: What should I say?

I decided to tell the story from the point of view of a child who wants to be kind, but isn’t sure quite how to go about it – especially after the first attempt doesn’t go so well.

I thought back to how I often felt as a kid – nervous and unsure. Wanting to do the right thing, but afraid of having it taken the wrong way. So quiet, that I probably sometimes came across as rude even though that’s not what I wanted.

In the book, the main character ponders different ways of being kind and how each way might make a difference in the world. I like how it shows that there’s no one right way to be kind. All you can do is try sincerely and try again if it doesn’t work.

THE CHARACTER:

The story is told from inside the main character’s head. Which led to question No. 2: Who should this character be?

Because the story is told in first person, the main character doesn’t have a name. Or an identified gender. We wanted a character people could relate to and see themselves in.

And it’s interesting. Some people have read the book and assumed the main character is a girl. Others have assumed a boy. My favorite response came from Madison, Wisconsin, school librarian LuEllen Childers. She read the book to some students, and the kids started discussing if the main character was a boy or a girl. LuEllen asked them: “Does it matter?”

And, after some more discussion, the universal answer was that, no, it did not. Because everyone could be kind.

THE AUDIENCE:

Our question No. 3 was: Who is this book for?

It might seem like an odd question. Picture books are for kids, right? And, yes, they are. But picture books can have a broader scope than that. More and more middle school and high school teachers are reading picture books to their older students to introduce topics and start conversations and reintroduce the power and joy of story. And more and more adults are realizing that picture books can apply to them, too.

No book is ever for everyone. But I hope BE KIND has ideas and concepts that apply to people of all ages, and I tried to keep that in mind as I wrote.

If you’d like to know a little more about BE KIND, here’s a Pinterest board I made featuring other picture books about kindness.

And here’s a book trailer featuring some students talking about what being kind means: to them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2eZBM0uvIg


PAT ZIETLOW MILLER iis a former member of EMU’s Debuts. She has published seven picture books. Find her on Twitter at @PatZMiller or visit her website twww.patzietlowmiller.com.

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Help from Hollywood

Long before I ever started writing fiction, I worked as a script reader for studios specializing in children and family entertainment. It was a low-level freelance job that paid just enough to cover my monthly cellphone bill, but it was perhaps the best education I could ever have asked for as a writer.

My job was to read and provide “coverage” of screenplays that had been submitted to the studios, i.e. giving a brief summary of each script’s story, critiquing it, and determining whether it was a good potential fit for the studio. One of the most important things coverage did for me was it moved me away from thinking of a story as either something I liked or didn’t like, and instead moved me to approach every story as a potential problem to solve. Whether a script was initially a strong one or a weak one, my number one job was to approach it with the goal of figuring out how to make it better. That’s right; one of the first lessons that Hollywood taught me is that nothing is perfect, and almost everything is fixable.

Like a lot of writers, I tend to be a perfectionist with a flair for the dramatic. When I’m writing it feels like every sentence is a high-stakes decision that will determine the ultimate fate of the book, my career, and possibly even my ability to survive another day on this planet. While it can be paralyzing, before I sold anything that wasn’t that necessarily a big a problem for me. If I wanted to take years to write a book I could. But when deadlines come into the picture, perfectionism is no longer a workable plan, especially when those deadlines usually aren’t that far apart. Now when I’m working on a first draft, my husband and I have a joke in our house: “We’ll fix it in post.” It’s a reference to the cherished Hollywood tradition of fixing errors in the post-production editing process, after the movie has finished shooting. In the film and TV business, nothing is ever considered a perfect finished product up until the very moment it’s released, and then the audience and critics can gleefully start ripping it apart.

Hollywood is known for its short attention span. Studio execs are inundated with hundreds of scripts a month, and they might hear several dozen pitches a day. As a result, they wanted their notes broken down in easily-distilled categories. The execs I worked with were most interested in four main elements: premise, plot structure, characterization, and dialogue. By focusing on specific elements rather than the piece as a whole, it allowed me to determine what made a particular story resonate or fall flat. I could quickly identify strengths, and if something didn’t land, it gave me an efficient way to figure out what wasn’t working and why.

This has been invaluable in my own work. I always start with the story’s concept or premise. Hollywood is big on “high concept” ideas. This simply means that your story’s premise can easily be pitched and communicated. It succinctly answers the question, “What is this about?” Because I write for kids, having a high concept idea is a pretty good place to start. If a bunch of kids want to know what my book series is about, I want to make sure I can pitch it to them in one sentence and grab their attention before they lose interest and scatter. Not every great idea has to be high-concept, but I have found in my own work that if I can’t easily communicate my premise, it might be a sign that my story has problems.

Highlighting the importance of plot might be the Captain Obvious move of the year, but in screenwriting when we talk about plot we’re really talking about structure and pacing. Everyone’s writing process is different, but working as a script reader turned me into a dedicated outliner. In screenwriting, structure is everything; lots of times if a story isn’t working, it is likely a problem with either the structure or the pacing. My mom always used to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there.” Focusing on structure keeps me focused on where I’m going and how I’m getting there. It’s purposeful, and it makes for efficient and effective storytelling. I think of the plot structure as the skeleton of the story. If the skeleton isn’t solid, then it’s going to cause problems down the line when we start adding the rest of the body.

If the plot is the skeleton, the characters are the muscle. They do the moving and the heavy lifting. Because I was reading for a kids’ network, my job was to find kid-driven stories. If the kids weren’t driving the plot, it was a pass. As a writer I always have to make sure that my characters are driving the plot, and not the other way around. Beyond the inciting event, the story shouldn’t just happen to characters; we want it to be driven by the characters’ choices and actions. Characters also have to be rich and nuanced and feel authentic. Scripts where a character felt more like a prop, or seemed to be there solely to stand in for an idea or lesson of some kind, were less successful. For novels I lump voice in with characterization. When reading for character, I was always look for honesty and authenticity. In other words, it’s the character’s voice we want to hear, not the author’s.

Because screenplays are so reliant on dialogue, working as a reader gave me a lot of insight into how dialogue can make or break a story. Dialogue is our best way of getting to know characters and build conflicts that keep the story moving. One of the main stumbling blocks for dialogue is when it doesn’t feel natural. Readers can spot inauthentic dialogue from a mile away. My biggest pet peeve as a reader was when kids didn’t talk like real kids. It immediately pulled me out of the story, and each time your reader gets pulled out of your story, it makes it that much harder to bring them back. The other problem is when characters don’t have distinct voices. I struggled with this in Babysitting Nightmares: The Shadow Hand, because I had four preteen girls with common interests. It took a lot of extra character work and revision to make sure that each girl felt distinct, and I’m still not sure I got there.

If you’re worried about how your dialogue is landing, a table read is a really easy way to test it out. In Hollywood screenwriters often host table reads, where they invite actors or friends sit around a table and read a screenplay out loud. Invite a few folks over and have them do the dialogue of your scene. Listen to how they sound. Ask them how they felt reading it. This is a really effective and fast way to spot and fix dialogue problems. If you’re feeling shy or short on time, act out the scenes yourself. I do this all the time when I’m workshopping dialogue in my books. I’ll use physical gestures, move around the room, and speak in different voices so I can imagine how the characters might talk about what they’re feeling in the scene. Unlike film and TV where actors bring the writing to life, books have to rely on the reader’s imagination to bring the authors’ words to life. Don’t be shy about channelling your inner actor to make sure that your character’s voices will be heard.

The time I spent reading for film and TV was a huge gift I gave my writer self, because it forced me to look at my own work through a completely different lens. Many writers dedicate time and energy to reading within their lane, but consuming content outside your lane is a really effective way to inject some much-needed outside perspective on your own work. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut or uncertain of what your own story needs, go check out something completely different. And don’t just read; watch movies and watch TV. Watch what your audience watches, and take notes. Definitely watch the good stuff, but make sure you cover the bad stuff, too. I read a lot of great screenplays, but I also read a lot terrible screenplays, and every one of them taught me something different. The beauty of writing is that every experience brings an opportunity to learn something new.

 

Author PhotoKat Shepherd is a writer and former classroom teacher living in Minnesota with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts June 5, 2018. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

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Filed under Advice, Character Development, Characters, craft~writing, Deadlines, Editing and Revising, middle grade, Middle Grade, Plotting, process, Screenwriting, series, Uncategorized, Writing

Four Things All Debuts Should Do

I am a month away from my release (!) and I was thinking recently about different pieces of advice I’ve gleaned over the last year that might be helpful for a debuting author. Below are four things I think all debuting authors should do.

  1. Ask to see your marketing plan!

I fundamentally believe that a writer should worry about writing, and trust their publisher to worry about the publishing. But coming from background where I’ve made my own chapbooks, and then worked closely with a small publisher on a different book of poems, I’m used to being in the know regarding how my work will be marketed and publicized.

That said, I didn’t know what I was allowed to ask for or what information I was supposed to have throughout the process of working with a bigger publisher. Luckily, my editor offered a lot of information without my needing to ask, and I also reminded myself of a saying I first heard from my agent Joan: the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

And following that advice, I know I asked (still ask!) a lot of silly questions, but I think I also ask some good questions that have led to my having a better sense of what my publisher would be doing for me in terms of promotion and what I would need to do myself. Seeing my marketing plan helped me gain comfort in what was happening behind the scenes, and also I came to the table with ideas that would complement the work that my publisher was already doing in getting my book publicized.

  1. Establish what your “reviews” plan is going to be

I had to learn the hard way that I don’t need to read every review I’m tagged in and that establishing a routine for how I would deal with feedback once the book was reviewed would be critical to my well-being.

Since my ARCs were sent to librarians, booksellers, and bloggers seven months before my release date, a lot of folks began writing reviews while I was still working on revisions. And at first, I wanted to read every review and see what WHOLE REAL READERS were thinking and feeling about the novel. But I quickly realized that I was letting too many voices into my head while I was still working on revisions.

I have a writer friend who established an Official Reviews Reader: a friend to read the reviews on their behalf and highlight anything that the writer might wish to know. I know some writers who silence their Twitter mentions and asked their editor not to send them any reviews. In my case, I don’t check online reader review anymore but I still have my editor send me all trade reviews. This works for me! And I think it’s important to consider what works for you.

  1. Find your tribe

Writing is lonely, and you need to find a tribe! Join a debut group, read the work of the other writers in your debut year, attend readings, engage with writers whose work you enjoy, or whose work you’re excited about and begin fostering an online relationship.

Although your friends and family will try to understand the pressure and anxiety and anticipation that comes along with putting your book into the world, other authors debuting with you are basically your comrades-in-arms. They are in the revision trenches, the reviews blues, and the cover reveal highs.

Having writer friends in the same debut year also makes future conferences and literary festivals more enjoyable when you have other authors you can band together with.

  1. Figure out how you’re going to celebrate!

You wrote a book, it’s going out into the world. And as writers I think we quickly learn to appreciate every win: signing with an agent, selling the book, turning in revisions, seeing your cover, etc., and I think it’s equally important to take a moment before the release to celebrate that you made a tangible thing that will be out in the world forever, and ever, and ever.

Hope this helps!

 

ELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland.  The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC.

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Singing Your Book’s Song

Happy New Year! I’m relieved to report that it’s now 2018. Do you know what that means? Well, for me it means when someone asks when my picture book Babymoon will be published, I can reply, “Next year.” Those two words have been a long time coming. Who would ever believe that 180 words could take years and years of thought and effort?

I know who would believe it. Another writer. Probably you.

Babymoon is my heart-of-hearts book. Its message—that new families deserve quiet time to bond and fall in love—is deeply important to me. It’s been my job to steadfastly believe in this message, to sing the song of it to myself and to others, as I worked to give Babymoon its chance at publication.

Only you can sing your book’s unique song. You understand its melody and meaning better than anyone else ever could. It’s your job to steadfastly believe in it, and if you can, to make others believe in it too. This could take a long time. Many years. A lifetime, even.

But what could be more important? The possibility of singing something into existence reminds me of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wind In The Door. Have you read it? It’s about naming and being named, letting love guide us to our truest selves, and singing our own irreplaceable song. 

Whenever we write or engage in any creative endeavor, that’s what we’re doing. We’re naming. We’re letting love guide us. We’re singing a new song born of imagination and inspiration. With time and lots of work, each has the potential to manifest into something real, like a book.

So let’s welcome 2018 with lifted voices. I’ll be listening for yours.

 

 

 

 


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book Babymoon, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming in spring 2019 from Candlewick Press. What Miss Mitchell Saw, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. Girl Versus Squirrel, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

 

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Faith, Inspiration, Picture books, process, Uncategorized, waiting