Tag Archives: middle grade

Strong Girls in Middle Grade

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This week we’re celebrating the release of Janet Fox‘s brilliant new middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. The setting is haunting, the plot is tight and tense, the writing is gorgeous. (You don’t have to take my word for it–check out the incredible blurbs and three starred reviews at the bottom if this page!)

But perhaps my favorite thing about this book is the strength of its main character, Kat. She is clever and fierce and good, and she absolutely never gives up. She’s so unique and memorable, and she joins some pretty impressive ranks of strong girls in middle grade. Here are some of the Emus’ favorites:

penderwicksMegan Wagner Lloyd: There are so many fantastic girl protagonists in MG! A few wonderful ones that come to mind: I love the Penderwick sisters (in the Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall) for their determination and the way they embrace each sister’s uniqueness. I love Pacy (in The Year of the Dog series by Grace Lin) for her creativity, her yearning, and the way she is always puzzling out the different things that make her Pacy. I love Ellie (in The Fourteeth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm) for her curiosity, openness, and kindness. I’ll stop there (I could go on for ages!).

Darcey Rosenblatt: Harriet the Spy is certainly a fav, but meg in A Wrinkle in Time is my all time favorite and sort of saved my life because she was nerdy and under appreciated but turned out to kind of save the world!!

Katie Slivensky: Annabeth Chase from Percy Jackson. Smart, quick–that girl has her act together. Which is incredibly necessary, because she’s in a series with a monster attack every other page.

juniperLaurie Thompson: Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, because she is oh so real and has to learn as she goes, mistakes and all! 🙂

Hayley Barrett: Ada in The War That Saved My Life.

Sarvinder Naberhaus: I always liked Laura Ingalls Wilder because she wasn’t a goody-two-shoes like her sister Mary.

Elly Swartz: I loved Rose in Rain Reign by Ann Martin. She stays true to who she is, and is a take-charge kind of girl.

Carole Gerber: I like Meg in Little Women. Shows how “up” I am on current MG titles! Yay for Louisa May Alcott, one of the first to write about strong girls.

lizziebrightMylisa Larsen: Oh, there are so many that I love. Delphine from P.S. Be Eleven (and surrounding books in that series.) Odge from The Secret of Platform 13 (though she is technically a hag not a girl but she reads as middle grade girl to me.) Igraine the Brave. Lizzie Bright. The Penderwick sisters. Aerin from The Hero and the Crown. Vida Wojciehowski (“My public calls me Velveeta.”) from Bluefish. I adore Vida Wojciehowski. Just as I loved Jo March with every fiber of my 14 year old heart when I first met her. My daughter is sitting here and her current picks are Tamora Pierce’s Alanna and Varian Johnson’s Gaby de la Cruz.

Andrea Wang: I love Hermione from the Harry Potter series. She’s unabashedly brainy, a steadfast friend, and always prepared. I covet her little beaded handbag with the Undetectable Extension Charm on it.

Jason Gallaher: A new favorite of mine is Mya Tibbs from Crystal Allen’s The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown. Mya has personality for days! She’s a cowgirl loving, taradiddle telling, hogtying practicing spitfire who isn’t afraid to face life’s challenges head on.

Thank you, Emus! And thank you, Janet, for giving us another strong middle grade girl to read about and root for!

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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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Luke Reynolds’ The Looney Experiment – An Ode to Teachers

Welcome to Day Two of the EMU’s Debuts launch party for Luke Reynolds and his charming new middle grade novel, The Looney Experiment. If you haven’t already snagged a copy of the book for yourself, or for the nearest young reader in your life, I’m pretty sure you will Looney Experimentwant to by the end of this launch week. Yesterday, Megan introduced some of the looney things we’ve done in our pasts. Today, we’re stepping into the shoes of Atticus, the protagonist of The Looney Experiment, and to the teacher who impacted his life so profoundly, Mr. Looney. We’ve blown the cobwebs out of our memory noggins to reflect on the teachers who helped to shape each of us.

male-teacher-cartoonMs. McCauley was my third-grade teacher. She was the no-smiles type of teacher who left a lasting imprint on my life. You see, I was a slow-as-molasses type of reader when I was little. So slow that it made reading not fun. But Ms. McCauley realized something was wrong. Turned out, only my right eye read. The left one did nothing, causing the whole reading process to slow way way down. She taught me how to strengthen my eye, my reading and ultimately, my love for books. Thank you, Ms. McCauley!     Elly Swartz

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy first through third grade teacher, Mrs. Knight, is definitely the teacher who sparked my creativity. As long as I did my homework in math and science, she would let me sit at my desk and write stories until my fingers fell off. Mrs. Knight even staged readings in “The Circle” (which was actually a square and still to this day gets me in an Inception-like rabbit hole of “what in the heck did this misnomer mean?!?!”), and kept our books in the classroom library. I will forever remember Mrs. Knight, and wouldn’t be here today without her.     Jason Gallaher

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMy favorite teachers were both band teachers: Mr. Jacobus in junior high and Mr. Duffer in high school. Mr. Jacobus helped me develop a love and appreciation for music. With his encouragement I discovered a drive to set goals and improve as a musician. In high school, Mr. Duffer exposed us to an impressive range of composers and taught us to dream big. Under his guidance we won several competitions and learned not to be afraid of a challenge. I will always be grateful for the incredible gift of music they nurtured. It continues to shape my life in unexpected ways. Case in point: those early band days are providing inspiration for my current work-in-progress!   Christine Hayes

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTeachers often told me that I was good at writing, but I never really felt like I had any particular talent for it. Writing finally came alive for me in middle school when—believe it or not—we got to diagram sentences! Our teacher, Mrs. Lysdahl, showed me that language could be logical and fit together like pieces of a puzzle as well as being beautiful and creative. It delighted me that it could be both of those things at once, and the exercise appealed to both sides of my brain. I loved finding particularly beautiful and/or powerful sentences and then analyzing them, taking them apart to see what made them tick. It somehow brought the “hard” part—being creative—back down to earth for me, and made it seem less like a magical talent that you either had or didn’t have and more like a skill that I could really master if I worked hard enough.   Laurie Ann Thompson

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMr. Arkle taught 12th-grade honors English and blew my mind when he assigned us an E-Prime essay. At that age, I already loved to write, but I always did it quickly, with abandon. E-Prime demanded that I choose each word with care. It opened my eyes to the power of being deliberate. It also taught me what it meant to edit; I spent hours searching through that paper and eliminating tiny slips and weaknesses. Two decades later, that assignment and its lessons remain vivid in my writing mind. Thank you, Mr. Arkle.   Megan Morrison

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTwo teachers come immediately to mind. And they are husband and wife!  Scott Kalter and Sydney Long.  Scott was my 6th grade teacher in a tiny 4 room schoolhouse. His energy and passion were anything but tiny though.  As an adult looking back, I think what he taught me more than anything was the art of active listening: Scott’s focus on each student, and his genuine interest in what each of us was thinking (and hoping and fearing) made all of us feel…real. I know he made me feel that way—like I was a vital part of a community; like I mattered as a unique individual but had a necessary place, too, in the whole.  Sydney was my junior high and high school chorus teacher. Her energy and passion were enormous too. And as an adult looking back on my time with her, I think what she began to instill in me was a work ethic. In specific, she nurtured a process that asked her students to trust that hard work, constant practice, and always striving for better would result in, not only a stellar product, but a magical one.

It took me a long time to fully take in Scott and Syd’s lessons, but in hindsight I truly think they planted critical seeds in me. They also became dear friends, who helped me through some rough times in my young adult life and who, I am grateful to say, officiated at my wedding. They are a critical part of my life today, and I love them both.  Tam Smith

green-crayon-pencil-clipartIn 3rd grade my teacher Mrs. Weber had us all write poems. She didn’t tell me, but she sent mine into the town newspaper…and they published it. I can still see my mom’s face, and feel the surge of happy surprise. And the pride. And I resolved to become a writer. Thank you, Mrs. Weber!!!      Janet Fox

red-crayon-pencil-clipartI feared math class with all my heart. Teachers tried, but I was frozen. In 6th grade, my classmates and I were tested for an advanced algebra class. I passed. I was tested again. I passed again. Here’s why: There weren’t any numbers on the test. If A equals B and B equals C, then… I had no problem with it.      When algebra started, I could barely keep my head above water. As friends aced tests, I struggled. Finally, my teacher had had enough. The night before a big test, she kept me after school and worked for hours with me until I could solve the equations.

The day after the test, my teacher, as was her custom, made the class guess who got the highest score. Name after name of the best math students went by. Finally, she tossed the test on my desk and said, “It was Hayley.”

We both triumphed that day. It wasn’t the end of my math troubles, but it did crack the ice of my fear a little. I could no longer believe that understanding was impossible. My teacher, Miss Kalogeris, did that.   Hayley Barrett

green-crayon-pencil-clipartWithout a doubt, my favorite and most inspiring teacher was my fifth grade teacher, Miss Mellion! She was an artist, fresh out of college, and full of energy. Every month we’d have an artist of the month featured, like Winslow Homer, or Mary Cassat, or Degas, and we’d learn about their lives and art. Her mother was also a teacher in CT, so we had a penpal program, and we even got to meet our penpals one time on a field trip to a museum. She was also a vegetarian, and taught us all about nutrition, and the food groups, and although I didn’t become a vegetarian until many years later, she definitely influenced me. I recently found her address, and am planning to write to her. I hope she still lives there since I’d love to hear from her! She was very encouraging about my writing, and I think she’d be proud to know that I’m now an author too.  Maria Gianferrari

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy fondest teacher memories can be traced to two special educators. When I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Gentry took a special interest in me. Or, rather, she made me feel special. While I was an average student in general, I stood out in Language Arts, and I was her star speller. I collected the most gold stars for winning the classroom spelling bees. Despite my shyness, she encouraged me to compete on the school’s UIL spelling and poetry teams, which completely converted me to Language Arts geek.

My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. P., was equally important. She insisted that we write in journals every day, which became therapeutic for me during some tough teen times. Somehow she recognized a spark in my writing, and was always encouraging me to think bigger and to do more. It’s probably too late to track her down, but I would love for her to know that I took her advice. Donna Janell Bowman

Bravo to Mr. Looney, who inspired Atticus! And Bravo to all teachers around the world.

What you do matters!

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Comment on any post this week for your chance to win a copy of THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Buy a copy of The Looney Experiment from your favorite independent book store, or consider one of these fine merchants:

Amazon, BooksaMillion,Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

 

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Cover Reveal: THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE

I’m thrilled to be able to announce the cover of my March 15, 2016 middle grade debut, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE (Viking). And happy to add that the book will simultaneously release as an audiobook, by Listening Library!

Here’s the synopsis: Something is not right at Rookskill Castle, a rundown Scottish manor shrouded in mystery. The castle is a temporary boarding school for children escaping the Blitz, but soon it’s clear there is something terribly wrong. There are clues hinting that a spy is in the house, and there are undeniable signs of a sinister magic. When the children in the castle’s temporary boarding school begin disappearing one by one, it’s a race against the clock for twelve-year-old Kat Bateson, her two younger siblings, and their new best friend.

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I’m so happy with this beautiful cover, illustrated by Greg Ruth. You can add it to your Goodreads to-read shelf here


IMG_8226bJanet Fox’s published works include the non-fiction middle grade self-help book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit Publishing) and three young adult historical novels: FAITHFUL, FORGIVEN, and SIRENS (all Speak/Penguin). Her debut middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is due out in March 2016 from Viking; it’s a creepy historical fantasy featuring ghosts, enigma machines, disappearing children, castles, and curses. Janet is currently working on a number of projects ranging from picture books to more middle grade to YA science fiction. Janet is a former high school teacher, and a 2010 MFA graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she’s represented by Erin Murphy. She lives in Bozeman, Montana, where she and her husband are ruled by an energetic Lab, but you can also find her at www.janetsfox.com.

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

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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Filed under cover art, Happiness, Thankfulness

With Joy and Trepidation

This is not my first debut.

Oxymoron? Not in publishing, where shifting genres allows an author to “debut” again (in my case from historical YA to fantasy middle grade). Plus I have the added delight of being a “debut” EMU, of joining this talented team of authors and being guided by my amazing new agent Erin Murphy.

That’s the joy part.

The trepidation comes from the realization that no matter how many novels I might have under my belt, releasing another into the world is fodder for the worst kind of self-doubt.

There are the standard questions: What if they hate it? What if I didn’t get it right? What if they ignore it entirely? And probably the most frightening: What if they think, She should’ve stuck to YA.

I’ve seen my share of successes – my first novel is still in print – and failures – my second is out of print. I’ve been to reader fests where young girls ask for my autograph, and I’ve sat at bookstore tables alone while crowds drift by, occasionally stopping to ask for directions to the loo.

Being an author is not for the faint-of-heart. Whether one is a debut-debut author or a semi-debut author, snaggle-toothed and hungry self-doubt, that enemy of art and artists everywhere, is waiting to pounce. What is an author to do besides crawl into the Cave of Quit?

David Bayles and Ted Orland in ART & FEAR say, You can only plunge ahead, even when that carries with it the bittersweet realization that you have already done your very best work. They’re right. Art can be great or it can be mediocre, but when you are an artist you have no choice but to make it, and keep on making it, and keep on keeping on, even while doubt stalks.

I have no choice but to venture in new directions with my art, plunging ahead, perhaps blindly and foolishly, but writing because I love it. (Joy!) Maybe this book will soar, or maybe sink, but I had to write this book. (Trepidation!) I have the pleasure of writing every single day. (Joy!) But for how much longer? (Trepidation!)

Bayles and Orland also say that the “operating manual for not quitting” is Make friends with others who make art. I’m here among the best of friends (Double Joy!) and I refuse to crawl into the cave.

Janet Fox’s debut middle grade novel, tentatively titled CHATELAINE, is set in a rundown Scottish castle during WWII. It features ghosts, spies, a steampunk witch, an immortal wizard, new-found friends, a creepy castle, an enigma machine, teachers-who-are-not-what-they-seem (aren’t they all?), missing children, the Scottish Highlands…It’s a race against the clock for one girl, her two younger siblings, and her new best friend to get to the bottom of host of mysteries. CHATELAINE (Viking) is slated for a winter 2016 release. Janet is also the author of three YA novels, all from Penguin: FAITHFUL (2010), FORGIVEN (2011) and SIRENS (2012). Here’s a short teaser for CHATELAINE:

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Filed under Anxiety, Colleagues, Introduction

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.”

12 Comments

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