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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Blog

The Contractor Story

In July we hired a contractor to paint our stairwell and upstairs hallway, strip the wallpaper from our upstairs bathroom and paint it, too. (I want to note right here that his business card said: Painting and Wallpaper Removal.) He was supposed to start the Monday after we returned from St. Croix, and he knew we had a deadline of August 19th, the day our German exchange student was due to arrive. The guy expressed some concern about the time needed to strip the wallpaper, and so my husband said he would work on it beforehand. A contract was signed.

Bathroom

My husband stripped half (HALF!) the wallpaper before we left for St. Croix.

The guy showed up at the appointed time, met with my husband, and started setting up for the job. He was upstairs a couple hours. In the meantime, my husband finished packing for a business trip and left the house for the airport. The contractor waited for about 15 minutes after he was gone, then came downstairs and announced to me that he would not do the wallpaper job. “It’s not coming off easily. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. There’s no way I can strip it, primer, and paint it in the week I have allotted for this job.”

Remember, my husband had already removed half of it.

I said, “Okay, but can you work on it this week — during the time you’ve promised us — and we’ll finish whatever you don’t get done?”

His reply: “Let me rephrase. I will not do the bathroom job. I can do the painting in the stairwell and hallway, or if you prefer, I can pack up and leave.”

I was sorely tempted to tell him to leave. But it flashed through my head that I could strip the wallpaper myself (Theoretically. I’d never done it before.), but there was no way for me to paint the stairwell without scaffolding, and there was no time to hire anyone else. Reluctantly, I told the guy to do the paint job.

Bob says I made the right decision, the logical decision. But he also says that if he had been there, he would have been so mad he would have thrown the guy out. Believe me, I was mad too. I couldn’t stand the sight of him for the rest of the week. It was all I could do to be civil. But at least the stairwell got painted.

And every day, after the painter worked his measly 3 hours or so, I scraped wallpaper — starting from the minute he left until I went to bed. It was hard to remove, but I don’t have any experience to compare it to, so I can’t judge his claim that it was the worst wallpaper known to man. Two days in, I posted something on Facebook about hating wallpaper, and a former teaching colleague offered to loan me a steamer.  It came off a lot easier with the steamer. (Why didn’t the professional guy have one?)

My husband joined in when he came home from his business trip. And we got the bathroom finished three hours before we had to pick up our exchange student at the airport. Finished version below.

Bathroom Remodel

Have you ever had a contractor up and quit on you?

Writing a Sequel: Interview with Joshua David Bellin

bookmark-2inx8in-h-front

I’m excited to kick off the release tour for Joshua David Bellin’s book Scavenger of Souls, the sequel to Survival Colony 9, which releases Tuesday, August 23. Josh is here today to talk about the challenges of writing a sequel.

  1. Josh, congratulations on the upcoming release of Scavenger of Souls! Can you give us a brief summary of your first book, Survival Colony 9?

Survival Colony 9 coverSurvival Colony 9 takes place in a future world where human civilization has been devastated by a series of wars and environmental disasters. And then, following on the heels of these cataclysms, a mysterious threat appears: creatures called Skaldi, which have the ability to consume and mimic human hosts.

My narrator, Querry Genn, is a fifteen-year-old boy living in Survival Colony 9, one of the small, mobile bands that came together in the years after the wars. In addition to the severe problems all the survivors face in a desert world crawling with monsters, Querry faces two that are unique to him: he lost his memory in an accident six months before the action of the book starts, and the leader of his colony is a very demanding man who doesn’t tolerate Querry’s disability. The story takes place during a critical two-week period in Querry’s life as he tries to recover his past and fight for his colony’s future.

2. When you first sat down to write the sequel, what was your strategy for approaching it?

I’m not much of a planner; I usually just sit down and write. But with a sequel, I knew I had to be somewhat more systematic than usual. So I jotted down lots of notes, planning out possible narrative trajectories for my main characters, creating brief biographies for the new characters who appear in the book, drawing maps of the territory where the action takes place, and so on. I left a lot of things open, because I’ve found that I do my best writing when I let my characters and my story lead me to unexpected places. It was just a matter of finding a good balance between planning and winging it!

3. When I wrote the sequels for The Eighth Day, I found that I had to dig deeper into my world building and go beyond what the reader learned about the setting in the first book. How did you delve deeper into the world of Survival Colony 9?

JDB Author photoOne of the things I wanted to show in Scavenger of Souls was that Querry’s colony was not alone in this world. It seemed to me that, with the almost complete collapse of global civilization, various survival colonies would develop along very different lines depending on any number of factors: who led them, what access to technology they had, where they were situated geographically, and so on. So in Scavenger of Souls, the reader meets a number of different colonies that coexist with Querry’s, but that are very different from—and sometimes in conflict with—Survival Colony 9. Those new colonies were fun to create, and they also gave me a chance to introduce one of my favorite characters in the Survival Colony series: Mercy, a feisty teenage girl living in one of the colonies that Querry encounters.

I also had to delve deeper into the origin of the Skaldi, because I felt that readers would really want to know where these creatures came from and why they were here. Trust me—the answers are not what you expect!

4. What did you struggle the most with while writing Scavenger of Souls? (I’m assuming you struggled. If not, what made it a breeze?)

SOS coverOh, I struggled all right! I struggled with how much backstory from the first book to include in the second, how to tie up the loose ends from the first book, and how to bring it all to a close while still leaving the reader with a sense that Querry’s story continues beyond the final page. My biggest struggle, though, was that I had originally conceived this series as a trilogy, and when I decided along with my agent and editor to transform it into a duology, I had to make some very tough decisions about what to cut. Never easy to do. My only consolation is that maybe I can use some of the material that didn’t make the final cut in a spin-off story or something!

5. What’s next for you?

I’ve completed a third YA novel that I’m super-excited about, a deep-space action/romance titled Freefall, which is due out next year. After that, I’ve got a couple of manuscripts partially written, one of them YA science fiction, the other YA historical. I’ll work with my agent to figure out which one to focus on, and that’ll be my writing project for next year!

Woo Hoo! Looking forward to Freefall as well as Scavenger of Souls! Meanwhile, see below for information about the book, the author, and a giveaway.

About the book:

Querry Genn is running out of time. He may have saved his survival colony and defeated a nest of the monstrous Skaldi, but that doesn’t mean he has any more answers to who he is. And Querry’s mother, Aleka, isn’t talking. Instead, she’s leading the colony through a wasteland of unfamiliar territory. When they reach Aleka’s destination, everything Querry believed about his past is challenged.

In the middle of a burned-out desert, an entire compound of humans has survived with plenty of food and equipment. But the colonists find no welcome there, especially from Mercy, the granddaughter of the compound’s leader. Mercy is as tough a fighter as Querry has ever seen—and a girl as impetuous as he is careful. But the more Querry learns about Mercy and her colony, the more he uncovers the gruesome secrets that haunt Mercy’s past—and his own.

With threats mounting from the Skaldi and the other humans, Querry must grapple with the past and fight to save the future. In the thrilling conclusion to the story that began with Survival Colony 9, Joshua David Bellin narrates a tale of sacrifice, courage against overwhelming odds, and the fateful choices that define us for a lifetime.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Age: 12+

Release date: August 23, 2016

For order links, visit http://joshuadavidbellin.com/my-books/

Praise for Survival Colony 9:

Tantalizing mysteries abound among the human and inhuman inhabitants of the bleak landscape, and the post-apocalyptic plot is satisfyingly full of twists.—Booklist

Joshua David Bellin brings serious game in a post-apocalyptic thriller that collides breathless action with devious world building and genuine heart. A terrific novel!—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and V-Wars

Set in a gritty post-apocalyptic world, Survival Colony 9 is both an adventure and an exploration of what it means to be human.—Margaret Peterson Haddix, New York Times bestselling author of the Missing Series

About the author:

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, with the sequel, Scavenger of Souls, set to release on August 23, 2016. A third YA science fiction novel, the deep-space adventure/romance Freefall, will appear in 2017.

Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.

To find out more about Josh and his books, visit him at the following:

Website: http://www.joshuadavidbellin.com

Blog: http://theyaguy.blogspot.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/TheYAGuy

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/joshuadavidbellin

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7393959.Joshua_David_Bellin

 
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In Paradise

Sorry I didn’t get around to any blogs last week. My family and I were vacationing on the remote, paradise island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

St. Croix

St. Croix, photo by Gina Salerni

On arrival, we learned that the drinking age in the Virgin Islands is 18, so my daughter Gabbey (age 19) was old enough to join my husband and me in a celebratory rum punch.

Gabbey Rum Punch

People drive on the left in the Virgin Islands, although the steering wheel in the cars is on the right. There are a lot of precarious switchback curves along the coast with a speed limit of 35, but experience proved that 15 or 10 mph  is more appropriate.

Switchback Roads

My husband found the numerous potholes aggravating at first. Then he realized how much traction they offered in the rain. Our Ford Fiesta rental would never have made it up some of the hills without those potholes. (Although we did think the pothole that had its own waterfall was getting a bit silly.)

Driving in the daytime, we had to look out for chickens crossing the road. And mongooses. At night, we were confronted by crabs. Yes, crabs, scuttling sideways across the highway. The very first one we saw was as big as a dinner plate. It faced off against our Ford Fiesta, threatening us with its claws. “Dinner!” exclaimed Gabbey.

“You go get it,” replied Bob.

Nobody left the car.

On our first full day on the island, Gabbey, Gina, and I signed up for a Discovery Dive program with the Sweet Bottom Dive Center. (Bob is already a certified diver.) After a brief skills lesson in the pool (brief, because we were familiar with the equipment from snuba and comfortable in the water), we moved to the ocean for our first dive. 45 minutes at a depth of 40 feet.

Gabbey and Gina Diving

Gabbey and Gina, Photo by Bob Salerni

 

Dianne Diving

Me, Photo by Bob Salerni

 

Gabbey leaving water

Gabbey Wading Out, Photo by Bob Salerni

The next day, we hiked out to the Carambola Tide Pools, literally uphill both ways. We climbed up and over this 1,200 ft peak (through the rain forest) to get to the pools — and then, after a lovely swim, turned around and climbed back over it again.

 

The Peak We Climbed

The Peak We Climbed (The Beach was Our Starting Point)

 

View from the Peak

View From the Peak, Photo by Gina Salerni

 

Tide Pools

Tide Pools, Photo by Gina Salerni

According to Bob’s workout app, this excursion was 6 miles round trip. My Garmin-brand fitbit said it was 10,000 steps. Neither app accounted for the 1,200 foot incline coming and going. When I got back to the hotel and collapsed, it seemed like no time at all before my bracelet started beeping. Apparently, I’d been inactive for an hour, and it suggested I get up and move around.

I would’ve smashed the fitbit with a rock, except for the energy it would have taken to find a rock and also perform the smashing.

Clearly, we needed a day of rest after that, lounging by the pool and the beach. We could still make ourselves useful because the island was infested with Pokemon, especially Zubats.

Zubat

Unfortunately, there was only one PokeStop on the whole resort: The Captain Morgan Libation Hut. There wasn’t anything to do but hang out there all afternoon, collecting Poke Balls every 10-15 minutes. And what to do while we waited? What to do?

Poke Stop

If the resort looks deserted, it’s because it was. We shared the beach with about four other people. It was almost like having our own private island.

On our final day on St. Croix, we booked a second dive trip with Sweet Bottom, diving off the pier at Fredericksted, St. Croix. This one was 65 minutes, 25 feet in depth, and colorful.

Diving the Reef

Photo by Mark, of Sweet Bottom Dive Center

 

Starfish

Photo by Bob Salerni

 

Coral

Photo by Bob Salerni

Both my daughters are gung-ho about getting fully certified now (and woo-hoo! it would count toward Gabbey’s college phys ed credits!). I am seriously considering joining them. It’s only taken my husband 10 years to inch me toward this. I think the snuba adventure in Key West this April was the breaking point when I realized I was no longer afraid of being under water.

Meanwhile, I’ve returned home with my creative energy restored and regenerated. Let the writing begin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions: OHIO 1863

Melissa JulyToday we have a First Impressions submission from Melissa Guthrie. This is the first page of her young adult historical fiction novel. The working title is OHIO 1863.

***

Hewitt Town, Ohio
July 4th, 1863

Henry Clemmons opened his eyes just as acid bubbled up from his stomach. He bolted upright, grabbed a pail from beside the bed, and retched into it. The room spun. Henry sprawled back into the mattress. He rolled into a ball and moaned.

“Ah,” a voice said. Calm. Gentle. “You’re awake.”

On the other side of a doorway stood Lincoln Hewitt. Link, as Henry knew him, was bent over a long board made of poplar wood, dressed in the same dark pants Henry saw him in the night before. His feet were bare, stained black. His dark hair, the color of ink, was brown with sawdust. A cigarette burned between the first fingers of his right hand, the scent of tobacco heavy in the air.

“Did you sleep at all?” Henry asked. He climbed from the bed and looked down, his nakedness a stark reminder of the night before, gin in his mind and clothing lost piece by piece. He found his drawers tossed over a trunk at the end of the bed and pulled them on. He looked back to find Link watching him, a small smile on his lips which he moistened with the tip of his tongue.

Link’s eyes were his most notable feature. Never before had Henry met a person, male or female, with eyes like his. Link eyes were the color of sky after a snowstorm, cold and gray. An ash fell from the cigarette and landed dangerously close to his toes. Fire burned in Link’s eyes, sometimes bright as dawn and sometimes smoldering like embers, always burning.

“The Welk baby died last night,” Link straightened and took a drink from the tin mug that seemed permanently affixed to the middle finger of his right hand. Dark circles ringed his eyes. His shoulders were loose and slouching. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his arm and looked around the shop as if he were surprised to see slants of daylight coloring the workshop’s dark corners. “Pull yourself together and eat something for breakfast. The Widow up the way brought biscuits and I found some berries.”

Henry cleared his throat and attempted to moisten the inside of his mouth, as if just the thought of the widow’s dry, crumbling biscuits, produced in mass quantities, was enough to make swallowing a chore. Link brought the old woman meat and provisions from town and she repaid his efforts with biscuits best suited as doorstops. “There’s goats milk as well, if you are so inclined. Should you add the milk to the biscuit, perhaps it will be more palatable.”

“You really want me to eat, don’t you?” Henry asked.

“Can’t have you wasting away.”

“What’s the catch?”

***

I was immediately struck by the strong visual images on this first page – the play of color and light in the scene. I can visualize what this would look like on film, the “slants of daylight coloring the workshop’s dark corners” and eyes “the color of sky after a snowstorm, cold and gray.”

The one visual element that left me confused was Link “bent over a long board made of poplar wood.” What wood? Is it lying across a pair of sawhorses? This is a workshop, so perhaps he is making something with it, but he’s got a cigarette in one hand and a tin mug in the other, so he’s obviously not working on anything right this second. This could easily be clarified with a change of phrasing.

I assume the relationship between the two young men is sexual, but then, the last time I assumed that two characters on the first page of a First Impressions post were gay, I turned out to be wrong. They were just best friends. However, with phrases like “his clothing lost piece by piece” and “Link watching him, a small smile on his lips which he moistened with the tip of his tongue,” I think I’m on surer ground this time.

My last comment is that “The Welk baby died last night” comes as a non-sequitur between “Did you sleep at all?” and “Pull yourself together and eat something for breakfast.” I don’t know why the Welk baby dying is a reason for Link not to have slept. Is he making a coffin? Is that what the poplar wood is for? This makes sense, but why did he have to have the coffin ready by morning, and how did he get the news of the baby’s death in the middle of the night?

Readers, what are your thoughts? Don’t forget to check out the feedback from Krystalyn and Marcy, and you can find Melissa on Twitter. Melissa, thank you for sharing your first page with us!

Election Ugliness

There’s about a thousand more months left before November and the end of this presidential election, and as awful as it’s been so far, I expect it will get even worse before it’s over. (Not that the nastiness will stop after the election. No matter the winner, a lot of people are going to be very unhappy.)

I thought it might be interesting to put things in historical perspective by highlighting other notoriously vicious presidential campaigns.

 

For instance, in the election of 1860, Stephen Douglas got personal, saying Abraham Lincoln was a “horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln said of Douglas: “His argument is as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.”

1860 Election

Melania Trump took a lot of heat last week but not as much as Rachel Jackson in the election of 1828. John Quincy Adams’s campaign not only accused Andrew Jackson of being a despot and uneducated, they also viciously attacked Mrs. Jackson, a divorced woman who had previously been in an abusive marriage. Adams’s supporters called her a “dirty black wench”, a “convicted adulteress” and accused her of “open and notorious lewdness.”

RACHEL DONELSON JACKSON (1767-1828). Miniature by Louise C. Strobel.

RACHEL DONELSON JACKSON
(1767-1828). Miniature by Louise C. Strobel.

I don’t know how low the Trump-Clinton election season will go. Pretty low, I expect. But I wonder if it will top the election of 1800—the only occasion when a vice-president ran against the president he was currently serving with—Thomas Jefferson vs John Adams.

An Election Poster for Adams

An Election Poster for Adams

Thomas Jefferson said that John Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Adams’ supporters countered with dire predictions of a Jeffersonian presidency: “Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames… female chastity violated… children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION.”

 

Dogs and cats living together

Phew. It’s a good thing Jefferson didn’t get elected, huh? Oh … wait …

Mid-Summer in Pennsylvania

Cleome

I’m happy that the cleome (spider flower) is blooming now! People will stop thinking we are growing marijuana in front of our house.

Not Cannabis

The leaves of the cleome plant bear a startling resemblance to cannabis.

Still waiting on the tomatoes though.

Still Waiting

Hungry, Hungry Hippos have nothing on our goldfish. Sometimes they leap right into the air when you throw them food.

Hungry Fish

The pool is warm and inviting.

The Pool

The purple coneflowers are in bloom.

Purple Coneflower

Aaaand, the mint has gone wild and overrun the herb garden.

Mint Gone Crazy

Meanwhile, Sorcia chases the shadows of butterflies.

Dog Chases Shadows

That’s right. She doesn’t chase the butterflies. She chases their shadows.

Anybody know what this flower is? It turned up in my bed of wildflowers this year.

What is this

What does summer look like where you are?

Backing Up

via GIPHY

Earlier this week, I wrote a great scene in my WIP. One of my main characters witnessed someone who lived in her apartment building pass through a solid wall after revealing herself to be not human. I was thrilled with the way it came together. Then I went to write the next chapter … and couldn’t. The story came to a screeching halt as I realized there was only one way for my MC to react.

Terror.

You might be thinking, “Terror is good.” But in this case, it’s not. My terrified character has every reason to flee from this situation and no reason whatsoever to do the things I need her to do in this story. She has no investment to make her investigate this “monster” further. I wouldn’t blame her for curling up in a ball and quietly having a breakdown.

Unable to go forward, I had to back up. Removing the event entirely didn’t seem like a good option. The story would just stall out without this scene.

The solution ended up being simple — although it took me 3 frustrating days to figure it out. If the strange person passes through a solid wall without revealing herself to be non-human, the situation changes drastically. What would you think if you saw someone pass through a seemingly solid wall? You’d think it was a trick, right? That there was some kind of hidden passage there.

A hidden passage gives my MC all the motivation I need to keep her digging into this mystery. Who wouldn’t love to find a secret passageway in their building? The “monstrous” nature of the non-human character can be revealed later, when my MC is too far into the adventure to pull out and curling up in a ball to have a breakdown is not an option.

Two paragraphs deleted in my previous chapter, and my story is back on track.

When’s the last time you had to back up? Did it end up being a simple change? And how long did it take you to figure it out?

Multi-Dimensional Vocabulary

I first encountered the terms ana and kata when reading William Sleator’s book The Boy Who Reversed Himself. (By the way, if you’re a YA science fiction/horror fan and you’ve never read anything by William Sleator, you should remedy that immediately.)

Ana and kata are the two additional directions available in the fourth dimension. See the chart below:

Dimensional space Movement that can be made in that space
1-Dimension Forward, backward
2-Dimensions Forward, backward, right, left
3-Dimensions Forward, backward, right, left, up, down
4-Dimensions Forward, backward, right, left, up, down, ana, kata

 

Fans of Madeleine L’Engle will no doubt associate the term tesseract with “a wrinkle in time.” More accurately, a tesseract is the 4-space extension of a 3-space cube (which is itself an extension of the 2-space square). The words tesseract, ana, and kata were all coined by mathematician Charles Howard Hinton in 1888.

tesseract

A depiction of a tesseract

When researching dimensional vocabulary for my WIP, I also came upon this little chart, giving me trength, tarrow, and trong to work with.

Dimension Measure Small Measure Great Measure
1st length short long
2nd width narrow wide
3rd height short tall
4th trength tarrow trong

Now, the trick is to pull all this geometry into an adventure kids will want to read. I’m going for a Doctor Who meets The Boy Who Reversed Himself meets Interstellar Pig meets 14. (I know that a “meets” statement isn’t very effective if the elements aren’t well known books or movies, but let me give you an idea of what I have in mind …)

Creating the Breach

I’ll leave you with one last picture: This is a diagram I created for my WIP. My story takes place at The Breach.

The Universes

Multi-Dimensional Adventures

At some point in high school (or possibly middle school) I stumbled across the book Sphereland by Dionys Burger. It’s a mathematical adventure in geometry – and yes, I know that sounds terrible, but it’s really a lot of fun. I re-read the book countless times.

Sphereland is a sequel to an earlier book, Flatland, by Edwin Abbott Abbott, which was both a satire of Victorian society and an exploration of geometry. Since the plot of Flatland was summarized at the beginning of Sphereland, I didn’t need to read the original.

Both books tell the story of a Square living in a 2-dimensional universe, a plane, in fact. This is a diagram of the Square’s home.

flatland_house

The Square is visited by a Sphere from Spaceland, a 3-dimensional realm. At first the Square can only see flat cross-sections of the Sphere as it passes through the plane of his world.

Sphere in Flatland

Eventually, the Sphere lifts the Square out of Flatland, and across the span of the two books, they visit Lineland, Pointland, and are in turn visited by an Over-Sphere from the fourth dimension.

a-view-of-Lineland

These books started my lifetime fascination with multi-dimensional fiction. I eventually did read the original Flatland, as well as The Boy Who Reversed Himself by William Sleator and Spaceland by Rudy Rucker. I’m currently reading Flatterland: Like Flatland, Only More So by Ian Stewart.

I even wrote a manuscript, BRANEWORLD, which received positive praise on submission, but also some excellent critical feedback which led me to re-think my approach to the topic. Now, I’m 15k into a new WIP and re-visiting the multi-dimensional universe with new characters and a completely new story.

Do any of you have a lifetime fascination with a topic which you’ve written about – perhaps more than once in an attempt to do it justice?

Never Gonna be Big in Iceland

So, I’m on Twitter, and I see this post come up with my name and website:

Salerni Toilet

I put the sentence through Google translator — which identified the language as Icelandic — and got this translation.

The new favorite author of mine is definitely Dianne K. toilet.

I double-checked, putting in just my last name, and yup. It’s true. Salerni is the Icelandic word for toilet.

How unfortunate. confused-face