Happy Halloween! Today, Sheri Larsen is visiting us to talk about her new release, Motley Education, and how it evolved over time.
Forget having a lively after school social life, Ebony Charmed is fighting to keep the entire afterlife alive.
Ebony’s less-than-average spirit tracking abilities are ruining more than sixth grade at Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted. Her parents argue so much her dad’s moved out. And, even though he’s scared of his own shadow and insists on bringing his slimy, legless lizard everywhere they go, Ebony wouldn’t survive without her best friend, Fleishman.
When Ebony’s Deadly Creatures & Relics’ project goes missing she learns her missing project is one of the keys to saving the spirit world. Now Ebony and Fleishman must battle beasts from Norse mythology to retrieve her project before spirits are lost, the Well of Urd dries up, and Ebony loses all hope of reuniting her family. But someone lies in wait, and he has other plans…including creating a new world of spirits without them in it.(more…)
Today I’m hosting Yvonne Ventresca, author of Crystal Kite Award-winning Pandemic and the newly released Black Flowers, White Lies. Yvonne is a writer friend I actually know in real life. We’ve hung out together at tons of book events: NJASL Fall Conferences, Collingswood Book Festival, B&N Events, and plenty more — sitting behind our little tables, chatting with each other while trying to make eye contact with potential book buyers without scaring them away.
Black Flowers, White Lies Synopsis:
Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a special connection. Now, evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom claimed. When strange, supernatural signs appear, Ella wonders if Dad’s trying to tell her something, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks. As the unexplained events become sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her. Then the evidence points to Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering a mental breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.
1. I’m really looking forward to reading this book! Black Flowers, White Lies seems like a cross between a gothic mystery and psychological suspense. Would you say this is an accurate description?
One of my favorite classes in college was Gothic Literature! Black Flowers, White Lies does have the mystery and psychological suspense, but because it’s set in contemporary Hoboken, New Jersey, it’s not quite gothic. I briefly thought about setting the story in an abandoned castle or a creepy old boarding school, but since Ella (the main character) feels safe at home, I felt that if bizarre things happened there, it would create a scarier effect.
2. When were sitting behind our respective tables at NJASL last year, you described this book to me as a YA version of Gaslight. What was the inspiration for the story (besides Gaslight, that is)?
This novel has evolved over the years, so it has a few inspirations. My early versions were about a teen girl who needs to rescue her kidnapped mother. In the final version, Ella, doesn’t need to rescue her mother–she needs to save herself. This shift in focus really brought the story together for me, because it clarified her journey as a strong heroine.
3. Based on the synopsis, it seems like Ella might be an unreliable narrator. I’ve been fascinated with unreliable narrators since I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle when I was a young teen. Do you have any favorite books where the protagonist’s view of the world is skewed, muddled, or not to be counted on?
I loved Liar by Justine Larbalestier, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
4. Tell us about your creative process. Are you an outliner, a pantster, or something in between?
I’m a ducks-in-a-row kind of person in general, but surprisingly, I don’t outline. I usually have a sense of the main character and some of the key events when I start a story. After I finish a draft, I create a reverse outline to get a handle on what I’ve written. Making the outline after I’ve drafted the story allows me to see flaws in sequence, pacing, etc. It’s definitely my favorite technique.
5. I also outline after the first draft is written! Great minds think alike! Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Plot twists you didn’t expect? Characters who didn’t behave as planned?
One of my favorite characters started as a female but worked better as a male. This meant a major rewrite, but once I started the revision, I could tell that it was taking me to a better creative place.
FUN FACT: During the writing of Black Flowers, White Lies, Yvonne asked her Facebook friends for their cat names, and was able to incorporate many of them into the story. Except for Petals, all of the animal shelter cats are named after real animals.
Bio: Yvonne Ventresca’s latest young adult novel, Black Flowers, White Lies was recently published by Sky Pony Press (October, 2016). BuzzFeed included it at the top of their new “must read” books: 23 YA Books That, Without a Doubt, You’ll Want to Read This Fall. Her debut YA novel, Pandemic, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for the Atlantic region.
Today, I’d like to welcome Esther Goldenberg, who is here to discuss her debut novel, Hypatia Academy, and her writing process.
Twelve-year-old Hope was having a good year so far. She enjoyed hanging out with her friends and playing with her dog, Zamboni. Then one day, everything changed. Hope was taken to the mysterious Hypatia Academy where she found invisible bullies, ancient magic, and even little green men. It is Hope’s mission to find the powerful pearl that will save the world from the spirit of the ancient Egyptian sorcerer, Ramus. Her new friends are willing to help her, but will it be enough? Hypatia Academy is the story of one girl’s unintended quest to find the source of her own strength. Along the way, she learns to confront fear, ask for help, and laugh even when things are tough.
Esther, tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, with my two daughters and my dog. I was an elementary school teacher for many years. I’ve written several children’s books. Hypatia Academy is my second book to be published. The first was a text book.
Now, can you tell us about the real, historical Hypatia?
The real Hypatia lived in Alexandria, Egypt around the year 400. She was unique in that she learned and taught astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and other subjects. In those days, women didn’t have that opportunity. But her father taught her, and she later became a teacher. Unfortunately, it upset many people that she was educated, and in the end, she was stoned to death.
What was your inspiration for Hypatia Academy?
There were two main things that were the inspiration. One was the story of Hypatia herself. I thought it was an interesting story, and one that I had never heard before. The other was the desire to show a female main character who liked math and was strong. I wanted to write a girl who other girls could see as a role model. We all go through difficult times. Hope’s challenge was a quest to save the world. Thankfully we’re not all in that position, but we can all use role models.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter, pantster, or something in between?
I wrote the beginning of Hypatia Academy many years ago. After that, I wrote the book out of order. I had a general sense of the story in my head and I wrote scenes as I thought of them. There were some parts that I knew were going to happen, the talent show, for example, and I held a place for them but didn’t write them until after I’d written the ending. Once I’d written the main parts, I went back through and filled in some of the scenes. I eventually made an outline when the book was about 75% finished in order to make sure I got everything in the right order and didn’t leave anything out.
As a teacher, I’m a firm believer that students – kids and adults – need to explore and find what learning and working styles work best for them. What works for some people won’t work for others. If I’d had to write Hypatia Academy in order, I’m not sure I would have been able to do it. Writing it this way worked well for me.
What character in your book was the most fun to write about? (Or the most difficult?)
Kornelius was definitely the most fun character to write. He adds humor to the whole book and I loved inventing silly things for him to do. It was also great to write someone who could do things that people can’t do – like dash off and get a flashlight and be back before the door closes. The challenging thing about writing Kornelius’ dialogue was remembering to write in his unique way of speaking.
What is next for you?
Next is a series called My Nutty Family. My Nutty Family stars Norm. Norm is short for Norman, but also short for normal. That’s perfect for him, since he’s the only normal one in his family. That’s what he thinks, anyway. The reader quickly realizes that Norm is just as nutty as everyone else in his family.
This series is mostly aimed towards third and fourth graders who struggle with reading. This is a population which often has trouble finding good books to read because the books at their reading level are boring for them, and the books at their interest level are too hard to read. My Nutty Family is easy to read, but funny enough to keep older kids laughing. Younger readers will love it, too.
Thanks for the interview, Esther! I love that you’ve brought Hypatia out of the lost depths of history, and My Nutty Family sounds like a lot of fun, too!
You can find Esther at her website — and Hypatia Academy on Amazon.
Just in case you missed my cover reveal over at Project Mayhem last week …
The release date for The Morrigan’s Curse is January 26, 2016, and you can read a synopsis for the book on my website’s Eighth Day Series page.
But if you have any interest in art or how book covers are designed, I still recommend you check out the interview I did with the designer and the cover artist. As my husband said when he read the interview, “I looked at the cover and thought: Wow, that guy can draw. Then I read all the work that went into creating this, and it’s not just ‘drawing’ at all.” SO MUCH work goes into this — just like writing the book itself!
In other news, it’s been a busy month for me and promises to be a busy summer. My younger daughter turned 15. My older daughter graduated from high school. I had a number of book events in June, and I have more events in July, as well as a class to teach. Also, we’ll be hosting a French exchange student all next month, and we have many events planned to entertain her.
Therefore, except for First Impressions, I’ll be cutting back blogging to once a week until further notice. First Impressions will still be available in the first 3 posts of every month. (And I have 2 openings in July, by the way. Any takers out there? I KNOW some of you are working on projects!)
The only other news I have for you is this: I mentioned last month that my husband assembled and installed new bookshelves into the room we’ve called “the library” ever since we moved into this house in 2003. For twelve years, we’ve been meaning to replace our crappy Office Depot shelves with something worthy of the name “library.” Those shelves were double and triple-stacked. Now, with all our books adequately displayed, I’ve uncovered books that I haven’t seen in years and started re-reading some old favorites from high school.
Right now, I’m on Sign of Chaos, by Roger Zelazny. I never before realized how much The Chronicles of Amber influenced my writing. It has literally been decades since I read these books, but there are concepts here that I see echoed in my own work. Except for his 1-dimensional portrayal of most female characters, sadly. But other than that, I have to say, “Thanks, Rog, old boy. You really shaped my thinking, even if it took years to reach fruition.”
After I’m through with Amber, I’ll be turning to C.J. Cherryh. (Is this where I get to brag that I’m Facebook friends with her? Not that she knows who I am or anything. She has thousands of Facebook friends. But still, if I could go back and tell my teenage self, “Some day you’ll be Facebook friends with C.J. Cherryh!” my teenage self would say … “Face-what?”)
I met Tiffany Schmidt a few years back because she’s an author in the Philadelphia area, like I am, and sometimes we end up at the same events. When we run into each other, we catch up on our respective families and writing careers. It wasn’t that long ago that I recall asking her: “What are you working on now?”
And she said: “A modern re-telling of The Princess and the Pea with illegal organ trafficking.”
Needless to say, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Hold Me Like a Breath: Once Upon a Crime Family ever since that day. I bought the book as soon as it released, and even before I finished it, I was raving about it on Twitter and chasing down Tiffany for an interview. She graciously agreed!
Before the interview, however, let me share a synopsis for the book:
In Penelope Landlow’s world, almost anything can be bought or sold. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families controlling the black market for organ transplants. Because of an autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise easily, Penny is considered too “delicate” to handle the family business, or even to step foot outside their estate.
All Penelope has ever wanted is independence-until she’s suddenly thrust into the dangerous world all alone, forced to stay one step ahead of her family’s enemies. As she struggles to survive the power plays of rival crime families, she learns dreams come with casualties, betrayal hurts worse than bruises, and there’s nothing she won’t risk for the people she loves.
1. Tiffany, thanks for joining me here today. The first thing I want to know is: Why did you choose The Princess and the Pea as the basic building block of this story?
I’ve been fascinated by the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea since I was really young. Not so much about by the story Hans Christian Andersen wrote, but by the details he didn’t include. I used to accuse my parents of skipping pages or leaving out the best parts, because I didn’t believe there weren’t any answers to WHY the princess was alone at night in the middle of a thunderstorm, or WHY it was appealing that she bruised.
I was a spectacularly accident prone child and spent far to much of my childhood in stitches and casts—I had plenty of experiences with bruises. They hurt. The fact that the prince’s family essentially celebrated the princess’s bruise—and this meant they could marry—this confused and concerned me as a kiddo. And it was something I never stopped thinking about. All these years later, Hold Me Like a Breath is my answer to those childhood questions. It’s a narrative I wrote to wrap around the spaces in the original fairy tale.
2. Tell us about Penelope’s disorder: Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. In layman’s terms what is wrong with Penelope’s body?
Penny has an autoimmune condition called Immune Thrombocytopenia or Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura – it’s usually abbreviated to ITP. Basically, her body destroys its own platelets – and when her counts are low, this results in her bruising and bleeding quite easily. ITP manifests differently in every patient—this was one of the challenges in researching it for this book. There are so many ways to treat this disorder, so many different ways it can present in people. Every patient and doctor I spoke with described such a different experience with ITP.
Penny’s diagnosis is further complicated by the fact that she’s the daughter of the head of a crime family. While she has so much privilege and round the clock access to top notch doctors and medical care—she’s also trapped by her parents’ reactions to her disorder. Or, over-reaction is a much more accurate word. Essentially, they assign Penny the role of pampered spectator—and expect her to live her life safely on the sidelines.
Unsurprisingly, she’s not a fan of their suffocating restrictions.
3. I see how this condition connects to the over-delicate princess in the original fairy tale. What made you decide to give Penelope a family engaged in illegal organ trafficking?
Deciding to swap royal families for crime families was a really fun decision. I knew that I wanted to tell a modern story with a contemporary feel, but I wanted to stay true to this idea of families that felt above the law—trading crowns for criminals was the perfect solution.
As for the decision to create crime families that trafficked human organs—that was a bit more complex. I was looking for something with moral ambiguity. I wanted the Families to create both harm and good. I wanted Penny to be able to view the Family Business with naïve, rose-colored glasses until she’s forced to refocus and realize that there’s a much darker side to the industry too.
Also, the juxtaposition of her Family being able to fix so many OTHER people but not cure Penelope, was a friction that was too delicious to resist. Especially when by curing other people and participating in this illegal industry, they only make Penny’s world more dangerous.
Can’t resist including this picture. My daughter recently played the jester in Once Upon a Mattress, Broadway’s version of The Princess and the Pea.
4. What’s next for you? Do you have future stories in mind for Once Upon a Crime Family?
I’m currently working on copyedits for the next book in the Once Upon a Crime Family series. Book two is titled Break Me Like a Promise and is told from the point of view of Magnolia Grace, who is the take-no-prisoners, sass-for-days daughter of a rival crime family. I’m really looking forward to sharing the next step in the series arc and introducing readers to Maggie Grace!
Having briefly encountered Maggie Grace in Hold Me Like a Breath, I can’t wait to see more of her! You can learn more about Tiffany — as well as her previous books, Send Me a Sign and Bright Before Sunrise at her website.
Roanoke and Quilting a Novel: An Interview with Caroline Starr Rose
I’m very happy to have Caroline Starr Rose here today. Caroline is the author of the critically acclaimed May B. a novel in verse about an 11-year-old hired-out girl who is stranded alone in a homestead on the Kansas prairie during a brutal winter in the 1870’s. Last week, Caroline celebrated the release of her second novel — also in verse — titled Blue Birds, about the lost colony of Roanoke.
From Amazon: It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly. Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.
1. Caroline, I loved your first book, May B., which depicted the experience of a girl who could have been any girl on the 19th century frontier facing the challenges of that era. In Blue Birds you take on an earlier time period and one of the most famous unsolved American mysteries of all time. Was the research any different for this topic?
Thank you so much. The research process was very different. For May B., I was only responsible for being familiar with an era. With Blue Birds, I had to learn about an era, an event with spare records, and two Native American tribes that no longer exist. This is the first time I’ve included real people from history in something I’ve written. While they only had minor roles, it felt like a big responsibility.
2. Tell us about the two protagonists in Blue Birds.
Alis is from London but has learned to love nature through her uncle’s stories. Coming to Virginia is so satisfying for her. She really embraces her new surroundings.
Kimi has suffered loss at the hands of the British. Seeing them again angers her, but she can’t deny that she’s also kind of fascinated. Like Alis, she has an uncle who means a lot to her, but his new position as Roanoke weroance (leader) has complicated their relationship.
Both girls are lonely. Both are curious. It’s the perfect storm for what’s to come.
3. Compare these two girls to May B. How are they similar, and how are they different?
All three are incredibly strong and brave (though I’d argue May doesn’t know these qualities in herself at first). All takes risks. All make me extra proud to be their book mama. 🙂
I would say May Betterly is more withdrawn than the other girls. I’ve never actually realized this until this moment, but outside of her brother, May doesn’t really have any close friends. Poor girl. Makes me want to give her a hug.
Alis is the most outgoing of the three. Kimi is gutsy but guarded. Both Alis and Kimi are willing to deceive the adults in their lives in order to do what they believe to be right.
4. Writing a novel in verse is way beyond my experience, although I’ve been moved to tears reading some (including May B.). Can you describe how you approach a story, knowing verse will be your structure? (ie: When I plan a book, I plan events, scenes, dialogue, etc. Is it the same or different for you?)
I go in knowing my setting well and my protagonist semi-well. As far as plotting goes, I have a sense of some key turning points and usually the ending (though I’m not quite sure how to get there). From there, the writing is painfully slow. (A fantastic day would be 750 words. I rarely keep count of such things, because it’s kind of discouraging). What I love, though, is how organic it is. I see a quilt as a metaphor for a verse novel. Each poem is a square. As I move from poem to poem, I trust a pattern is emerging in the overall story.
5. What’s next for you?
My first picture book, Over in the Wetlands, comes out this summer. It’s the story of the animals of the Louisiana coast as they prepare for and withstand a hurricane. I have two pieces in Been There, Done That, an anthology that publishes this fall and shows young readers how authors take ideas from real life and turn them into stories. I’m also working on a historical novel about the Klondike gold rush, which will come out summer 2016.
Thank you, Dianne, for hosting me today!
I’m delighted to see Caroline’s book finally out. The mystery of Roanoke was one of my favorite topics to teach in American history.