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#LastListEgmont: Once Upon an Interview: Sarah Cross and Sarah McGuire Talk Fairy Tales

As the two authors with fairy-tale retellings on Egmont USA’s Spring 2015 list, Sarah Cross (Tear You Apart) and Sarah McGuire (Valiant) thought it might be fun to interview each other about fairy tales, happy endings, and how they approach their own retellings. The conversation took place in the library of an enchanted castle, over tea and cake served by magical household objects. The transcript has been edited to remove occasional interruptions by a Beast wearing a blanket cape.

CROSS: Valiant is a retelling of “The Brave Little Tailor,” so I have to ask: how did you first encounter that fairy tale? And did it involve Mickey Mouse? I was not the kid with the stack of Grimm’s fairy tale books; I had like, these big Disney fairy-tale anthologies that were sold at the grocery store. So my first exposure to “The Brave Little Tailor” was through the 1938 Disney short. The Grimms came later.

MCGUIRE: I think it was Grimm’s–or some variant. (Though I do remember Mickey as the tailor!) I also remember that I didn’t like the Grimm’s version very much. I felt like the tailor was taking advantage of the dumb giants. But later, I was telling the story to two girls that I nannied, and one especially loved the tailor’s cleverness–a trait I admire as well. So I suppose Valiant was my attempt to keep a clever protagonist, but not have her win because she tricks stupid creatures.

The first fairy tale books I truly remember were Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tale books and Trina Schart Hyman’s gorgeously illustrated tales. If the library in Warrenton is still there, I think I could still walk to that part of the library and find that specific shelf.

CROSS: Trina Schart Hyman’s art is so beautiful.

MCGUIRE: I know! So how did YOU go from the Disney anthologies to Beau Rivage? That is the question!

CROSS: In college, one of my professors started the semester off by talking about fairy tales, and how different the old tales are from the adaptations most people are familiar with. Learning that there were darker versions of the fairy tales I’d grown up with was eye-opening and intriguing to me, and I started reading all the nonfiction fairy tale books in the library (Jack Zipes, Marina Warner, Maria Tatar, Betsy Hearne), the complete tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Afanasev’s Russian fairy tale collection, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, and anthologies like Spells of Enchantment. I like dark, twisted stories and I also like sparkles and princesses; put those things together and I guess you have the blood-and-glitter aesthetic of Beau Rivage.

The setting–the city of Beau Rivage, where people are cursed to live out fairy tales–was one of the first things I envisioned when I was building my mash-up Kill Me Softly. I knew I wanted a place where I could play with a bunch of different fairy tales and put a modern spin on them, without losing any of the darkness or weirdness of the past. How did you approach retelling “The Brave Little Tailor”? What did you need to hammer out first on the way to making the story your own?

MCGUIRE: I knew pretty much from the beginning that the tailor in my retelling would be a girl. I think the biggest issue I needed to work out was the giants. I knew I didn’t want them to be dumb . . . or monsters. So I wanted to find something wonderful, even exceptional, about them. Then I had to figure out why they could be tricked so easily at first. In doing so, I discovered a culture and a history I hadn’t expected. (Not that I had it figured out entirely at first. It definitely deepened as I wrote.)

CROSS: Do you have an “I wish someone would retell this” list? Personally I would love to see Madame d’Aulnoy’s fairy tales as YA novels. Her tales are wildly imaginative, and she’s really good at torturing her protagonists. Holly Black did a stellar job with her reimagining White Cat, but there’s endless potential there.

MCGUIRE: Ooh! Madame d’Aulnoy! Those would be fun! I always had a sense that she relished the tales she spun–they’re extravagant and long and . . . wonderful.

I’d love to see Russian fairy tales retold. There’s a specificity to them. It’s not a witch, it’s Baba Yaga. It’s not a wizard, it’s Koschei the Deathless. Some of the Russian tales are so dark.

Speaking of dark, I think you do an excellent job of bringing that out in your Beau Rivage stories, Tear You Apart, specifically. In one interview, you made the point that there’s no way you can make Snow White’s story sweet or argue that it has a truly happy ending. (We’re dealing with a prince who likes dead girls.) Me, I like happy endings–the eucatastrophe Tolkien found in fairy stories: “. . . Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” Are there any fairy tales that you think have that kind of happy ending?

CROSS: I think a lot of the literary French fairy tales written by the so-called précieuses have truly happy endings. These were women who, like Snow White in the fairy tale, had very little say over their own “happy endings” (marriages), and so they took this form of literature that was sort of looked down upon and used it to convey their ideals about love, loyalty, justice and independence. They wrote what they wanted to see, as a way of drawing attention to what was lacking in society in reality.

MCGUIRE: What’s your favorite Disney fairy-tale movie? Why? (Mine is Beauty and the Beast–he gives her a library. Also the scene where he changes to a man still makes me catch my breath.)

CROSS: Sleeping Beauty forever. Beauty and the Beast is probably the superior movie, but I love the art style in Sleeping Beauty, the Middle-Ages-meets-1950s fashion, the meet-cute in the forest between Prince Phillip and Aurora . . . and Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain by far. (Unabashedly evil Maleficent, that is; not the more humanized Angelina Jolie Maleficent.)

MCGUIRE: I have such a soft spot for Sleeping Beauty! I had a record (yes, a record) of songs from Disney movies when I was little, and I adored Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon a Dream.” I so wanted to see the movie, but that was just before VHS (and Beta!) tapes emerged. So even though I’d heard the songs and read Disney picture books, I’d never actually seen Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I still remember running through the house shouting when Sleeping Beauty was released!

Also, I completely agree about Maleficent.

So one final question: Why fairy tales? Of all the stories that could be told, what keeps you coming back to these stories?

CROSS: Fairy tales contain so many of my favorite elements: magic and secrets, ball gowns and poison, happily ever afters and gruesome ends. There’s something so powerful about these stories, so memorable . . . and I think that’s because you do have the darkness and the horror right alongside the fancy dresses and the romance. I mean, “Cinderella” is the classic wish-fulfillment fairy tale, but at her wedding to the prince, doves peck out her stepsisters’ eyes. On Snow White’s wedding day, her stepmother is forced to dance to death in red-hot iron shoes. And this doesn’t happen in a dungeon; it’s part of the festivities! I can’t forget a story like that; it’s burned into my brain. I want to pick up all the pieces and play with them.

As a writer, I’m kind of like the doves in Grimm’s “Cinderella”: the prince is riding away with one of Cinderella’s stepsisters on his horse, thinking he’s found the mysterious girl from the ball (just like some people believe fairy tales are all sweetness and light), and meanwhile blood is filling the slipper because the stepsister had to chop off her big toe to make it fit, and I’m yelling, “HEY! Prince! There’s blood in the shoe! Didn’t you look? Don’t you know what’s going on here?” I’m totally into the sparkles and magic, but I want you to see the blood in that shoe, too. Because I can’t stop looking at it.

MCGUIRE: I am so glad the shoe bothered you, too! I remember reading that and wondering about the prince. How could he not notice?!? Twice, actually. He didn’t notice twice!! Not a brainiac, our Prince Charming.

But . . . that’s not what drew me to fairy tales.

When I was a girl, I’d watch storms with my Dad outside our home in Texas. I remember watching them roll towards us with this mixture of fascination and fear. There’s this moment when the lip of the storm slides over you, and the wind’s pulling at you, and you can hear the growl of thunder and smell the coming rain. It’s amazing.

Fairy tales felt the same way to me–bigger and grander than normal life, glorious and terrifying all at once. Fairy tales were a return to awe, I think, and that’s something I try to capture in my retellings.

Meet Our Guest Bloggers

Sarah Cross is the author of the fairy tale novels Kill Me Softly and Tear You Apart, the superhero novel Dull Boy, and the Wolverine comic “The Adamantium Diaries.”

website: http://www.sarahcross.comtwitter: http://twitter.com/thesarahcrossfairy tale blog: http://fairytalemood.tumblr.com/

Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.

Publisher’s Book Descriptions

Tear You Apart
If you want to live happily ever after, first you have to stay alive.Viv knows there’s no escaping her fairy-tale curse. One day her beautiful stepmother will feed her a poison apple or convince her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Henley, to hunt her down and cut out her heart before she breaks his. In the city of Beau Rivage, some princesses are destined to be prey.But then Viv receives an invitation to the exclusive club where the Twelve Dancing Princesses twirl away their nights. There she meets Jasper, an underworld prince who seems to have everything—but what he really wants is her. He vows to save her from her dark fate if she’ll join him and be his queen.

All Viv has to do is tear herself away from the huntsman boy who still holds her heart. Then she might live to see if happily ever after is a promise the prince can keep. But is life as an underworld queen worth sacrificing the true love that might kill her?

A debut fairy tale retelling featuring a strong female character and a daring quest just right for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine.Saville despises the bolts of velvet and silk that her father loves- he’s always prized them more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill, she’ll do anything to survive, even donning boys’ clothes and begging a commission to sew for the king.Piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants led by a man who cannot be defeated. And they’re marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. But Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. She tricks them into leaving, but tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And mere stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Valiant richly reimagines “The Brave Little Tailor,” transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

#LastListEgmont: Authors Ilsa J. Bick and Kristi Helvig Discuss Sci Fi

Today as part of our look at EgmontUSA’s Last List (#LastListEgmont), author’s Ilsa J. Bick and Kristi Helvig interview each other about writing sci fi.

Ilsa:  You know, Kristi, in thinking about what I wanted to ask, I realized that we have a lot in common, including that we’ve both done sci-fi.  So let’s talk genre for a second.  What is it about science fiction that appeals to you?  Did you read the genre when you were a kid?  Do you read it now?  Is this the first sci-fi you’ve written?  Did you set out to write a sci-fi story, or did the story tell you somewhere along the way?

Kristi: Wow, that’s a lot of questions in one question! I’ve always loved science fiction because I think that there are so many real-life possibilities within the pretext of “fiction.” So many things that I’ve read or seen in sci-fi books or movies (from holograms to artificial intelligence) have come to pass in my lifetime. My favorite sci-fi book as a child was A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle–and it’s still one of my faves.

Ilsa: Oh, me, too.  I talk about that book all the time, especially when I’m presenting to librarians or teachers about the differences and similarities between latency and adolescent narratives, and I know that book had a big impact on me.  I still remember the one story I wrote—this is when I was in high school, and it’s the only one I remember writing—was a direct steal.  There was this evil principal brain (aka, IT from WRINKLE) that had taken over the school and made zombies out of all the students except me.  So, of course, I saved the day by killing the thing with a knife.  Atrocious story.  What’s more amazing is that I bothered saving all those kids who wouldn’t give me, this geeky nerd, the time of day.  Maybe that’s why it’s called fiction.  But, yeah, definitely a fave: Whenever I talk about it, get all choked up when I describe that last scene in the garden and Meg’s terrific line about how someone has to be glad to see Calvin, too.  That book is all about reconstituting family.

So, what else?  Other books, films?  TV?

Kristi:  Currently, I’m reading THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir for my book club and I’m loving it, and I watch all things sci-fi. My favorite sci-fi shows are Firefly and the new Battlestar Galactica. My first sci-fi show ever was watching Dr. Who with my dad in childhood.

Ilsa: Gotta say that new Battlestar was totally kick-ass, although I kind of think it fizzled a bit.  All right, I’ll be honest.  The end was an absolute cop-out (and it so reminded me of Lost in its execution, too); it just felt as if the writers had run out of ideas because, oh yeah, it’s so believable that these guys scatter with a couple backpacks apiece and actually survive.

Never watched FireflyI know, heresy—but I love Serenity, which didn’t require that you know the series at all.

Actually, my favorite sf show is still the original Star Trek, though—honestly—it’s all about Kirk’s chest. My God, that man was beefcake in my day.  I’m also probably one of the only people in the universe who actually liked Voyager, at least until the fifth season.  Seven of Nine was such an interesting character, I ended writing about her twice in my work-for-hire days. I’d have happily done more.

So, what about your book, Kristi?  Did you know it would be sf?  Me, I knew that both WHITE SPACE and THE DICKENS MIRROR (and I’m thinking the ASHES trilogy as well) would have some sf elements, but I wanted the narrative firmly rooted in the present day (or, in DICKENS case, an alternative Victorian London), with no aliens per se, rockets, that kind of thing.  Although I’ve certainly written about rockets and space travel and other worlds, these days, I guess I’m more about applying and manipulating science to the narrative, more than I’m about going on a spaceship to some other planet.  (But, you watch: I’ve got this nifty outline for a true, hardcore sf novel that I’ll probably do next right after the book I’m working on now.)

Like I said, I’ve certainly done my share of sf (short stories and all my work-for-hire).  But I find myself staying on present-day Earth.  Maybe I’m just not imaginative enough, I don’t know.  Or maybe I like putting something on Earth and then weirding it up a bit.  Like, you wouldn’t call Dean Koontz or Stephen King science fiction writers per se, even though they both incorporate weird elements that sometimes have a basis in science.  (For King, I’m thinking something like CELL or DUMA KEY, for example.)

So, anyway, what about you?  How’d you get the idea, anyway?

Kristi: I grew up on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and love how they incorporate strange elements into a contemporary setting. Insomnia is one of my favorite Stephen King books! As for my book, yeah, it was definitely sci-fi from the beginning. It was based on a vivid dream I had after watching a science documentary on television late one night. My dream involved our sun burning out way ahead of schedule and the entire cast of characters played out like a movie in my dream that night. It was pretty cool, actually, and I woke up scribbling in my journal like mad and finished the first draft in 6 weeks.

Ilsa: Okay, that is pretty cool.  I have a writer-friend who frequently takes naps when he gets stuck on some plot point ;-).  Interesting that your process was so . . . visual, know what I mean?  I’m that way; I really have to see what’s going on, which is probably why I work so hard to incorporate as many sensory elements into a description as possible. One of the big gripes I have in terms of fiction is that, sometimes, writers use placeholder descriptions; I can’t really see what they’re talking about, you know?  I’ve once gone through an entire book and still not had one bloody clue what the protag looked like.  (It’s a holdover from all my work on film, too, I’m sure.)

Kristi: I loved the description for your new series that compared it to “Memento meets Inception,” as I’m obsessed with both those movies.

Ilsa: Oh, completely love those films.  In fact, when I was sitting through Inception, I kept thinking, how would you write this?  How could you translate what they’re doing to a book?  Not that either movie gave me the idea per se, but I’ve always been interesting in the truly mind-bending.

Kristi: Well, following on that, the blurb for WHITE SPACE is so intriguing that I have to ask how you came up with such a cool idea? Is the idea of parallel, or alternate universes something you’ve explored before?

Ilsa: You know, I’ll be honest: the idea for my Dark Passages series actually came from my youngest daughter.  See, I have this habit of killing her off in my stories in the most horrible ways. Honestly, you’d think the kid would catch a clue.

Anyway, she made some offhand remark about a book I was working on, like was I going to kill her this time or not.  (I wasn’t; I was busy killing her cousins.)  But we did talk about it, because it turns out she was both kind of flattered but also upset that I kept offing her even though it really wasnt her. Like she had to remind herself that, even I happened to use her name or a recognizable detail—her teddy bear or bicycle, for example—none of what I’d written had happened to her. Still, every time, her brain kind of tripped over those things, and she would feel uncomfortable.

Which was just so interesting and got me to thinking about perception and reality, something in which, as a shrink, you do anyway.  (Really, as a therapist, you are attempting to shift a patient’s perception of reality, but is that the same thing as truth?  No, it’s your truth; it’s what you perceive as being more normative.  Sort of a slippery slope, if you take my meaning.)

We take it for granted that when we open our eyes, that what surrounds us is real.  But how do you know for sure?  You don’t.  For that matter, you have no clue that what you see in the mirror is how you truly appear to others.  By extension, what others say about you influences your perceptions about yourself and, by extension, your reality.  So . . . can anyone be sure that you’re the author of your own story?  What if you’re really a character in someone else’s drama and don’t know it?

Then I started thinking about energy and quantum realities and twinning and what you might able to do if you were able to actually capture a quantum twin and place it someplace where you might not be able to collapse probabilities . . . well, that’s how The Dark Passages got its start.  I’ll about trying something new because it keeps me interested as a writer.  Funny, though, that you should ask about whether I’ve done something like this before because the sf book I thinking of doing after my current work-in-progress is very much about parallel timelines.

Following up on using science in fiction, I guess I like to try and use real science to weird up a narrative as much as possible, just as I did in the ASHES trilogy where, with the exception of what might happen to a person exposed to a massive wave of EMPs, most of the science there is real.  I think my insistence on real science is related to me being a shrink and knowing medicine.  What about you?  You’re a PhD, right?  Does what you do in your day job influence how you approach your characters?

Kristi: Oh, we have so much in common—I’m obsessed with quantum physics and love the theories regarding parallel lives and universes! And yes, I have my Ph.D. in clinical psychology and have always been fascinated by what makes people tick and why they make the choices they make. I’m also a research nerd which is why the science part of sci-fi is so fun for me. At this point, I’ve worked with thousands of clients from children through adults on an inpatient and outpatient basis, so I’ve seen and heard a ton of interesting things. Being a psychologist definitely helps me shape the psychology of my characters in stories, and I get a lot of compliments about my characterization so maybe it helps a bit with that aspect of things.

Ilsa: Me, too.  In fact, I was doing this signing in a bookstore just the other day, and this dad, who had finished the ASHES trilogy and was currently reading THE SIN-EATER’S CONFESSION, which is all about the murder of a kid, who may or may not have been in gay—anyway, he said that what he really liked in my books was how I didn’t shy away from showing how awful real life could be or how terrible people are to one another.

I guess that’s because, as a shrink, you crawl through a lot of private sewers.  I’ve worked with kids in family bound together by hate, those who treat the people they say they love so badly, and, of course, the outright abusive.  I’ve also worked in a women’s prison with people you really don’t want to meet in a dark alley; honestly, orange is the new black this ain’t.  Coupled with having grown up around military folks and my own service during the First Gulf War working with soldiers in the run-up and after their deployments as well as more personal history (my dad’s a Holocaust survivor, for example, and I’ve had my own run-ins with prejudice, even now) . . . I know that people behave very badly all the time.  There’s no way I can write sweetness and light because they are tough to find.  I’m not necessarily a pessimist, but I do think that people can be counted on to live down to your lowest expectations, especially when things go south.  Yes, of course, there are people who surprise you, but they’re in the minority.

What about your characters, though?  I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had fans write in and wonder if I’ve based my characters on real people I’ve treated, that kind of thing.  The answer to that is a big no—that would be both unethical and against the law—but, of course, since I’m taking stuff from my head and memories, so . . . yes, I’ve treated people who had cancer; I’ve known some very troubled folks.  You?

Kristi: Ha-ha; I get that a question a lot. That and when people find out that I’m a psychologist, they’ll ask me if I’m diagnosing them in my head (truth: sometimes I am). No, I’ve never based a character on anyone I know in real life, whether it be a family member, client, etc. However, sometimes a character trait will stick out to me or I’ll overhear a snippet of conversation in a store and wonder about what that person’s life must be like. I’ve always had an active imagination and can run with small things. I worked for awhile as the manager of an inpatient adolescent girls unit, where a lot of the girls were committed through youth corrections, so I think my main character Tora has some qualities of many of the girls I met there…that mental toughness due to enduring so much life trauma.

Ilsa: Are you going to stick with your practice?  Or is it your dream to quit and be a full-time writer?

Kristi: As far as the career thing, I feel like I’m ever-evolving in that area. I feel lucky in that I only work part-time (6-8 hours a week) in a private practice right now, and after I burned out on traditional therapy, I got additional certification in life coaching so I work mainly with people who are motivated to change careers, lose weight, write a novel, etc. I also became a Reiki Master as I’m fascinated with energy and how it impacts the body. When the kids are in school, I have a lot of time to write, so I feel very lucky with the balance I have going on right now because I’m not someone who could get up at 4am to write before heading out to a full-time job! That said, I hardly get anything done in the summers because I love hanging out with my kiddos while they’re still young…so I’m okay with it, because I know I’ll blink and they’ll be in college.

What about you?  At what point in your practice did you decide to write novels? Do you still practice?

Ilsa: Well, that’s kind of a long story.  In a nutshell, I get bored really easily, and so when I was doing my child fellowship, I went back to school at night and got a degree in film and literature studies.  Then, since I was also a psychoanalytic candidate, I started writing a lot of nonfiction articles applying psychoanalysis to film and television (and some lit; my first published paper was on Ray Bradbury): not putting films and TV on the couch so much as looking at how the structure of a film and its imagery mirrored its psychological and developmental concerns.  I wrote and presented tons, including a pretty big paper on Star Trek that has been reprinted and is still taught in some film courses and which I presented way back at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space for their retrospective on the series.  I’ll still get the occasional email every couple of months where someone asks for a reprint or me to clarify a point (or contribute a chapter in a book!).

But I quickly got bored again, and that’s when the husband essentially dared me to write stories because that’s what he thought I was really about.  I thought he was nuts, but he said that I was more worried that I would fail if I tried.  Honestly?  He was right.  But I also don’t back down from dares, so I started writing.  I was full-time private practice at the time and had been for, gosh, six, seven years and the day was pretty patient-packed.  So I got really, really early and wrote for a couple hours and then stayed up really, really late to squeak in some more words.  The husband would take the kids to museums or an outing on Saturdays, so I could get more writing in.  Eventually, when we moved to Wisconsin, I dropped the private practice but then worked as a consultant to a managed care company and a women’s prison for quite a few years until I finally stopped seeing patients roundabout seven years ago.  By then, I’d published a lot of stories and gone on into work-for-hire—you know, writing novels and stories set in the Star Trek, Battletech, Shadowrun, and Mechwarrior Dark Age universes—but was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to write that would be uniquely my own.

Kristi:  Well, you have another very popular series, the ASHES trilogy and your novels with Carolrhoda Lab, so I’m impressed by how prolific you are. I’m such a newbie compared to you, being that BURN OUT is my first series. Do you have a set writing routine that you follow?

Ilsa: I’m pretty disciplined, although that might be just a synonym for being incredibly boring and that all might be related to having been in medical school and then the military—you don’t get through either if you can’t set up and stick to a routine.  I mean, I look at writing as a job, and if you want to get paid, you have to show up to work.  Which means that I’m up by 6-6:30, have my coffee, pull out my iPad, and type out the basic bullet points and plot elements of whatever chapter or section I’m on that day (although I’ve frequently have done that the day before or on these little scraps of paper that I leave all over the house); and then I screw my butt in the chair and write until I reach my goal, which is normally a set number of pages I must do every day.  Sometimes that means I’m done by 2 or so; at others, it means I knock off long enough to exercise, come back, do the dinner thing, and then go back to work until I’m done.

Kristi: This is one of those areas that I’m trying to improve. I’d love to say I write from 9a-2p every day, but the truth is, I write when I can. Some days that’s hours, and other days it’s not at all. I do have this spot on the couch where I write (in fact, I’m sitting there now!), and I go into this zone as soon as I sit down. When I’m in first draft mode, I’m crazy intense (as in forgetting to eat and shower) because I just want to get it down but then I’ll go in fits and spurts when I’m revising.

What about process?  Would you call yourself a plotter or panster by nature?

Ilsa: Plotter.  Remember, I started out in work-for-hire and there, you’ve got to submit an outline for approval.  They want to make sure you don’t violate the universe rules or kill off Captain Kirk and not bring him back, that kind of thing.  So I’m pretty methodical.  I also used to write these HUMONGOUS outlines (like, 250 pages’ worth).  An editor once joked that all I had to do was put in adjectives, and I was done.  But this way, I thought through the whole story.

As time has gone on, though, I’ve found that a) my outlines are shorter; b) I get more impatient to get started already and not write the life out of the story; and c) once I’ve written an outline, I oftentimes don’t ever refer to it again.  It’s as if I’ve told the story to myself once, but then I have to see how it really plays out on paper.  Frequently, I find that what looked good in outline sucks in execution and so things change.  They usually do anyway as the characters find their voices and decide which way they want to go.  You just let them.  They know what they’re doing.

Let’s shift gears a sec and talk YA.  A lot of people worry about there being too much realism in YA fiction; that it’s too dark.  Conversely, at least one author has recently said that YA isn’t all that morally complex.  Which do you think is right?  Is there a middle ground?  Does a book need to be morally complex in order to be good?

Kristi: Well, I definitely disagree that YA isn’t all that morally complex…as the genre implies, the books involve young adults, which is like saying teens aren’t complex. That’s absurd. I love the grey area between black and white, and how some good people do bad things and vice versa. I take it as a compliment that so many people have told me they can’t figure out if James in BURN OUT is a good guy or a bad guy. I think people are complex by nature and we try too often to put people in boxes to make it easier to organize our world. Some YA is dark, but I also don’t understand how it could be considered “too realistic.” When a teen connects with something on a personal level and feels that it helped them get through a dark time in their life, that’s a good thing in my opinion—I’m thinking of books like SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and SCARS by Cheryl Rainfield. I know authors who write realistic fiction have gotten letters or emails from readers saying that their book saved their lives. Like it or not, some crappy real-life stuff happens to teens, and they need books to validate their experiences too. I’ve done countless individual therapy sessions with many of those teens, but books can reach so many people at once.

Ilsa: Earlier, you talked about trauma, and we’ve both had quite the traumatic time of it recently, what with Egmont’s closing and all.  What have been some of your darker moments, and if you’ve had them, how have you gotten yourself out?

Kristi: My first editor left Egmont even before BURN OUT was published, so I was used to things changing unexpectedly. Then more recently, I had a conversation with my editor, Alison Weiss, that Egmont was up for sale, so I was expecting news of a sale at some point. Alison and I had this marathon phone call where we went over final edits for STRANGE SKIES and it went to the printer on the Friday before everything changed. She called me a few days later to tell me about Egmont closing and seemed as shocked as I was. So I was in this weird place of being excited that I was finally finished with everything for my sequel at the same time that I found out my publisher was closing. I felt horrible for authors I knew whose books were cancelled due to the news, and horrible for the amazingly talented staff at Egmont, while also feeling incredibly lucky that they bumped up my publishing date so that the book would still come out. I already knew that one of the constants in publishing is change, but it was still a shock.

Ilsa: Boy, I know what you mean.  I think that because I’ve been with Egmont longer, I thought something bad might be in the works.  I mean, first, a marketing person leaves and then the guy who was the liaison with the parent company and then the publisher and then your original editor and, three seconds later, another marketing person . . . it felt like a slow-motion train wreck, but I tried not to think too hard about it.  Although there are only so many times you can look at caller ID, see it’s your editor who has no earthly reason to call you just to shoot the breeze, and think, Uh-oh, this can’t be good.

I know it affected me, though, all this change.  I’ve started three or four books and been unable to finish them, and I do think that part of that was this simmering uncertainty.  Not all of it; I had other stuff going on and a surgery to recover from . . . but, still.

In a way, as awful as the closing is, at least there’s not that uncertainty anymore. Was I upset?  Oh sure, you bet.  I didn’t cry, but I did get this terrible sinking sensation in the pit of my gut.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, EgmontUSA launched the ASHES trilogy and the editor with whom I’d worked then understood what I was trying to do with The Dark Passages series right away.  There was this great marketing team out there that loved and promoted my work. So, after I absorbed the news, the first things that popped into my head were a) what happens to the books that are already out and b) what about THE DICKENS MIRROR?

In my case, I’ve been lucky.  The parent company, Egmont UK, has picked up all my books and they’ll continue to be available through all the usual venues for the foreseeable future.  The distributor will change after June, going from Random House to Trafalgar, but that won’t affect my books’ availability.  So that’s good.

And, honestly?  I think that the finality’s been good.  After the shock wore off, I dusted off a book I’d been working on that I really liked—I’d been writing it when I had to knock off and do Dickens Mirror—and tore it up and started all over.  Since then, the writing’s been going great, and I’m already looking ahead to the next book when I’m done with this one.

What about you and your trilogy?

Kristi: There’s this quote I love by the Roman philosopher, Seneca: “Every new beginning comes from some other’s beginnings end.” I think a pop song used that quote too, because I started humming it while typing the quote.  Anyway, I think the quote is so true, and I’ve always adapted well to change, so I trust that whatever happens next will be great. I’ll definitely write the 3rd book of the trilogy—and since I get my rights back right away, I’ll probably self-publish it as a new publisher doesn’t often pick up a series at the end. My new YA is a fantasy that will be on its way to my fabulous agent shortly, and as luck would have it, I had an amazing dream this week that will by the basis of my new YA thriller. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to be a hybrid author (ask all my critique partners!), so this is a great opportunity for me to pursue that.

Ilsa: Well, that’s great.  Sounds as if we’re both moving on then.  Me, I’ll be eager to hear more about what it’s like to go the self-pub route.  In fact, it’s a pretty interesting topic in general because if you think about it, we Egmont Last Listers are being forced into straddling the line between traditional and independent publishing.  Maybe a Twitter chat about this would be the way to go because I’ll bet there are tons of writers out there to whom something like this has happened, or they’ve had a series cancelled, that kind of thing.

Anyway, thanks so much for hanging out with me, Kristi. It’s been fun.

Kristi: It’s been a blast getting to know you better—thanks so much for doing this interview, Ilsa! 🙂

Publisher’s Book Descriptions

The Dickens Mirror (Dark Passages #2)

Critically acclaimed author of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick takes her new Dark Passages series to an alternative Victorian London where Emma Lindsay continues to wade through blurred realities now that she has lost everything: her way, her reality, her friends. In this London, Emma will find alternative versions of her friends from the White Space and even Arthur Conan Doyle.

Emma Lindsay finds herself with nowhere to go, no place to call home. Her friends are dead. Eric, the perfect boy she wrote into being, and his brother, Casey, are lost to the Dark Passages. With no way of knowing where she belongs, she commands the cynosure, a beacon and lens that allows for safe passage between the Many Worlds, to put her where she might find her friends—find Eric—again. What she never anticipated was waking up in the body of Little Lizzie, all grown up—or that, in this alternative London, Elizabeth McDermott is mad.

In this London, Tony and Rima are “rats,” teens who gather the dead to be used for fuel. Their friend, Bode, is an attendant at Bedlam, where Elizabeth has been committed after being rescued by Arthur Conan Doyle, a drug-addicted constable.

Tormented by the voices of all the many characters based on her, all Elizabeth wants is to get rid of the pieces under her skin once and for all. While professing to treat Elizabeth, her physician, Dr. Kramer, has actually drugged her to allow Emma—who’s blinked to this London before—to emerge as the dominant personality…because Kramer has plans. Elizabeth is the key to finding and accessing the Dickens Mirror.

But Elizabeth is dying, and if Emma can’t find a way out, everyone as they exist in this London, as well as the twelve-year-old version of herself and the shadows—what remains of Eric, Casey, and Rima that she pulled with her from the Dark Passages—will die with her.

Strange Skies (Burnout #2)

Action, adventure, and romance are heating up in this sequel to the futuristic science fiction thriller Burn Out. Perfect for fans of Across the Universe and The Memory of After.

Caelia is the new Earth. That’s what the Consulate told everyone and, against all odds, Tora finally has made it there. She can’t see the ocean from her cell in the Consulate’s containment center, and she doesn’t know what happened to the weapons her father died for and she’s risked her life to save.

But as she plans her escape, she runs into the last person she ever expected to see-her dad. The Consulate has kept held him prisoner in a complicated plot designed to lure Tora out of hiding. Now Tora has a new purpose: break free, get the guns, and save her father.

But first she’ll have to navigate a strange new planet, track down James (whose loyalties still remain questionable), and find Kale…before he finds her first.

Story Locale: Caelia, a planet colonized after Earth becomes unhabitable

Series Overview: In a future where the sun has turned into a red giant, making Earth unhabitable, a teen girl fights for survival while trying to protect the special weapons her father invented from falling into government control

Meet Our Guest Bloggers

Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. Her first novel, BURN OUT, (4/14 from Egmont USA) follows 17-year-old Tora Reynolds, one of Earths last survivors, when our sun burns out early. In the sequel, STRANGE SKIES, coming 4/28/2015, Tora makes it to a new planet only to discover a whole new host of problemsand the same people who still want her dead. Order Kristis books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local retailer.

Kristi muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog at www.kristihelvig.com and Twitter (@KristiHelvig). You can also find her on Facebook. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and now an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including her critically acclaimed ASHES Trilogy, Draw the DarkDrowning Instinct, and The Sin-Eater’s Confession. WHITE SPACE, the first volume of her Dark Passages horror/fantasy duology, is currently long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel.  The sequel, THE DICKENS MIRROR, will hit shelves on March 10, 2015.

Ilsa lives with her long-suffering husband and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.

Drop by her website, www.ilsajbick.com, for her Sundays’ cake and Friday’s cocktail recipes as well as other assorted maunderings; or find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter (@ilsajbick), or Instagram (@ilsajbick).

Middle Grade Monday: Funny Cats and Crooks, Mary Amato and Patrick Jennings (#LastListEgmont)

Mary Amato and Patrick Jennings are each celebrating the release of new, humorous chapter books. Jennings’ Hissy Fitz is out now; Amato’s Good Crooks Book 3: Sniff a Skunk will be out on April 28, 2015. The authors, who have never met, finally get the chance to chat here.

AMATO: Patrick, I “get into character” in order to write. As you were writing Hissy Fitz, did you ever find yourself coughing up hairballs or eating cat food?

JENNINGS: I did quite a bit of hissing. The temperament of my narrator often affects mine, sometimes overly. I was a testier guy while writing the book. I also ate a lot of salmon. 

AMATO: Writers are really fun people to be around! I am haunted by characters until I finally give in and write his or her story. Were you haunted for a while by a cat before deciding to write Hissy Fitz?

JENNINGS: Yes, I was haunted by a cat like Hissy. Terrified, really. Her name was Dorothea, we called her Loobs, and she was intensely nasty to me and the other three cats that lived with us at the time. She chased one of them away into the jaws of, I assume, a coyote. I suppose it could have been the jaws of a Jeep. That ghost-white hellcat, who passed into the netherworld eight years ago, makes regular cameos in my nightmares. 

 Where did you come up with the idea of crooked parents for the Good Crooks books? Were your parents thieves and scofflaws? If not, did you wish they were?

 AMATO: I had wonderful parents, but I had an active imagination. Throughout childhood, I was quite certain several times a week that my real parents had been kidnapped and replaced by look-alikes. My father had a small dark spot on his hand, and I would frequently check to make sure the spot was there. You talk about cat nightmares…hmmn…I wonder if most writers have a lot of wild daydreams and nightmares.

JENNINGS: Mary, this back-and-forth reminds me of your book, Please Write in This Book, where a teacher leaves a journal out with the title’s instructions written on its cover. The students in her class fill it with their words and drawings. There are so many voices in the book, and they are each so distinctive. Are you schizophrenic? If not, how did you manage this?

AMATO: I do hear voices. I bet you do, too. The difference between schizophrenics and writers is that writers want to hear voices. I’m delighted that so many people inhabit my head. I find myself extremely boring.

Speaking of voices. Kids’ voices are the best. My favorite comment from a reader was: “I’m so glad you’re not dead. Dr. Seuss is dead, but you’re not!” What has been one of your favorite comments?

JENNINGS: I remember one reader telling me that I was “a testament to my profession.” I think he was eleven. I had that letter on the fridge for a long time. I often get asked which of my books is my favorite, but one reader—a boy named Cortez—asked me, “Do you like your own books?” Then there was the kid who said that he’d “always thought reading was boring and stupid, but now I love it thanks to you.” Aw shucks.

You can find out more about their books as well as more Spring 2015 releases on: http://egmontslastlist.tumblr.com/

Find out more about Mary Amato at www.maryamato.com and @maryamato; check out www.patrickjennings.com and @TheHissyFitz.

About our Guest Bloggers

Mary Amato is an award-winning children’s book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. Her MANY books have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for television, produced onstage, and have won the children’s choice awards in several states.

Patrick Jennings’s books for young readers have received honors from Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, Smithsonian Magazine, the PEN Center USA, the Woman’s National Book Association, and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries. The Seattle Public Library awarded his book, Guinea Dog, the Washington State Book Award of 2011. His book, Faith and the Electric Dogs, is currently being adapted for the screen. His new book, Hissy Fitz, was published in January 2015. He currently writes full time in his home in Port Townsend, Washington.

Email: patrickpending@mac.com
Website: patrickjennings.com
Blog: PatrickJenningsEsquire.blogspot.com
Facebook Author Page: facebook.com/pages/Patrick-Jennings/430215403671950

Twitter: @PJenningsWrites

Publisher’s Book Descriptions

Good Crooks Book 3: Sniff a Skunk

A funny, silly series perfect for fans of Dav Pilkey, Tony Abbott, and Nancy Krulik. Mary Amato is a star of state master and children’s choice lists and returns to the age category of her popular Riot Brothers chapter book series with this new venture.

Good Crooks Book Three: Sniff a Skunk! brings back our favorite pair of do-gooder crooks in a hilarious adventure about an odiferous encounter with a skunk.

ISBN: 9781606845981

Hissy Fitz

A popular middle-grade writer moves to chapter books with this humorous tale about a cat that makes Grumpy Cat seem cheerful. Perfect for fans of Geronimo Stilton and Dog Diaries.

Hissy Fitz lives with some two-legged creatures who are destined to serve him in every possible way and understand his every whim. Sadly, these creatures are sorely lacking in their skills. For one thing–they touch him when they want to touch him. Don’t they know that the two-legged are there for him to touch when he wants to–meaning when he wants food? Petting wakes him up! They speak to him–don’t they know the two-legged should be seen–so Hissy knows where to order food–and not heard?! It’s becoming intolerable. What is this irascible cat to do?

Published January 2015. ISBN: 9781606845967


Sunday Reflections: Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend, Egmont’s Last List

A little over 3 years ago when I began TLT, I had no idea what I was doing. Sure you could argue that I still don’t know what I’m doing, but then I really didn’t know what I was doing. I began blogging as sort of a hail mary pass in a moment when my life was in extreme flux due to job issues – The Mr.’s – and I just knew that being a YA librarian was really and truly the heart of who I was. And one of the very first publishers to work with me was EgmontUSA.

Shortly after I began TLT, I somehow became connected with EgmontUSA. And I became friends with Alison Weiss, one of my main contacts there. Over the years I have done a variety of projects with EgmontUSA, including hosting an annual Egmont Week. In addition, EgmontUSA was one of the sponsors for the annual It Came From a Book Teen Art Contest that we jointly host with The Library as Incubator Project.

One of my favorite EgmontUSA moments came when they invited me to a small, intimate dinner at ALA in San Diego. Stephanie Wilkes was blogging with me at the time and we were invited to eat dinner with Lex Thomas (who are really two people) and Michael Grant. There are two things I remember most about this dinner. For one, I got to eat the most amazing steak. This was a really big deal because as the mother of a child with chronic health issues working part-time at a library, there is not a lot of steak on our dinner menu. The other is that I got to spend time talking with Michael Grant, the author of a wide variety of popular book series including the Gone series and, of course, Animorphs. And yes, I’ve been a librarian long enough to remember a time when you couldn’t own enough copies of the Animorphs series.

Karen having dinner with Michael Grant

I feel like I can honestly say that TLT wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of EgmontUSA. They were the first publisher to actively send me books to review, helping me have content for my blog. When I saw them again at other events they always seemed to remember who I was and showed me incredible kindness. As someone who works in public service and often gets yelled at because a patron walks in and realizes that they may have to wait a few minutes for a computer or because I have to explain once again that no I’m sorry we’re not getting any tax instruction books, it was so edifying to get to have those moments where someone remembered you, treated you with kindness and respect, and could talk enthusiastically about the books you love with you.

EgmontUSA also holds a place in my heart because they published some of my favorite titles, including The Hourglass series by Myra McEntire, the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa. J. Bick, Human.4 and The Future We Left Behind by Michael Lancaster, and Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

I was incredibly sad when it was announced that EgmontUSA would be closing its doors. I wondered what it would mean for those authors who had or would soon be publishing titles under their house. There was a bit of a silver lining this past week when it was announced that Lerner is going to be acquiring those authors and titles, but in many ways it still feels like the end of an era for me personally.

This next week we are honored to be hosting Egmont’s Last List. Every day we will be featuring posts from some of EgmontUSAs authors who will be publishing their final titles with the Egmont logo on the spine. It’s a bittersweet honor, getting to work with EgmontUSA this one last time.

This Sunday, I can’t help but reflect on what Egmont has meant to me personally: as a librarian, as a reader, and as a blogger who is just looking for a way to learn and grow and be a YA librarian even in the midst of job changes and kids with health issues. Thank you so much to everyone who worked at Egmont for allowing me to continue to do what I love. Thank you to the authors for writing some of the books that I have loved and been deeply moved or entertained by. I wish you all great success in the future.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go snuggle up with my Egmont books.

Book Review: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Just when you thought Egmont Week was over….. one more review from their fall catalog!

The writing pair behind Notes from the Blender, a great bit of realistic fiction about the complications and joys of becoming, through no effort of your own, part of a blended family during high school, is back for another novel with a shared narration.  Emmy and Justin alternate chapters, detailing the daily grind of life at Heartland Academy, a school and treatment facility for teens who are… well, a really awesome mess.

I really enjoyed Notes from the Blender and the interplay between Cook and Halpin’s voices and perspectives.  The same technique is used here, and though the book is definitely enjoyable, I didn’t feel the same “zing” as in their previous collaboration, perhaps because there’s less humor in the subject matter, and perhaps because both characters need to focus inward so much more because of their situations.

Emmy, adopted as a baby from China by a Caucasian American family (who had a biological child just a few months after the adoption was final) struggles with an eating disorder and her feelings of abandonment and otherness, in addition to her anger over an incident of cyberbullying and sexual harassment at her previous school.  Justin claims he wasn’t really trying to kill himself when he took a bunch of Tylenol, but in combination with some inappropriate sexual behavior, the cry for help was heard loud and clear and he lands in Heartland too.

As Emmy and Justin learn the ins and outs of institutional life and get to know their roommates and groupmates, they begin to let down their guard enough to accept help and friendship when it is offered them.  Each finally admits that they have some issues that they need to work on, and begins to see their life before Heartland in a different way.

The cast of supporting characters is certainly interesting, and as you might expect from a book whose peer group of focus is a therapy group, each has a backstory and complexity that is slowly revealed.  There’s a sideplot regarding a pig, which seemed a little contrived and stretched the walls of believability, but certainly broke this book away from the realm of predictable and lightened the mood significantly, buoying it on toward the happy conclusion.

The promise of hope and healing is strong here.  Put this on your list of books for teens with “issues”, recommend it to those who might like other books about teens struggling with mental health issues but might want something a little lighter.  This book is more about the process of understanding that a problem exists than delving deeply into the complexity of one specific disorder as is done in Wintergirls or Cut.  Keep in mind that though there’s lots of talk of sex, there isn’t actually much physical contact at all between the main characters, whose relationship builds slowly after many fits and starts, and progresses in a really mature way with self-awareness and good sense.

Booklist (July 1, 2013) says, “The bawdy, witty, and sarcastic style balances out the intense therapy discourse and the pensive self-reflection found elsewhere in this irreverent take on mental health, recovery, and wellness.” – Jones, Courtney.

A Really Awesome Mess by Tish Cook and Brendan Halpin.  Published July 23 by Egmont USA.  ISBN: 9781606843642.

More on Body Image and Eating Disorders in YA Lit at TLT
Body Image and Eating Disorders
Top 10 teen titles dealing with body image and eating disorders
The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset; a story about scoliosis and eating disorders
Sex Sells, but what are we selling?
Let’s Hear it for the Boys 
Pop Culture and Body Image Issues for Gay Teens, a guest post 
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions from a recovering anorexic

Teen Obesity and Body Image:
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Conner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
Today is Love Your Body Day
The Effects of Pop Culture on the Body Image of GLBT Teens
Body Image and Weight Loss 
Sex Sells, but what are we selling? Pop culture and body image issues in tweens and teens 
Take a Second Look: Books that encourage teens to look beyond body image 
Abercrombie and Fitch, Brave and Body Image: Part 1 and Part 2   

Friday Finds – July 19, 2013

This week at TLT:

It’s Egmont USA week her on TLT, and we are all about the book reviews! Here are links to this week’s titles:

We’ve also had some fabulous guest posts by Egmont authors this week:

  • Em Garner, author of Contaminated, joined us to discuss the things that scare us.
  • Next, Talia Vance dropped by to explain the role grief and recovery play in her novel, Spies and Prejudice.
  • Finally, today we have Lindsay Eland here to talk about summertime and little free libraries.

Need a convenient list of all of Egmont’s Fall 2013 releases? Here you go. You can also click that link to enter our raffle for a mini collection of Egmont USA’s 2013 titles.

Previously on TLT:

Ilsa J. Bick, Egmont author of Ashes and Shadows, visited us for a guest post.

Around the Web:

Kelly Jensen (AKA @catagator) wrote an insightful article about recent issues with censorship and YA literature – What Are Grown-Ups Afraid of in YA Books. Read the comments if you enjoy that truly special kind of troll circus.

Lionsgate released new Catching Fire promotional posters featuring the contestants from the Quarter Quell.

In other movie news, read the live blog from the 2013 ComicCon press conference for Divergent

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the  School of Education atUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison has a great list of 30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know (thanks @VOYAMagazine)

We’ve all been talking about Trayvon Martin in light of the verdict that was handed down in Florida last Saturday.  Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots did so eloquently in a very personal essay.  A whole bunch of people are talking about privilege in light of the verdict through the “We Are Not Trayvon Martin” meme too. 

We want to know…

Book Review – A Summer of Sundays by Lindsay Eland

Sunday Fowler is the middlest of middle children from Middlesburg, Middletonia, Middletown. At 11 (almost 12!) she is too young for her two older sisters, and too old for her three younger brothers. Everyone in her family either dismisses her, forgets her, or takes her for granted. In fact, in the first couple of chapters, they manage to leave her behind at a gas station, drive for two hours, and never realize she is gone. And she never tells them. Typical middle child ‘peacemaker’ behavior.

I was so pleased (once I got past the two hour abandonment, which frankly left me sobbing) to find that, although A Summer of Sundays contains almost everything I’ve come to expect and be left bored by in a middle grades novel, the author has instead turned what is fairly typical into an engaging story that is sure to resonate with children. Sunday Fowler is determined to leave her mark on the summer and be ‘recognized’ – Lindsay Eland definitely left her mark on this reader.

What worked for me in this book:

The characterization was top-notch. Even the minor characters were fully realized. The different members of Sunday’s family were at once both recognized ‘types’ and fully realized characters. The family dynamic was healthy and realistic. The story line was recognizable enough to follow while filled with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader’s interest.

What didn’t work for me in this book:

Ummmm…sorry. I’ve got nothing.

How I think it works as a purchase:

This is engaging, solid, realistic fiction for the 8 to 11-year-old set. There is something in it for everyone. It has broad appeal and will leave the reader to more closely examine their own world and the people in it they may be overlooking. And it will give hope and companionship to those readers in an age group that often feel overlooked. In essence, it meets the requirements to be included in my favorite literary quote from Matilda. Find it (and more about me) here.

A Summer of Sundays was just released by Egmont on July 9, 2013 and is available widely.

Summertimes by Lindsay Eland, author of A Summer of Sundays

For some reason when I picture summer evenings, I often think of porch lights—that little glow in the evening dusk and on into the thick night. Porch lights are a little smile on a house, a twinkle that blinks a warm welcome to neighbors or passersby.
            My parents have talked about these.
            How porch lights here turned on every evening and the adults pulled out deck chairs or settled onto swings to watch the kids gather around, scheming. Neighbors took walks and stopped by a porch-lit home to chat, share a cup of coffee, a laugh, some talk about the football game, gossip about this and that. It was a coming-together.
            But those sorts of porch lights—collecting stray bugs and bits of moonlight—are more or less a thing of the past.
            We live farther from each other, retreat into our homes for our evening routines of television shows, movies, coffee, or checking the latest on Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, Twitter, or our favorite blogs.
            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lamenting these times—they are my times, and each time has its own beauty and its own ugly—like in every bit of change.
            But where are the porch lights now? Are there any left shining out in the darkness?
            Because we humans need light—we crave it.
            In the winter, light offers warmth. In the spring, the promise of growing. In the summer, light means long days and late nights. In the fall, light is the orange glow of a pumpkin or candles on a Thanksgiving table.
            “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.” ( From The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo)
            I couldn’t’ve said it better.
            Books—stories—are lights.
            They do not ignore the darkness but scatter it with light. 
          They illuminate life, ignite dreams, expand our creativity, and tickle our imaginations. They connect us together in ways that nothing else can—in ways that nothing ever can.
            They crisscross time and space and people and cultures and ages like nothing else and allow us to share and experience and touch something magical with another human being—with millions of other human beings.
            They tell us all that life was, and is, and can be, and is meant to be. 
            And libraries’–beautiful, lovely, sweet-smelling (you know the smell I’m talking about), magical—have always been places filled with that light of ideas, people, culture, knowledge, and creativity. A place that brings us humans—in all our Facebooking and blogging and watching, and texting—together. Libraries are like lighthouses—shining out across a stormy, unpredictable sea.
            Sunday, the main character in my book A Summer of Sundays, knows the power of libraries to bring communities together. Through remodeling the local library, she sees friendships healed. Friendships made.  Ideas, secrets, and lives exchanged. And she discovers herself and where she fits in her world.  
            So where are those glowing porch lights now?
            They’re there.
            They’re called The Little Free Libraries.
            Have you heard of them?
            They are beginning to pop up everywhere—in the middle of neighborhoods, by the entrance to dog parks, on the corners of intersections, by the swing sets at playgrounds.
            The Little Free Libraries form a movement that has sprung up from those book lovers who know the power of books and whose desire is to connect people with literature, with information, with stories, and with humanity itself.
            And these little libraries are giving people what libraries have always given and offered and shared—a place to bring ideas together, strengthen communities, and enrich lives.
            They are small boxes—almost like large birdhouses—with books inside. You take a book in exchange for a book that you slip inside for someone else. Sharing with one another.
            Some neighborhoods decide on a theme for their library: mysteries, children’s books, books by a specific author, sci-fi books, books on a specific culture, books that all have a title that starts with a letter of the alphabet.
            These Little Free Libraries are the new porch lights.
            People are beginning to emerge from their houses, from behind their screens, and gather around these libraries, chatting with one another about books. And chatting about books (as it always has) brings up ideas and discussions, laughter and sharing, friendships and creativity—bringing people together.
            It’s really extraordinary, isn’t it? This power of light—the power of books—the power of libraries—in not only the great, wide world, but in our own small world of a few neighborhood blocks.
            Visit www.littlefreelibrary.org and find out how you can turn on your own glowing porch light in your neighborhood. Then watch what happens.  

About Lindsay Eland: I was born in Cincinnati, grew up in various towns in Pennsylvania, went to college in Oklahoma, and found home in Breckenridge, Colorado. I love to write, read, hike, drink espresso, and attempt to keep my plants alive. I am a laugher and a dreamer. Mix all these together and you get me–a lucky writer of middle grade fiction.  Lindsay is the author of Scones and Sensibility and A Summer of Sundays, both published by Egmont USA.

Book Review: What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hayes

Grover has been dealing with the recent death of his mother in the only way he can, by retreating from the world into the bamboo forest located in the vacant lot next to his home. There, he creates beautiful weavings using brightly colored fallen leaves and the bamboo amongst which he has built himself a workshop. He leaves these tapestries as tributes beside his mother’s grave.

Meanwhile the world has gone on around him. His father, who runs the Thomas Wolfe Memorial historic site in Asheville, North Carolina, spends more and more time at work. His livelihood is threatened by budget cuts and he himself is seeking solace from the loss of his wife.

His little sister Sudie, grieving in her own way, seeks to become the perfect child. She keeps her room as neat as a pin now, just like her mother always wanted. She excels at school and does her best to draw both her father and Grover out of themselves.

This is a beautiful story of a family learning to deal with grief and accept the help of those around them. Their friends and neighbors, the new family who has moved in across the street, are all rich characters who add great layers of depth to the story.

Unfortunately, there is one character that can be unnecessarily intrusive and does much to distract from the flow of the narrative –  the city of Asheville. The book is one part lovely, well realized middle grade novel and one part tedious tour guide to downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Please do not mistake me. I love downtown Asheville. I have friends who have lived there for the past 15 years whom I visit 2 or 3 times a year, sometimes for a week at a time. Asheville is fully deserving of being it’s own character in any novel set there. (Any of you who have experienced it know of which I speak. Those of you who haven’t cannot even imagine. It is gloriously odd and wonderful.) This novel, however, does itself a disservice by its lengthily detailed explanation of the city, descriptions that go on for pages and include minute historical detail that might derail the interest of the most dedicated Middle Grades reader.

What worked for me in this book:

The characterization, even of the most peripheral characters, is well done. Spare without being lacking in any way, the author does an amazing job of showing rather than telling, both through the characters’ actions and interactions.

The story is beautifully told. It is not common to find such a vibrant story dealing with the grief of an entire family in the wake of the death of a parent. This alone makes it a strong candidate for purchase. As librarians, many of us have experience in helping young people deal with the death of a loved one.

What didn’t work for me in this book:

I’ve already covered it. Unfortunately, for some readers, it takes up a rather large percentage of the text.

What I Came to Tell You will be available in September from Egmont. ISBN 978-1-60684-433-5.

Book Review: Saving Thanehaven by Catherine Jinks

Just last week someone was asking me about books that took place with video games or the Internet and I wish I had read this book before they had asked that question because I would have said: Saving Thanehaven by Catherine Jinks.

Catherine Jinks in the author of Evil Genius, which I adore, and The Paradise Trap, which the Tween adores.  It is the story of Noble, a knight who is brave and true, though he is tired of the endless fighting.  He is accompanied by his “trusty” sword Smite.  Smite is prone to shifting at the worst possible moment and taking bites out of Noble, which is kind of an issue.  Suddenly, Rufus shows up and begins asking Noble what it is that he wants to do, suggesting that Nobel can take control of his own life.  It turns out that Noble is a part of a video game and Rufus is a virus.  Soon they are traveling from game to game and challenging everyone to simply take control of their own destiny.

Saving Thanehaven is a fantasy hero quest with some unique twists and turns and that all too important reminder that we should all start thinking for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we should never follow the rules.  Jinks takes the inner working of the computer world and turns them inside out and upside down, quite literally.  Although all readers can appreciate this fun romp, gamers in particular will be enchanted by this unique look at their world.  And in typical Jinks fashion, there is a lot of light humor and fun twists.

Suitable for middle grade readers and up, this is a definite add to your reading collections.  A great book for Teen Tech Week.  And it goes straight to our More Than a Game list.  You can do a wide variety of programming tie ins for this book, including some of these Game On and Teen Tech Week ideas.

Saving Thanehaven by Catherine Jinks.  Published July 2013 by Egmont USA.  ISBN: 978-1-60684-274-4.