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Raiding the Junk Drawer, a guest post by Hope Larson

I’m not a writer who enjoys looking back. I can’t imagine anything more cringe-inducing than reading through my old work. Old published work is bad enough, but at least those books passed through the hands of an editor. Worst of all are old scripts and pitches for projects that never went anywhere: the junk drawer projects. When something goes into the junk drawer, it might as well be falling into a bottomless pit. Many things go into the junk drawer, but few claw their way back out.

A few years before I came up with the idea for Salt Magic, I was working on another story. It had several working titles: first Yours Radiantly, then Luna Park. Or was it the other way around? It was a painfully overly-researched piece of historical fiction about a 1920s con man and a rodeo rider-turned-aspiring actress with the stage name of Vonceil Viking, and both of them were real people. Anyone who’s fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole will understand how easy it is to latch onto a story and fall head over heels with every minute detail–particularly when you have a personal connection to the material. For me the whole thing began when  I ripped up some plywood flooring in my old house and found a 1927 newspaper article underneath.

“TO RIDE A HORSE across the Continent, a young woman started out from the New York City Hall. She hopes the complete the journey in 120 days in order to win a $25,000 wager.”

I included this snippet in a comic I drew for the New York Times in 2007, but I was in the middle of writing another book, so I set it aside and forgot about it.

A few years later I stumbled onto the newspaper article in my files, did a little research, and became totally freaking obsessed. I crawled through old newspaper articles. Visited colleges 2 hours away to go through their microfiche. Hunted down obscure, out-of-print books. I hired a professional genealogist to do research in the United Kingdom and even had a journalist friend pull a copy of Vonceil’s death certificate. On a trip to New Mexico, I made a point of locating and driving past the ranch where she grew up.

All of this resulted in a mountain of information and a probably-not-very-good script. I couldn’t get anyone interested in the project without substantial rewrites, and I was too invested in the “integrity” of the story to take it firmly in hand. I made the painful decision to shelve it and move on.

This project taught me many lessons about writing and researching historical fiction. For example: If you’re writing fiction, you’re in service of a great story, not great facts. Both are important, but there needs to be a balance. Step back from the work from time to time and ask yourself, “Are turn-of-the-century theme parks of interest to most people, or just to me?” “Does this story work in the context of today’s tastes and mores? Is there an audience for it?” “When I describe this story to a friend, do they start fidgeting and looking for the exit?”

Sometimes good projects go into the junk drawer–the right project at the wrong time, or a project I was working on that was superceded by a more pressing one and subsequently forgotten–but usually they end up there for good reason. More often than not, I never think about them again. Vonceil’s story was different. Maybe because she was a real person, I was never able to let her go. I wanted to pay tribute to the importance her story held in my own life, so when I began brainstorming Salt Magic I instantly knew I wanted to name the protagonist after her. Like Vonceil in Salt Magic, she had plenty of grit and courage; a newspaper article in the Roswell Daily Record described her as “not only a most proficient rifer, but according to cowboys of this section, ‘she always made a good cow hand and can rope and tie a steer as good as any of us.’” Like Vonceil in Salt Magic, she dreamed of a world beyond the ranch where she grew up and longed for glamour, bright lights, and distant shores where adventure lay in wait. She died tragically young, in a car crash when she was only 27, and paying tribute to her in Salt Magic felt like an opportunity to symbolically give her some agency and a happier ending.

It was also a way for me to close the door on a story that meant so much to me at a challenging time in my own life. It didn’t work out, but the time I spent on this book that never was helped make me the writer I am now. Without Vonceil Viking, there would be no Salt Magic. I can only hope that, if she could see the character Rebecca Mock and I created in her honor, the real-life Vonceil would be proud.

Meet the author

Hope Larson is the Eisner-winning author of numerous comics for young readers. Her most recent graphic novel, Salt Magic, was co-created by Rebecca Mock.

Social media:

@hopelarson on Twitter

@despairlarson on Instagram

http://saltmagicbook.com/

About Salt Magic

When a jealous witch curses her family’s well, it’s up to Vonceil to set things right in an epic journey that will leave her changed forever.

When Vonceil’s older brother, Elber, comes home to their family’s Oklahoma farm after serving on the front lines of World War I, things aren’t what she expects. His experiences have changed him into a serious and responsible man who doesn’t have time for Vonceil anymore. He even marries the girl he had left behind.

Then a mysterious and captivating woman shows up at the farm and confronts Elber for leaving her in France. When he refuses to leave his wife, she puts a curse on the family well, turning the entire town’s water supply into saltwater. Who is this lady dressed all in white, what has she done to the farm, and what does Vonceil’s old uncle Dell know about her? 

To find out, Vonceil will have to strike out on her own and delve deep into the world of witchcraft, confronting dangerous relatives, shapeshifting animals, a capricious Sugar Witch, and the Lady in White herself—the foreboding Salt Witch. The journey will change Vonceil, but along the way she’ll learn a lot about love and what it means to grow up.

Hope Larson is the author and illustrator of the Eisner Award nominated All Summer Long and the illustrator of the Eisner Award winning A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelSalt Magic is an utterly unique graphic fairy tale complete with striking illustrations by Rebecca Mock.

ISBN-13: 9780823450503
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/12/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

From the Funnies to the Munchies: An Origin Story, a guest post by David Fremont

Creating the Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher graphic novel series for kids has truly been a dream come true for me. Now that three books are complete—Catch the Munchies! Tater Invaders! and the just released Reptoids from Space!—I’ve been able to experience a lot of wonderful things with them. I’ve had the opportunity to read excerpts of my books to classrooms of students, presented my books at library author visits, been able to teach children how to draw the Munchies and received kind messages from parents who have told me my books have inspired their children to read more. I recently sat down and re-read through Book 3: Reptoids from Space! The first panel in the story features a chaotic scene with Shady Plains (Carlton Crumple’s hometown) kids having outdoor, summertime fun. It got me thinking back to my own childhood and some of the things that inspired me to make this graphic novel series for children.  

When I was a kid, I loved reading comic books and comic strips. Some of my favorite comic books were Sad Sack, Archie, Donald Duck, Popeye, Batman, and the comics in Mad Magazine My favorite comic strips included Peanuts, Figments, Wizard of Id, Tumbleweeds and Nancy.  My comics-reading obsession led me into wanting to create my own comic strip. The hardest part about that for me was coming up with a funny gag each time. My brain doesn’t really work like that. I love comedy, but I’ve never really liked having jokes told to me so much. I tend to space out in the middle of the joke and rarely do I understand the punchline. So, the thought of telling a joke each day until forever was not for me. My dad would give me and my older brother Mark white pads and ballpoint pens from his Carpet Cleaning office to draw on. Mark would create these funny ongoing comics with titles like Bouncing Boy Barney and Phantom of the Titanic that inspired me to make my own ballpoint pen stories.

From Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space
by David Fremont

A few years later, when I was around 11 years old, my cool, older cousin Steve showed us a comic he was working on called The Great White Shark.  It was very much a Jaws rip-off, but I didn’t care. The drawings were so good and, besides, I was a huge fan of the movie. This was the 70s, so any film with a creature on the loose, a natural disaster imperiling humans or a sci-fi theme was for me. So, I obsessively started creating comics inspired by movies I had seen. I did my own Jaws rip-off called Namu the Killer Eel. Soon after that I created a comic about people trapped in a burning ski gondola called, appropriately, Gondola. It was pretty much Towering Inferno in powder pants. My friends and I saw a weird sci-fi movie called The Lost Continent about a cruise ship that drifts into another dimension full of man-eating seaweed. That film inspired me to create a comic called Red Water about a raft full of people who encounter sea monsters— in another dimension, of course! I became completely obsessed with creating comics based on films I had seen: Fangs (House of Dark Shadows) Sky Vaders (Star Wars) Rex the Robot (Westworld) King Kong (King Kong). Yeah, I loved that last one so much I decided to just draw an outright reboot of the film! 

When I got into high school my older sister’s boyfriend gave me a copy of a sci-fi graphic novel called The Incal Light by Moebius. The fantastical space realms and unique characters within the book inspired me to try and create my own original sci-fi story. I came up with something called Philo Fixer: Weasel from Mars about a cocky, clueless weasel detective solving crimes in outer space. I really fell into the world I was creating, it’s all I thought about. All of those “movie comics” I had previously created really helped me map out the story in a sequential format. 

From Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space
by David Fremont

I went on a backpacking trip with my brother and some friends but foolishly left my drawing pad behind. Being out in nature away from all my high school worries really got my imagination flowing. Ideas for my Weasel from Mars comic came flooding in, but I had nothing to sketch or write with! So, I started stacking all my ideas for the story in my head and created a sort of visual filing system. I was worried I would forget all my great ideas and concepts. I had an idea that Philo had an inch tall reptilian side kick, so I imagined a picture of a tiny lizard, and so forth. When I returned home, I opened the drawer to my visual filing cabinet and began furiously sketching out everything that was in there.  I somehow managed to remember all the ideas for Philo Fixer: Weasel from Mars.

This experience solidified my love for telling longer comic stories, and I really enjoyed having this imaginary, ongoing adventure that I could jump into whenever I wanted. My mom signed me up for a comics class at the local community center with this laid back, longhaired teacher-dude named Mike. It was basically this great space for us kids to create our own comics.  At the end of the course Mike xeroxed and stapled all our comics into one big book that we all got to take home. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I got my comics class anthology—my first foray into (almost) publishing! 

I later learned, in my early twenties, that creating comics was a very difficult way to earn a living.  After relocating to San Francisco, I created an ongoing comic story for Last Gasp and a strip for Mondo 2000, but my bread and butter came from editorial illustration and working at Colossal Pictures painting animation cels. That job eventually led to creating the Zoog characters for Disney Channel and Germtown, one of the first interactive projects for Cartoon Network. When the internet came along, I was given the opportunity to create my own internet show based on one of my comics called Glue.  A few years later DreamWorks TV greenlit a web show I pitched based on a comic from my sketchbook called Public Pool With these animated shows I was able to bring my comics to life and they were some of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I found that I’m happiest when I’m creating imaginary worlds with a continuing storyline. I’m not only able to shut off the noise inside and outside of my head when I’m drawing and creating worlds, but it also gives me inner peace, purpose, and focus. 

From Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space
by David Fremont

The animation and freelance work eventually dried up in SF, so we relocated to LA. After developing a pilot at Nickelodeon that didn’t get a series greenlight, I was left burned out and with no work. So, my wife and I decided that me being a stay-at-home dad for my two young two kids was the best option at this time. Every time I took my son and daughter to the library or bookstore kid’s section, I’d see all these graphic novels for kids. My children loved Captain Underpants, Pokémon, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  It was inspiring to see all these comic book style books gaining popularity. I had a lot of animation ideas in my sketchbook and thought they would make fun books. Also, my author/illustrator friend James Proimos (Waddle! Waddle!) kept telling me “You should do books!”  

One day I was at Leo Carrillo beach with my family. I saw a kid on a towel eating french fries from a McDonald’s Happy Meal bag. I imagined the kid throwing a French fry into the ocean and sea monsters gobbling it up and swimming to the surface for more delicious fast food. The entire story rolled out into my sketchbook and within about two weeks I had the whole thing sketched out.   

I scanned it into the computer and put together a PDF dummy of the book. I suddenly got very busy with my DreamWorks TV Public Pool animated project and teaching cartooning classes, so the book sat inside my computer. A few years later, my Nickelodeon producer friend Mary Harrington (Invader Zim, Rugrats) called me and asked if I had any ideas for books. A former colleague of hers, Kyra Reppen, was looking for titles for a new publishing company called Pixel and Ink. I sent them Catch the Munchies. A few weeks later Editor-in-Chief Bethany Buck not only greenlit the book but offered me a three-book deal.  I got more excited than a Munchie with a stack of cheeseburgers!     

I haven’t stopped being excited and grateful to be able to share Carlton Crumple’s comedy adventures with the young readers of the world. As I said earlier, it’s truly been a dream come true. My biggest hope now is that my Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher books inspire children to read more books and create their own comics. And to all the creators of comics and kids’ books that inspired me so much over the years… “High fries!!!”

Meet the author

The youngest of five children, David Fremont grew up in Fremont, CA (true story), where he loved drawing while watching cartoons. He is now an animated content creator who most recently created web series for DreamWorks TV. When not pitching pilots, David teaches cartoon classes to kids. Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher is his first series with Pixel+Ink.

About Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space

An out-of-this-world new adventure in a very funny graphic novel series that combines fast food, monsters, and battle! Fans of Lunch Lady and Dog Man will gobble this down.

When Carlton catches a UFO on camera, he kicks into full-on Creature Catcher mode. Sick of hearing about Carlton’s heroics, his brother Milt stages an alien invasion using a remote-controlled drone disguised as a spaceship. And Carlton falls for it. 

Iggy and Poof Poof think the ship’s cool, so they borrow it to stage a fake alien battle. But a real UFO full of Reptoids spots the showdown and, seeing it as a threat, swoops in and abducts Iggy and Poof Poof!

Panicked, Lulu calls the Creature Catcher emergency line. Her creatures have been captured! Now it’s up to Carlton to stage a rescue, and save the day!

Bold artwork and otherworldly antics combine in the third installment in the Carlton Crumple Creatuture Catcher series. Middle grade graphic novel readers, including fans of series like Lunch Lady and Dog Man, will eat this up.


ISBN-13: 9781645950080
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Series: Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Clues in the Cover, a guest post by Betty Culley

Yes, my book covers make me cry! I’m not an artist but it’s magic to me how an artist can draw a vision I can only express in words. When I saw Chris Kwon’s cover art for my first YA verse novel, THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE, I got weepy. Part of my inspiration for the book, the mighty Kennebec River that runs through the small towns near me, was depicted with such beauty.

When I saw the cover for my debut middle-grade book, DOWN TO EARTH, I was equally amazed. One reason was that Henry’s house was eerily like my own house, right down to the attic window and the double chimney! And the trees rimming the land are just like the fir and hemlocks on my land. I hadn’t ever sent anyone at Crown Books for Young Readers photos of where I lived, but there it was.

The other thing that amazed me was the way the artist, Robert Frank Hunter, put significant objects from the book in the fireball on the cover. Some of those are: a dowsing stick, a sandhill crane, a compass, a notebook, a tusk, a tie, a slice of pie, and a rubber boot.

The dowsing stick is what Henry uses to find out if he is a water dowser or not. He comes from a long line of well drillers and water dowsers, who use a dowsing stick to find water deep underground. When they pass over water, the stick points downward. Henry doesn’t know if he has inherited this gift or not.

The tusk represents a 10,000-year-old wooly mammoth tusk Henry sees in the Maine State Museum. Unfortunately, in order to study and date it, the tusk was destroyed. Seeing this at the museum makes Henry worry what will happen to the meteorite that falls in his family’s field. It is much, much older than the tusk he saw.

Hints about the other objects in the fireball. The boots — Henry’s little sister. The tie— a visitor who brings a very unusual gift. The compass—saved from a flood.

This is the back of the cover. It has a quote from inside the book of what Henry is thinking when he’s standing on the roof of his house watching the fireball. He considers how big the universe is. That is part of my inspiration for the story—considering how vast the universe is myself and wondering what would happen if a meteorite from far outside our solar system landed here on earth.

Back cover says:
“I know scientists aren’t sure if there’s an end to the universe. I read that you can travel at the speed of light forever without reaching an edge of it. But when I was balanced on top of the roof watching the light burst over me, it felt real, how big the universe is.”

Seeing my covers reminds me how inspiration is everywhere. A book can inspire a drawing. A drawing can inspire a book. A river or a rock can be the seed of a story.  My next middle-grade novel The Natural Genius of Ants is partly inspired by something we usually walk by without noticing- ants. My next YA verse novel The Name She Gave Me is inspired by my own adoption history. Both books are coming out next year. I’ve seen cover sketches, and yes, there were some more tears!

Meet the author

Betty Culley’s debut YA novel in verse, THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE, was a Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick and on the ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List. Her first middle-grade novel is inspired by her fascination with meteorites, voyagers from another place and time. She’s worked as a pediatric nurse and lives in a small town in central Maine.

Website: www.bettyculley.com

Twitter: @Betty_Culley

Instagram: @bettyculley

Facebook: @bettyculleywrites

About Down to Earth

Counting by 7s meets See You in the Cosmos in this heartwarming coming-of-age story perfect for the budding geologists and those fascinated by the mysteries of the universe.

Henry has always been fascinated by rocks. As a homeschooler, he pours through the R volume of the encyclopedia (to help him identify the rocks he finds). So, when a meteorite falls in his family’s field, who better to investigate than this rock enthusiast—with his best friend, James, and his little sister, Birdie, in tow, of course. 

But soon after the meteorite’s arrival, the water in Henry’s small Maine town starts drying up. It’s not long before news spreads that the space rock and Henry’s family might be to blame. Henry is determined to defend his newest discovery, but his knowledge of geology could not have prepared him for how much this stone from the sky would change his community, his family, and even himself.

Science and wonder abound in this middle-grade debut about an inquisitive boy and the massive rock that came down to Earth to reshape his life.

ISBN-13: 9780593175736
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 08/24/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Ways Stories Find Us, a guest post by Lesa Cline-Ransome

“Where do you find your stories?” It’s a question asked of every author at every conference, panel, and nearly every interview. The real question is, do authors find stories, or do stories find authors? 

I imagine some of us, like archaeologists on an excavation, head out digging for stories, unearthing layers until we uncover the treasures we were searching for buried beneath the surface. But others, like me, let the stories find us. 

The task is no less easy. It requires preparation. Patience. A keen ear. Trust. 

As a young girl, my neighborhood friends and I in Malden, Massachusetts spent our summer nights playing hide and seek until the streetlights came on. As the counting began, we ran and hid in backyards, behind houses and tall bushes, quietly fending off mosquitos hoping not to be caught. But if we were successful in securing too good of a hiding place, and we were alone for too long, we secretly hoped to be caught. There was a joy in being found, of being reunited with friends. This is how it feels when the right stories find their way to you. A lot like a celebration. 

Stories can find us in the ways we least expect them to. As writers, we let them in, one by one, filtered through our life experiences, interests, and curiosities. 

I have written nearly twenty-five books for young readers and rarely have any of them begun with me at a desk thinking of topics and subjects I’d like to tackle. 

A taxicab hailed on a New York City street stops to pick up an editor on her way to the office and the driver listens to a public radio interview of a journalist who wrote a recently published adult biography on one of the first black female White House correspondents Ethel Payne during the editor’s brief ride. When she arrives at her desk she writes to me in an email, “Have you ever heard of Ethel Payne?” No, I have not, I reply, but I look her up, wanting to know more and in reading Ethel Payne’s story, I recall my youthful dreams of becoming a journalist and just like that, the picture book biography, The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne is born.  

Attendees at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska

At a literary conference in Seward, Nebraska, I sit across from Steve Sheinkin, one of my favorite authors. The author next to me has a line about a mile long, and mine, not so much. Finally, I gather up the nerve to go over and introduce myself to Steve. I fumble a fangirl hello and look down to see one of his titles, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Hmmm. I think to myself. Why have I never heard about this? I manage to ask him to sign a copy and devour the book on the flight home. And there the story sits, quietly. Waiting. Until I begin writing my debut middle grade novel, Finding Langston where I insert a reference to the Port Chicago Disaster as part of a secondary character named Clem’s storyline. One year later my editor discusses with me the idea of expanding the story of Clem’s character into a novel all his own in the final book of the Finding Langston trilogy. “Maybe you could explore more of the Port Chicago Disaster,” she suggests. What my editor doesn’t know is that that story has already found me. 

And so Being Clem, the story of Clem, emerges from a chance meeting in Seward, Nebraska years earlier. And in it we see Clem and his family struggle as they come to grips with the death of his fictionalized sailor father, Clemson Thurber killed during the tragic naval base explosion that killed over 200 black servicemen during WWII.

A nagging toothache reluctantly lands me in my dentist’s chair where in his attempts to soothe my dentophobia, my kindly dentist tells me a story to calm my jittery nerves. My dentist is a fan of nonfiction and shares the account of a strange story of a failed entrepreneur named Frederik Tudor who thought he could finally get rich by harvesting the ice from Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, packing it onboard a ship and selling it in India. “Aren’t you from Massachusetts?” he asks. I am from Massachusetts, but all I knew about Walden Pond was the story of the poet Henry David Thoreau, who sought a life of solitude in the woods of Concord, I tell him through a mouth full of gauze. “Well, Henry David Thoreau watched him harvest the ice,” my dentist continues in between his drilling, just steps away from his cabin and recorded it in his diary. My dentophobia disappears in my thoughts of a story of two men, one pond, and how it drew them together for very different reasons. And there in my dentist’s chair another story finds me and will make its way to bookstores as Of Walden Pond: Henry David Thoreau, Frederic Tudor, and the Pond Between in the fall of 2022.

The author’s mother, Ernestine Cline

Because much of my spare time is spent in the company of books, that is where my stories and I have made our acquaintance. I grew up with a mother who was an avid reader and often needed to be reminded she had children who wouldn’t mind having a hot dinner every now and again. She would reluctantly put down her book and throw something together so we could eat. I couldn’t imagine then what those pages held that so transfixed her that she couldn’t remember our grumbling stomachs. But now, when I look up to see that I have missed subway stops, appointments, and portions of my day because the time has simply disappeared in the pages of a book, I think of my mother. But it is in these moments, I am allowing the stories to come.

I could almost hear the voices calling from the stoop of 4501 Wabash Avenue on Chicago’s Southside for my book Finding Langston and feel the hard backed seats Ruth Ellen and her parents sat in bound for New York City in my book Overground Railroad in the instant I opened Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of America’s Epic Migration. Reading Wilkerson’s real-life portrayals of subjects whose journeys north and west were prompted by fear and racism, determination and hope inspired the worlds through which young Langston and Ruth Ellen see the world as passengers on the journeys of the adults in their lives. 

It is often said that you need to be in the right place at the right time. In a taxicab, a dentist chair, a literary conference in Nebraska, a quiet place with a good book. And that is a large part of having stories find you. It is making space for the crucial moment when that piece of a story intersects with some part of you—your history, a memory, an experience, an untapped passion—and you know in that moment, there’s something here. 

But being in the right place at the right time is just one part of creating a story that is authentic to you. That is the seed. Next comes the planting in an environment enriched with strong characters, setting, plot and dialogue. Carefully using your craft to remain true to the stories that are begging to be told, engagingly and honestly, the way only you can tell them. 

Meet the author

Photo credit: John Halpern

Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Just a Lucky So and So (2016), Before She Was Harriet (2017), and Underground Railroad (2020).  Her Finding Langston Trilogy consists of Finding Langston (2018), Leaving Lymon (2020)and Being Clem(2021). Lesa’s work has received a plethora of honors, including dozens of starred reviews, NAACP Image Award nominations, Coretta Scott King Honors, and Christopher Award. Many titles have been named to ALA Notable Books and Bank Street Best Children’s Books lists. She lives in upstate New York. www.lesaclineransome.com

Twitter and Instagram – @lclineransome

About Being Clem

The final novel in the award-winning Finding Langston trilogy from Coretta Scott King Author Honoree and Scott O’Dell Award medalist Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Clem can make anybody, even his grumpy older sisters, smile with his jokes. But when his family receives news that his father has died in the infamous Port Chicago disaster, everything begins to fall apart. Clem’s mother is forced to work long, tough hours as a maid for a wealthy white family. Soon Clem can barely recognize his home—and himself. Can he live up to his father’s legacy?

In her award-winning trilogy, Lesa Cline-Ransome masterfully recreates mid-twentieth century America through the eyes of three boys: Langston, Lymon, and, now, Clem. Exploring the impact of the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow laws, and much more, Lesa’s work manages at once to be both an intimate portrait of each boy and his family as well as a landscape of American history.

ISBN-13: 9780823446049
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Series: The Finding Langston Trilogy #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Frank Morelli’s Playlist for his Novel, On the Way to Birdland

As the release date approaches for my new young adult novel, ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND, I keep getting asked: what inspired you to write this book?

The truth is, any time you string close to one hundred thousand words together into a cohesive story, the avenues of inspiration must be innumerable. In fact, there were so many streams of experience, knowledge, empathy, and emotion flowing through me as I wrote the first draft of ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to be completely conscious of all of them.

I can tell you, however, that my strongest source of passion for the literature I was composing at the time came in a language many of us may consider universal: the sweet, poetic symphony of music.

To do that I have to take you back a few years to 2005. That’s when I moved from New York City to my adopted hometown of High Point, North Carolina and found out, through some sheer act of fate, that this small, random furniture town in the rural South happened to flow with the same air once breathed by jazz legend John Coltrane. I knew right away I wouldn’t be able to rest until I dove headlong into the history and the music of such an essential, American icon, and I wanted to see if I could understand what it was, if anything, about what at first glance appears to be a pretty bland and generic town that may have inspired an artistic genius to move closer to his creations.

Not only did the process help me gain a visceral appreciation for an artist I now see as nothing less than a musical genius and a modern prophet, but his sound also allowed me to see patterns I never would have noticed before in the collective harmony of American music. And I found solace in the realization that it is in our music where we reflect all of the qualities that make us unique, both for better and for worse.

The following playlist is by no means an exhaustive list or an official soundtrack, but it captures the essence of the music I came in contact with time and again during my process, and that continued to play through my head as I wrote the initial draft of ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND. I hope you’ll give it a listen as your eyes peel across the pages of my new novel.

1. Dream a Little Dream of Me – Doris Day

There’s an obvious dreamlike quality to this song that brought me directly into the reeling mind of my protagonist, Cordell Wheaton, a sixteen-year-old boy on a journey to find his estranged brother, Travis, as he struggles to suppress the reverberating memories of a traumatic event.

2. Little Birdie – Vince Guaraldi Trio

As a young boy, I used to roll my eyes every time my father played a song on the radio that was older than two weeks, which included jazz music in any form. Writing ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND forced me to reflect on my own listening experiences with America’s most hallowed music creation, and I realized that the first time I ever recognized a jazz song it was while watching a Peanuts cartoon. Yes, kind of childish, but I was an actual child at the time…and this happened to be the song that welcomed me into the fold of jazz appreciation.

3. Colors – Black Pumas

This is my favorite band to come out in quite a long time, and I think it’s because I love how the Pumas are able to connect through the ages with their music. They provide listeners with a sound that is uniquely suited for the present, while reaching right back into the soulfulness of a Marvin Gaye or an Al Green.

4. My Favorite Things – John Coltrane

This old standard comes to life through the mouth of Coltrane’s saxophone in a way that no other song remake ever can. Compared to some of Coltrane’s later, more experimental music, which takes a bit of a trained ear to truly appreciate, this song grants the casual music-goer with an all-access pass to Coltrane’s musical genius. It also happens to be a song that represents the tight bond between my protagonist in On the Way to Birdland and his missing brother.

5. One More Night – Michael Kiwanuka

Another one of those recent musical artists who seems to be able to reach back into the ages of sound and filter back harmonies that fit the resounding rhythms of the moment.

6. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown

The Godfather of Soul has always spoken to me just as much as he seems to speak to one of my favorite characters in ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND, a kind-hearted truck driver who goes by the road handle ‘Cowbird’ and helps Cordy Wheaton find a new direction in his life.

7. Crazy – Patsy Cline

Not only did this song help me to empathetically develop the fragile mental state of my protagonist, but it also served as inspiration for the creation of a struggling country music artist named Lula McBride, who’s just one of the many important mentors Cordy Wheaton meets on his journey.

8. Chasin’ the Bird – Charlie Parker

This playlist would be incomplete without a proper tribute to Charlie “Birdman” Parker, one of the greatest jazz artists of all time, a mentor to John Coltrane, and the impetus behind the famous Birdland Jazz Club in New York City.

9. Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton

I love how well this song captures an underlying theme in ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND about the hidden trials and tribulations we all have hidden just under the surface and how our differences actually make us stronger.

10. Bye Bye Blackbird – Miles Davis and John Coltrane

Even if you claim to not be a fan of jazz, I dare you not to like this legendary jazz standard played side-by-side by John Coltrane and one of his most important mentors, the illustrious Miles Davis.

11. On the Road Again – Willie Nelson

This song is Cordy Wheaton’s general anthem as he completes his Odyssey-like journey up and down the East Coast of the United States.

12. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver

Like most of us, Cordy Wheaton wishes he were anywhere on Earth besides his hometown. But, as Cordy learns on his journey, sometimes it takes a few outside experiences to help us appreciate the treasures we have sitting right in our own backyards. It’s a lesson that just sounds better when John Denver sings it.

13. That Was Yesterday – Leon Bridges

Another present-day musical genius, this Leon Bridges song–both lyrically and harmonically–captures Cordy Wheaton’s ultimate realization as he approaches the end of his journey. To Birdland.

14. A Love Supreme, Pt. 1 – John Coltrane

This is the first part of Coltrane’s most widely celebrated and possibly most enigmatic jazz suite of the same name. It is a piece of music so far-reaching that it once inspired the creation of a church dedicated to its worship, and it remains to be one of the most revered pieces of music of all time as consistently cited by leading scholars on jazz. To me, it signifies the importance of spirituality in John Coltrane’s life, and it provides us with a window into the man’s devotion to studying and appreciating the common threads that bind together most of the world’s religions. It’s a piece of music that cements John Coltrane’s legacy as one of history’s great uniters.

15. Carolina in my Mind – James Taylor

This is the song that kept popping into my mind when I envisioned the closing credits beginning to roll if I’m ever lucky enough to see ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND up on the big screen. It’s a song that brings Cordy Wheaton right back to where he started, but with a new way of looking at the world around him, and a new way of valuing himself.

Meet the author

Frank Morelli is the author of the young adult novels On the Way to Birdland (2021) and No Sad Songs (2018), a YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming of age story. His fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening PostCobalt ReviewPhiladelphia Stories, and Highlights Magazine. A Philadelphia native, Morelli now lives in High Point, North Carolina with his best friend and their four rescued fur babies.

Social Links:

@frankmoewriter on Twitter
@frankmorelliauthor on Instagram
frank.morelli.96343 on Facebook

Frank Morelli’s YouTube Channel

frankmorelliwrites.com – author website

Frank Morelli on Goodreads

fowbooks.com – publisher website

About On the Way to Birdland

Self-proclaimed teenage philosopher Cordell Wheaton lives in a sleepy, southern town where nothing ever happens; not since his hero, jazz musician John Coltrane, left some seventy years earlier to “follow the sound.” Cordy’s life has been unraveling since the night his father and his brother, Travis, exploded on each other. The night Travis’s addiction transformed him from budding musician into something entirely different. The night Travis took his saxophone and disappeared. When Cordy’s father falls ill, the sixteen-year-old vows to reunite the Wheaton family. He embarks on a modern-day odyssey with forty bucks in his pocket and a dream to find his brother and convince him to be Travis again—by taking him to a show at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City, and reminding him of the common bonds they share with their legendary hero. Cordy’s journey is soon haunted by ghostly visions, traumatic dreams, and disembodied voices that echo through his mind. He starts to wonder if the voices are those of the fates, guiding him toward his destiny—or if he’s losing his grip on reality.

ISBN-13: 9781947886056
Publisher: Fish Out of Water Books
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years