Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Down the Rabbit Hole: Writing Novels from a Librarian’s Perspective, a guest post by Bryce Moore

As an academic librarian, I have taught thousands of students how to research. It’s to the point that I could probably teach that class in my sleep, going on about how to find books and articles, how to know which research tools to use and when. Often, the students I’m teaching show little interest in the subject matter. Research is something they view as a distasteful necessity of their schooling. A hoop they need to jump through, paper after paper, so they can fulfill the requirements of their classes.

What I try to stress to them (hopefully successfully, more often than not) is that research is something we all do every day, whether we’re trying to decide what car to buy, what movie to see, or checking to see just how bad a sore throat has to get before we should see a doctor. Even the act of asking friends for advice is a sort of research project. You find different sources, you evaluate them for their reliability in the specific context, you synthesize the responses, and you make a decision.

Writing historical novels is no different, at least as far as the preparation is concerned. I started writing The Perfect Place to Die with only the premise in mind: in search of her sister, a teenage girl goes undercover in H.H. Holmes’ infamous “Murder Castle.” I’d read Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, and the setting and characters were fascinating. I was eager to see what I could do with it as a YA thriller.

Photograph of the infamous “Murder Castle” (known at the time as the World’s Fair Hotel) 

But when it came time to actually write the book, I discovered working within the constraints of history complicates matters in ways I hadn’t anticipated. For example, I’ve been to Chicago multiple times (go to ALA long enough, and that’s inevitable), so I assumed I’d be able to insert details about the city without much trouble. Except every time I went to write about something, I had to first check to see if it existed back in 1893. Almost without fail, it didn’t.

Even writing simple scenes took time and research. Etta, the main character, comes into Chicago by train. I assumed Chicago would have one central train station. Instead, it had several. I had to poke around to find out which train station would have been the one that a passenger from Utah would arrive in. Then I had to find out what it looked like. It was one rabbit hole after another.

Thankfully, the internet has made much of that type of factual research simpler these days. (Especially since I was doing some of this work in the middle of a pandemic.) I know Wikipedia can get a bad rap with some reference librarians, but when it comes to non-controversial topics like Chicago train stations of yore, it’s a great way to draw on the knowledge of people who know much more than I do about a subject. It gives you enough context to know where you should head to continue the research trail.

For the record, there was no train that went straight from Utah to Chicago at that point in time. I found that out by looking at old train maps online at the Library of Congress. Etta could have traveled to Kansas City and then switched trains to come into one of the stations on the western side of Chicago. None of that ended up mattering, however, since the scene I wrote based on that research got cut from the final draft.

A drawing of Union Station in Chicago from 1885. 

That highlights one of the pitfalls of a librarian doing research for a novel. Too often, I can lose myself in the hunt for a piece of information. There are always more details to fill in—more specifics to nail down. It would be easy to spend hours of extra time nosing through websites and books I’ve interlibrary loaned, and those would be hours I really enjoyed. But at some point, I have to leave the rabbit holes and get to the actual writing.

On the other hand, that research can also make writing the novel easier. Through it, I gained a better appreciation of the sort of experiences Etta would have had, which let me understand who she would be as a character, and how she would have viewed the world. Her sister had disappeared in Chicago, but Etta couldn’t know where or why. If she had that sort of proof, bringing the law into play would have been the easy out, and that wasn’t a solution I wanted available to her. Instead, I had to have Etta find her sister’s trail on her own. Through my research, I found certain aspects of the plot falling into place on their own.

In the end, research led to more writing, which in turn led to more research. And while librarianship has made me more susceptible to getting distracted by rabbit holes, it’s also made it much easier for me to come out of those holes with a rabbit in hand.

Meet the author

Bryce Moore is the author of The Memory Thief and Vodník. When he’s not authoring, he’s a librarian in Western Maine and a past president of the Maine Library Association. And when he’s not up to his nose in library work, he’s watching movies, playing board games, and paying ridiculous amounts of money feeding his Magic the Gathering addiction. Check out his daily blog for writing tips, movie reviews, and general rantings over at brycemoore.com.

Check out this link to a free discussion guide for the book!

About The Perfect Place to Die

Stalking Jack the Ripper meets Devil in the White City in this terrifying historical fiction debut about one of the world’s most notorious serial killers.

In order to save her sister, Zuretta takes a job at an infamous house of horrors—but she might never escape.

Zuretta never thought she’d encounter a monster. She had resigned herself to a quiet life in Utah. But when her younger sister, Ruby, travels to Chicago during the World’s Fair, and disappears, Zuretta leaves home to find her.

But 1890s Chicago is more dangerous and chaotic than she imagined. She doesn’t know where to start until she learns of her sister’s last place of employment…a mysterious hotel known as The Castle.

Zuretta takes a job there hoping to learn more. And before long she realizes the hotel isn’t what it seems. Women disappear at an alarming rate, she hears crying from the walls, and terrifying whispers follow her at night. In the end, she finds herself up against one of the most infamous mass murderers in American history—and his custom-built death trap.

With real, terrifying quotes in front of each chapter, strong female characters, and unbearable suspense, The Perfect Place to Die is perfect for fans of true crime, horror, and the Stalking Jack the Ripper series.

ISBN-13: 9781728229119
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

A Life Already Saved: The Power Librarians Hold, a guest post by B. B. Alston

I was the quiet kid with the big imagination. I lived inside my head so much that often times people would be talking to me and I hadn’t heard a single word. When you grow up in situations where you don’t have a whole lot, where every day looks like the one before it and you stop hoping things will change, because they never do, sometimes retreating into yourself is the key to surviving. Because in your head there’s no one looking down on you and there aren’t any limits. The world can become more. As much as you need it to be. More fantastic. More incredible. More exciting than what you’re used to. And then I found a library.

First my elementary school library where the teacher who noticed that I couldn’t even afford to buy one book at the book fair handed me a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and even though I was older than the target age, much older, I can remember having that “Oh” moment. That moment that said for as hard as I had imagined to that point, I had not come close to conceiving creatures so wild as Maurice Sendak. It said to me that I could borrow the imaginations of others and exist in worlds I couldn’t even fathom yet. And I longed to feel that feeling, that “wild rumpus” in my heart and mind. To have my imagination so thoroughly expanded as that.

B. B. Alston in elementary school

And then that same librarian handed me Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, she had set it aside for me knowing I would come back eager for more. And in Charlie I found somebody I could wholly relate to because he was a kid who did not have much and yet he still hoped for grandness in his life. He dared to hope. There is a certain audacity that comes with hope, especially in bad times because you are essentially saying to your surroundings that you no longer see them. You are daring to see something else, a different place and circumstance even as your current circumstance laughs in your face. And when Charlie learned about that golden ticket, he went for it. And that told me that I could try too. That I should try.

I grew up. Went to college. Flunked out. Got married. Worked minimum wage jobs. Went back to college. I kept reading. And one day a friend I knew handed me Twilight. I was the typical guy about it, and like so many who bag on it and say it’s beneath them for this reason or that…I ended up reading all four books. I bought them the day they released. I had passionate discussions with my future wife about why Team Jacob was Team Settling. And it was sometime while reading those books, and defending those books, that it occurred to me that the most important job of a storyteller isn’t flowery words or perfect grammar. It’s to make the reader feel something. I looked back on all the books I’d loved and that idea seemed to check out.

And for the very first time, I thought, well maybe I could do that. I was certainly no wordsmith but I felt like I had read enough to be able to communicate what I was feeling onto the page and maybe just maybe have the reader feel it, too. I wrote an awful book, and then several more. They exist on shredded notebooks and files on my computer named “Kill it With Fire.” But I kept writing because once upon a time I had read a book that sparked my imagination, and another that taught me to dare to dream. And so I kept writing.

Eventually I’d be sitting down watching a movie I’d watched countless times before. Men in Black. And out of the blue I thought, well what if it wasn’t just aliens, what if all supernatural creatures existed? Not long after, this twelve-year-old girl with a big curly afro jumped into my head and told me in no uncertain terms that this was her story. I debated whether it really was her story because I had never read a fantasy book about a Black kid and was that even allowed? And even if it was allowed, who would want to read about a Black kid like me?

Somehow I found myself back at the Richland Public Library with my mom, and the librarian kept going on about this book she loved. It was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. But all of their copies were checked out. So I went to Amazon and read all of the praise and the great reviews. When I went to check out, it said people who buy this book also buy Dear Martin by Nic Stone. So I bought that, too. I devoured those books because for the first time I was reading about Black kids, and I knew the lingo, and the inside jokes, and they spoke the thoughts I was having every time I saw an unarmed Black person shot on the news. Every aspect of me was covered. And I had another “Oh” moment because I realized that I could leave in all the parts of myself I was taking out. It was freeing and thrilling and the next thing I knew I had written a book that got a book deal, and a movie deal, and would be published in 25 countries around the world. And I’m still reading.

I write this not to say that you as a teen librarian could hand a book to a future author but that, far more importantly, you could be handing some kid their survival. Their confidence. Their dream. I’m asking you to reach out and engage with that shy kid, that person who looks like they shouldn’t even be there, that kid who clearly would rather be anyplace else in the world. Because you have the power to change lives. To save lives. And I don’t say that to be hyperbolic, I say it as someone whose life was impacted most profoundly from people sharing with me a book they thought I might like. I say it as a life already saved.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Joshua Aaron Photography

B.B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.

B.B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable. Learn more at https://www.bbalston.com and follow on social on Twitter @bb_alston and Instagram @bb_alston

B.B. recommends buying your books from The Book Dispensary.

About Amari and the Night Brothers

(check out Amanda’s review here.)

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

ISBN-13: 9780062975164
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Supernatural Investigations , #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

#MHYALit: How books and being a librarian help me cope with anxiety, a guest post by Erin

MHYALitlogoofficfialHi, I’m Erin. I’m a teen librarian, a wife, a daughter, a best friend, a mom, and an anxiety warrior. Notice how I put that at the very end. There was a reason for that.  The anxiety is the “least of my worries” for lack of a better phrase (insert uncomfortable laughter here). What I’m trying to say is that the anxiety is so much smaller than my other life roles. Yes, sometimes it can become all-encompassing, but, on a good day, one where my other human interactions, my meds, and my to-do list all live in perfect harmony, I might forget that I have anxiety. Crazy, right, but true!

 

Having anxiety has helped me in many facets of my life. Because of the constant drive to succeed, I have become incredibly efficient, and can adjust to the various paces that a day can take working in a library. I know that at 3:25 pm Monday – Friday the teens will come streaming in from school – they drop their backpack, pull up a seat to play a board game, plop down on the couch for a nap, drop into a beanbag chair for some screen time, or roll a chair over to my desk to share the gossip of the day. I can’t guarantee how many teens will show up each day, how much energy will emanate from the room or how much noise will filter out of the doors. Sometimes they come in and we all sit in complete silence, everyone with their heads down and their earbuds in. It’s days filled with uncertainty. Not unlike my anxiety.

 

In researching books for the collection, I commonly come across ones concerning mental health – specifically fiction novels. In doing my job every day I also encounter teens who may or may not share their stories with me. I find books that match teens and excitedly share the book with them in hopes that they will find a piece of them in the story, in the characters.

 

everylastwordAnd then I found a book for me. A book that spoke to me like no other in its genre.

 

That book was Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone.

 

As I read it, I wondered how the author was able to get into my head. The words, the surroundings, the main character and her situations were so real, so vivid, so ALIVE in my own mind. I want to share this book with the world. I want to thank Tamara Ireland Stone for writing it. I am humbled that I am able to select such wonderful works for a thriving Teen Department. To put books like these into the hands of those who need them the most, and of those who don’t know they need them.

 

Being a librarian includes so much more than reading and researching. It includes getting to know your patrons, the good and the bad in their lives if they choose to share. It means giving them the right book, using the right words in conversations, and even exposing your own vulnerability, because in being able to relate to you and all of your facets, a whisper of trust is established. They are not alone; you are not alone; I am not alone.

 

In this journey, we all encounter things that we wish we didn’t have to deal with but we do. Find your librarian; get him or her to give you that one book. Read it, talk about it, embody it, and show the world your strength even on your weakest days.

 

As librarians, we are warriors, fighting for our patrons, fighting simultaneously for our voices and our patrons’ voices to be heard above the roar of the world.

 

So speak up, share, be proud of who you are, and find that one book that speaks to your mind.

 

Meet Erin

In addition to being a teen librarian, Erin is a mother of two and  enjoys researching, reading, writing and social media.