Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

How to Write a Book in Eight Years: On Belief, Persistence, and (Not) Giving Up, a guest post by Rebecca Kim Wells

In 2013 I started writing a book. I’d written one before, which I’d queried agents with unsuccessfully and then shelved unceremoniously. But my new project—this one was the one.

The story featured Lena, a lonely girl whose touch could kill, who ventured into a deadly forest to break her curse. It was dark and fantastical and had more than a few roots in fairy tale. I loved it completely. Over the next two years I revised and polished, and in 2015 was lucky enough to sign with a literary agent.

I revised the book even more with the help of my agent, and in the fall we sent it on submission to publishers. Hooray! I thought. This book, the one I believed in with my whole heart, was going to be published.

Not so fast. Over the next several months we received rejection after rejection, the sort that was kind but unhelpful when it came to taking the book through yet another revision. After a while, my agent suggested that I put this book away for the moment and write something else.

I was devastated. I still believed in the book, but no one wanted to publish it—and after several rounds of revision, I didn’t know how else to approach the story. So I cried (a lot) and followed my agent’s advice. I put it away and slowly moved on. Over the next few years I wrote the books that became my debut duology, Shatter the Sky and Storm the Earth. But in the back of my mind, Lena was always waiting. And last year, I finally got the chance to return to her.

The first spark that became Briar Girls was my love for fairy tales. In 2015 I was trying to create an epic fairy tale mashup. How many characters could I jam into a plot and still hold it all together? I started with Rapunzel and the witch who cursed her, then threw in Sleeping Beauty, Jack (and the Beanstalk), Hansel and Gretel, and made up some of my own tales for good measure. But when I returned to the book in 2020 I had changed, as a reader, a writer, and a person. I looked at Lena’s story with new eyes. It was angrier than I remembered, as well as more personal, more complicated. And I finally felt I knew how to get it right.

Lena was the heart of this story—she always had been. Her hope, her anguish. So I narrowed my focus, stripping out fairy tales and sharpening the few that remained. I homed in on Lena’s wounds and fleshed out the people she encounters, deepening the relationships she forms. I set the stage for Lena to take up space, to be fierce and unapologetically furious, and as I did, the story bloomed. Now Briar Girls is a love letter to fairy tales and complicated relationships, and to growing up, trusting yourself, and making your own path—and it’s finally a published book.

One could say everything that went into Briar Girls was there from the beginning, that I only needed to grow as a writer to be able to pull it all together. That’s possible. I hope I grew as a writer over five years. But there is also an alternate universe where I left this book on the shelf, gathering dust. Where my third published book is something completely different. And the difference between these universes is not my ability and growth as a writer or what story elements existed when—it is belief, and persistence.

I believed Briar Girls should be published, in a way that I hadn’t believed in my first manuscript. The storywas never gone—it was always waiting. And I was persistent enough to pull it back into the light even after five years on the shelf.

Every writer seeking publication for their work needs these two qualities. Belief is what sets you on the path of late-night scribbles and blocking out time on your schedule to write when no one is waiting on that work but you. Persistence is what keeps you going in the face of rejection (after rejection after rejection).

I’ll be honest. There were many times when I lost my belief. When publication seemed so out of reach that I almost did give up. But for every day where I didn’t believe, there was at least one where I did. And every time I gave up, I (eventually) decided to push on—past over one hundred queries before signing with my agent, and dozens of publisher rejections before signing my first book deal. The true secret to becoming an author isn’t that you have to believe in yourself every day. Just enough days. Just more often than not. Just enough that you keep getting up, even when you get knocked down.

To every writer toiling with only belief and persistence to fuel them, I salute you. May your words flow smoothly and your stories soar. And may you know, like I did, when to put a book on a shelf—and when to bring it back out into the light.

Meet the author

Rebecca Kim Wells writes books full of magic and fury (and often dragons). Her debut novel Shatter the Sky was a New England Book Award Finalist, an ALA Rainbow Book List selection, an Indies Introduce selection, and a Kids’ Indie Next Pick. She is also the author of Storm the Earth and Briar Girls.

Links:
Website: https://rebeccawellswrites.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rebeccawriting
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rebeccawriting/

About Briar Girls

The Cruel Prince meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this epic reimagining of “The Sleeping Beauty” that follows a teen girl on a quest to wake a sleeping princess in an enchanted forest, while searching for the truth behind her own deadly curse.

Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…​

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.

ISBN-13: 9781534488427
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 11/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

On Writing For Children (When You Aren’t One), a guest post by Sabrina Kleckner

Cover Designer: Jake Slavik
Illustrator: Ana Bidault

I started writing my first novel when I was twelve. It was about murderers, because sure, and despite having no actual world-building, it did include a magical language I painstakingly crafted and a very intricate (definitely too intricate) plot. Needless to say, it was not a good book. But something I do think it had going for it was the voice. I was twelve, and my characters were thirteen. Even though I didn’t understand how to write a cohesive story or that character arcs are a thing that exist, I knew how kids sounded because I was one. Fast forward, and my debut releases this month. There are no murderers this time around (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), but I did write another young protagonist. She’s twelve, and I am now twenty-four. I’ve lived double her life, and am thus far removed from her perspective. When it came to getting her voice right, I wasn’t sure if I could do a good job.

(Thirteen-year-old Sabrina probably thinking about her murder book)

(Twenty-four-year-old Sabrina definitely thinking about her debut!)

If you’ve read my book, you might think I failed on the voice front. While querying, I got several rejections because agents did not think Maisie sounded her age, and I understand why. My protagonist is much more confident than I was at twelve, and is very independent. While this could be considered a flaw in my writing, I don’t see it that way. In order for THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY to work, Maisie needed to be bold enough to flee to another country with her estranged older brother. She needed to make rash decisions while trying to save her family’s art shop because, despite being an adult, her brother isn’t in a position to help her. And she needed to be self-aware enough to understand when her careless actions caused harm, because that is the crux of the story.

When I first got the feedback that Maisie sounded too old, I worried. I considered re-writing the novel from the ground up before sending out more queries. But then I thought back to my twelve-year-old self. Whether or not I was actually mature on the outside, I felt like I was on the inside. I already had a passion I knew I wanted to pursue—writing—and I didn’t care that I was a kid or that my stories weren’t up to par yet. I was convinced that, once I finished my murderer novel, it would immediately find an agent, become a bestseller, and land me a five-movie deal (lol). At the same time, I had friends who didn’t know what they wanted for dinner, let alone what they wanted to do for a career yet. And then there were the twelve-year-olds who were already achieving unimaginable things. I was so jealous of the occasional teen who got a book deal. I used to watch the kids on Disney Channel and wonder what it was like to have a full-blown career as a middle schooler. Outside of writing, I was a competitive swimmer, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the kids my age who qualified for the Olympics.

All this to say: I realized there is no universal twelve-year-old. Children mature at different rates. They have different life experiences and personalities that lead them to thinking and speaking in their own unique ways. I don’t actually think there is a wrong way to write a child, so long as you aren’t speaking down to them. Now: this post isn’t to encourage you to ignore editorial notes—feedback is essential to publishing, and my book wouldn’t be where it is today without all the wonderful eyes that offered critiques. But if you believe a bold and confident child protagonist is necessary for your story, go for it! If your book requires a messy and immature adult main character, don’t hold yourself back! People don’t fit into neat boxes so I don’t think we should force characters into them, either.

Character Art by @kidovna


Meet the author

Sabrina Kleckner is the author of THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY, a middle grade contemporary novel about family and identity. She began writing at the age of twelve, and is grateful to not be debuting with the angsty assassin book she toiled over in her teens. When she is not writing, she can be found teaching ESL or gushing about her three cats to anyone who will listen. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @sabkleckner, or at https://www.sabrinakleckner.com/.

Where to buy the book: https://www.sabrinakleckner.com/books

About The Art of Running Away

Twelve-year-old Maisie is an artist. When she’s in front of her sketchbook or apprenticing at Glenna’s Portraits, the family-run art shop her grandmother started, the world makes sense. She doesn’t think about Calum, her brother who mysteriously left home and cut ties with her family six years ago, or her parents’ insistence that she “broaden her horizons” and try something new—something that isn’t art.

But when Glenna’s Portraits falls on hard times, Maisie’s plan to take over the shop when she’s older and become a lifelong artist starts to crumble. In desperation to make things right, Maisie runs away to London to reconnect with her adult brother, hoping he might be the key to saving the shop. But as Maisie learns about her family’s past from Calum, she starts to rethink everything she’s ever known. Maisie must decide not only if saving her family’s art shop is worth it, but if she can forgive her parents for the mistakes they’ve made. 

ISBN-13: 9781631635779
Publisher: North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press
Publication date: 11/16/2021
Age Range: 8 – 14 Years

Wild Swans and a Hymn to Anger, a guest post by Laura Weymouth

As a child, I was given a book on cassette tape, which consisted of four fairytales: The Snow Queen, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Thumbelina, and The Wild Swans. The stories were beautifully narrated, and the illustrations in the accompanying book were captivating. I was especially taken by The Wild Swans—or rather, by the central figure, mute and self-sacrificing Eliza. The entirety of the story rests on her shoulders, and yet the title makes no mention of her. She is, in so many ways, voiceless throughout her own tale, treated as a pawn or a tool through which male characters receive rewards or achieve their destinies.

Eliza’s labor breaks curses. Eliza’s loveliness sways the heart of princes. Eliza, simply minding her own business, simply seeking to undo an evil that is not of her making, is found guilty of witchcraft. And she does it all without a word, because Eliza has lost her voice.

As a young writer, I tried to retell The Wild Swans—or Eliza’s Story, as I usually thought of it—a number of times. But I always came up short, dead-ended by the brick wall of Eliza’s nature. Because the Eliza of the original story is no different with or without her voice. Whether she can speak or not has almost no bearing on the plot—more important is how the male characters around Eliza perceive her. She is a blank slate for them to write their own desires and needs upon.

As I got older, I grew angrier. I was angry as a teenaged writer, to be sure, but it was a fierce, surface-level, sharp sort of thing. The way I am angry now is bone-deep. It is relentless. It never leaves me. We live in a world of injustice and inequity, which many of us are powerless to do much about, and those who can no longer seem to care. Once that first spark of rage hits, tinder is everywhere. You never stop burning, and that fire within only gains power and heat.

So I got older, and angrier, and I came back to Eliza, and she was still a problem. She was a problem. And I thought to myself, why not make her really a problem? No girl is that saintly. No girl is that silent and pure. Deep down, we all burn. Deep down, we all harbor some form of rage.

That was how I found myself able to write Eliza. Giving her my own anger demolished the brick wall of her voiceless perfection, untangled the riddle of her, and turned her into an imperfect, furious, eminently human girl. In my novel A Rush of Wings, I gave Eliza a fresh start—a new name, a new homeland, and a more manageable number of brothers. She’s no longer the daughter of a king, but of a humble fisherman. It’s no longer a prince whose attention she courts, but a pair of boys—one a shipwrecked stray with a deadly secret, the other an upstart tyrant with a lust for power.

And yet for Rowenna, as I called my version of Eliza, the troubles of the boys and men in her life are secondary to a greater, consuming difficulty: she’s made a friend and an ally of her anger, and it’s led her own mother to distrust her. Because of her anger, Rowenna is considered undisciplined and unfit to wield any sort of power. She’s kept unschooled regarding an integral aspect of her being, because anger in a girl is considered unseemly, untrustworthy, inappropriate. We are not supposed to be angry. And if we are, we certainly shouldn’t show it.

Rowenna is brave. She wears her heart on her sleeve, pinned there with the badge of her own outrage. With or without her voice, anger lends her strength and courage, though she’s at her best when she can speak of the flame that burns at her core. Everyone she encounters has their own opinion of her anger and her power. We understand each other in that regard, because to this day, everyone has an opinion of my anger too. So many people want to chide a girl or a woman for being angry. So few want to ask her what she’s angry about.

I think for Rowenna, the answer to that question would be everything. For me, it certainly is. And so, A Rush of Wings is a hymn to anger. A recognition of the good and the beauty and the power of it. Of it how it can buoy us up and lend us courage. Of how it can get us through the unbearable and seemingly impossible, when no other emotion is enough.

There is no wickedness or wrongness inherent in anger. It is—like the other magic Rowenna learns to wield—just one gift among many. A strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it. For Rowenna and me, anger is strength. I hope A Rush of Wings convinces others that it can be for them, too.

Meet the author

Laura Weymouth is a Canadian living in America, and the sixth consecutive generation of her family to immigrate from one country to another. She writes critically acclaimed historical fantasy for teen readers, including The Light Between Worlds, A Treason of Thorns, and the forthcoming A Rush of Wings.

Website and Socials:

WEB: www.lauraeweymouth.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/lauraeweymouth
Instagram: www.instagram.com/lauraeweymouth
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/lauraeweymouth

About A Rush of Wings

For fans of Serpent & Dove and A House of Salt and Sorrows comes a darkly atmospheric and romantic fantasy about an untrained witch who must unlock her power to free her brothers from a terrible curse and save her home.

Rowenna Winthrop has always known there’s magic within her. But though she hears voices on the wind and possesses unusual talents, her mother Mairead believes Rowenna lacks discipline, and refuses to teach her the craft that keeps their Scottish village safe. And when Mairead dies a sinister death, it seems Rowenna’s only chance to grow into her power has died with her. Then, on a fateful, storm-tossed night, Rowenna rescues a handsome stranger named Gawen from a shipwreck, and her mother miraculously returns from the dead. Or so it appears.

The resurrected Mairead is nothing like the old one. To hide her new monstrous nature, she turns Rowenna’s brothers and Gawen into swans and robs Rowenna of her voice. Forced to flee, Rowenna travels to the city of Inverness to find a way to break the curse. But monsters take many forms, and in Inverness, Rowenna is soon caught in a web of strangers who want to use her raw magic for their own gain. If she wishes to save herself and the people she loves most, Rowenna will have to take her fate into her own hands and unlock the power that has evaded her for so long.

ISBN-13: 9781534493087
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 11/02/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

When Truth Beats Fiction, a guest post by Alex Perry

My first draft of Pighearted was nothing like the novel that came out Tuesday. It was set fifty years in Houston’s future. I wrote a book about a pig genetically altered to be an organ donor. How could I set it in the present day? As I revised, got good advice, and researched deeper, I realized that my story could happen today. The high-tech gadgets I invented in my first draft were not nearly as interesting as the actual medical devices keeping patients alive. I grounded the novel and it became contemporary, but it was still speculative. After all, that kind of transplantation was still theoretical. No one had actually tried it. That is, until debut week. Five people contacted me with a link to the same news article. Pighearted came true. The real world scooped my book.

Pighearted is the story of a boy with a fatal heart condition and his best friend, the pig with the heart that could save his life. It centers a boy getting a life-saving heart transplant from a genetically-modified sentient pig. The pig was grown using the boy’s DNA to ensure that it had a human heart. As the boy and pig grow close, the boy realizes that his friend doesn’t just have a human heart, but also a human mind.

Pighearted speculated about the distant possibility of using pigs to grow organs, but last week a pig donated a genetically modified kidney to a woman. Her body accepted it in what might be a huge step forward in medicine. The lead investigator on the medical team Dr. Robert Montgomery is himself a heart transplant recipient trying to ensure others get the help he got. He says that 40% of people waiting on the transplant list die before they get an organ they need. There’s an urgent need to improve organ transplantation.

The surgery took a couple of hours

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-58993696

Transplanted hearts don’t last as long as they need to. Especially for kids. Childhood transplant recipients often need a second transplant later in life. Not to mention, there is a constant threat of rejection and the side effects of the life-saving anti-rejection medication. And that’s for the most fortunate people that were able to survive the list.

The solution the scientists in Pighearted try is probably too ethically fraught to ever become a viable treatment. Creating an animal that is part human blurs the line between what is a person and what isn’t. Then, killing something that is part human escalates the dilemma, but it seems like Dr. Montgomery and that medical team found a different solution.      

             

The kids that read Pighearted are going to take those next steps and make the next advances. They might be inspired by Dr. Montgomery’s story, or they might connect to fictional characters that could push them to make the next breakthrough. Science education doesn’t need to stop at the science teacher’s door. In high school and college, I loved taking interdisciplinary classes. The strict delineation of school subjects didn’t make sense to me. It was easier for me to get excited about a topic that connected to other subjects and felt relevant. That’s the basic premise behind the pedagogy of interdisciplinary learning. Ideally it would allow students to study a topic from multiple angles. For example, Pighearted could fit into a science class as easily as it could fit into an English class.

I’m glad I rewrote Pighearted and set it in the present day. Years of teaching taught me to never underestimate what students are capable of, and I had to learn the same lesson again as an author. I’d underestimated the entire scientific community. The world is advancing and changing faster that I can make sense of it, so I hope that my book and others like it can reach deep into this changing world and help make sense of it. I needed to write a book that reached across the campus and touched on subjects in other classes. I thought I was setting the story just barely beyond our current technology to hook my readers with cutting-edge science. I didn’t expect for science to surpass my book before it came out, but I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

Meet the author

Alex Perry used to teach sixth grade in Houston, but now she writes books for kids everywhere. Pighearted is her debut novel. She lives in Arkansas with her husband, daughter, and two huge dogs. You can visit her at alexperrybooks.com or follow her on twitter @alextheadequate.

About Pighearted

Charlotte’s Web meets My Sister’s Keeper in this charming story told from the alternating perspectives of a boy with a fatal heart condition and the pig with the heart that could save his life.

Jeremiah’s heart skips a beat before his first soccer game, but it’s not nerves. It’s the first sign of a heart attack. He knows he needs to go to the hospital, but he’s determined to score a goal. Charging after the ball, he refuses to stop…even if his heart does.

J6 is a pig and the only one of his five brothers who survived the research lab. Though he’s never left his cell, he thinks of himself as a therapy pig, a scholar, and a bodyguard. But when the lab sends him to live with Jeremiah’s family, there’s one new title he’s desperate to have: brother.

At first, Jeremiah thinks his parents took in J6 to cheer him up. But before long, he begins to suspect there’s more to his new curly-tailed companion than meets the eye. When the truth is revealed, Jeremiah and J6 must protect each other at all costs—even if their lives depend on it.

ISBN-13: 9780316538770
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 10/26/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

This Young Adult Thriller Just Might Save Your Life, a guest post by Rektok Ross

Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with survival stories. I used to devour my mother’s Reader’s Digest Magazines as a kid, scouring the pages for adventure stories. Whether they are real life or fictional, at their base level, these stories have always captivated me because of the incredibly high stakes—it doesn’t get more thrilling than life or death—and also because they make you truly question things. What would you do in a similar situation? How would you react? Sometimes these stories can even make us question life itself and how we choose to spend it. When we see death this close up, we can’t help but wonder if we’re spending our time here on the things that matter the most.

I’ll never forget the true story that first inspired the snowy mountain setting for my debut young adult survival thriller Ski Weekend. I was home alone one weekend after I had just moved to San Francisco, spending the evening hanging out with my golden retriever Falkor and my television. At the time I didn’t have many friends in the area so I spent my night watching one of those true crime news shows. The story that night was about a family in the local area that got lost in the Pacific Northwest mountains after coming home from the holidays. It had such a tragic ending, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I was still thinking about the family and their horrifying ordeal weeks later, I knew there was something there that I wanted to explore.

Plus, I grew up in Florida and didn’t see snow until I was seventeen-years-old so there has always been something especially eerie and alien about the mountains in winter for me.

In my opinion, nature can be as terrifying as any supernatural monster. I have always been a fan of “natural horror” stories of the man-versus-nature variety like The Ruins by Scott Smith, Jaws by Peter Benchley, or Cujo by Stephen King. As human beings, we sometimes become so reliant on the comforts of our modern world and dependent on our technology that we forget how deadly and unforgiving Mother Nature can really be. And what setting could be more white-knuckle than the mountains in the winter? It is an environment that can literally kill you in a matter of minutes if you aren’t properly dressed for it.

The fun for me in writing Ski Weekend really began when I started to research the book. Since my teenage years, I have spent a lot more time in the mountains—my husband and I owned a condo in Tahoe—but I still wouldn’t say I knew a whole lot about mountain wilderness survival before this book. I knew I would have to research how these teens could make it through their time stranded in the mountains. Once I started really digging into all the real-life survival stories that exist out there, I knew I wanted to include some real-world survival skills that people reading my book could learn from and even use if one day they ever were to find themselves trapped in a similar situation to my characters.

In Ski Weekend, six teens and a dog are stranded in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains on the way to a high school ski trip because they took a shortcut and went down the wrong road. Before Ski Weekend, I always thought of remote places like Mount Everest and Antarctica as being dangerous and inhospitable, but the reality is that people wind up in very bad situations—even die—all the time in common scenarios you wouldn’t think of as life-threatening like going camping, visiting national parks, or even simply driving their cars around in the winter.

I spent hours upon hours on Google reading articles about people who survived in similar situations and then powered through all the nonfiction survival books I could get my hands on like Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick, Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado, The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, 98.6 Degrees by Cody Lundin as well as watching survival reality tv shows like Man vs. Nature, Survivor, Naked and Afraid, and I Survived. It was important to me that the book show survival skills that would really, truly work in a similar situation and might save someone’s life. I once heard about a little girl who saved her entire family in Thailand during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because she’d learned about tsunamis in school and was able to recognize the signs of the tide pulling in and warn her family to shelter in time. I thought that was so incredible and truly shows how powerful knowledge is. Sure, fiction is about imaginary people and situations, but why not put some life-saving skills in our fiction books as well?

I don’t want to go into spoilers or ruin any of the surprises in Ski Weekend but you will absolutely find little gems throughout the pages that can mean the difference between life and death in a cold weather survival scenario. However, there is one skill that I can share now without worrying about spoilers because it happens right at the beginning of the book. At the opening of the story after the six teens first get stranded, a few of the character want to go outside and try to find help. They’re not that far off the road and not that far from civilization, they reason to each other. One of my favorite characters in the book, Hunter, happens to know a whole lot about survival because he was an Eagle Scout. Hunter tells his friends that leaving the car is a bad idea because, “[e]veryone knows you stay in the car until help arrives. That’s Wilderness Survival 101.”

Hunter is right. If you’re ever stranded in a car somewhere, the best bet really is to stay inside and wait for help. You will be far safer in shelter, rather than braving the outdoors, and you are more likely to be found near the road than wandering off it. Of course, sadly, the characters in Ski Weekend do ultimately wind up leaving the car to disastrous consequences. But it wouldn’t be much of a survival story if they didn’t, now would it?

Ski Weekend is available for purchase everywhere on October 26.

Meet the author

Author photo © Agency Moanalani Jeffrey

Rektok Ross is the pen name of Liani Kotcher, a trial attorney turned award-winning young adult author and book blogger. An avid reader since childhood, Liani writes exactly the kind of books she loves to escape into herself: exciting thrillers with strong female leads, swoon-worthy love interests, and life-changing moments. She graduated from the University of Florida School of Journalism and obtained her juris doctorate at the University of Miami School of Law. Originally from South Florida, she currently splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles with her husband, stepkids, and her dogs. You can find her online just about anywhere at @RektokRoss, as well as on her website, www.RektokRoss.com, where she blogs about books and writing.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rektokross/   Website: https://rektokross.com/    Twitter: https://twitter.com/rektokross

About Ski Weekend

The Breakfast Club meets Alive in this gripping tale of survival, impossible choices, and the harrowing balance between life and death.

Six teens, one dog, a ski trip gone wrong . . .

Sam is dreading senior ski weekend and having to watch after her brother and his best friend, Gavin, to make sure they don’t do anything stupid. Again. Gavin may be gorgeous, but he and Sam have never gotten along. Now they’re crammed into an SUV with three other classmates and Gavin’s dog, heading on a road trip that can’t go by fast enough.

Then their SUV crashes into a snowbank, and Sam and her friends find themselves stranded in the mountains with cell phone coverage long gone and temperatures dropping. When the group gets sick of waiting for rescue, they venture outside to find help—only to have a wilderness accident leave Sam’s brother with a smashed leg and, soon, a raging fever. While the hours turn to days, Sam’s brother gets sicker and sicker, and their food and supplies dwindle until there isn’t enough for everyone. As the winter elements begin to claim members of the group one by one, Sam vows to keep her brother alive.

No matter what.

Filled with twists, secrets, and life-changing moments, Ski Weekend is a snow-packed survival thriller featuring a diverse cast of teens that will appeal to fans of One of Us is Lying and I Am Still Alive.

ISBN-13: 9781684631094
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: 10/26/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

How to be an Author: The myth of talent and importance of failure, a guest post by Rebecca Elliott

I’ve done a lot of talks in schools, I’ve taught adult classes on writing and illustrating and I occasionally get invited to parties and talk to people and when people find out what I do for a living they’ll more often than not say one or all of the following three things:

  1. ’Will I have heard of any of your books?’ – This is something all authors dread. There are over 8 billion books on Amazon and the average person can recall off the top of their head around 30 authors, most of whom are dead. So as I’m not JK Rowling, the chances are no, you will not know one of my books. This often signifies the end of the conversation and they walk away disappointed.
  2. ‘How many books have you sold?’ I always find this an interesting one as if you’d just met a teacher you wouldn’t ask, ‘how many of your students pass their exams?’ or an estate agent, ‘how many houses have you sold?’. Primary schools kids have a refreshingly blunt way of asking this same question – they just say, ‘how much money do you have?’
  3. ‘Wow, writing/illustrating is my dream job, how did you get into that?’ To this I’ll normally mumble something about how it was just always something I wanted to do and I’m incredibly lucky that it happened. Then they often say something lovely like, ‘Well you must be so talented’ to which I awkwardly shuffle my feet, choke back a denial, chuck back a glass of wine and change the subject. (That’s only at parties, I don’t often take wine with me on school visits)

So today I wanted to properly address that last question and the assumption, as lovely as it is, that it’s basically talent that allows people to make a living doing something creative. 

My problem with the word, ‘talent’ is it suggests something elusive that we have no control over, an innate trait that we either have or don’t have, that we’re born with or we’re not – and we don’t really use that word in non-creative sphere’s. We don’t suggest that someone is a great firefighter, or doctor or politician because he’s so naturally talented. Yes we might think they naturally have gifts of bravery, or empathy, or misleading the public but there’s full recognition that those skills on their own are not nearly enough, and that actually the greatest reason they’re good at what they do is they’ve learned and embraced the skills of their chosen careers.

I think that most authors agree that natural talent is one of their least important traits in making them successful in what they chose to do. And moreover, the commonly held idea of natural talent in creative endeavours is off-putting to those who would have desperately loved to follow that creative dream but never felt like they ‘had what it takes’, because it doesn’t come easily to them like it seems to with others. 

Here’s the shock news – writing doesn’t come easily to anyone.

‘I just sit at the typewriter and curse a bit’ 

P.G. Wodehouse 

‘Writing is the most ingenious torture devised for sins committed in previous lives.’ 

James Joyce

So if it’s not predominantly talent that leads to a successful creative career (and by ‘successful’ I don’t mean someone who makes millions and becomes famous, I just mean something you can make a living from), what is it? 

Well I’m going to suggest there’s three things you need to have to make it happen.

  1. Determination
  2. Practical optimism
  3. Acceptance of Failure

And yes, I get that that last one is a little contradictory but bear with me.

Determination

I would suggest that there has never been a successful author in the history of books who thought, ‘yea, I wouldn’t mind doing that, sounds alright’. Writing books isn’t something you fall into, it’s something you have to chase up a hill, wheezing and spluttering as you go, until you grab its tail and refuse to let go.

This necessary drive can be there from your earliest memories or can evolve with you, over time. The determined person realises you can’t wait for inspiration to strike, or for the perfect writing circumstances to present themselves, because the chances are they never will. 

As Jack London said, ’You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’

If you want to be a writer, really want it, you have to sit in front of a blank screen sometimes for hours, when you’d much rather be doing something else, and force the work out of you. I often find that the first page of writing on any given day is crap – and I knew it was crap whilst I was writing it. But it was just a case of getting my brain engaged and active and hopefully, by the second page I’m on a roll and at the end of the day I go back and delete that first page and pretend it never happened. Whatever works to get you going.

With me, I was determined from a very young age. Or was that precocious? I was always arty, always writing something or drawing something and I got good grades at school, I knew that one day I would be an artist or writer and it was as simple as that. Then that ambition got knocked out of me by the practicalities of life. When it came to going off to university instead of studying art I was advised to study something more ‘useful’ that might actually get me a job, so I chose to study Philosophy. Because of course you always see so many ‘Philosopher Wanted’ adverts down the job centre.

My dream of doing something traditionally ‘creative’ with my life had been beaten down with the realities of actually having to earn a living. And it’s not an uncommon story. So often I hear from parents about how talented and passionate their kid is at art or writing, or drama or music but how they’re going to study something more ‘sensible’ as a ‘back-up plan’.  But if a kid is talented at or passionate about something, this is what they should be studying! There’s plenty more years for back-up plans down the line. And life’s way too short for sensible! This is what I know now. But back then, I did as I was advised and studied Philosophy. But although I may have a few small regrets that I didn’t study something more traditionally ‘creative’, actually, I found I loved philosophy and I think later on down the line it massively influenced the way I thought about and wrote about things. Creativity is a way of thinking not confined to the creative ‘arts’. And part of my message today, I hope, is that even when you think you’re going down the wrong path, if you chose to, you can redirect yourself and just call it a scenic detour. 

So on my scenic detour I studied Philosophy where I learnt how to doubt my own existence for three years, then on concluding that I did actually exist, I got a 9-5 office job. Because that’s what you do after finishing a degree, right? I had a love of publishing and books so started working for a publisher, an ideal job, or so I thought. Only it was a financial services publisher whose exciting publications included, ‘The Mortgage Advisors Handbook Vol 1.’  And about two hours into the job I realised – I HATE THIS. 

I literally used to make myself fall asleep in the toilet just to pass a few hours of the day. The fact that nobody noticed this kind of proves how unimportant my job was.

And I knew if I didn’t do something about it I would be working in a dull grey cubicle for the rest of my life. 

Don’t get me wrong, of course I know that ‘office-work’ covers a huge range of important careers, a lot of which are very creative and fulfilling and suits a lot of people, just turns out I’m not one of them. Equally there are plenty of people who aren’t happy in their job but just go through their working life living for the weekend, when they can be themselves again, when life is fun again. But life is short as it is and for me, the idea of spending two thirds of your life just waiting for the other third to come round isn’t something I could stomach. 

So the determination set back in. Sometimes it’s fear of the alternative that can fuel ambition. So I spent every evening, every lunch hour, and every moment when the boss wasn’t looking, and I’d normally be asleep on the toilet, researching how to become what had always been my dream job, but which had got lost along the way, gobbled up by life’s practicalities. The dream of becoming a writer and illustrator. Turns out for me, I needed to do that dull job to give me the kick up the butt I needed, to do what I really wanted to do.

After a lot of research and hard work and with a great sense of achievement I finally sent off a finished children’s book manuscript with some drawings, to a bunch of publishers, and sure enough…it was brutally rejected by many MANY publishers. 

And this is where the second trait of a successful creative person kicks in.

Practical Optimism

Rejection is a part of any author’s, indeed any creative’s career. You learn that pretty early on and you can either let it finish you or you can let yourself mope for 24 hours before your often un-founded optimism kicks in and you tell yourself next time will be different. Because you’ll make sure it’s different. If you’re a realist you don’t just blindly think if I try again there’ll be a different outcome. You realise there are practical things you need to do to make it happen. You research. You go to the libraries and book shops and read all the other books similar to yours to see why they’re published and yours isn’t. You join critique groups. You write to the publishers who rejected your work and ask for feedback. And listen to it when you get it. You go on courses. You read countless articles online about how to improve your skills and get better, then you make yourself get better. You do this over and over and over again, often in the evenings and in lunch hours because you’ve got to earn a living at the same time. 

However, being a realist sometimes means giving up on bits of your dream and going with the flow. For me, at this point I put a pin in the writing and concentrated on my illustration instead. I put together a portfolio of drawings and after many, many more rejections, eventually a few illustration jobs trickled in, then a few more, until, after a year, I had an agent and enough work to ditch the dull office job and sail off into the perfect creative sunset that was my life (a-hem).

Everything was going great, I was an actual book illustrator, didn’t earn much and I still didn’t have the confidence to try again as an author but I was happy enough, I was my own boss, I was married to a great guy, I got pregnant with our first child, who would have of course also grown up to be an artist or a writer, or perhaps a great guitarist like her Dad. And then. 

And then. 

My daughter, Clemmie, was born with massive brain damage. And it was clear very early on that she would never walk or talk let alone become all the things we’d hoped for. 

Clemmie

Life has a way of throwing curve balls at your head when you least expect it and this one hit me straight in the face and knocked me to the floor. And I probably could have stayed down there. Would have been easier. But from there I got a totally new perspective on everything. 

Clemmie couldn’t do or achieve anything, by society’s standards, yet she taught me more about life in her ten short years than anyone else. While the rest of us run around trying to be something we’re not, or trying to live up to what’s expected of us in terms of ambition, or wealth or achievement, she just sat. And smiled. And cuddled. 

By simply being, rather than doing she was a complete ray of sunshine into my life that changed me into a better person. She taught me not be be afraid of failure, and to value gentleness over strength, fulfilment over ambition.  She became, and although she’s no longer with us, continues to be my muse, my inspiration for everything. 

So I started to write, this time not as a way out of a dull job but because I wanted to, I wasn’t even worried about whether my writing would be published or not, I just wrote for me. But to my surprise, publishers liked what I’d written.  My books Just Because and Sometimes, about Clemmie’s relationship with her little brother Toby, are now two of the most successful books about children with disabilities and are read not only by kids who see their own disability in them but by other kids who through them can experience disability as something positive, not something to be sad about or scared of. And through writing them my own confidence as a writer grew and I wrote tonnes more picture books and then the Owl Diaries which has had incredible success, and that spurred me on to do what I’d always truly dreamed of doing – writing novels. 

I have so very much to be thankful to my daughter for.

The practical optimist knows that the creative career and life is not going to be a bed of roses, that inspiration won’t come knocking, instead you have to drag it in off the street, that publishers and readers will only respond to your work if it’s good, not just if you’re lucky, that life will often do it’s best to throw you off course but maybe that new path isn’t as dark as it first seems and will provide it’s own new inspirations and opportunities. 

Acceptance of Failure

I’ve touched on this already but I can’t stress enough that there has never been a successful creative person who hasn’t met failure along the way. If you follow your creative dreams, determined to make a career out of them and not just a hobby, there’s no way of avoiding failure. 

And it never ends!

Well-respected actors put out terrible films all the time, best-selling debut novelists put out a second book that dies a death with critics and readers alike, if you’ve had one very successful thing that can be the curse on the rest of your works forever more! My Owl Diaries series, which I’m proud of but by no means is what I want to be remembered for, has sold over 6 million copies. It is VERY likely that my career has peaked! But that will never stop me from turning up every day and carrying on.

And we learn far more from our failures than our successes. Which is a good job as I’ve experienced a LOT of failure. I literally have drawers full of rejection letters. 

My most epic fail is my first novel. I decided I wanted to move away from picture books and write novels for teenagers, so I spent four years, FOUR YEARS! on my first draft. It was good enough to (eventually) get me a new literary agent as opposed to my illustration one, and we then worked on it for a further year. Then when my ‘baby’ was finally sent out in to the world, it was, again, brutally rejected by a LOT of publishers. 

BUT one publisher said, ‘we don’t want this book but we love Rebecca’s writing – does she have anything else?’

Which of course is just what you want to hear when you’ve just spent 4 years on something!

But when that publisher is Penguin you don’t argue. So I looked through my notebooks and found a single sentence, ’IDEA: 14 year old overweight girl, wants to be a stand-up comedian’. My agent sent it to them. And they immediately came back with – yes! That’s the one, get her to write that! 

So I did. I wrote it in 3 months. And I now, finally, and amazingly, have two published novels by Penguin in the UK and Peachtree in the USA. Which is a total dream come true and was worth every heartache and set-back.

I didn’t know it at the time but everything I’ve done, all the successes and failures, the bad choices and the good ones, the dull jobs, the philosophy degree, my wonderful though painful experience of having Clemmie, they all went in to the melting pot that is my creative life, and made me the author I am today. Everyone has failures and sadnesses and disappointments but maybe if you chose to look at them from a different perspective perhaps they don’t have to detract from your dreams and passions but instead become a part of them, evolving with them and spurring you on to something else.

And never mind the ‘creative’ life, isn’t the just the point of life itself? To be able to say ‘yes there was heartache, and extraordinary pain, and epic failure, but there was also exquisite beauty, and joy and fulfilment, and boy was it one hell of a ride.’

Meet the author

Photo credit: Tom Soper Photography

REBECCA ELLIOTT is an author and illustrator of many picture books and The Owl Diaries early chapter book series. Pretty Rude for a Girl is a sequel to Pretty Funny for a Girl, her first YA novel. She earned a degree in philosophy and once did a brief stint in a dull office. Now, she enjoys eating creme eggs, loudly venting on a drum kit, and wasting too much time on computer games. She lives in England with her two boys, her frantic dog Frida, and permanently sarcastic cat, Bernard.

www.rebeccaelliott.com

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About Pretty Rude for a Girl

Haylah Swinton is a comedic hit on her new YouTube channel, but will her popularity backfire? Prepare to snort, guffaw, and cringe through Rebecca Elliott’s hilarious companion to Pretty Funny for a Girl.

Big, bold, and funnier than a cat in a onesie playing bagpipes, Haylah Swinton’s been busy proving she’s an all-star comedian through her new YouTube channel. Yet life online is its own can of trolls. And proving she’s funny is tougher than she thought it’d be! Plus, her new boyfriend Dylan hasn’t even tried kissing her yet, and when her deadbeat dad decides to turn up, life as she’s known it is tossed into one big, colossal mess. And what better way to vent, than to spill the tea to her newly found audience online? But when friends and family discover Haylah’s ranting videos, it turns out Haylah’s got quite a lot of explaining to do.

Rebecca Elliott’s follow up to the hilarious Pretty Funny for a Girl fires on all cylinders for YA readers. Family drama, boy drama, and a budding comedian at the center of it all makes for a laugh-out-loud, binge-worthy read.

ISBN-13: 9781682631485
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/01/2021
Age Range: 12 – 16 Years

Making the Impossible Possible, a guest post by Ruth Freeman

A story about Superheroes? Really? I have to confess I know almost nothing about superheroes, or at least I didn’t before starting to write HOW TO SAVE A SUPERHERO. But this is how it happened.

A story idea for me begins with a little seed blowing in and getting stuck. Then another seed blows in, and another, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, they start growing together into a story. The first seed was this: after I finished writing my earlier middle-grade novel, ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA, about a Congolese girl’s first year in an American elementary school, I wondered what was something all kids know about no matter where they’re from? I was teaching English Language Learners who came from all over the world, but one thing they had in common was superheroes! They might have lived in the U.S. their entire lives or have just arrived from another country, but everyone seemed to know about Superman, Spiderman and Batman. In fact, they knew way more than I did.

The second little seed came from the trips I made to visit my parents at their retirement home in Pennsylvania. It was like a fancy hotel or maybe a cruise ship, one with restaurants, a hair salon, gift shop, pool, library, even a bank. There was a studio for those who liked to paint, a woodworking shop for those who worked with wood, and a room of miniature trains for those who loved trains.  Residents never needed to leave the place if they didn’t want to. It was an amazing, complete world for older people and, as you might imagine, there were all kinds of interesting people who lived there. So…

“What if”…that’s the question that starts a story idea moving for me. What if a resident of a retirement home was actually a real…no, I mean, a REAL superhero? Impossible? Ah, that’s the great thing about writing a story: anything is possible! Maybe an old guy (Mr. Norris) doesn’t want anyone to know he’s a superhero. Maybe he wants to keep his identity hidden. On the other hand, of course he could just have dementia and not be a superhero at all. We don’t find out until the very end which it is.

The last little seed came as I made up Mr. Norris, the newest and grumpiest resident of the Happy Valley Village retirement community. The more I described him and wrote down what he said, the more I could hear my uncle Mickey’s voice. Mickey was charming, funny and smart. He was also prickly, opinionated and complained a lot. He wore old clothes, smoked a pipe, never threw anything away, and lived by himself on an island in Maine for more than 50 years. He’s gone now but he would surely roll his eyes and laugh if he knew he was the inspiration for Mr. Norris.

Addie, the eleven-year old main character, knows without a doubt that it would be impossible for Mr. Norris to be a real superhero, even though her friends Dickson and Marwa try to convince her otherwise. It was fun to write about the possibility of a real superhero, because after all, superheroes have their human sides too, right? Wouldn’t they get tired of helping people? Of being good all the time? Wouldn’t they be afraid of making a mistake while everyone was watching?

As fun as the superhero part was to write, the real story in my mind is the transformation of Mr. Norris and Addie. Even though he is old and she is young, they’ve both suffered pain and loss in their lives. They don’t trust other people. They expect the worst. But as their friendship grows, they begin to open up again. The impossible becomes possible again. They make friends at the retirement community who end up helping them when some crazy scientists come to kidnap Mr. Norris. By the end of the story, at a wild Halloween party, Addie and Mr. Norris have become true friends who are willing to risk everything to save each other. 

I’ve always been drawn to stories where characters find themselves in impossible situations (as they are in so many stories). Think of being lost in the woods with only a hatchet (Gary Paulsen) or the impossible situations Harry Potter finds himself in, or being homeless in THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley). It’s in those dark and impossible situations that stories miraculously twist and turn until a pathway appears through to the possible.

Exciting? Heart-stopping? Emotional? Yes, absolutely. The stories that plunge us into impossible situations are all of these things, that’s why we love them. They also show us the way in our own lives. When things seem impossible in real life, it’s usually not superpowers that save the day, it’s human kindness, a brave stranger going out of their way, or something as simple as a caring, friendly smile that begin to make things possible again.

Meet the author

Ruth Freeman is the author of One Good Thing About America, which received a Golden Kite Honor Award and was called a “touching novel” by School Library Journal. Ruth grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches English language learners in an elementary school.

About How to Save a Superhero

Ten-year-old Addie knows that Superheroes aren’t real, and that they certainly don’t hide out in retirement communities, but she may just have to change her mind.

Addie and her mom never stay in one place too long. They’ve been up and down and all around the country. When her mom, Tish, gets a new job at Happy Valley Village Retirement Community in Pennsylvania, Addie believes they’ll be on the road again in a month. But this time, something is different—make that, someone. Mr. Norris, a grumpy resident of Happy Valley and. . .a former superhero? 

Well, that’s what Marwa, whose mom also works at Happy Valley, would try and have Addie believe. Addie and her friend Dickson know better even if there are things they can’t explain. Like the time Mr. Norris was about to get hit by a car and was suddenly on the other side of the road or the way his stare seems to take root in Addie’s stomach. 

When a man starts prowling the Happy Valley grounds, claiming to be the great-nephew of a resident, Addie, Marwa, and Dickson soon stumble into a grand conspiracy involving the Manhattan Project, a shady weapons company, and the fate of the human race, in this smart, funny middle grade novel.

ISBN-13: 9780823447626
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Girls Who Can are Girls Who Can Pivot, a guest post by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

For quite some time now, we’ve been hearing about strong girls in children’s literature.  I must admit that the more I write about girls, the more I object to the adjective’s use.  It’s not because strong implies girls should demonstrate more of the traits we’ve considered traditionally masculine (though it does), nor because it suggests that strength is not normative in girls (though it does), but because it’s an easy package that makes short work of the complexities and nuances that might truly support kids as they grow into their truest, healthiest selves.

My Twig and Turtle chapter book series features sisters who undoubtedly have their strengths.  Turtle is a six-year-old who knows what she wants in life and goes after it.  She’s full of shiny ideas. In the newest book Time for Teamwork, she builds a pop-up craft booth on the sidewalk, out of snow. Eight-year-old Twig feels less enterprising, less shiny, but eventually lands on an idea that she decides to execute entirely on her own. Building on her natural ability to help others, she starts her own handy girl business. And like many first-time business owners (or long-time writers), Twig bites off more than she can chew.  What does she do when things go missing while organizing the neighbor’s shed . . . and the dog she’s sitting gets away . . . and the washing machine overflows?  She pivots and calls in friends.  Order is restored and she reassesses. When it comes to pleasing others, she’s learned a good deal about the need to set boundaries. She’s also learned that it’s not a weakness to ask for help. (Ironically, if you Google “strong girls” you will come across an article that discusses twelve things strong, independent girls don’t do.  One of those twelve reads, “They don’t fail to handle their own situations.” Ack!)

Jennifer in her early entrepreneurial days.

Turtle exhibits agency—an unwavering can-do attitude.  Twig is sensitive to the needs of others and eager to please.  But Twig’s loyalty allows her to quickly gain the trust of others and her determination to make things right allows her to change course. Turtle experiences joy and empathy. Twig experiences jealousy, excitement, fear, remorse, bravery. So, who’s the stronger girl?

Turtle is like the female comic book character who appears on page one wielding her sword.  Her strength is a fait accompli (at least for the time being). Twig, on the other hand, grapples with choices and a full range of feelings in each story.  Her internal life allows readers to accompany her on a social-emotional journey and come out mentally stronger. 

I would argue that both girls are demonstrating admirable strengths. They honor their desires, take healthy risks, make mistakes, and grow.  In Book 2: Toy Store Trouble, Twig and Turtle take it upon themselves to rearrange the toys organized by pink and blue packaging. The toy store owner (who we might argue has a strong personality) gets angry, and the girls are sent home.  But that’s not the end of the story of course. Instead, the girls try again. They propose a more workable system. The owner doesn’t adopt their particular strategy, but she does reconsider the message she’s sending to kids.

If we’re not careful, “strong” becomes one more expectation, one more idealization, we’re placing on young women (a calamity all too known especially by girls of color). Peyton, the almost-thirteen-year-old protagonist of my middle grade novel Crashing in Love, is a perfectionist—a girl who believes that by constantly improving herself, she can prevent herself from feeling sadness or shame.  She memorizes aphorisms (which she pushes on her friends) and even creates a checklist for her “perfect boyfriend” to avoid getting hurt: must be cute, must have good hygiene. No doubt, if Peyton created a similar checklist for herself, it would be far more exacting.  And knowing Peyton as I do, Must be strong would be at the top of the list. But the last thing Peyton needs is to fortify her stalwartness.   Instead, her growth by story’s end comes from recognizing that vulnerability, flexibility, and the acceptance of mistakes will bring her to a healthier, happier place.

Sometimes strength is called for in life, sometimes vulnerability makes us stronger. What’s important is that we allow for a full range of human emotions and individualized reactions. That we acknowledge that risking mistakes is one of the strongest things we can do.

We don’t need book displays of “strong girls.” We need to support kids with nuanced book discussions about protagonists who trust themselves to pivot, rather than rely on the aphorisms on the wall.  Let’s teach them that strength in ourselves and change in the world comes from a determination to grow.

When it comes to the “strong girl,” let’s reject the box.  Let’s pivot.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Amy Wilton

Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the author of over twenty books for young readers, including the award-winning Small as an Elephant and Paper Things. She lives in Maine and when not writing, works as a writing coach for aspiring authors.

Website: www.jenniferjacobson.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.jacobson.52

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JRJacobson

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jenniferjacobsonbooks

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/JenniferJacobsonBooks/_created/

About Twig and Turtle 5: Time for Teamwork

A handy girl business quickly becomes a headache when Twig stretches herself too thin and has to ask her friends for help in the fifth book in the Twig and Turtle chapter book series, perfect for fans of Ivy and Bean and Judy Moody.

Inspired by helping out at Sudsy’s, Twig sets up her own business doing odd jobs. Little sister Turtle, Angela, David, and all of Twig’s other friends want to be a part of this new venture, too, but Twig is determined that she wants to do this all on her own. And she’s really good at it!

But success can be very tricky, and when Twig overpromises her services to too many people, she doesn’t know where to turn. Her DYI is looking like it’s destined for disaster. Thankfully, a sister and some good friends know the perfect fix for her big problem: some elbow grease and a little teamwork.

In the fifth book in the Twig and Turtle chapter book series, themes of entrepreneurship, determination, and teamwork take center stage. Fans of Ivy and Bean and Judy Moody will find this latest installment hard to resist.

ISBN-13: 9781645950783
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 11/16/2021
Series: Twig and Turtle #5
Age Range: 7 – 9 Years

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

Different Roles, a guest post by Claire Winn

At the peak of the young-adult vampire trend, I was getting bitten.

My senior year of high school, I landed the role of Lucy Westenra in our theater production of Dracula. In the version we produced, Lucy was the lead. I was thrilled, of course—but the initial read-through of the script left me feeling a little hollow.

My role was passive; the bulk of my scenes involved crying or being preyed upon. One particularly awkward scene required me to stare, entranced, into the stage lights as a boy from calculus class bit my neck. Other characters speculated about Lucy’s fate, and the role I’d been excited for felt a bit like a plot device.

Near the end of rehearsals, I’d sneak behind darkened set pieces to watch the show’s climax—a vampire-staking battle scene that played out in the aisles. Blood packets spurted over the stage ramps as retracting stakes hit their targets. Spotlights flickered on hissing vampires and cut to black.

It was Van Helsing who drove the story to its messy conclusion, while Dracula’s machinations wove the core conflict. Those roles, I thought, were interesting.

As a teen, I had trouble connecting with female characters in many other shows I participated in. In the Julie Andrews film “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” on which the stage show of the same name is based, the titular Millie disavows her feminism after she falls in love; at the end, she declares “I don’t want to be your equal anymore.” And the bride-napping themes of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” are well known. While I loved the passionate creativity and collaboration of the theater environment—and I made incredible memories and friends—I’d lost some of my excitement for being onstage. There were sexist themes embedded in the scripts for many major shows, and I started dreaming about how I’d write them into roles girls would want to play.

In college, on track for law school, I started writing on a whim. Science fiction and fantasy books gave me the opportunity to explore and shape worlds filled with the types of characters I wanted to see. I discovered how freeing it was to have casts with multiple women and LGBT+ characters, with a range of talents and aptitudes. Lead characters could be messier without the pressure of being the sole representative of their gender or marginalization. It became easier to make them flawed, memorable, and fully human.

One of my favorite parts of writing City of Shattered Light was the contrast between the two female leads, as well as the matriarchal crime syndicates containing a range of morally-gray and capable side characters. It’s the story of a runaway heiress discovering her strength under pressure, and relying on her wits and technical prowess in deadly situations. It’s also the story of a viciously competent smuggler girl who has hardened herself to match the world around her. And it’s ultimately about learning to break free of societal expectations and choose a home for yourself.

Media has made great strides for representation in the past decade, and I hope teens will keep seeing more characters that resonate with them—onstage, on-screen, and on the page.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Rad DeLong

Claire Winn spends her time immersed in other worlds—through LARP, video games, and the books she reads and writes. Since graduating from Northwestern University, she’s worked as a legal writer and freelance editor. Aside from writing, she builds cosplay props and battles with boffer swords. City of Shattered Light, her first novel, releases October 2021 from Flux Books.

About City of Shattered Light

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she’s more than her manipulative father’s shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue AI hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gunslinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The AI exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

ISBN-13: 9781635830712
Publisher: North Star Editions
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years