Author Stacy Mozer finds THE SWEET SPOT

First Base: Welcome today to author Stacy Mozer, and a big “outta the park” congratulations on her middle grade novel THE SWEET SPOT, which debuts 3/25/16! Stacy doesn’t know this but she was one of the first people I met in SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). She was giving a talk on critique techniques/critique groups at a conference. I remember thinking, “I don’t even know if I belong here.” Six years later, I’m still a part of the same critique group that I joined based on her encouragement.
Second Base: Let’s turn our attention to THE SWEET SPOT!

When thirteen-year-old Sam Barrette’s baseball coach tells her that her attitude’s holding her back, she wants to hit him in the head with a line drive. Why shouldn’t she have an attitude? As the only girl playing in the 13U league, she’s had to listen to boys and people in the stands screaming things like “Go play softball,” all season, just because she’s a girl. Her coach barely lets her play, even though she’s one of the best hitters on the team.

All stakes now rest on Sam’s performance at baseball training camp. But the moment she arrives, miscommunication sets the week up for potential disaster. Placed at the bottom with the weaker players, she will have to work her way up to A league, not just to show Coach that she can be the best team player possible, but to prove to herself that she can hold a bat with the All-Star boys.

 
Third Base: Stacy kindly answered my questions about herself, her writing, and THE SWEET SPOT.
NT: How did your writing career begin? What other kinds of hats have you worn in your professional life?
SBM: My writing career began when a group of third grade students told me that there was no way a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise as much as I asked them to revise. I told them that I would write a book to find out. That book is still in revision. It’s been over ten years. In my professional life I have only been an elementary teacher but that has always come with many hats; teacher, mentor, curriculum writer, therapist, counselor, reader, mathematician, scientist…you name it, elementary school teachers do it every day.
NT: What were you like as a kid? Were you sporty like Sam? Would you have been friends with her?
SBM: I was a pretty quiet kid. The smart, bookish, teacher’s pet type. I was not an athlete. I loved baseball, but as a Mets fan, not a player. I admired the sporty athletic girls and would go to their games, but was never one myself. So I might have wanted to be friends with Sam, but unless she was also a singer or an drama geek, I may not have had a chance to have met her.
NT: What kind of books did you like as a 13-year-old?
SBM: My main genre to read has always been high fantasy. I loved getting whisked away in imagined worlds full of adventure. At 14 I think I also loved The Sweet Valley High books and other books about girls who were in high school.
NT:  What are you working on next?
SBM: Right now I’m working on book 2 in The Sweet Spot series, which is called The Perfect Trip. It will be releasing from Spellbound River this time next year. I am also still revising the middle grade high fantasy book I wrote those many years ago when my class challenged me.
NT: Any advice for other writers and creative types?
SBM: It will sound cliche, but make sure to never give up on this dream. It is so easy to want to give up. Publishing is a business full of rejection and it moves as fast as a snail. Try to write because you love it and the rest will come — it just might take a long time. As the critique group coordinator for NESCBWI I also have to remind your readers of how important it is to find your tribe as you move forward. Whether it’s people you meet with to discuss your work or just a supportive group of writer friends, no one gets this the way other writers do.
 

Home Run: THE SWEET SPOT ebook is available for pre-order on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D8VYWK6 and in iBooks

Or, in paperback (tomorrow) from Spellbound River Press  http://www.SpellboundRiver.com
For signed paperback copies, contact Diane’s Books in Greenwich 203-869-1515. Ask for Maria or Theresa.
 
Extra Innings: You can enter below to win your own copy of THE SWEET SPOT. Just click on the Rafflecopter link to enter!
 
Rafflecopter Giveaway:
Stacy Barnett Mozer is a third grade teacher and a mom. She started writing books when a class of students told her that there was no way that a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise their work as much as she asked them to revise. She’s been revising her own work ever since. 
Social Media Links:
 
 
 

 

WILL’S WORDS: Interview with children’s author Jane Sutcliffe

Welcome today to author Jane Sutcliffe, who, as luck would have it, graciously agreed to answer some questions about writing for children. Jane has written over two dozen non-fiction books for young readers, and is an experienced presenter. Her school visit … Continue reading

A TIME TO DANCE – Interview with author Padma Venkatraman

 

ATTDance

 

Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.

First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:

Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”

Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:

As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:

Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?

Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.

 

THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014! Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including: THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES THE DIRT DIARY SERIES ..and two upcoming picture books from … Continue reading

SARAH GIVES THANKS By Mike Allegra

The month of November is a great one for showing gratitude.  I love the trend I’m seeing on social media sites where people share one thing each day they are grateful for.  And of course there is good old Thanksgiving, a whole holiday based on the idea of saying, “Hey, Thanks, I’ve got a lot of great stuff in my life.”

We all know the story of Thanksgiving as it relates to the Pilgrims and the Indians, but that was just one meal.  Would you like to know where the idea for making Thanksgiving a national holiday came from?  You would?  GOOD!  Because today I’m happy to introduce you to  friendly author Mike Allegra, and his wonderful picture book that answers that question.

Sarah Gives Thanks Cover

SARAH GIVES THANKS is the story of Sarah Josephine Hale, a trailblazing writer and magazine editor, who felt that every American should celebrate Thanksgiving.  Starting with President Zachary Taylor in 1849, she wrote to the president (whomever it was) every year asking for Thanksgiving to be made a national holiday.  Finally, it was President Abraham Lincoln who granted her request.  It took her thirty-six years to get the response she was looking for, but she never gave up.  That’s some serious perseverance.  However, from the very first pages of the book, where illustrator David Gardner beautifully shows Sarah giving thanks even though she has just buried her husband, you know that this woman is not the type to give up easily.

sarah_illus_1

I had never heard of Sarah Josephine Hale or of her role in Thanksgiving before reading SARAH GIVES THANKS.  She was a groundbreaking feminist in so many ways, and I’m happy to have had this opportunity to learn about her and her life’s work.  This is the best kind of non-fiction picture book, one that reads as a narrative, is gorgeously illustrated,  and can speak to both adults and children.

Author Mike Allegra was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions about his writing career and how this particular picture book came to be:

Me and my office

Nancy: How long was the time from your first inkling of the idea for SARAH GIVES THANKS until you were holding the actual book?

Mike: A long, long time, actually. I began writing Sarah’s story in September 2009. I was asked for a rewrite in February 2010, which I completed that April, I think. The book was accepted in late summer with plans for a fall 2011 pub date. But then my editor left Albert Whitman and Company and the illustrator backed out. So the project was delayed a year – which turned out to be a huge blessing because my next editor, Kristen Ostby, was all kinds of patient and wonderful. Also SARAH GIVES THANKS’ new illustrator, David Gardner, is as nice as he is talented – which is to say, very.

Nancy: I once heard Henry Winkler say that when he his work in print for the first time, he “rubbed the book all over himself.” Did you have a similar, or any other, over-the-top reaction?

Mike: Tsk tsk. That was very un-Fonz-like of him.

I used up almost all of my over-the-top joy and giddiness when I first heard that my book was accepted. By the time SARAH GIVES THANKS was printed – about two years later – my primary emotion was relief. I just remember hearing the words, “I did it,” over and over in my head. There was no exclamation point at the end of that statement, either. My “I did it,” was an exhausted, non-demonstrative declarative sentence.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was happy, very happy, but my happiness was so low key, my family didn’t know what to think of me. I think my reaction disappointed them a little.

(Nancy:  I wonder if that’s how Sarah felt when Lincoln finally said ‘yes’, after 36 years…).

Nancy: How much research did you need to do on Sarah Hale? Did you get any good trips out of it?

Mike: Hm. Would you call a trip to Philadelphia “good?” I spent most of my time in The City of Brotherly Love in an archive huddled over 160-year-old magazines taking notes until my fingers cramped up into a monkey’s paw. When I wasn’t taking notes, I was getting yelled at by officious old ladies who caught me taking notes with a pen – which, I’m told, is a very bad thing to do. I suppose archivists live in constant fear of vandals doodling on historic manuscripts in ink. So I was issued a sharpened pencil and told to behave myself.

I did a lot of research, partly for the book and partly because I found Sarah Josepha Hale’s life story to be so fascinating. Not only did Sarah lead the effort to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday, but she also was a celebrated author and editor. In fact, the magazine she helmed, Lady’s Book, was the most widely read periodical in America. She wrote the very first anti-slavery novel (about 25-years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin). She was a huge proponent of education for women. She led charities, raised funds for historic landmarks, and increased public awareness on a whole host of social issues. And she did it all while raising five children by herself (her husband had died of pneumonia years before).

In short, Sarah Josepha Hale is amazing. It was hard for me not to get a little geeked out.

(Nancy:  Yes, she had me at ‘raising five children by herself.’)

Nancy: The illustrations in SARAH GIVES THANKS are wonderful. How much interaction did you have with illustrator David Gardner during the process?

Mike: They are wonderful, aren’t they?

David and I weren’t in direct contact during the process. In fact, there were three degrees of separation. My only contact was with my editor, who relayed any comments I had about the illustrations to the art director, who then relayed them to David. This process makes sense when you think about it; the people at Albert Whitman were taking all the financial risks with SARAH so they need to be in control of the communication process.

After the book was done, however, David and I quickly got in touch. Even though we live on opposite ends of the country, he and I chat regularly. I’m proud to call him a friend.

Nancy: What are the top five things you are thankful for in your life?

  1. Family, of course
  2. My ability to make a living as a writer
  3. Good health
  4. Books
  5. Waffles

Nancy: And most importantly…What is your favorite kind of pie?

Mike:  Believe it or not, it’s pumpkin.

Nancy:  I think Sarah would approve.  Thanks, Mike, for sharing your insights on the process of creating a picture book, and for sharing this important story and amazing woman with all of us.

I think SARAH GIVES THANKS  would make an excellent addition to any elementary school classroom or library.  To order, click here!

Look for more Mike Allegra on his blog:  http://mikeallegra.com/ and Facebook page!  Mike makes my November gratitude list under the heading “people who make me laugh,”  and for that I’m very grateful.

Writing's hard work

ANNE FRANK’S CHESTNUT TREE; Interview with Children’s Author, Jane Kohuth

jane in tea room

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to author Jane Kohuth, who graciously answered my questions about her writing life.  But first, a big congratulations to  Jane on the release of her fourth book, ANNE FRANK’S CHESTNUT TREE.  Random House generously shared a copy with me so that I could pass it along to one of you! Winner will be chosen at random from among followers of this blog (thanks for following!).

annefrank

From the author’s website:

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Hidden away in their Secret Annex in Amsterdam during World War II, Anne Frank and her family could not breathe fresh air or walk under the blue sky for years. But through an attic window, Anne could see the branches of a tall chestnut tree. This small glimpse of nature gave Anne hope and courage. It inspired her writing, which in turn has inspired the whole world.

JANE SAYS This book has been the biggest writing challenge I’ve faced so far. How could I tell Anne Frank’s story for the youngest of independent readers? How could I honestly depict Anne Frank’s sadness, fear, and hope? For me, Anne’s devotion to nature, and in particular to the chestnut tree that grew outside the Secret Annex, was a way to delve into her story that I hadn’t seen before. I hope that I have done justice to Anne’s ideas and beliefs and that I’ve presented them in a way that is both truthful and accessible to young readers.
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I’m very impressed by the way that Jane was able to sculpt this heavy topic into something young kids could process.  I think it’s never too early to teach kids the power of hope!  Here’s what Jane has to say about being a reader and a writer:
NT: What was the first ‘favorite’ book you can remember?

JK: There is a “famous” story in my family about my preschool entrance interview (I was two-and-a-half at the time). My mother took me to meet the principal, and I introduced myself as Frances and my baby sister as Gloria. I was pretending, at the time, to be Frances the badger from the classic books by Russell Hoban. So the Frances books are the first favorites I remember (Bread and Jam for Frances in particular) and are still favorites of mine now. They are so true to children’s emotions and dilemmas at that age. They are quite a bit longer than most picture books published now, and yet generations of children have enjoyed them. I think we underestimate children’s ability to concentrate on longer stories these days.

NT: What’s your go-to genre when reading for pleasure now?
JK: I don’t have just one! I read across genres and age groups. I read children’s books for professional reasons, of course, to see what’s being published and to learn from the best, but I also read them because I love them. I read more fiction than non-fiction, though I have become a big fan of non-fiction picture books. I read board books through Young Adult literature, and I love realistic fiction, historical fiction, as well as some fantasy and science fiction. For my grown-up pleasure reading, I gravitate to literary fiction (favorites include Atonement by Ian McEwan, A History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood), and I like certain science fiction as well, in particular books by Connie Willis. I try to keep learning about my craft and about things that interest me, so I also read books about literature and writing, as well as non-fiction on topics that fascinate me.
NT:  Did you feel that things got “easier” after your first book was published in terms of finding publishing homes for the books that followed?  Is it like dominos, or does each book have to fight for its place in the world?
JK: It did get a little easier for a while after I received my first book contract. I had an agency interested in representing me at the time, and getting the contract was what it took for them to sign me. I then sold two more books fairly quickly. But even in a few short years, it seems like the publishing world has gotten ever more skittish about investing in writers who aren’t bestsellers out of the gate. Selling picture book texts, which is my area, is especially hard. And even when books come out, each one is definitely still fighting for its place. It would be lovely to reach the point where name recognition helps sell one’s new books, but I’m not there yet!
NT:  Now that you have gorgeous books to promote, what is your take on balancing time spent between marketing and writing new things?
JK:  Balance is hard. I wish I had some insightful advice for other writers dealing with this. My situation is a little different from some, because I also battle a chronic illness, which keeps me from having the kind of regular schedule I’d like, but in some ways I think it’s not so different from people who are trying to balance writing, marketing, and raising kids, for instance. What I’ve found is that I have to focus on marketing and publicity efforts around the time my books come out, and put new writing on hold for a bit. Writers are mostly on their own these days when it comes to promotion, so there’s pressure (internal at least) to do all you can for your books. I’ve tried to reach out online and in store and school visits. For my last book, the picture book Duck Sock Hop, I did dozens of sock hops and other school visits (with more still to come). That takes a lot of energy. I’ve also just started doing visits via Skype, which I think may be a great way to reach out to teachers outside my region and get them familiar with my books. On the bright side, meeting kids and seeing them interact with my books is very rewarding and helpful for me as a writer, and when I do get back to writing, I tend to be very eager, because I’ve been missing it!
NT:   You have a degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. (Wow, and cool!).  How has that influenced your writing life? Specifically, did your time in divinity school play a part in your desire to write your new book, ANNE FRANK’S CHESTNUT TREE?
JK:  Going to Harvard Divinity, where I got a master’s degree in theological studies (I wasn’t studying to be a minister or rabbi like many of the students) grew out of my undergraduate exploration of gender and religion in my writing. As an undergraduate at Brandeis, I majored in English and Creative Writing and also completed programs Women’s Studies and Jewish Studies. At the time I wrote primarily poetry, and I was exploring themes that I thought would benefit from further education in religion. My advisor recommended I reply to Harvard Divinity, for which I am grateful. I don’t know if I will ever have another intellectual experience so stimulating. Though my published children’s books have not dealt particularly with what I studied there, my education informs my worldview and how I approach my themes. I hope that I will be able one day to publish a book or books for young people that tackle the fascinating role that religion plays in our construction of gender. And my degree did play a role in my coming to write Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree.  Random House was looking for someone to write a book about Anne Frank for their Step Into Reading series and asked me to do it in part because of my background in Jewish history. I think that my background also drew me to Anne’s philosophy about nature and suffering, which plays a big role in the book.
NT:  Can you tell us a little bit about the interplay between your blog and your author website?  How did that transition happen, and would you encourage pre-published authors to carve out a little bit of cyber-space for themselves (i.e. in the form of a blog) before they have a need for an ‘author website’?
JK:  I created my blog at the same time I created my website. It was and is specifically intended to feed into the News and Events section of my website, so people don’t have to go to two different places to know what’s going on with me! I never intended it to be a daily or weekly blog, mainly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it. Instead, I wanted a place to let people know about new books, events I was planning, and to occasionally post about other topics that visitors to my website might find interesting.
      Before my first book came out I attended workshops about online marketing and tried to learn as much as I could, and found that people overwhelmingly recommended establishing an online presence even before publication and certainly afterward. Most people in the field seem to recommend that authors engage quite a lot online, and I might benefit from having a more regular blog and Twitter presence, but it comes down to priorities for me. I don’t have a particular knack for marketing or social networking, and so I think my time is better spent writing the best books I can. I don’t know that I have anything really good to say on a regular blog, but I do think I may have some great books in me! That said, I am on Facebook and Twitter (www.facebook.com/JaneKohuthAuthor) (@janekohuth), as well as Goodreads, so please do connect!  I invite everyone to visit my website (www.janekohuth.com), from which you can link to my other social media profiles and find out more about me and my books. I also do school visits and writing workshops, so if you’re a teacher, librarian,  or parent and that interests you, please visit the Author Visits section of my site.
      If you are pre-published, I’d say it would be a good idea to start reading other author blogs, checking out their websites, and following industry news. Read the Horn Book. Get Publishers Weekly’s free Children’s Bookshelf newsletter. Follow other people on Facebook and Twitter and chime in sometimes. If you think you have a niche that others would be interested in, or if you want the practice, or if you enjoy it, by all means blog!

NT:  Thanks, Jane, for your thoughtful responses.  Some of Jane’s earlier publications include DUCKS GO VROOM (Random House, 2011) and DUCK SOCK HOP (Dial, 2012), and ESTIE THE MENSCH (Random House 2011).  If you haven’t seen them, check them out!

estie_the_menschducksockhopducks_go_vroom


You can now order books signed and personalized by Jane through independent bookstore Wellesley Books! They will ship the books anywhere in the United States.  Click here to order.

You can find out more about Jane and her books all over the internet, including:

Her Blog:  Jane Says

Her Author website:  The Book Tree

Some other fun places:  Cynthia Leitich Smith, Picture Book Reviews, 5 Minutes for Books, and The Jewish Women’s Archive.

Happy reading!

Meet Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell: A KidLit Pearl!

A hearty welcome today to Hazel Mitchell, an award-winning author/illustrator with several new books to celebrate, including: ONE WORD PEARL (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge Publishing Fall 2013, Written by Nicole Groeneweg). Hazel has graciously taken time from her busy schedule to answer … Continue reading

Meet Author Ellen Booraem!

What a treat I have for you today, book lovers!  Allow me to introduce you to Ellen Booraem, and her wonderful (second) novel, Small Persons with Wings (they hate to be called fairies), from Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011.

My interest in middle grade fiction (loosely translated:  stories for kids in grades 3-6 , or ages 9-11) often has me pilfering books off of my daughter’s nightstand.   This book cover grabbed my interest immediately, and so did the story, which I read in two sittings.

Here’s what it’s about (from the author’s fantastic website, www.ellenbooraem.com):

“Thirteen-year-old Mellie Turpin once declared to her kindergarten class that she had a fairy living in her bedroom. But before she could bring him in for show-and-tell, he disappeared. Years later, she is still trying to live it down, taunted mercilessly by classmates who call her “Fairy Fat.”  Her imagination got her into this.  She’s determined to keep it turned off.  When her parents inherit an inn and the family moves to a new town, Mellie sees a chance to finally leave all that fairy nonsense behind. Little does she know that the inn is overrun with…you guessed it.  Oh brother. There’s no such thing as fairies, she keeps telling herself. And if there were, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. Right?”

What Ms. Booraem has created here is basically the opposite of a cloyingly sweet fairy story.  It does have wonderful elements of magical realism, but these fairies aren’t delicate.  In fact, they are quite a rowdy bunch.  Ellen graciously agreed to be interviewed about this story and her writing career.  Read on!

Nancy:  How did your writing career begin?

Ellen:  I got my first writing job a year after I graduated from college—in fact, it was at my college, which hired me to write and edit alumnae publications. I produced publications for colleges and corporations over the next ten years, then moved to Maine and started in as a reporter and editor for weekly newspapers. My last job—arts and special sections editor for the county weekly—was really my dream job, but I quit it at age 52 to write my first novel, The Unnameables. It was nuts—I’d written fiction on the side in my 20s and 30s, but for at least ten years I’d done nothing but my job. I’m incredibly lucky that it worked out.

Nancy:  In the beginning of Small Persons With Wings, Mellie Turpin discovers she has a Small Person (a fairy – but they hate to be called fairies) living with her.  Are Mellie’s experiences based on events in your own life?  Did you ever have an imaginary friend?

Ellen:  My imaginary friend was an alligator, useful mostly so I could berate people for stepping on him. Later on, though, my friend and I pretended that fairies lived in my front wall, and we decorated their houses with great care. One draft of SPWW described that wall as the Parvi’s home before they arrived in Mellie’s basement, but I ended up cutting that out.

Mellie is a lot like me, except that I was skinny rather than plump. I was an only child more comfortable with adults than kids, and I did experience some bullying, although nothing as horrible as what Mellie’s classmates did to her.

Nancy:  The fairies (sorry, SPWW) in your story are far from Disney-esque.  I love how irreverent they are!  I’ve never read about fairies having a penchant for bourbon before.  How did you come up with the idea for this particular set of Parvi Pennati?

Ellen:  After I quit my newspaper job, I replaced the newsroom camaraderie with an online private forum of Harry Potter fans. We did some silly role-playing, and I made up this hapless, overdressed fairy who lived in a pub chandelier. I loved her so much that I decided to write a book about her. The first image in my head was this poor disheveled lady sleeping in her chandelier with a nip bottle of bourbon beside her, surrounded by this decrepit pub. I started asking questions: Why is she alone in such an awful place? Why’s she such a mess? Why the bourbon? The book grew from the answers, some of which I found in Charlemagne legend.  I modeled their culture on 18th century France because I wanted them to be as foppish as possible.

(NT:  What a fun way for a story to be born.  And I just adore the word foppish!)

Nancy:  Mellie is the target of some bullying from her classmates.  This has been an age-old problem.

a) Why do you think it’s so much more prominent in our news now?

Ellen:  Seems to me everything gets more scrutiny nowadays, thanks to the electronic media and the internet. Where bullying is concerned, that’s all to the good. Incidents that used to be known only to a small group are now in everybody’s news feeds, and sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say. The most important message to kids is to tell an adult what’s going on—I never did, and I think the girls who bullied me would have gotten some attention and some help if I had.

 b)  Does your work with the Brooklin Youth Corps (a summertime self-esteem program for teenagers) specifically target anti-bullying topics?  Can you tell us more about the BYCorps in general?

Ellen: The BYC isn’t specifically targeted to bullying, although of course we’ve occasionally had to deal with it. My little town, Brooklin, had a problem with youthful vandalism in 1996, and it turned out the kids were on their own while their parents worked—they had nothing constructive to do all day. So the selectmen got a Community Development Block Grant to start the BYC. It’s run by a steering committee that I chair, with a hired coordinator in the summer. The program matches teens with homeowners who need chores done, transports and supervises them, and teaches them basic job skills like being on time, talking to a stranger, making eye contact, etc. We also tend a vegetable garden planted by school kids and sell the summertime harvest at a farmer’s market. The fall harvest goes into the school lunch program.

(NT:  Fun fact – Ellen lives and writes in the same small town in Maine where E.B. White lived when he wrote Charlotte’s Web).

Nancy:  Mellie is also obsessed with art history, Edgar Degas in particular.  Did you ever think about putting a “photo spread” in the book?  Or, would copyright red-tape have prohibited it? 

Ellen:  I did suggest including photos in the book, but my editor preferred that I put that stuff on my web site. So I did. (It’s here.) I suspect we would have had copyright problems with museums if we’d tried to publish some of the art. I got the web site photos from Wikipedia’s creative commons, so I guess I’m okay.

Nancy:  What kinds of books did you enjoy reading as a child?

Ellen:  I liked mysteries and fantasies, mostly. I loved Greek myths, anything that offered a supernatural explanation for everyday objects and events. My all-time favorite book was The Daughters of the Stars by Mary Crary, an obscure novel published in England in 1939. The premise is that the heavens are run by a bureaucracy in which women hold most of the power, although sometimes only behind the scenes.  The heroines are a ten(ish)-year-old girl and her mother,  who is luminary of two continents and therefore very influential. They have adventures traveling across the sky and under the sea, and are quite capable of taking care of themselves.

(NT:  I’m going to have to check that one out!)

Nancy:  What role, if any, has a critique group or partner played in your writing process?

Ellen:  I’ve been in a small, local critique group for seven or eight years, and it’s been hugely important. Not all the members are kidlit writers, or even fiction writers, but the feedback and the moral support have been a godsend.

Nancy:  Can you describe the process of finding the right agent for you?

Ellen:  I happen to live in an area that’s rife with creative types, so I pretty much used contacts. I think I sent only one cold query letter.  I was rejected, I think, three times. Then an acquaintance sent my book to his agent at Janklow & Nesbit in New York, and the agent passed it along to Kate Schafer, a colleague of his who was just starting out as an agent after several years spent handling foreign rights. I was very lucky: Kate took me on, and I stayed with her when she left to start her own agency. She eventually got married (she’s now Kate Schafer Testerman) and moved to Denver—the distance has proved to be no problem at all, thanks to email and the internet. Her agency is ktliterary.

Nancy:  What are you working on now?  

Ellen:  A third book, TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, is due out next August, again with Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers. One of the main characters is a banshee, so it’s essentially about death even though it’s funny. We’ll see how that goes over. I’m in the early stages of another book about a boy in the future who finds a junction between his world and an alternate past.  Nobody his age knows how to read, and he meets a girl from the alternate 17th century who is desperately trying to learn.  An alchemical pamphlet from her world endangers them both.

(NT:  Sounds exciting! Can’t wait to read both!)

Nancy: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Ellen: The advice I wish I’d followed decades ago: No matter how busy you are, sit down and write a little every day, even if it’s just for half an hour. A page a day ends up as 365 pages when a year is out, and that’s a lot better than the nothing you’ve written if you keep not doing it.

(NT:  Oooh, well put!)

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Thank you, Ellen, for your time and your insights.  I hope you will all check out Small Persons with Wings, and that you (and your kids) enjoy it as much as I did.

Happy Reading!