Indie Spotlight: Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville NC

malaprop's logo #2Independent bookstores are undoubtedly one of the most hopeful things  going for writers and readers today.  With special pleasure this month we feature Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe (www.malaprops.com) which spoke up and pushed back pushed back in North Carolina this spring.  We are talking today with store owner Linda-Marie Barrett.malaprop's front #1
MUF:
During the recent controversy over gender laws in your state, you appealed to authors and businesses not to boycott bookstores as part of their protest. Was the response encouraging? What role do you think bookstores like Malaprops can play in shaping independent and inclusive outlooks, particularly in the young?
Linda-Marie:After our open letters to authors, published in Shelf Awareness, in which we urged authors not to boycott us, we received very encouraging and supportive letters and phone calls from authors, publishers and other booksellers. Independent bookstores like Malaprop’s Malaprop's Thanksare often the only space in communities where controversial ideas are discussed. Independent bookstores are guardians of freedom of expression. We host authors and carry books that nurture inclusivity and awareness of different ways of being in the world.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.   What do you want people, especially young people, to experience when they visit? malaprop's interior #2
Linda-Marie: We hope most to be welcoming, inspiring and safe. We want to be a place where people relax when they enter our doors, find their next great read, laugh at some of our silly gift items, and engage with our booksellers and learn something new. We love our young readers and encourage them to find books that open their minds and their hearts and spark imagination.

MUF: What’s a good day at Malaprops?
Linda-Marie: Every day is a good day, but the best day for me is when I have a conversation with a customer malaprop's languagesand learn something from them that I can apply in my own life. I love when matching readers with books that might change their lives, or at the very least, bring a smile and a lightness to their hearts.

MUF: Malaprop’s is a relatively small shop. How do you decide what titles to carry and feature at your store?
Linda-Marie: We are not small for an independent bookstore, but we are very selective about what we bring in. We purchase based on what our customers have loved in the past, what we see being favorably reviewed in media we respect, and according to our tastes, too. We carry all of the favorite books of our staff. We also look for those special books that readers won’t find anywhere else. We like to surprise and delight our customers.Malaprop's Mr. PuffballMalaprop's League of Seven

MUF: As middle -grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old and new, fiction and nonfiction, you find yourself recommending to ages 8-12 these days? Linda-Marie: I love Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars by Constance Lombardo, and The League of Seven by Alan Gratz. Lombardo and Gratz are local authors whose reads have a lot of heart, humor, and imagination. Lombardo illustrated Mr. Puffball and her drawings are hilarious!

MUF: Does Malaprop’s have any activities or events coming up in July or August that would be of particular interest to middle-graders? Malaprop's Harry potter
Linda-Marie: Our big event will be the Harry Potter midnight release party. Too much fun!

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit your store, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could have lunch or snacks after shopping?
Linda-Marie: We are fortunate to be surrounded by family friendly restaurants. Great places to eat are Early Girl, Laughing Seed, Tupelo Honey, and Loretta’s.Malaprop's interior #1

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for talking with us, Linda-Marie.  Readers, have you been  to Malaprop’s or think you’d like to visit?  Please add your comments.

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story–Nora Raleigh Baskin Interview and Giveaway

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I’m thrilled to welcome author Nora Raleigh Baskin to From the Mixed-Up Files. Today is the release date of her newest novel, Nine, Ten: A September 11 Storywhich has already received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Nora about her work as a writer. Read on for the interview, as well as more about her, the novel, and how you could win an autographed copy!

 

When did you first get the idea to write about September 11, and how long did it take you to determine what you wanted to say about the event?

Well, I don’t know that I had anything specific to “say,” and certainly not to “teach” about the event, other than I wanted to re-create the moment it happened, or more precisely, the hours just before it happened. My goal for this book was to raise questions, rather than present answers. Of course, I’m human and I have my own perceptions and biases, but I try very, very hard not to use my characters that way.

My interest in writing about 9/11 was to write about “change.” I wanted to show the world we knew before, and the world after. There are many events in our collective American history so profound, they altered everything we knew, or thought we knew, to be true. I could have chosen any number of them; Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the sinking of the Lusitania — moments when our innocence (or naiveté) was lost. I chose the one I remembered, the one I had actually experienced.

Did you plan from the beginning to have four narrators or is that something that evolved once you started writing?

Interesting question because yes, in fact, I had the structure before I had anything else. I was watching a movie called Bobby, about the day before Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel. When that happened, in 1968, I was seven years old, too young to understand what ended that day, but I grew up in a culture that was forever altered.

The movie follows several unconnected characters (except that they all find themselves in that same Los Angeles hotel) and each story reveals something about the specific time period in which they all live; feminism, racism, the drug culture, and of course, the political landscape.

In Nine, Ten I worked very hard to do the same thing with each of my four characters, but in a way that requires work on the part of my readers. For example, Naheed clearly foreshadows the bigotry Muslim Americans faced after 9/11. Aimee is in the story to represent all the It-would-have-been-me-but (fill in the blank) stories that came out of that day. Sergio’s story touches on the first responders, because no one can talk about 9/11 without thinking about those dedicated men and women. But the very hardest to connect was Will’s section, against the context of Flight 93 and the passengers that rose up against the hijackers. I wanted to speak to the concept of bravery and heroism, which is not a cut and dry, black and white, either or, issue.

I want my readers to think, and come to their own conclusions. I expect my readers to tax their brains a little when they read a book of mine.

The movie, Bobby, never hits you over the head with its agenda (although I am balling my eyes out when its over), but allows the everyday stories of everyday people to reveal themselves as profound. It was powerful, and I was so terribly excited to try and attempt the same thing in a written work.

P.S. If I had known how hard it was going to be, I might not have tried!

Without giving the ending away, how soon after getting the idea for the novel did you know how your narrators would finally cross paths?

Ah, another interesting question. No, I never thought they would cross paths again, until … well, I got to the end. It was so overwhelming, my own need for hope and redemption, that the ending was almost forced on me. I knew, as I was writing it, that there was a sentimental factor, but it felt right. And everyone I showed it to agreed. So it stayed. The ending truly sprang from my heart.

Another P.S. As unlikely as it may seem that four people who never know each other cross paths more than once in their lives, it is an idea I am fascinated by, and I believe happens much more than we ever realize. Kurt Vonnegut even invented a word for it in Cat’s Cradle.

Karass: A group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident.

On your website, you mention that your writing is a vehicle of sorts for your own self-discovery and healing. How did writing this novel facilitate that discovery and healing?

Well, I cried a lot while I was researching this story. I had no idea how close to the surface these memories were, and how unprocessed they still are. I imagine that will be true for many of us who are old enough to remember (of course, my young readers were not yet born.) Because of this, none of my main characters lose anyone during the course of the book. As my editor said, there is enough loss in the premise itself.

It’s funny, or maybe not so funny, but as I get older I find myself reaching past self-discovery and my own need to heal my personal story, and out to the world at large. My kids are grown, my life is now stable and safe, and lord knows I’ve mined my family history plenty, so now I sense a greater, larger family.

What I mean is that I finally feel whole enough, to start telling the stories of other—not so autobiographical—characters. The healing that happens now is in discovering how connected we humans are. We are truly more alike than we are different, and I see this as the path my writing journey is now taking me.

You’ve published consistently since your first book in 2001. Were there ever any times when the writing didn’t flow or the ideas didn’t come so readily? If so, what got you back on track?

Ha! No, the writing always comes. It’s the publishing that doesn’t always flow so easily. 🙁

Can you tell us two of your best writing tips?

If I have to give only two … I’d say: Write from your heart. Every story has already been told, but no one can tell your story.

And … Finish what you start. You never know if your story is good or not, until you’ve finished that sucky first draft and get to work on revising.

So finish. There is so much learning from just doing that!

IMG_0646 (1)Nora Raleigh Baskin is the author of thirteen novels for young readers and has won several awards including the 2010 ALA Schneider Family Book Award for Anything But Typical. She has taught creative writing to both children and adults for over fifteen years with organizations such as SCBWI, The Unicorn Writers Conference, Gotham Writers Workshop, and The Fairfield County Writers’ Workshop. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Good news! Nora has generously offered an autographed copy of the novel to raffle off to one lucky winner who shares this post on Facebook or Twitter. Read about the novel and how to win it below.

nine tenAsk anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined.

Tell me in the comments section where you shared by Thursday, June 30 at midnight. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, July 2. (Continental U.S. only, please.)

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day (Simon and Schuster/Aladdin) released this month and is available wherever books are sold. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/

Exploring a word that sometimes gets a rotten rep: middle

1114537406586n57I thought I would explore the word middle just a bit. After all, this is a blog about middle grade books. There’s a lot of stuff middle that just gets a bum rap or just seems, by its very essence, problematic.

You know, like middle school. Middle children. The Middle Ages.

Let’s first get to the origin of the word middle. According to the website membean.com, the word comes from the Latin root word medi. And medi has given birth to loads of words like mediocre, medium, and medieval.

In my opinion, all words with some bad associations.

Mediocre—This means not bad not good. Pretty blah. And according to the Oxford Dictionaries comes from the “Latin mediocris ‘of middle height or degree’.”

Medium—Which means the center of things. And medium isn’t one of those words that’s all bad. But it does seem kind of boring. You don’t want you steak rare, or well done but medium. It seems very sensible but blah. But then there’s psychic mediums who get into the center of spiritual spaces and relay messages. Kind of cool. And there’s medium as an instrument, like words. Hey, I’m liking medium—how about you?

Medieval—No forks during this time a pest problem, and it was known as the Dark Ages. But today, historians are less bleak about this period. In fact, historians want to call it the medieval period versus the Middle Ages since they don’t want to imply that it was something not so impressive wedged between two more impressive eras. However, this seems like a silly PR job to me as medieval basically just means the Middle Ages! Why the fear over the word middle, folks? Really. It’s not all that bad.

Personally, I’m enjoying the wisdom and the self-confidence of being middle aged. I’m not longer so young that I don’t know who I am, but I’m not closed off to new experiences. I no longer care so much what others think. I’m not longer working so hard at being impressive. When I was younger, I used to never go anywhere without popping in my contacts. And I’d wear them forever, even if it meant a corneal abrasion. These days I’m perfectly content with my glasses, thank you very much. I’m myopic and if someone doesn’t want to befriend me because I’m bespectacled then it’s his or her loss.

You see, the space between is perfect; it’s not too high or too low, neither hot nor cool. I mean there’s a reason why Goldilocks liked Baby Bear’s soup the best!

And a mediator is someone who is in the middle of a conflict yet helps to solve it.

Don’t we value someone who jumps right into the middle of things and takes action? You know they take immediate action.

So maybe that’s why I love reading and writing middle grade fiction. It’s that space between younger forms of fiction and young adult. It’s a transitional place, and that implies dynamic change, a place of learning. And yes, sometimes the middle zone gets overlooked or disparaged. But these days, I’ve got thick skin, and don’t worry about it.

To me the between place is a place of magic, a space to pause to try something new, a place that invites the imagination. A place where a child’s sense of selfhood expands, where true independence begins.

I’m so glad to be a middle-aged woman, writing middle grade books. But I must confess to being happy that I’m not living in the Middle Ages!

How do you feel about the word middle?

Hillary Homzie is the author of the newly released Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.