Author Archives: Amie Borst

Swing Sideways!

 

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Swing Sideways is a story about love, friendship, and hope that takes place when two girls meet at the exact moment when they need each other the most. They quickly develop a friendship that will rival that of Tom and Huck, Jess and Leslie, or Charlotte and Wilbur. It is a book that will make you want to call your best friend, then go out and pick a basketful of wild berries and dip your toes in the cool water of a creek. It is a book that will show you how your life can change in one instant when the truth of a well kept secret is revealed. School Library Journal said, “This is a summer neither Annabel nor readers will ever forget.”

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Amie: Welcome to The Mixed-Up Files, Nancy! We’re so glad to have you hear today and learn more about you and your books. What lead you to become a children’s author? And why middle-grade books?

Nancy: When I was four we lived in England. Our neighbor gave me a vinyl record of Vivien Leigh (think Scarlett O’Hara) narrating the story of Peter Rabbit. I played that record over and over so many times, my older brother broke it in two so he didn’t have to listen anymore. (I have since forgiven him). Within minutes (like as soon as I stopped crying) I asked my mother to write down a story I wanted to tell, because I knew that by creating it myself, no one could take it away. I wrote my first “novel” when I was nine, and still have it, complete with crayon drawings of a wild horse. That same year, I read Black Beauty and when I closed it after reading the last page, I knew I would become an author someday.

It is such an honor to write for middle grade readers. Try this: ask an adult what their favorite book was when they were a kid. Don’t specify age. Nine times out of ten, they will give you the name of a book they read between the ages or 8 – 13. Why? Because those are the books that make or break us as readers. How awesome is it to be the author who changes a child’s life that way?

Another major factor for me was because I wanted to be able to teach kids about writing, and encourage them to tap into their own creativity. I can do this through presenting workshops in schools and libraries, which is something that makes my heart swing sideways.

Amie: Wow! Older brothers can be tough like that, can’t they? Admittedly, so can moms. I remember when my children would insist on listening to a song or watching the same movie repeatedly, I’d hide the cd or dvd so I wouldn’t have to endure it just “one more time.” I know, I know. *hangs head in shame*

I love that you recognize how important middle-grade books are and their lasting impact on readers. Why are you the perfect person to tell Annabel’s story in Swing Sideways?

Nancy: Annie is a dreamer who was being stuffed into a mold by outside influences (Mom, Dad, teachers, school friends, Tommy, a resort community, etc). In order for Annie to discover who she truly is as a person, and in order for her to have the strength and courage to break free and fly solo, the person who told her story had to know how it felt to be her from the inside. There had to be a friend like California to give her “permission” to be herself, to accept her for who she was and not what someone else wanted her to be, to show her how it looked to march to her own beat. We all need a California in our lives at that age. Perhaps part of Swing Sideways was written out of my need to go back and change some of the things I didn’t like about myself at that time in my own life, and who else can do that but me?

Amie: Change has to come from within. It’s important for readers to recognize that at every age. If you could visit any place on earth where would it be?

Nancy: Scotland. I know that probably sounds unimaginative to some, but my ancestors come from Scotland. There is a remarkable story about one of them, Robert St. Clair, who, as a little boy, was kidnapped by gypsies and taken by ship . . . oh, wait, I can’t tell you that story just yet. Anyway, I am now living in the place where I was always meant to be, so I would love to see some of the old castles and craggy cliffs and shores of Scotland where part of my family’s history originates.

Amie: I think that would be an incredible place to visit! Last question, Nancy. It’s an important one so pay attention. Mashed potatoes and gravy or rice and beans?

Nancy: Totally mashed potatoes and gravy. And, if I’m not feeling too terribly fat, a nice big pat of sweet cream butter between the potatoes and the gravy would be like digging in to a piece of Heaven.

Amie: I’m suddenly very hungry. Maybe I’ll cook up some…*focus, Amie, focus!* Oh, I mean, thanks for joining us here at The Mixed-Up Files, Nancy!

 

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Nanci Turner Steveson writes for middle grade readers and is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She studied under the mentorship of award winning authors Kathi Appelt, Patty Lee Gauch, and Bethany Hegedus.

At home in Wyoming, Nanci is on the Board of Directors of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, and is the Teen Creative Writing Instructor at the Teton County Library in Jackson Hole. She works as a Stage Manager for Off Square Theatre Company, with her heart tied closest to the annual Youth Musical Production. One of Nanci’s greatest ambitions is to work with kids and inspire them to become two-fisted readers, like herself, and allow their own creativity to soar through the beauty of creative writing.

A life-long horse girl, Nanci lives in a historic meadow cabin in the shadow of the Teton mountains with two horses, two dogs, and an assortment of elk, moose, great gray owls and the occasional black bear who wander down from the national forest outside her back door. After a profound experience in 2009, Nanci is dedicated to getting books into the hands of homeless people, especially in shelters that house children, through her Literacy for Hope Project.

Swing Sideways (HarperCollins), Nanci’s debut novel has received stellar reviews from important publications and was launched in May, 2016. Her second novel, Georgia Rules, is scheduled for publication May 2, 2017. She is represented by Al Zuckerman, the founder of Writers House, LLC. www.writershouse.com, and can also be reached through her website at www.nanciturnersteveson.com

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Would you like to win a copy of Swing Sideways? Well, all you have to do is fill out the rafflecopter form and you’re automatically entered!

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Amie Borst is the author of Cinderskella, Little Dead Riding Hood, and the soon-to-be-released, Snow Fright. You can find her on twitter, facebook, and her website.

Super Gear and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day WINNERS!

Congratulations to Mia Wenjen! You’ve won a copy of SUPER GEAR by Jen Swanson!

Congratulations to Greg Pattridge! You’ve won a copy of MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY by John David Anderson!

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Thanks so much for supporting middle-grade books and all of us here at The Mixed-Up Files!

John David Anderson’s Ms. Bixby’s Last Day

I had the pleasure of meeting John David Anderson in Washington state this past March. We were part of a group event of seventeen authors presenting to over 900 students at Columbia Basin College for the Cavalcade of Authors.

John David and I chatted at a group dinner one night and when he mentioned Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, I knew I had to read it and share it will all of you here at The Mixed-Up Files. Shortly after my return from Washington, a copy of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day was in my mailbox and I devoured this heartfelt story in a short matter of time. Don’t make the same mistake I did though – make sure you have a box of tissues handy.

 

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Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.

Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

“A smart, funny, and ultimately moving novel.” Booklist, Starred Review

Amie: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files! It’s great to have you here. My daughter is a huge fan of your book, Sidekicked, and to say I loved Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is an understatement. What was your inspiration for Ms. Bixby’s Last Day? How is it different (or the same) than your previously published books?

John David: My wife is a teacher. My mother’s a teacher. I spent seven years teaching. My kids have teachers. Teachers are, like, everywhere. Though to be honest, Bixby started out more as narrative challenge than a tribute to educators. Ms. Bixby began more as catalyst than character, a way for me to explore the dynamic between the three protagonists. But as the novel evolved (meaning, as I wrote and revised the darn thing), I realized the profound impact she had on each of their lives and she became the hero of sorts.

In many ways Bixby is a departure from my other work. There are no superheroes, dungeons or swords. Nothing explodes (except tempers). It’s probably as realistic a novel as I’m bound to put out (minus the shark in the toilet). At the same time, I see it as a continuation of many of the themes I’ve explored in other novels. Kids coming of age, navigating the complex and often heartbreaking adult world, learning that their role models are fallible. Realizing that, even at a young age, they can have an impact. Plus it’s funny. Parts of it still make me laugh out loud—and I know the punchlines going in.

Amie:  Ms. Bixby is absolutely a hero. And the shark in the toilet. He’s not a hero, but yeah. I know what you’re saying about laugh out loud! What was your favorite – or your worst – part about writing a story with three points of view? Of your three main characters, Topher, Brand, and Steve who was your favorite to write? Which  was the most difficult and why?

John David: I enjoy writing in first person precisely because it gives me more opportunity to explore narrative voice in detail. And three narrators just means triple the exploration—so much potential for creativity. Of course all of my narrators inevitably sound like me a little bit (they have my sense of humor, I think), so the biggest challenge was differentiation. In that respect, Steve was the easiest and hardest—his voice seems the most unique to me, so I enjoyed drafting his chapters as an imaginative exercise, but it’s also the one that required the most revision and fine-tuning because it didn’t come as naturally.

I’m not sure I have a favorite. Brand carried the story for me—I think his voice was always the one telling me what should happen next. I’d wake up in the morning and Steve and Topher would be yapping at each other about whatever, but Brand kept me on task, reminded me that there was important stuff to deal with. That said, Topher hews closest to how I was when I was young—little kid, big imagination, hoping to get noticed.

Amie:  I definitely understand the yapping characters. Why must they do that? All right, now this question is really important. White chocolate raspberry cheesecake or McDonald’s french fries?

John David: Heart attack or even quicker heart attack? Gah, they are both so good. Ask me at age 12 and it’s the french fries, no contest, with some fries on the side. But in adulthood I’ve cultivated more of the sweet-craving tastebuds, so I’m going to go cheesecake. Plus it has raspberries. That makes it healthy.

Amie: I’m glad I don’t have to choose! Serve me both, please! Last question. In Ms. Bixby’s Last Day the boys try to give their teacher her last day.  How would you spend your last day?

John David: I’d spend most of it with family and friends. There would definitely be binge eating (so much chocolate). And none of it would be good for me. And I would want to spend the day out in nature. In the woods. By the ocean. Somewhere where I could marvel at the wonder of the indifferent-but-still-amazing universe. I would have everyone come with a line from their favorite book or movie or play. Something witty or reflective or profound to read out loud. Or maybe just a joke to bust my gut. I would want to laugh. Laughter makes everything go down easier.

At some point, though, I would have to excuse myself and go write something. A letter. An epitaph. A dirty limerick. Just so I could say that I got the last word.

Amie: Sounds like a wonderful last day to me. The only thing I’d add to it is music. There must be great music. Thanks for joining us at The Mixed-Up Files, David!

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John David Anderson is the author of Sidekicked, Minion, Standard Hero Behavior, The Dungeoneers and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. He lives with his patient wife and brilliant twins in Indianapolis, Indiana, right next to a State park and a Walmart. He refuses to wear neckties but will wear sandals in the snow. He enjoys hiking, reading, chocolate, spending time with his family, playing the piano, chocolate, making board games, chocolate, superhero movies, singing badly, and chocolate. He spends at least three minutes a day trying to move objects with his mind.

 

I can’t say enough good things about Ms. Bixby’s Last Day or how John David manages to make a serious topic entertaining. This book should be required reading for every teacher, student, and parent. So, if you’d like a copy for yourself or know a teacher who’d love to add it to their classroom library be sure to enter the giveaway below. You might just be our lucky winner!

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Amie Borst is the author of Cinderskella, Little Dead Riding Hood, and the forthcoming, Snow Fright. All three books are part of her middle-grade fairytale retelling series, Scarily Ever Laughter.