Author Archives: Michele Weber Hurwitz

Winner of Gracefully Grayson

Congratulations, Heather DiAngelis! You’ve won the copy of Gracefully Grayson, which will release on November 4.

gracefully graysonYou will be receiving an email from us shortly.

Thanks to all who entered!

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Today we are pleased to host Ami Polonsky on the Mixed-Up Files. She’s the debut author of Gracefully Grayson, releasing on November 4.

From Indie Bound: Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

Q: Welcome, Ami, and congrats on your debut middle grade novel! How would you describe Gracefully Grayson for those who haven’t yet heard of it?

A: Hi, Michele! Thank you so much for having me here on the Mixed-Up Files! Gracefully Grayson is a coming of age story about a transgender girl. Grayson was born into a boy’s body and the book chronicles her journey out of hiding and into plain sight. From a universal standpoint, it’s a story about having the bravery to be who you are, regardless of what others might think.

gracefully graysonQ: Tell us what inspired you to write this story.

A: My son and daughter were young when the idea for Gracefully Grayson came to me. It was the summer of 2011 and, until that point, I’d spent several years as a stay-at-home mom. I could often be found sitting (or lying) on the floor next to my mug of coffee, watching my kids play. We’ve always had a variety of toys in our house — from cars and trucks to dolls and balls — and I never noticed either my son or daughter gravitating toward stereotypically “male” or “female” toys. They both played with everything. I began to wonder just how much of a child’s gender identity was prescribed by the media and adults’ preconceived notions about how to raise a boy or girl. The idea that a child’s blossoming sense of self could be influenced by (potentially misguided) outside forces really bothered me. One of my goals as a parent has always been to raise children who see the world with an open mind. I couldn’t bear the thought of a young child whose true self was being squelched as their world tried to mold them into someone they weren’t, and Grayson’s character was born from that emotion.

Q: Is there a scene in the book that is your favorite?

A: I love when Grayson stumbles upon an envelope containing hints to her true identity. I’ve always been entranced by the idea that all the answers to somebody’s questions about their past could be tied up in a neat package that’s just waiting to be found.

Q: Can you share a favorite quote from the book?

A: “Well, I think to be brave, you have to be scared at the same time. To be brave means there’s something important you have to do and you’re scared, but you do it anyway.”

Q: Wow! So what are some books and authors that have inspired you?

A: The first book I ever loved and read over and over again was Autumn Street by Lois Lowry. I remember reading and re-reading certain passages because I was so impressed by the beauty of the language. Much of the book was, content-wise, over my head at the time, but I think that reading it taught me how beautiful language can be. As a teacher, I loved discussing Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech with my students. I’ll never forget when one of my sixth graders burst into tears when he realized that Sal’s mom had died. Walk Two Moons is a powerful model of an excellent book because the reader experiences the emotions around Sal’s revelations at the same time that Sal does. Creating this parallel experience between characters and readers is something that I strive to do in my own writing.

ami polonskyQ: Gracefully Grayson is your first novel. How was it to get “the call?”

A: Surreal, amazing, baffling…I still don’t think I’ve processed the fact that this is actually happening. I got “the call” on a beautiful October day. I was home with my daughter because she had a day off from preschool. We were in the living room, where she was building a pirate ship out of couch cushions, and my cell phone rang. I went to the kitchen to answer, and saw that it was my agent calling. She’d told me upfront that she always emails with bad news and calls with good news, but as the phone rang and rang, I still couldn’t make sense of why she would be calling me. My daughter was yelling for me to get back on the pirate ship (“the sharks are coming!”) and I was staring at my ringing phone. Finally, I picked up. The phone connection was kind of crackly, but I was able to make out something about “Hyperion” and “incredibly excited,” and the rest is history!

Q: What a great story! Are you working on a second book?

A: I am! It’s another middle grade novel, and it’s about very different characters and a very different situation. I’m really excited about it, but it’s still a baby, so I can’t say much about it just yet!

Q: Where do you like to write? Tell us about your writing routine.

A: When I wrote Gracefully Grayson, I had very little time to myself. About three mornings a week, I’d write at the library while both of my kids were in school. Now, my routine is different. My ideas for the book I’m currently working on come to me when I’m exercising. The combination of movement and listening to music allows me to visualize the next chapter and feel the emotions that need to be conveyed. I take notes as I exercise, and then, the next morning, I write that portion of the book. What could be better — exercise and writing ideas, all in one fell swoop! (And it’s nice to have some serious motivation to climb onto the elliptical every day!)

Q: You’ve been a teacher and literacy coach. Did those experiences help you write a novel for middle grade readers?

A: I never would have become a writer if I weren’t first a middle school Language Arts teacher. From 2001-2006, I taught reading and writing to fifth and sixth graders at Onahan Elementary School in Chicago, and I taught my reading lessons through novels. I had discussion groups going on in each of my four classes, so on any given day, I was discussing up to sixteen middle grade novels with my students. Needless to say, I became very familiar with lots of great books. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the plot structure, pacing, and thematic constitution of the middle grade novel were being burned into my mind. When I eventually sat down to write, I was able to call upon this knowledge and understanding.

Q: Now for the fun stuff! Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Do you have any pets? What’s your best childhood memory?

A: Sunday afternoon…that would be my daughter’s soccer practice. I’m a fan of just about any flavor of ice cream, but given the choice, I will always pick a combination of peanut butter and chocolate. I have a big, deaf, arthritic sixteen-year old mutt named Winnie. She was my first baby and she’s Superdog — I think she might live forever.

And my best childhood memory… One winter when I was about ten, I went skiing with my family.  My parents sent me to ski lessons and I was mad and nervous because I was a shy, timid kid. I was also a very cautious skier. I met a girl named Christy in my ski class, and she was really brave and daring on the slopes. Something about the situation allowed me to crack out of my shell. I remember barreling down the slopes with Christy, trying to “catch air” off of moguls. It was crazy — I was being who I wanted to be, but who I typically wasn’t able to be. I think it’s an important memory because it shows that if the conditions are right, even a timid child can step out of her comfort zone and do something bold.

Thanks, Ami, for visiting today! We’re giving away one copy of Gracefully Grayson. Please enter on the Rafflecopter link below. One random winner will be chosen. Find Ami on Twitter @amipolonsky and visit her site at amipolonsky.com.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books 2014) and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011). Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

 

Finding it difficult to focus? Join the club

Lately I’ve noticed my focus has been a little, well, um…wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. I’ve noticed my focus has been somewhat…how to put it…GONE. Actually, I’ve become constantly unfocused. Anyone with me here?

At first I chalked it up to summer, a houseful of noisy kids, my aging brain…but then I read about a syndrome called “continuous partial attention.” And it turns out I — and probably you — have it.

On Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day? Liking and posting and sharing never-ending content? Checking your phone every few minutes for texts, emails, Instagram photos? Watching way too many videos online? You know you are not alone.

Call it social media overload or living in a virtual reality — researchers say that people today are finding it increasingly difficult to focus on tasks because of chronic and constant interruptions from screens.

social media overloadNot good for a writer. Not exactly good for anyone.

According to a recent article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, we sprint through our days in a state of super-charged distraction and it’s taking a toll on our brains. In one study I read, workers stopped the task they were doing because of a screen disruption every three minutes.

Writers especially need quiet contemplation in order for ideas to form and gel. Time when nothing is beeping, beckoning, begging for our attention. Not quite conducive to today’s world, is it?

Desperate times, as it is said, call for desperate measures. My focus was floating somewhere out there and I needed to get it back. Who else to turn to but my fellow writers? I texted, posted, sent messages (and yes, I am fully aware of the irony here), pleading for help. What are your secrets, I asked, for avoiding the evil temptress of the Internet in order to get in some focused writing time?

Now I realize, some of these suggestions may seem radical, but I’ve compiled them here because I have been assured they really work. (Disclaimer: If you choose to try one of these, you are proceeding at your own risk.)

1. Accidentally “misplace” your phone. Some excellent places to “lose” it include: the bottom of a laundry basket full of smelly socks, under the sofa, somewhere in the backyard, under a seat in a friend’s minivan. Preferably one with fast food remnants and candy wrappers.

2. Journey to a remote mountainous location with no WiFi, cell towers, or sign of human life, and write. Siberia works, but a tree house will do in a pinch.

3. Give yourself a one-hour challenge. Set a timer and write for one hour without checking any electronic device. This will be similar in nature to detox so be prepared. Drink a lot of water.

4. Let a baby borrow your phone. (They need to text too.) Within minutes, it is guaranteed you will have no Internet connection.

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5. Find WiFi free zones in which to write. Suggestions include the beach, a canoe, while skydiving, or on a roller coaster, preferably while upside down.

6. Walk and dictate into an ancient device found in antique shops and on archeological digs: a tape recorder. An added bonus here is that people will stay far away, believing you are a lunatic.

7. Write while walking on a treadmill, with all electronic devices stowed in another room. Do not get off until you’ve written one thousand words.

8. Pile up any and all devices, put them in your car, and park it around the block. Walk back to your writing space and go.

9. Give your Smartphone to a teenager so he/she can install all updates and add a variety of cool, new apps you’ve never heard of. You will not be able to figure anything out when it is returned to you.

10. Find Thoreau’s cabin in the woods. Knock.

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Good luck, fellow writers. May the focus be with you.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold. She will check her Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz when she returns from Siberia. In the meantime, find her virtually at micheleweberhurwitz.com.