Category Archives: Authors

Model Undercover: New York Giveaway

This month, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky released the second book in former fashion model Carina Axelsson’s Model Undercover series: Model Undercover: New York. Model/teen super sleuth Axelle Anderson returns to solve a new mystery in New York City.

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Axelle is an ace at two things: solving mysteries and modeling. So when the world’s most famous black diamond is stolen from a cover shoot in New York City, it’s no surprise that Axelle is called in to work her skills as an undercover model. But with a witness who won’t talk, a blackmailing thief, and an agent intent on filling Axelle’s schedule with interviews and photo shoots, will she be able to crack the case?

Carina Axelsson is a writer, illustrator, and former model. She grew up in California with her Swedish father and Mexican mother. After high school, Carina moved to New York City to model, then on to Paris where she published her first book. She currently lives in in the forests of Germany with four dogs and a very large aquarium full of fish. Learn more about Carina and her books at www.CarinaAxelsson.com.

Enter to win a copy of Model Undercover: New York via Rafflecopter below:
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Julie Artz spent her young life sneaking into wardrobes hoping to make it to Narnia. Now that she’s a bit older, people think that’s sort of creepy, so she write stories for her middle grade-aged children instead. Read more about her on her blog, TerminalVerbosity.com.

Interview with Caroline Starr Rose, Author of Blue Birds

Today we are lucky to have an interview with acclaimed author Caroline Starr Rose, whose newest book, Blue Birds, comes out in March. Blue Birds is a story of forbidden friendship told against the backdrop of England’s first settlement in the Americas — Roanoke, the colony that failed. It is a novel in verse told by Alis, a twelve-year-old English settler, and Kimi, a Roanoke girl. The author is offering a special gift to those who pre-order this beautiful book by January 19th. See below for more information.

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Caroline Starr Rose was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B., which was an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book and received two starred reviews. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping by the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She has taught social studies and English and worked to instill in her students a passion for books, an enthusiasm for experimenting with words, and a curiosity about the past. She lives in New Mexico. Visit her at carolinestarrrose.com.

You have wonderful writing resources on your website, and are so encouraging of other writers. Can you tell us about your own path to publication?

Thank you! I’m happy to hear it. My own path to publication was a long and winding one. I started writing seriously the summer of 1998. I was teaching at the time. My husband was in seminary, and we didn’t yet have children. A whole, empty summer stretched before me. It felt like it was time to get serious about the writing I’d dreamed about forever.

Just a few weeks before school ended I’d shown my students a video about Roald Dahl. He talked about his everyday commitment to sit with his work for two hours, whether he had something to say or not. He also stopped mid-scene so it would be easier to get to work the next day. These two things felt doable, so I dug in.

That summer left me with a horrible first draft — a middle-grade novel about the Oregon Trail. It also set me up for a pattern I followed for years: drafting in the summer, revising and mailing out queries during the school year.

Truly, I spent years trying to figure things out on my own, largely stumbling around in the dark. I didn’t join SCBWI until 2004 (though years later I found I’d written notes to myself about looking into it). I knew no one else trying to get published. This was the era before blogs. At times it was pretty lonely.

May B. (2012), my first published novel, was actually novel number 4. The publication process was not smooth sailing (you can read about it here, on my blog: http://carolinestarrrose.com/plowing-planting-hoping-dreaming/), but everything worked out beautifully in the end. The journey has been challenging, but a blessing in a lot of respects.

What writers influenced you?

Katherine Patterson. Laura Ingalls Wilder. L.M. Montgomery. Lloyd Alexander. Beverly Clearly. Gary Paulsen. Norton Juster.

Do you have a favorite quote on writing?

My friend J. Anderson Coats shared this with me (she’d heard it from author Elizabeth Bear): “Learn to write this book.” This little phrase has been so liberating. I tend to be a rule follower; if I read about a way I’m “supposed” to write, I’ll feel guilty if it doesn’t work for me. I find each book needs to find its own way. I don’t ever approach the process the same way twice. Realizing my round-about, inefficient approach can be what’s best for this particular book at this particular time has been really, really validating.

Blue Birds cover high res

What inspired you to write Blue Birds?

In 2008 I was teaching fifth-grade social studies. We’d gotten to those textbook paragraphs about Roanoke. Reading about the Lost Colony along with my students, I remembered the fascination I’d felt the first time I’d encountered the story: 117 missing people. The word CROATOAN the only clue left behind. I knew I wanted to dig deeper.

As stories often do, the characters circled back to my own experiences, namely my time as a young girl returning to the US after living in Saudi Arabia and later coming home after being an exchange student. In many ways I was a stranger in a strange land. I wanted to really examine those feelings — the fascination, the difference, the distance with what was once familiar, even — in my characters Alis and Kimi.

Tell us about the cover and how it came to be.

When my editor told me Penguin’s art director had Italian twin sisters Anna and Elena Balbusso in mind [to do the cover], I raced over to their website (http://www.balbusso.com/) and was absolutely blown away. I wasn’t sure how they would depict the girls and worried only Alis might make it to the cover (Kimi only wears a skirt — not exactly something you see on your average mid-grade novel!). Thankfully, they understood the story belonged to both girls and wanted to show their equality and unity in the way they were portrayed.

The Balbussos asked if I wanted a color theme. I chose coral and blue, to reflect the coloring of the eastern bluebird. You’ll notice the bird the girls are holding isn’t colored. It’s a wooden representation of the bluebird. The wooden bird and the eastern bluebird become symbols of their friendship. So really, there are three bluebirds on the cover — the carving, Kimi, and Alis.

May B. was inspired by the American frontier and the Little House books. Blue Birds is also historical fiction, about the first English settlers in Roanoke. How do you find inspiration to create these real and relatable characters who live in times very different from ours?

Thank you so much for saying they are real and relatable. Without this, historical fiction isn’t accessible, I think. I always start with the era and immerse myself in reading. But I then come back to feelings. They are what unite us over the ages. Though experiences, responsibilities, and life expectations are so very different now than at other times, our emotional responses are largely the same: fear, sadness, curiosity, loneliness. If I can draw on these things, I can truly meet my characters…and then share them with readers.

Do you travel to research?

I haven’t yet, but I want to! I’m hoping this is the summer it will happen. Up to this point, my “travel” has largely consisted of YouTube videos on repeat.

Tell us a bit about your writing process. Are you an outliner? Do you use notecards or a writing program like Scrivener?

I keep a journal for each book, full of notes, questions, and sketchy ideas that become my starting place. I best fit the “ploster / pantster” definition — someone who knows a few key turning points and has a pretty good sense of character and setting before digging in. Honestly, drafting is angst-inducing. The something from nothing phase is really hard for me.

Scrivener and I aren’t friends. I really tried and wanted to love it, but it didn’t work for me.

Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions?

Blue Birds was really, really hard for me on many levels. So I started wearing pearls. :) Everyday. With jeans. With sweats. With dressy clothes. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to feel some sort of connection with Alis and Kimi. I’m not sure if it worked, but they felt close and I felt close to the story, even when I wasn’t working on it.

Do you hear from readers much? What kinds of things do they say that are rewarding or surprising?

I love hearing from readers! Just the fact they’ve taken time to contact me is meaningful. And to hear people have connected with my characters is especially dear. Probably the most rewarding interactions I’ve had have been with dyslexic readers who have found courage and dignity in May’s story. These letters bring me to tears.

BB PDF pic for blog posts

This post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of the book Blue Birds. Author Caroline Starr Rose is giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19. Simply click through to order from AmazonBarnes and NobleBooks A MillionIndieBound, or Powell’s, then email a copy of your receipt to caroline@carolinestarrrose.com by Monday, January 19. PDFs will be sent out January 20. To see why Rose picked this quote from the book, see her blog post here.

Katharine Manning is a writer and mom of three. She reviews middle grade books at www.kidbooklist.com. You can follow her on twitter @SuperKate.

How I Write A Middle-Grade Novel

Joanne RocklinIn a former life I was a clinical psychologist. To this day I’m fascinated with the psychology of the writing process. I know that one process doesn’t fit all, but I do know that it’s important to examine and honor what method works best for you.

Here is mine.

1. I START WITH A GOOD IDEA.

For me, the Good Idea is the impetus, the push, the motor, that gets me going.
I haven’t always known that getting the Good Idea was vital. Vital for my own work, in any case. Perhaps I didn’t realize its importance because the so-called good idea often arrives as a mere wisp of a phrase, creating a ping in my heart, or as Robert Frost said, when describing his own good ideas, “a lump in your throat.” And if I try to describe the Good Idea too early, I often can’t explain why it is good. I am usually the only one who understands its goodness possibilities.
I know that other authors have experienced this process.

Consider the following.

A middle grade author kept a journal in which he scribbled phrases and doodled designs. Squeezed among the phrases and doodles was the following phrase: “an eccentric man runs a candy factory.”

Another middle grade author (or not quite; her middle grade novels hadn’t been published yet) was on a train when the vision of a school for young wizards popped into her mind

A weird candy factory and a school for wizards are not necessarily inspiring ideas, or even unique, for that matter. I’m not really certain whether J.K.Rowling was on a train or using another form of transportation. But I’m positive her heart pinged when she got that idea, as did Roald Dahl’s, thinking about candy. Wizard schools and candy factories were good ideas.

For them.

I would bet money that many, if not most middle grade novels began that way, as a vague phrase exciting to one person only- the author of the still unwritten story. I often revisit books to try and distill their creators’ good ideas.
You probably know the story outcome of these vague phrases:

two kids hiding inside a museum.

an unhappy gorilla in a cage in a shopping mall

a boy and a girl enjoying an imaginary kingdom among the trees

a girl who is seeking messages in spider webs

O.K., that last one is mine, the impetus for my latest novel FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY.

Arriving at a good idea is easier said than done, of course.

Sometimes my good idea arrives as a gift as I wake up in the morning. ‘Cats Have Nine Lives’ was the trite phrase, yet the golden nugget that inspired my novel THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK.

But when my idea store is empty, then I must fill it. The best way to do that is to do what Roald Dahl did: brainstorm. Write down a bunch of ideas, even Very Bad Ones. Doodle. Write. Play the What If game. Write. Anything.

After a while, a surprising phrase usually appears, along with that lump in my throat.

2. I EMBRACE THE CHAOS.

I do not outline at the next step in the process. There is really nothing to outline. All I have is my Good Idea. And I know that this next phase is a series of false starts, new beginnings, cross-outs, scribbles—a big, chaotic mess. But knowing that this will be the case, in other words, honoring my process, has made it all a bit less scary.

I am answering a lot of questions at this point. Who is the girl seeking messages in spider webs? Answer: A friendless girl with polio who wants her own Charlotte, because she so loves the recently published book CHARLOTTE’S WEB.

And will I be writing in first or third person? Whose point of view? Where is the story to be set? Are the desires and conflicts those of a middle grade reader? What is ‘the day that is different’ that will get my story rolling? What prevents my character from getting her heart’s desire? Do I have any idea of the ending?
I usually have to just keep writing, playing around with my story, until I come up with the answers to these questions, and then I may even change my mind. I sigh. I pull my hair. I perspire. I think of the martini at the end of the day. But I continue. This phase is a big mess. But because I have read so many, many novels, and so many, many middle grades, I do have the feeling of story in my bones. I know that the basics of my story will follow the basic rhythm of URGE, BARRIER, STRUGGLE, RESOLUTION, four words I once learned from an essay by the brilliant Katherine Paterson. I just keep forging ahead, very open to surprises, rarely going back, until I come to some sort of ending.

Then it’s time to look at what I’ve got.

3. I LOOK AT WHAT I’VE GOT.

I guess you could call this stage of my process the Outline Stage, because I do have all those written words that enable me to create one. I read my story, such as it is, and try to see what I’m trying to say, to tease up the plot, discover some themes. I begin to think about plot in a more definite, concrete way. I don’t like to think too much about plot in Stage 2, preferring to concentrate more on character and feeling and voice. But in Stage 3 I apply various dry formulas of plotting to my story to see what works. I storyboard with index cards and shuffle things around, often sitting on the floor to do this.

Here is what my Stage 3 outline looks like.

Are there holes and gaps among the scenes? Does my story conflict increase steadily in tension to a crisis? Where does the character discover what she needs to learn? How does the ending illustrate this? The process is still messy, but it’s a mess I understand.

4. I START OVER.

This is not as dire as it sounds. Bear in mind that I LOVE this step, because I now know what I have to do next. Revise! And perhaps start over and revise again. And again. The joyous part of my process, for me, is revision. My pages may look chaotic but my mind is clear. I am in control. I know the story I want to tell.
Good ideas are hard to come up with. It’s not easy to embrace and slog through the chaos to reach the more enjoyable stage of revision. Yet studies have shown that it’s true grit and perseverance as much as intelligence and talent that help accomplish challenging projects.

And we middle grade novelists are certainly brave and gritty, right?

 

Joanne Rocklin is the author of many award-winning middle grade novels. Her website is www.joannerocklin.com. This is her first and only post with From the Mixed-Up Files.Joanne's books