Category Archives: Giveaways

Melissa Hart Interview & Book Giveaway – Avenging the Owl

Avenging the Owl by Melissa HartI recently had the chance to read Avenging the Owl—a new middle-grade novel by Melissa Hart. I also had a chance to interview Melissa and get the inside scoop on her book. Now, you can get the inside scoop, too. Read on . . .

T. P.: Thanks for giving me an opportunity to chat with you about your new middle-grade novel, Avenging the Owl. I’m sure that your own volunteer work at a raptor center and your brother with Down syndrome must have both been major sources of inspiration for the story you created. This made me wonder: Where did your overall idea for Avenging the Owl come from?

MELISSA: You’re absolutely right; I drew upon my eight years of volunteering at a raptor rehabilitation center for the setting details in Avenging the Owl, and my brother is the inspiration for Eric in the novel. But the idea came from a high school boy with whom I volunteered at the raptor center one summer. He’d left his mandatory school community service until the last minute, and the only venue left was the raptor center. Problem was, he hated birds. My husband and I worked an evening shift with him every week, and I got to watch him go from sullen and resentful to gradually intrigued by the injured and orphaned raptors. Eventually, he grew so enamored of them that he came back the following summer to volunteer. He’s the boy I had in mind when I crafted Solo Hahn’s character. Later, I took a good look at Han Solo in Star Wars and used his narrative trajectory (from apathetic mercenary to committed helper), as well. Solo starts out caring only about surfing and material possessions, and then gets to know fellow raptor center volunteers Lucas and Leah and begins to take joy in helping those in need.

T. P.: What a cool inspiration for your story! I always enjoy getting a glimpse into how much real-life experiences sometimes shape a fictional narrative. I also like how you modeled Solo Hahn’s character arc after that of Han Solo in Star Wars. I must confess: That similarity slipped right past me as I read Avenging the Owl, but I certainly see it in retrospect!

Now you’ve got me wondering: What was the timeline for creating your story? What was the journey like from your initial experience with the reluctant high school volunteer . . . to your “Ah, ha! I’ve got myself a story!” moment . . . to when you began outlining or drafting . . . to your final draft that was ready for submission?

MELISSA: It took me about a year and a half to write Avenging the Owl–multiple drafts. I’d written two YA novels (currently mildewing in a desk drawer) before I started work on the middle-grade novel, so I knew about narrative arc and structure and all that. For Avenging, I got a 12-foot piece of butcher paper, divided it into several sections, and then taped it around my office walls. I used different colored markers to jot down key plot points and character conflicts and motivations for each chapter, so that I could easily see a graphic representation of the novel as it took shape. (I really love pre-writing visuals like highlighter pens and multicolored cluster diagrams, etc. Sometimes I even sketch images of my characters, though I can’t draw at all.)

A friend of mine who was a literary agent at the time suggested Solo’s obsession with B-movies and the insertion of screenplay scenes. And my editor at Sky Pony Press, Julie Matysik, had really good suggestions for keeping Solo’s character consistent in the final drafts. He got pretty lusty for Leah in a previous draft (as did Eric), and I toned it down a little for middle-grade readers.

Glad you saw the Star Wars/Han Solo parallel, by the way–read it again, and you’ll catch all sorts of cool Star Wars parallels and references!

T. P.: Although the similar Solo Hahn-Han Solo character arcs slipped past me, I did manage to catch at least some of the Star Wars references you slipped into your story! (Lucas and Leah come to mind. . . .) Now if only you could have inserted a Pacific Northwest-based Big Foot-Wookiee comparison. . . . 🙂

Anyway, focus I must. . . .

I love your use of butcher paper to create a visual plot outline as part of your prewriting process. I’m very much a visual-kind-of-guy (I wield a minimum of 4 colors of highlighters when adding things to my calendar), so I know my brain would appreciate the big-picture overview your prewriting approach must provide.

Once you finish prewriting and complete your initial draft, what’s your favorite aspect of the revision process? How about your least favorite?

MELISSA: I love revision so much more than writing the first draft. With the first draft, I’m pretty angsty and neurotic, and I drink way too much coffee and eat way too many cookies. But the second draft feels like a big lump of clay that I can trim or add to as needed. My favorite part of revising a novel involves adding humor. I love looking at every paragraph and gauging where it might be funnier, and what would make it funnier. Sometimes, I’ll draw upon real life for the humor. For example, there’s a scene in Avenging the Owl in which my character who has Down syndrome karate kicks someone who’s called him a “retard.” That’s art imitating life–my younger brother actually did this to a kid once, for exactly the same reason.

My least favorite part of revision is cutting word length. I didn’t have to do that with Avenging, but I frequently have to cut my essays down for magazines and newspapers. It’s excruciating to have to cut 500-1000 words from a piece I really love, but if I believe in the mission of a particular magazine or newspaper and want my work to appear in its pages, I’ll do it.

T. P.: I loved the scene with Eric’s rather unexpected karate kick! Not only was it a blast of humor, but it made me cheer for Eric all the more. It’s pretty cool how you were able to draw on a real-life experience for that scene.

Now let’s go to the flipside of real-life inspiration. What are one or two events or scenes in your story that you really like but that sprang completely from your imagination?

MELISSA: Most of Avenging the Owl came from my imagination–I love to “imaginate,” as my nine-year-old daughter says.

Two of my favorite scenes take place at the top of the butte, where Solo and Eric end up after some pretty eventful hikes. I took as the inspiration a butte (a solo mountain) in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, but the scenes are pure fiction. In the first butte scene, I love how being surrounded by nature affects Solo. It calms him down in the midst of his angst and jolts him into another reality–one in which he feels grounded and peaceful and optimistic. He really gets how magical the natural world is, and he’s able to let go of a lot of anxiety about his parents and his living situation for an hour and focus on weird insects and plants and birds. Plus, as Solo discovers, hiking up a butte is always a good excuse to eat cookies.

In that second scene, near the end of the book, he and Eric flee to the butte as a refuge. And then (no spoilers here!) someone dear to him discovers the tranquility of the place, as well, which starts them on the path to healing a really difficult relationship. I hike almost every weekend with my husband and daughter; we’re the best versions of ourselves when we’re surrounded by trees and rivers and mountains. I hope these “imaginated” scenes will inspire readers to get outside!

T. P.: Well, Melissa, I’ve never hiked up a butte, but I do love cookies. So . . . let’s use that as a springboard for one final question: If you were all alone on top of a butte, working on your next novel, what kind of cookies would you be eating?

MELISSA: Well, I really adore these flourless chocolate cookies that our local bakery, Crumb Together, sells. But for a hike, I’d want homemade oatmeal chocolate chip. I’d probably sneak some whole wheat flour in there, too, but the chocolate is essential.

T. P.: Okay, Melissa, you’ve officially made me hungry. . . . But I must stay strong and finish this post. Otherwise, people won’t get the opportunity to win a copy of your book! So . . . I’ll leave it at this: I enjoyed Avenging the Owl, and I also enjoyed getting a glimpse into what led you to write the story in the first place. Thanks for sharing with the Mixed-Up Files!

Want a chance to win a copy of Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart? Entry is easy! Just comment below by leaving an answer to one simple question:

What kind of cookie would you take along for eating at the top of a butte?

The lucky winner will be selected on Friday, 6/24/16.


Author Melissa HartAlong with Avenging the Owl, Melissa Hart is also the author of her memoir, Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family, and her YA memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. Along with writing books, she teaches Literature for Laurel Springs, a distance-learning high school based in Ojai, California. To learn even more about Melissa and her writing, visit her website at www.melissahart.com.


T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.

 

Interview and Giveaway with Jen Swann Downey

swordinthestacks

It’s our pleasure here at the Mixed Up Files to interview the fabulously funny Jen Swann Downey, author of THE NINJA LIBRARIANS series. The second installment, SWORD IN THE STACKS, has just released from Sourcebooks Jaberwocky. After stumbling upon the secret society of time-traveling ninja librarians, Dorrie has finally joined Petrarch’s Library as an apprentice! One day, she’ll actually go on missions to rescue people whose words have gotten them into trouble. For now she’s taking some interesting classes:
• First and Last Aid: When Nobody Else is Coming
• Spears, Axes, and Cats: Throwing Objects with Precision and Flair
• Codes, Invisible Inks, and Smoke Signals: Keeping Secrets 101

But on a training mission to 1912 England, Dorrie finds herself dangerously close to a member of the Stronghold – the Library’s biggest enemy. This is her opportunity! Dorrie can spy on the enemy, find the missing key…and become a real Lybrarian!

But if she makes a mistake, Dorrie could lead their enemy right to the very place she’s trying to save…and everyone she cares about.

It’s been a couple of years since the Ninja Librarians first began their adventures. What was the genesis of the idea for this series? I think the seed for the series was planted when I saw the phrase “Petrarch’s Library” scrawled on a notebook I found in our never-very-organized, and always-very-clutterful house. Everyone in the family denied being the scrawler, but the phrase ignited my imagination, especially after I looked it up and found it associated with a collection of books that the 14th century humanist and poet, Petrarch, had carried around with him when he traveled on the back of a donkey. That made me laugh, because the phrase had suggested some sort of grand magnificent library. But then I thought, well, even a small collection of books IS a sort of imaginary grand magnificent place because each of the books is a doorway into a different world of ideas, and knowledge, and story.

Suddenly I was imagining “Petrarch’s Library” as a solid, if sprawling building, made out of library chambers from different times and places knitted together by magic into one incredible super-library.

Since I was a kid, I always had the feeling that librarians were masquerading at doing something mundane while actually doing something incredible, mysterious and magical. It seemed reasonable that the work of librarians who staffed the imaginary Petrarch’s Library would defend and protect the flow of information in shall we say, some additional warrior-ish direct action ways!

Dorrie and Marcus have hair-raising adventures in lots of locations throughout history. Tell us a little bit about your research process. You are so kind to dignify my flailing attempts at understanding and conveying history as “a research process”. : )   I love history. I’m quite sure I don’t do any justice to any standards of academic research, but I love rolling around in the past in any way I can. For these first two books, once I settled on a place and time that would figure in the story, I would spend far too much on used books from Amazon to get a general sense of the “wherein” and then do more particular research as I needed to know more. I stare at paintings and statues, read historians’ accounts, and most satisfyingly of all – read uninterpreted original source material. For instance, parts of SWORD IN THE STACKS take place in 1912 London. I loved reading newspapers from the era to get a feel for the time, and how various sectors of society felt about the suffrage question.

The overarching theme of these books seems to be freedom of speech, a very relevant issue-not just for libraries. What do you hope readers will take away from this series? Since I was a young kid, I’ve been awed by those who have spoken “truth to power” often at great cost to themselves.  I am enjoying, through these fantasy adventures, posing questions about what exactly we mean by intellectual freedom, why it might have value, and what it means to uphold such a principle in every day life.

I hope readers who may not have thought about these things in a while, or lately, or ever, will join me in that questioning. About how for instance, a chasm can exist between theoretical support for the principle of intellectual freedom and the actions we take or don’t take when confronted with speech/writing we find dangerous, stupid, hurtful, or otherwise offensive.  It’s tempting to ignore cases of censorship of viewpoints we don’t share, or viewpoints we actively disagree with.

What are some of the challenges to series writing? Are sequels easier than writing the first book? When I wrote the first book, I chose to devote a good deal of my efforts to world-building. I reveled in (and gnashed my teeth at!) the challenges of making the clear rich fantasy vision of the alternate world inside my head and heart come alive for readers. When I began the second, I felt both tantalized and scared by the fact that the world now existed. My new main job would be to create a compelling story for Dorris and the rest of the Library’s inhabitants to live out WITHIN that world, and I wasn’t sure I could come up with enough story! I felt like a kid who, determined to build a club-house, bends all will to the task, and after much effort succeeds in nailing on the last shingle, but then isn’t quite sure what to DO with the clubhouse!

As I began to imagine Dorris’s story for the second book, it was hard not to think about the possibility of a “disappointing” sequel, which generated Fear and Self-Consciousness. I don’t know about you, but those two cats do not fuel creative flow for me!  I had to take back ownership of the book-writing somehow, and make it a creative act that wasn’t about pleasing others, but myself. Which sounds very vague. My specific strategy was to give myself a specific craft challenge.  I was very aware of the flaws I perceived via hindsight in my first book, especially in terms of plotting. The task I set for myself was to do a better job of plotting. One that I could feel was an improvement over the plotting in book one, even a small improvement. That if I could do that, no matter what else I achieved or didn’t with the book, I could feel good about that.  Somehow that really grounded and motivated me all at once.

You have an amazingly imaginative sense of humor. Please tell us about what kind of kid you were and how you grew to be such a wieldy wordsmith. Oh gosh. What kind of kid was I? I’m sure I was a trial to many neighbors and teachers.  I was a big time pretend kid.  I read a lot. A lot! But I was also loud and boisterous and a tree climber and a creek wader. I was an idiot. I had no sense of perspective. I always had a big plan: Bike to NYC, join the circus, run a restaurant out of our moldy basement.  I lectured the older teens on the block about smoking. I reveled in attics, basements, garages, storm drains, and all the rest of the unclaimed territories in which new civilizations could be erected. I took to writing early, mostly for its usefulness in writing ransom notes. I wrote letters, indignant childhood diary entries, purple poetry, and yearning paeans to each person I fell in love with, but didn’t really write stories until I was deep into matron-hood.

What’s your favorite part of being a children’s author? Writing for people who still believe that anything is possible.

If you could travel back in time to when you were first beginning to write toward publication, what advice would you give yourself or aspiring writers? Don’t rush. Don’t rush. Don’t rush. When you’re sure that your manuscript is in stellar shape, and you’re positive that the very first agent, or second at least, will fall in instant love with it…STOP.  Freeze your computer in a block of ice.  Lock it in a safe and swallow the key. Hire a cadre of badgers to bury it in the forest (wrapped nicely in protective plastic, naturally) but DON’T SEND OUT THE MANUSCRIPT.  Give yourself at least a month. Work on something else.  Another story. A macrame project. Anything. But give yourself time to be able to see the manuscript anew. When you were sure that there was nothing left to improve. Then send it out, and good luck!

Do you have any exciting plans for this summer, or do you do most of your traveling in books? My exciting plans include excavating the garden out of the weeds (I should have it ready to go just in time for the first snowstorm), teaching the family’s new dog not to pull all the arms out of all the family sockets whenever during our walks he sees a squirrel, or a cat, or a popsicle stick, or anything really;  and yes, exploring the Mongol Empire from my book-page origami airplane. You know…just in case Dorris and Marcus and Ebba have to maybe perhaps possibly visit there…..

And finally, what exactly are all seventeen uses for a flaming arrow? Or does one have to become a lybrarian to find out? We denizens of Petrarch’s Library believe in the free flow of useful information and would be more than happy to share:

The Seventeen Uses of a Flaming Arrow

1. Lighting surprise party birthday cake candles.
2. Severing a rope down which your enemy has only made it halfway     down.
3. “Safely” igniting explosives.
4. Illuminating dark archive passages in an exhilarating manner.
5. Beginning a useful stampede at a royal ball.
6. Trimming the hedges.
7. Checking depth of fetid well into which one is about to spelunk.
8. Low-tech signal flare.
9. Simultaneously catching and cooking your supper.
10. Instant wound cauterizer.
11. Encouraging tediously bad actors to exit stage left.
12. Quickly disposing of outdated curtains.
13. Entertainment of small children or easily pleased adults.
14. Testing air quality in an underground cavern.
15. Keeping angry book-burners at bay.
16. Impromptu fondu maker.
17. The ultimate literary exclamation point.  : )
We are giving away a hot-off-the-press copy of THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: SWORD IN THE STACKS to one lucky winner! All you have to do is tell us an 18th use for a flaming arrow in the comments below!

JenSwannDowneyJen Swann Downey’s non-fiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Women’s Day, and other publications. She is the author of the middle-grade novel, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: THE ACCIDENTAL KEYHAND. Her second novel, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: SWORD IN THE STACKS is also now available from Sourcebooks. Jen divides her time between libraries and other places, and will never stop looking for lickable wallpaper.

The Winners of THE FIRST LAST DAY and a critique from Dorian Cirrone are…

Thank you all for your sweet comments on Dorian’s interview. I loved hearing how she came up with the idea for THE FIRST LAST DAY, and how much revision went into it. She shared so much great advice! Thanks again, Dorian.

The winner of a signed copy of Dorian’s newly published middle grade novel, THE FIRST LAST DAY, is…

The First Last Day Cover

Technology Integration Director

And the winner of a critique from Dorian is…

Mia Wenjen

If you’d like to find out more about Dorian’s huge revision of THE FIRST LAST DAY and read how the first page evolved from the earliest version through several other attempts until Dorian came up with the published version, check out this awesome post on Dorian’s blog.

Congrats to the winners, and thank you all again for commenting on Dorian’s interview and entering the giveaway. Dorian will e-mail the winners soon.