Category Archives: Interviews

Interview (and giveaway!) with Madelyn Rosenberg, author of Nanny X

Nanny X

There are nannies, and then there’s Nanny X, a peanut butter and anchovy sandwich crime fighter, whose young charges, Alison and Jake (and baby sister), join her adventures.  To rescue their friend, save their favorite park and free some luckless chimpanzees, Allison and Jake will need every bit of pluck and daring they can muster, along with a few clever devices from Nanny X.  Can you say diaper phone?!  (To read Chapter 1, go here.)

Where did the idea for Nanny X come from? 

I’d been thinking about some of the au pairs I’d met – young, smashing au pairs with exotic accents – and that started me thinking about someone who might be the opposite. I’d already come up with some nanny gadgets, like a diaper phone (think Maxwell Smart with a Huggie). I started thinking about who might be talking on it. Nanny X just sort of opened the diaper and answered. Her voice was New York Grandma instead of Girl from Ipanema, and after years of proving herself, she had to prove herself again.

One of my favorite lines in Nanny X is when Alison asks Nanny X asks her to do a homework problem, and Nanny X tells her that to give the answer would be “irresponsible.”   I use that with my kids now!  How did you develop a sense of WWNXD?  (What Would Nanny X Do?)

She definitely has a lot of opinions — about food and homework and exercise. And they’re not always the same as my own. (I would never send my kids to school with anchovies, at least.) This is going to sound lame, but I almost feel like she came fully formed. Some of it has to do with her age. She is sure enough of herself to believe that most of what she thinks is correct and she is ready to impart that wisdom to others.

Did you have a favorite babysitter or nanny when you were growing up?  Did you ever babysit yourself?

I was more obsessed with governesses than nannies, but I never had either one. I did have babysitters (shout out to Lael, Ginny and Robin, who helped me build a town out of oatmeal boxes). And I did babysit for other families. I was not as brave as Nanny X. In fact, I was generally a nervous kid, to the point where I once woke up an 14-month-old to keep me company while I freaked out over a series of bizarre noises in the middle of the night. It turned out the people had squirrels in the attic. Guh! Thanks for letting me know. Babysitters made a lot less money in the 70s and 80s when I was watching kids, so I probably got $3 for what I’m sure took years off my life.

Madelyn NannyX

Yeah, I think I got paid a buck an hour! The story takes place through the alternating viewpoints of Ali and Jake, Nanny X’s charges. What is the hardest thing for you about writing with alternating viewpoints?  

The hardest thing about writing alternating viewpoints was making sure they were actually different. I think I’m a little bit of each character I write (the bad guys, too) so it’s tricky, especially in first person, to make sure they don’t all sound like me. That took me a while. And when I’d write, I’d think: what does Jake want? What does Ali want? When I was editing, I did all of one POV one day and all of the other POV the next. That helped.

As a member of NAP, the Nanny Action Patrol, Nanny X comes armed with several spy devices disguised as child/baby care items.  What’s your favorite one? 

It’s probably the baby book Moo, Sweet Cow. When my own kids were small, we tried like crazy to avoid baby toys that made noise. And we ended up with a house full of them. (I still haven’t forgiven my dad for giving us the Laugh and Learn Puppy. http://www.toysrus.com/buy/interactive-toys/fisher-price-laugh-learn-learning-puppy-c6325-2265219) Moo, Sweet Cow takes all of that noise and uses it as a weapon.

I think you’ve really hit on something there – there are a few of my own kids’ toys that qualify as weapons.  You’ve accomplished the children’s book author equivalent of hitting for the cycle, by publishing in all three major genres: picture book, middle-grade and young adult. You even have a feature on your blog for genre-jumpers. What is special to you about writing middle-grade fiction? 

For a lot of kids, middle-grade fiction seems like the first fiction that they’re choosing and tackling all by themselves. They’re seeking out (Star Trek alert – I’m full of them this week) new life and new civilizations. I know the worlds I discovered on my own were insanely special to me when I was growing up. The chance to create a book that a kid might choose? I can’t think of anything more special than that.

Comment below for your chance to win a copy of NANNY X!

 

Kerry O’Malley Cerra Interview and Giveaway

Kerry Offiicial Author Photo copyI’m thrilled to welcome Kerry O’Malley Cerra to the Mixed-Up Files blog. Kerry is a former high school history teacher who often enhanced textbooks with historical fiction to bring time periods to life. Just a Drop of Water, her first middle grade novel, was inspired by a deeply personal experience following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. In this gripping and intensely touching novel, Kerry brings the events of September 11 into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event. You can visit Kerry on her website and on Twitter and check out the amazing  Just a Drop of Water trailer below.

I’m so glad you’re visiting the Mixed-Up Files today, Kerry! I’d love for you to share with our readers what inspired you to write Just a Drop of Water and why it’s set in Florida.

My very short answer, in regards to inspiration, is simply to promote peace. I have no doubt that it begins with children. If you’d like a longer answer, jump over to this blog post I did with Darlene Beck-Jacobson. There are a couple of reasons why I chose Florida as the setting. First, one of the terrorists lived in our small-ish town, so our city quickly became an FBI hot-spot and, as you can imagine, it was pretty freaky. We also lost six residents in the attacks that day. While many people associate 9/11 with New York and sometimes Pennsylvania and D.C., I want kids to know that the events of that day extended far and wide. It was a national tragedy, not just a New York tragedy. I don’t know anyone who was old enough to remember that day that wasn’t affected deeply. I want readers to know that.

How did you come up with the title, Just a Drop of Water?

My book, from the time I began dabbling with the idea for it in 2008 until the very last draft before submission in 2013, was titled September 13. I really loved that title and I still do. But, a good editor friend of mine brought up a great point when we were discussing it. While she understood my reasoning (even though most Americans’ lives changed on September 11, 2001, Jake is just a kid and doesn’t get to see the world for what it really is until September 13, 2001 when his whole world is turned upside down; the day he is forced to grow up and will never be a kid again) she felt the title took away from those who lost loved ones in the attack on September 11. When she put it like that, I knew I’d have to change the title. I didn’t want to disrespect anyone, and that day is just too difficult for people already. I wasn’t married to the title enough to potentially add to that grief unnecessarily. The new title came about in my very last draft. I wasn’t planning to add that thread in. It sort of came out of nowhere. I was consciously looking for a line from the book that I could possibly use to name the book while I worked through my final revision but, for some reason, the words of that song (sorry, I’m being vague to avoid spoilers!) kept popping up in my head every time I came across a scene that included the grandmother. So, not only did it happen just before I got an agent and sold the book, it pretty much came from my subconscious. But, I do love it. It just works.

I love it, too! And I love how much the tension builds as your story moves closer to September 11. How did you decide to start your novel on September 7th?

I really, REALLY love this question, Mindy. Thanks for asking it. This novel had so many different beginnings that I really can’t even keep track. As a writer, we always hear that we should start with a bang. Jump right in so kids will be hooked. But, my super-talented writer friend Gaby Triana made a great point at a workshop we did one day. I already knew that starting on Sept. 10 wasn’t working. She pointed out that readers wouldn’t have enough time to see the strength of Jake and Sam’s friendship prior to September 11—so when their friendship went south, the readers wouldn’t really care. She was dead on. From there, I knew I needed to back it up some, but it took a few more drafts to really find the right spot. Readers now experience the normalcy of the days before 9/11 and the friendship of two everyday kids. I hope that when their friendship turns rocky, that readers are invested in the boys enough to ache for both characters and hope that the boys find their way back to each other. One of my favorite, yet potentially viewed as unimportant, scenes is when the Madina family comes over to Jake’s house to have dinner with the Greens for Jake’s birthday. This not only happens prior to 9/11, it happens in the very first chapter of the book. To me, inviting someone to your dinner table is an almost sacred act. It shows trust and friendship. My editor initially wanted me to cut this because it doesn’t necessarily move the story forward. She might be right about that, but it’s a scene I couldn’t part with. When Jake’s mom goes into her tailspin and refuses to let Jake hang out with Sam and his family, it shows readers just how much and how quickly sentiments and lives in general changed after that heartrending day.

Do you have any activities that tie Just a Drop of Water into school curriculum?

Oh, I love this question, too! Yes, I worked over the summer to come up with discussion questions that lend themselves to Common Core. There are currently 23 on my website under the Teacher Resources tab. Likewise, after attending the awesome SCBWI Florida workshop on Common Core this past June, my brain clicked to autopilot and I came up with some cool extension activities that teachers can use in the classroom for Just a Drop of Water. Finally, in working with some pretty awesome 5th grade teachers at Maplewood Elementary School, we created lesson plans that they have implemented as their entire 5th grade classes are reading the book. I’ll be posting them on my website soon.

I absolutely love your cover! What can you tell us about it?

I know most authors never get to speak to their illustrators, but I’m so fortunate that Katy Betz—an incredibly talented and dear friend from my SCBWI Florida chapter—was hired to do my cover. I actually thought this would mean that I could just tell Katy what I wanted and…poof, my wish would be granted. I knew she had read the manuscript and I told her exactly the scene from the book that I thought should be brought to life on the front of the book. It’s the scene when Jake is walking to school on September 13 and is seeing all the flags up and down his street for the very fist time. I was determined that that would be my cover. But, Katy worked closely with the art director at Sky Pony and I think at some point she gave them three concept sketches based on their discussions. From there, the publisher narrowed it down to one. That’s when I first got a peek at what would soon be my real cover. Because Katy is my friend, I was so nervous when the email came in. What if I hated it? What if I had to get my agent involved to try to get another cover? And, when I opened it and saw the boy’s leg and him stepping in a puddle, I was shocked that it wasn’t my street scene. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I liked it—though I knew I didn’t hate it, for sure. My boys had a bunch of friends over that day so I showed it to them. Not only did they love it, they told me all their reasons for loving it. And the more they talked, the more I let go of my boring old street scene. Within minutes, I was hooked except for one thing. I really, really wanted a flag somewhere on the front, so I sent Katy a most delicate email telling her how excited I was, but asked if she could add a flag. Within seconds she replied, telling me to look in the puddle where I’d find stars. The sketch I got was in black and white, so it was impossible to know at that point that Jake was actually stepping in a puddle that was reflecting a flag from a house. And oh my gosh, it was so brilliant. When I saw it in color several weeks later, it seriously blew me away. I love the crème colored background—it gives a timeless feel. I love that it’s Jake on the cover alone, because even though Sam is a huge part of the story, this is Jake’s coming-of-age tale. The leaves in the puddle perfectly illustrate that this takes place in the fall, and that groovy font for the title…perfection! Ironically, I always preach to my kids about not having expectations, but that’s exactly what I did. I’m so glad that Sky Pony and Katy went in a totally different direction, because my idea was so dull compared to the gorgeous artwork that is now my official cover. Love!

Mindy, thank you so much for having me on the Mixed-Up-Files blog and for your thoughtful questions. Big hugs to you!

Kerry Just a Drop of Water CoverYou’re welcome, Kerry. Thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files today—big hugs to you, too. I loved learning how Just a Drop of Water was born. And thank you for offering our readers a chance to win a signed copy of your book!

Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below, and one lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Just a Drop of Water. The winner will be announced on Thursday, September 11th. Good luck!

*You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.
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Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Indie Spotlight: Bear Pond Books, Montpelier VT

Bear Pond #4Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files:  If only every state had a lively book shop on the main street of it’s capital city!  Today it’s a pleasure to be chatting with Jane Knight of Bear Pond Books (www.bearpondbooks.com ), which has been called “one of the great independent book stores on earth.”

Bear Pond #6MUF: What do you hope people will experience when they walk into Bear Pond  Books and browse?
Jane:
Nirvana!

MUF:What keeps you going?
Jane:
Our passion for books and our loyal customers.

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry in your shop?
Jane:
We use a very magical blend of intuition, passion, rep. and book world reviews, word on the street and even a little wild guessing.Bear Pond ShipwreckBear Pond Glass sentence

MUF: What favorite titles—old and new, fiction and nonfiction—are you recommending to middle graders right now?Bear Pond  Return of Zita
Jane:
So difficult to narrow them down to a manageable list! But here goes: Bear Pond Steve JenkinsFiction: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, anything by Linda Urban, The Bartimeaus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud, the Bone series by Jeff Smith, Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Nation by Terry Pratchett, the Guys read series… please stop me now!!!! Bear Pond BartemausFor Non-fiction: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s MostDangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the Sea ; The Extraordinary Story of Shackleton and the Endeavor by Jennifer Armstrong, Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers, by Tanya Lee Stone, anything by Steve Jenkins. New Bear Pond Linda UrbanTitles: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove, The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern, Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitxgerald, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.Bear Pond Under the Egg`

MUF: Have you held events or activities at the store for middle graders? Any tie-ins with the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts up the hill?
Jane:
Yes, we have! One of the favorites that comes to mind is our poetry month extravaganza in April when we call upon our local school to create and illustrate haikus to decorate the Children’s Room. Bear Pond kids poetryAnd as we speak I am planning a writing workshop for kids this fall with the wonderful Sarah Stewart Taylor, author of the Expeditioners series. Bear Pond ExpeditionersWe have also hosted events with several VCFA faculty, visiting faculty and students, including Leda Schubert, Emily Jenkins (E.Lockhart), An Na, A. S. King, and Tim Wynne-Jones. We also hosted a super fun Reader’s Theater with a group of VCFA alumni who performed some of their new work.

MUF: By the way, where IS Waldo?Bear Pond #1
Jane:
Last I heard he was fishing down on the Winooski River. But his whereabouts are kept very hush hush. He likes his privacy when he is vacationing here in July.

MUF: If a family from out of town visited Bear Pond Books,  are there family-friendly restaurants/activities/sights they shouldn’t miss, beyond visiting what must be the nations tiniest capitol building?
Jane:
The obvious crowd pleaser in the area is, of course, the Ben & Jerry’s Factory tour. However, the city of Montpelier itself has plenty of restaurants and snacking opportunities: Positive Pie for outstanding pizza, The Skinny Pancake for crepes and Birchgrove Baking for exquisite baked goods and coffee. For some local flavor there is a cool granite quarry called Rock of Ages <http://www.rockofages.com/en/gift-shop-a-tourism>  that gives tours, you can catch the Vermont Mountaineers <http://www.thevermontmountaineers.com/>  play baseball in the summer and there is wonderful live theater downtown at the Lost Nation Theater <http://lostnationtheater.org/> . For a tiny capitol we have plenty of cultural diversion!

MUF: Thank you Jane for sharing your shop and books with us.  Readers, If you’ve experienced Bear Pond for yourself or would like to, please add your comments here.  And if you’re in the area don’t miss the unique pop-up museum and launch party event at Bear Pond on Friday :

http://www.bearpondbooks.com/event/august-1st-gary-miller-museum-americas.

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books, 2011, Usborne UK, 2012, HarperCollins UK, 2014)