Gail Nall Interview and Giveaway

Gail Nall head shotI’m thrilled to welcome Gail Nall to the Mixed-Up Files! Gail lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail’s middle grade debut, BREAKING THE ICE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), is available now. She is also the co-author of the upcoming YOU’RE INVITED with Jen Malone (Aladdin/S&S, May 19, 2015), and the author of the upcoming YA novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT (HarperTeen Impulse, Summer 2015). She’s represented by literary agent Julia A. Weber.

Thank you for joining us at the Mixed-Up Files, Gail. Breaking the Ice really helped me experience what life would be like as a competitive ice skater. How did you learn so much about ice skating?

I lived it! :) I started skating at age three, and while I was never really competitive the way Kaitlin is, I took lessons and went to local competitions for years and years. I pretty much lived at the rink as a preteen and young teenager. I still skate, and even teach kids in the beginner classes once a week. My three-year-old just got her first pair of skates, so I think I’ll be at the rink for many years to come!

Since you’re spending so much time in the rink, I have a feeling we’ll see more ice skating stories from you in the future. :)  Do you remember the moment when you were first inspired to write Breaking the Ice? How long did it take from idea to publication?

I grew up figure skating, and I really wanted to write a book set in that world. One day, while watching a skater receive horrible scores at a competition, I wondered what would happen if she showed how she really felt. So that’s how the idea for BREAKING THE ICE was born! I think I started writing it in January 2011 . . . so almost exactly four years from idea to publication. It was the third manuscript I’d written.

I love Kaitlin’s spunk! Is she (or any other character) based on a real person, and what helped you create such a believable, multi-dimensional character?

Kaitlin is completely made up. Although I think, as authors, we all put at least a little of ourselves into our characters, so there are a few small parts of Kaitlin that are definitely me. But mostly, I had to think my way through how a girl who’s very reserved would act after she finally breaks through that wall she’s built around herself. Would she try to backpedal? Definitely. But would she also find herself jumping into situations she might not have tried before? Probably. And then how would all of that affect her skating?

Can you share a writing exercise with our readers?

My favorite writing trick is one that helps with preparation and (ideally) keeps you from wasting time once you’ve jumped into your writing session. It’s pretty simple too – you take ten minutes and simply freewrite your way through your next scene or chapter. Basically, you ask yourself what you want to happen next and write it down. No dialogue (unless you think of something crazy clever that you don’t want to forget), no thinking about structure or using interesting language or following writing rules. It’s more like this: Kaitlin gets of the ice. She’s really nervous about getting her scores. Her coach thinks she did well. Then the scores go up and – oops! – not so good. Kaitlin’s stunned. Then she gets mad. And then… Then, when you sit down to write, you’ve got something of an outline. This works especially well for pantsers and semi-pantsers (like me!). 

Ooh, I love this idea! I’ve jotted down notes like that before spending a timed hour of fast-paced writing with friends (we call it a word war). I never thought to do it before each writing session, and can’t wait to try it. Thanks for sharing that great exercise! 

What are some of your favorite middle grade books?

My all-time favorite is the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I must’ve read each of those a hundred times growing up. Anne of Green Gables is another classic favorite. The All-Of-A-Kind-Family books by Sydney Taylor made me want to be a Jewish kid in New York at the turn-of-the-century. And then, of course, I adored contemporary series such as The Baby-sitters Club and Sleepover Friends.

I’ve been lucky enough to read some amazing ARCs of upcoming 2015 middle grade books. A few of the many I love include The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart (heart-breaking and beautiful), Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions by Sheila Grau (funny with great world-building), My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) by Alison DeCamp (a humorous historical – hilarious!), and Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly (exciting and such a fascinating concept). Lots of great MG coming out this year!

Wow, what a fantastic list. I especially can’t wait to dive into the 2015 books. It’s always great to know which books to keep an eye out for! I’d love to know more about your upcoming books, and what it’s like to work with a co-author.

Up first, in May, is You’re Invited, which I co-wrote with Jen Malone. There will be a sequel in February 2016, which we’re working on now. The books are about four girls who live in a North Carolina beach town and start a party planning business. The parties never turn out exactly the way the girls plan, but they rely on each other to get through and make each one a success. We’ve had so much fun writing together! We were friends and critique partners before we started this project, so we knew we had similar writing styles. It’s great to have someone else pushing you to write better and better, and it doesn’t hurt to know that someone is waiting on you to finish that chapter already! We’ve just meshed so well on this, and I hope that’s evident in the books.

Later this summer, my debut young adult novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT, will be out through HarperTeen Impulse. I’m really excited about this one, because it’s a book I’ve been working on for a long time, and it has a really special place in my heart. It’s about a teenage girl whose entire life and future is theater, but when she loses a pivotal role to her best friend, she decides to reinvent herself. It’s light and funny, and I hope readers love it as much as I do!

Congrats on your debut novel, Gail. And thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files. I loved learning more about you, Breaking the Ice, and your upcoming novels. 

You can find out more about Gail on her website, Twitter, or on Facebook. Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below, and one lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Breaking the Ice. The winner will be announced on Thursday, January 29. Good luck!

*You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.

Gail Nall - Breaking The Ice

Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after she has a totally uncharacteristic tantrum at a major competition, she’s dropped by her coach and her prestigious skating club. When no other club will have her, she’s forced to join the ridiculed and run-down Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the “Fall Down Club.” At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters—including a boy who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen—she realizes it might not actually be so bad.

Yet learning a whole new program right before regionals is a huge challenge, and when she realizes that all the other area skaters target Fallton for pranks, she begins to wonder if joining the Fall Down Club has any upsides.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.

Humble Heroes

If you take children to a Natural History Museum, will they:

  • ask thoughtful questions about the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks
  • admire the diorama of a bison family
  • stampede toward the dinosaurs, prehistoric sharks, and other creatures with teeth the size of bananas?

You know the answer.

Should the museum have a case of trilobite fossils, it will be forlorn and dusty. Poor trilobites. Those homely little guys resembled a cross between a roach and an armored car, skulked around the ancient sea, and curled into a terrified ball whenever a predator neared.

trilobite

 

And yet! These fellows dominated the oceans for a quarter of a billion years, surviving far longer than dinosaurs. They went along for the ride with Continental Drift, and their fossils have been found everywhere from Canada to China to Bolivia to Australia. Those fossils have allowed scientists to formulate new theories on speciation (how new species develop) and–what especially interests me–how creatures first developed sight.

But do they get the respect they deserve? Like most humble heroes, who exist everywhere, the answer is no. I’m hoping my new novel, “Moonpenny Island”, will change that, at least a little.

moonpenny cover

There’s a real Lake Erie island, a short ferry ride away, that I’ve visited for years. It’s mostly limestone, perfect for growing lilacs and finding fossils. People like me go there to indulge the delicious fantasy of leaving the world behind. There’s a rocky back shore, an abandoned quarry, a single  store, a K-12 school with maybe twenty students. Every time I leave the place, I feel a pang. What would it be like to stay, to be a sturdy, self-sufficient year-rounder? I asked myself the question so many times, I finally had to write a book to find out.

I shrank my island, and pushed it further out into the lake. “Moonpenny” begins just as winter clamps down. The ferries stop running. Fewer than 200 creatures, and that includes Flossie the gangster cat and crazy Violet’s three-legged dog, live there then. Perfect setting for a mystery, I was sure. The real island is a stopping-off place for migrating birds, and in my first drafts the scientist who arrived to do research was an ornithologist. Because so much of the novel is about staying or leaving, this seemed like a brilliant idea.

kelleys island 008

But then I went to visit again, this time in early March. It was bitter cold, the wind on the open ferocious. The line between lake and air was so fine it was almost non-existent. As I trudged around, head down, I couldn’t think any thought bigger than, Wind. Water. Rock. That’s when I knew–my scientist had to be a geologist/paleontologist.

Growing up on the island, my main character didn’t view fossils as a big deal–like every island kid, she had a shoe-box-ful under her bed. It wasn’t till that geologist showed up that she started to reconsider the ground beneath her own two feet. At this point, I was still trying to write a mystery, though my doubts were as deep as the quarry swim hole. I dreamed up one goofy crime after another. I either made the bad guy way too obvious or ridiculously improbable. It turns out that, just as loving to eat gourmet cuisine doesn’t make you a chef, adoring mysteries doesn’t make you able to write one. On and on I bungled, one miserable draft after another.

kelleys island 015

It was the trilobites who saved me. They almost literally opened my eyes. While doing research on fossils of Ohio, I stumbled on the magnificent “Trilobite! Eyewitness to History”, by Richard Fortey, an exuberant cheerleader for the little bugs. Besides all the impressive facts already mentioned, I discovered that trilobites were among the very first critters to see. Because their fossil record is so abundant, and because their eyes were formed from durable calcite, scientists have been able to trace this evolution in a way that’s rare and incredibly valuable.

What struck me–what strikes my hero Flor–is the idea that sight was not always a given. Not only that. Some trilobites who developed sight evolved to lose it again. That got me wondering about how I’d assumed that evolution always goes in the direction of biggest, fastest, strongest, and how wrong I was. It got me thinking about how, throughout our lives, we continue learning how to see, and how maybe the real, ultimate trick is being able to see through another person’s eyes. (By the way, isn’t that also what reading lets us do?)  And at last I came to realize that here, in the natural order of things, in the act of changing and growing, lay mystery enough.

To win a signed copy of “Moonpenny Island”, please leave a comment below. And next time you go to the Natural History Museum, please visit the lonely, gallant trilobites!

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 “Moonpenny Island”, publishing on February 10 with HarperCollins, is a Junior Library Guild selection and has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Tricia is also the author of “Cody and the Fountain of Happiness”, first book in a new series for younger middle grade readers, publishing this April with Candlewick.

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.

csr5

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.