Tag Archives: Giveaways

NOOKS AND CRANNIES Interview with Jessica Lawson & Giveaway!

Today I’m thrilled to be talking with Jessica Lawson, author of THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER, and NOOKS & CRANNIES, which releases June 2nd.

Cover- Nooks & Crannies

Tabitha Crum, a girl with a big imagination and love for mystery novels, receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted.

There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed-a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.

What was the genesis for Nooks & Crannies? How did the story idea come to you?

First of all, thanks so much for having me on the blog! I tend to come up with main characters—their situation, their hopes/fears, their voice—before I come up with clear plots. Originally, I had Tabitha Crum’s character being sort of like Anne Shirley, and the story was going to be sort of like Anne of Green Gables in the Lake District of England. But somehow, after months/years of having this girl in the back of my mind, the cottage I had her being sent to turned into a manor house, and the adopting man/woman/couple became a mysterious Countess who was keeping secrets. Before I knew it, five other children were begging to go to the house as well, and then, well, the mystery-in-a-manor house idea was set.

As a big Austen fan, I love that so much of the book is set in the Lake District of England. How did you choose and research the area?

As I mentioned above, my original intentions with Tabitha Crum were for her to be sent to the Lake District as an orphan. I love Beatrix Potter (author/illustrator of Peter Rabbit and other delights), who lived in the Lake District for a time, and thought I might even work her into the narrative. And Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, so I was familiar with the area from many of her novels. For research, I checked books out of the library, looked up historic village information, and learned about various backgrounds and lifestyles of Lake District residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the early idea stage, I imagined all sorts of outdoor splendor/activities/adventure, but then a nasty snowstorm became part of the plot, ruining any chance of outdoor fun. The setting became the house, which meant that I spent long periods of time looking up historic manor homes in the Lake District, which, as it sounds, was heavenly.

Nooks & Crannies is about a group of kids who receive invitations to a mysterious Countess’s mansion. It reminded me a bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at times. Is that an intentional choice you made?

The book was actually pitched to my publisher as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue. When I was drafting, I wasn’t writing an intentional tribute to one of my favorite books by Roald Dahl, but once Tabitha was joined by several other children, the comparison was a bit unavoidable (mysterious invitation, famously reclusive host, etc.). And there is definitely a Veruca Salt-ish character among the children ☺

Yes, there is, and she’s wonderfully drawn. One of my favorite characters in the book is Pemberley, Tabitha’s pet mouse and confidant. (I used to raise mice as a girl. ☺) What was the inspiration behind this character?

Pet sidekicks have always been a favorite with me and, for a girl who sleeps in a musty attic, a mouse seemed like the perfect companion. A clever mouse seemed even better. Tabitha is a big fan of Inspector Pensive novels (my fictional version of books like Sherlock Holmes) and needed an equivalent of the Inspector’s partner, Timothy Tibbs (aka, the Watson of the I.P. books). With Pemberley, Tabitha has a loyal friend and a go-to partner to bounce her ideas/theories off of.

You did a great job with the language of the novel, making not only the characters but the writing itself feel British. How challenging was that for you?

I hope I did an okay job! It was a lot of fun to write ☺ I adore the novels of Charles Dickens (and—some of—the movie adaptations!), and have always been drawn to MG novels with a British voice and setting (from Mary Poppins to The Secret Garden to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books by Maryrose Woods). I’ve always loved British accents and British films/tv. I grew up loving shows like “Are You Being Served?” and Monty Python skits and the like, so my wording may be a bit of a caricature of all of those influences. It may sound odd, but during the writing process I just sort of tried to adopt a British voice in my head and hoped it would sink into the writing.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Oliver (one of the children invited to the mansion) and Tabitha, and think Nooks & Crannies will appeal to boys as well as girls. Could you talk about the importance of boy-girl friendships for middle-graders? How do you feel about books being labeled “boy books” or “girl books” based on the gender of the main character or book cover?

Thank you! I love the friendship between Tabitha and Oliver, too. I think that friendships are very important for middle-graders, regardless of gender, but boy-girl friendships have a special place in the middle grade years. I think they go a long way in showing younger people that physical gender differences do not equal emotional/cognitive and ability/interest-based differences—that no matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you can have similar interests, dreams, problems, and feelings. Stereotypes learned during childhood regarding what each gender is suited to can too often develop into adult gender-based assumptions and prejudices that I’m not so fond of.

As for books being labeled “boy books” or “girl books,” I think booksellers and librarians and teachers and parents are always going to have their own opinion on which books seem more attractive to certain readers, but labeling books according to gender simply because a cover has a boy or girl doesn’t really seem inclusive. Author Shannon Hale has written a series of posts on why it’s important to remember that books like The Princess in Black can be (and are) appealing to both genders, and targeting them toward a single sex can do a disservice to readers.

There are so many fabulous details in this book, making every scene so easy for the reader to visualize. Can you talk to writers about the importance of setting in a novel, and how you create such thorough and satisfying descriptions?

Setting is what grounds the reader in time and place, and without establishing a firm setting (or settings, depending on your novel), plot and character development simply don’t feel as rich or authentic. The setting in this novel is (with the exception of the first few chapters) the manor house. Because the Countess is an eccentric character who travels a lot, I was able to combine style elements and get away with it. I spent lots of time trying to figure out what the furnishings might be, what rooms might be like, what clothing would be worn, what food would be served, and then I threw out a whole bunch of stuff because as much as I’d like to, cramming in every fact you learn never makes for the best world-building. The voice and tone of this book allowed me to take liberties with the setting that I might not have taken if I were doing straight historic fiction, but creating a setting that was authentic and rich for this story was important to me. My favorite details to research were the food dishes, both common and ones that would have been fancier in 1906.

Could you tell us a bit about your current work-in-progress?

Sure! Waiting for Augusta is about an eleven-year-old runaway who travels from Alabama to Georgia in order to make peace with his dead father. It’s a story about miracles, watercolors, knowing yourself, keeping secrets, golf, barbecue, magic, friendship, wanting to make your parents proud, living up to expectations, setting your own expectations, and second chances at connection. The book will be out next summer from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

It sounds like another fabulous book, Jessica! Congratulations!

Jessica is giving away a signed copy of Nooks & Crannies to one lucky commenter. We’d like to know about a favorite pet you had as a child (real or imaginary) who was a best friend to you. OR, if you’d rather, tell us about your favorite book set in England.
BIO:Jessica Lawson- Author Photo- Black and White (web)
Jessica Lawson does not live in a fancy manor house, but she does deal with mysteries on a daily basis. Most of those mysteries involve missing socks and shadowy dessert disappearances. She lives in Colorado with her husband and children.
LINKS:
Website: http://jessicalawsonbooks.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JS_Lawson
Blog: http://fallingleaflets.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Lawson-Childrens-Author/149125145284531

Horses, Horses, and More Horses

Young Whitney on Rocky

Young Whitney on Rocky

For all you horse lovers out there, I’m excited to introduce you to Whitney Sanderson, an author from the Random House Horse Diary series. In addition to the two books she’s written for that series, she has a new release, the first in her Horse Rescue series. Whitney wrote Horse Rescue: Treasure to support Little Brook Farm, a horse rescue center. Whitney will be donating 50% of her royalties to Little Brook Farm. So if you or someone you know is a horse lover, sharing this book will not only make them happy, it will also help save horses. And we’re also offering a chance to win a free copy of Treasure.

Hi, Whitney, and welcome to the Mixed-Up Files. We’re looking forward to learning more about you and about horses.

First of all, what did you dream about becoming when you were young?

Even though I loved horses from a young age, I really wanted to be an FBI agent. I was a big fan of the X-Files. Maybe it’s a sign that there will be a paranormal young adult novel in my future.

When did you start writing?

When I was four or five, I would dictate stories to my older sister, and she would type them for me. I remember the first story was called “Ten Cats” and the second was called “Five Dogs,” so I guess I have been drawn to animal stories from the beginning. I was homeschooled, and when I was around fourteen I took a correspondence course in creative writing designed for high school students.

That was the first time I got feedback from someone other than my friends and parents that I might have potential as a writer. Around that time, I joined an online community called The Young Writer’s Club, which sadly no longer exists. That was hugely influential to my writing—I was able to get feedback on and comment on the work of other aspiring teenage writers across the world. I am still in touch with a few of the friends I made on that site more than a decade ago.

Treasure CoverNEWHow did you come up with the idea for Treasure?

I spent the summer volunteering at Little Brook Farm in 2009. I wanted to use my profession as a writer to help spread the word about the good work they were doing, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. At the time, I was working on a book for the Random House Horse Diaries series, which are all told from the horse’s point of view. From there, I had the idea to make up a story about the life of one of the Little Brook horses, based on the facts that were known. There were so many interesting horses on the farm that it was hard to pick just one, but I ended up settling on Treasure because she was such a sweet mare
who was so valuable to the farm despite being “just” a mixed-breed pony who had been saved from slaughter. I was also able to work in a lot of the other horses’ tales, because in my story the horses can talk to each other.

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Young rider with Treasure at Little Brook Farm

Can you tell us why you’re passionate about the charity you’re supporting with this book?

Little Brook Farm is the nation’s oldest horse rescue, established by Lynn Cross in 1977. They have rescued hundreds of horses, ponies, and other animals. People sometimes think that only sick, lame, or behaviorally difficult horses end up homeless or at slaughter auctions, but that is far from true. The farm has a number of rescued horses who have competed in eventing, dressage, and vaulting competitions. Some of these horses do need special care, but still make wonderful horses for pleasure riding or competition. I think it’s so important that people realize rescues are more than throwaway horses.

I also love that Little Brook Farm offers kids from a city environment the chance to experience farm life on class field trips. Lynn showed me some wonderful letters from people who visited the farm as children and wrote years later to say that one trip changed their lives and motivated them to do well in school or seek out careers working with animals. Horses reconnect us to a part of ourselves and our heritage that is easy to forget in a culture where most of our days are spent inside staring at screens or books. In the end, I believe horses help us as much as we help them.

Whitney, you’ve written other horse books. Can you tell us about those and about the research you did for them?

I have wrGOLDEN SUN jacket copyitten two books for the Random House Horse Diaries chapter book series, which my mother, Ruth Sanderson illustrated. Each book is about a different type of horse at the time when that breed was developed. Golden Sun tells the story of a Native American boy and an Appaloosa horse as they grow up on the western plains together in 1790. My second book in the series, Darcy, is about a Connemara pony working on an Irish farm in 1917.

Even though they are fairly simple stories, they required a lot of historical research. Something as simple as not knowing what the weather would be like at a certain time of year or what kind of tack a horse would be wearing can lead to a lot of frustration—because if you don’t get it right, the copyeditor will call you on it later!

In Golden Sun, I made the mistake of just guessing on some things that ended up not being correct, and then having to do a lot of revisions. With Darcy, I was careful to seek sources for anything I was unsure about. It’s one of the challenges of writing historical fiction. One of the benefits is that you end up learning a lot about topics you’d otherwise know nothing about, like Native American vision quests or farming in rural Ireland.

Can you tell us what you like best about horses? And are any of the books based on horses you’ve owned?

One of my favorite things about horses is how individual their personalities are. My Appaloosa, Thor, has a wise and calm disposition—I like to call him a horse philosopher. Another horse I owned, Gabriel, was kind of an equine Abercrombie model—very cute, a little sulky at times, and loved to be the center of attention. Both Thor and Gabe were actually models for two books in the Horse Diaries series—Golden Sun and Koda.Koda

My mother, Ruth Sanderson, takes really detailed photo reference for each illustration in the books, so she often has to set up scenes with various horses and people in costumes…it can be pretty involved. Thor took it all in stride when a bunch of people dressed in American Indian style clothing showed up at the stable to have their picture taken with him for Golden Sun, but Gabe seemed really excited to be in the quarter horse story, Koda. There was one scene where the girl in the book is sick, lying on the ground, and Koda is trying to get her to wake up. Gabe was really hamming it up, circling around and nuzzling her. I think he missed his calling as a Hollywood star. If they ever make the books into TV episodes, he’d be perfect!

You’ve alThe Black Stallionways loved horses–that’s clear. Did you also read horse stories growing up?

Yes, many of them. I read the Black Stallion books, the Thoroughbred series, and all of the Marguerite Henry books. But by far my favorite was The Saddle Club series by Bonnie Bryant. Until pretty recently you could throw out a random nuMistymber between one and a hundred, and I could tell you the title of that book in the series and describe the plot. When I was around nine, I wrote to Bonnie Bryant and was so excited when she wrote back—I kept the letter on my bulletin board for years. Now I sometimes get letters from readers of Horse Diaries, and it’s so cool to realize that kids are enjoying my books the way I once looked forward to the latest Saddle Club.saddle club

It’s awesome to think that maybe someday the fans of your books might end up as authors themselves. I hope you don’t mind answering a few more questions as I’m sure those eager readers would love to know more about their favorite author.

Where have you lived (or visited) and how has that influenced your work?

I grew up in Ware, Massachusetts, which is a pretty rural town. My family had a Victorian house with an old barn, and when I was about eight years old, my parents fixed it up so we could have horses on the property. It was wonderful to be able to go out and see the horses any time I wanted—although I was homeschooled, so it also probably contributed to my rushing through my work so I could get out to the barn faster. The English lessons mostly stuck because I liked reading and writing, but don’t try to quiz me on algebra!

As far as places I have traveled, I was able to visit Ireland with my mom and sister while I was researching Darcy. Being able to see the landscape and culture where the book was set made it so much easier to come up with authentic descriptions. I met a woman who owned Connemara ponies and ran thDarcy jacket copye local pony club for decades, and we got to take a wonderful ride along the windswept coast of Ireland. The internet can tell you a lot, but there is no substitute for visiting the place you are writing about.

Do you have any advice for anyone who dreams of becoming an author?

If you want to be an author, I would say become comfortable with the whole writing process that comes before publication. I tend to start a lot more projects than I finish, but I always feel a sense of pride when I have a completed manuscript that I have sent out to an agent or publisher, regardless of whether I ultimately sell it. Even if that particular work isn’t accepted, the rejections can teach you a lot about the process, and about what not to do. Even if you don’t sell your first story, or your second, just getting practice with carrying through a project from start to finish will serve you well when you finally hit on something that an editor thinks is gold.

What project(s) are you working on now?

I’m currently working on another Horse Rescue book, this time set at Blue Star Equiculture, a draft horse rescue in Palmer, MA. Another project I have in mind is a young adult series about a group of teenage girls who get into the sport of three-day eventing.

What super power do you wish you had?

The power to overcome writer’s block! Or to really be able to talk to horses instead of just imagining what they might say.

Do you have a funny story about when you were young?

Well, it’s funny in retrospect…Once, when I was about fourteen, I was riding on a trail with my friend on her 12-hand pony, Widget. There was a small tree fallen across the path, about 3 feet high. I jumped it with Thor, but Widget had second thoughts and ended up only half jumping it. So she was literally balanced on the tree on her stomach with her legs dangling above the ground. She couldn’t seem to get the leverage to move either way, and although she was surprisingly calm about it, we were worried she would panic and really injure herself.

I rode back to the barn for help, but my parents weren’t home and no one was around, so I left some incoherent note about Widget being stuck in a tree on the trail. Then I found a hand saw and a container of jellybeans and rode back into the park. People that I passed on the road gave me very strange looks. Fortunately, the hand saw turned out to be unnecessary, since Widget scrambled over the log as soon as she heard the container of jellybeans rattle. My friend and I decided the moral of that story was “always carry jellybeans in your pocket, because you never know when you might need to get a pony out of a tree.”

Thinking about your parents reading your note about a pony being stuck in a tree makes me laugh — now that I know you got her out safely. I’ll have to remember the jellybean trick. I never realized horses liked jellybeans.

What’s one thing you’ve always dreamed of doing?

Someday I’d like to be able to adopt a rescue horse—and I’ll know where to find one when that day comes!

Whitney on Thor

Whitney on Thor

About Whitney Sanderson:

Whitney Sanderson is the author of Horse Rescue: Treasure. 50% of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Little Brook Farm. Whitney is also the author of Horse Diaries: Golden Sun and Horse Diaries: Darcy, both from Random House. You can find out more about Whitney on her website and about how the various horses were photographed and painted on the Horse Diaries blog.

About the Interviewer:

WantedGraceandtheGuiltless_smA lifelong horse-lover, Laurie J. Edwards has an MA from Vermont College and is completing an MFA in Children’s Writing and Illustrating at Hollins University. With more than 2200 articles and a dozen books in print, she is the author of the young adult Western, Grace and the Guiltless (Capstone, 2014), about an orphaned teen whose only friend is her horse. Laurie would love to connect with readers on Facebook and Twitter, or visit her blog.

Treasure CoverNEWTo win a copy of Horse Rescue: Treasure, leave a comment below. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter and let us know for extra chances to win. Winner will be chosen on January 3, 2014.

 

Congratulations to Debbie McLeod, the winner of the free copy of Treasure!

Interview with Julie Mata–and a Giveaway!


Julie's book portrait (2)

 About Julie:

Julie Mata didn’t realize she was a humor writer until she started writing and it came out…sideways. She admits she has occasionally tried to force funny, which always hurts. Julie is the author of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, published by Disney Hyperion. Her second novel, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars, arrives in May 2015. Both books will also be published in German by CBT, a division of Random House Germany. Julie’s Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers fun 15-second filmmaking tips for kids, and you can learn more about Julie on her website, juliemata.com, or by following her on Twitter at @juliehmata.

 

 

ZombieChickens2

About the Book  (From IndieBound):

Night of the Zombie Chickens is supposed to be Kate Walden’s breakout film. But her supporting actresses-her mother’s prize organic hens-are high maintenance, to say the least. Thank goodness Kate’s best friend Alyssa is the star. She’s great at screaming and even better at killing zombies in creative ways.

But when Alyssa ditches Kate for the most popular girl in seventh grade, Kate suddenly finds herself both friendless and starless. Now, thanks to Alyssa’s new crowd, Kate is the butt of every joke at school and consigned to the loser table at lunch.

If movies have taught Kate anything, it’s that the good guy can always win-with the right script. And her fellow social outcasts may be the key to her own happy ending. Kate hatches the perfect revenge plot against her former best friend, but even though her screenplay is foolproof, Kate soon realizes that nothing-in filmmaking or in life-ever goes exactly as planned. Especially when there are diabolical hens out to get you.

 

Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens is your debut novel. Can you tell us a little about its journey from idea to book?

I knew I wanted to write a middle grade novel but I wasn’t sure what to write about. I was sitting in my kitchen one night and the familiar maxim came to mind, write what you know. My first reaction was, I don’t know much! As I thought more about it, I realized that wasn’t exactly true. My husband and I own a video production business and I once wrote and directed a short film, so I know about film and video production. It occurred to me that kids love to make movies with their friends.  Why not write about a girl who wants to be a Hollywood director when she grows up? Of course, she had to be working on a movie. At the time, we were living on an acreage with a small menagerie that included chickens, so I knew about raising hens. Kids love zombies, so I decided that Kate would make a movie about zombie chickens. And Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens was born!

 

What advice do you have for kids who want to make their own movies?

Kids can learn a lot just by watching movies. For instance, how do the professionals frame their shots and how do they move the camera? They can also try Kate Walden’s method, which is to just do it—make a short movie with their friends.  It’s okay to make mistakes because that’s a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. My Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers quick 15-second filmmaking tips on easy ways to create some cool shots. I cover everything from how to make blood to using a skateboard as a camera dolly. Lastly, I would advise kids to try writing a script instead of just winging it. And keep it fun!

 

What have you got against chickens?

Those evil creatures! Ha, actually I love chickens. I also think eggs are delicious. Some of the chicken behavior in my book came from our own hens’ antics, like roosting (and pooping) in the garage, or climbing into cars and pecking at groceries. For my story, I thought it would be funnier if Kate hates eggs and suspects her mother’s hens are trying to ruin her life. She has to work with them because they have roles in her movie, but she doesn’t trust them!

 

It looks like you’ve got a sequel lined up. Can you tell us about it? Are there more to come after that?

There is a sequel, and I’m thrilled because I recently finished final revisions on it and sent it off! It’s entitled, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars. In this story, Kate’s classmates can’t wait to be in her next production…until a know-it-all new boy shows up who also likes to make movies. Kate hopes to impress him with her vast movie-making knowledge. Instead, they become rivals. But can Kate’s slime-spewing sci-fi flick beat the new boy’s gritty crime drama? The film wars are on!

I haven’t heard anything yet about additional books, but I certainly hope there will be more!

 

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, what would it be?

In my story, Kate and her friend Alyssa have a huge fight and Kate is sure their friendship is over. She even does some mean things to get back at Alyssa. I hope readers take away that friendships are important and despite the confusion and frustration they sometimes cause. Even if mean things are said or done in the heat of a fight, just saying I’m sorry can go a long way toward healing hurt feelings. And, of course, if we want our friends to forgive us, we have to be willing to forgive them, too!

And if I’m allowed a second thing, it would be that it’s great to dream big, but you have to work hard to make your dream come true, and you can’t give up when obstacles get in the way. Kate runs into big problems trying to make her movie, including her fight with Alyssa, but she doesn’t give up trying to finish it.

 

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed KATE WALDEN DIRECTS: NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIE CHICKENS?

The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes, is for a slightly younger audience but I think readers will really enjoy the quirky humor. The Wig: Crazy Summer by Renata Suerth is funny and a great story, and Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald is also loads of fun. There are so many good books out there right now that it’s hard to pick just a few!

 

What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?

I love that middle-grade fiction is more complex than early readers but more innocent than YA. Middle grade is perfect because it’s right in the middle. It doesn’t have to deal with boyfriend-girlfriend drama in the same way that seems to be expected in YA these days. MG characters might have similar concerns as YA characters, like friendships, family problems, a crush, but those themes can be treated in a lighter fashion. I love that middle grade readers are perceptive and smart and can read about weightier issues as long as they’re handled well. In fact, I think they appreciate real characters with real flaws. That’s why I love writing middle-grade fiction, and I love reading it for the same reasons.

 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?

I would advise reading A LOT, but especially new middle-grade fiction. Reading the old classics is great, too, but it’s important to study current styles to see what young readers like and what publishers are buying. I wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel before Kate Walden Direct: Night of the Zombie Chickens (it’s still sitting in my drawer!) and I didn’t follow my own advice. I wrote it in a style similar to middle-grade fantasies I had read as a child. After finishing it, I did the research I should have done earlier and realized that style was dated. Even worse, I read an agent’s description of overused plot elements she didn’t want to see, and almost every element was in my story!

I think it’s also essential to become a member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI provides valuable information and classes, as well as great networking and learning opportunities through their conferences. It’s a wonderful way to meet other authors, gain access to agents and publishers, and make friends!

Thanks Julie!

Julie has generously offered to give away a Zombie Chicken signed copy of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens. Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 Jacqueline Houtman  learned her way around the insides of a chicken at the University of Delaware. Her next book is a middle-grade biography of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Quaker Press).