Tag Archives: interview

Indie Spotlight: Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena CA

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: It’s a pleasure to feature this month a bookstore that has served and been part of its community since 1894!  We’re speaking today with the store’s Promotional Director, Jennifer Ramos.
MUF: Vroman’s is a Pasadena landmark that has seen the city and the bookstore business through many ups and downs over the years—120 years and counting– and continues to thrive.  What’s your secret?vroman's front #2
Jennifer: There are so many factors that contribute to our longevity. We have a spectacular mix of book and gift items that is ever changing from the moment we opened; our booksellers are friendly, knowledgeable and very helpful; and a strong event series.

MUF: Describe the “feel” of Vroman’s today?  What do you hope people, especially young people will experience when they visit?
Jennifer: Vroman’s has a great feel to it. Welcoming, comfortable, a place where you may run into someone you know. With our events and mix of books and gift items, you never know what fun item you might find.

MUF: So glad to see you have a book club especially for middle-graders! Vroman's Counting What will The Tribe of Endless Readers be reading and discussing vrioman's 3Xnext?
Jennifer: their August pick is Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and for September it will be Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

MUF: Tomorrow is your Harry Potter release party.  What’s planned?  Any other events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?Jennifer: Our Harry Potter party will be taking place at Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra.Vroman's HP
They will have a Harry Potter art show up, we will be hosting a costume contest, crafts, a photo booth and then we will be handing out the new release at midnight! Tickets were available to those who pre-ordered the book from Vroman’s.
This coming August we have a few events that would be fun for middle-graders. On August 9th we are hosting a Krafttime with Kelly, on the 11th we will be having a storytelling event out under the stars, and that following Saturday we will be hosting a Caped Crusaders event. This event is a continuation of our Summer Reading Club.

MUF: One of the best things about independent bookstore collections is that they’re curated by people who know, love, and read books and can carry what they think best.  How do you go about choosing titles for Vroman’s?Vroman's MG shelf
Jennifer: We have book buyers who are in charge of picking the books we carry for our store. They work with our publisher representatives and watch for trends when picking what we are carrying. They also listen to our booksellers and look to our customers choices for additional help.

MUF: As middle grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourselves recommending to ages eight to twelve these days? (This question answered by Children’s Department manager, Ashlee Null).Vroman's CircusVroman's Copernicus
Ashlee: Fiction: Circus Mirandus by Vroman's One & OnlyCassie Beasly, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Copernicus Legacy by Tony Abbott, Wonder by R J Palacio, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Guts & GloryNon Fiction: Guinea Pig Scientists by Mel BoringVrman's Guinea8 and the Guts and Glory series by Ben Thompson (each one a different topic Vikings, World War 2, Civil War, etc)
These are common ones but it usually depends on the kid. Sometimes I pick things I’ve never read but know what its about enough to know they’d probably enjoy it.

MUF: If a family came from out of town to visit Vroman’s, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or a meal after shopping?  And if they could stay awhile, are there some unique sights or activities nearby they shouldn’t miss?
Jennifer: We have a few really great restaurants surrounding our store that would be good to stop into, including Tender Greens and Blaze Pizza. For unique sights or activities I’d suggest Kidspace and the Pasadena Museum of California Art.

MUF:  Thanks Jennifer and Ashlee, for telling more about your store.  Readers, have you visited Vroman’s?  If so, please comment here.  If not, be sure to stop by the next time you’re in the area!

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carllrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012).

Vromans front #1

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 with Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu + Giveaway

Today we have on the blog an interview with Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, author of SOMEWHERE AMONG, a beautiful and haunting debut novel in verse about an American-Japanese girl struggling with the loneliness of being caught between two worlds when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes an ocean away. Read on for the interview and a chance to win this lovely book!

somewhere among

What inspired SOMEWHERE AMONG?

Our life in Japan! I have lived and raised my children in a binational, bicultural, bilingual, multi-generational home in Tokyo for the past 24 years. Clashes, comedic scenarios and common ground have provided much introspection. Although I don’t see myself as a writer of Asian topics, there were a few things I wanted to share in children’s non-fiction magazine articles and picture books. I found it difficult to fill in the spaces of what American children know.

I started a children’s photo blog in 2006 when my youngest child was in fifth grade. That satisfied the desire to show modern Japan. I later started a novel set in Texas (my home state). After the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, I had to ground myself in Japan. Emotions and images and memories of our life and our nations’ shared history rushed into poems that turned into this story.

At the story’s center is a paper doll that a woman had handed me on the train in my early days here. The doll came with the message “May Peace Prevail on the Earth.” I had tried to write a picture book about that, but the story was too big for 32 pages.

The 2011 disaster spurred me to write about Japan and the paper doll was the inspiration and motivation to try to tell its story again.

What kind of research did you do to tell this story?

I had started out with what I remembered. Then after the first draft, I used news reports, newspaper articles, weather data, and websites like NASA’s. The storyline didn’t change much from the first drafts. Through revisions it was a matter of making sure the timeline was correct and layering details.

The school and family life details were inspired by but altered from our experience. My children went through the Japanese public system and we lived in a multi-generational home. I couldn’t have written this story without that experience. It would have been very shallow.

Hearing the story of 9/11 from the perspective of an American living overseas is fascinating. Is that something you planned from the beginning, or did it come out in the writing process?

I didn’t set out to write about 9-11. This story came about through grounding myself by reminiscing. Sitting down to write about our life and memories here, I couldn’t get very far before 9-11 came up.

However, the sinking of the Japanese fishing boat, the Ehime Maru actually came up first. That incident exemplified the struggle (I especially felt) to reconcile the history and tragedies that my children’s two nations share. I distinctly remember that sadness and the months of TV coverage. The fishing ship tragedy happened in February 2001.

So, through writing this story, I was dragged into dealing with 9-11 again. I was dealing with aftershocks at our Tokyo home and the grief of the tsunami damage from a distance. It was not easy to deal with this. I could have easily avoided writing this story.

What are some books of poetry or novels in verse you would recommend for kids?

Oh! I have to say that I have limited access to English books because of price and place. I cannot afford all the books I would love to buy and our local library only has two or three short shelves of Newbery winners. No verse novels.

The only verse novel I had read before I started Somewhere Among was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Holly Thompson’s young adult novel, Orchards, had arrived just before the earthquakes of 2011. I knew it was about suicide so I didn’t get to read it until after the aftershocks and I had written my first draft. I discovered and read Susan Taylor Brown’s Hugging the Rock. I also learned of and read Thanhha Lai’s middle grade Inside Out and Back Again after it had won the Newbery. I read Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming last summer. All of those are wonderful.

Since attending Highlights Foundations Verse Novel workshop in 2012, I have read and enjoyed the work of instructors Virginia Euwer Wolf, Sonya Sones, and Linda Oatman High and attendees K.A. Holt, Sarah Tregay, and Madeleine Kuderick. There are future verse novelists from that group to watch out for.

Helen Frost, Margarita Engle, Mariko Nagai, Leza Lowitz and Holly Thompson’s books are on my wish list. There are many other verse novels I would love to read. Most of them are for young adults. I read and write mostly for middle grade readers 9-12 so middle grade novels are my first choice of purchase now.

Children’s poetry anthologies aren’t particularly age-specific. All anthologies and books by Lee Bennett Hopkins are great. My children loved You be Good I’ll be Night by Eve Merriam. Talking Like the Rain by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy. My favorite children’s poets are Joyce Sidman, Janet Wong, Helen Frost, Charles Ghigna, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Coatsworth.

I enjoy the video interviews that Lee Bennett Hopkins and Renee La Tulippe produce about children’s poets. There are so many wonderful things done for poetry for children. Sylvia Vardell’s blog www.poetryforchildren.com . Poetry Minute for younger readers www.poetryminute.org and Poetry 180 for older readers www.loc.gov/poetry/180

 

Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu lives in Tokyo, Japan. Her work has been published in Hunger Mountain, Highlights, Highlights High Five, Y.A.R.N., and other magazines. She received a grant from the Highlights Foundation to attend Chautauqua in 2009. Somewhere Among won the 2013 Writers’ League of Texas award in the middle grade category and is her debut novel.

For a chance to win a copy of SOMEWHERE AMONG, please leave a comment below by noon Eastern time on Monday, May 30th. If you tweet about the contest, we can give you an extra entry. Continental U.S. only, please (sorry! It’s the postage!).

Katharine Manning sighed her way through the lovely SOMEWHERE AMONG. She is a middle grade writer of dreamy fantasies and fast-paced soccer books. To see more of her raving about middle grade books, visit Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter.