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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). 

 

Interview with Gayle Rosengren–and a Giveaway

Fiona & Me

Gayle Rosengren (and Fiona)

About Gayle: Gayle Rosengren grew up in Chicago and majored in creative writing at Knox College.  She never outgrew her passion for children’s books, and she worked in the children’s and young adult services departments of  her local library for several years, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people.  After moving to Madison, Wisconsin, she worked first in the reference library and later as a copyeditor at American Girl.  She also published short stories in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children’s Digest. Now Gayle writes full-time in her home outside of Madison, where she lives with her husband Don and their slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. She is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children’s lives as her favorite books made in hers.   What the Moon Said is her first novel.

WhatTheMoonSaid_presales

 

From Indiebound: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can’t keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther’s family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.

Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but that means there are plenty of opportunities for Esther to show her mother how helpful she can be. She loves all of the farm animals (except the mean geese) and even better makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?  Debut author Gayle Rosengren brings the past to life in this extraordinary, hopeful story.

What the Moon Said is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Here is what the reviewers had to say:

“Rosengren, in her first novel, offers an intimate account of a family’s adjustment to country life and the hardships of the Great Depression. It’s easy to root for Esther, who makes the most of each day, wants little, and gives much.”  Publishers Weekly

“A coming-of-age tale gets to the heart of family dynamics in the face of drastic life changes in the earliest days of the Depression.”   Booklist

“…the story triumphs in its small vignettes…”  School Library Journal

“… Sensitive and tender.”     Kirkus

What kind of research did you do about depression-era Chicago and Wisconsin? What was the hardest part?  

I had heard a lot of stories about my mother’s  life on the farm while I was growing up, but it was all in very broad strokes. I needed to fill in lots of details, about life on a farm and especially about farm and city life during the Great Depression.  I first reached out to my mother and she was able to provide a few really nice details, but for the most part her memories were cloudy and unreliable.  So I moved on to books for a general sense of the times, and then I went to my computer to research more nitty-gritty details online.  The hardest part was not taking anything for granted. For example, I originally planned to have the two teachers at Esther’s school distribute candy canes on the last day of school before Christmas.  I suddenly wondered if they would have been wrapped in cellophane at the time, or if perhaps the teachers would have wrapped them in waxed paper. Asking my mother led to a vague, “They must have been…it wouldn’t have been sanitary if they weren’t.”  Unconvinced, I went to my laptop to research candy canes only to discover they weren’t even available to the public until the 1950’s!  Who knew?  So a quick change from candy canes to gingerbread men was immediately made to the manuscript.  I was incredibly relieved I’d caught the error before it made it into print.  All my careful research was nearly undermined by a candy cane!  But this taught me a lesson about research that I won’t soon forget:  Never assume!

Esther’s mother seems to have a superstition for every possible situation. Do you have any superstitions of your own? 

My grandmother lived with us from the time I was eight years old, so she instilled in me the same superstitions that “Ma” drummed into Esther.   Even as a child I had my doubts about the connections between my actions and good or bad luck, but there was no getting around the required actions:  you spill salt, you toss it over your shoulder; you never tell a bad dream before breakfast or –eek!–it will come true; you never put a hat on a bed or someone is going to die(!); and, of course, you never EVER bring an open umbrella inside the house.  There were lots more, but you get the idea.  To this day, I won’t bring an umbrella inside the house until it’s closed, even if I get wet in the process of closing it outside.  It’s silly, and intellectually I know this but even though I don’t really believe in them, I “honor” them rather than tempting fate.  (Which I guess sort of undoes my denial of belief!)  In terms of my own superstitions, I do have a few.  The most significant one is that I always wear my mother’s ring when I do an event about What the Moon Said.  Although my mom knew I had written a book inspired by her childhood and had even read an early draft, she passed away before it was accepted for publication. Wearing her ring makes me feel as if she’s with me, seeing how well her story is being received and how many readers have fallen in love with the character of Esther.  She’d be so happy to know that.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from What the Moon Said, what would it be?

That you should follow your heart–trust it to guide you when you must make difficult decisions, as Esther did in the book.

Why do you write middle-grade?

I write middle grade because I think it’s the most fertile ground for planting and nurturing a love of books.  So much is new to middle grade readers.  They’re wide open to all kinds of stories–fiction, non-fiction, biographies, fairy tales, historical fiction, contemporary, mysteries, suspense, silliness.  This time in their lives is when the vast majority of them will discover the joy and excitement of entering the world of a book and be started down the path to being life-long readers.  I love being a part of that very important adventure and discovery.

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

As with writing for any genre, but especially writing for children and young adults, the first step is always to read, read, read what has been published in recent years.  Especially read the award winners and the books on recommended reading lists at libraries.  The children’s publishing market is evolving nearly as quickly as everything else. Read to get a sense of what is out there already and to get some sense of the terrain.  Then forget about what you read and write your own story–not with the thought of making a fortune or a getting a movie deal.  Just with the hope that it will resonate with young readers.  Write from your heart with no other goal than to touch theirs.

Gayle is giving away a signed copy of What the Moon Said. Enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas. She is currently working on a biography of Bayard Rustin for young readers.

Crystal Chan Interview and Giveaway

 

Crystal headshot, color

About Crystal:

Crystal Chan grew up as a mixed-race kid in the middle of the Wisconsin cornfields and has been trying to find her place in the world ever since. Over time, she found that her heart lies in public speaking, performing, and ultimately, writing. She has published articles in several magazines; given talks and workshops across the country; facilitated discussion groups at national conferences; and been a professional storyteller for children and adults alike. In Chicago, where Crystal now lives, you will find her biking along the city streets and talking to her pet turtle. Her debut middle-grade novel, Bird, is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. She is represented by Emily van Beek of Folio Literary Management. Bird has also sold in Australia, the UK, Brazil, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Romania. Also, Bird is out in audio book in the US, and the narrator is Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games.

Bird cover

About Bird (From IndieBound):

Jewel never knew her brother Bird, but all her life she has lived in his shadow. Her parents blame Grandpa for the tragedy of their family’s past; they say that Grandpa attracted a malevolent spirit–a duppy–into their home. Grandpa hasn’t spoken a word since. Now Jewel is twelve, and she lives in a house full of secrets and impenetrable silence.

Jewel is sure that no one will ever love her like they loved Bird, until the night that she meets a mysterious boy in a tree. Grandpa is convinced that the boy is a duppy, but Jewel knows that he is something more. And that maybe–just maybe–the time has come to break through the stagnant silence of the past.

 Bird is your debut novel. Can you tell us a little about its journey from idea to book?

I had just finished reading Keeper, by Kathi Appelt, and was sick at home from work. I had also finished my first manuscript and was fretting that I might not have another idea for another novel. Ever. I was thinking about this for hours, and finally I got so sick of myself that I said, Crystal, either you get up out of bed and write your next book, or you go to sleep because you’re sick. But you’re not going to lie in bed thinking about not writing your next book.

And then I started thinking more about Keeper, and how I loved that story; it’s about a girl who thought her mother turned into a mermaid and goes out to sea in search of her. And I thought, A girl who thinks her mother was a mermaid – that’s such a great idea – I wish I had thought of that! But what if… instead… there was a girl whose brother thought he was a bird, but then he jumped off a cliff because he thought he could fly … Then the voice of the protagonist, Jewel’s voice, started speaking and I got out of bed and wrote the first chapter.

Jamaican and Mexican cultures and beliefs play a prominent role in Bird, but seem very out of place in Iowa. What made you decide to introduce that culture clash?

There has always been a culture clash for me! (laughing) I’m half Polish, half Chinese, and grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. Navigating multiple cultures is the only thing I know. For example, my father, who is Chinese, demanded that I become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, and my mother, who is White, said I could be anything I want, which was also echoed by the larger American population. Of course, this was confusing and hard to navigate. Books that address culture clashes are out there but hard to come by, and I wanted to write a book for kids that might be experiencing them.

Do you believe in Duppies?

Possibly! :-)

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

The sense of story for middle-grade fiction has to be very, very strong. With adult literature, you can take your time on the page, show off your writing a little bit, and maybe twenty or fifty pages in you can start in the plot. If you give that same methodology to middle-grade kids, they’d chew you up alive. You need to have a strong story, a strong voice, and start it at the first line. I love that.

Why do you write middle-grade?

It’s the voice that came to me! My next WIP is for young adults, so we’ll see where my trajectory goes.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Bird, what would it be?

The power of forgiveness can transform you and those around you in startling ways.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed Bird?

Bud, not Buddy, The Tiger Rising, The Underneath, A Wrinkle in Time. And don’t forget about Bridge to Terabithia!

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

Accept whatever emotions come up inside you – don’t push them down or ignore them, even if it’s uncomfortable. Because if you don’t allow yourself to feel anger, sadness, grief, or loss, how can you possibly write about these emotions for your characters?

And write from your heart, always. When you write, remember you’re writing from a special space inside, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And practice telling stories – tell stories all the time. When you’re not telling stories, practice listening to others tell their stories. Because that’s all that writing really is: telling a story.

Crystal is giving away a copy of the UK version of Bird (complete with all those weird UK spellings). 

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Jacqueline Houtman  is the author of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas.