So sorry this post is a day late! MFA life is lovely, but sometimes all-consuming. Anyway, enough with my excuses and here we go.
The winner of last week’s giveaway for Nan Marino’s new book, Hiding Out In The Pancake Palace is…Rosi!
Email me, Rosi, at katiawrites (at) gmail (dot) com with your address! Woo-hoo!
But wait, I am not done. We have another winner.
Well, I couldn’t help it. When I saw how quickly and enthusiastically one of this blog’s loyal readers took up the call to spread the word about my little contest, I just had to order another copy. Had to.
The second winner of course is … Joanne Fritz!
Thank you everyone for participating!
Be patient with me, Rosi and Joanne, as you await your yet-to-be-autographed copies. Nan is busy traveling and promoting her book, but she will be back soon. I will plan a get-together with her and she will sign your books as soon as possible!
In the meantime, this being the last day of April, I would like to end my Middle Grade Month with one last giveaway and an interview with another great author, Stephanie Blake, of The Marble Queen. Published by Amazon in 2012, it is the story of a free-thnking girl in 1959 who faces hurdles in her desire to enter a marble competition and become the next marble king — or, well, queen.
SB: The Marble Queen sat in a slush pile at Marshall Cavendish for the better part of a year! I had give up on trying to get published, so when my editor contacted me after all that time, I was shocked. I wrote the manuscript fairly quickly, but it went through several heavy revisions–I’d say 8.
KR: Was it the first book you ever wrote? (If no, what how many manuscripts have you accumulated? Are they all under-the-bed gathering dust? Or is there hope for some of them?)
SB: I have four other manuscripts “under the bed.” I don’t think any of them are viable. I have some regrets about that, but with every piece of writing I’ve done, I can see growth as a writer. Plotting is my weakness.
KR: What was the easiest, most accessible part of that story to you? Was it Freedom’s voice and personality? Or the story’s situation –the marble competition? Was it the time period? Or the ending? And alternately, what part of the story gave you most trouble, took the most figuring out?
SB: The Marble Queen is the book of my heart. I love Freedom. She’s a real person to me. Her voice and personality are very distinct in my head. The hardest part of telling her story had to be working on the marble competition scenes. No spoilers here, but my editor was the one who suggested the outcome of the competition. I’m happy how it worked out.
KR: Why did you choose this particular historical period?
SB: I chose 1959 because like Freedom who is coming-of-age, so was America. We were just about to enter the turbulent 60s and Freedom was about to have her eyes opened about her parents and about so many adult things. The time period really mirrored Freedom’s growth as a preteen girl. Also, it wouldn’t do to have modern children playing marbles.
KR: What’s your process like? Are you a plotter or a seat-of-the-pantster?
SB: I am a plotter of sorts. I like to use Excel to make sparse outlines. Usually when I start writing a book, the character is speaks to me first. I might think of a cool title or concept and it takes weeks and months to give the character a plot.
KR: Tell us about what having your first published book has been like. Tell us about the surprises.
SB: Just like having a baby, I’ve forgotten the struggles I went through with revisions and copy edits. About halfway through production on the book, my original publisher sold my title to Amazon Children’s. That was a big surprise. My experience as an Amazon author has been absolutely amazing.
KR: Finally, what’s next? What are you working on now?
SB: I am thrilled to say that The Marble Queen is a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. That’s been a trip! My editor has a proposal for a companion novel to The Marble Queen. That story deals with a character from The Marble Queen and is set in 1971. I’m also toying with a direct sequel and have some ideas about what happens next to Freedom. If I never sell another book, it will be okay. I’m just so lucky that Freedom’s story is out there in the world.
Thank you so much, Stephanie! So excited about all the new possibilities. I hope we all will be reading more from you soon!
Meanwhile, I’ve got some swag and a copy of “The Marble Queen” to give away. Let’s make this simple. To enter, leave a comment sharing the name of your favorite RECENT MG title and tell us why you love it so. (If you really cannot think of a recent title, mention your favorite middle grade novel of all time. One of my recent favorites is Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin, a spare, elegant book that manages to capture the spirit of the terrible 1930s in the Soviet Union, and end with hope at the same time).
The giveaway ends by the close of this Friday, May 3. I will be good and announce the winner next Monday, May 6. Ready, set, go!
Come on, lovely people! Spread the word! Nan Marino’s second novel, Hiding Out At The Pancake Palace was released out into the world last week! I am ashamed to say I have not read it yet (except for an absolutely gorgeous first chapter). Still, I am privileged to say I know a lot about the story. Nan and I spent many late nights at our local diner talking about her many adventures writing this book. (Yes, I am doubly privileged to count Nan as not only my good writing friend, but practically a neighbor! Lucky me, right?)
I have an enormous TBR list of fantasy and dystopian stuff I am trying to work through for my next VCFA packet, but I will get to what I am certain is an amazing story as soon as I can.
Meanwhile, those of you guys who are either not currently enrolled into an MFA program, or whose lists include realistic fiction, will probably get the chance to read this treasure before I do. Lucky!!!
Here is the summary: A super-famous 11-year-old singer freezes up on stage during a big-deal singing contest show. He runs off to hide in the Jersey Pines, wild paparazzi on his trail and befriends a local girl with an inability to perceive music.
According to a Kirkus starred review, “the audience will eat it up!”
Nan, who is also the author of Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle And Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me (also from Roaring Book Press) had a long road to writing success, which is something she talks about at her book signings and visits. Yes, she went through many rejections, many manuscripts, tough times. So seeing her success now is doubly encouraging for both writers and young readers!
So, here is the deal, my dears. I have a brand new, fresh-smelling copy of “Hiding Out” sitting on the shelf, that I would be happy to give away to a worthy winner.
But a giveaway contest is more fun with a whole bunch of participants, clamoring for the prize, don’t you think?
So, this week, I decided my contest will have a catch. If you want to participate, leave a comment here. And then, bring a guest along to this party! Find a friend — preferably someone interested in great books for young people, of course. Just one friend, I am not greedy! Tell them to leave a comment here too, and their name will be entered into a contest along with yours, as long as their comment mentions your name — that is, the name of the person who referred them.
Any questions, troops?
What’s that? Do I hear grumbling? Or is that a murmur of excitement?
To thank the participants for going through the trouble, I will sweeten the prize. Once I have a winner, I will meet up with Nan and ask her to autograph the book with the winner’s name! I know Nan will say yes. She is cool like that.
So, come on, everyone! Let’s make this big! You want me to keep hosting giveaway contests here at the Magic Mirror, don’t you? (Yes, there might be an implied threat in there somewhere… A carrot and a stick, hm?)
Take it away, dear friends and readers! And once again, congratulations, Nan!
P.S. This contest ends at the end of Friday, April 26th. Winner will be announced on Monday, April 29th. And if you guys are good and give me a nice turnout, then I’ll reward you all with one more MG giveaway next week!
April Middle-Grade Month is rolling along here at the Magic Mirror. Last Monday I talked to Shannon Hitchock, my fellow Namelos debut author. Well, really, you guys did! Those of you who sent your questions, I thank you for participating. That was so much fun. The answers were really illuminating to me, and I don’t think you can find some of those elsewhere in cyber space Once again, Shannon, congratulations on writing such an exquisite song of a book.
Those of you who didn’t win, if you’re into history and beautiful writing, I hope you get a copy, both in support of Shannon, and also because I think you owe it to yourselves, I really do!
And now…it’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway! My daughter is in school, and thus unavailable to help me pick a name out of a hat the way she usually does for these contests. (Yes, I like a personal touch.)
Good girl. Good girl! Hey! You’ve already picked! Now leave my hat alone! Leave it! That’s my favorite hat!!!
Anyway. [Clears throat]. The winner is:….. CLARA GILLOW CLARK!
Clara is a fellow author and a longtime supporter of the Magic Mirror. Yay, Clara! I already have your email address, and so I’ll be in touch later today. I am thrilled that you won. Thank you so much for participating.
Next week, I am planning to talk to my super writing friend Nan Marino. (Yes, she’s both a super writer and a super friend).
I’ll be talking to Nan about her second book, Hiding Out At The Pancake Palace: a middle-grade title featuring music, friendship and secrets set in the Jersey Pines. Hiding Out is officially released tomorrow! Woo-hoo! I know how hard you’ve been working on this book, Nan.
Tomorrow, I’ll be going to the launch party, and I am beyond excited. I’ll have you know I’ve never been to a book launch party before. Is there a dress code?
Congratulations on what I am sure is going to be another amazing success!
Next Monday, look for an interview/post all about Nan and her writing awesomeness.
Shannon and I have met around ten years ago at an SCBWI retreat on the Jersey Shore, both of us newbies in the world of children’s literature (well, I know I was!) Rooming together in a small country club, Shannon and I shared our manuscripts, our anxieties, our dreams. Now, Shannon and I are pub. house mates!
I am proud to celebrate Shannon’s debut, which really does read like a ballad. Richard Peck, who had read Shannon’s manuscript back in its beginning stages, and then again, last year, puts it beautifully: “With the poetry of plain speaking, Shannon Hitchcock recreates the daily drama of a vanished world.”
There is plenty of drama in the Ballad of Jessie Pearl: death and birth, love and rivalry, dreams of a better future. Jessie manages to be both spunky and a dreamer, true to her time (finely and authentically rendered early 1920s) and in many ways a flighty, stubborn teenager. Most of all, Jessie is a smart, inspiring heroine facing some difficult choices.
Even though the main character is a young woman coming of age, the story is equally suited for younger, middle-grade audiences interested in history (and of course, their teachers).
If you’ve heard the buzz and have been curious, now is your chance to win your own paperback copy! To enter the giveaway, leave a question for Shannon right here in the comments. Whatever you’re curious about: the writing process, the book’s birth, the challenges Shannon faced, or the history she wrote about, ask away — Shannon graciously promised to try and answer.
The giveaway ends at 5 a.m. next Monday, April 15, and I plan to announce the winner by noon that day. Let’s make it good, fellow readers and writers! Let the questions roll in!
Shannon, I’ll go first: what were the biggest surprises about the publication process and beyond? What’s it been like for you, to see it all come together at last? Thanks again so much for doing this!
No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke — this month the Magic Mirror is going Middle Grade!
I will admit, I am a YA writer first. But lately, middle-grade stories have been on my mind. Maybe it’s my daughter growing up. Maybe it’s all this wonderful reading I’ve been doing as part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program. But I’ve been discovering a younger girl inside me wanting to be heard — all these younger ideas zinging through my mind and my heart.
We will see.
What I love the most about middle grade books is their shortness and elegance — the ability of a writer to tell a rich story with fewer words. That, and a certain optimism, a sense of possibility, that idea that the world is still a frontier, waiting to be explored and understood. Of course, young adult books can — and do — also achieve these things that in a middle-grade story are basically a requirement. Whatever we read and write, from picture books to YA and beyond, middle-grade novels are filled with many wonders we can absorb and learn from.
To celebrate the wonderfully diverse tradition of literature for the young, adventurous, smart middle-grade minds, this month I would like to host giveaways to celebrate three wonderful MG authors, two of them my writing friends (one of them my publishing house mate!) and another just a fabulous new writer.
I will start next week with my friend and fellow Namelos debut author Shannon Hitchcock and her elegant Ballad of Jessie Pearl, which has been gathering much (well-deserved!) critical acclaim since the story came out in February. So stay tuned!
In the meantime, tell me, what is it about middle-grade stories that speaks to you?
Last night I sent in the second packet of writing work to my Vermont College of Fine Arts advisor, the tough, ther wise, the formidable Tim Wynnne-Jones.
Two down. Only eighteen more to go. Ha! And yet, everyone who has been through the program says these two years and twenty packets pass so fast.
Very soon Tim will send back a letter with feedback reading which will feel both excruciating and illuminating. I will question myself — and this whole crazy adventure — I will take a moment to whine and wallow, and then the work will start again.
Right now, I am just enjoying the time off. That, and catching up – there is always more research, more reading, more outlining. But after the last four weeks of intensity, it feels like a vacation. Nothing compares to the pressure of frantically honing your craft, learning fiercely and writing your brains out in the middle of a VCFA packet.
And that, in the end, is how we learn best.
I know I have to have my down times, to be there for my amazing family, to be in the world, to take care of my body, to sit back and remember what it’s like to do nothing at all. During these times, it seems so easy — keeping the balance of work and life with small, steady little page-steps.
But then, I also need these other times, the maddening and thrilling night-day cycles when I get possessed, drunk on the work and slightly panicked, when I start believing that sleep is for mortals, when it feels like the pressure of the work and the learning takes everything out of me. Believe me I feel so relieved today, catching my breath with gratitude.
And yet, nothing is as glorious, scary, frightening, sickening, dizzying, empowering, as writing under pressure. And I am grateful for it, too.
Two days ago the world around me was wind, the sky lashing rain, and now the yard is covered with soft, beautiful, unwelcome snow. Oh, the foolishness of premature celebrations!
As one Russian proverb says, “Don’t say ‘hop!’ before you jump over.”
I don’t have time for a long or particularly thoughtful post, so I’ll give you guys a little update on all that crazy homework.
– I sent out the second-round revision of my first novel to editor! Yay! Am I getting close? I’ll find out soon enough! Fingers crossed.
– I finished the research — for now. Halted it is the better word. Here is what I have learned all over again: conducting research for a historical fiction project is incredibly gratifying. Immersing yourself in a period (1930s USSR), hunting for knowledge among books, movies and old photographs is pure fun. Unearthing details, making new discoveries. It does make you sort of forget your own world a little. You start hearing old-fashioned music in your head. You start constructing your sentences differently. Still, you feel like you’re only getting started. You want to see more. Learn more. There is so much more. And then you realize, your second VCFA packet deadline is fast approaching and those essays are not going to write themselves. Sigh.
– While I am getting ready to revise my creative work for my Vermont College of Fine Arts advisor, I am frantically writing two essays on craft. One has to do with the use of imagery in world-building. The other is about a fantasy story “earning its portal” into another world, before introducing the reader to the magic. I have always prided myself on my essay-writing skills. Now, suddenly, I feel like a sloppy kindergartener. The going is slow.
– I am also reading, reading, reading.
– With fresh knowledge and insight, next week, I am hoping to tackle the novel again. Yes, it’s time. My packet deadline is early next Thursday! Aaaaaah!
When you attend VCFA, your life quickly gets divided up into what the college calls “packets.” There are five of them, each semester, one due roughly every month. Each packet includes essays, thoughts on books you read and creative work. This crazy second packet I am in the middle of right now is sometimes making me wonder, what was I thinking, when I imagined it would be easy? Sometimes, another cowardly thought crawls in: what were they thinking? The VCFA admissions staff who accepted me? What were they thinking when they decided I could handle this — that I belonged?
But the thought makes me feel better, too. Because sometimes it’s easier to defer to the wisdom of others. And also, because Vermont is my place. I had known it for a long time, even if I was afraid to admit it. I would have been heart-broken if those doors slammed in my face.
So, even with the craziness right now, I remind myself that yes, I can do this. And more importantly, there is nothing else I’d rather be doing, anyway.
Okay, time to walk the dog under the relentlessly falling snow. And after that, back to homework!
Love to all,
In Russia the first of March is celebrated as the first day of spring. And even though I have been here in the United States for almost twenty years (longer than I have lived back in the good old USSR), this is one of those traditions that stuck, I guess, because today my step has that extra spring in it.
I love all seasons. But since childhood, spring has been special. Back in Russia it meant shedding heavy coats at last, getting to stay out in the yard later, looking for podsnezhniki, or snowdrop flowers in the woods with my babushka. Spring meant teachers getting kinder. Spring meant suddenly noticing a cute boy in my class.
Today spring still holds a promise. Spring makes it okay to be glad, silly, exuberant. There is something about this season that speaks to the kid I still am.
So I’d like to take this occasion to wish you happy spring, dear friends and readers. May your life fill with birdsong, may it sprout with many new shoots.
I’ve been meaning to do this little post for a month now, following my glorious January residency. What can I say? It’s a good thing I’m no longer in journalism!
Anyway – here it goes. Rebecca Stead, middle-grade author of Newbery-winning “When You Reach Me” and most recently, “Liar & Spy” came to Vermont last month to hang out at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. With her permission, I am passing some of her wise advice along to you, lucky readers of The Magic Mirror
“Tell your world.”
One place good fiction does NOT come from — cannot come from is ”outside the writer,” Rebecca said. That is not to say every story has to be autobiographical, or that great stories can’t be fantasy, of course.
But every story must tell the truth, your truth, by revealing a unique, authentic world that can only come from you the writer.
According to Rebecca, our stories fail when we find ourselves seeking out a formula to follow, or “attempting to write what we think they know, as opposed to what we know.”
Instead, Rebecca urged each one of us to “tell our world.”
What I took away from this is that we need to stay true, true to the heart of why we write, what bothers and calls to us as writers. We need to stay true to the material our writing soul is made of. How can you produce anything close to greatness when anxiously scanning recent bestsellers for trends or trying to second-guess what readers want? Readers don’t even know what they want, half the time, not until they read it!
A lot of good writing starts with good questions, Rebecca said. “A lot if it is about the authenticity of the questions you’re asking,” she said.
“A good reader is like a dementor.”
Reading is not a passive experience. Readers, according to Rebecca, have a job. In that way they are like dementors, “sucking up” the writer’s insight. But you as a writer cannot simply put that insight on a serving dish and offer it to the reader. You can’t feed the reader, Rebecca said. ”Readers need to feel like they’re essential to your story,” she said. “When I read, I want to feel hungry. I don’t want to feel stuffed.” In other words, don’t explain, don’t tell what you should be showing, don’t cram your conclusions down the readers’ throats. According to Rebecca, in “crafting a story that doesn’t stifle the flow of energy from the reader to the writer,” get rid of:
–problems raised and solved too quickly,
–characters explaining the meaning of their behavior,
– summary of emotion, summary in general”
– stating the questions the reader should be asking independently.
Rebecca said a story disappoints when she feels the writer “has taken my job as a reader away.”
She called upon us writers to “trust the reader!”
I hope you find this advice as inspiring, challenging and liberating as I did it.