Tag Archives: middle grade

Book Tour: Southern California Edition

This spring, I have teamed up with the lovely author Elana K. Arnold for a book tour. We’re a great match up because we both have new middle grade novels (A BOY CALLED BAT and the QUARTZ CREEK RANCH series) as well as new young adult novels (WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF and POINTE, CLAW). For each stop on our tour, we are doing both a middle grade event and a YA event. I’ve just returned from the Southern California leg of our tour, and I am bubbly with things to report!

#1

Elana has a bird named Bird, a cat, and two dogs, including this endearing fluffball, who won my heart even though she ate my toothbrush!

#2

The Getty Museum is an architectural marvel perched on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. The paintings inside and the gardens outside were spectacular.

#3

Highland Park has vegan tacos and vegan donuts and men in high-waisted plaid pants. The Pop-Hop is a very cool bookstore, and I got to hang out with Antonio Sacre, one of my favorite writer-storytellers.


#4

Once Upon a Storybook in Tustin has reading nooks, a mouse door, and a wall of fame for authors to sign. I saw lots of my fav books on the shelves including VOLCANO RISING, THE MUSIC OF LIFE, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, and RAMBLER STEALS HOME.


#5

Gatsby Books in Long Beach has a store cat, a Carrie Fisher super fan, and was hosting a Night Vale event right after Elana and I talked about Feminism and the Female Body. I regret that I did not buy a t-shirt!

#6

Planning an extra play day turned out to be a stroke of brilliance. The beach had whales and dolphins and lots of teeny-tiny bath suit bottoms.

#7

We ate at Snow Monster, and I found my new life motto.

#8

Being with Elana K. Arnold is incredibly inspiring. She’s a brilliant, deep thinker, and her books are some of the best I’ve ever read. We wrote together every day,  talked about our new WIPs, and debriefed this weird business we work in. She fed me donuts and let me hang out with her super cool family. I am grateful to call her my friend.

#9

We are coming for you in the Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle. Click here to go to my events page for details.

Pony Parties are the Best!

One of the bright spots in January 2017 has been launching the Quartz Creek Ranch series that I co-authored with Kiersi Burkhart. We are so proud of these books for 9-12 year olds. Each one is full of a diverse cast of characters, taking on real issues in heartfelt ways. The ensemble nature of the books makes them a ton of fun both to read and to write, and of course, horses make everything better!

Our Oregon launch party at Roundabout Books was a great success. We told horse jokes, played pin the stirrup on the pony, challenged our knowledge with horse trivia, and ate cupcakes. It was super! Thanks to Arwen, Lily, and Beryl for being amazing party planners and to Cassie for hosting our fun event!

Here are some highlights:

And of course, you can order books any time! Click here for buy links!

GEORGE–an amazing book… You should read it!

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I stayed up way too late a few nights ago reading this book. I knew I should close the pages and go to sleep. I knew the alarm was going off early the next morning, but I kept reading.

Not because this is a suspenseful story.
Not because this is a story with a relentless pace.
Not because I couldn’t imagine how this story would end.

I read the entire book in one sitting because George is a character I have never, ever before seen on the page.

Think about that for a moment. Frodo, Harry, Lyra, Katniss… we know this kind of hero. And we know (and love) books like THE GIVER or BRIDGE TO TEREBINTHIA. I could list a hundred books I adore that have their seeds in other stories. That is how literature works.

But I have never read a heart-warming, sweet, gentle, aching book about a person like George. I love her and I wanted her to be okay. That is why I kept reading.

And we need George to remind us of our human capacity for empathy and understanding. I hope that you will buy a copy and read it in one sitting and then share it widely. George has a lot to tell you about being real.

Grab Your Pony and Get Ready for a New Book Series

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Me at six with Jeannie and her foal

I was a horse crazy girl.
I’m a horse crazy grown-up.

Recently, I found out that one of my fav writer friends, Kiersi Burkhart,  grew up on a ranch in Colorado. Together we dreamed up Second Chance Ranch, a place in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where trouble kids go to find their way again.

We are so excited to announce the sale of our new book series to Darby Creek, an imprint of Lerner, coming your way in 2016 and 2017. Each book features a girl and her horse, meeting life’s challenges together. Kiersi and I can’t wait to tug on your heart strings and make you want to saddle up and ride with us!

PL second chance ranch

 Sometimes what a kid needs most is a horse.

 

 

When to say YES and when to say NO

I’m a little over-extended.

My normal duties are already intense: writing books, supporting local creatives, taking care of my family, driving the kids to soccer, volunteering at school, and helping with Hebrew homework.

Yet in the past few months I’ve said “yes” to things that added to that load.  I agreed to spear-head the creation of a class project for our school auction, which led to many late nights and much worry about whether it would turn out right.  I agreed to co-host the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival tomorrow, which involves a comedy skit and song (way way way out of my comfort zone).  I agreed to co-write and act, along with my kids, in a Purim play for our synagogue, which added writing sessions and rehearsals to evenings already jammed with soccer practices.

Do I regret it?  NO.  I chose to do these things because I wanted to do them.  I thought they were important and fun.  I want to support my kids’ school.  I want to spread the love for marvelous middle grade books any way possible (even if it means singing).  I want my kids to feel like they are part of a vibrant Jewish community above and beyond going to services.

But…

Of course, there’s a but.  As these commitments wind down (Purim is on March 15th), I recognize that I’ll need to say NO for awhile.  I’ll need more downtime.  I’ll need to protect the space I need to write, to connect with my friends, and to take care of myself (sleeping, running, yoga, rock climbing).

I’ll also need to step-back and reassess my recurring commitments.  Have I struck the right balance between my writing, my volunteer work and my family?  Am I working on projects that further my professional goals?  Am I spending time with people who support me?  Are there ways that I can open up more space for the things that are most important to me?

I strive to put my time and energy into things that make me who I want to be.  The key to when to say YES and when to say NO is about knowing what I value not what others expect.

“We are our choices.”

Great interview with Michaela MacColl, author of PROMISE THE NIGHT @michaelamaccoll

I am thrilled to welcome Michaela MacColl to my blog!  Her book PROMISE THE NIGHT tells the story of young Beryl Markham, who grew up to be a record-breaking aviatrix, an adventurer, a nonconformist, and a writer.  

Read an excerpt here.

Below you’ll find the conversation we shared about her lovely book.

***

My other blog, VivaScriva.com, focuses on critique and the writing process so let’s start there.  Do you have a critique group?  What role did critique play in PROMISE THE NIGHT?

I have a lovely critique group. We’ve met weekly for six or seven years now. Most of us are published, but we didn’t start out that way. I have to admit that my group saved the world from a very bad biography of Beryl Markham.

When I first decided to write about her, I found that the only kids’ biographies were very dated. Aha! I thought. (And I can’t believe I even said this) How hard can it be to write a biography? Apparently it is really hard. I couldn’t get away from the fictionalized story I wanted to tell. Finally my group metaphorically shook me and said “Just write a novel!” They were right and so supportive.

When I’m writing nonfiction, I find that the book falls into place when I discover the right format for the story.  In PROMISE THE NIGHT, you alternate eleven-year-old Beryl’s narrative with grown-up Beryl’s flight across the Atlantic.  How did you decide on this structure?

One of my greatest challenges was how to write a story about Beryl the child, when Beryl the adult is the one who did something famous (she was the first to cross the Atlantic East to West solo).  At first I wrote the flight as an epilogue, but it felt too tacked on. I had to find a way to show how Beryl’s adventures as a child enabled her to break flying records as an adult. It was complicated because I wanted to relate each adult vignette to a childhood chapter – but after many outlines and a ridiculous number of post-its, I came up with a structure that worked.

I loved Beryl Markham’s own book WEST WITH THE NIGHT.  How did her writing influence yours?

On the one hand, it’s a gift to have her own words in front of me. I learned so much about her personality from the way she described her childhood. On the other hand, it’s pretty daunting since the memoir is so good.  Ultimately, I tried to channel her spare prose into mine. I ruthlessly trimmed (and then my editor got started) until I told the story in as few words as possible. Beryl wouldn’t have wasted words, neither should I!

Of course this was such a departure from my first book, Prisoners in the Palace about Princess Victoria. There the language is ornate, layered and thick.

You had to deal with some tough (and very adult) topics—male circumcision, the Captain’s relationship with Emma, his concerns over Beryl’s interactions with Kibii and Mehru.  Some might have said it couldn’t be done in a middle grade novel, yet you pulled it off.  Can you tell us how you found your way in this area?

I’m pretty squeamish, so I didn’t want to make people squirm. I’m also the parent of two teenage daughters and it’s important to me that kids can read my books without feeling too uncomfortable. Ultimately the answer to dealing with these issues was to plant my narration firmly in Beryl’s point of view. She’s not shocked so why should the reader be?

Beryl Markham chafed against the rigid social and gender roles of her time.  How do you think she would have responded to the opportunity and freedoms girls have today?

I’ve wondered about that. Thoroughbred racing and flying were inherently exciting and a natural destination for a risk-seeker no matter how inappropriate they were for a girl to do. But I think if she were alive today, she would be taking even greater risks. Ultimately though, Beryl didn’t think of herself as a girl breaking gender barriers, she was just doing what she wanted to do.  The first page in Promise the Night is a quotation from Beryl where she says she wants to fly the Atlantic not as a society girl but as pilot. No gender specified.

I’ve always been fascinated by the heros of the Golden Age of Exploration like Beryl Markham, Ernest Shackleton and Edmund Hillary.  What do you think drove them to take such risks in their quests to be first?

They say that thoroughbred stallions are bred to win.  They run fast to achieve dominance over their peers (so to speak). I think the explorers and the pioneers are all trying to win the acclaim of the other explorers and pioneers. But there is also a financial consideration. The person who breaks the record is the one who gets the sponsorship deals, the speaking engagements, even the movie gig.

Are there any new frontiers for girls today?

The first thing that comes to mind is President of the United States… And if that’s the last frontier, then girls are doing well!

True confessions—my daughter is named Beryl and my son is Shackleton.  Do you think I’m crazy?

Yes!  (I had to talk my husband out of naming our first daughter Cassandra. Can you imagine a more ill-omened name?)

What is the most interesting thing that you learned about Beryl Markham but couldn’t include in the book—and why couldn’t you?

Beryl’s childhood is full of instances when she challenges the societal norms and does purely as she likes.  When she continued to do this as an adult, the stakes get higher. The most fascinating thing I found out about Beryl involved her love life. She married Lord Markham in her late 20’s, but at the same time, she also had a very public affair with the Duke of Gloucester (the brother of the Prince of Wales) when he visited Africa on safari. Her husband got fed up and threatened to name the Duke in the divorce. Needless to say Buckingham Palace had a strong opinion about this; Markham was told in no uncertain terms to involve the Duke.  He replied that he wasn’t going to support her. So until the day she died, Beryl received a pension from Buckingham Palace.  It’s a great story, right? So inappropriate for middle grade!

PROMISE THE NIGHT focuses on a narrow window of Beryl Markham’s extraordinary life.  Were you ready to let go?

I wouldn’t mind going back and writing about her life as a racehorse trainer. I grew up on the Black Stallion novels and I would love to write about racing. Otherwise, on to the next novel!