Monday, October 9, 2017

An Interview with Kathy Cannon Wiechman

A few weeks ago I read Not on Fifth Street, a novel for children by Kathy Cannon Wiechman, and I am still thinking about it. I didn't used to read so much historical fiction, but lately I am drawn to it, fascinated by how people in the past respond to events, and wondering if we have learned the lessons history has to teach us.

The answer is often, sadly, no.

Not on Fifth Street takes place in Ironton, Ohio, 1937. It's the dark days of the Depression and the town is about to suffer through a record-breaking flood. The story centers around two teen brothers, the narrative unfolding as the rains begin and the river rises, each brother challenged by the crisis in different ways, believing what the adults have told them, that the water will never reach them

until it does.



I met Kathy Cannon Wiechman at a writers retreat several years and since then I have been following her career and her stories closely, and I am so happy to have her with me today, On the Verge.

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Jody: First, Kathy, I have to tell you how much I loved these characters-- their relationship with each other and how they reacted to the same event and also their very different way of interacting with their father. I know from the author's note at the back of the book that these boys are based on people in your life.

Kathy: That's right. The 1937 flood was an event my father experienced.

Jody: Are all of your books inspired by family experiences? I imagine that you've heard lots of stories from older relatives about things that have happened to them when they were growing up. What makes you think: THIS is an anecdote that could be made into a novel?

Kathy: My books are usually inspired by an interesting event, like a steamboat explosion that claimed more lives than the Titanic (Like a River, 2015). When I hear about any event that makes me want to know more about it, I figure readers might be interested too.

Jody: Once you have that spark for a story, what do you next?

Kathy: Research. And I keep researching until the idea begins to gel into a possible plot. My next step is to create the characters I want to tell the story through. I can't begin the book until my main character is real enough for me to step inside his head.

Jody: Do you outline your books in advance?

Kathy: No, but I do make notes about possible scenes. Once I begin, I am not the kind of writer who writes a rough first draft all the way through. Each day, I read over, make changes, add details, and tweak what I wrote the day before. That puts me back into the flow of the narrative to continue from there. Some days I write a scene I feel should have been hinted at earlier. The next day I might go back and add that change before I go on.

Jody: So, lots of reworking as you go.

Kathy: Yes. My "first draft" is what one member of my critique group calls a "first-ish draft." When I am finished and have comments from my critique groups, I sit down for a serious and thorough revision.

Jody: You write historical fiction for children. What draws you to that genre? Do you see yourself ever writing for other age groups/in other genres?

Kathy: I began my writing life as a poet and my novelist years writing contemporary fiction. But contemporary fiction became out-dated too quickly. I loved reading historical fiction from the time I was a kid, but I was intimidated by the amount of research I would have to do to write it.

Jody: How did you get past that initial fear?

Kathy: At some point I realized I would probably enjoy that research. And I do!

Jody: When I met you at a Highlights Retreat, you were working on your first novel and my own first book was just about to come out. Both of us, I think it's fair to say, had been writing and pursuing publication for a very long time before snagging our first book deals. For me it was five novels and seventeen years. What about you?

Kathy: Between the time I first submitted a novel manuscript to an editor and the day I was offered my first contract, I wrote eleven novels--and thirty-nine years passed.

Jody: This business is not for people who give up easily! What advice do you have for writers like us--people are not beginners but who have not yet broken into publication and may be feeling discouraged?

Kathy: Learn everything you can about the business, read a ton of books, write every day, and love what you do. If I didn't love writing I would never have stuck with it for thirty-nine years. If writing is what you love, never give up.

Jody: This is so important. We can't control the end result. We can only control the time we give to the process. What are you working on now?

Kathy: My current WIP is another Civil War novel. This one takes place in North Carolina. I have 26,000 words so far in my first-ish draft, and am eager every day to get back into it.

Jody: And I am eager to read it, Kathy! Okay, are you ready for the lightning round?

Kathy: I am!

J: What are the books on your nightstand?
K: The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

J: What's your non-writing-related hobby?
K: I spend time with family and organize our family reunions. I play cards and board games.

J: Do you have a family story that will probably never make it into a book?
K: My mother was brought to the US from Germany at the age of six to be adopted by her aunt. The adjustment was difficult for her. It's a story she always wanted to write, but never did. She's gone now, and I don't feel I know enough to do it justice.

J: Give me one surprising fact about Kathy Cannon Wiechman.
K: I have been a Type 1 diabetic since I was sixteen.

Jody: Thank you, Kathy, for chatting with me today. And readers, if you'd like to find out more about Kathy and her wonderful novels, see below.

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Kathy Cannon Wiechman is the author of Like a River: A Civil War Novel, which earned a Kirkus star and won the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize, and Empty Places, about life in a 1930s coal-mining camp in Kentucky.

She lives with her family in Cincinnati, Ohio, not far from where the story of Not on Fifth Street takes place.






Website: http://kathycannonwiechman.com
Facebook author page: Kathy Cannon Wiechman
Twitter account: @KathyCWiechman
Amazon
Barnes & Noble      



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How to Make a Natalie D. Richards Book... (a story in four parts, as told by her critique partner. me.)

Part One opens at a haunted house. It's Natalie's brilliant idea to take a writing retreat in the most haunted town in Ohio--

a quaint, artsy town on the Ohio River, with darling shops and restaurants, an old railroad bridge spanning the river that we walk across several times. The loveliest of cottages to rent (which also happens to be haunted!) Oh, and on the other side of the street from the lovely cottage, a creepy barn with skulls peering out of the windows.

We are too freaked out by the events of the weekend to think much about doing more than praising the heavens that we survived it, but several weeks later, Natalie tells me that she has an idea for a new book...

well, two ideas actually:

Idea number one is that freaky bridge we walked across multiple times, the metal beams and the precarious-looking slats beneath our feet. The clusters of locks, each one etched with the initials of long ago romances.

Idea number two is a broken boy. "His name is Theo," Natalie tells me. "And I'm trying to push him away,

because I know he's not a parent-approved hero. He has ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Honestly, he's a bit of a mess. But he's breaking my heart, Jody," she says, "and I can't stop thinking about him. About the way people see him and talk about him, and never see the rest of who he is.

Maybe it's messier or more difficult, but kids like Theo feel all the things other teens feel. They have hopes and dreams. They fall in love. I want to write him," she says, "because I can't not write him. I know his story deserves to be told."

So, I say what any good critique partner would say: Go write it!!

Which leads us to

Part Two.

Here is a fun thing Natalie and I do every single weekday morning:

She calls me on her drive in to work and after giving me an update on the horrific traffic and her daily fun swing through the Starbucks drive-thru so she can get a peppermint mocha, we talk shop. I tell her what's going on in my WIP and she tells me what's going on in hers. (Okay, we also talk about our kids, our husbands, our dogs, and the latest crap news we've woken up to and how we are supposed to write books in this world, but then inevitably we move our conversation back to writing because it is what we do.)

The book she's writing is called "The Haunted Bridge Book."

And it is stressing Natalie out. She's got the boy, Theo, in all his broken-ness, and messed-up-ness figured out, but she's struggling with the girl. Her name is Paige and she's got a secret crush on Theo but Theo's done something terrible to her. Not sure what yet.

And then, omg, Natalie knows what Theo did. And it's horrible. Will it work? Can she write this book? My guess: yes. Because Natalie, I've come to learn very quickly, is a master at writing books.

Not that they spill out easily for her. We spend the next few months in daily discussion about Theo and Paige. There's lots of anxiety involved, in the writing of it for Natalie and in the character of Paige, who, interestingly enough, is consumed by anxiety, about food, about germs, about her parents and their expectations for her, and especially about Theo and what he did to her...

We work through plot holes and structural problems. Character motivation. Roadblocks. What happens next? What the heck IS this book, anyway?

A moment of insight for Natalie when she realizes she is not writing a thriller, but a supernatural horror-- and supernatural horror, be definition, cannot be logically explained.

After roughly four months Natalie finishes the first draft, and--

Part Three--

she sends the file to me to read.

I LOVE being one of Natalie's first readers. I am a fan of her books and even though I have talked with her through the play-by-play, behind the scenes, piecing together of the manuscript, it's always cool to sit down and open her file for the first time.

I write comments as I read. Mark passages that are strong, and flag places where I am tripped up. There's a moment about two thirds of the way through, where I feel like we've mind-melded. I'm in her head and she's in mine. I see the book on the page as she's written it and I know the story that she's trying to tell. I sense where it's falling slightly short and I can pinpoint where she's hit it exactly right.

We have more phone conversations. We send flurries of emails back and forth.

She goes back in for round two. Round three.

Round four after she's gotten her letter back from her editor. And after she's gotten her copyedits. And after she sees her final proof.

Time passes, and the book is out of her hands, the publisher and book designer and cover artist and marketing people doing what they do. Natalie's writing another book. We talk on the phone. We puzzle through plot holes. We analyze possible character motivation.

Today, she's working through a traumatic kiss scene. The traffic into the city is bad. Our kids are worried about the state of the world. Forget the Peppermint Mocha. She is going all in on the new Maple Syrup Pecan Latte at Starbucks.

Today is also Part Four. 

Her book We All Fall Down is officially out in the world. In bookstores. In libraries. On Amazon. I still call it "The Haunted Bridge Book."

The cover is gorgeous, don't you think?



But here is what I picture:




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Lifelong Ohioan, Natalie D. Richards, spent many years applying her writing skills to stunningly boring business documents. Fortunately, she realized she’s much better at making things up, and has been writing for teens ever since.

A champion of aspiring authors, Richards is a frequent
speaker at schools, libraries, and writing groups. She lives in Ohio with a Yeti, a Wookie (her dogs) and her wonderful husband and children.

Where to find Natalie:

Website: Nataliedrichards.com
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @Natdrichards
Instagram

Buy her books here:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon

And here's a teaser for We All Fall Down...


A new romantic thriller―with a dash of horror―from the author of One Was Lost and Six Months Later

Theo's always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He's obsessed over that decision. And it's time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death.

Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She's trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene―Theo's fist lands in her face.

All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember...and pay for what they each did.





Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Gift of an Aloe Plant

The other day someone gave me an aloe plant.

How it happened was this: Back in June, I wrote a blog post about a creepy Aloe Juice salesman guy, and a woman named Shari, a writer who had attended one of my workshops, commented on the post that she knew something about aloe plants, and we started corresponding, and Cut To:

she offered to grow me an aloe plant.

It took several months, with Shari updating me occasionally, to report on the plant's progress. One plant died and she had to start all over again. But eventually, she had a plant and she messaged me that it was ready for the hand off.

We agreed to meet for coffee. Shari chose a place that was five minutes away from me but quite a bit of a trek for her, and I realized as I rode over that I didn't really know this woman and what a nice thing it was that she was driving down to give me an aloe plant.

In the parking lot of the coffee place, she lifted the plant out of her car carefully. It was bigger and more gangly than I had envisioned. I was afraid to handle it. Was it okay to put it in my car while we had coffee? How would I take care of this thing? I know nothing about aloe plants.

But Shari gave me instructions and assured me that it would be fine, and if it died, she would grow me another. Shari has been doing this thing on Facebook called 20 Good Deeds in 20 Days x 2, a way to stand against hate, and I have been following her good deeds. I asked her if she was going to count giving me an aloe plant as her good deed for the day.

She said, she hadn't even thought of it as a good deed.

On September 11, I listened to an interview on Fresh Air with 9/11 first responder, John Feal, a man who was working on the pile a few days after the towers fell when an 8000 pound steel beam dropped on his foot. Feal almost died and in the months that followed, he realized that he did not have adequate healthcare to pay for his medical bills, and later he discovered that most of the first responders were in the same boat. Many of them died from injuries. many more (2000 people) began to die from illnesses traced back to their 9/11 work, leaving behind astronomical medical bills.

Feal began to advocate on behalf of the first responders, meeting with nearly every congressperson and basically being blown off by many of them. But eventually he prevailed, and a law was passed to protect him and others in the same situation. In the years since he lost his foot, John Feal has been to nearly 200 funerals. He's held hands with men on their deathbeds and promised to take care of their families. He donated a kidney to a stranger.

When the interviewer asked him why he did the things he did, he said: "I will never understand how we can be in a position to help someone, and not do it."

At the coffee place my new friend Shari and I drank our coffee and talked about writing. As I drove my five minutes home, my gangly new aloe plant sitting beside me in the passenger seat, and weirdly looking more like a new pet than a plant, it hit me again what a gift it was.

The idea. The long process of nurturing and raising. The drive down to meet me. And all of that for someone who was basically a stranger.

Like many people over the past year, I have come to realize that our country has become so divided. Maybe those divisions were always there, but now they are laid bare. 

We demonize each other. We scream at each other on social media. We don't take the time to listen. Even friends and family members have cut each other off. I have done this too, believing that the divisions are too great to bridge. And maybe they are.

I don't want this to be true.

Maybe I am not the kind of person who will donate a kidney to a stranger. Or maybe I am. I don't know! But can I stop screaming on social media? Can I take the time to listen? Can I water my aloe plant.Take a cutting and grow another plant.

Give it to a stranger.











Monday, September 25, 2017

On a Good Writing Day...

I open my file and descend into my story, fiddling at first, and then moving in deeper-- sliding falling plunging-- into the scene, the characters transforming from paper dolls to three-dimensional puppets to human,

these characters I thought I had created, but now they surprise me by striding out of the scene and into a space I didn't envision, saying words I didn't imagine.

Time ticks by, but I don't feel it.

When I climb out, hours later, in a daze, squinting in the sunlight to walk the dog, the voices in my head keep chattering. Words wind out from beyond the trees. I rush home to write them down.

At the end of the day I am tired, like after a good workout, but without the sweaty clothes and sore muscles. I paste a silver star in my planner because I do that now, reward myself for good writing days.

The month of August I have one star. September I have four.

I wish I loved my book. No--
I wish I loved writing my book.

I wish I had no doubts about the futility of the endeavor, no guilt about being a writer in this dark world.

Because isn't it a frivolous thing--  some days-- most days-- to know that real live human beings are suffering and afraid, while I sit doing nothing to help them?

Instead of writing I should take to the streets. Cry out against injustice. Speak out. Stand up. Kneel down.

But how much easier it is, and lovelier, to escape (how I have always escaped) by burrowing into a story while the adults downstairs scream at each other.

And why do we tell stories anyway?
Why do make art or music? Why do we dance?

Why do we bother.

Sure, it makes us feel happy. Makes us feel sad. Makes us feel something, anything. Makes us pause, think question reconsider listen remember care. Hope. Reminds us that we are here, each one of us, alone. Together.

I open my file and descend into my story

today

today.

Today, I will have a good writing day.




Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Interview with Margaret Peterson Haddix

Several years ago, before I was first published, I went to a children's writers conference in New York City and was hanging out at the Saturday night cocktail party and feeling a little shy and out of place, when I noticed another writer standing off to the side, alone.

And then I noticed her nametag:

Margaret Peterson Haddix

I about fell over. Margaret Peterson Haddix is a giant in the children's book world, the author of dozens of best-selling and critically acclaimed books for children, an author of books I had read over the years and introduced my own children to, and also, it so happened, the author who was going to be the closing keynote speaker at the conference the next day.

Somehow I gathered up the nerve to walk up to her and introduce myself, using the very original "Hey, I think maybe we both live in Ohio?" line as my opener. Margaret could not have been lovelier, and we had a very nice conversation until other people began to murmur: "Isn't that Margaret Peterson Haddix standing over there?" and she was mobbed by admirers. The next day she gave a speech, that I still remember, about the power of children's stories in an ever changing world and received a standing ovation from a thousand aspiring writers.

Strange, happy plot twist: I am now in an author group with Margaret.

The end.

Okay, not the end. Because today, I've snagged the lovely MPH for an interview, using the "Hey, I think we are both in an author group together and why haven't I had you on my blog?" line.

And Margaret, lovely person that she is, said Let's do it!

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Jody: Hi, Margaret! First, let me say congratulations on the release of your new novel Children of Refuge, Book Two in the Children of Exile series. For readers (like me!) who haven't had the chance to pick the book up yet, will you give us a teaser?

Margaret: For the series as a whole, I usually just quote the first three sentences of the first book in the series, Children of Exile:

“We weren’t orphans, after all.
That was the first surprise.
The second was that we were going home.”

Children of Refuge, hmm. I haven’t actually done an elevator-style pitch for this anywhere. I guess it’d be:

“A twelve-year-old boy named Edwy disappears in the middle of the first book. In Children of Refuge, readers find out what happened to him.

And—what he makes happen, too.”

Jody: Ooh, I like this! I'm curious about the process behind this book... well, behind all of your books— from idea to drafting to revision. Is it the same process each time?

Margaret: Only in the sense that there’s an idea… and drafting… and revision for every book!

Probably the biggest variation has to do with how long I keep an idea lurking in the back of my brain before I start writing about it. With a few books, I’ve started writing almost immediately because I’ve felt like I can’t NOT write everything down as soon as possible. More often, the ideas are like toys I pull out and play with every now and then, and at some point—sometimes even a decade—

Jody: Wait. A decade?!

Margaret: Or even longer after that first burst of inspiration, and I realize I finally know how to write the thing, or at least how to start. The book I just finished writing (which will come out in 2019) probably set a record for me, because the initial idea came from a newspaper column I read almost thirty years ago. But until about a year ago I didn’t realize that that column was ever going to lead to a book; it was just about a topic that haunted me.

Jody: Isn't it weird how this happens? Where ideas come from... and which ones seem to stick with us. It's one of the coolest aspects of writing. And then comes the work!

What do you next—once that haunting idea snags your attention? Do you plan out the story? Or just sit down and write it by the seat of your pants?

Margaret: I like to think of myself as a hybrid combination of a planner and a pantser. I feel panicked if I don’t have at least some plan in place for where the book is going, but I tend to make up a lot as I go along.

Jody: And clearly, it's worked for you... Children of Refuge is your fortieth book! And speaking of this book, it is a dystopian adventure story for tweens, but I know that you've written for other age groups, both younger and older, and in other genres. Contemporary, fantasy, historical.

Is your approach to writing different when you are working on different kinds of stories for different audiences?

Margaret: It's not much different between YA and middle grades or even with early chapter books, which I’ve also done. (Though it’s been a while.) Certain ideas/topics just feel more appropriate for one or the other, and the age of the main character kind of naturally dictates how I tell the story. I tend to write older middle grades books and what is often viewed as younger YA, so usually I’m right on the boundary between the two. (And sometimes people refer to my MG as YA, and some of my early YA would definitely be categorized as MG now… I think the line is pretty blurry in general.)

Jody: Do you have a favorite age group to write for?

Margaret: I guess I like that general age span of 12-16, because kids change so much during that phase, and there’s so much room for growth and character development and eventfulness (and, sadly for them, misery as well.)

Jody: How about a favorite genre?

Margaret: I really like switching around between both age groups and genres. Lately I’ve mostly done middle grade science fiction, but my next book after Children of Refuge is a YA contemporary called Summer of Broken Things, and it was really fun to shift back into that mode for a while.

Jody: I'm looking forward to that one. I think one of my favorite novels of yours is the YA contemporary Leaving Fishers, about a girl who gets caught up in a cult. There was something so heartbreaking and real about it. I could feel the girl's struggle--what drew her into the group in the first place and how difficult it was for her to extricate herself from it.

This is a much earlier book of yours. I just looked it up. It was released in 1997, so you've been doing this, writing and publishing, for very a long time. Has your writing process changed over the years?

Margaret: In the beginning, I certainly thought that writing would get easier with every book. I thought I would finally feel like I knew what I was doing. But every book is an individual; every book is its own “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” to take Winston Churchill’s brilliant quote totally out of context. (I guess I’m saying every book is like Russia?) Maybe what’s changed most is that I’m a little calmer than I used to be about feeling it’s going to be possible to figure out my writing conundrums; I don’t jump to melodramatic despair quite so quickly.

Along about my fifteenth book I can remember thinking, “Wow—I’ve now written about just about everything I’m capable of writing about; I’ve explored every situation I’m capable of exploring. Maybe I’m done.” And then a collection of really bizarre, unexpected things happened to me in my personal life, and I thought, “No, I’ve still got lots of material to work with. Whether I want it or not.” I think I’m more aware now how many sides there are to any story. That makes writing more complicated, not easier!

Jody: This makes sense and now I am wondering if you have a similar sense of how publishing has changed over the years. Is that gotten more complicated too?

Margaret: It’s changed massively, mainly because of the internet and social media. That’s good and bad. Authors can have a lot more interaction with readers, and they can have a lot more impact on their own careers beyond just trying to write the best book possible. And readers have more access.

Jody: But this isn't always a good thing.

Margaret: Well, it can all be a little overwhelming, and I wonder if there are great books that aren’t being written because the potential writer is too busy trying to, say, build a Twitter following. Some books just require a lot of quiet thinking time, and writers—like everyone else—have more distractions than they used to.

Jody: Is anything the same in your opinion?

Margaret: The publishing world then and now was/is full of smart, talented, interesting people who really care about books and the kids who read them, and that’s all wonderful.

Jody: And it's what makes this writing community we are a part of so wonderful too. Pinching myself here because who knew I'd be one day chatting with you about these kinds of things! So, what's up next for you? Book 41, 42, 43...

Margaret: The next book I have coming out is the YA I mentioned, Summer of Broken Things, which pubs April 10, 2018. Considering that I broke my wrist this summer, soon after I turned in the final version of SOBT, I’m tempted to say that sometimes I throw myself into my books a little too passionately. Or maybe I should be more careful about titles, if they’re going to become self-fulfilling prophecies!

Jody: Oh, yikes!

Margaret: Yikes is right. After that, Children of Jubilee, which is the final book in the Children of Exile trilogy, comes out November 2, 2018.

And what I am working on now is a brand new trilogy, Outliers, which I’m really excited about. The first book in that series is due out in early 2019.

Jody: Before I let you go Margaret, are you ready for the On the Verge Lightning Round?

Margaret: Yes!

J: What are the books on your nightstand?

MPH: My TBR pile isn’t on a nightstand, but it includes our mutual friend Erin McCahan’s The Lake Effect (which I wanted to read on vacation this summer, but that didn’t work out, so now the book will be my way of holding onto the summer in the fall), Emery Lord’s When We Collided, Cory Ann Haydu’s The Someday Suitcase, and Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys (which someone mysteriously sent me, and I have barely tiptoed into, but love so far.) Another book I’m excited to read, but don’t have yet because it came out the same day as Children of Refuge, is You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins.

J: Name one of your non-writing-related hobbies.

MPH: Is walking a hobby? I love walking around places I’ve never been before. I could make it sound a little more exotic and call it “travel and hiking,” but it’s really just walking. And often I’m thinking about writing as I walk. I’m not sure I have any hobbies that don’t become writing-related in one way or another.

J: What's the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in high school?

MPH: Everything that happened to me in high school was embarrassing.

J: What's your best advice for a beginning writer?

MPH: Give yourself permission to be really bad at it for a while. Just write and have fun with it and look at how much you’re improving, not how far you have to go.

Jody: Thanks, Margaret! And now dear readers, if you'd like to find out more about Margaret Peterson Haddix and her forty published books, check out the information below!

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Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.

She has since written more than 40 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Double Identity; Uprising; The Always War; the Shadow Children series; the Missing series; the Children of Exile series; the Under Their Skin duology; and The Palace Chronicles. She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series.  Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and numerous state reader’s choice awards. They have also been translated into more than twenty different languages.

Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio. They are the parents of two grown kids.

Visit Margaret's website Haddixbooks.com



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Moments of Serendipitous Flower Arranging

Last weekend I went to a wedding.

I haven't been to a wedding in a while. There was a point a long time ago when I was just out of college that all of my friends were getting married, one after another, and my new husband and I attended what seemed like a bazillion ceremonies and partied at the various receptions, snarfing down the free hors d'oeuvres and clinking our champagne glasses and laughing on the dance floor as we did the Electric Slide with our friends' goofy middle-aged parents. 

This particular wedding was a new milestone for my husband and me because it wasn't our friends getting married, it was our friends' son, a boy-- 

okay, a man-- we've known since he was four years old when he played with our son at preschool. Our son-- also, apparently, a man now-- was one of the groomsmen. 

He flew cross country with his girlfriend to attend the wedding, and our daughter and her boyfriend flew in from out of state, and my husband and I drove in from our neck of the woods, and for a too brief, two-day period, our family was all together, celebrating the wedding of this boy, now man, we've known forever, and his new lovely bride, and our dear friends,

partying at the reception and snarfing down hors d'oeuvres and clinking our champagne glasses and laughing on the dance floor as we did the Electric Slide with

(gulp)

each other.

This could make me tear up if I think about it too much. How time moves faster and faster. How only yesterday I was picking up my son from pre-school while his baby sister toddled around my legs and I struck up a conversation with another young mom, also waiting with a little girl toddling around her legs. The two little boys playing on the floor with Legoes somehow morphed into the two men standing side by side on a church altar. The little girls tearing every single outfit of the closet to play dress-up, now the young women gracefully walking in insanely high heels and laughing as they leapt for the thrown bouquet. 

But I didn't think about any of this last weekend.

I was there, days early, to help my friend prepare for the wedding. I told her that I would do whatever was needed and what was needed was setting up tables for a rehearsal dinner and making a grooms cake shaped like a sailboat and buying plants at Lowes and baking garlic bread.

It also meant assisting her sister, a professional florist, as she created elaborate flower arrangements and corsages and boutonnieres.

I have never made an elaborate flower arrangement or a corsage or a boutonniere in my life. I don't even know the names of most flowers. I stood pretty much in awe the entire time as the sister florist built these creations, trying to be of help but most likely getting in her way. She would ask for a Something Something kind of a flower and I would tell her I had no idea what that kind of flower was and she'd point it out and I'd laugh and say, "Oh! the one that looks like a Horton Hears a Who flower?" And she'd look at me like I was a weirdo.

But later, when the clock was ticking down and there were still many more corsages to assemble, she'd call out, "Hand me a couple of those Horton Hears a Who flowers" and I'd get right to it. 

There is a task in the Artist's Way -- (Yes, I am reading the Artist's Way again because the joy of writing has once more slipped away and I am depleted and my creativity is sapped, probably due to the hellish political landscape we're all living in that has made writing feel pointless) but anyway, 

the task is to list, without thinking about it, five imaginary lives--five alternate reality choices for yourself if you could go back and start everything over. 

I wrote without thinking: Florist. 

The next task was to do something related to that Imaginary Life, and I chuckled to myself, because when in the world would I have the opportunity to be a florist? 

Several days later surrounded by flowers that I didn't know the names of, in service to a friend who was about to watch her only son marry, as I searched for greenery and poked stems in foam and pressed a spray of baby's breath against a white rose and pierced it with a pin, I remembered. 

The next moment the arranged flowers were on the altar, the boutonnieres on the groom's tux, on my son's tux...

Another moment and the ceremony was over, the hors d'oeuvres were eaten, the Electric Slide notes faded, the wedding guests departed, the flowers

already a memory. 






Thursday, August 31, 2017

How I Wrote When I Was Twelve

I didn't think about publication or readers. I had never been rejected; although, I did get the occasional Meh response from a teacher on a writing assignment.

But the Meh responses didn't bug me.

I wrote when I had a funny idea or sad one, when I had something important I wanted to remember, when I'd read a good book and wished I could keep the story and the characters going.

I didn't worry about what type of writing I did. I wrote short stories and novels. I wrote a play. A comic strip. Essays and poems. I even wrote songs. And taped myself singing them.

I kept a journal. I typed on a typewriter. I hand-wrote in notebooks or on loose-leaf paper. I illustrated my stories. I drew my own book covers. I didn't care that I wasn't good at drawing.

Most of the stories I never finished. A few of the stories, I revised. Over and over. But it never felt like work.

If I didn't feel like writing one day, or for a week, or for a month, I just... didn't. And when I pulled out my typewriter to write another story, I didn't wonder if I'd lost my ability.

When I was twelve, I wrote for myself.


And it was my favorite thing to do in the world.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On Writing, Embarrassing Moments in Middle School, and Adorable Bulldogs: An Interview with Jennifer Maschari

One of the nicest things to come out of a writing retreat is the friends you make.

Several years ago at the Highlights Foundation retreat center in Boyd's Mill, Pennsylvania, I hit it off with middle grade author Jennifer Maschari. It turns out that Jen's from Ohio-- and lives only fifteen minutes away from me. Since then I've read her books and become a fan. Her latest novel, Things That Surprise you, is wonderful. Jen's got the gift for tunneling into the mind of the middle school kid and for crafting tightly woven, clever stories with heart.

Also, one of my favorite things: all of her books have a dog character!

I'm so pleased to have her on the blog today:

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Jody: Give me your elevator pitch for Things That Surprise You. 

Jen: Well, it's about soon-to-be-sixth grader Emily Murphy who uses the advice from self-help CDs to try to solve her friend and family problems.

Jody: I loved Emily from the very first page. Her obsession with a book series starring a magical unicorn. Her confession that she always peeks at the ending of a book before reading it. She doesn't like to be surprised.

Jen: No, she does not!

Jody: And then she's got all of these family and friend issues to deal with-- her older sister who is struggling with an eating disorder and a best friend who seem to be growing up faster than she is and pulling away. Where'd you get the idea for a book like this? Or I guess I'm asking how you do it-- go back into the middle school mind.

Jen: I have a lot of memories of my middle school years and also teach middle school. I often joke that I've never left it. I remember how hard those years were for me...

Jody: Do you ever think you'll write for other age groups? In other genres?

Jen: I don't know. I love writing middle grade. First, I think the kids reading it are the greatest. They are SO enthusiastic about books. I love doing school visits and hearing their ideas and thoughts and questions. Second, my voice seems to work well in middle grade. I love to read middle grade books, too. I could see myself writing chapter books or picture books. Chapter book characters are so memorable.

Jen: You and I have compared notes on our writing processes before and I know you see yourself as a slower writer. How long did it take you to write Things That Surprise You?

Jen: About about a year or so.

Jody: That's not too bad. A lot of revising?

Jen: Oh, yes. I did this one massive revision (based on my editor's very smart and kind advice) in which I rewrote the entire story except for twelve pages. There were subsequent revisions after that, but that major revision helped find the heart of the story.

Jody: That is an extensive revision. Did you have a similar process with your first book, The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price?

Jen: No. And I wish my book-writing process was the same for every book because then I would know what to expect! For Charlie Price, I wrote slowly and pretty much in order - from beginning to end. For Things That Surprise You, I wrote the second draft very quickly and skipped around from one scene to the other. One thing that stays the same between books, though, is that I make a list of scenes that I want to hit. This helps me form the shape of the story in my mind.

Jody: I do this kind of thing with index cards. I don't know how other writers can keep all of the scenes straight without keeping track in some way.

I have to tell you that your launch party for Charlie Price was one of the coolest and cleverest parties I've ever attended. I still remember the balloons and cupcakes and gift baskets. Any special plans for Things That Surprise You?

Jen: Thank you Jody! I had so much fun planning that launch party. Sadly, the bookstore where I held my launch for Charlie Price is now closed. Also, the day my new book comes out is the day before school starts (it's going to be a busy week!) So instead of just one launch, I'm going to do a couple of different events at some local bookstores over several weeks. Of course, I still plan on having balloons (unicorn themed!) and cupcakes.

Jody: I am relieved to hear there will be cupcakes! Speaking of launch parties, self-promotion can be tough for writers... how do you approach promotion? Any tips and tricks? Things you'd do again? Things you won't bother with this time around?

Jen: For middle grade, most of my promotion is concentrated on reaching out to teachers and librarians who are then able to buy the books for their own libraries and classrooms. One thing I did for Charlie that worked really well was a mailing targeted at school librarians and local public libraries. I included an information sheet about the book with some pull quotes from reviews, a synopsis, and a very short handwritten note. I think I sent this to about 250 schools. I mailed out some postcards, too. I enjoy receiving mail and sending mail so this was fun for me!

Jody: You have a website too, and I see you on social media.

Jen: Yes. I try to keep my website updated with events and book information and I do send out a newsletter but need to get better at sending it out more regularly.

Jody: You're busy! I know you're still teaching, and that's got to be hard, balancing a day job with a writing career. How do you it?

Jen: Not very well! I'm a person who needs to see a task through beginning to end, and I've found that when I have a bunch of tasks - teaching and writing and taking classes - that's not possible. I need to alternate working on several things. I'm working on putting myself on a schedule so I carve out that writing time, and I'm also learning (and reminding myself) that there's no perfect time to write.

Jody: What's up next for you? Can share any secrets about your current WIP?

Jen: I'm working on another contemporary middle grade. It's still in the very early stages so I don't want to say too much but the main character's name is Trina, and the story has another great dog. I also have a chapter book idea I'm playing with. It's a lot of fun and a bit lighter than my middle grade books.

Jody: Are you ready for the lightning round, Jen?

Jen: Yes!

--What's the best recent book you read?

I reread one of my very favorites: Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

--Non-writing-related hobby?

Hiking - I love being out in nature.

--TV show you've binge-watched?

Forensic Files (I seriously have seen almost all of them and there are a lot.)

--Most embarrassing thing that happened to you in middle school?

Oh goodness - a lot of embarrassing things! I feel like I've blocked most of them out. Supposedly, I fell up the steps in front of my classmates. At least, that's what someone wrote in our 8th grade memory book (which is maybe more embarrassing?!)

--And last, but certainly not least, will you share pictures of your dogs?

Of course! I have two English bulldogs: Hank and Oliver. They are such good boys.

Hank outside

Oliver outside
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Want to know more about the lovely Jennifer Maschari and her awesome books and adorable dogs?


Website: Jenmaschari.com
Twitter: @jenmaschari






Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who Are We?

A few weeks ago I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. It was my second visit. The first time was fifteen years ago.

I remembered it being an inspiring place.

A monument, in a sense, to the thousands of every day people who rose up during the struggle for civil rights. College kids who risked their lives to help black people register to vote in the South. Teenagers who sat at restaurant counters while enraged racist people dumped food over their heads and beat them. Preachers and rabbis linking arms and marching, singing We Shall Overcome.

Fifteen years ago I thought that what I saw in the museum was history.

If you go, you will see the remains of the fire-bombed bus, where once students rode for a voter registration drive. You will see the lunch counter, the stoic and courageous people hunched in front of the surrounding mob. You will see a brave kindergarten girl walking into a school escorted by soldiers.You will see statues of the sanitation men in Memphis who were on strike. Each statue holds a sign. I AM A MAN.

You will see the hotel room where Martin Luther King Jr. spent his last night on earth. He was in Memphis to speak in defense of those men. He was shot on the balcony outside the hotel.

Now the hotel is the Civil Rights Museum.

I walked out of the museum fifteen years ago feeling jubilant and inspired, charged with energy at what one person could do to effect change, and one more person, and one more-- ordinary every day people who had reached a breaking point, who would no longer stand for injustice, who marched to show that they had had enough and that they believed in the promise of America, that all men are created equal.

And that meant all Americans.

I went to the museum this time with my grown daughter and her boyfriend, and a friend of mine and her daughter. We are white people. I must mention this, even though I feel weird mentioning it-- it is something I have never felt the need to mention before. When I write about myself, when I write characters in stories, I picture whiteness. I do this because I have grown up in a country where the majority of the people are white. White is the default. By this I mean, that it is assumed

--by white people.

It is uncomfortable for me to write this. It was uncomfortable for me that day at the museum to be in a crowd, the majority of whom were not white people.

This time when I saw the bombed out bus, the lunch counter, the angry mob, I still saw the heroes who rose up against oppression, of course, but I also saw the faces in the angry mob, the faces of the bombers, the shooters, the police officers with fire hoses.

We sat in the dark to watch a short film before we began our tour. When I say We, I mean my daughter and her boyfriend, my friend and her daughter, the only white people in the darkened room, and I mean the other members of the audience that day, who were black people.

The film began with people speaking about American history. One person after another adding a voice to tell the story, of slave ships, of human beings held in bondage, of families split apart, of beatings and murder, of a Civil War, of promises made and broken. One person after another, telling a story of lynchings and unjust laws, of segregation and humiliation. We, the voices said. We. This happened to us, they said, and we rose up.

When I say We, I mean, black Americans.

I am ashamed to say that this was an illumination for me. I have never sat in a room in America and known that when the word We was spoken, it did not include me. For the first time in my life as a fifty year old woman, I became Other.

It is, to put it mildly, an uncomfortable feeling.

It is what American people who are not white feel like every damn day.

Not me! Not me! I wanted to tell the American people in the darkened room. I didn't DO this!! I don't believe in this! My ancestors weren't a part of it! Please, don't see me as Other! Please don't see me as the people holding the fire hoses. Don't see me as the smiling white faces in the crowd cheering a lynched man hanging from a tree.

There is an artist and writer named Bree Newsome, a black woman, who speaks about the Civil Rights Movement in America.

We don't know our own history, she says. And when she says, We, she means both black and white Americans. We don't know the worst of what we have done to each other. And we don't know the best.

White people held the fire hoses and screamed in rage at school children entering a school. White people beat protestors and bombed churches and met peaceful marchers on a bridge with guns.

White people risked their lives to help register black people to vote. White people linked arms with black people and marched across the bridge.

We must acknowledge all aspects of our history. And when I say We, I mean white people. I know it feels uncomfortable. I want this to be in the past. I want it to be history. I want to turn away from it. Defend myself. Say both sides...

I am asking you not to do that. And when I say You, I mean my white readers.

I am asking you to squirm with discomfort in the darkened room for a moment.

And then I am asking you to step out of the room with me and choose your side.



Monday, August 7, 2017

Random Thoughts on Food and Hemingway

I went to the grocery store today to buy some odds and ends for recipes I plan to make this week, and realized as I unpacked my bag that the Me of Twenty Years Ago would not have bought -- or possibly even recognized -- any of the items.

Okay, the honey, but that's about it.

(for the record, in addition to the honey: organic unsweetened soy milk,
flaxseed meal, vanilla bean, almond butter and raw cashews)

The Me of Twenty Years ago had never grown a garden or been to a farmer's market or visited a Whole Foods. (Did Whole Food exist?) I felt guilty about feeding my kids chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac and Cheese, but not so guilty that I quit feeding them chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac and Cheese. (In my defense, I also served them fruit occasionally and as soon as I heard about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, I never let it into my house again, except in the form of Mrs. Butterworth's.)

What does all of this have to do with Hemingway? 

Nothing, except that I just finished reading his memoir A Moveable Feast, a book I'd somehow managed to skip reading over the years even though I like Hemingway's novels and when I was in Key West, I visited his house with all of the six-finger-pawed cats roaming around. 

Fun fact that I did not know until I read A Moveable Feast

it is not about food. 

Instead, it is about Hemingway's writing and social life in Paris in the 1920's, his adventures with his wife Hadley and his friendship with expatriate writers Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are nice nuggets of writing wisdom and lots of wine drinking and gossipy asides (Zelda Fitzgerald was crazy and F. Scott started drinking too early in the day and Hadley had to put up with having no indoor plumbing.) 

I don't think that Hemingway would recognize many of the items in my grocery bag either. 

But then he didn't watch the documentary my husband made me watch last week called What the Health. I am not recommending that you watch this movie unless you plan to seriously overhaul your diet. Let's just say that until I watched this movie I loved cheese. A lot. And now--

I am having a hard time loving cheese. 

Okay, I just looked at a few articles criticizing some of the statistics in What the Health and now I feel slightly better about my awful parenting food choices twenty years ago and my newly acquired horror of cheese. 

So tonight I will take a more balanced nutritional approach, something I will call Hemingwayterian:

It calls for a colorful plate of tofu and veggies.



And a large glass of wine. 











Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Guest post from my husband writing as me...

Psst: I haven't been honest about being back to work.


My darling husband took me to North Carolina to visit my friend Deb. She turned 50. (insert funny SNL skit with Danny DeVito and Molly Shannon here)


We had an amazing dinner at SoCo, a farm to table, husband and wife owned restaurant and B&B owned by Jeremy and Kimberly (we love them now). Watermelon was cooked for hours until it had the texture of raw tuna. This is a thing!



We drove by a new whirligig park dedicated to Vollis Simpson. Across from it was a huge antique store. I use the word antique loosely. Hats off to Wilson, North Carolina.

Next destination was Boone, home of App State and Yoseph the mountaineer. We also yumped into a LOT of hiking (see what I did there). Hubby was up to 3 shirts and 2 showers a day.

The view on top of this mountain was supposed to be great.

The last day we did some tasting at two wineries, Grandfather Winery and Banner Elk. We met Jensen, a sustainability major at App State, who was our awesome server. We tried to fix him up with Deb's daughter, because, you know, wine.


The end.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Back to Work

After all of the gallivanting around Prague and Venice, strolling over bridges and listening to music and peeking into ancient churches (the icons and the china Jesus babies and the Black Madonnas and the jawbones of saints and the bearded women statues),

after the cemeteries with the tilted headstones and the fallen over flowers, the gondola rides and the wandering in alleyways, the preoccupation with pavement stones, and the stunning artwork in the museums,

after the meals eaten in outdoor cafes, the slabs of pork and dense bread, the pasta, the daily tasting of gelato, the obsession with Trdlos, the wine, the beer (the first glass ever. And the second. And the third),

after the jet lag and unpacking,

after the out of town guests and the return to daily chores (the weeding of the overgrown garden, the picking of vegetables) and the laundry,

after the much longed for and anticipated visit with the young adult children (and a significant other), and the celebration of the 4th of July in that over-the-top way it is celebrated in our town (the parade route staked out with chairs weeks in advance, the star painted streets, the high school marching band warming up by drumming drumming drumming so that we all wonder if we have fallen into the Jumanji set, and the early morning wake up with the bullhorn, the parade and the all day long cookout leading up to the fireworks),

after the kiddos have taken off again, leaving behind the quiet empty nest (oh! I should be used to this by now but somehow it still pierces me, that stillness as I slip past their dark empty bedrooms),

after the chores are done and the garden's producing and the dog's been walked and walked and walked, and there is no more travel on the horizon, no impending house guests, and so nothing more to do, really,

that is when I know it is time,

at last,

to go back to work.





Thursday, July 13, 2017

Democracy with a Side of Pea Shoots

I hear the word Petition and I think of the line in the Declaration of Independence:

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury... something something about pleading with the King of England to listen to us.

Not what I thought I'd be doing on the hottest day of the year (so far) in my little town of Upper Arlington, Ohio. But here I am at local Farmer's Market, holding a clipboard, asking people to sign a petition.

I'm set up in the shade, cursing myself for not bringing along a bottle of water. Or a wading pool. As people wander toward the vegetable and flower booths, I accost them, politely. I've got a smile plastered on my face, my spiel memorized:

Hi! Have you signed the petition for Fair Districts Ohio? We're trying to stop gerrymandering in Ohio Congressional districts...

At this point the person I've accosted does one of three things:

1. Smiles back and says, "Oh I've heard of that! I want to sign it!"

2. Waves me off with a "I've signed that already!"

or

3. Gives me a look that says, BACK OFF WEIRDO as they hurry off in the shimmering heat toward the table heaped with bags of organic lettuce and pea shoots.

Luckily, I am not alone in my petitioning quest. I'm here with Lyddie, reluctant (but good sport) 8-year old daughter of a friend. Lyddie's babysitter fell through, and now, after a fun afternoon splashing around the public pool, she's stuck with me at the Farmer's Market where I've agreed to collect signatures for a petition.

Me: Hi! Have you signed the petition for Fair Districts Ohio? We're trying to stop gerrymandering in Ohio Congressional districts.

Accosted woman: "I have no idea what you are talking about."

Me: So this is--

AW: (waving me away)

Fun facts for woman in the above exchange:

The way things work in Ohio is every ten years, after the census, whatever party is in power gets to draw the district lines for our congresspeople. Sometimes this means the Democrats get the honor. Sometimes the Republicans do it. But either way, it's led to what most people would call unfairly drawn congressional districts.

Communities split and parceled out into three or four districts. Towns represented by leaders who basically pick their own sure-thing voters.

Which means that when it comes time for an election, our reps don't have a contest at all and are easily re-elected. Which means that they know their job is safe. Which means that they don't have to hold a townhall to listen to their constituents' concerns or answer questions or explain why they're voting the way they're voting.

Anyway, the Fair Districts Ohio petition is a plea to put some common sense back into the system--a request for a transparent process where both parties have a say in the drawing of districts. We need to get 500,000 signatures for this to appear on the ballot in 2018.

This week I need to get sixty signatures. Today, I am hoping for twenty-five.

Lyddie is not thrilled with my odds. She's flopped out in the grass in the meager shade, fanning herself with my information flyers. She's given up on coloring in her coloring book. It's too hot to turn cartwheels. Thank GOD the farmer in the organic meats booth across from us has taken pity and offered her a popsicle.

Meanwhile, I'm accosting people politely. Hi! Have you signed the petition for Fair Districts Ohio...

I feel like a waitress back in my waitressing days. Hey! Would you like fries with that? Hi there! Do you want to help me save our Democracy! Hello! How would you like your burger cooked?

"I don't have time for this," a man snaps at me, and I smile and say "Okay!"

"Well, are you going to explain what the petition IS?" he asks.

Um.

Lyddie covers her head with a beach towel. "What a fart face," she says after the man stalks off to check out the organic meats.

The guy selling lettuce and pea shoots laughs. I drift over to his booth and we chat for a bit about the heat. And about our lovely customers. After fart face leaves, the organic meat farmer joins us. Naturally, I ask both guys to sign my petition. In turn, I buy pea shoots and lettuce and rib eye steaks.

Lyddie scores another popsicle. I collect 24 signatures.

All and all, a fine day for America.





Friday, July 7, 2017

An Interview with Erin McCahan

The best thing about being a writer is meeting other writers, and sometimes, having the opportunity to read their books in advance. Last year I read an early version of fellow Ohio YA author Erin McCahan's novel The Lake Effect. I was a fan of Erin before I was a friend-- she won me over with her very funny, quirky and beautifully written novel Love and Other Foreign Words, so I jumped at the chance to take a peek at her latest book.

The Lake Effect is a smart mix of hilarity and heart-tugging Coming of Age angst. The story centers around main character Briggs, who signs on for much more than he bargains for when he takes a job working for Mrs. B, an eccentric elderly woman at the lake where his once wealthy family used to own a summer home.

Trust me: You will never look at funerals the same way ever again.

Today I am thrilled to catch up with Erin on the eve of her book launch.

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Jody: Sid Fleischman says it takes two sticks to start a fire and two ideas to start a story. What were the two (or more) ideas that sparked The Lake Effect?

Erin: Old ladies and anti-texting commercials.

Jody: Ha! You totally made me laugh out loud.

Erin: Next.

Jody: No, wait. Go back. I want to hear more about the sticks.

Erin: Old ladies and anti-texting commercials. What else is there to say? The interaction between old ladies and teenagers is just such rich material to mine.

Jody: I've never thought about that, but okay.

Erin: So I was polishing the characters of Briggs and Mrs. B -- without yet figuring out their story -- when I started seeing loads of anti-texting-while-driving commercials aimed at teenagers. I'd watch them thinking, "Those are never going to work."

Everyone knows that, by the numbers, the Big Bad Catastrophic Event happens to someone else. No one should text and drive, but people still do it because the odds really are in their favor that they're not going to crash and die or kill someone.

Jody: That's something that happens to other people--

Erin: Right. So I started thinking about how I could get Briggs, who is eighteen, to undergo a real transformation if the Big Bad Catastrophic Event happened to "other people"-- someone else, someone not necessarily close to him. Strangers even.

And that became the questions: "What if he spent a summer going to a ton of funerals of strangers?  How do I get him there?"

Because 'a ton of funerals of strangers' just screams 'bestseller,' doesn't it?

Jody: You're killing me here.

Did that make you laugh? Me. Mentioning killing and funerals?

Erin: No.

Jody: Probably there is a reason why you write funny books, Erin, and I don't.

What was your process for writing this book? Was it different from other books you've written? Easier? Harder?

Erin: My process is the same every time. I chew on a story idea but won't start writing until I have a solid beginning and end. Then I sit at my desk and tell myself I can't do this.

Jody: Wait. What? This works for you?

Erin: Not really.

Jody: What activities do you like to do while you are thinking about some problem in your writing or trying to avoid your writing?

Erin: Do you mean in addition to telling myself I can't do this?  Well, thinking about a problem: treadmill. Avoiding a problem: jcrew.com. In both cases, just taking a break from the book helps. So do Doritos.

Jody: Truth. Doritos help with everything. What kinds of scenes or stories do you love writing most?

Erin: Interactions between teens and old people.

Jody: Least?

Erin: Love scenes. I feel completely embarrassed and self-conscious writing those things.

Jody: Any advice for aspiring authors?

Erin: Drink heavily. Okay, not really.  Um -- yeah -- no, not really.

Two things: Learn to graciously accept criticism from experts, and be patient. Everything in the writing life takes a very long time.

Jody: Also very true. Are you ready for the Lightning Round?

Erin:  Yes!

Jody: What kinds of things do you do for fun?

Erin: Lately, it's plotting my escape from landlocked Central Ohio and doing this interview.

Jody: (blushing) I appreciate that.

Last good book you've read?

Erin: I just finished a biography of Washington Irving called Washington Irving, which was excellent. I love biographies. Especially the ones with catchy titles.

Jody: TV show you've binged?

Erin: Boston Legal, watching it while I'm on the treadmill while working out plot problems. I never saw it when it ran, and it has renewed my crush on James Spader. You know that iconic poster of him from the 80s? I'm tempted to put it in my office. That and the Hang in There kitten poster from the 70s.

Kitty                                      James Spader


Jody: Secret fear?

Erin: That this country will finally switch to the metric system, and I'll never again know how fast I'm driving or how tall I am.

Jody: Best meal you've ever eaten?

Erin: I really don't know. I'm not a foodie, though I hear the trololos in Prague are pretty good.

Jody: So they say. Cutest cat story?

Erin: My life is a cute cat story!

Jody: What's up next for you?

Erin: The Lake Effect, releasing July 11th! It makes me too nervous to think about it. I'll have to be on my treadmill all day, eating Doritos, drinking wine and watching Boston Legal.

Jody: And dreaming about James Spader?

Erin: Of course!

Jody: Thanks, Erin! I absolutely adore you and I adore The Lake Effect and I am so excited that the rest of the YA-book-loving world will soon be introduced to Briggs and Mrs. B.

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Readers, want to know more about Erin McCahan and her wonderful books?

Where to find her:

Website: erinmccahan.com
Facebook: authorerinmccahan
Twitter: @erinmccahan

Where to find her books:

Barnes & Noble
Amazon












Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Love Letter to a (departing) Bookstore

Dear Cover to Cover Bookstore,

The first time I stepped through your doors, I was in love.

Well, it's always that way with me and places that house books. Libraries. Bookstores. The spines lined up on the shelves, the scent of the paper, the people who tend to congregate in these spaces. Voracious readers. Aspiring writers. A kid here and there, cross-legged on the floor, lost in a story.

But you were different. You were special.

A store dedicated to children's books. An owner who reads everything, who loves and honors children's literature. I browsed for a year before I talked to her beyond the typical clerk-to-customer conversation. Can you recommend--? If my child loves that, will she like this--?

A year or two more before I told her I reviewed books on my blog. Her eyes lit up and she waved me into a back room. I nearly keeled over from book overload shock. Stack after teetering stack, books scraping the ceiling in high rise towers, books piled up on the floor and spilling out of boxes.

Advanced copies of forthcoming books, she said. She and her assistant couldn't read them all. They needed people to review them. Would I mind doing that for her?

Uh, no. I wouldn't mind!!! I walked out that first time with an armload, feeling like I'd won the lottery.

Somewhere along the way I told her I dreamed of being a published writer. From then on, she always asked how my writing was coming along. When I attended book talks and signings, she introduced me to the authors. When I had a manuscript on submission, she offered to take a look. She liked it, she said. And when the book was released, she threw me a spectacular launch party.

There's a wall in this lovely bookstore, several walls actually, of author and illustrator signatures. All of the people who visited the store in the thirty-five years of its existence. In my pre-pubbed days I used to read the signatures. Jacqueline Woodson. Virginia Hamilton. Kwame Alexander. John Green. Imagine my name up there.



I know, I know, this magical space couldn't go on indefinitely.

This week the owner is retiring. Someone's bought the place--the Cover to Cover name, I should say--because the building itself is closing and reopening somewhere else. The expansive inventory of children's books is being sold. The wall of signatures will be taken down.



Yesterday I browsed the shelves for the last time. I touched the book spines, sat cross-legged on the floor. Lost myself for a few moments in a story. Searched the wall of signatures for familiar names.

Smiled when I found my own.



I realize as I write this letter that it isn't to the bookstore. It's to the owner, Sally Oddi, book lover and children's literature champion, supporter of writers and illustrators, teachers and librarians, and loyal, supportive friend to me and to so many.

Thank you, dear Sally, for creating Cover to Cover.

May this wonderful place live on without you, and may you enjoy your retirement, surrounded by good friends and good books.