Monday, March 9, 2020

Cover Reveal: THE VERY LAST LEAF by Stef Wade

I'm thrilled to reveal the cover for Stef Wade's next picture book THE VERY LAST LEAF, illustrated by Jennifer Davison, which comes out August 1, 2020 with Capstone! 
Lance Cottonwood is the best and brightest of the leaves, but even the top students on the tree have worries. Can Lance conquer his fear of falling and just let go when the time comes for his final exam, or will he let his worries take over? 
In this funny and encouraging picture book, best-selling author Stef Wade (A Place for Pluto) tells an engaging story and deftly addresses social and emotional struggles many kids encounter each day...feeling anxious, wanting to be perfect, facing fears, etc. These themes combined with illustrator Jennifer Davison's delightful characters and rich autumnal colors make The Very Last Leaf a perfect book for the start of a new school year, the arrival of autumn, or any period of transition in life.
Ok, get ready, the cover is about to be revealed!!

I'm not sure this could get any cuter! I can't wait for the world to meet Lance!

Stef used to write about cardboard boxes, but thinks writing books is far more exciting.
Stef is the author of A PLACE FOR PLUTO, Honorable Mention for the Council for Wisconsin Writers Toft/Wright Children’s Literacy award, a 2018 Barnes & Noble story time pick, 2019 TXLA 2×2 Reading List Book, 2019 UK Summer Reading Challenge book, and a 2019 LITA Golden Duck Notable Picture Book.
Her newest picture book, THE VERY LAST LEAF, illustrated by Jennifer Davison, releases from Capstone August 1, 2020. And her third picture book, Q & U CALL IT QUITS, illustrated by Jorge Martin, releases from HarperCollins in 2021.
She holds a BA in advertising from Marquette University and an MBA in Integrated Marketing Communication from DePaul University.
Stef is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She’s bounced all over the midwest with her college sweetheart husband and her three historically and literary named boys and currently resides in the Milwaukee area.
You can follow Stef on Twitter and visit her on her website!

You can pre-order THE VERY LAST LEAF on AmazonBarnes and Noble and IndieBound now!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Author Interview and Cover Reveal: ALIEN TOMATO by Kristen Schroeder

I'm thrilled to reveal the cover for Kristen Schroeder's debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO, illustrated by Mette Engell, which comes out in July 2020 with Page Street Kids! Check out my interview with Kristen below. We talk about picture books, revising and, of course, ALIEN TOMATO!

It streaked through the sky on a perfect day in July and landed in the garden…

When a mysterious red orb appears one day, the vegetables aren’t sure what to make of it. They decide that it must be an alien tomato! They name her Allie and try to make her feel as welcome as possible. But Gopher isn’t convinced. He’s sure it’s just a ball.
This delightfully silly tale and its equally hilarious art are a perfect fit for gardeners and sci-fi fans alike.

Ok, get ready, the cover is about to be revealed!!

ALIEN TOMATO has such a zany, fun premise! What gave you the original idea? Tell us a bit about the process of creating this story.  

The title was something my daughter blurted out one day. We still have no idea why or how it came out of her mouth, but I wrote it down as a possible story idea. I started thinking about what would happen if a round red object landed in a garden and the veggies thought it was an alien tomato.

Have you always been an avid reader? What was your favorite picture book growing up?

I was a huge reader growing up. My mom was an English teacher and she passed along her love of reading to me. She recently dropped off some of my old picture books and the memories came flooding back. I loved pouring over the illustrations in Richard Scarry’s books and I had quite a few Little Golden Books. My absolute favorites would probably be the Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. It’s a collection of four tiny little books that have their own case. Some of the stories have a subversive tone, for example, in PIERRE, a little boy who continually says, “I don’t care,” eventually gets eaten by a lion. 

What inspires you to write picture books, as opposed to books for older readers?

Because I read my picture books over and over as a child, they had a profound effect on me. There is something magical about putting a combination of words and pictures in the hands of emerging readers. Picture books are a unique art form in that regard. Likewise, books for older children are also hugely important and I am working on a middle grade novel in between picture books.

You're a dual citizen of America and Australia. How has your experience having different homelands influenced your writing?

I think about how my stories will be received in different countries. I definitely have some very “Aussie” stories, that wouldn’t sell in the US. Likewise, being from Minnesota, I have written a snowy, wintery story that wouldn’t be popular down under.

ALIEN TOMATO is your debut! Tell us a bit about what the process of seeing your first book published has been like.

It’s been very exciting and filled with many “pinch me” moments so far. The cover reveal is a fun milestone because I get to share a sneak peek of ALIEN TOMATO’s illustrations for the first time. I am thrilled with Mette Engell’s artwork. I recently got F&Gs (fold and gathered copies) so it’s starting to feel real. The book comes out on July 14, 2020; about seven months from now. I am part of a debut picture book group called the PERFECT2020PBs.  We all have picture books coming out in 2020 and are supporting each other on this author’s journey. We share information on how to promote our books, what kinds of SWAG to order, holding a launch party, scheduling school visits, etc. There’s a lot to think about and I’m glad to have their support!

You're quite active on social media! What advice would you give to debut writers trying to make a place in the #KidLit online community?

My advice is to just dive in. I got on Twitter because of my writing and wanting to connect with the Kidlit community. It took me a little while to figure it out and I’m still learning, but it has been so rewarding to connect with other authors. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, so making those connections is hugely important. We are all learning from each other and I have found the Kidlit community to be extremely generous and supportive.

You recently attended Highlights Foundation's Picture Book Boot Camp. Tell us about your experience!

I was extremely honored to earn a spot this year at Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s PBBC. It was the first time they held it at the Highlights Foundation campus, so I was able to check two items off my bucket list at once. It was definitely one of the highlights (ha!) of 2019 for me. I tried to soak in all the knowledge I could from Jane, Heidi, and the other amazing authors in attendance. My favorite part was Bedtime Stories read by Jane and/or Heidi.

Talk to us about your writing and revising process! How do you know when something isn't working, and how do you go about making changes to your WIPs?

My gut tells me when something isn’t working and usually a critique partner or two will back that up. It’s good to get their validation and sometimes an idea for how to move forward if I’m stuck. When a manuscript still isn’t working, and it starts to feel like torture, I usually put it away and work on something else. Forcing it doesn’t seem to work for me.

You work closely with a critique group. How has that helped you in your writing process?

I have two separate online critique groups that have been invaluable in my writing process. Critique partners are KEY. I am an extrovert and truly need feedback from others to hone and polish my stories. (Shout out to the PB&Js and the BIC & HOP Club.) I believe it was Marcie Colleen who shared, “You only get your agent’s fresh eyes once.” That really stuck with me and I try not to send you anything in a really raw state. I appreciate that you are an editorial agent and I want to make sure to take advantage of that by not sending you a hot pile of doo doo. 

Share a few of your favorite non-writing hobbies!
In my spare time, I spend a lot of time watching my two children’s sports and musical activities and driving them around. Staying active with yoga and walking is a priority as well, and of course I still love reading! I took up ice hockey five years ago with a group of women called Chicks with Sticks. I prefer to keep all my teeth so I don’t play in a league or anything. I mostly just skate around our backyard pond with my kids.  

Kristen Schroeder was inspired to write this, her debut picture picture book, when her daughter blurted out the title one day. In addition to writing, she owns and manages her own business. Having studied and worked around the world, she now lives with her family in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

You can follow her on Twitter and visit her at her website and Facebook page!

You can pre-order ALIEN TOMATO on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and IndieBound now!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Author Interview and Giveaway: IN THE WOODS by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel

I'm happy to post my interview with the amazing author and person, Carrie Jones.  Her latest, IN THE WOODS, written with co-author, Steven Wedel, publishes with Tor Teen on July 16th! Carrie and I chat about everything from her latest book, writing for different age ranges and her wonderful rescue dogs. I will be giving away a hardcover copy of IN THE WOODS to one lucky winner! 

New York Times bestselling author Carrie Jones teams up with acclaimed cowriter Steven Wedel in the supernatural mystery, In the Woods…

It should have been just another quiet night on the farm when Logan witnessed the attack, but it wasn’t.
Something unexplainable. 
Something deadly.

Something is in the woods. 
Hundreds of miles away, Chrystal’s plans for summer in Manhattan are abruptly upended when her dad reads tabloid coverage of some kind of grisly incident in Oklahoma. When they arrive to investigate, they find a witness: a surprisingly good-looking farm boy.
As townsfolk start disappearing and the attacks get ever closer, Logan and Chrystal will have to find out the truth about whatever’s hiding in the woods…before they become targets themselves.

1. You've written for all different age ranges, from picture books to middle grade to young adult. What have been the challenges of moving from one to another? Is there any age range you gravitate most toward?

Anyone who has met me in real life pretty much knows that my natural voice is young adult, so I gravitate towards that the most and then middle grade. Really, even my actual speaking voice sounds much younger than I am.

Also it sounds dorky. Can dorky be an age range?

I love trying out new genres and new age ranges, mostly because I am so easily bored and I like challenges.

The hardest part is trying not to disappoint readers who expect to read a YA contemporary that’s literary fiction about epilepsy and social justice and they end up with a middle-grade fantasy story with flying pig cars. I hate disappointing people.

The only other hard thing is that sometimes people who aren’t familiar with kids and teen fiction don’t realize that you can write it without being a teen.

I received the Maine Literary Award one time. It was supposed to be all big and glamorous. There was a ceremony. People did not wear socks with sandals at the ceremony.

I was all, “Yes! Made it! Finally glamourous!”

And when I got my award, the governor’s wife said into the microphone, “Congratulations, Carrie! And what high school do you go to?”

Because I’m so incredibly cool and full of social grace I blurted, “No. No… I’m old. I’m really old.”

So there’s this aspect of expectations and not wanting to disappoint people that is the hardest part for me. Someday, I’ll be glam though. Someday.

2. Likewise, you've written in a range of different genres. How do you switch between them so easily? Which has been your favorite?

My favorite genre to write in is actually fantasy or creative nonfiction or poems. I know! Weird, right?

I used to write a lot of columns and editorials when I was a newspaper editor and I miss that. I started out as a poet. I miss that, too, because I like the truthful aspect of those forms, the way you can play with words and white space to pull things out and make them more magical and poignant.

Why do I like fantasy?  I just really love magic, the possibilities that open up when you see things beyond reality. When I was a kid, I had a rough time sometimes. I saw a lot of death. I was hurt a few times. And fantasy novels were beautiful ways of escaping, of hoping, of trying to feel like good guys could sometimes win against the most impossible odds. A girl can travel across time to rescue her dad. A hobbit could survive a dragon. How amazing is that? Fantasy gave me hope. Hope kept me surviving. For that, I’ll always love fantasy and always try to write it.

3.  What was it like working with your co-author, Stephen E. Wedel, on this book? 

It was so much fun writing with Steve. We sent chapters back and forth via email and we’d always be waiting completely impatiently for the other person’s chapter. It was like waiting for the person you’re crushing on to finally text you back and you know that they’re writing it, but it hasn’t arrived yet?

That’s what it was like.

A vlogger once thought this meant that Steve and I like-liked each other. IT IS NOT WHAT THAT MEANS! It just means it was an awesome way to write a story and waiting for those new chapters and the surprises and twists that might happen was like waiting to open a really awesome birthday present.

The slight improvisational aspect and lack of complete control was really freeing and collaborative. Steve and I think in really different ways about a lot of things, so working with him was expansive. It helped me think beyond myself, my characters, and my vision and made me more flexible in the creation of story.

4. Living in Maine seems to be an important topic to you! How do you bring that into your writing?

I am very much a Maine writer. Maine is this amazing, beautiful place. I live on an island with little baby mountains and tourists who flock here in the summer. Then in the winter, it’s super cold and stark and beautiful in an entirely different way. That setting and the barren, cold trees and wind tends to be something that I plague my characters with, like poor Zara in the NEED series. I like seeing how different characters react to that environment, the raw beauty of it, the force of it.

I think it’s because I am not a cold-weather person. I whine a lot in real life. That whining comes through in my books.

Basically, I need to move to Jamaica so that can start informing my writing more. I couldn’t make a Kickstarter for that, could I? Kidding! Kidding.

5. You do lots of promotional work for your books, even making videos! What have you learned from this process that you'd like to share with other writers?

Ha! I don’t even think of it as promotional work. I just think of it as different ways of creating. I think if I went about things going, “Oh, let’s promote this book,” I would never ever do it. Straight promotion is really hard for me. It’s just not my skillset.

I can publicize and write and market about nonprofits like Rotary International or ShelterBox constantly, but promoting myself is so much harder.

If I think of writing a blog post or making a dorky video as a way of helping other people, making them laugh, or giving them a writing tip? It’s so much better then. That makes it easier than saying, “Here! Buy my book!”

I think that’s what I’ve learned.

Promotion is boring for me. Creation is fun. If you’re like me, think of things as creating.

I’ve also learned that I can’t be an author who talks about how awesome I am. That feels really inauthentic, mostly because I am not all that awesome as a human. So, instead I like to communicate with other people, hear their stories, and listen to that instead of promoting mine.

That’s not the best promotion advice, but it’s okay life advice, maybe?

Life is about connections. Writing is about communication. All of that? It’s a two-way discourse. It’s not supposed to only be about the author. It’s supposed to be about the reader, too.

6. You also work as a writing coach and offer manuscript critiques. How has this helped you in your own writing?

It’s given me great empathy for my agent and editors. I think every story that I help with, helps me become a better writer, but also feel closer to the writing community.

It’s so much easier to understand how to help other authors in their journeys than to realize your own flaws, and fears, and issues. When I feel badly about myself, it helps to be able to look at the writers whose journeys I’ve been a part of. So it helps a lot emotionally. I love seeing people succeed and get agents and get their books on the shelves.

I think it’s also helping me really start to hone in on the most important thing for writers (other than plot and character and all that), which is what is it that I want to say to this world? What is it that I believe and feel? How does that come into the stories that I write? How do I do that better?

By helping others learn to make their strongest stories, it helps me make stronger stories, too.

7. You've been known to make art to go with your books. That must be such a fun process! Tell us a bit more about how that happens--do you usually make the art first, or start writing the book first? How do the two mediums inform each other?

I get images stuck in my head. Sometimes those images can come out with words. Sometimes those images come out with paint. So, the process changes a lot. It changes almost every week. The art and the writing inspire each other.

When I get stuck in a story, I head to the basement (YES! I KNOW! It sounds so dire and scary) and I paint. That helps me get unstuck and helps me understand the themes and emotions that are trying to play themselves out with words. I sometimes get very frustrated with words. I know! I know! That’s not a cool thing for a writer to admit.

8. What's the biggest piece of advice you'd give to a writer hoping to write a YA thriller in the vein of IN THE WOODS?

Find Steve Wedel?

But, if you can’t find Steve, find the things you’re scared of, think of how you’d try to survive those scary situations. Think of how to make people turn the page. Think of how to make people care whether or not your character does survive.

Try to make the readers know that things are wrong, but not know exactly how things are wrong or how they will end up. Don’t be afraid to be intense. Don’t be afraid to be different.

A lot of thrillers and horror novels have a very precise tone. From the first word, you know you’re reading something scary. Steve and I wanted to play with that and make the tone lighter and less typical. We’ll see if that choice works for the readers, but there is a lot to explore within the thriller genre. Don’t be afraid to explore it.

9. How did you tackle the thriller and horror elements of IN THE WOODS? What is your process like for writing the scarier scenes?

Oh! I think I just answered that. I imagine horrible possibilities. I write them. I think, “What if?” I think, “What would terrify me? Make that happen.” I think, “What would have terrified my mom? Make that happen.”

To be fair, everything terrified my mom. She was so afraid of birds that she couldn’t watch cartoons with birds in them.

10. You have a podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE! Has that been a tough medium for you to break into as a writer? Tell us a bit about your podcast and what you hope to accomplish through it.

I don’t think of the podcast as a quirky improv act. I grew up in Bedford, New Hamsphire with Sarah Silverman and Seth and Josh Myers. I’d see Adam Sandler at the mall of New Hampshire. My distant relative was Jack Benny. My family stands by death beds and makes jokes. This is just what we do. We improvise our way through life. We’re weird and quirky and I grew up being heavily influenced by a lot of weird and quirky theater people along with truck drivers and carpenters and the occasional drug dealer.

So, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is a natural extension of what my life is like. Goofy. Earnest. Occasionally inappropriate, which is hard because I’m a kids book writer.

I’m always gasping out, “I can’t say this! It’s inappropriate!”

I don’t worry about the podcast actually doing well, which would probably make it be less authentic and more stilted.

There are a ton of podcasts that are literary and focused and intellectual. We aren’t those podcasts.

Ours is just fun to do. We have a random thought that’s usually created in the car or in bed. Then we have a writing tip and a dog tip for life. There’s been 90,000 downloads so far, which I think it okay? I’m not sure. It’s just a lot of fun. Sadly, we’ve been talking about poop and underwear a lot lately. And yes, I do relate it back to writing, I promise. Yes, even when it’s about poop or underwear.

Art, podcasting, trying different genres and age levels, are all about learning, having fun, and exploring things, but especially about being brave.

When I was a kid I slurred my s’s a lot and went to speech therapy, but I could never completely fix it. A teacher told me that I’d never accomplish anything, be loved, get a job, get into college, or be taken seriously because of my voice, because of my sloppy s sounds. So, podcasting and speaking at Rotary International gatherings and vlogging are all really hard because those predicted negative outcomes resonate inside of many of us for so long.

You hear them over and over:

Nobody will take you seriously because of your s’s.
Nobody will ever love you because of your s’s.

But they become motivating forces sometimes, too. Wanting to prove that teacher wrong forces me to be braver. For a long time, I couldn’t listen to the podcast because every time I heard my voice, I thought, “Nobody will ever take me seriously. Everyone will laugh. Nobody will love me anymore.”

Then I cuss those voices out and journey on

11. And speaking of which...tell us more about your adorable dogs! I bet they make great writing partners!

Sparty and Gabby are two rescues dogs with ridiculously different personalities. Sparty was found roaming the streets of Alabama and is part lab and he’s food-focused and rarely barks. All cats and birds and bugs love him. It’s wild. Bees hitch rides on his back when we walk through Acadia National Park. We’ll go camping and he’ll be passed out on the site and a bird will be hopping all around him. I’ve seen them jump on his paw. Our cat, Marsie, is absolutely obsessed with him. He’s slightly embarrassed by the attention when we’re looking, but if he thinks nobody’s watching? It’s totally cuddle time.

Gabby is fluffy and was abused and malnourished and spent her first year chained to a tree, so she didn’t develop correctly and is actually small for her breed, which is a Great Pyrrenes. She loves to bark and she loves hard. I mean, this dog is all about cuddles and protecting you. She hops around like a bunny when her people come home and she hates all things white. She doesn’t trust any man who has a certain energy, which is usually sort of a cocaine-vibe. Is that too much information? I have no filter. Gabby doesn’t either.

I love them too much. They tweet motivational thoughts every week day. Sometimes Marsie helps. They also are really good at being emotionally supportive of s-slurring writers who use Maine as a setting in their stories. 

Carrie Jones with Wet HairCarrie Jones is the The New York Times bestseller author of the Need series, Time Stoppers series, Flying series, Girl, Hero, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, and Love (and other uses for duct tape). She is also the coauthor, with Steve Wedel, of After Obsession and In the Woods. She also writes picture books about unconventional spies. Her books have been published all around the world, been bestsellers in France, and have received numerous awards. Carrie lives in Bar Harbor, Maine and launched the Bar Harbor Kids Book Festival, and is active in Rotary International as the Public Image Coordinator for much of Canada and a lot of the UnitedStates. She’s also part of the Rotary Campaign against Human Trafficking. 
A former newspaper reporter, police dispatcher, city councilor, gymnastics coach, and volunteer firefighter, Carrie has won numerous press awards for newspaper writing and photography.

She is a big fan of rescue animals and currently has three, Spartacus, Gabby, and Marsie.

You can follow Carrie on Twitter and go to her website and blog here
You can pre-order IN THE WOODS here or at your local bookstore!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Author Interview and Giveaway: POLAR BEAR ISLAND by Lindsay Bonilla

I'm happy to post my interview with the wonderful Lindsay Bonilla, author of POLAR BEAR ISLAND which just came out with Sterling on October 2nd! Below Lindsay and I talk growing up an avid reader, her inspiration for the book, and why she's drawn to writing picture books among other things. I will also be giving away one signed hard copy of POLAR BEAR ISLAND to one lucky winner!

“Welcome to Polar Bear Island. NO OTHERS ALLOWED!” Parker is the mayor of this peaceful, predictable island, and he wants to keep it just the way it is. But Kirby, a penguin, thinks the place is paradise, and she wants to stay. Parker says no, but the other polar bears love Kirby —and soon they’re begging Parker to let Kirby (and her family) move in. Will Parker agree . . . and make the island fun for EVERYONE? With its gentle message of inclusivity, this playful and lighthearted story will delight children.

"The text is accessible and good fun to read aloud. A good bedtime read."--Kirkus Reviews

You were an avid reader AND writer as a kid. What sorts of things did you like to read and write about? 
I think my first love was reading about animals. I got the Ranger Rick magazines as a kid and was fascinated by them. Growing up, I had two dogs, Bernie and Wickett, who were the main characters in many of my early stories. I also created many different animal kingdoms based on some of the animal facts I learned. I still have the notebook with all of those writings and drawings. 

Where did you get the initial idea for POLAR BEAR ISLAND?
I think it was building for awhile, but there was one day in particular that my husband, Estith, a Colombian immigrant, came home from work very frustrated. A supervisor on a job he was managing had avoided speaking with him because of his accent. He felt both disrespected and hurt.

A few years prior to that some other Colombian friends were walking through a store parking lot when a random person yelled at them, “Go back to Mexico! We don't want you here.” Of course that was an ignorant comment on more than a couple of levels, but the fact that someone would just shout at two wonderful people who were going about their business, not bothering anybody, was upsetting to me on so many levels.

I think I really started to pay attention to the negative attitudes toward immigrants right out of college. That's when I'd taught English as a Second Language classes to a group of seasonal laborers from Mexico. At the completion of the class, they told me and the co-teacher that some of their best times in the US were in our class because we treated them like people.

So I think it was a slow build with tons of other incidents along the way that kept pushing me to tell this story. But the pivotal moment was that day with my husband. That's when I finally said, “I want to tell a story that paints a different picture of immigration, one that children can connect to.” I honestly don't remember how it came to feature polar bears and penguins, but I think maybe the grumpy polar bear was the first thing that came to mind. 

The art style for POLAR BEAR ISLAND is so much fun! What were your first thoughts when you saw it? 
I loved it! I'd gotten to see some examples of Cinta's work before she began working on POLAR BEAR ISLAND, and I knew whatever she did was going to be amazing. But when I saw her sketches for the first time I was ecstatic. I felt like she really nailed the characters, especially Parker – and I loved the way she gave each of the penguins such unique personalities with her special touches. 

What has been your favorite part of the publishing process so far?
Lately I've been posting on Twitter about how picture books aren't created in a vacuum. There's a whole team of people involved in putting a book together, and I'd say it's this collaborative aspect of publishing that I love the most.

I adore the whole editorial process. Working with someone else who is just as passionate about your story as you are is a gift. I love going back over my manuscript and pinpointing the additions, changes, and improvements that came about thanks to my editor, agent, and critique partners.

That is followed closely by seeing the illustrations for the first time. That is quite a thrill too!

What draws you to write picture books? What do you think is the most difficult part of writing for this age range? 
Probably the fact that I still feel like a kid.  No matter how old I get, I feel like I haven't grown up. Sure, I have adult responsibilities, etc, but the things I loved as a child -- to create, imagine, act things out – it's all the same. I love that anything is possible in picture books – talking animals, kids who can do/be anything. That's the kind of world I want to live in – one full of possibility – so it's fun helping to create that.

As a parent, I also see the impact that reading books together has on children. It's not just about the book, it's about the relationship that is created when you read together. To be part of creating an experience that strengthens relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, etc – it's just an amazing thing.

I think the most difficult part of writing for kids is making sure that I'm giving my young readers enough credit. It's tempting to try to wrap up every story with a nice, neat moral, but that's not necessary or desirable. Kids are astute. They can understand and appreciate nuance, sometimes with greater clarity than adults, if we let them. My four year old has blown me away with some of his observations in the books we've read – so I want to be sure that my writing leaves room for children to draw their own conclusions about a story. 

Tell us about your work with National Storytelling Network! 
The National Storytelling Network is an amazing organization advancing all forms of storytelling in our communities. I don't work for them directly, but I am a member, and as a professional storyteller, I owe a lot to them in their commitment to keep the art of storytelling going strong. Through their conferences, I have met and learned from some amazing storytellers. The storytelling community is very similar to the kidlit community – tight-knit, giving and very warm and encouraging.

I do an interactive style of storytelling that incorporates my background in theatre and creative drama and that gets the audience to participate both vocally and kinesthetically. I focus on telling multicultural folktales because I love introducing people of all ages to other cultures through folklore. I also love the way that folktales, which have been passed down for generations, still resonate so deeply with listeners of all ages today.
How has being an actor shaped your writing? 
Probably one of the biggest ways is that when I'm writing I tend to think in dialogue. When you're reading a play, all you have is the dialogue, with only a few other sparse details to help you create the world of the characters.  I tend to visualize my stories playing out in my mind, as if my characters were in a stage play. I can see and hear their voices quite clearly. In college and beyond, I wrote a lot of dramatic sketches.  I also wrote two screenplays which were turned into films under the direction of a friend who is an indie filmmaker friend.  These experience so writing dialogue is probably one of the easiest/most enjoyable parts of writing for me.

Are there any certain plays you’ve been in that inspired certain books?
I don't know that any plays I've been in have inspired particular books directly. I actually haven't done any stage acting for about ten years now. I moved over to the world of storytelling not long after I got married. As much as I love the stage, storytelling gives me more flexibility so that I can be home most nights and weekends with my family.

Being immersed in folklore and fairy tales has definitely inspired some of my stories. I think that all great art inspires my creative process. Sometimes I'll see a play, hear a song or read a book and think to myself, I want to create something that makes readers feel the same way I'm feeling now, or that strikes that same chord or theme from a different angle. That happens quite a lot actually.

You’ve traveled quite a bit! What have your travels taught you, and how have they helped your writing? 
Yes, I LOVE to travel. I could probably write a book about all that I've learned, but one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that there are many different ways of doing things. We all grow up in a particular culture that influences the way we do things and how we see the world. Culture is such a powerful shaping force in our lives, but we don't realize it. We think that our way of doing something is THE way of doing it. Then we travel or become friends with people from other places and realize that's not the case.

For example, when I moved to Spain, I was shocked that people didn't eat dinner until 10pm. My first inclination was to think, “What!? Dinnertime should be between 5 and 7pm. 10Pm is just WRONG!” I had the same reaction to the siesta. How could all of the businesses in the city of Madrid shut down for 3 hours right in the middle of the day at precisely the time I needed to do my shopping? Again, everything in me said, “This is wrong!”

But in time I came to appreciate that these things weren't wrong –  just DIFFERENT. In fact, I've come to love some of the aspects of other cultures that I've experienced and wish we could incorporate some of them into our way of doing things here.

I think all of my travel experiences have given my writing a more global perspective. In fact, I'm sure I'd never have written POLAR BEAR ISLAND if not for my time living in Spain. (That's actually where I met my husband!) Additionally, I think my travels have taught me to be more open-minded and humble, and I try to bring both of those postures into my writing process.

Lindsay Bonilla performs interactive folktales for her company, World of Difference Ltd., and teaches children about foreign countries and cultures. She lives in North Canton, OH, with her husband, sons, and rescue dog. 

You can pick up a copy at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, Target and your local bookstore! A discussion guide and activity kit are available here!

You can follow Lindsay on Twitter and go to her website!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Author Interview and Giveaway: A TOUCH OF GOLD by Annie Sullivan

I'm thrilled to put up my interview with the wonderful and talented Annie Sullivan whose debut YA fantasy A TOUCH OF GOLD debuted today with Blink/HarperCollins! A TOUCH OF GOLD has been featured in USA Today’s Happy Ever After, The Nerd Daily, Hypable,  B&N’s 50 Most Anticipated YA Fantasy Novels of 2018, and 19 Most Anticipated YA Debuts of 2018 (July to December) among others. Below Annie and I discuss her debut, inspiration, her promo tips for authors and much more. I'm also doing a giveaway. One lucky winner will receive a signed hardcover of A TOUCH OF GOLD and a tote!

King Midas once had the ability to turn all he touched into gold. But after his gift—or curse—almost killed his daughter, Midas relinquished The Touch forever. Ten years later, Princess Kora still bears the consequences of her father’s wish: her skin shines golden, rumors follow her everywhere she goes, and she harbors secret powers that are getting harder to hide.

Kora spends her days locked in the palace, concealed behind gloves and veils, trying to ignore the stares and gossip of courtiers. It isn’t until a charming young duke arrives that Kora realizes there may be someone out there who doesn’t fear her or her curse. But their courtship is disrupted when a thief steals precious items from the kingdom, leaving the treasury depleted and King Midas vulnerable. Thanks to her unique ability to sense gold, Kora is the only one who can track the thief down. As she sails off on her quest, Kora learns that not everything is what it seems—not thieves, not pirates, and not even curses. She quickly discovers that gold—and the power it brings—is more dangerous than she’d ever believed.
Midas learned his lesson at a price. What will Kora’s journey cost?
From author Annie Sullivan comes A Touch of Gold, the untold story of the daughter King Midas turned to gold, perfect for fans of Cinder and The Wrath and the Dawn.

"A dazzling retelling full of adventure with a dash of betrayal, A Touch of Gold will grab your heart and not let go." --Brenda Drake, New York Times bestselling author

"...a diverting addition to the genre." --Booklist

A TOUCH OF GOLD has such a unique premise! Where did you get the initial idea for this book, and what led you to tell the story from the perspective of King Midas’s daughter? 
I came up with the idea for A TOUCH OF GOLD after watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There’s all that cursed gold, which led me to thinking about King Midas. But I like to write strong female characters, so I focused on King Midas’s daughter because I knew she had to have a story to tell after being turned to gold as a child.
The cover for A TOUCH OF GOLD is so beautiful! What was your reaction when you first saw it? 
It’s amazing! I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it. I love the burst of gold at the top and the hand holding the rose. Basically, I love everything about it!  

What draws you to writing fantasy and fairytales? 
Growing up, my mom read me countless fairytales, and I watched every Disney Princess movie I could find. But when it came to writing my own stories, I didn’t want to write about princesses who have to be saved all the time. I wanted to create a new generation of fairytales that today’s readers could relate to. 

You’ve traveled a lot! Where have you been that’s had the most influence on your writing? Was there anywhere in particular that inspired parts of A TOUCH OF GOLD? 
I love traveling, and I think bits of it find its way into all my stories. I’ve been a few cruises, and many of the scenes that take place on the ship are inspired by that. I’ve also been to Greece, so I kept those memories in the back of my mind as inspiration when I created the fantasy world in A TOUCH OF GOLD. 

What has been the most exciting part of your path to seeing A TOUCH OF GOLD published? 
Honestly, all of it is exciting. From getting the call that I had a deal to see the advanced copy of the book to seeing the final copy. I think I’m also really looking forward to seeing the book on store shelves!

 What was your favorite scene to write and why? 
There’s a scene where Kora, the cursed daughter of King Midas, and her cousin face off against some mythical creatures, and they really have to save the day. It’s all up to them. The whole scene shows how powerful they are and shows Kora that maybe things she thought were flaws about herself aren’t really flaws after all.
I bet you had to do some pretty hefty research for A TOUCH OF GOLD! What was the most interesting thing you learned? 
I did a lot of research into Greek mythology. Just learning about the personalities and attributes of the gods was pretty inspiring. 

You’ve done a ton of promotional work for A TOUCH OF GOLD. What advice would you give to other authors looking to branch out in that area? 
I could write a whole book about all the marketing that I did! I think I had a lot of success gaining followers by doing giveaways on Twitter and Instagram. I chose books with audiences similar to mine and tried to give signed copies of books away where I could to draw in a bigger audience. This requires planning ahead if you’re going to an author signing so you can buy an extra copy just to give away.
Who were some of your favorite teen authors growing up? Who do you love to read now? Growing up I loved Madeline L-Engle, Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, and Meg Cabot. Some of my recent favorite authors include Marissa Meyer, Elly Blake, Mary E. Pearson, and Stephanie Garber.
What’s the best part for you of being part of the YA author community? 
The YA writing community is so supportive. I don’t know of any other job where people are so willing to support each other by reading, blurbing, and promoting each others work. It feels like a big family, and I love that! 

Can we have a sneak peek of what projects you have in the works? 
Well, hopefully A TOUCH OF GOLD will have a sequel, so get ready for that! But I’m also working on a few new fairytale and fantasy retellings that I think readers are really going to love. Stay tuned! 

Annie Sullivan is a Young Adult author from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnels, and her novel, Goldilocks, won the Luminis Books Award at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s teaching classes at the Indiana Writers Center and working as the Copy Specialist at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. 

You can pick up a copy at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, Target and your local bookstore!

You can follow Annie on InstagramTwitter and go to her website!

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