Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Author Comment Contest Post for November 14, 2017

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

Jason Reynolds was interviewed by the National Book Foundation after his recent National Book Award.  Here's what he had to say about Ghost.

Jason Reynolds’ Ghost is not a horror story, really. But it is filled with trauma, fear, and hopes of survival. The term “ghost” in this sense is a colloquialism and metaphor for running so fast, no one can no longer see you. Another term I remember from my own childhood is ‘Swayze,’ as in the star of the movie Ghost. It was a pleasure to see familiar playful slang featured in this manner. This speaks to the unapologetic authenticity and honesty in Ghost. Eleven year-old Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw lives in the hearts of all readers dealing with the realities of adults who don’t live up to, well, adulthood. Ghost reminds us that we all are already armed with the skills needed to overcome our pasts. We simply have to take the first step to either run from our former selves or run toward our dreams.
Ibi Zoboi: Ghost’s voice is laced with both keen observation and wit. Did you have to tap into your own boyhood perspectives on the world?

Jason Reynolds: That’s a good one! I have a theory about middle grade realistic fiction… It’s meant to outline first experience questions that lead to the firsts in YA novels. The questions come before the act. This is a sweet spot for young readers where their curiosity is at a fever pitch. The voice comes from this curiosity. There is a confidence in wanting to know and knowing that you don’t know. It’s also the voice of little black boys. Everything is hilarious. When you’re eleven or twelve everything is through the lens of humor, even when you’re dealing with trauma. You’re viewing the world differently and are guarded.

IZ: Track & field is not usually a sport represented in middle grade fiction, much less in middle schools. Why did you decide on track as opposed to any other sport?

JR: Well, that’s the reason. We know kids of color love basketball. Track is a fascinating sport and I wanted to unpack the idea of being black and running. Running makes you uncomfortable and leaves you with the feeling of suffocation. I wanted to explore the fact that kids have grown up with this discomfort and are almost suffocating. Trauma is real. And Ghost already knows how to run. He’s running from his past, his family, and trauma. Boys in the inner city already know how to play these sports, they know how to run. The trick is to learn the discipline of track, to learn how to breathe through the pain. My hope with Ghost is to figure out how to steer the narrative—of how to run from and run to the things in our lives.

IZ: Ghost eats a lot of sunflower seeds. Like track and running, are the seeds and the art of eating them a metaphor for Ghost and his story?

JR: Of course! Everything is intentional. Ghosts says, “I’ve learned to crack a shell open.” Ghost and his affinity for seeds represents the discipline and concentration needed to eat a sunflower seed. The reward is not in the actual eating, but in the process—the process of being able to do something right. It’s a feeling of completion and it’s all happening in his mouth. No one else sees this. He already possesses this skill set.

IZ: What are some of your thoughts on how to go about presenting violence and trauma to young readers in a middle grade novel?

JR: It’s my responsibility to honor young people with honesty, even if their parents are uncomfortable. They are human beings with feelings. They also have the internet, and they come with their own set of trauma. Why should I be disrespectful to the young reader by shielding them from what they already know? The story of Castle Crenshaw is a true story. It happened in real life to my best friend who at five or six years old was with his mother when his father chased them with gun in a 7/11. Young people know these things happen, and it has happened to them or their friends.

IZ: Bullying is one of the themes in Ghost. However, what are your thoughts on the difference between what we all know as bullying and the African American tradition of snapping, signifying, or the Dozens?

JR: Great question! Snapping and signifying comes from pain. The way we crack jokes come from trauma. We laugh to keep from crying. We couldn’t snap on the white man during slavery and let out all that anger and frustration. So we did it to our brother. Over time, its become what it is today, like roasting. It’s a form of camaraderie, and it’s not to crush your spirit. When kids do it, it’s not malicious. You gotta be able to snap back like being on the court or slap boxing. We do it to get out aggression in a safe space. Snapping and the Dozens are both familial and familiar.

IZ: What’s next for you?

JR: Petina comes next in the Track series. She’s eleven and is running her whole family. I knew little girls like that growing up. They would hold their whole family down, cooking and taking care of the house. This is Petina’s story. It comes out in fall 2017. Long Way Down also comes out in the fall and it’s about gang retaliation. It’s a novel in verse and the whole book takes place in about a minute on an elevator.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Author Comment Contest for November 7, 2017

The Voice That Tells The Story by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

     I drove my husband to the airport early this morning, before dawn, and on the way home I listened to the very end of the audiobook of my new novel, The War I Finally Won. For me, listening to audiobooks is a very different experience from reading print. When I’m reading I can, and do, gloss over odd turns of phrase. I mentally skip adverbs and sometimes I re-arrange sentences—I used to do this all the time when I read out loud to my children. It drove them crazy. “That’s not what it says, Mom,” they’d protest, and I’d say, “I like it better my way.”

     When I listen to an audio book I can’t skip words or rearrange them. I’m forced to hear, over and over, whatever repetitive tricks the writer likes to use (trust me, every writer has some). Combine that with my extreme pickiness regarding narrators and it’s no wonder I give up on most audio books about six minutes in. So listening to my own books on audio in theory could be a sort of torture. The problems are mine. The narrator is not. So many things can go wrong.
     Happily the narrator of The War I Finally Won and its prequel, The War That Saved My Life, could not be better. Jayne Entwistle won the Odyssey award for TWTSML. The voices she gives Ada, Susan, Jamie, and Lady Thorton are more authentic, more nuanced, more real, than the voices those characters have inside my head. When I played the audio of TWTSML, I felt like I really understood some things about my own story for the first time. It sounds odd to say it, but I never thought of Mam as all that bad. I mean, evil, sure—but I never expected her vitriolic abuse to be so nearly unbearable to hear out loud. Ada’s voice was always matter-of-fact inside my head; on the audio, I was surprised by her sense of desperation. Of course she was desperate. I knew that; I created her. But listening to the audio, I felt her desperation in a different, visceral way.
     Listening to The War I Finally Won brought different surprises. This book turned out to be enormously difficult to write; I churned through nine full drafts, and threw literally hundreds of pages away. Some really lovely scenes that didn’t make it into the final story stuck around for so many drafts that when I heard the audio I kept expecting to hear them, too. Those ghost scenes no longer live anywhere except inside my head—but my brain would play them out, in Jayne’s version of Ada’s voice. Sometimes I’d stop the audio to think—did I miss the piece I’d cut? Sure, I remembered it, but did I regret taking it out?
     I didn’t. It’s pretty hard as a writer to really regret cutting anything: it’s rare to have too few words. One line I went back and forth with, but left in, and I ended up being very glad I did. It’s the last line of the story. You can know things all you like, and, some day, you might believe them.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Author Comment Contest is taking the week off this week, October 31, 2017!  We'll see you back here next week with a post you'll love!  Who will it be......?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Author Comment Contest for the
Week of October 24, 2017
The Inspiration for FORGET TOMORROW
By Pintip Dunn

My sister, Lana, is twelve years younger than me, and I have always felt an extremely close, protective bond with her. Even before I stumbled onto the premise of sending memories back in time, I knew I wanted to write my next story about the deep, maternal love that a girl can have for her much younger sister -- and the lengths she would go to in order to protect that sister.

I always tease Lana that this is my favorite book because I get to kill her in it. This isn't true for a couple reasons. First, FORGET TOMORROW isn't necessarily my favorite book. (Like parents, we authors aren't allowed to have a favorite, right?! I adore REMEMBER YESTERDAY and SEIZE TODAY just as much as this book – maybe even more.) Second, this novel isn't actually about how much I want to kill my sister; rather, it is about how much I love her. This is the reason why FORGET TOMORROW is dedicated to her. 

A few years ago, I was bemoaning my publishing fate to an editor friend. I was on submission to agents with my second manuscript, I had received over a hundred rejections, and I had been working seriously on my craft for years. It felt like I was never going to achieve my dream -- that elusive book contract -- and I was all out of patience. 

"I wish I had a crystal ball," my friend said. "Then I could tell you that five years from now, you would be published, and you wouldn't waste so much time worrying about it."*

This quote became the inspiration for my next book. The next day, during a hazy afternoon nap with my toddler son, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if I could send a memory back to my younger self, so that I could see that I was a successful published author and that all my hard work and heartache was worth it?" My very next thought was: "Hey! That would make a cool premise for a book!" And presto, the FORGET TOMORROW trilogy was born.

* Incidentally, this quote is also the inspiration for "Crystal Ball," the song that Grammy-nominated songwriter David Elliot Johnson and Kimberly Bell wrote for FORGET TOMORROW. This song is absolutely stunning! I have to admit that I cried the first time I heard it because it exactly captures Callie’s emotions from the beginning of the novel. If you haven't heard it yet, you can check out a sample here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0qpJyUltrs
Don’t miss this New York Times bestselling and award-winning novel! Imagine a world where your destiny has already been decided...by your future self. It's Callie's seventeenth birthday and, like everyone else, she's eagerly awaiting her vision-a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they're meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist.
Or in Callie's case, a criminal.
In her vision, she sees herself murdering her gifted younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested and placed in Limbo-a hellish prison for those destined to break the law. With the help of her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn't spoken to in five years, she escapes.
But on the run from her future, as well as the government, Callie sets in motion a chain of events that she hopes will change her fate. If not, she must figure out how to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all-Callie, herself.
Author bio:
Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of YA fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B. in English Literature and Language. She received her J.D. at Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the YALE LAW JOURNAL.
Pintip is represented by literary agent Beth Miller of Writers House. Her novel, FORGET TOMORROW, won the RWA RITA® for Best First Book. In addition, it is a finalist for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, the Japanese Sakura Medal, the MASL Truman Award, and the Tome Society IT list. In addition, THE DARKEST LIE is nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her other books include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, SEIZE TODAY, and GIRL ON THE VERGE.
She lives with her husband and children in Maryland. You can learn more about Pintip and her books at www.pintipdunn.com
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Powell’s  Books-A-Million

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Author Comment Contest for October 17, 2017

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

The Red Queen series is a quartet of books, including two novellas, all published by HarperTeen at HarperCollins. The amount of books can make reading order confusing, so I suggest reading Red Queen, Glass Sword, the novellas Queen Song and Steel Scars (featured in the physical edition Cruel Crown), followed by King's Cage. The fourth and final book in the series will be released in 2018. We're also lucky enough to have a coloring book adaptation of Red Queen.

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

You’ll love Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series.  Check it out!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Author Comment Contest for October 10, 2017
Robert Beatty, 
Author of Serafina and the Black Cloak

Robert Beatty Q&A
For Pattonville Area-Wide Book Battle Blog Guest Post

Q: How did you begin writing?
A: As a child, I was an avid reader. One day, when I’d read all the books in the house, my mother gave me a typewriter to tinker with and keep me busy. I started using the typewriter to write my own stories. Forty years after writing those first stories, I had my first published novel, Serafina and the Black Cloak.

Q: What was the inspiration for the Serafina books?
A: I’m the father of three girls, so I’m especially interested in strong female characters. I wanted to write stories that would engage my daughters and keep them wanting more. Serafina is flawed and relatable, a bold and clever girl with a good heart. One minute she’s innocent and frightened, and the next as fierce as can be. She possesses so many traits that young people, my daughters included, can relate to. The character of Serafina was inspired by my middle daughter, Genevieve, who used to prowl around our house and try to sneak up on me in my office when I was writing. 

Q: Is your family involved in your books?
A: Yes, my daughters and wife have been involved from the very beginning. Early on, they helped me develop the idea of setting a spooky book series at Biltmore. As the books are in progress, I read completed chapters aloud to the girls after they get home from school for the day, and they give me instant feedback that helps me refine the story. Once the books are done, my family helps me create the video trailers that we produce to promote the books, with my two oldest daughters playing key roles in the trailers and my wife designing and sewing many of the costumes.

Serafina and the Black Cloak book trailer - http://bit.ly/2y0vsa8
Serafina and the Twisted Staff book trailer – http://bit.ly/2xi3Zwy
Serafina and the Splintered Heart book trailer - http://bit.ly/2tHvDSd

Q: What do you love about writing?
A: I love to tell stories, to weave long and twisty tales as if I’m entertaining a bunch of kids at a campfire. Writing, for me, has always had an element of oral storytelling. When I write, I often type and speak out loud at the same time, as if I’m telling a tale. I want people to more than read my stories; I want people to hear them, too. And I want to keep them on the edge of their seats.

Q. What are you currently working on?
A: My new book, Serafina and the Splintered Heart, was released nationwide in July. It’s the third title in the series, but it won’t be the last adventures for Serafina. You’ll see more of her in the future. Up next for me, though, is a new middle-grade duology about a 12-year-old forest spirit named Willa. The first book, Willa of the Wood, will publish in Summer 2018.

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