Author Interview: Ali Standish

Today we welcome debut middle-grade author Ali Standish to The Winged Pen. Ali is the author of THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE, which released on January 24th!

Pull up a chair and get comfy, Ali!

Thank you so much, and thanks for having me! 

Congrats on your debut middle-grade novel, THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE. It has been described as a beautifully written mystery about loss and grief. Tell us about your inspiration for the book.

I was inspired to write the book by a hodgepodge of things (I think this is the case for most books!). I was just leaving a teaching job I loved in Washington, D.C., where I worked with some incredible students. Some of them had been through some really tough stuff, and I remember thinking, “where are all the middle grade books that deal with these things?”

At the same time, I was ruminating about the nature of lying and storytelling, and the gray area that exists between them. I started thinking about a character who told stories that were dishonest on the surface and yet somehow true in a deeper sense. And then I paired her with a character who lied by omission, and bang! There were Coralee and Ethan.

Ah, lying and storytelling. That’s such an important concept to explore, because I’m sure most kids get mixed up in situations like this. Truth is important. Stories are too, as is forgiveness. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE would make a great classroom read.

Your main characters, Ethan and Coralee, are of different races. Do you think this is important to the story?

Modeling an interracial friendship is definitely an important aspect of the story to me. I don’t think we see enough of these relationships in children’s literature, and that’s a shame. But it’s also important to note that Coralee was a black character since the moment I dreamed her up (before I had even thought of Ethan). I didn’t write her as black to make a point or to fulfill a quota. I think the reason I thought of her that way had more to do with the essence of her spirit. To elaborate a bit: We know that, because of societal and institutional factors, it is generally harder to be a black child in the U.S. than a white one. But when you look, for instance, at statistics on black women in education, you see that despite these hurtles, they are now the most educated group in the US. Struggle may be part of the black experience, but so is the overcoming of it. So going back and rereading the book now, I think I was trying to write Coralee so that her character would reflect some of the struggles many black children in the U.S. face, but also the joy and humor and triumph and bravery that make up part of their experience, too.

I LOVE Coralee. She’s smart, forthright, and energetic. What do you hope young readers take away from your story?

Hope. Understanding that the world takes things away from us, but it also brings us second chances and new friends.

What is your work/writing schedule?

It changes depending on where I am in the process and how much else I have going on! Right now, I’ve been doing about 4,000 words a day, in two blocks of time—first thing in the morning and then in the late afternoon. But that’s because I’ve set aside a few weeks to do nothing but write. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without writing a word, but during those stretches I’m always working away on my plot in my head.

4000 words a day! Wow, you’ve just raised the bar for me! Do you have any *strange* writing habits?

Possibly the fact that I don’t have a habit at all? I will write in bed, in a coffee shop, on a plane, with music, without music, in the morning, at night. I’m all over the map!

Which writers inspire you? Is there a recently published book you’d heartily recommend?

Growing up, my inspirations were Sharon Creech, Katherine Paterson, Jerry Spinelli and, of course, J.K. Rowling. They still are! Going back and reading childhood classics like The Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I am kind of in awe at how writers like Burnett and Lewis were able to create such an abundance of magic in so few words. As for recently published books? Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow, which was just named as a Newbery Honor book, is probably the best middle grade book I have read since I was a middle grader. And Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is worth every ounce of the hype it’s gotten.

We share similar taste in books. Wolf Hollow definitely deserved the Newbery Honor. I can’t wait to get my hands on Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. It comes out very soon, folks! February 28th!!!

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

More middle grade! Another novel set in the deep south, this one with a magical twist

Sounds perfect, Ali! I can’t wait to read it. Now buckle up for the LIGHTNING ROUND!🌩

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Time travel. (Yes! Take me with you!)

Wooden pencil or mechanical?

Yuck! Pen, please. Better yet, keyboard.

Coffee or tea?

Tea until I die. Or have to get a root canal. (A girl after my heart!)❤️

Sweet or salty?

Salty. When I was living in the UK, my pet peeve was all the sweet popcorn flavors they kept coming up with. What’s wrong with plain butter?!🍿

Dog, cat, or other?

Dog, of course.

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser. Wait, can I change my answer??? This is why I am a plotter. 🙂

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Remember that writing takes practice. It’s something that you get better at over time. You can have the best idea in the world, but you’ve got to put in your practice hours before you will have the skill to write it. Rejection does not mean you failed. It means you need more practice. (That also means reading, particularly in the genre you write!)

I hear you! And it’s so true. There are no shortcuts to becoming a great rider. Thank you for stopping by Ali!

Find THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE at your local Indie or find it online.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Indiebound.org

Goodreads

Ali Standish grew up in North Carolina and spent several years as an educator. She has a MFA in children’s writing from Hollis University and a MPhil in children’s literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives with her Finnish husband and rescue dog. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE is her debut novel. Visit her at www.alistandish.com , on Twitter, or on Facebook.

 

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

Book Talk with Author Jessica Lawson

Jessica Lawson is not only the author of three terrific middle grade books, she’s also an all-around cool human being. When she discovered my daughter was a fan, she commenced a covert operation to make sure a swag bag, along with a handwritten note, was waiting under the tree for my daughter on Christmas morning. Today, she’s agreed to chat with the Winged Pen.

Jessica, welcome! Your first two novels, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher and Nooks & Crannies, are both historical (although with vastly different settings). They also feature strong female protagonists with interesting sidekicks; was this intentional?

First of all, thank you so much for having me on the blog! As for character choices, it was definitely a deliberate choice of mine to make Becky Thatcher a strong female—I always wished the original Twain-written character had more mischief about her, so it was fun to make that happen. And, as I was already playing around with character roles, I got a bit of satisfaction out of making Amy Lawrence—Tom Sawyer’s previous “love”— the best friend character. As for Tabitha Crum, lead character in Nooks & Crannies, she was raised to be very solitary and quiet. Giving her a mouse sidekick to chat with allowed her to express her other side—clever, introspective, funny, and vulnerable. 

Your latest novel, Waiting for Augusta, includes an element of magical realism; tell us more!

It’s the story of Ben Putter, a boy who runs away and travels over 400 miles in an attempt to scatter his father’s ashes on the 18th green of a very famous golf course. The ashes speak to him along the way, helping both Ben and his dad come to terms with their broken relationship.

Was it hard making the switch from realistic/historical to magical realism? I’ve heard some agents/editors talk about the importance of being able to “shelve” books together; did you encounter any resistance when you pitched switching genres? 

Strangely enough, I didn’t really see it as magical realism when I was writing it. To me, it was natural that a very creative young boy might stare at a cremation urn and imagine what his father might be saying, were he still alive. The conversations between the two of them came the same way they would have if the dad was still alive, though Ben feels a bit more free to speak his mind.

I think the shift into magical realism was tempered by the historical setting, so it didn’t seem like too much of a genre switch. I interviewed my agent about marketing books that seem different, and how she does that when trying to sell my stories- you can read that post here.

Simon & Schuster has published all three of your novels; how has your relationship with your editor evolved over time? Is he/she instrumental in developing new story ideas, or do you pitch a story once you’ve already fleshed it out?

I had the same fabulous editor for my first three books, and she and I became more and more comfortable in knowing what the other person needed to make the best book possible. I develop story ideas with my agent, then show my editor fleshed-out pages and a summary once it’s time to pitch a new idea.

My next book, UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE, will be out next fall and is the first book with my new editor. It’s an autumn story set in a modern artisan village that has a heavy focus on traditional arts. The main character, Minna, comes from a long line of woodworkers. It’s full of covered bridges, looming deadlines, mysterious bottle messages, and family legacies! 

With three books published and a fourth scheduled to hit shelves in September, you are an incredibly productive writer! What does your “typical” day look like?

Aw, thank you! As a mom to two young kids, I write in spurts, whenever the opportunity presents itself. There’s no typical day writing-wise, but I’ve found that writing plot notes and bits of dialogue on post-its or notebooks is something I consistently do that really helps me stay focused when I do get time to draft.

Finally, a speed round!

Coffee or tea?  Coffee

Sweet or salty?  Salty

Dog or cat?  Dog (though I have a cat :))

Plotter or pantser?  Pantser

E-book or physical book?  Physical book

Jessica, thank you for dropping by! 

Thank you so much for having me!

Jessica Lawson is the author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, a book that Publishers Weekly called “a delightfully clever debut” in a starred review, and Nooks & Crannies, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of three starred reviews. Her latest middle grade novel, Waiting for Augusta, is also a Junior Library Guild Selection. You can learn more about Jessica on her website  or at Simon & Schuster

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

The Radius of Us

Marie Marquardt is the author of two YA novels. Her first, Dream Things True, is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that gives voice to the undocumented immigrant experience. On the jacket, author Jennifer Mathieu describes the story as one that will “forever change the way you view those who live their lives in the shadows” and I have to agree—Marie’s stories should be required reading for children and adults alike.

Today, Marie joins us to celebrate the release of her second novel, The Radius of Us. Marie, welcome to The Winged Pen and congratulations on your new release! Tell us about The Radius of Us.

The Radius of Us is a love story about two teenagers who struggle to overcome their past and become survivors together. Gretchen was a victim of assault robbery who suffers debilitating panic attacks. When the story opens, she sees Phoenix chasing a dog through a neighborhood park. She mistakes him for her attacker and then feels incredibly guilty and embarrassed about it (as she should!).

Phoenix is an eighteen-year-old university student who took his little brother and fled a dangerous community in El Salvador, after gang members threatened to take their lives. He and his brother were separated at the U.S./ Mexico border, and he was sent to detention. Now he’s living in a posh Atlanta suburb with a kind couple (He calls them “sweet, churchy lesbians”). They found him a lawyer, got him out of detention, and took him in.

As Phoenix struggles to be reunited with his brother and get permission to stay in the United States, he and Gretchen develop a deepening connection. But the shared past experiences that improbably link them also have the potential to tear them apart.

One of the common threads in both Dream Things True and The Radius of Us is that they feature characters who seem to have nothing in common but end up developing deep and compelling relationships; why is this theme important to you?

I think this is the most important theme – not only for my books, but for life! When people with diverse backgrounds and identities seek the things we share in common, we develop real, complex relationships. It’s only inside these relationships that we can honestly explore our differences and the dynamics of power that shape them. With trust and understanding, we can begin to challenge those insidious systems that work to keep us apart.

Your stories are fiction, yet they ring undeniably “true”––is this a case of writing what you know?

Yes, it is. I have been working with immigrants from Latin America for a couple of decades now, as an academic researcher, friend and advocate. My second book, The Radius of Us, builds on my work with asylum-seekers in detention, through a non-profit that called El Refugio. We visit with men who are detained at the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia. Since about 2013, the government has been sending young asylum seekers from Central America, who were detained at the U.S./ Mexico border, to Stewart while they await their asylum hearings. I have spent many hours talking on the phone through the glass with teenagers like Phoenix – mostly listening. I wrote this book because I wanted a way to honor their stories – and to thank them for trusting me enough to share them.

One of the things that I always find fascinating is each author’s path to publication; would you please share yours?

My path was rocky, winding, and steep. If I didn’t care so much about getting these stories out into the world, I would have quit years ago!

For me, the biggest challenge was finding an agent. That took about a dozen revisions on my first manuscript and many dozens of queries. Once I found my agent, things started to fall into place. I am incredibly fortunate to have a talented, committed agent (Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management) who is both my fierce advocate and my careful critic.

Your illustrator, Carlos Alfredo Morataya, has a special story of his own. Can you share a little of his journey with us?

I met Carlos through a mutual friend and I asked if he’d be interested in the project. The moment I saw Carlos’ first sketch, I knew I had found the perfect illustrator.

What I didn’t know was how may similarities there were between Carlos’ own journey and that of my book’s characters. Carlos was orphaned at age 8 and he came to the U.S. from Guatemala at age 18. He’s been through a great deal in his short life, and he’s a remarkable person. He now studies art education at University of North Georgia. I know he will accomplish great things!

And finally, a fun question to round out the interview. If you could cast the main characters in The Radius of Us to appear in a feature film, who would you choose?

I’d love for Phoenix to be played by a Salvadoran actor. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many in the U.S. to choose from who are the right age. Kevin Hernandez is great—still a little young, but by the time a movie goes into production, he might be ready!

Bonny Wright would make a great Gretchen —but I’m not sure anyone will ever see her as anything but Ginny Weasley, plus I wouldn’t want fans of Harry Potter to hate Phoenix for stealing his wife. Harry Potter fans tend to be intense.

Marie, thanks for your time! 

Marie Marquardt is author of young adult novels, The      Radius of Us and Dream Things True, as well as a college  professor at Emory University, and an immigration    advocate. She is also the co-chair of El Refugio, a Georgia  non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their  families. She has been interviewed on National Public  Radio, Public Radio International, and BBC America, among many other media outlets. Visit her website at www.mariemarquardt.com and follow her on Twitter: @MarieFMarquardt and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MarieMarquardtAuthor.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

 

 

Author Interview–Julie Leung

mice-of-the-round-table

We are thrilled to have on the blog today Julie Leung, a debut author whose middle grade novel releases on October 4th. MICE OF THE ROUNDTABLE: A TAIL OF CAMELOT is an epic new middle grade series in the tradition of Redwall and Poppy, based on Arthurian legend and told from the perspective of Camelot’s most humble creatures: mice. Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of becoming a Knight of the Round Table. For generations, his family has led the mice who live just out of sight of the humans, defending Camelot from enemies both big and small. But when Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a new threat is gathering—one that could catch even the Two-Leggers unaware—it is up to them to unmask the real enemy, unite their forces, and save the castle they all call home. The book has received positive reviews from both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal!

“A winning new adventure featuring a stalwart warrior mouse, heroic knights, and magical Camelot.” (Kirkus) “Leung employs classic language, with regal terms to re-create the timeless feel of Camelot.” (School Library Journal)

What drew you to this story for a retelling?

I grew up on a steady diet of the Redwall series. I checked out every book from the library and savored every feast scene and battle. And like most fans of fantasy fiction, my first taste of it came from tales of King Arthur and his knights. So when Paper Lantern Lit approached me with the project for Mice of the Round Table, I knew this was the perfect fit for me.  

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of retelling a story?

My favorite thing about writing an Arthurian retelling is that I can bake in references and literary Easter eggs that will hopefully pay off when the reader continues to explore the legends in their own right. On the flip side, I have to ensure that my story arc follows the trajectory that everyone expects—for the most part at least, I like to throw in some surprises. 😉

How much research did you do?

My research was twofold. I did a lot of digging into Arthurian legends themselves. But I quickly found that the versions we have come to know as canon have also been modified and tweaked through the ages. Different authors left in their own details and flourishes which I found fascinating.

I also refreshed myself on a lot of “rodent-as-hero” stories like Poppy, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and other classic tales. One of my biggest challenges was to correctly scale mice in a world built by humans.

What are some details you included to evoke the time period?

I tried to place the story in a timeless and familiar fairytale setting. That meant excising any words or terminology that sounded too modern and paying attention to the descriptions food and clothing to make sure they felt grounded within historical reason.

Why do you write middle grade?

The books that truly turned me into an insatiable reader for life were read when I was 8-12 years old. I wanted to write for this age because I could incorporate a sense of innocent wonder and adventure but at the same time introduce more complex themes.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid? 

Ozma of Oz by Frank L. Baum

How about a favorite middle grade that you’ve discovered as an adult?

I read the Tale of Despereaux for a college class and have been craving soup ever since.

What is your favorite piece of writing advice?

Write like you’re running out of time, adapted from the Hamilton musical. To keep myself focused on the goal of finishing a manuscript, I cultivate this sense of urgency in the back of mine: No one can tell your stories but yourself, and you owe it to your stories to see them to realization.   

julie-leung

JULIE LEUNG was raised in the sleepy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, though it may be more accurate to say she grew up in Oz and came of age in Middle-earth.

By day, she is a senior marketing manager for Random House’s sci-fi/fantasy imprint, Del Rey Books. She is also the mother of FictionToFashion.com, where she interprets her favorite books into outfits.

In her free time, she enjoys furtively sniffing books at used bookstores and winning at obscure board games. Her favorite mode of transportation is the library.

You may accost her in the following formatsTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Katharine Manning has a soft spot in her heart for mouse stories, dating back to third grade when she first read about Ralph and his motorcycle. She writes middle grade stories about brave girls, friendship, and occasionally, magic. She blogs here and at The Mixed-Up Files, and is thrilled to be a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can see her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List, and can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter and Instagram

Spotlight Interview with Karin Lefranc

Alright, Karin, the grocery stores are filled with Halloween treats and decorations and it’s also your book’s birthday!

Happy Birthday, I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS!

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Look at that cover! He’s the only zombie I’ve seen that I want to hug.

If you too are drooling over this book, check it out here and here or here. But, these spotlight interviews are to get to know you better, Karin. Our readers can take a look at your bio to find out about you, sure, but I’d like to know more.

Um…let me see. In addition to being a writer, I’m a certified children’s yoga teacher so I used to tell kids stories through yoga poses! Now when I’m not writing or running around with my four kids, I help high school seniors, as a college essay consultant, to write brilliant college application essays! I absolutely love it, as their topics are close to their hearts, and I get to channel them and see the world through their eyes for 650 words!

What’s the best thing about where you live and how does it inspire your writing?

I live smack bam between NYC and Boston outside Hartford in Simsbury, Connecticut. It’s hilly and woodsy so good for hikes, which is always good for inspiring stories or working out plot problems! Our town is proud to claim the largest tree in Connecticut, The Pinchot Sycamore Tree. It’s located on the same road that our first presidents took to Boston, including Washington, Jefferson and Adams, and it amazes me that the tree was alive when they were. Hey, that’s inspiring me right now to write a picture book!

Aww! I love tree books. Seriously, The Giving Tree…Please write this! Last book you read: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone, who I also have the pleasure of knowing as she lives in the next town over from me! It’s a high concept YA about a girl whose grandmother tells them that she’s dying but wants the whole family to go on a death-with-dignity cruise. But trust me, it’s fun and cheeky and heartfelt.

Last song you listened to on repeat: Crazy by Gnarls Barkley—I enjoy riling up my kids while their crazy mom sings this to them!

Dinner is on the stove, but the best first line for your WIP pops in your head and if you don’t write it down NOW, you’ll lose it forever…. What do you do?

Burn dinner, of course!

That’s what cereal is for, right?! Your current WIP in five words: (bonus points if you can do it in less!)

Are you kidding? Hedda struggles to be brave like her ancestor Beowulf.

Try again… Hedda must save the troll girl (still six words!)

Girl, rainbow bridge, Beowulf, Norse goddesses (obviously very challenging for me!)

You’re packing a bag of books for a desert island, which 5 books make it in the bag? 

Anna Karenina (my favorite book!) War & Peace (also by Tolstoy and I’ve never read it– and it’s really long so it will keep me busy for a long time!) Lord of the Rings (ultimate escapism when I want to be transported from my island). The Little Prince (when I’m feeling alone and doomed). Immortality (Milan Kundera will keep my thinking about my existence long after I’ve finished the last page).

That’s an ambitious list! As if you’re not busy enough, what’s next for you?

My fabulous CPs, fellow pennies Gita and Rebecca, are urging me to finish my PB about a hoity-toity coyote who loves England so much, he decides to fly to London to visit the queen and her corgis!

Yes, please!!! I want to beta read this! It was so fun getting to know you better. Readers, if you like what you read here, follow Karin on Twitter @karinlefranc and you can check out the book trailer for I Want to Eat Your books here!

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out Summer 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

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