Leah Henderson’s ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL

This March, I had the pleasure of meeting author Leah Henderson at a writing workshop. When she described her debut middle-grade book set in contemporary Senegal, ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Eleven-year-old orphan, Mor, struggles to keep the promise he made to his dying father to keep his young sisters safe and to keep their family together. His aunt comes to take them away from the village they call home, and Mor begs for the opportunity to prove that he can care for himself and his sisters. But finding work and food for his family isn’t easy. To make matters more complicated, a gang of boys from a nearby village, the Danka boys, threaten to take the little bit he’s saved and his opportunity to keep his promise to his father. Mor is faced with a tough decision: do whatever it takes, even if it goes against his principles, to keep the family together or do what is right.

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In ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, the sights, culture, and customs of Senegal are delicately woven into the story, giving the reader the unique experience of understanding what present-day life is like in Senegal. ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL beautifully shows the power of determination and the importance of family, friendship, and community. It would make a great classroom read for grades 4-8, ages 10 and up.

I invited Leah to chat with us about her story. Welcome to The Winged Pen, Leah!

Thank you so much for hosting me today. I’m excited to be here.

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL is a story about family, resilience, and determination. It feels lushly intimate, especially the scene where Mor recalls the happy memory of playing soccer with his baay (father). Do bits of the story come from your own life?

I hesitate to say no because in many ways I think I draw from my own life experiences in everything I do, but the scenes in this story are completely fictitious. Though I will say growing up I always loved playing soccer with my dad and watching him compete and coach. And there are definite glimpses of people I’ve met sprinkled within many of my characters. I think that is what helped bring Mor and the individuals populating his world to life for me—a smile I remember, the gut punch of an unkind word, the sunshine behind someone’s laughter—you know, the kinds of moments that fill our days. These experiences can’t help but find their way into my stories.

What do you hope young readers will learn from Mor and his sisters?

I hope they will learn about a tiny fraction of the beauty Senegal possesses and that they will want to discover more about this country and many others around the world that they are unfamiliar with. I also want young readers to consider that when faced with what they might believe are insurmountable obstacles that there is almost always a way to the other side. It may not be easy, but with hope, determination, and help, they can attempt to overcome the difficulties set before them.

In this interview with The Brown Bookshelf, you mentioned your inspiration for ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL came from seeing a boy sitting on a low beach wall while you were traveling in St. Louis, Senegal. His story came to you as that image replayed in your head while you wrote a short story for a MFA class. With encouragement, it developed into a full novel, but you were hesitant to write this story. Many writers struggle with the question “Is this my story to tell?” How did you overcome your internal resistance? How do you feel about the story now that it’s about to be shared with the world?

Honestly, I’m not even sure I’m completely over my “internal resistance”. My hope at this point is that I haven’t done harm and that a story like mine will not only be an enjoyable read, but that it will make people more curious about the larger world we live in and the varied lives that inhabit it.

I think my true turning point came when my father reminded me that this was possibly one of the first opportunities a cast of characters like mine might be seen by a wider audience or more importantly, by kids that mirror these experiences. And was I really going to deny them the chance to see themselves? A question like that left no room for turning back. There was nothing left to do but keep going. I tried to forget about myself and my apprehensions and focus on the characters and the people I modeled them after. I tried to tell the most heartfelt story I could.

As far as how I feel about sharing this book with the world, I am both nervous and excited (mostly nervous) that in a matter of weeks it will be taking a journey that I no longer have any control over (not that I ever really did)! But mainly I wonder if the little boy on the beach wall saw it would he be able to see glimpses of himself in my writing, and if so, would he smile . . .

After reading ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, I have a greater appreciation for Senegal and its people and, thanks to the rich imagery, I can almost image what life might be like there. Did you do much research as you wrote, or were the details about life in Senegal active in your mind from your travels there?

So the story I tried to tell in my book only captures a small piece of the complexity, richness, and hospitality of that country. The majority of my time in Senegal is spent in cities, in marbled-floored homes with striking courtyards with entrancing scents and gorgeously attired friends and acquaintances, so this side of Senegal, the side I assumed the young boy was from, was a huge departure for me, and cause for much worry. So I tried to do as much research as I could. I was really starting from a place of not knowing.

At first, I could only assume what the life of that boy might be like, and we all know how simple assumptions can quickly turn into stereotypes and untruths if we aren’t careful. So I took trips, watched, listened, tasted, touched, and breathed in everything around me. I asked tons of questions of those who knew this world. I did not pretend to know anything and hesitated to make things up when I didn’t know the answers. I was open to learning and tried to remember every moment I experienced. As an avid traveler who loves to traverse unfamiliar, less trodden paths, I was open, curious, and excited about it all.

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

I have a great love for middle grade, so I am busy working on two new stories which are both very different from this, but still center around determination, family, and discovery.

Okay, Leah. Buck up your seat belt for the Lightning Round! *hands Leah a cookie Fun!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? The power to heal (or the power to truly understand motivations, desires, and dreams).

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden pencil

Coffee or tea? Tea, definitely tea!

Sweet or salty? Depends on the day or minute and the possible sweet or salty option. =)

Dog, cat, or other? Dogs are my heart, especially mine.

Plotter or pantser? I’m a bit of both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Sure, if this is truly what you love to do, don’t give up. Keep writing the stories you want to share with the world, not just because you hope someone will see them, but because you have to get them out of you. Write because you love it. Everything else is simply a brighter sunshine!

Thanks again for having me. It’s been fun to share a little more of my story!

Thanks so much to Leah for joining us!

The artwork by John Jay Cabuay for ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL is absolutely gorgeous. Find him on Twitter and more details about it here.

You can find out more about Leah Henderson at http://www.leahhendersonbooks.com and on Twitter.

 

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 Review: Principal Kidd School Rules

Principal Kidd School Rules is the first book in the Principal Kidd series by author and illustrator Connie T. Colon. It is a fun chapter book featuring a bright kid who accidentally creates problems for his school then works to find creative solutions.

Goodreads

Eleven-year-old whiz, Oliver Kidd, had no trouble using his genius IQ to skip grades and zoom through the accelerated college program. But after landing a job as the world’s first kid principal back at his old elementary school, Oliver faces sabotage from the jealous vice principal, Mr. Dagger, along with challenges of a kid in charge of the teachers, parents, and students. Good thing his trusty sidekick and school mascot, Chelsea the chicken, is on his side. Principal Kidd scores points with the students with his new rules, until the town health inspector shows up and threatens to shut the doors on Eggshell Elementary. Join in on the giggles and mayhem as Oliver Kidd and his friends since kindergarten try to save Eggshell Elementary. (Just watch your step, you may encounter chicken poop!) (Goodreads)

This wonderful chapter book is full of action, fun characters, and creative problem-solving skills. We jump right into Oliver’s first day as Principal Kidd and meet the people closest to him. Mr. Dagger, whose personality lives up to his name, and Oliver’s best friends, April Mae March who makes decisions based on her mood ring and Tucker Wilson who uses magic to help solve problems. (Watch out, you don’t want to be “Tucked!”), and Inspector Dusty, who – you guessed it! – casually dusts everything he walks by. Each character is unique and quirky. Kids will love them as much as I did..

I love stories that focus on real-life issues, but disguise them through humor, creativity, and great storytelling. Principal Kidd is an example of this kind of book. Some of the issues included are: what will you do to be liked by your peers, is bullying behavior the right choice, can you solve difficult problems by looking at alternative actions and creativity, and will you take the easy way out or will you fight and not give up?

What problems does Oliver face and what choices does he make? Can you figure out creative solutions to Oliver’s problems? You will definitely want to read this book and follow Oliver and his friends as they face difficult decisions.

To learn more about Connie Colon and Oliver Kidd and friends, check out her wonderful website, conniecolon.com. You can also find her on TwitterFacebookInstagram.

Principal Kidd School Rules Book#1 can be found on Amazon.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.

The Mesmerist! Interview with Ronald L. Smith

I’ve got an irresistibly spooky #FridayReads suggestion for you today! Ronald L. Smith, Winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King New Author Award for his debut middle-grade novel HOODOO, has a new book out. Cue the fog machine! THE MESMERIST, a thrilling mix of creepy, urban fantasy and historical fiction, released on 2/21/17.

Perfect for fans of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series and Lockwood & Co, Ronald L. Smith dazzles us with his latest tale of an unlikely heroine, 13 yo Jessamine, who lives in Victorian England.

Jessamine’s story begins during a time of tension in London. A mysterious plague is spreading rapidly, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable citizens. The rise of the deadly disease has been blamed on immigrants and communists. Jess is mostly isolated from the turmoil, as she lives outside of the city with her mother making a living as sham spiritualists.

But Jess’s life takes a sudden turn when in the midst of her “summoning” of spirits she receives a real message from the dead. Her fear-stricken mother insists they must visit Balthazar, an old family friend in London. During this visit, Jess discovers not only that she’s a mesmerist (someone who is able to read people’s thoughts) but her parents were both active members of the League of Ravens , a group who has been fighting Mephisto, a gang whose purpose is reanimating the dead.

Jess joins forces with other “gifted” children, training to fight the ghouls and monsters wreaking havoc on the already troubled city,  to form a new League of Ravens. But before she’s ready to take on Mephisto in London’s dark supernatural underworld, she must garner the strength to transform from a proper young lady concerned with etiquette/appearance into a brave and dangerous warrior. As she does, she uncovers horrible truths about herself, her family, and the never-ending battle between good and evil.

In THE MESMERIST, Ronald L. Smith weaves the history of the London underground into an creepy, atmospheric plot filled with wonderful twists. Even with the meticulous world-building, which is just as masterful as in HOODOO, THE MESMERIST is a fast-past read, sure to appeal to readers who love spooky fiction.

Run to your favorite indie, the library, or buy it using these links.

Indiebound      Barnes and Noble     Amazon      Goodreads

I was lucky enough to catch up with Ronald L. Smith this week to ask him a few burning questions I had after reading THE MESMERIST.

Congrats on your latest release, Ron. Tell us about your inspiration for THE MESMERIST.

Some of the first books I read as a kid were by British authors such as Alan Garner, C.S. Lewis, Eleanor Cameron and others. I found them in our local library. These books left an indelible mark on my imagination. I wanted to give tribute of a sort to those books while also adding themes that fit our current climate. 

THE MESMERIST includes themes that America is struggling deeply with now, such as racial bias, poverty, and immigration. What do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

It’s interesting how that worked out. I had a feeling that some of the themes in the book were going to be very prescient. I don’t know if I particularly wanted to teach a lesson or impart any wisdom, but if a child finishes the book and sees that all people should be treated equally, regardless of their station in life, then that is a good thing.  

Hear, hear! The cover of THE MESMERIST is outstanding and sets the reader up for the fantastically spooky atmosphere of the book. Did you have any input in the cover or is it the pure genius of Lisa K. Weber?

It is a great cover. We authors usually have some say in the cover design, but ultimately it’s up to the artist and publisher. I think it turned out really well. Her background is in comics. She does a great one called Hex. Her style fits The Mesmerist perfectly. I was very pleased.

Dying to know, will there be more stories about the League of Ravens?

Wow, that would be kind of fun. I’d have to think about it. I’m sure there are some other battles to be fought against supernatural bad guys. We shall see! 

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

Well, one of the projects is Top Secret, so I am sworn to secrecy. I can tell you a little about my next book, which will have to do with scary aliens and a kid who believes he is being visited by them. It’s more contemporary than sci-fi and is quite different for me. I can’t wait to get it in readers’ hands.

What is your work/writing schedule?

Drag myself to computer. Stare at screen. Have anxiety attack. Try to write some words that make sense. Repeat on the hour.  

Do you have any strange writing habits?

See above. Not really. I usually write in cafes. When the weather is nice I try to sit outside at some of my favorite places. If I write at home I sometimes have classical music on very softly in the background to relax. Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a favorite.

And now for the lightning round. Hands Ronald L. Smith a brownie for strength.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Being able to write novels quickly.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Hmm. Wooden. Blackwings.

Coffee or tea? Coffee all day.

Sweet or salty? Salty!

Dog, cat, or other? Hmm. Manticore?

Plotter or pantser? Pantser all the way.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Butt in chair.

Finish what you start.

Keep your eyes on your own paper.

Never give up.  

Great advice! Thank so much for chatting with me, and I CAN. NOT. WAIT. to get my hands on the contemporary/sci-fi book!

Thanks so much for thinking of me and reaching out! It was a lot of fun. 
To learn more about Ronald L. Smith, the world-building master and plot twisting author of Hoodoo and The Mesmerist, check out his website or follow him on Twitter. 

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.

Brandon Mull’s Creative Juices

Brandon Mull writes for boys using his relentless imagination and his scouting experience.

He has written Beyonders, Fablehaven, and Five Kingdom among others.

Mull says in an interview with Tori Ackerman, “I wanted to go to a world where there was a lot to discover, but still light and fun.”

If Brandon Mull’s series appeal to every demand of one’s imagination, it’s because the author wanted his worlds and characters to be fresh and new.

With so many retellings inspired by legends and folklore, authors who bravely come up with new worlds are harder to find. Kids are drawn by the novelty of his worlds.

For example, Brandon Mull came up with mysterious castles in the air and jumping swords. Even if the sword is a valuable weapon in one world, it is useless in another. Brandon Mull came up with very distinct worlds within worlds. That’s why the books are reminiscent of framed stories like the Arabian Nights. Each episode brings new discoveries and surprises.

The books are movie-driven with episodic adventures, as well as dialogue-driven. Short, snappy episodes do not mean that the plot is less complex. Obviously, there is a lot going on, but each episode is a new adventure bringing on new characters, even late into the story. The ideas are big, but the way things are explained are simple and accessible. Heroes are driven by the moment, by their instincts rather than by their experiences, but they always come up with smart, creative, and resourceful solutions. Yet, in these fast-paced stories, dialogues go on and on for pages without being boring. That’s because dialogues are used to describe the worlds and their mechanics. They are fascinating.

Brandon Mull says in an interview with Book Zones Boy’s Life, “Scouting has significantly helped my career as a professional writer. To create stories, I need details, and my experiences in Scouting helped me learn at least a little about a wide variety of things.”

Mull’s epic fantasies bring to life ordinary kids who survive by their wits in wild worlds. Kids can easily identify to courageous and tenacious heroes. Mull manages a large cast of characters, realistic endeavors, and honest characters with a strong sense of right and wrong. In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth’s job is to protect magical creatures contained in a reservation. The sense of danger is always present. Characters are sacrificed. Miracles happen too. Treacherous characters make the lives of the heroes difficult. The reader roots for heroes who do not hesitate to take risks, calculated or not. Not only the pace is fast, the adventures constant and the creatures interesting, but also the main characters barter with each other all the time. Their relationship battles between love, hate, and teasing. Many Brandon Mull’s characters challenge each other verbally, adding tension and fun to the chapters. Kendra reflects at the end of a Fablehaven’s adventure, “Many of her experiences here had been dreadful. […] Life would seem so dry after the extraordinary events of the past couple of weeks.”

All in all, Brandon Mull attracts kids by appealing to their sense of adventure and curiosity. The kids want to know what creatures or monsters are in the book. They know they will be surprised. They also appreciate things that blow up, things that get punched, new creatures, cool little guys, things taken from the mythology and from the pop culture, and non-stop action. The quick, dynamic plots sustain little introspection, but they explore new ideas for kids, out loud. Brandon Mull’s stories are a delight because they are full of imagination, conflict, tension, extreme measures, driving motivations with high stakes, and quirky heroes with weaknesses. It’s a new epic that’s tailored for boys and for kids who dream of quests and new worlds.

Resources:

 Brandon Mull’s website. http://brandonmull.com/

Writing Excuses.http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/19/writing-season-2-episode-2-how-to-write-for-children-with-brandon-mull/

Writing Excuses. http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/27/writing-excuses-season-2-episode-3-characters-with-brandon-mull/

20 Thrilling Books for Kids Who Like Percy Jackson. http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/books-for-kids-who-like-percy-jackson/

♥♥♥

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

A follow up on Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Review – How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript

In How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript, James Scott Bell promises the reader craft secrets to shape great dialogue. As a writer juggling a full life, the phrase “fastest way to improve” catches my eye and I hit Amazon’s buy now button.

When the book arrives, it’s a slim 135 pages. Was it worth the price? Will it stay on my How To writing shelf or end up in the donate pile? I find my favorite booth at Panera, order an iced tea, and crack it open.

I have my doubts the first few pages. Bell starts with what not to do examples that are so bad my fourth grader would know better. With a sigh, I turn a few pages. Next up is a tip that all characters should bring specific, opposing agendas to a scene. I read an excerpt from Gone With the Wind and jot a note to myself: Identify characters’ opposing agendas at the start of scene to increase conflict and tension. A few fun ideas bubble up.

The next idea sounds crazy, but I try it. Bell’s tip is to take a dialogue heavy section in my story and pick a random line. Then I go to my bookshelf, select a favorite novel, and flip it open. The first line of dialogue on that page will now replace the line of dialogue in my manuscript. Bizarre, but it works! My scene takes a creative twist and the dialogue’s interest shoots up.

Bell’s book includes tips on everything from punctuation to attributions to cursing, but the idea that pulls me in next is bare bones dialogue. I tend to be wordy. So I take a page of my dialogue and snip, snip, snip. My goal is to get each line to five words or less. The page suddenly has more white space and the dialogue more snap.

After applying Bell’s tips, I email my newest scene to my tough love critique partner whose comments tend toward “yawning here” or “this scene matters why?”

Several days later, I’m back at my favorite Panera booth, sipping my iced tea and open my email. My critique partner has responded and I nearly keel over when I read: Engaging and well written scene. Easy, enjoyable read. I wonder if it’s the tea or all the hard work. Nice job!

I write back that it’s not the tea, but the tips from How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript.

Worth the cost?

Definitely!

A keeper?

For sure.