The Unicorn in the Barn: Review/Author Interview with Jacqueline Ogburn

Today we welcome to The Winged Pen the author of one of my all-time favorite picture books, THE MAGIC NESTING DOLLS. Jacqueline Ogburn is the author of ten picture books and, in just a few short days, the world will be able to read her beautiful debut middle-grade novel, THE UNICORN IN THE BARN.

 

… the presence of the unicorn and other magical creatures adding just a touch of whimsy to a story about very real emotions. A sensitive, moving debut.-Kirkus reviews

Eleven-year-old Eric Harper lives on his family’s farm in Chinaberry Creek. Due to his grandmother’s illness, they’ve sold her home to a new veterinarian in town to help pay bills. The veterinarian takes care of the many wild and unusual animals that live in the area around the Harper’s land. One day, Eric spots a lame unicorn and the veterinarian invites him to work with her and her young daughter to treat the animals. As Eric learns there are magical creatures that live in their woods, he also discovers family secrets that will change his life forever.

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN is both deeply imaginative and real at the same time. It deals with family death in a tender way for young readers. It is a coming-of-age story fully of whimsy, appropriate for ages 9-12 and would make a great read-together book. Rebecca Green’s black-and-white illustrations beautifully compliment the simple and heartfelt prose.

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN goes on sale on July 4th, 2017  at your local indie or here:

Goodreads

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble  

IndieBound

Welcome to The Winged Pen, Jackie! Reading THE UNICORN IN THE BARN was like a walk down memory lane for me, hanging out on the farm and playing the mysterious woods near my home. Does the fictional Chinaberry Creek represent an actual place from your childhood?

JO: Yes, the setting is based on my grandparents’ farm in Cabarrus County, in-between Concord and Albemarle. I would spend at least week there every summer.  When I was little, they still had cows, chickens, barn cats and for while goats, as well as several Chihuahuas that were house pets. Several of my cousins lived in houses and land that used to be part of the original farm. The house is a rambling two story and there are lots of smaller buildings clustered around it—the tractor shed, a couple of chicken houses, a potato house, corn crib, and of course, a barn.  I moved things around a bit, as the barn was in a pasture down the hill, not next to the house. There are still a lot of woods around and a creek and a pond in the pasture.  I named the nearby town Chinaberry Creek, because my mother loved Chinaberry trees. 

It’s interesting how the story seems so simple and innocent, yet deep and moving. I think this may be related to your experience as a picture book writer. How was the process different for writing a middle-grade novel different from writing a picture book?

Novels have so much middle!  A picture book I could figure out the structure and characters in my head, then write a draft that would be very close to that.  I tried outlining this, but as I wrote, the number of scenes and chapters kept expanding.  I knew the beginning and the end, but the rest of the novel, all the middle, kept growing, as I realized more things had to happen to get to the end.  Novels also require a lot more description of the setting and action.  Even though this book ended up with a lot of illustrations, I couldn’t count on the art expressing those things.

While I love fantasy, I wanted this story to be a contemporary fantasy, for it to be as realistic and matter-of-fact as possible.  Moonpearl isn’t a rainbow sparkle unicorn, she needs someone to muck out her stall and pick the burrs out of her mane.

 To achieve that, I did some interesting hands-on research. For six months, I was a volunteer at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, and did most of the same chores Eric did – sweeping, mopping, cleaning out cages, washing dishes, fixing food and water.  That’s how I met Bobby Schopler, the vet who read the manuscript for me and now works at the Duke Lemur Center. I read dozens of books by vets and visited a couple of horse barns to make sure the physical details were well grounded.

 I knew early on that if I was going to have a story about healing, that there also had to be loss. At one point, I called a writer friend nearly in tears because I realized that I had to include the death of an animal for the story to be properly grounded.

From the story, it’s obvious that you care deeply for animals. Can you tell us about your how your real-life experiences turned into this beautiful story that is partly a love letter to animals?

The book is a lot of wish fulfillment for me. I did love animals as a kid and read tons of books about them, especially horse stories. We only had one dog, Rusty, when I was growing up. He was a sweet red-brown Chihuahua. I also kept lots of caterpillars and grasshoppers in jars, and had goldfish and guppies. Fish are nice to watch, but not very cuddly. My mother had enough to do with raising five kids, and as a farm girl, she was less sentimental about animals.  Her brother, my Uncle Jackie, adored them, and there is a lot of him in Eric.

Now I am a cat person. Our tuxedo cat, Java, likes to sit on my chest, just under my chin while I read in bed.  I spent about a year in between cats while working on the book and it made me realize how much I like having a nonhuman companion. They deserve attention, affection and respect as much as people do.   

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

I have a few chapters on a sequel, where Allegra is the main character. She’s more complicated and prickly than Eric. Timothy the Cheshire cat and Prissy the goose are still around, but there will be other magical creatures as well.

Lightning round (hands Jackie a cookie, for strength)!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Flying

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden

Coffee or tea? Hot coffee, but ice tea

Sweet or salty?  Salty

Dog, cat, or other?  Cat

Plotter or pantser?  Both. Even when it’s tightly plotted, like a picture book, there are surprises and detours along the way.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Read widely, not just in the genre that you love, but other things, including nonfiction. Curiosity is an important trait for a writer, to wonder “what if” and then to be driven to find out the things that could and would happen after that. 

Excellent advice and thanks so much to Jackie for stopping by to talk with us! Want to see unicorns in the real world?. Follow Jacqueline Ogburn on Instagram, and you can also find out more about her here!

 

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.

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LORD of MONSTERS by John Bemis

Do you like books with monsters and magic? Heroes and epic journeys? On June 6th, 2017 at a bookstore near you, one of the most imaginative books I’ve read in a long while will be released into the world. LORD of MONSTERS is the 2nd book in the OUT of ABATON series, and this Pinocchio retelling is sure to please.

Goodreads   |     Amazon     |     Barnes and Noble  |    Indiebound

Those of you who read THE WOODEN PRINCE will remember that it ends with Pinocchio transforming into a real boy. In the LORD of MONSTERS, Pinocchio must learn to adapt to being human at the same time as he’s figuring out his new responsibilities as a ruler (prester) of Abaton, along with his friend Lazuli, daughter of the former leader of Abaton, Prester John.

“But before they can get comfortable in their thrones, a fancy dinner at the palace is interrupted by an unwelcome guest-a monster! And this isn’t just any monster; it’s a manticore, a beast that was imprisoned centuries earlier. Desperate to locate the prison and make sure none of its other monsters were able to escape, Lazuli, Pinocchio, and their Celestial Brigade set out to save Abaton from these ancient beings.

Their journey requires intelligence, strength, and a dash of the magic only presters control. But when Pinocchio tries to use his powers, they have an unintended effect: he is turning back into a wooden automa. And if he’s not careful, he may lose his human form forever.

The second book in the Out of Abaton series continues John Claude Bemis’s reimagining of Pinocchio in an action-packed adventure that celebrates friendship, tolerance, and the power of being yourself.” –Goodreads

Sounds amazing, right? It is!

Two things set this story apart. The incredibly imaginative cast of characters and plot devices are unparalleled.  Also, themes of inclusion and tolerance are crucial to the climax. For me, this is an easy two thumbs up!

And now, it’s my pleasure to welcome John Claude Bemis to the blog!

LORD of MONSTERS has many unique characters (glowing aleya bubbles, a superfluous worm, mushroom men, …) and plot devices (thunderseeds, sleeping sand, an underground forest, …). Could you pick a few of these and tell us what inspired the idea?

John: Thank you! I had so much fun exploring the strange world of Abaton and all its fantastical inhabitants. I like contrast in characters, especially secondary characters. I knew I needed a misfit team of knights for Pinocchio and Lazuli and liked the idea of a pair of them being opposites. One small, one big. One gregarious and the other half comatose. Goliath, who is of a race of diminutive mushroom people, is feisty and fast-talking. While Kataton is a physically intimidating reptilian chimera who’s slow and lethargic. Something about this combo just seemed funny and ripe with possibilities and surprises.

The superfluous worm came about as a plot device honestly. I needed a way for the characters to communicate across long distances in Abaton, but I wanted to do something I hadn’t seen in other fantasy stories. So I invented Riggle, this worm who can be chopped in half and becomes essentially two Riggles. Whatever one Riggle hears, so does the other. So Pinocchio has one Riggle and his father Geppetto has the other and they can pass messages along through Riggle (er…Riggles). It also cracked me up to have a character so amiable about being severed in two. My sense of humor skews weird at times.

One thing that stands out in LORD of MONSTERS is the rich world-building. Will you share a few tips or tricks for creating these well-developed worlds that capture readers and pull them inside?

The trick to fantasy world-building is grounding it in reality. It needs to follow particular rules, even if the reader is unaware of the rules. I think Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Limits are an artist’s best friend.” I established in THE WOODEN PRINCE that the magic of Abaton revolves around the four elements. So in LORD OF MONSTERS, the various cultures needed to reflect how the magic of air, water, fire, and earth would affect cities, transportation, rituals, and everyday life. Also since Abaton is located in the Indian Ocean, I tried to give the world a feel that was connected to south Asia and east Africa with the food, geography, architecture, etc. It’s funny how much research you can do as a fantasy writer. You’d think we could just make it all up from our imaginations, but I find pulling from reality makes the most magical worlds.

In THE WOODEN PRINCE, Pinocchio transforms from an automa into a real boy. In LORD of MONSTERS, Pinocchio explores what it means to be human. What do you hope readers will take away from Pinocchio’s discoveries?

I feel very connected with Pinocchio’s journey. He just wants to understand what it means to be alive in the world—what it means to have friends and family, to handle adversity in an admirable way and to experience all the joys the world has to offer. His discoveries are, in a way, all our discoveries; they’re just amplified a bit because the world is so new to him. In the new book, Pinocchio wrestles with what it means to be given this gift of life and to have it potentially taken away. Once you’ve seen the other side, who wants to go back to being a dull automa? That’s heartbreaking. And breaking hearts makes for good storytelling in my opinion.

In addition to being an author, you also teach writing at various workshops and retreats. Where can we sign up?

I love getting to work with writers of all ages to help them deepen their craft and create stories that are singular to their artistic vision. My favorite writing workshop that I lead is at Table Rock Writers Workshop every August. The attendees are so talented, and we have plenty of time to dig in deep to what makes powerful stories for young readers. Also students get lots of individual feedback on their writing, so that makes it fun to see writers walk away at the end of the week with a whole host of new ideas for what to do with their characters and stories.

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

I’ve been developing a couple of new stories, which I’m sorry to say I’m real hush-hush about. But one is a middle-grade novel being shopped to publishers. The other is a YA sci-fi that I’m in the thick of revising. They’ve both been so much fun and are different from what I’ve done in the past. I promise I’ll be getting back to Abaton soon.

Lightning round (*hands John a brownie for strength):

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Teleportation, for sure. I’d pop over to Venice after dinner every night for a cup of gelato on the Strada Nova.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Mechanical. I’m practical that way. But honestly, I’m most partial to the Pilot G-2 pen. I buy them by the dozens.

Coffee or tea? Tea first. Then midmorning, coffee.

Sweet or salty? I’m salty for sure.

Dog, cat, or other? Cats

Plotter or pantser? Unapologetically, a plotter

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Don’t just think of writing as sitting in front of your laptop. Just as important is the time you spend thinking. So discover where you do your best creative thinking. For me, it’s taking long walks in the woods with a backpocket notebook. I call it my thinking walks. (It took my wife forever to believe that this was real work.) Having time on the trails to be deep in my imagination is where I hatch all my best character, plot, and setting ideas. Make time for it—wherever you can—ever single day. You’ll be rewarded with surprising story insights.

An inspiring speaker and entertaining performer, John Claude Bemis is the author of Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince and Lord of Monsters, the Clockwork Dark trilogy, The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, and Flora and the Runaway Rooster. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education for his work in the schools as an author-educator and served as North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate in 2013. John lives with his wife and daughter in Hillsborough, NC. You can find him at his author website, on Instagram, and 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.

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

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.

Shannon Hale Interview: Real Friends

GIRL TROUBLE––friends one day, enemies the next.

Who doesn’t yearn for a real friend––one that gets you, always has your back, and someone that you can admire even in their darkest moments?

Author Shannon Hale has captured the essence of friendship struggles girls face in her new graphic novel memoir REAL FRIENDS releasing on May 2nd.

Girl relationships are difficult. And for the sensitive girls out there (like me) who just want to be true friends without all the drama, it’s a lot easier to just give up and read books or use your imagination. In REAL FRIENDS, Shannon is just that girl. She wants to have fun with friends, but at the same time she wants to stay true to herself and not get involved in the girl games. The world is not on her side, though, as she deals with persistent bullying and isolation leading to stomachaches and some OCD behaviors. Add to that her difficulties at home with her four siblings, especially her very grumpy older sister, and you’ve got one stressed out girl.

This is a great graphic novel for ALL girls. Sensitive, imaginative girls and girls who have ever been bullied or left out will identify deeply with Shannon. Other girl readers (who aren’t like Shannon) might see themselves and their actions from a different perspective. Shannon Hale deftly pulls back the curtain so we see the person behind each girl in the story, making us aware that even bullies struggle with their own flaws and insecurities.

Thumbs up for LeUyen Pham’s beautiful, emotive illustrations that really pull the narrative together in this candid graphic memoir about a young girl navigating the ever-changing and confusing world of relationships. This would make a great classroom book for ages 8-12.

We are thrilled to chat with Shannon about REAL FRIENDS and what we can look forward to from her next!

Welcome to The Winged Pen! In your Squeetus blog, you mention that REAL FRIENDS is your heart. I really felt that as I read the novel, but could you expand on that a bit for us?  I’ve never written about myself before, let alone myself at my most vulnerable age. This story required me to open my heart and ask readers, can you care about this weird little girl who will always be a part of me? And hopefully by extension, can you also be compassionate with yourself?

What do you hope young readers will take away from REAL FRIENDS?   I hope they take from it whatever they need from it. Gene Luen Yang said recently that the more specific you make a story, the more universal it becomes. I hope that by telling my true story, readers can find in it whatever they’re missing now and feel more whole for it. That’s the magic of story. I don’t have to teach a moral lesson. I just have to tell something true.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?   My husband and I are writing a sequel to our novel THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: SQUIRREL MEETS WORLD. She’s a Marvel superhero with the proportional strength, speed, and agility of a squirrel. I love writing comedy.

Okay, buckle your seatbelt for the lightning round. *Hands Shannon a smoothie for strength.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Besides squirrel powers? Probably to stop time so I can get done everything I want to do!

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden. I love the smell.

Coffee or tea? Mint tea.

Sweet or salty? Salty. And sweet. Just feed me everything please.

Dog, cat, or other? There’s not an animal I don’t love, but we recently adopted two cats. I have four kids. Taking care of a dog as well is beyond my capabilities.

Plotter or panther? I’ve done both. Plotter definitely when co-writing. Pantsing it is fun when I’m writing alone with nothing under contract.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Read. Write. Focus on developing your skill. Remember that like a musician or athlete, you need years of practice before you’re likely ready to go pro. Allow yourself to take those years, and take them seriously. Your stories deserve that.

So true! Thank you, Shannon, for stopping by! To learn more about Shannon Hale and her latest endeavors, check out her website or find her on Facebook or Twitter. Better yet, order REAL FRIENDS from your favorite Indie or using one of the following links.

Goodreads    Indiebound   Amazon   Barnes and Noble

SHANNON HALE is the New York Times best-selling author of more than fifteen children’s and young adult novels, including the popular Ever After High trilogy and multiple award winners The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, and Newbery Honor recipient Princess Academy.  She co-wrote the hit graphic novels Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack and illustrated chapter book The Princess in Black with husband Dean Hale. They live with their four small children near Salt Lake City, Utah.

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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.

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.