Author Alan Gratz talks about REFUGEE

Three gutsy protagonist, three continents, three different time periods. How’s that work? Well, you won’t have to wait much longer to discover how middle-grade author Alan Gratz weaves these interconnecting stories together in a way that Kirkus Reviews has called a “feat nothing short of brilliant.” His latest novel REFUGEE hits bookstore shelves on July 25th, 2017.

We are delighted to talk with Alan Gratz about REFUGEE and writing.

 

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Welcome, Alan! Tell us about your inspiration for REFUGEE.

The idea for Refugee came from a number of different places, over the course of many weeks. It began with the story of the Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis. I was looking for a way into that story when my family and I took a vacation to the Florida Keys, and we woke one morning to find a raft on the beach that refugees had used to come to America. We had no way of knowing where the raft had originated, or if the people who set out in it had made it to safety, but it got me thinking about how so many people are risking their lives every day to have what I and my family have.

I wanted to tell the story of the MS St. Louis, but now I also wanted to write something about Cuban refugees coming to America by raft! And then—this was in early 2016—we came home every night to reports on the news and the Internet about the Syrian refugee crisis. I wanted to write a book about the MS St. Louis, I wanted to write a book about Cuban refugees coming to America, and now I wanted to write a book about the plight of Syrian refugees! Finally I realized—what if I wrote a single book about all three, linking the families across the ages and across the globe? That’s how Refugee was born.

You often write about young people tacking adversity head on. What do you hope readers will take away from REFUGEE?

I want young readers to see refugees. My family and I knew refugees were risking their lives to come to this country officially and unofficially every single day, but because we don’t live on the front lines of that struggle, we didn’t see it every day. Out of sight was definitely out of mind. I hope that Refugee does for young readers what that raft on the beach in Florida did for me and my family: make the invisible visible again.

I also hope that young American readers understand that, unless their family is Native American, we are ALL immigrants. Whether their families came over on the Mayflower, or came here on a raft last year, we’re all Americans, and it’s that immigrant melting pot that made this country great, and continues to do so.

Whew! In 2015, 2016, and 2017 you’ve released two middle-grade books each of those years? How?? Magic, time turning? You’ve gotta share your secret. Okay, maybe you don’t have to tell us, but you’ve obviously figure out some strategy to getting words on a page. What tips do you have for us on making time to write?

Did I? Oh, wow. I guess so! Pardon me while I go pass out… Seriously though, I’m not happy unless I’m writing. I’ve been doing a lot more school visits of late—I think I did more than a hundred last school year!—which also takes away writing time. So the first thing I had to do was say no travel for six months out of the year: December through February, and June, July, and August. (I still break that rule all the time, but I do TRY to hold to it.)

Then, for those six months, I’m working on new books all the time. For my historical novels, I do about a month of heavy research for each, where I’m doing nothing else during my “writing” time but reading books about my subject and taking notes. Then once I’ve got enough research to build a rough story, I’ll start working up an outline. I’m a big proponent of outlining. It takes me another month to create a detailed outline, where I lay out what happens in every single chapter.

During this time, I’ll also work on character creation and do fill-in research for parts of the story my first round didn’t cover. Then, once all that pre-writing is done, I can usually write a first draft in about a month, at the rate of about two chapters a day. That’s my three month block! I turn the book in, and my terrific editor takes over. She’ll get the book back to me while I’m on the road visiting schools again, and then I’ll begin the revision process when I get back.

All the traveling I’m doing now may knock me down to one book a year, but that’s probably better for my sanity in the long run. But I learned to be a disciplined writer doing non-fiction advertising and marketing work before I was a novelist, so when it’s time to get writing done, I just sit down and do it!

Your other 2017 middle-grade novel, BAN THIS BOOK, releasing next month, has a main character, Amy Anne, who is a girl after my heart. Tell us something about the story that will make us want to add BAN THIS BOOK to our Must Order and To Be Read ASAP List.

Well, I’ll give you the elevator pitch first: Ban This Book is the story of a fourth grade girl who goes to a school where a parent start banning and challenging books. As a protest, Amy Anne takes those books and hides them in her locker and starts checking them out to other students in secret as a Banned Books Locker Library. And all the kids’ books that are banned in the story have actually been banned in the last couple of decades in America! It’s (what I hope is) a funny, heartfelt story about the issue of book banning, as well as my love letter to middle grade novels.

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

When I visited Japan seven years ago, I met a man who had been a young boy on Okinawa when the Americans invaded in 1945, toward the end of World War II. He told me that the Japanese Army pulled him out of school, lined him up with the other middle school boys, and gave them each a grenade. Their instructions: go off into the forest and don’t come back until you’ve killed an American. That’s the first chapter of the new book I’m writing, which I’m calling Grenade. That will be out in late summer/early fall of 2018.

Buckle up for the…Lightning Round (*hands you a slice of pepperoni pizza for strength)

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Super speed! The Flash is my all-time favorite super hero.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Always wooden. I never got the hang of mechanicals.

Coffee or tea? Coca-cola!

Sweet or salty? Always salty! If I could live on French fries, torilla chips, and popcorn, I would. Or maybe I already do…?

Dog, cat, or other? I’ve had both, but the answer is dog. Mine’s name is Augie. He’s a rescue mutt.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter! (As you now know!)

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

You’ll hear this from a lot of professional authors, but that’s because it’s true: talent matters, but what really gets you published is persistence. I’ve met so many writers who give up after one or two rejections. You have to keep sending your stuff out, and keep getting rejected until someone says yes. And while you’re sending out one book, start writing the next. And the next. And the next.

I was still subbing (and getting rejection letters for) the first two YA novels I’d written when I wrote Samurai Shortstop, which would ultimately become my first sold and published novel. I’ve never sold those previous two manuscripts—they just weren’t good enough. Write, write, write, submit, submit, submit, and get better at what you’re doing with every attempt. Then, if you stick with it long enough, you’ll break through.

 

Photo credit: Wes Stitt

What an inspiring interview! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! And best of luck with both of your new books!

Alan Gratz has been putting kids in fictional danger since 2006. You can find out more about Alan and subscribe to his newsletter by visiting Alan’s website.

 

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 , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 1, 2017. Proceeds from the anthology will be used for scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. 

 

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Hiding in the Closet (and other tricks to find writing time in the summer)

Shhh. I’m in the closet with my laptop. Should I mention there’s no air conditioning in this closet. And it’s at least 90 degrees outside. I’m sweating like I’m in a sauna. And the air smells like teen boy sneakers.

Why am I torturing myself? I just want uninterrupted writing time. My kids have been out of school for a whole week already. Every three minutes I’m bombarded with a steady stream of questions.

Does mollusks have one “l” or two?

What color are prison uniforms in Japan?

Did you buy banana peppers?

What time will Dad be home?

Where’s my bathing suit?

Who ate all the ice cream?

Why is there a lion in the front yard?!!!

Yeah, that last one got me moving because believe it or not stranger things have happened in our neighborhood and who’d give up the chance to see a lion prancing through their yard. This time, it was a trick just to swipe some of my chocolate stash. Rrrrroooaaarrr!

The point here is that I’m desperate to be ignored. Is that too much to ask? I’ve EVEN TRIED GETTING UP EARLY. My kids have been waking up before 8am.

“You’re teenagers. GO BACK TO BED!”

I have no choice. I’m running away with my laptop AND ALL THE CHOCOLATE in our house (because I am EVIL). But first, I decided to ask my resourceful friends at The Winged Pen for their best advice on squeezing in writing time.

Jenny (5 and 8): Buy out the entire supply of water balloons at Walmart. Bribe them with food. Lock them in their play room (mostly kidding). Discover that the PS4 game they’ve been fighting over weeks has a multi-player option. Ship them off to grandparents because really that’s the only answer!

Kate (8 and 11): Wear them out! A long walk in the woods or a visit to the pool, water park, or trampoline park in the morning guarantees a few blissful hours of writing in the afternoon while they rest and draw, play with Legos, or read.

Karin (9, 12, 14, and 15): Child labor: Give them jobs/chores and pay them, such as weeding (all four), painting the fireplace bricks with white wash (artsy 15 yr old), walking dog (all four), older ones entertaining wild 9 yr old.

Gabby (9 and 13):  Start their own crafty business. Jewelry making, beading, sewing, bake sales/lemonade stands.Write and illustrate their own book! Could offer to have it bound at the end of the summer.

Julie (11 and 12): Early morning was my only opportunity last summer. I can usually get the two of them going on a board game, a craft project, or some outdoor time and sneak in a little writing time. The good news is that they’re both big readers, so I often write during their reading time too!

Halli (11 and 14): This year I am sending them to a one-week drone day camp. Now that they are older they don’t want to be campers. They are counselors at karate camp, but I’m there too. So it looks like I’ll get one decent week of writing done this summer. Sigh….

Kristi (8, 9, 10 and 12): We just got new beds for the kids and even my 10 and 12 yo have been pitching in creating stuff with the boxes– For us, taking away electronics and giving them challenges like build the tallest thing, etc, has been key this break (it’s only one month for us, so maybe after a few weeks the chaos will break out?)

Rebecca (12 and 14): I don’t need to entertain them. In fact, I’d like to do days at the lake or a museum or the shore, but I already know I’ll just get, “School’s finally done! We just want to relax!” My challenge is that I’ll start writing and need to remember to get my son off the computer, get my daughter to put down the book, and push them out the door for some fresh air and exercise.

Richelle (10, 12,  and 14): We are instituting non-screen hobby time at our house this summer. I told them they need to cultivate interests and I will get them supplies. My oldest is going to teach herself to sew, the 12-year-old is going to paint, and the 10-year-old is baking. My main purpose was to get them off their devices, but I’m hoping it leads to them having their own practices that they enjoy enough to leave me alone for a while!

Gita (15): Sleep-away theater camp. For three weeks.

*All our jaws drop. We turn green with envy and frantically google last-minute sleep-away camps for all our kids.

Sussu (9 and 13): My teenager and my tweenager are learning Autodesk. It’s easy and free and there are lots of tutorials online. They get to model their own Lego kits. The reward? We’ll 3D print the kits when they’re done.

Gita wins for best summer plan, and Sussu wins for most industrious kids. And now I’m feeling even more like a slacker. Thanks to the inspiration from my friends, I’ve figured out where I went wrong. We don’t have a routine. Instead of running away, I’m putting together a plan. On the weekends, we’ll make a schedule for the week and buy any supplies we need. So here’s my routine for the rest of the summer:

  • Get an hour of writing time before they get up. See this post for details!
  • Take them on a short hike or walk
  • Lunch together
  • Reading time/Personal activity time (another hour of writing time for me)
  • Bonding (kid-kid) activity/challenge each day, like a major chore that takes two, or making dessert, helping a neighbor, etc
  • Afternoon game time (me plus the kids), followed by dinner and family time in the evening

Hopefully something in this post will spark you with an idea for how to wrangle some writing time and keep your little darlings busy, and maybe even inspired.

Leave any suggestions you have for keeping kids busy in the summer in the comments, PLEASE!!!!! (Just in case, you know.)

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.

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

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Halfway through 2017 (GASP!) — Let’s Do a Goal Check-in!

Let’s climb that mountain!

Waaaayyyy back in January, I wrote a New Year’s post about goal-setting. A few of my fellow Pennies were inspired by that post to write down their goals with me – remembering to be specific, set deadlines, stay flexible, and above all, not beat ourselves up if we didn’t quite hit our marks.

Now that it’s June, about halfway through the year, I wanted to check in with everyone. And with myself.

My top-of-list goal was to finish drafting my WIP in March. I ended up finally typing “THE END” in mid-May, about six weeks late. I met a few other goals – launching our MYC series, for one! – but thanks to missing my initial WIP deadline, I’m a bit behind on everything else.

I checked in with a few of the Pennies and discovered that we were all pretty much in the same boat. Most of us had set and met a few goals, completely dropped the ball on others, and changed priorities dramatically as the year unfolded.

So the purpose of this post is two-fold.

First, I want to hear how your year is going? Did you set goals? Have you made progress like you thought you would? Let me know in the comments!

And second, I want to lay out some mid-year goal-setting dos and don’t’s:

DO reflect on the past six months. We all have to deal with the unexpected, which can interfere with our writing. From early November through February, I did not have one full week of work without kids, thanks to some crazy winter weather and a series of plagues that descended on my family. Those unexpected events messed with my productivity big time. Looking back in light of that, my six-week delay in finishing my draft was actually a pretty great achievement! Take some time to consider the reality of the first half of 2017 – you might find that you achieved more than it felt like you did.

DO reassess your priorities. That YA idea that seemed so hot in January might have started languishing in May. If you feel bogged down by a goal you set months ago, take a closer look at it. Is the project still calling to you, or are you slogging your way through it because you said you would? Did you pledge to attend an expensive conference, but are now realizing that the manuscript you’d hoped to pitch is far from ready? Consider a conference later in the year when your work is more polished. Or try a more economical conference instead. Life is not static, and neither should your goals be.

DO recommit. Are you right on track with your goals? Fantastic! Promise yourself that you’ll keep going and not coast on your successful six months. Not quite tearing through your goal list for 2017? Don’t toss it out just because you haven’t made the progress you’d hoped. Use this time to get back on track. You can still pull it out if you get busy now!

DON’T forget to have fun. January is a serious month, full of winter-deep thoughts about where we’re going and where we’ve been. (At least it is here in the Northern Hemisphere!) But June is a lighter month, where the call of the outdoors is strong. Get out there and enjoy it. Just bring your notebook and a pen!

Sound off in the comments and let me know how your goal-setting has gone. Let’s go climb our mountain — and fingers crossed we’re all a bit closer to where we want to be!

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

Book Marketing Part 2: Your Mailing List

Last month, I talked about how to build your platform: http://thewingedpen.com/book-marketing-p…re-your-best-bet/. This month, I will talk about how you can bait your readership further.

A sale funnel will turn an indifferent audience into a warm audience. Your audience is made out of readers and writers like you. Think of your future audience not as potential buyers, but as a group of people who love the same things as you, as people from your tribe and your community.

Be of service to them before you push a price tag into their hands.

Your readers are waiting to discover you. They are! They would love to discover the next best writer. They are waiting to read amazing novels. They are ready to invest in the series they love.

Your funnel sale will help readers not only discover your books,.but also know more about you and ultimately develop a trust.  

 

Think about it. Free books get downloaded 100 more than $0.99 books. You want your first book to be downloaded as many times as you can. The more downloads, the more chances people will read your stories and become your fans. 

Free books: You can give away a “reader magnet” that will be only 30 pages long. It could be a short story that will only take one day to write. It could be a prequel that will explain a lot about the series you are trying to sell.

It’s your hook.

Set their expectations.

Introduce them to your world.

You can also offer a permafree (permanently free) book, the first book in the series, or a novella in order to get people to subscribe to your mailing list and to give them a taste of what you write. It is a good idea to have a trilogy to start with.  You will leverage the free book by developing your fan club. But make sure you collect email addresses while doing so.

 

You need to collect email addresses in exchange for any free book.

Give one book for free to get people to buy the rest. Thousands of books are given for free every day, so readers do not expect to buy blindly or take chances.

They expect to sample.  

It might be hard to admit or hurtful, but it’s true. Readers want to sample your writing. They want to know if you’re a good fit.

Building your email pool is very important because it will tell people who you are and what you have to offer as well as what series you are planning to write in the future. Remember, shoot for the 1,000 true fans.

What to put in your emails:

First, register to an automatic delivery email service so that you do not have to keep track of your emails. Over a period of several weeks, you should have a series of emails with actionable steps.

This is what author, teacher, and coach  Bryan Cohen advise to do:

#1 email: Deliver your audience their freebie.

#2 email: Check-in about the freebie a week later, saying something like, “Did you have a chance to read my book?” Reintroduce your book.

#3 email: Ask to connect on social media.

#4 email: Pitch your next book/series.

#5: Finally, you can invite them to your VIP site or your Beta readers program. Tell them they will get your books for free. They will post reviews for you and cheer you on.

When talking to your audience, tell them about something interesting about you. Some writers show pictures of their families and how their families influenced their book. Some writers tell a story about the conception of their novel. Some authors include freebies from programs they have joined. Think of something new readers (not yet fans) would be interested in. Discuss what you care about, your values, and what part of yourself they will find in your books. Think of it as a first impression. Open a two-way communication route. Let them ask questions and answer them, let them be part of your tribe. And good luck.

 

Resources:

Buroker, Lindsay. “Newsletters 101: Email marketing for authors.” <http://lindsayburoker.com/book-marketing/newsletters-101-email-marketing-for-authors/>

Tim Grahl’s Book Marketing Resources.<https://booklaunch.com/resources/>

 BM075: How to Build a Powerful Author Platform to Be More Visible with Alinka Rutkowska. <http://bookmarketingmentors.com/author-platform/>

Bryan Cohen’s Selling For Authors (Bryan is an incredible and generous mentor). <http://bryancohen.com/>

 Kirsten Oliphant’s Create If Writing. <http://createifwriting.com/podcast-and-show-notes/>

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If you liked this article, consider reading Sussu’s articles: “Writers Get organized” at Novel Without Further ado: http://novelwithoutfurtherado.weebly.com/

Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

My Month of Poetry

I recently found myself in a writing rut. A hectic home life, a stressful and stressed-out world, and somehow writing became both trivial and inaccessible. I could not connect with my creativity, and it felt self-indulgent even to try.

Over dinner, a wise friend suggested a poetry challenge. Write a poem a day for thirty days, to clean out the spiders of doubt and despair, and to get my creativity flowing again.

Huh, I thought. Poetry.

I’ve written poetry off and on since college. I’ve never let anyone read it, not even my wife. But this wouldn’t need to be shared. This was about healing, not productivity or entertainment. And April, being National Poetry Month, certainly seemed an appropriate time for it.

I quietly decided to give it a try. The only rules I set were that each day I had to write a poem at some point before midnight, and that I was not allowed to read it after I closed the document.

I wasn’t sure how it would go, and so for the first week, I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing it. As the days stacked up, though, I became more confident. And then I began to have fun. Poems allow for such freedom to play with language and with white space. Amazing things came up. I would open the blank document expecting to write about one thing, and almost immediately, something entirely different came to my fingers. That’s what I’m worrying about? Who knew?

Some days were harder, particularly as I happened to choose the month we were moving back into our not-quite-fully renovated house. So, sometimes the poems were really short. On the day we moved, I wrote a haiku. Other days I wrote longer and more nuanced pieces. The topics varied. Some were intense, others light. The key was that I didn’t judge myself for what I wrote—for how good it was, or how many words I got down. I allowed myself to experiment and to explore my thoughts.

I started this in late March, so my thirty days are up today. It’s been both fun and illuminating. I’ve gotten back into the groove of daily writing, which feels wonderful. I have a moment each day of reflection and creativity, which I don’t believe I will be able to relinquish. My creativity has been primed, and I have a few new ideas for stories and writing projects. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve found a way to remember that writing is, for me, healing. I know that writing is a business, but that’s not all it is. It is a sacred practice, a way to connect with myself. And if I allow it to, it can save me.

For those looking for more ideas about writing and reading poetry, Laura Shovan, the wise friend who started me on this journey, has a wealth of information on her blog, including, this month, an amazing lineup of interviews with verse novelists. And if anyone is inspired to try a month of poetry, here are some prompts to help you get started.

Katharine Manning blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. She writes middle grade stories about strong, brave girls who sometimes make mistakes. She was thrilled to serve as a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Her book blog is KidBookList.