Tuesday, January 16, 2018

GUEST POST: "The Village Approach to Fellow Author Strokes" by Sunny Weber

I recently solicited endorsements for my new middle-grade book, The Dog at the Gate: How a Throwaway Dog Becomes Special. I chose other authors as well as various experts in related fields.

One middle grade author asked why I wanted an endorsement from her, as she saw herself as “a small fry.” One look at her website during my research showed a beautifully designed platform and proliferate writing. She had many books available with stunning covers and easy to navigate site pages. She did not appear to be a small fry. She asked if what I meant was simply an Amazon blurb.

I replied to her: “Endorsements are used for websites and sometimes covers of books. Amazon reviews are only for that audience. You might consider yourself “a small fry" but I don't. Your website is awesome, your books are beautifully designed, and your writing is as good as anyone's in your genre. I can see you are a tremendously creative and prolific writer.

“I reached out to you, as I did other authors who intrigued me. We can all help each other with our support of each other's writing and trade ideas on marketing and promotion. I network with many local authors and am attempting to widen my acquaintances. Other authors' endorsements, blurbs, or guest blogs tie us all together with our reading public. Plus we can pull each other up when one makes the "big time" or faces disappointment. We can find support from other authors who understand what's important and how difficult writing quality work is. Family and friend support is nice, but only another writer knows what struggles went into the production.

“You and I write for the same age group but our genres are different so we may be able to lend a more objective eye to each other. I just find that, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." For example--I reached out to several well-known personalities for my first book (an adult non-fiction) and most did write endorsements. So now I have intriguing new relationships with those I admire. For this book, my first middle-grade, I had no idea who to contact so I began reading and asking people who intrigued me again. Another example: on a crazy twist of fate, I contacted someone who knows Jane Goodall and I have forwarded my book to her. I may not hear anything but it never hurts to try.

“Every person I've communicated with has been cordial and I've learned a lot. And that's what it's all about for me--learning. I'm sure I'm considered a small fry too at this point. But I'm the only voice my characters have to be born under. Maybe someday my characters will remain in the mind of some small child who grows up to change the world in a positive way because of what my story taught her. Just like my idols, Margaret Marshall Saunders (Beautiful Joe), Beatrix Potter (the Peter Rabbit books), Anna Sewell (Black Beauty), Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague and others), and Albert Peyson-Terhune (The Lad, a Dog series).  Some were dead by the time I discovered their books but in this new century their characters live on in my mind and have influenced my work to teach and entertain modern children.

“Motivating children to read, experience, imagine, and use critical and creative thinking is all our goals, I think. So we authors have a lot in common, regardless of genre or commercial fame.

“I hope this answers your questions and concerns. Your books find their audiences and you continue to produce, so I would not consider you a small fry. Good luck with all your future creations!”

Writing is isolative and appeals to those of us with introverted aspects in our personalities. We can shine through our characters. We can do and say things through them that we might not have the courage to do or say ourselves. We can show vulnerabilities that we hide in real life. Like actors, we take on the personalities of the characters we create and sometimes lose ourselves in their voices. However, we must remember that our characters’ voices ARE OUR OWN. We create them. They do not create us. They may define us to the world through self-publishing or they may die quiet deaths in the sludge pile of some big publishing house. But their birth was through our own efforts and pain.

We owe it to our characters and the children who need motivation to read, to never underestimate ourselves as creators. We should reach out to each other for motivation, honest feedback, and lessons that can only be learned from someone who has “walked the walk.”

Let’s support one another in our efforts to reach out to children in their crucial formative years. We have a unique power to alter young lives, motivate future adults to great accomplishments, and to feed fragile immature egos through story-telling. We must hide our own fragile adult egos and feign courage so that children can naturally grow into citizens and parents of strength and leadership in our society.

Sunny Weber has over 25 years of experience in animal welfare advocacy. She has experience in rescue, fostering, medical care, service and therapy dog evaluation and training, shelter and sanctuary work and specializes in the rehabilitation of fearful animals. Weber has rehabilitated then re-homed hundreds of dogs, cats and horses.

A professional humane educator, Sunny consults with animal welfare professionals as well as adopters and has developed educational programs that address all ages regarding the need for compassion and care of domestic and wild animals. She writes extensively on animal issues in news, fiction, non-fiction, public relations, fundraising, and blogs.

Sunny lives with dogs, cats and parakeets. Their yard is a Certified Backyard Habitat for birds, squirrels, rabbits, pollinators, and any other creature with fur or feathers who wanders in.

"Defiantly I spread my legs, lowered my head, flattened my ears, bared my teeth, and for the first time in my life, I growled at a human!"

Puppy Max doesn't have the easiest start in life. After being taken from his mother, he faces hunger, living alone outside, a vicious dog next door, and even menacing raccoons. But just when this Australian Shepherd thinks it can't get any worse, he is abandoned at an animal shelter.

Max is rescued and fostered in a home complete with canine companions--Miles, a benevolent fellow Aussie, and cantankerous, bossy little Muffin. He also lives with three cats, two parakeets, and one incredible mistress. Can a dog like Max go from years without a bath to unconditional love and acceptance? Or will his new family abandon him again? Max is never sure--until the ultimate challenge shakes his world.

Fans of classics like Black Beauty, Thomasina, and Beautiful Joe, which feature redemptive bonds between animals and people, will find The Dog at the Gate: How a Throwaway Dog Becomes Special offers a touching tale of love and triumph.

Monday, January 8, 2018

GUEST POST: "Writing the Truth (and making it funny)" by Lori Ann Stephens

Pierre François: 5th Grade Mishaps wasn’t a stroke of inspiration from la Muse (my writing goddess). When my younger son was in fifth grade, he developed a strange habit: each day, he’d come home from school complaining about recess, about boys, about girls, about teachers, about noises and smells and tastes.

To Julien, fifth grade was a year of social changes that seemed inexplicable and annoying. We spent dinnertime trying to find the humor in his daily trials, and as all desperate parents do, I focused on the merits of optimism. That’s where the book was born: out of our dinner conversations. 

“Please write a book about my year,” he asked. And so I did—via fiction. Julien read and approved each chapter, adding inspired anecdotes that made him laugh at what was previously merely aggravating.

Part of the fun in writing Pierre François: 5th was characterizing Pierre’s parents. Since Pierre was heavily inspired by Julien—with Julien’s enthusiastic approval—it wasn’t difficult to portray Pierre’s parents. 

His mother is American and his father is French; both parents are academics, all reflections of our real family. Writing the book gave me the opportunity to poke fun at myself, too. Mothers mean well, but we can be a little overprotective.

But writing a novel that is influenced by real family members, real events, and real places can bring up some ethical questions: will the portrayals embarrass anyone? Will readers assume that every event in the book actually happened? 

The answers to these questions need serious reflection. Pierre uffers from enuresis, a kind of prolonged intermittent bedwetting that millions of children deal with in silence, shame, and frustration. I wanted to balance Pierre’s pride in his French heritage with his secret shame of his malfunctioning body. 

The novel is a story about the social and physiological changes that occur in fifth grade, presented in glossy wrapping for young readers who need a bit of empathy or optimism. But first, I needed to be absolutely certain that my son was okay with Pierre’s portrayal and the challenges he faces. He was. 

Then, I had to be absolutely certain that his inspirational teacher was also okay with the way I’d written Pierre’s favorite teacher in the novel. He was. 

We writers tend to get terribly nervous when a book is about to be published—will someone know I’ve kind-of-sort-of based that character on her? Will someone accuse me of portraying him unfairly? 

Most of the time, we’ve changed the characters so dramatically that the original inspiration is transformed and unrecognizable to none but ourselves. Other times, people ask excitedly, “Is that character based on me?” and we’re utterly surprised, because no. (People will find the truth where they look for it.) One way to quell the nerves is to write responsibly and pay attention to those ethical questions sooner rather than later.

My older son Trevor Yokochi, an artist who graduated from Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, provided over 80 illustrations for the novel. So this book really was a family affair—a book rooted in collaboration, humor, and the true trials of pre-teens. I hope Pierre finds his way in the world and delights young and older readers with his unique personality and not-so-unique fifth grade challenges.

Lori Ann Stephens is the award-winning author of Song of the Orange Moons (Blooming Tree Press, 2010) and Some Act of Vision (ASD, 2013). She likes operas and baking competitions and cat videos. She also builds things without breaking the house. She teaches at Southern Methodist University and lives in Richardson, Texas.

Find out more on Amazon.

Follow Lori’s books on Goodreads and Facebook.

Ten-year-old Pierre Francois-otherwise known as Pierre the Fantastic Flying Fish and Pierre the Genius Brain-is an expert at signing his school papers with original names.

Monday, January 1, 2018

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Four (2017)

Another year in the rearview, Esteemed Reader. Time, you wicked thing, you move too fast. Seems like I just wrote 2016's annual year-in-review post for this series in which I chronicle my writer's journey.

I'm aware this is a trick of perspective. Every year that passes is a comparatively smaller fraction of my overall life and so it is my experience of time passing and not the speed of time passing that is changing. For this reason, the older we get, the faster time seems to go, which is why I can recall endless summers from my childhood, and a much older relative tells me he can see the leaves changing color before his very eyes.

I've never forgotten one particular passage from Christine even though I read it in high school and haven't reread it since (but that realization means it's going in my audible book bank momentarily). Great writing stays with you, and y'all know how passionate I am about my Stephen King. Anyway, to quote the man: As soon as you have a kid, you know for sure that you`re going to die. When you have a kid, you see your own gravestone. That quote is at least partially responsible for me pushing back parenthood as far as I could, but now on the other side of being a dad, I can vouch it's true. The best way to speed up time is to have a little person exploding in growth in front of you as a daily reminder that yep, you're getting older too, Daddy.

How long will I live and will I know how long it was when it ends? Does a person struck from behind by a speeding bus have cognizance enough to think "made it to 53!" before the lights go out? These are the types of thoughts that plague my mind, which is why I sometimes write scary stories so that my dark thoughts will leave me alone and go infect Esteemed Reader:)

The only comfort I've found when such thoughts come is in remembering that it is the quality of life lived rather than the length of the experience that matters. That's why I'm opening this post with that adorable picture of Little Ninja trick or treating for the first time and doing the Kent name proud. I'm the red and brown shape beside him. That was a great day, Esteemed Reader, and there were a lot of great days in 2017. There's no way for me to know how many great days remain in my future, but I'm eternally grateful for the ones I've had so far.

I'm going to get just a little personal before this post is done, but for now let's get to the subject at hand: I am not 100% satisfied with myself as a writer this year. Naturally, I feel that way every year and the day I'm completely satisfied is the day I needn't bother writing anything more. Each book is a battle, and though I've got ten books available to date, writing is a war. In 2017 I feel I was a better writer than I have been in many years past, but not quite the writer I still believe I can be and am working to become.

A smarter blogger might focus this yearly post solely on his accomplishments, put up a link to his books, and remind Esteemed Reader he's awesome (but you're here, so you know). And he'd definitely point out that he's going to be teaching multiple classes and hosting a fiction workshop starting in March of 2018:) However, I've always considered myself more a lucky blogger than a smart blogger.

Why did holy-moley-what-a-big-deal authors Kate Dicamillo and Katherine Applegate visit this blog in the same month? I'm aware I'm humble bragging, which is why I'll also shamelessly link to Michael Grant and Bruce Corville's 2017 interviews:) Why did my longtime horror hero Jack Ketchum agree to face the 7 Questions this year? Why did any of the other amazing posts in 2017 happen (including the Vonneguys, the stars of my favorite podcast)? We had so many talented people appear here, I'd fill this post up linking to them all.

I honestly am not entirely sure how these wonderful things happened. I don't know why any writer or publishing professional agrees to appear at this blog with its silly name (that, for the record, I still think is funny). I don't pay posters in anything except "exposure," and good luck buying a coffee with that:) And I'm not really that great at blogging. I suck at Twitter, I don't do nearly as much marketing as I should, I'm forever behind on emails, and I've got interviews and guest posts with some really amazing people on backlog a couple months out (yet I still chose to take up this week's post with me talking).

I'm just a blogger who got lucky. And I keep being lucky, at least so far (when you're walking on sunshine, whoah-oah, it's best not to look down).

More on that before the end, but first I want to say that I think my biggest accomplishment in 2017 was mostly fighting an often threatened depression that's been hovering at my door all year like a dementor begging admittance. I've seen depression chew up better writers than me. Probably they were intellectually superior, and therefore more susceptible than the dumber, but happier Ninja:)

2017 has been a difficult year.

Sometimes it helps to remember that making more than $30,000 per year puts me in the richest one percent of the world and slavery is still a thing, so really, my situation is not too shabby.

Sometimes it doesn't help as life experience is relative and a bee sting is the most painful thing that could ever happen to someone who hasn't experienced worse. I'm aware there are people all over the world who would give quite a lot to have my life (for the honor of having written Pizza Delivery alone!).

I have nothing to complain about as I played all of Assassin's Creed: Origins and Horizon Zero Dawn this year, and watched every episode of Better Call Saul and The Punisher and kept Rick and Morty on pretty much endless repeat as it's my most favorite thing. I try not to single out great books in these yearly media-in-review sections because one, I review a lot of them here, and two, I don't want to lose a writer friend through accidental exclusion:) Although I can recommend the audiobook for Artemis by Andy Weir (who has also appeared at this awesome blog), which is performed to perfection by Rosario Dawson.  Rest assured, if you released a book book this year, it was my favorite.

Movies were mostly disappointing this year, although I didn't see too many of them as I'm aging out of the key demographic and losing interest in Hollywood (haven't seen a single Fast and Furious flick and feel my life is presumably fine without them). Wonder Woman was swell (even though the CGI was unforgivably terrible), 1922, The Girl with all the Gifts, and Dunkirk kept me on the edge of my seat, and Michael Keaton rocked so hard in Spider-Man: Homecoming (and yea two non-white girlfriends for Peter Parker because, yes, in the age of Trump, it matters). It was pretty solid, but couldn't compare to my favorite book and left out some important stuff (like the werewolf and the mummy).

Any previous year if you'd asked me what movies I most wanted to see made, I would've said Justice League and The Dark Tower because their source material is so strong, surely a studio couldn't screw them up. Sigh. And I sure would love another Star Wars with more Luke Skywalker (so long as they don't make him a depressed cynic who gave up on the rebellion and considers killing teenage nephews in their sleep because of... reasons). Heavy sigh. All three movies had just enough of the thing I loved that I can't say I hated them, but I can't say I loved them either. Also, The Walking Dead jumped the shark with a death so stupidly shortsighted and pointless I've lost patience with my formerly favorite show:(

Yet I find myself continually thinking of Justice League's haunting opening credits montage of a dark world without hope (Superman) set against Sigrid's extra-sadness-inducing cover of "Everybody Knows." That scene was far too dark and far too real, particularly the shot of the homeless guy with the words "I tried" written on his collection box (get ready for the super friends, kids!!!). The scene made me uncomfortable in the theater because despite the Whedon CGI crapfest with quips that followed, that depressing, Snyder-esque vision of America in the credits felt right for 2017.

Trump's America is intolerable. We're only going to spend two paragraphs on politics, but I can't talk about my sadness this year without addressing the country's. There are plenty of 2017 political recaps elsewhere and most of you Esteemed Readers have been living through the same national nightmare I have. If, like me, you've been fighting depression in 2017, know that there have been some extenuating factors weighing us all down.

In a way, the evil of the republican party has restored my faith in God, because evidently Satan exists in this world. Who else would want to strip healthcare from the most vulnerable to give more of our money to billionaires? Who else would endorse a pedophile and willfully ignore treason for tax cuts to keep their donors happy? And if Satan were at the head of a political party, wouldn't he want it to be known as the "Christian" party? And when the republican party behaves as though it were led by Satan, how much practical difference does it really make if this is actually true or just metaphorically so?

(try not to look directly into his demonic eyes)

One of the great ironies of finishing The Book of David was that I intended for that story to serve as my final argument to myself that religion isn't real and it had the opposite effect. I won't claim to understand the nature of God and I'm still not interested in organized religion, but I think I'm officially done flirting with atheism. Sorry, there's just too much weirdness to this reality for me to declare the world spiritually flat.

Okay, that's religion and politics. Let's get back to writing:) As I said, I'm not completely satisfied with my output for the year. The Book of David took over two years to put together. Chapter Five wasn't published until June and I still had to produce the paperback editions. Banneker Bones 2 is hopefully over halfway finished, but it's another big project and it's taking longer than planned. And I'm just not as fast a writer as I want to be.

In my defense, this picture should make it clear that The Book of David was a really, really big story to have told (Chapter Five alone is longer than all my other books):

I've taught multiple classes on writing this year, which was really fun (still time to sign up for my 2018 classes), and I did a couple author panels, such as this genre discussion you can listen to right now. In one class, I addressed the subject of depression as it's particularly prevalent among writers. The class ground to a halt as nearly every writing student had an experience to relate.

As a much younger man, I had a few instances of crippling depression that kept me from getting out of bed for days. But I eventually figured out that exercise combined with thinking better thoughts and living a better life mostly quells those negative feelings to a manageable level. And honestly, if you're not at least a little sad now and again, you're not seeing the human condition for what it is: simultaneously a miracle and a tragedy.

On November 9th of last year, as Mrs. Ninja and I were still reeling from the news that a racist reality television star was now in charge of the nukes, a doctor sat us down and gave us some news that will impact us the rest of our lives. That's as much as I feel comfortable sharing right now, but know that it was a powerful one-two punch that knocked me on my butt. It might have been the most profoundly upsetting day of my life.

Thank God, I was in the middle of The Book of David and so I had to keep writing, which kept me going. If I had been expected to start a new project, I might've lost the whole year. The beginning of 2017 was a rough time at the old Kent Farm (and yes, that's really what we call our suburbanite dwelling). But I got out of bed everyday to take care of my child and to keep producing my word count. Writing may be a cause of depression for many, but I say it saved me from depression.

By the time Chapter Five was published, I'd processed most of my grief (there's always more). There were a few weeks where I was just barely able to keep the farm together, but it got done and gave me the knowledge that if need be, I could probably endure worse. After all, being alive now means all of us are the product of humans who have endured much worse and produced offspring to carry on in the face of ever present tragedy. Yes, we have to endure Donald Trump, but we also have a vaccine for polio and are on our eighth edition of Mario Kart, so overall, I like to think human life is improving generation over generation.

Life is sometimes sad and hard and I've got to be strong enough to deal with it because no one else can do it for me. And the world just keeps on going whether I stay in bed feeling sad about it or whether I get up and live my life to the best of my ability. Either way, time flies, and this is all the life I'm ever going to have and the only chance I'm ever going to get to live it.

So I'm still writing and I hope to have Banneker Bones 2 and some other projects I think you'll like out where you can read them soon. Will 2018 be the year my writing breaks through to the next level? I hope so. Every year since I started these posts has been better than the previous year. And the only way to get where I'm going is to keep moving.

Getting back to what I said about being a lucky blogger, let me clarify: I've worked very hard to maintain this blog over the years. I've been diligent in my posting and kept this thing going when there weren't famous writers appearing here left and right. This is a long post among a lot of long posts, and yet traffic numbers tell me Esteemed Readers visit these posts long after I've forgotten them (probably for the Smallville gifs).

More famous writers will be showing up here in 2018 and plenty of soon-to-be-famous ones as well because this blog has momentum and so long as I don't do anything really stupid like write a long post professing a belief in flying saucers, I expect Middle Grade Ninja to continue to be a swell blog. And in my defense, the New York Times did recently confirm the pentagon has indeed run at least one secret flying saucer program.

I'm not silly enough to take full credit for the blog's success. I got lucky in that I started this blog at the ideal time and got some writers I knew to appear here which led to some writers I didn't know which led to some really famous writers which led to more famous writers appearing here. Yes, I've worked hard, but I also got lucky (and I've seen too many 1% folks not admit that to do likewise). If I'm honest, I don't know that I could replicate this blog's success if I had to start over from scratch today.

So far, I've not been quite as lucky with my fiction writing. I may never be that lucky. Luck isn't something that can be controlled. I can control my doing the work that needs to be done and I know that every book I've published is the best I could make it and I love every one of them (yes, even and especially Pizza Delivery). I'm improving at marketing and book promotion and am constantly working hard. That way, should I catch the next lucky break, I'll be ready to make the most of it.

I hope 2018 is a super year for both of us, Esteemed Reader. I hope we continue to overcome fear and sadness and prepare our vessels to travel. We may catch a strong breeze or we may not, but if we don't hoist our sails high, it won't much matter. And above all else, writing is fun and worth doing for its own sake. This is all the life we'll ever have and all the time we'll ever have to live it. I don't know what you're going to do in 2018, but I will believe a Ninja can fly.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

7 Questions For: Author Michael Grant

Michael Grant is the evil genius of YA Fiction. By his own admission he sets out to scare his readers. That might explain why one of his biggest fans is Stephen King who called The Gone Series ‘A driving, torrential narrative’.

But Michael is interested in more than just scaring people. With his major new trilogy, Front Lines, he finally gets to match his greed for a good story with his passion for history. He wants the reader to forget about dates and to look again at things they thought they knew from school. In his own words, ‘history is the backstory of the human race … statistics don’t really tell the whole story. For that you need people – characters. The latest instalment, Silver Stars, finds Michael’s characters already battle hardened, but they still have much conflict to face both on and behind the battle field.

Michael has also been selected as a World Book Day author for 2017. For this he has written an exclusive Front Lines story, Dead of Night.

Michael’s life is a rich source for his torrential narratives. Growing up in a military family he’s lived in almost 50 different homes in 14 US states, and moved in with his wife, Katherine Applegate, after knowing her less than 24 hours. Michael and Katherine were running their own cleaning business when they were working on their first book. Since trading in his marigolds, Michael has now written around 150 books (with Katherine, as himself, under pseudonyms and as a ghostwriter).

He now lives in the San Francisco Bay area taking his inspiration from his charming view of Alcatraz. From across those dark waters have emerged his dystopian fantasy series, Gone, his thrilling futuristic trilogy Bzrk, the menacing Messenger of Fear, and now the epic reimagining of the past, Front Lines.

Michael Grant is the author or co-author of 150 books. His newest is Monster, the seventh book in the Gone series. You can follow him on TwitterFacebook, or visit his website.

Click here to read my review of Gone.

Click here to read my review of The Magnificent 12: The Call.

And now Michael Grant faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I’m going to cheat and name series.  The Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian, the Flashman books by George MacDonald Fraser, and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, because man, I wish I could write like Chandler.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I spend about 3 hours a day, seven days a week, actually typing words or at least intending to.  Another hour a day on social media and assorted nonsense.  And anytime I’m conscious I may be thinking about a book.  I do very little reading in the conventional sense, I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I’m a bit ADD and audiobooks allow me to read more closely.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

My wife, Katherine Applegate and I were at a low point in our lives after many other low points, and Katherine suggested we should become writers. So I said: OK.  At the time we were cleaning homes and offices on Cape Cod.  We wrote a pair of Herlequins, switched to ghostwriting for Sweet Valley, eventually created Animorphs and finally became the Towering Geniuses of Literature Loved By All that we are today.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I believe a certain amount of innate talent is required. From that point you are either taught, or teach yourself. I taught myself. I’ve never taken a writing course or read a full book on writing (though I did skim Stephen King’s book, because he’s Stephen King).  I dislike being ‘taught,’ I much prefer figuring it out for myself.  I don’t like downloading some canned knowledge app, I want to write the software myself.  I’m the writing equivalent of one of those people who, rather than simply buying a car, insist on making one from a kit.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is that I’m sitting here in my courtyard wearing sweat pants and a t-shirt, starting and ending my day whenever I choose, writing what I choose.  I’m as free as I know how to be while still making a living.  Very few people get to do that, and there is never a day when I don’t acknowledge how well my life turned out, and recognize how much of it was just dumb luck.

My least favorite part of writing is social media. It’s fun talking to fans, but the rest of it is stupidity and nastiness.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Start writing.  If you start writing and are very pleased with the result and think your words are just about perfect, go find another career.  If you start writing and discover as you go along that there are gaps in your skills, that it is hard for you to put into words what is in your head, and begin to realize that writing has squat to do with inspiration and everything to do with work?  And if you read your stuff back and wince, and hear false notes, and feel the need to fix those things? Congratulations, you may become a writer.  You need an ‘ear’ for what’s wrong, and the pride and work ethic to fix it.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I wouldn’t.  First, I’m quite anti-social and don’t really enjoy hanging out.  And second, I have never understood the point of meeting writers.  I do meet writers, of course, on book tour or at conferences.  But a writer is his or her writing. Either I enjoy their work or I don’t, but either way, how is my life improved by discovering that a writer has bad breath or a booger hanging out of his nose?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book of the Week: GONE by Michael Grant

WARNING: This week’s book is actually edgy YA and it is filled with adult content. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers and adults should view it as the equivalent of an ‘R’ rated movie, which makes it awesome. If the reader in question can handle Ashfall by Mike Mullin, they'll be at home with Gone.

First Paragraph(s): ONE MINUTE THE teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone. 
No “poof.” No flash of light. No explosion. 
Sam Temple was sitting in third-period history class staring blankly at the blackboard, but far away in his head. In his head he was down at the beach, he and Quinn. Down at the beach with their boards, yelling, bracing for that first plunge into cold Pacific water. 
For a moment he thought he had imagined it, the teacher disappearing. For a moment he thought he’d slipped into a daydream. 
Sam turned to Mary Terrafino, who sat just to his left. “You saw that, right?”

This will be our last book of the year, Esteemed Reader, as we'll have Michael Grant here on Wednesday to face the 7 Questions, and that's a heck of a way to close out 2017. After that, the blog will be quiet through the holidays and I'll holler at you on January 1st with my usual year-in-review post and we'll keep this middle grade blog going into 2018 and beyond as long as y'all keep showing up every week.

So this week's book is my newest obsession. Esteemed Reader, if you haven't read Gone, skip this review and just read it, and then it will be your obsession as well. I'm already tearing my way through its second sequel, Lies, and the seventh in the series, Monster, was just released in October. Part of the reason I'm not writing any more reviews in December is because I'm going to finish this series and I don't want other books getting in the way:)

I'm kicking myself for not reading Gone sooner, but in a way I'm grateful I didn't because now I get to binge read the whole series at once instead of having to wait like the suckers did:) I've read Mr. Grant's middle grade work previous, such as The Magnificent 12, which I reviewed here, and The Animorphs, which he wrote with friend of the blog (and his wife) Katherine Applegate. I was expecting more of the same with Gone, which would've been great, but what I got was something that caught me totally by surprise by how deeply Michael Grant instantly hooked me and has kept me reading.

It's so amazing that Stephen King blurbed this series because I would've classified it as Stephen King for the YA crowd (although, technically speaking, The Body and arguably Itdepending on how cool the librarian recommending teen reads isare Stephen King for the YA crowd). And you regular Esteemed Readers know how much I love my Stephen King (I've also written Stephen King-ish for the YA crowd). There's even a national park in the fictional universe of Gone called Stefano Rey, which is Spanish for Stephen King.

The language employed in Gone is nowhere near as foul as in a King novel, but otherwise this is a long story (581 pages depending on your edition) with an over-the-top Twilight Zone premise that's periodically very dark and inhabited by fully realized characters. Also, like King, Grant is playing for keeps:

She smelled something foul. Sickly sweet and foul. 
She looked at her shattered right arm. The flesh, especially the taut, stretched flesh that barely contained her shattered arm bones, was dark, black edging toward green. The smell was awful. 
Lana took several deep breaths, shaky, fighting the upsurge of terror. She’d heard of gangrene. It was what happened when flesh died or circulation was cut off. Her arm was dying. The smell was the odor of rotting human flesh. 
A vulture fluttered to a landing just a few feet away. It stared at her with beady eyes and bobbed its featherless neck. The vulture knew that smell, too.

To fully describe the plot of Gone would probably take up the entire review, but the short short version is that it's Under the Dome meets The Stand meets Desperation with some X-men and a whole lot of Lord of the Flies and just a dash of Saints Row IV. All of those are favorites of mine, so Gone had me from that first paragraph up above. If the short short version isn't quite clear, let me give the slightly longer version.

Don't let the length of this book intimidate you. As the opening paragraph above makes clear, this is a book that moves quickly and you'll be done with it long before you want to be. Grant starts with a sort-of/kind-of rapture in that everyone 15 and older disappears for a 20-mile radius from Perdido Beach in California. Soon, the remaining children discover that they disappear the moment they age out. That's plenty of conflict to sustain a novel:

This school was dangerous now. Scared people did scary things sometimes, even kids. Sam knew that from personal experience. Fear could be dangerous. Fear could get people hurt. And there was nothing but fear running crazy through the school.

Sam flashed on news videos he’d seen of school shootings. It had that kind of feel to it. Kids were bewildered, scared, hysterical, or hiding hysteria beneath laughter and bold displays of rowdiness.

But apparently that's just not enough conflict for Michael Grant, so he adds another layer. And what I want to draw your attention to is the way he adds it:

Astrid and Quinn thought today was the beginning, but Sam knew better. Normal life had started coming apart eight months ago. 

Rather than come right out and state his additional conflict, which is that the teens left behind in Perdido Beach, including Sam, are developing super powers and have been for some time, Grants lets the reader get there ahead of him by suggesting evidence of this before confirming it. This is a technique for suspension of disbelief I have discussed elsewhere at length, but it's ever effective to give the reader tantalizing hints that allow the reader to form a conclusion of something impossible before the writer openly states it.

And the fact that the super powers emerged prior to the disappearance of the adults deepens the mystery about just what situation our heroes have found themselves in. So are the powers related to the disappearance of the adults and the placing of the barrier? And what's the deal in Perdido Beach?

I'm not telling you what I know, but keep in mind that Grant's got more books to come, so don't expect every answer in this first story. Remember, a good mystery is created not by withholding things from the reader, but by selectively revealing things. And the mystery is a big part of what drives the story:

Maybe it was aliens and right now some creepy monsters were chasing her mother and father through the streets of Las Vegas, like in that movie, War of the Worlds. Maybe. 
Lana found that thought strangely comforting. After all, at least she wasn’t being chased by aliens in giant tripods. Maybe the wall was some kind of defense put up against the aliens. Maybe she was safe on this side of the wall.

“Maybe it was God,” Quinn said, looking up, suddenly hopeful. His eyes were red and he stared with sudden, manic energy. “It was God.” 
“Maybe,” Sam said. 
“What else could it be, right? S-so—so—so—” Quinn caught himself, choked down the panicked stutter. “So it’ll be okay.” The thought of some explanation, any explanation, no matter how weak, seemed to help. 

But even that STILL isn't enough conflict for Michael Grant. As I was trying to explain the plot to Mrs. Ninja, she was with me until I got to the part about the talking coyotes and flying snakes. Also, there's a mysterious darkness out in the woods communing with the animals, but I think some of these things are better discovered by the reader.

So that's where we'll leave the review. If you haven't read Gone, read it. It's amazing and it will keep you glued to your seat until it's done.

But you regular Esteemed Readers know that the point of these reviews is really for us to discuss the techniques a writer employs so that we can adapt them for our own stories. So let's do that now. For starters, that talk about God in the previous quote isn't an isolated incident:

“What did we do?” Quinn asked. “That’s what I don’t get. What did we do to piss God off?” 
Sam opened the refrigerator. He stared at the food there. Milk. A couple of sodas. Half of a small watermelon placed cut side down on a plate. Eggs. Apples. And lemons for his mom’s tea. The usual.
“I mean, we did something to deserve this, right?” Quinn said. “God doesn’t do things like this for no reason.” 
“I don’t think it was God,” Sam said. 
“Dude. Had to be.”

“She’s with God now,” Mary said. 
“I’m not sure there is a God in the FAYZ,” Dahra said.

That's an awful lot of God talk in Gone (said the author of The Book of David), and if you're looking to deduce the thematic concerns of the story, I'd recommend starting there. It's not heavy handed. Grant is far more concerned with terrifying the reader and driving the suspense than discussing thematic concerns at length, as he should be. But for no one to discuss religion in this rapture-like situation would be a glaring omission. And as the teens lose their faith and/or become motivated by an assumed belief, we get a metaphor for how our own beliefs both motivate and put us in conflict with each other.

Of more practical use for employment in most stories, let us examine how Grant introduces us to our main protagonist:

Sam Temple kept a lower profile. He stuck to jeans and understated T-shirts, nothing that drew attention to himself. He had spent most of his life in Perdido Beach, attending this school, and everybody knew who he was, but few people were quite sure what he was. He was a surfer who didn’t hang out with surfers. He was bright, but not a brain. He was good-looking, but not so that girls thought of him as a hottie. 
The one thing most kids knew about Sam Temple was that he was School Bus Sam. He’d earned the nickname when he was in seventh grade. The class had been on the way to a field trip when the bus driver had suffered a heart attack. They’d been driving down Highway 1. Sam had pulled the man out of his seat, steered the bus onto the shoulder of the road, brought it safely to a stop, and calmly dialed 911 on the driver’s cell phone. 
If he had hesitated for even a second, the bus would have plunged off a cliff and into the ocean. 
His picture had been in the paper.

One thing I've been stressing to the students in my fiction classes is that hero characters should be heroic. Grant right away gives us every reason to identify with Sam and to root for him. He feels out of place, belonging to no particular group and uncertain of his identity, just like, say, for example, every teenager ever. Sam is unassuming and humble, especially considering we're about to learn he can shoot light energy from his hands (which will definitely come in handy). Also, and this is very important, he has engaged in heroic activity.

Please note, however, that Grant doesn't leave Sam's characterization with this flashback incident. No sooner do things start to fall apart than Sam is in action doing heroic things that are shown, including his rushing into a burning building to save a little girl and defending another one from bullies. Both attempts end with the little girls in question dead because this is a darker story, but it's the attempts that counts:) This incident with the school bus that happened off screen is also important as it establishes Sam's credibility as a possibly heroic leader in the minds of other characters in the story.

As for this being a darker story, that's part of its appeal. Just as our old friend Mike Mullin did in Ashfall, Grant establishes credibility for his world through including grisly details. Multiple children die, and not in clean, painless ways. The world of Gone is cold and harsh, but not unrelentingly so. Grant doesn't want to bum us out completely as this isn't a historical tomb. Rather, the worst aspects of this story make the unbelievable situation seem more believable. So, in the interest of helping readers suspend disbelief, Grant shows us one of the probable consequences of everyone over the age of 15 suddenly departing the world:

Quinn hefted the hammer and swung it against the door, just below the doorknob. The wood splintered, and Quinn pushed the door back. 
The smell hit them hard. 
“Oh, man, what died in here?” Quinn said, like it was a joke. 
The joke fell flat. 
Just inside the door, on the hardwood floor lay a baby’s pacifier. The three of them stared at it. 
“No, no, no. I can’t do this,” Brooke said.

The world of Gone feels real enough while the story is progressing, which is all that matters, and it feels metaphorically real after the fact. A dead baby alone is not enough to convince the reader to suspend disbelief, though it's a good start.

One of the reasons the page count is higher is because Grant goes into so much detail about the world, all with the goal of overcoming the reader's natural suspicion of a world with talking animals and superpowers. To quote myself from a post on horror writing, "those seemingly mundane details add up, like the passes of a hypnotist's golden watch, to convince the reader the story is real and that they should be terrified."

Grant doesn't just sell us on the main characters. He takes the time to build up secondary characters and below. For example, see how he not only flushes out the third tier character of Mary (at least in this first book in the series) so that we believe in her, but how he also further convinces us of the reality of Gone's improbable situation through Mary's reaction to it. Her demonstrable belief in her reality lends some of her belief to the reader.

Mary had suffered from bulimia since she was ten. Binge eating followed by purging, again and again in a quickening cycle of diminishing returns that had left her forty pounds overweight at one point, and her teeth rough and discolored from the stomach acid.
She’d been clever enough to conceal it for a long time, but her parents had found out eventually. Then had come therapists and a special camp and when none of that really helped, medication. Speaking of which, Mary reminded herself, she needed to get the bottle from her medicine cabinet.
She was better now with the Prozac. Her eating was under control. She didn’t purge anymore. She had lost some of the extra weight. 
But why not eat now? Why not? 
The cold air of the freezer wafted over her. The ice cream, the chocolate, there it was. It wouldn’t hurt. Not just once. Not now when she was scared to death and alone and so tired. 
Just one DoveBar. 
She pulled it out of the box and with fumbling, anxious fingers tore open the wrapper. It was in her mouth in a flash, so good, so cold, the chocolate slick and greasy as it melted on her tongue. The crunch of the shell as she bit into it, the soft luscious vanilla ice cream inside. 
She ate it all. She ate like a wolf.

There are a lot of other passages I want to share with you and so much to more to discuss, but this post is long and needs to end. I'd love to talk more about Quinn and how he serves as an excellent foil to Sam. I'd also love to talk about his casual racism with Edilio, but we'll skip it, except to say that casual racism is a detail that further convinces the reader that these are real characters from our reality and not blank book heroes. I'd also like to talk more about Astrid and her relationship to Pete, her autistic brother.

Oh heck, there's time enough for that one. Astrid is a brilliant and beautiful girl who Sam has a thing for and because he's a hero and this is a fantasy story, she might just be into him as well. It's standard issue YA and it's fine. What I found more interesting about Astrid is that she is made more heroic through her shortcomings. Her little brother Pete is a lot to deal with, but she does it, not because she's a perfect person, but in spite of her desire not to have to deal with him. It's a far more realistic sibling relationship which pays off before the end of the book.

There were kid-proof knobs on the stove. 
Astrid noticed him noticing. “It’s not for me,” she said snippily. “It’s for Little Pete.” 
“I know. He’s . . .” He didn’t know the right word. 
“He’s autistic,” Astrid said, very breezy, like it was no big thing.

After he's lost for a time, our heroes find Pete once again. The following might be my favorite character beat in the whole book because it's the most effective detail at making Astrid fully three dimensional:

There, sitting on the control room floor, rocking slightly back and forth, playing a muted handheld video game, was Little Pete. 
Astrid did not run to him. She stared with what looked to Sam like something close to disappointment. She seemed almost to shrink down a little. 
But then she forced a smile and went to him.

Okay, for real, let's wrap this up. The last point I want to make is that none of this character detail or situation makes a difference without Grant's first laying a basic groundwork for his story. He gets the basics done before worrying about the awesome action sequences and monster attacks that come with the territory. We're given a main hero, a main villain  (read some one else's review to learn about Caine, I guess), they're put at odds with each other in such a way that they must do battle before the story is done, and because this is suspense, we're given a ticking clock to keep those pages turning because Sam is 14 going on 15:

“I have five days,” Sam fretted. “Five. Days. Not even a week.” 
“You don’t know that for sure.” 
“Don’t, okay? Just don’t. Don’t tell me some story about how it’s all going to be fine. It’s not going to be fine.” 
“Okay,” Astrid said. “You’re right. Somehow, age fifteen is this line, and when you reach it, you poof out.”

And that's it. Gone is fantastic novel to be enjoyed by readers of all ages without pandering to any of them. In fact, I encountered a a new word in this story I had to look up: insouciantly. If you have any desire to write YA, particularly horror or dystopian, you absolutely must read this novel. Really, if you like a good story well told, you have to read this novel.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Gone:

It was Astrid Ellison, known as Astrid the Genius, because she was . . . well, she was a genius.

Impossible things don’t happen. That’s what impossible means.

“You seem like a nice girl, Astrid,” Diana said. “I’ll bet you’re one of those brainy, Lisa Simpson types, all full of great ideas and worried about saving the planet or whatever. But things have changed. This isn’t your old life anymore. It’s like . . . you know what it’s like? It’s like you used to live in a really nice neighborhood, and now you live in a really tough neighborhood. You don’t look tough, Astrid.”

The sound of his own name snapped Jack out of his trance. “Yes.” 
Jack fell into step behind Diana, ashamed of his instant, doglike obedience.

Lana lay in the dark in the cabin listening to the mysterious sounds of the desert outside. Something made a soft, slithery sound like a hand stroking silk.

“Sadism,” Diana said. “The enjoyment of another person’s pain.” 
Drake stretched his shark grin. “Words don’t scare me.” 
“You wouldn’t be a psychopath if they did, Drake.”

His narrow lizard eyes narrowed further.

“Where are we going?”
“How about not here?”

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Emily Van Beek

Emily Van Beek's bio from Folio Jr.'s website:

I moved to New York City from Toronto armed with dual citizenship, a dream to work in children’s publishing, and inspiration from my favorite (if clichéd) Zen magnet, “Leap and the net will appear”. I became an editor at Hyperion Books for Children before deciding to explore the view from the agent’s side of the desk, where I fell head over heels in love with my role as a literary agent. I spent the next six-and-a-half years as an agent and the rights director at Pippin Properties, Inc. before joining Folio Jr. where I'm an SVP and literary agent. Some of the New York Times bestselling and award-winning clients I represent include Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, Siobhan Vivian, Adele Griffin, Philip & Erin Stead, Matthew Reinhart, Julie Morstad, and Sydney Smith as well as striking debut and emerging voices. I am an editorial agent passionate about negotiating the best deal possible, working with our esteemed subsidiary and contracts teams to squeeze as much juice out of a property as it will yield, and helping my clients to publish books that will stand the test of time.


YOUNG ADULT: I'm eager to find novels that are high concept, diverse, fantasy or magical realism, and am open to anything conceptually unique. In the realm of paranormal, adventure, and dystopian, I'm looking for something entirely unexpected. Give me something bold and fresh with a voice that’s impossible to put aside. I’m probably not the best choice for super edgy, “message”, or hard science-fiction books. What I’m really looking for is the intersection between stellar writing and plot, something that leaves me puffy eyed or laughing out loud. I am looking for emotional connection, for drama, for hope. Oh! Something else--I would love, love, LOVE to discover a FUNNY manuscript, a novel to make me LOL as Louise Rennison's ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING did.

MIDDLE-GRADE: Please send me your diverse, epic, cinematic, action-packed, adventuresome, mysterious, and fast-paced novels! I’m open to almost anything within this genre, but I always bear in mind that readers in this age group are looking for fun and mischief, to learn something about life, and to escape and romp!

PICTURE BOOKS: At this time, I am exclusively, but actively interested in AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATORS as well as ILLUSTRATORS only. I adore looking through picture book dummies and portfolios--send away!


Please send along your query letter and first ten pages of your manuscript in the body of the email to emily@foliolitmanagement.com. If you'd like to submit a picture book, please attach a PDF of your dummy. Links to online portfolios are always welcome. I would very much like to be able to respond to every query, but unfortunately time doesn’t allow for it. Please be sure to write QUERY in the subject line as this will ensure I do not miss your letter. N.B.: This email address is for queries and submissions only. For all other inquiries, please call (212) 400-1494. If you haven’t heard back from me within six weeks, I'm sorry to say I've decided I'm not the ideal match for your project. Thanks again for the opportunity to consider your work.

You can follow her on Folio Jr.'s Instagram and Facebook page, or check out her PublishersMarketplace page.

And now Emily van Beek faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Ah! This question is pure agony. I can maybe, maybe think of top three in each of about a zillion different categories. Yes! No? Okay, then . . . The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.

Honorable mention: The Time Traveler’s Wife. I sent a fan letter to Audrey Niffenegger after reading her novel . . .  AND SHE WROTE BACK! How cool is that?                        

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Favorite movies include Amelie (bonus points for that soundtrack!), Bridesmaids, and I have a real soft-spot for the 2014 film adaptation of Paddington—the toothbrush in the ears scene is a family favorite.

I loved The Crown, I’m loyal to Grey’s, and although I once toyed with the idea of becoming an attorney, I much prefer to watch the small screen version of big court drama in Suits.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

I treasure my relationships with my clients. When signing a client I’m looking for authors and illustrators who are professional, who don’t cut corners, who are indefatigable revisers, and who have more than one story to tell.

I strive to present to editors the most polished, fully-realized submissions and I seek to work with clients who believe in putting their best foot forward. I aspire to build long-term relationships with my clients over the course of many books and many years.

I appreciate clear communication and endeavor to cultivate relationships of transparency and accessibility. I like to work with nice people. Most of all, I absolutely love what I do and am looking for clients who feel as passionately about their work!

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I represent picture books through YA and am looking for unique and uniquely-told works. I’m eager to discover and champion #ownvoices stories especially contemporary and fantasy.

I’m dying to find a funny young adult or middle-grade novel. Comedic writing is a challenge to pull-off and a rare find. I’d be on cloud nine to receive a manuscript big on laughs while also serving up a story full of heart. I’m noticing a lot of dark, anxious, dire stories in my inbox and am eager for more humor, light, and hope.

I’d also jump at the chance to represent a clever middle-grade mystery—one that has the hallmarks of a contemporary classic or one that plays with puzzles, clues, and codes in a fresh way. I’m looking for manuscripts that are brave and deliver the feels.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love what I do. Not “love” love, but “LOVE” LOVE! I love that every day is different and there is always something new to learn and discover. It thrills me to find treasure in my submissions inbox. Calling a client with an offer in-hand never. gets. old. I could read contracts all day and I love to negotiate. I’m fascinated by subrights and adore working with my foreign, audio, and dramatic rights colleagues on licensing rights to our clients’ titles. I relish the editorial work that goes into preparing submissions as much as I enjoy the business side of agenting. I’m so grateful to have the chance to see projects in their earliest stages and to follow their journey to publication.

It's hard to identify my least favorite thing about being an agent. I’d love an eighth day of the week—I think we all feel we could use a little more time! Also, I take my work very personally and feel tremendously protective of my clients and their projects. Rejection smarts, after all these years my skin isn’t as thick as it probably should be, and I hate to relay disappointing news.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read as much as you can from across a spectrum, including current bestsellers and new releases as well as classics and award-winners from the past.

Be brave. Writing is not for the faint of heart. And if an agent says your work isn’t right for his or her list, don’t despair. This is a truly subjective field and what isn’t right for one agent or editor might be the treasure another seeks.

Don’t. give. up.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I’d love to have lunch with the late Louise Rennison because I think she was an incredibly talented writer with an extraordinary sense of humor. I wouldn’t mind following-up lunch with afternoon tea with Maeve Binchy, cocktails with J.K. Rowling, and dinner with Jane Austen, to round out the day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

7 Questions For: Author Marina Weber

Marina Weber has been a passionate activist since she was six. Marina plays herself in the story of her debut children’s book – The Global Warming Express. She believes in righting wrongs and in helping others to be heard, seen, and assisted. She is also fearless and single-minded when it comes to completing her quest, and was instrumental in establishing The Global Warming Express nonprofit organization.

Listen to a recent interview with Marina for Radio Café.

Find The Global Warming Express on: Goodreads, IndieBound, Amazon

Click here to read my review of The Global Warming Express.

And now Marina Weber faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

1. Harry Potter series - I totally fell in love with it when I first read it and I now own all the movies and books and know most of the dialogue by heart. I still love the series and I read it over and over again.

2. Percy Jackson taught me everything I know about Roman and Greek mythology in a really great way and it is helping me so much now.

3. Little Women - this is such a classic book which I love because it is sort of old fashioned but it is a classic and it's something that always reminds me to be grateful for what I have.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I write every day either in a journal or typing on my phone just putting down my thoughts for the day like a diary. I find that this helps me so that my mind is less cluttered. Currently I am not reading anything as I have just started high school and haven’t had the time. However, I absolutely love reading. This past summer I went through two books a week and I would read a lot more if I had the time. For me, writing is a huge part of my life even when it isn't for a purpose. I just love writing in general.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

It all started when I was in third grade when my best friend, Joanna Whysner, and I decided to write a children's book from the animal's perspective on climate change. I did most of the writing and she did the illustrations. Through elementary school we worked on it, and then the summer before we both went into 7th grade we finished it. At that point we were so involved in school and extracurriculars that our parents took it upon themselves to find us a good editor, and then spent their time finding a publisher. It wasn't by any means easy, but over the course of almost six years we got it done. It was a life accomplishment.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I believe both. I believe that if you have the passion to write then you can become amazing at it. If you really want to do something, then you can do it with practice. I personally have always loved writing and even writing essays is fun for me. I feel like I was born to write even though through the years I have become interested in other things as well. I feel that I have a talent when it comes to writing and writing has helped me through some of the hardest times in my life and I’m so happy I found a writing path.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is being able to express my feeling without anyone judging me as well as just uncluttering my mind. For me writing is like dancing. Like all my problems can go away when I am writing. Writing also really helps me when I am going through a hard time and somehow putting down my thoughts makes me feel better.

But sometimes it's hard. Writing isn't easy all the time and sometimes finding the right words can be the hardest thing and it's not always terribly fun, but it's worth it to see the end result.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

I would want to tell them that it's not going to be easy when you start but once you find your passion and what you want to write about it all just comes together. I think that writers, after a while, see the world differently than other people and (this is true for me) when a certain situation comes up or I am looking at a beautiful landscape I feel that I narrate it and make a story out of it while it's happening. Being a writer is so great and if you really want to be a writer then you can do it.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

J. K Rowling. She is such an inspiration to me and she wrote seven of my favorite books. I think that she is such an incredible person and she stands up for what she believes in. She persevered writing her books even when it was hard and I admire her so much for that. Writing a bestselling book, let alone seven of the most well-known books in the world is huge. She is such an amazing writer and I adore her so much.

“A memorable book. A modern-day fable sounding the alarm about the very real challenge of climate change.”
—Tom Udall, U.S. Senator for New Mexico

“Marina is an incredibly talented author. I admire her and Joanna’s passion for combatting climate change. Great writing comes from great thinking, and these girls have a great future ahead. We must all get onboard the Global Warming Express!” —Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives

The Global Warming Express
Story by Marina Weber // Pictures by Joanna Whysner
Foreword by U.S. Senator Tom Udall
Terra Nova Books (TerraNovaBooks.com)
Ages 8+ // $14.95-Paperback