Friday, October 31, 2014

The First Five Chapters of BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES

Publication Date: October 31, 2014 | Age Level: 9 - 12 | Grade Level: 4 - UP

“Let me say at once that I think this is a most original and amusing piece of work. A reader is arrested at the outset by a paradoxical witticism and he goes on being arrested as the story gets into its stride. Ellicott Skullworth and Banneker Bones appear as characters about whom the reader wants to learn more, and soon he begins to be in no doubt about this.”
--Richard Adams, author of WATERSHIP DOWN

Fifth grader Ellicott Skullworth has always felt out of place at public school and now he's tested into the Archimedes Program at Latimer University. While in Latimer City, he’ll be living with his world famous and insane(ly) brilliant cousin, Banneker Bones, the eleven-year-old inventor of robots. The only problem: Banneker doesn't want to share his room. And he's got an army of robots to make Ellicott miserable until he goes home.

When the boys are ambushed by robot bees as big as cars, Ellicott's only friend  is carried off and held for ransom. To rescue him, Ellicott has no choice but to partner with his maniacal cousin. Ellicott doesn't know what's worse: facing a hive of giant robot bees or spending more time with Banneker Bones.


BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES features original illustrations by Adam Smith. It's a humorous, science fiction adventure for readers of all ages written in the spirit of a comic book.


Chapter One

Trouble With School




IN SOME WAYS, SCHOOL IS better than prison. Not many, but some.
     Like prison, school is all about routine. At 5:30 each morning, Ellicott Skullworth’s mother woke him. At 6:30 he rode the school bus. At 7:00 the first bell rang and class began, recess was at 9:30, lunch was at 12:30, second recess was at 1:30, and the final bell rang at 3:00.
     Ellicott rode the bus home and at 5:30 the next morning it began again. Each day the same as the last, the same as the next: an infinite stretch of the same miserable day to be lived over and over again.
     The day Ellicott Skullworth’s life changed forever began just this way.
     “Who can tell me the name of the inventor of modern robots?” Mrs. Eddy asked her fifth-grade class.
     Ellicott knew the answer, of course. Everyone knew the answer. But Craig Keller was the only one with his hand raised.
     Craig’s desk was in the first row. Ellicott sat in the last row behind Sam Erwood, the fattest kid in the fifth grade. This worked out well for Ellicott because he could keep Dracula open on his desk and Sam’s meaty shoulders blocked Mrs. Eddy’s view of the book.
     Ellicott had been paying more attention to reading than listening to the lesson, but he stopped when Craig answered, “Banneker Bones.”
     “No,” Mrs. Eddy said. “Close.”
     Ellicott shook his head. Everyone knew it was Banneker Bones’ father, Dr. Patrick Bones, who invented modern robots. Banneker Bones invented the Gyration Rotation Station.
     Ellicott had heard the story countless times. Teachers across America told their students the legend of how the then only six-year-old Banneker Bones put together the final bit of circuitry essential to his father’s invention of the first Autobox robot, using the pieces of a broken watch.
     “My dad says robots are going to take our jobs,” Justin Cranston called.
     Mrs. Eddy ignored this and asked, “Who can tell me what Banneker Bones did invent?”
Ellicott went back to reading Dracula.
     Up until last year, he'd raised his hand every time the teacher asked a question, and he'd always given the right answer. Ellicott saw nothing wrong with this—after all, the teacher had asked a question.
     Unfortunately, his classmates hadn’t seen it that way and it wasn’t long before he developed a reputation for being “a brain.” It got to be so whenever Ellicott gave an answer, he would hear it parroted by his classmates in a singsong voice.
     This was often followed by mutters of “Ellicott’s got a big Skullworth for his big brain. Ohhhhh!”
     “Why do the other kids make fun of me?” Ellicott asked his father after school on a day when the name-calling had been particularly vicious. “If they wanted to answer, they should've raised their hands first.”
     Harvey Skullworth laughed, vibrating because he was seated atop a lawn mower. “Is that why you think they make fun of you?”
     Ellicott shrugged. He didn’t know why the other kids did anything. He went back to picking up the fallen branches in the mower's path.
     “Did it ever occur to you, Mr. Boy Genius, the other kids don’t know the answer? Did it ever occur to you that just maybe they’re jealous school is so easy for you when it’s so hard for them?”
     “It’s not my fault they’re too dumb to know the answer!” Ellicott said, picking up a branch and thrusting it into the plastic garbage bag he held hard enough to rip its side and spill more branches to the yard. “Why do they have to make fun of me?”
     “That’s why they make fun of you,” his father said, turning the mower off. “Pride goes before a fall, son. Remember the other kids are better at different things than you are. It’s not wrong you know the answer. I’m glad you know it."
     He hoped off the mower and began picking up the fallen branches. “But if you answer every question, kids might get the idea you’re showing off, showing them how much smarter you are than them. It’s all right to be smarter, Ellicott. It’s not all right to be a show-off.”
     Ellicott had thought about his father’s words all night, and the next day at school when his teacher asked a question, he raised his hand like always. When she called on him, he gave the wrong answer, even though he knew the right one.
     There had been a round of snickering. But that was all right. Ellicott let the other kids laugh and he hadn't raised his hand again.
     Eventually, the cries of “Big Brain Skullworth” transformed to cries of “Big Brain Craig,” even though Craig was only right half the time. Ellicott let Craig give all the wrong answers he wanted. He kept this up through the end of his fourth-grade year and now into the fifth-grade.
     During recess, Ellicott sat beneath a tree and read. At lunch, he sat alone at a table near the back of the cafeteria and read some more. He read in class after lunch and if it hadn’t been for the social studies test, Ellicott might've been able to read all day.
     If it hadn’t been for the social studies test, everything that followed might not have happened at all.
     The class had an hour to take the test. Ellicott finished in just under ten minutes.
     For five minutes, Ellicott sat and stared at the back of Sam’s head while the other students continued working.
     He couldn’t very well hand his test in yet. If the other kids made fun of him for answering questions, what would they do if they knew he'd finished his 14-page social studies test in less than ten minutes?
     But he’d go crazy with nothing to do but sit for another 45 minutes.
     Making as little movement as possible, Ellicott pulled his copy of Dracula from beneath his chair and slid it up the side of his desk.
     Mrs. Eddy was at the front of the class grading their math homework. Her head was bent down.
     He waited until Mrs. Eddy was making a mark with her red pen before he brought the book onto his desk. He shoved it as close as he could to Sam’s fat shoulders to hide it from view.
     Mrs. Eddy went on grading papers.
     He slowly opened Dracula.
     “Mr. Skullworth, this is a closed-book test!”
     Ellicott froze.
     Mrs. Eddy jumped up and charged straight back between the rows of desks, calling, “I will not tolerate cheating!”
     “I wasn’t cheating!” Ellicott cried. “I was just reading.”
Mrs. Eddy snatched up his copy of Dracula and flipped through the pages as though she expected to find test answers written on them.
     When she found none, she said, “As you’re reading, I assume your test is finished?”
Ellicott nodded.
     Mrs. Eddy grabbed his test and returned to the front of the class, taking Dracula with her.
Ellicott went back to staring at the back of Sam’s fat head for all eternity. Or, at least, until the other students finished their tests.
     After that, the class lined up at the door for second recess.
     Ellicott started for the schoolyard like everyone else until Mrs. Eddy called, “Mr. Skullworth? May I have a word?”
     “Busted!” Justin yelled.
     Ellicott turned back toward Mrs. Eddy and swallowed hard.





Chapter Two

Trouble With Teacher




“DID YOU CHEAT ON THIS test?” Mrs. Eddy asked, holding his social studies test high and sounding to Ellicott like a detective interrogating a suspect on one of his mother’s beloved police shows.
     Ellicott looked around the empty classroom for help, but everyone else was at recess. "I didn't cheat."
     Mrs. Eddy leaned down close enough to take a bite out of his cheek. “If you did cheat, and I find out about it later, it would be a lot better for you then to have told me now. Do you understand?”
     Ellicott nodded.
     “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?”
     Ellicott shook his head.
     “All right,” Mrs. Eddy said. “I’ll just assume you spent the last week studying every night and that’s why you were able to finish my test in 15 minutes when it took the rest of the class a full hour. Would I be correct in that assumption?”
     Actually, it had taken him ten minutes to finish, but Ellicott only shrugged. “I guess.”
     “I see.” Mrs. Eddy went to her desk and retrieved a packet of paper. “It just so happens I have an alternate version of the test right here. And seeing as how you spent so much time studying, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble taking this one as well.”
     “You mean I have to take two tests?”
     “That’s right.” Mrs. Eddy set the new test on a desk in the front row and motioned for Ellicott to sit down.
     Ellicott groaned. “That’s not fair. It’s recess!”
     “Life isn’t fair, Mr. Skullworth. This test has nine fewer questions than the first one, so I’m sure it will take you no time at all to finish. I’ll give you 15 minutes, probably more time than you need. After that, you can go to recess.”
     Ellicott finished the test in seven minutes. The questions were in a different order, but most of them were the same as the first test. When he was done, he handed his test to Mrs. Eddy and reached for his copy of Dracula.
     Mrs. Eddy clamped her hand over his book. “Wait. Let’s just see how you did.”
     Ellicott folded his arms and waited while Mrs. Eddy went through his test with a red pen. He already knew his score.
     There were 56 questions and he'd missed seven, which worked out to an 87 percent; a high ‘B’. If he scored any higher than that, Mrs. Eddy would post his test on a board at the front of the class with the other “Big Brains.”
     When Mrs. Eddy finished grading, she asked, “What is the capital of Indiana?”
     “Indianapolis,” Ellicott said. Everyone knew that.
     “I see. And yet on question 54 you marked that the capital of Indiana is Gotham City.” Mrs. Eddy set the test in front of Ellicott so he could see which option he'd selected.
     Ellicott swallowed air. “It’s not?”
     “What’s interesting to me,” Mrs. Eddy said, tapping her pen against the desk, “is that you missed the last seven questions on this test. And you missed the last eight questions on the first test. But there were 65 questions on the first test, so your score still worked out to an 87 percent.”
     “That is interesting,” Ellicott said, looking toward the door and longing to disappear through it. “I’ll study harder next time.”
     Mrs. Eddy circled Ellicott like a shark. “Two tests. You got the same score on each. On both tests you got every question right but exactly the precise amount of the last few questions to score an 87 percent. I find that very, very interesting.”
     “Can I have my book back now?”
     “Are you bored in class, Ellicott?”
     “No.”
     “I see. You’re so enthralled in my lessons you spend all day reading instead of listening to them, is that right?”
     Ellicott didn't have a good answer to that. He sensed there probably wasn't one.
     Mrs. Eddy rummaged through her desk, then handed him his copy of Dracula, a permission slip, and a brochure for something called the Latimer University Archimedes Program.
     “Make sure one of your parents signs that tonight,” she said, “and bring it back tomorrow. The test is two weeks from now, but I should still be able to get you in.”
     Ellicott looked over the brochure. On it were pictures of students sitting in a classroom the size of a theater and walking across a sunlit campus carrying book bags.
     In one picture the students were being served lunch by a robot wearing a hair net, which was ridiculous, as the robot’s head was shiny bald metal.
     The last picture was of a dark-skinned 11-year-old boy wearing a brimmed hat with a wide band, thick black glasses, and a brown trench coat. The caption below identified the boy as Banneker Bones.
     "What is this?" Ellicott asked.




Chapter Three

Trouble With Permission Slips




“DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS is?” Harvey Skullworth said that night at the dinner table, holding up the permission slip for all to see.
     “They want me to give my permission for you to take the Latimer University Archimedes Program aptitude test. They want to know if you’re an egghead or not, so they can ship you off to your cousin’s fancy private school for spoiled rich know-it-alls."
     He set the slip face down on the table, then nudged it away from his plate as though uncomfortable with it so close to his meatloaf. "Well, we can’t afford to send you to a rich-kid school, so there isn’t any need for you to take the test for one.”
     “Latimer University offers a scholarship,” Patricia Skullworth said. “I’m sure your brother could put in a good word.”
     “He’s my half brother. And you leave him out of this.”
     “I have a cousin?” Ellicott asked.
     Neither of Ellicott’s parents said anything, but his mother gave him a look that told him to drop it. This was the same look she gave him every time the subject of his father’s half brother came up, which wasn't often.
     Ellicott had never met his Uncle Patrick. He knew of him only from stories of his father’s early childhood.
     Apparently, Uncle Patrick and his father had had a fight of some kind—every time Ellicott asked what the fight had been about, he was told to drop the subject—and the brothers hadn't spoken to each other since before Ellicott was born.
     Ellicott had long known he had an uncle somewhere in the world who was a stranger to him, but this was the first he'd learned of a cousin.
     “You’re a Skullworth,” his father said, wadding up the permission slip and pitching it in the trash. “Your aptitudes have been known since the day you were born.”
     Harvey Skullworth worked as a manager at a Rand Enterprises warehouse. Ellicott’s grandfather had worked at the same warehouse. And one day, Ellicott supposed, he would also work there. His father always said he would.
     “I want to take the test,” Ellicott said. “I was looking through that brochure and Latimer University looks—”
     “Expensive?” his father suggested. “It looks expensive because it is. If you want to get a job to help pay the tuition, you—”
     “It doesn’t cost anything to take the test,” Ellicott said.
     His father sighed. “We don’t have the money for a fancy university. So let’s just drop this.”
     “Come on, Dad,” Ellicott said. “Will you at least look at the brochure?”
     “You could at least ask your brother,” his mother said.
     “I said drop it!” his father shouted, standing up.
     Ellicott pushed back from the table and stood as well. “I know we don’t have the money. I know I have to go to Brownsborough Elementary School and Brownsborough Middle School and Brownsborough High School. I know it. But I don’t belong there.”
     “What do you mean, Ellie?” his mother asked, standing as well, so that they were all three gathered around a table no one was sitting at and a dinner no one was eating.
     Ellicott took a deep breath. “I’m… different… from the other kids. I don’t know why, but I am. The stuff that’s hard for them, it isn’t hard for me. I’m better at schoolwork than they are. I’m not saying I’m better than—”
     “It sounds to me like that’s exactly what you’re saying,” his father said. “Be very careful, son. Pride goes before a fall. And why would you want to go to Latimer City anyway? There’s nothing there but a bunch of robots. You’re better off here with flesh-and-blood people.”
     “This isn’t pride.” Ellicott gripped the back of his chair. “It’s… I just need to know, that’s all. I know I have to go to school here. But I want to take the test, even if I can’t go to Latimer University. Because I need to know if I belong here.”
     “Oh, Ellie.” His mother put a hand to her chest.
     “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” his father said. “Of course you belong here! You’re here, aren’t you? Enough with this. The game’s on.” And with that, Ellicott’s father turned and left the kitchen.
     His mother put a hand on his shoulder, but Ellicott shrugged it off and went to his room.
He threw himself on his bed and took out the brochure Mrs. Eddy had given him. He imagined he was on the university campus reading his text book in the sunshine beside a fountain like the students were doing on the brochure and chatting with world-famous Banneker Bones. He imagined himself being served lunch by a robot.
     Ellicott had seen robots on television, and once on a field trip to Indianapolis he'd seen a robot outside an electronics store screeching about incredible bargains. But robots were still far too new to have made their way to such small, out-of-the-way places like Brownsborough, Indiana.
     Ellicott put the brochure in the top drawer of his dresser and decided to forget it. There wasn’t any point. He sat back on his bed and read Dracula.
     An hour later, there came a soft knocking at the door and Ellicott nearly jumped out of bed, convinced it was the count himself come to suck his blood.
     The door opened, and Ellicott saw with great relief that it wasn’t Count Dracula. It was his mother. But she looked as white in the face as a vampire.
     She came in without saying anything, closed the door, and sat down beside him on the bed.
     Ellicott could hear the sounds of the football game on television coming from the den and he got the feeling his father didn’t know his mother was here. That bothered him, though there was probably no reason why it should.
     “Do you like school, Ellie?” Mom asked.
     “I like school fine.”
     “But are you learning anything? Are the lessons your teacher gives you a challenge?”
     Ellicott shrugged. “I like school just fine.”
     Mom nodded, but he could see in her eyes she'd read the real answer on his face.
     She put her hand into the pocket of her slacks and pulled out the wadded-up permission slip his father had thrown away. On the line requiring the signature of a parent or guardian, she'd written her name.


Chapter Four

Trouble With Parents




THREE WEEKS AFTER THE TEST, Ellicott was reading and his father was watching TV when his mother marched into the den. In one swift motion she swiped the remote control out of her husband’s hand and shut off the television.
     “Honey, what are you—”
     “We need to talk.”
     Ellicott took one look at his mother’s face, set with the determination and fury of a general storming enemy territory, and got to his feet. He didn’t need to be told a fight was coming.
     “The game’s on,” his father cried.
     “This is more important,” his mother said. “Sit down, Ellicott. This concerns you too.”
     Ellicott opened his mouth to protest, but he closed it after another glance at his mother. He sat down.
     His father folded his arms across his chest and sat back, waiting.
     “You’re not going to like what I’m about to say,” his mother said. “Probably it’s going to make you mad. All I ask is that you let me say all of it before you say anything.”
     His father made a twirling motion with his finger. “Go on.”
     His mother produced an envelope containing Ellicott’s results from the Latimer University Archimedes Program Aptitude Test. She admitted she'd signed the permission slip her husband had thrown away and Ellicott had taken the test.
     Here his father gave Ellicott a look that made him want to melt back into the soft cushions of the couch and out of sight.
     “The university sent us this.” His mother held up a second envelope. “They want to transfer Ellicott to the Archimedes Program as soon as he’s ready. They say we can wait until the spring semester, but they’re willing to admit him now. He got one of the two highest scores in the history of the test and they’re offering him a full scholarship.”
     His father's face had hardened into a rigid mold of disgruntlement, but here it broke slightly. “A full scholarship?”
     His mother nodded. “Tuition and books.”
     “What about room and board?”
     “Well—”
     “Honey, the program is in Latimer City. We live in Brownsborough. And we can’t afford whatever it is they’re charging for Ellicott to stay in their dormitory. This is exactly why I threw that permission slip away. Now all you’ve done is get the boy’s hopes up.”
     Ellicott wasn’t sure if his hopes were up or not. He was too nervous waiting to see how much fighting his parents would do before he could be excused to his room. His father hadn’t yelled yet, but Ellicott could hear in his voice the yelling was coming.
     “Wait,” his mother said. “I have more to tell you.”
     His father waited.
     “I called the university and asked them if they had any sort of scholarship to cover room and board. I told them our situation and they said they’d have someone call me. Well, today I got a call from a Dr. Myra Bones.”
     “Who?” his father said, but the way he said it indicated he already knew who Dr. Myra Bones was.
     “Your sister-in-law.”
     Harvey Skullworth set his bag of potato chips aside and got to his feet, his body suddenly very rigid, his fingers curled so tight against the flesh of his palms the veins in his forearms bulged.
Ellicott stood as well and took small steps toward the door.
     “I didn’t call her,” his mother said, taking a step back herself. “She called me.”
     “And just why would she call you?”
     “Because she’s on the board at the university.”
     His father faltered. This was clearly new information.
     “Oh, for crying out loud, Harvey! She’s taught there for years. Which you would know if you ever read any of the letters that come in their Christmas cards.”
     His mother took a step forward. “She’s your family, after all. And she’s Ellie’s aunt.”
     Ellicott stopped moving, though he was nearly to the door now. It made sense that if he had an uncle and he had a cousin, he probably had an aunt as well. Still, it was weird to keep learning he had family he'd never met.
     “And what did my sister-in-law have to say?” his father asked through gritted teeth.
     “She and your brother live six blocks from the school and her son goes there. He’d be in Ellie’s class. And she says they would be honored if Ellie would stay with them while he’s going to school. That’s just how she said it: honored.”
     “And how much money does she want?”
     “She doesn’t want money. She’s rich!”
     This was an argument that continued through dinner and on to the next evening.
     During this time, Ellicott managed to gather the following intelligence: he had an aunt and uncle named Dr. Myra and Dr. Patrick Bones and they had two children, a girl and a boy. Ellicott did an online search at school and found out the girl’s name was Ling Bones and the boy’s name was Banneker Bones.
     Yes, the Banneker Bones.
     At first Ellicott couldn’t believe it. But when he searched the Autobox Robot Company’s web site, he found a photo of the company’s founder and his family.
     Dr. Patrick Bones was tall and thin with blue eyes and blond hair. He had a strong cleft chin and he greatly resembled Ellicott’s father and Ellicott himself.
     Dr. Myra Bones had dark skin, kinky hair that shot up straight from her head into an afro, and soft brown eyes that looked friendly.
     Ling Bones was maybe seven years old in the picture. She was Chinese and giving the camera a big grin that revealed several gaps.
     As for Banneker Bones, there was a separate photo of him shaking hands with the President in the Oval Office. Banneker also had dark skin, though it was much lighter than his mother’s, and he wore thick glasses like his father.
     Ellicott wondered what it would be like to live in a family in which everyone was a different skin color. Most of the families in Brownsborough were all one skin color, including his. Now that he considered it, he supposed it was sort of boring that way.
     On the second night of his parents’ argument, his father accusing his mother of wanting to send their son off to live with strangers and his mother yelling “They’re not strangers, they’re family,” Harvey Skullworth finally turned to Ellicott.
     “Son," he said, "what do you want to do? Do you want to stay here with your loving family in your wonderful home, or do you want to go live with a bunch of rich snobs and be surrounded by robots all day?”
     Ellicott looked from his mother, who appeared extremely hopeful, back to his father, who did not. He chose his next words very carefully.


Chapter Five

Trouble With Robots




ELLICOTT GOT HIS FIRST EVER glimpse at the skyline of Latimer City through the windshield wipers’ arcs and the steady rain pounding the truck’s hood. From a distance, it looked like a collection of toy towers no taller than him.
     His mother had wasted no time in working things out with both Latimer University and Dr. Myra Bones. A mere week after receiving Ellicott’s test score, she and her son were in the family truck, all of Ellicott’s clothes and books packed inside, on their way to Latimer City.
     His father didn't come with them, but this morning when Ellicott came into the kitchen for breakfast, he caught his parents kissing by the sink. It was disgusting, of course, but Ellicott had been glad to see it anyway.
     At long last, when the rain had tapered to a drizzle, Ellicott and his mother came to the intersection of Garrett and Morgan.
     “There it is!” Ellicott cried. “221 Garrett Street!”
     His mother searched for parking and found none, so she turned on the truck’s emergency lights and pulled to a stop in the fire lane in front of the building.
     221 Garrett Street. appeared to be made entirely of darkened glass and stone. A grand marquis extended over the wide sidewalk. The building looked more like a swanky hotel than a place where people actually lived.
     For the first time, Ellicott wondered just how rich his Uncle Patrick actually was.
A door slid open at the front of the lobby and the most bizarre and amazingly awesome thing Ellicott had ever seen rolled toward their truck.
     "Oh no," Mom said.
     A robot with two big black wheels for feet, a silver chest, and arms ending in four steel fingers approached. It was dressed in a red doorman’s jacket that matched its red base, and permanently molded to its head was a steel cap, also red.
     The robot made a winding gesture and Ellicott rolled down his window. “Good evening,” the robot doorman said in a light, cheerful voice.
     “Hello,” Ellicott said.
     “Are you folks in need of directions?” The robot’s eyes pulsed purple light with each word, but its steel mouth stayed frozen in a wide grin.
     “We’re just wondering where we can park,” Mom said.
     The robot looked over Ellicott and his mother, both dressed in jeans and hooded sweatshirts, and sitting in a truck that was now almost as old as Ellicott. “And what is your destination? The Rand Enterprises’ Sports Stadium is a few blocks from here.”
     “This is our destination,” Mom said.
     “I’m sorry,” the robot said in that same cheerful voice that sounded anything but sorry. “221 Garrett Street is not open to the public.”
     Ellicott had the distinct impression that though the robot doorman had barely more than a metal nub for a nose, it was now looking down it at his mother and him.
     “We’re here to see my uncle,” Ellicott said. “Dr. Patrick Bones. He’s expecting us.”
     “Let me just check the log. Your name, sir?”
     “Ellicott Skullworth.”
     The robot’s eyes went dark and a loud whirring issued from its metal head. Then its eyes lit up bright purple again. “Ahh, yes. Mr. Skullworth. I understand you’re here to stay with us for a time.”
     “That’s right.”
     “Very good, sir. Please open your vehicle doors and I'll be happy to assist you with any luggage.”
     “Where can I park?” Mom asked.
     “Please, allow me.” The robot came around to the driver’s side of the truck and opened the door for Ellicott’s mother.
     She quickly scooted backward to the passenger’s side and got out behind Ellicott.
     The robot gave its arm a shake and a black metal ball rolled out from under the cuff of its red jacket.
     The robot placed the ball in the driver’s seat and there the ball reformed itself into a long stick the height of a cane and the width of a coat hanger. Its top split and stretched until it had wrapped itself across the steering wheel and its bottom split and wrapped itself around the gas and brake pedals.
     The robot doorman retrieved Ellicott’s three bags and then the thing that had started out as a black ball drove their truck into the street and around the corner.
     “Just call down when you’re ready to leave, and I’ll have it waiting for you.”
     Mom, who looked mortified to see the family vehicle driving away with no one in it, nodded.
     “Well then, if you’ll follow me.” The robot backed up slightly to change direction, then rolled toward the glass entrance.
     Ellicott started to follow, but stopped when he saw his mother was still staring at the street as though she expected their truck to reappear.
     “Come on, Mom.”
     The lobby of 221 Garrett Street was unlike anyplace Ellicott had ever seen. There was a fountain the size of the Skullworth’s living room in front of the doorman’s stand. It appeared to be carved from stone, but the stone kept changing shapes.
     At first there were angels on the surface of the fountain, angels carved from stone, Ellicott was sure. But then the carved angels retracted into the rock so that the surface was bare.
     Carved mermaids formed where the angels had been. As Ellicott watched, the mermaids were replaced with pirates, then the pirates were replaced with whales and sharks.
     In the center of the fountain stood a stone boy who waved at Ellicott. At the boy's feet were two stone frogs that croaked and cast out tongues to catch flies that weren’t there. Below them in the water were fish that also appeared to be stone, though they didn't sink.
     “Is it magic?” Mom asked.
     Ellicott shrugged. The fountain was probably operating within the rules of science, but it was difficult to be sure.
     He dug a coin from his pocket and just to see what would happen, he tossed it in.
At once the shape shifting carvings became a crowd of rock people applauding like mad around the inside of the fountain’s pool.
     The boy in the center smiled at Ellicott and spoke: “Make a wish and it shall be granted.”
     Ellicott considered. He thought of how bored he'd always been at Brownsborough Elementary. He thought of all the lunches and bus rides he'd spent sitting alone reading. He thought of all the late nights he'd spent studying for the Latimer University Archimedes Program aptitude test.
     “My wish is that I'll do well in the Archimedes Program and I'll like living here.”
     The carvings swirled around in the shape of mystic smoke.
     The stone boy grinned. “Your wish is made true.”
     “Well, that’s good news then,” Mom said.
     The robot doorman made a sound as though it were clearing its throat, which was ridiculous, as it had no throat—at least, Ellicott didn’t think it did. “When you’re ready, Cart 4 will show you to Dr. Bones’ residence.”
     The doorman gestured to a trolley cart on which Ellicott’s bags had been placed. The cart rolled toward the bank of elevators behind the doorman’s desk.
     Ellicott and his mother looked at each other, shrugged, and followed the cart.
     The cart's green base was a flat surface with four wheels on which luggage could be set. There were four gold posts at each corner of the base rising up five feet and arching together, supporting a bar for clothes hangers.
     When an elevator opened, the cart rolled inside and the Skullworths followed. Ellicott took one last look at the robot doorman who was now plugged into some sort of charging station behind the lobby’s front desk.
     “Thank you for calling 221 Garrett Street,” it said, though there was no one there. “This is Jacob. How can I help you?”
     The trolley cart gave a beeping noise and the elevator beeped in response, and then its doors closed and the elevator ascended.
     Soft instrumental music played as the elevator’s display panel indicated it was passing floors two through 48.
     At the 49th floor, the doors opened and the cart exited.
     “I guess this must be it,” Mom said, stepping out of the elevator just behind the cart into a brightly lit hallway.
     When Ellicott had stepped out as well, the elevator doors closed, cutting off any hope of retreat.
The overhead lights went out.
     Mom screamed as a bright red beam shone in their eyes.
     “Identification, please.”
     Ellicott squinted and traced the path of light to a broad bronze face with one wide red eye.
     “Identify yourselves, please.”
     There came a loud metallic clicking and in the red light Ellicott made out the shape of a robot even larger than the doorman. Its arms were bent and at the end of them were what looked like Gatling guns.
     “Identify yourselves or I will fire upon you."




Monday, October 27, 2014

7 Questions For: Audiobook Narrator David Radtke

David Radtke is a man who loathes having nothing to do. It makes him really fidgety (and he hates it when he gets really fidgety). Luckily though, ever since David entered the world of audiobook narration, it has given him the important outlet he needs to release all of his pent-up energies — and some might even say —personalities.

David's signature is his attention to detail. From simple and matter-of-fact, storyteller, professional, to plain out wacky, David's personality shines through time and time again. He runs the incredible blog The Voice Actor's Notebook, which is worth reading whether you're a writer, aspiring narrator, or reader--basically, anyone interested in audiobooks.

His most recent audiobooks include All Together Now: A Zombie Story, Pizza Delivery, and the upcoming Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees (3 of my favorite books!). He's also narrated some books not written by me (meh) including The Noah Zarc series, The Bikings, The Sword of the Ronin, Setting Boundries, and Rainbows and Sunshine... and Zombies.

Having worked closely with David, I would absolutely recommend him to any author fortunate enough to have him narrate their book. He's a consummate professional, a great communicator and collaborator, and he's amazingly talented. I didn't know how brilliant my writing was until I heard David read it:)

And now David Radtke faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is always a difficult question to answer as I love so many. If you count the number of audiobooks I’ve listened to, that number would be over 500. Physical books I’ve read number just as many. So choosing the top three books out of roughly 1,000 books is a monumental task. So many stories by so many talented writers.

Instead of choosing my top 3 books, I’ll choose 3 books whose stories left some mark on my memory or changed my life in some way.
  
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Ironically, I wasn’t a big reader as a child. Books never could hold my attention like playing sports outside could. But a very good friend of mine back in junior high school (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away) recommended this novel to me. He said, “It’s kinda like ‘The Lord of the Rings’.” To which I replied, “What’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’?” You can tell I wasn’t a well-read child. The Sword of Shannara caught me completely off-guard. It sucked me in. I feverishly read page after page and even became that stereotypical image of the boy reading under the bedsheet with a flashlight. My journey as a reader began…

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I clearly remember the day I listened to the chapter when the “secret” was revealed. I was walking down a chilly February street on my way to the store and actually stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the shocking statement about the final game. (The person walking behind me actually bumped into me.) I backed up the audio at least 5 times to make sure I had heard it correctly. That was about 7 years ago and I can still clearly remember it as if it were yesterday. To this day, Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite authors.


Stormfront by Jim Butcher
This is THE audiobook the made me decided to become an audiobook narrator. Until this point I had listened to perhaps 200 or so audiobooks by many talented narrators (whom I still respect and admire.) But it was the narration by James Marsters that made me crave to do what he did. His narration was simply fantastic. Every character in his performance had depth and dimension. With each book in the series, his performance became more and more diverse and enthralling, keeping me entranced.

On my website, www.WellWovenTales.com, I have a voice sample called “Polka will never die” It’s an excerpt from the seventh book in the series, Dead Beat. It’s my tribute to the narrator whose performance made my career path crystal clear.


Question Six: What was the path that led you to become an audiobook narrator?

See above. ;)

But seriously…

Before I decided that I wanted to get into audiobooks, I had worked as a voice actor. My voice can be heard on TV, radio, the internet, company training videos, travel DVDs, telephone answering systems, and a bunch of other places as well. And while I still enjoy those projects, they don’t have the same shine as doing audiobooks.

I wanted to tell the story.

But one cannot simply jump into audiobook narration. Even someone with experience as a voice actor cannot just “make the switch”. Audiobook narration is an art and a skill, and anyone who tells you differently is either ignorant of the industry or trying to sell you something.

Training is required. Specific training in audiobook narration. And for many professionals in the business, we still get training from time to time to hone our skills or to learn new ones.


Question Five: What are the qualities you look for in the projects you choose?

1) No mistakes in the grammar or spelling.
Don’t laugh, you’d be surprised how many authors send samples of their novels for audition purposes that are filled with errors.

2) Many good reviews on Amazon and GoodReads
The more positive reviews the better.

3) A good cover
Yes, we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do when it comes time to buy a book. And since audiobooks are more expensive, the cover must make it look very high quality and professional. Otherwise people will spend their money elsewhere.

4) A well-written book!
If I’m going to spend approximately 5 hours to produce 1 hour of finished audio, then I want the book to be well written and interesting. Yes, it really does take a narrator about 5 hours of actual work to produce only one finished hour of an audiobook. So if your novel is about 100,000 words long, that translates into about a 10-hour long audiobook. Which is about 50 hours of work for the narrator.

So no, audiobook narration isn’t just “reading into a mic.” But a well-written book will make the job so much more enjoyable.


Question Four: What sort of book would you most like to narrate next?

Pretty much anything! As long as the story is interesting and the characters are diverse, then I’ll be happy performing any story.


Question Three: What is your favorite thing about narrating audiobooks? What is your least favorite thing?

Becoming the characters. Telling the story. Unraveling it all for the listener. You see, before I even sit down and begin to record, I have to read the whole story first and take detailed notes. So I already know “who dunnit” before I begin to tell the tale. I feel like a little kid with a secret I just can’t wait to share.

 Least favorite thing?

Editing. Hours and hours of editing. People’s mouths are noisy, and I don’t mean in a speaking way. Pops, clicks, and smacks abound when we speak. The professional microphones narrators use pick them all up. And those noises have to be all edited out. Very time consuming.


Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to writers looking to work with an audiobook narrator?

Remember that the narrator you hire will be interpreting your work. So choose your narrator well. Sometimes the way the narrator performs a passage from your novel perfectly matches your image of it. Sometimes it will be a little different than your vision. And that is ok!  Micromanaging every single passage and tiny vocal inflection will actually take away from the narrator’s performance and not enhance it.

There are many excellent narrators out there. Choose someone who “gets” the majority of what you envision for your novel. And then sit back and let the narrator do his or her job.


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

Robert Kent. Why? Because he promised to buy me a beer. (Narrating is thirsty work.)

Okay, but I'll be buying lunch with money I made from your audiobooks:) --MGN



Friday, October 24, 2014

Book of the Week: LOVE AND OTHER UNKNOWN VARIABLES by Shannon Lee Alexander

WARNING: This week’s book is actually edgy YA and is filled with adult content. It's absolutely not appropriate for younger readers and adults should view it as the equivalent of an ‘R’ rated movie.

First Paragraph(s): Beginnings are tricky things. I’ve been staring at this blank page for forty-seven minutes. It is infinite with possibilities. Once I begin, they diminish.

Scientifically, I know beginnings don’t exist. The world is made of energy, which is neither created nor destroyed. Everything she is was here before me. Everything she was will always remain. 
Her existence touches both my past and my future at one point—infinity. 
Lifelines aren’t lines at all. They’re more like circles. 
It’s safe to start anywhere and the story will curve its way back to the starting point. Eventually.
In other words, it doesn’t matter where I begin. It doesn’t change the end.

Esteemed Reader, my heart is bursting with pride to tell you about this week's very special book, Love and Other Unknown Variables. This is a family book, by which I mean its author, Shannon Lee Alexanader, is a member of my writing family, The YA Cannibals. Therefore, as objective as my reviews never are anyway, this review will be even less objective than usual. You may as well ask me my opinion of one of my own books, which were critiqued at the same torture sessions as were the multiple iterations of this book--I liked it better back when it was distasteful and surprisingly violent erotica (kidding!).


I wrote that last line because I know Shannon is blushing pretty hard as she reads this, but she's cool enough to roll her eyes at yet another Rob-ism, usually followed by an even more off-color joke by author Mike Mullin that no one will laugh harder at than Julia Karr, Lisa Fipps, Josh Prokopy, Jody Sparks, or Virginia Vought. It's enough to make me want to write a third zombie story (probably going to happen) to think of Shannon's expression as I subject her to actually distasteful and surprisingly violent fiction (it's a big brother kind of thing).

Shannon is a woman of whom I imagine other women to be deeply envious. Her home is immaculate, her children are well-behaved and adorable (they once made zombie gingerbread men as a gift for "Mr. Rob"), her husband is handsome and charming (and puts on an amazing raw-chicken puppet show), and she's always well-dressed with perfect accessories. And despite being so perfect, she's extremely funny, volunteers most of her time to charities, is passionate about literature and local author events, knows Spider-man and his villains better than I do, and has an air hockey table in her basement (of that, I'm deeply envious). Shannon Lee Alexander is, in a way unlike anyone else I've ever known, the definition of cool.

It's a funny thing about my critique group, which Mrs. Ninja also refers to as my support group. We've been together years now. We send emails every Friday to hold each other accountable to our word counts, console each other during the never-ending stream of rejections, and celebrate when one of us finishes a book, lands an agent, or wins an award. Originally, we were just a group of neurotic workaholics suffering severe anxiety with an intense desire to one day be published. But we hung together, sharpened each other with our critiques, supported (enabled?) our writing habits, and now when we meet, I'm looking around not at a group of hopeful writers, but of successful authors.

Two weekends ago, I attended a signing and watched as a confident Shannon Lee Alexander addressed a crowd of eager readers, stacks of her book behind her. Little Ninja was just happy to see Aunt Shannon, unaware she'd made such an incredible transition to author, but I know how hard she worked to get there, and I was and am so proud to call Shannon my friend.

But this is supposed to be a review of the book, not the author, so let's get to it. First, let me say that John Green can now retire. He can maybe make some more YouTube videos or something, but Indiana now has a new YA novel about teens and cancer, and we've thrown out all our copies of The Fault In Our Stars:) Actually, I wouldn't even mention John Green if poor Shannon hadn't already been subject to a million don't-forget-to-be-awesome jokes, as the two books involving teens and cancer are very different stories and very different reading experiences (this book is better). 

Love and Other Unknown Variables is that book you just have to give to a friend along with a big box of tissues. Yes, the story involves a teenager with cancer, and yes, that is very sad, but that alone is not the reason to read this book and that's certainly not the reason you're going to need a box of tissues for this one. A teenager dying of a disease is not a story and a good book, this book, has more to it.

The first thing I think of when I think of Love and Other Unknown Variables is boners (more on that in a moment), but the second thing I think of is the characters. Charlie Hanson and Charlotte Finch are living, breathing people to me. I've been reading about them as well as Becca Hanson (my favorite character) and James and Gretta and Mrs. Dunwitty for years. I've seen them through multiple iterations as Shannon painstakingly crafted them and shaped them into fully realized characters that would be interesting in any story, even if no one had cancer. I happen to know there's a sorta sequel in the works and I'm so glad as these characters are too good to be limited to just one book.

Love and Other Unknown Variables is flat out drop-dead funny. I say to read it with a box of tissues, and you should, but Shannon adheres to the old Disney maxim of a tear for every laugh and a laugh for every tear. The first two thirds of this book are a laugh riot and I envy readers who get to enjoy Shannon's humor for the first time. She makes me laugh and this is a very fun book, despite also being serious.

Charlie Hanson, our main character, is a nerd. He dreams of going to MIT and becoming a great scientist and wearing a pocket protector for the rest of his life. He's all about logic and data and empirical evidence. There's no room in his worldview for an unkown variable, such as love. He's about to learn that questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as his heeeeaaaarrrt... (yep, it's a Coldplay thing)

Charlie's anal, scrubbed-down-and-disinfected, sterile view of life and love is the source for much of the book's comedy:

When an experiment’s results are unexpected, the scientist must go back and look at the methods to determine the point at which an error occurred. I’m pretty sure I’m the error in each failed attempt at getting a girl’s attention. Scientifically, I should have removed myself from the equation, but instead, I kept changing the girl.
Each experiment has led to similar conclusions. 

1. Subject: Sara Lewis, fifth grade,

Method: Hold her hand under the table during social studies,
Result: Punched in the thigh.

2. Subject: Cara Whetherby, fifth grade, second semester, 

Method: Yawn and extend arm over her shoulder during Honor Roll Movie Night,
Result: Elbowed in the gut.

3. Subject: Maria Castillo, sixth grade,

Method: Kiss her after exiting the bus, 
Result: Kneed in the balls.

Things are going as well as can be expected for Charlie Hanson when he reaches out to touch the neck tattoo of a beautiful girl named Charlotte Finch. To help this girl in her time of need, Charlie and his best friends are going to put their futures in 
jeopardy and risk everything they've worked for to pull off the biggest pranks in the history of the Brighton School of Mathematics and torture a poor English teacher to her breaking point; an English teacher also named Finch.

Although the story's main focus is Charlie's budding romantic relationship with Charlotte, I've always been more touched by Becca, Charlie's younger and even more akward sister, and her budding friendship with Charlotte:

Becca twists her brown hair around her index Finger as she carries on. “He didn’t listen, and because she’s new in school and doesn’t know about the whole me and people thing, Charlotte said 
she’d love to work with me.” Becca’s voice wavers a little. 
It’s not that people dislike Becca. Rather, people make Becca anxious, and the anxiety makes her build these impregnable walls around herself. It also causes babbling spells that make mere 
mortals cringe. I haven’t seen her this upset since the Harry Potter series came to an end.
She’s still rambling. “She said I should call her Charley instead of Charlotte, and I said, ‘No, because, my brother’s name is Charlie and it would be weird.’ And she said, ‘Okay.’ So, I’m just calling her  Charlotte.” Becca runs out of breath and stops.

In the end, this isn't a book about cancer, it's a book about hope. This is the story of lonely people finding friends and of how people can bring out the best in each other. It's the story of a boy finding something in himself more important than the pursuit of logic and learning that life doesn't fit into a nice data table. This is a story about love (and other unknown variables), and loss is just part of that love. Nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard:) Oh take me back to--no, I'll stop.

And that's it, except to talk about boners (just trying to keep the blog classy). Shannon has made an absolute impact on all my books to date, most notably those books with zombies in them. I like to think I made an impact on her work as well and the word zombie does appear twice in the published text, which could be a coincidence. Likewise, this sentence feels inspired by me, but I couldn't swear to it: James stands, his hands up like a ninja ready to kick the bee’s a**.

But one thing I know I had a hand in (ew) is the boner scene. Originally, this book, which features swearing and all other manner of adult content (not nearly enough violence, though) had no erections in it. I called bull on that version, and this is actually my biggest point to writers of YA fiction this post: a teenage boy's daily life is beset by erections. Morning wood, afternoon boners, and evening hard-ons--this is the daily routine of the average adolescent male. And no book about teenage boys is believable without some horny-ness.

In an early draft, Charlie met Charlotte, a girl so beautiful he just had to touch her neck back when they were strangers, in his hallway as he's just stepped out of the shower. I say to you it is impossible for a teen boy dressed in only a towel and confronted with his dream girl to not pop wood. Skipping a crucial detail like this would rob the story of authenticity.

I present to you the published version of that scene, sure to grow reader interest. You're welcome, world:

I peek at her again. She’s smiling this crooked smile with her full lips closed and hiked up to the left. I’d love to close the gap between us, just one step now, and kiss those lips. The thought hits me so hard that I begin to worry about the flimsiness of the towel currently hiding my growing interest in Charlotte Finch. 
Don’t mind me, Charlotte, just pitching my tent here in the hallway. You know the motto: thrifty, clean, brave, uh, I don’t know—I totally flunked out of Cub Scouts.

There are many benefits to being in a writer's critique group and yes, one of them is receiving notes on your own manuscripts. Whole sections of my books were rewritten at Shannon's suggestion in exchange for my one usable note of "add a boner, ha! ha!" But becoming so passionate about this scene's need for a boner informed my own writing because it helped me form the hard opinion (I just can't help myself) that books about teenage boys should have boners in them. The scenes in which Ricky and Michelle discuss sex despite being surrounded by zombies trying to kill them in All Together Now stemmed directly from discussions with the YA Cannibals about this scene.

In conclusion, all the awards and positive reviews for Love and Other Unknown Variables are due completely to my contribution:) I did it, it was all me, and Shannon was good enough to correct the spelling.

Nah. In conclusion, Shannon Lee Alexander is a brilliant writer and Love and Other Unknown Variables is an incredible debut novel I can't wait for you to read. If I could physically put a copy in your hands I would, but instead I'll just encourage you to head to the bookstore or library immediately and read this book. You'll be glad you did.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Love and Other Unknown Variables:

Her expression shifts, like Tony Stark slipping into his Iron Man mask. She shakes her arm free from my slack grip.

“This is my future.” I pick up the MIT catalogue. “This is who I am.”

“Some a** puppet on the front of a brochure?”

He winks at me, which is weird, and I hope never happens again. 


"Does her friend shoot lasers from her eyes like what's-his-face from the comic book you two are always talking about?"

“Cyclops!” James and I both shout. 

When most people think of explosions, they go for the Hollywood special effects version, with lots of noise and fire and people's limbs flying everywhere. In actuality, the silent ones are more devastating An exploding supernova can create enough radiation to outshine every star in a galaxy, but no sound. Greta’s fury unfolds like that


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, October 21, 2014

7 Questions For: Author Shannon Lee Alexander

Shannon Lee Alexander is a wife, mother of two, and furry dog owner. She's also a former middle school language arts teacher, book addict, and late bloomer. She only just figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. Her debut novel, Love and Other Unknown Variables, released this year to critical acclaim.

Shannon is a member of the YA Cannibals, and Indianapolis based critique group/secret society with authors Mike Mullin, Jody Sparks, Julia Karr, Lisa Fipps, Josh Prokopy, Virginia Vought, and Robert Kent (that's me!). Shannon is thanked in the back of all my books and I'm as excited about her debut novel as I was about my own. 

And now Shannon Lee Alexander faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?


This is a hateful question. Why do you hate me, Middle-grade Ninja? Why!
I’ll go with 1) To Kill a Mockingbird, 2) the Harry Potter Series, and 3) I hate you for making me choose my favorite child!
Okay, for my third book, I choose Where the Red Fern Grows. It was the first book I remember bawling over, and I mean the clutching the book to my chest, snot running down my face, eyes all hot and squinty kind of crying. I remember thinking, Whoa! It’s words on a page. Why am I such a mess? It was the first time I truly understood the power of story.



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


I’m a mother of two busy school-aged kiddos, so my time is divided between my family and my writing. Most days I don’t feel like I have enough time for both. To assuage my guilt over simultaneously being a slacker mom and an idle writer, I read. I’d say I do a lot of reading each week. 


Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?
My path to publication began years ago in a chemo lab. My friend Emily, the bravest woman I know, made jokes as a nurse in full HAZMAT gear came at her with a bag of toxic chemicals intended to kill the cancer Em had. At that moment, I realized my fears of failing were just about the silliest things ever. That was the moment I decided to be a writer.
It took years after Emily’s death for me to perfect the manuscript for Love and Other Unknown Variables. Years. My writing group, the YA Cannibals, was instrumental in helping me carve out the heart of my story and tell it with as much honesty and bravery as I could muster.
I queried agents and in July of 2013, I spoke on the phone with Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. I knew I’d found the person who was meant to represent my story from our first conversation. She is smart, passionate, compelling, and easy to talk to. I’ve loved every minute of working with Jessica.
Together, we did more revisions and submitted the manuscript to publishers. Within weeks, we heard from Heather Howland at Entangled Publishing. Once again, as soon as I spoke to Heather, I was thrilled to have found another amazing advocate for my story.
I adore being an Entangled author. Liz Pelletier, Stacy Abrams, and the rest of the team are all simply amazing. And the other authors are a wonderful community of support and encouragement for a debut author like me.
The entire journey from the hospital to publication has taken over six years. Most of those were spent trying out my courage and learning my craft. Since entrusting it to Jessica and then Heather, it has taken a year and a half from query to bookshelves. Love and Other Unknown Variables has been a (long) labor of great love and I hope it can inspire hope and courage in readers.



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


I’ve never considered this before. If a writer is born, I suppose they are born from a love of reading. At least, I think I was. I’ve always loved books and stories, and for me characters in those stories have always leapt off the pages to become a part of my life. I carry them with me everywhere, imagining them in new situations, hearing snippets of conversations, or trying to figure out how they might react in whatever surrounding I happen to be in.
I didn’t take many writing classes, but I’ve spent a lifetime reading anything I could get my hands on and paying attention to what I like and why I like it. And I’ve always sought out honest critiques of my own work. I learn a lot from my mistakes. A. Lot. 


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


My favorite thing is writing. My least favorite thing is writing.
It depends on the moment, really. I’ve either got the best job in the world or the worst!
Also, I like having an excuse for my coffee and candy habits.



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)


Find a great critique group. Writing is personal and while we know our stories are flawed, we can’t always figure out exactly how or why. I know without a doubt that the YA Cannibals will tell me EXACTLY how or why something in a story isn’t working.
Also, remember why you write. I hope it’s because you love it—because you can’t not write.



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


There are so many writers today that I would love to have lunch with, but I’m going to pick a reclusive one simply because I’m afraid I’ll say something dumb at lunch and if the author is reclusive, there’s less chance of me running into her on the street somewhere.

I’d like to have lunch with Harper Lee. I’d like to hear more stories from her childhood and ask her about what happens to Jem, Scout, and Dill in the years after Tom Robinson’s trial. And I’d want to thank her, for sharing Atticus Finch with us, and for defining courage so beautifully.

“You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird