April 12, 2016

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Laura's Bookshelf: PAPER WISHES

Happy Poetry Friday. We are Broadway bound this week!

The *STAR*
of this week's Poetry Friday production
is Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

One of the best parts about being a debut novelist has been connecting with other children's and YA authors in the class of 2016. We’ve had a great time sharing each other’s Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARCs). Among my favorite books so far is the historical middle grade novel PAPER WISHES, by Lois Sepahban.

PAPER WISHES is available for pre-order.
“What does a historical middle grade novel have to do with Broadway?” you may ask. I shall reveal all.
I read Lois’s book in September. It is the story of Manami, whose family is forced to relocate to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Manami focuses much of her grief on the loss of her dog, Yujiin, whom she feels guilty about leaving behind. The dusty camp and prison-like living conditions physically and psychologically cause Manami to stop speaking. 
I found this character’s spare first-person voice to be poetic and deeply moving -- her halting inner monologue reflects Manami’s reluctance to speak out loud about her pain and fears. PAPER WISHES is a beautiful book about a dark period in American history.
Not long after I finished PAPER WISHES, my friend and fellow musical theater lover Timanda Wertz and I had tickets to see a new musical in New York City. ALLEGIANCE is about ... a Japanese American family that is relocated to a World War II era internment camp. 
I have been following this show’s journey to Broadway for several years. It is the creative brainchild of actor George Takei, whose family was relocated to an internment camp when he was five. (Read about it in this NY Times article.) Takei is one of the stars of the show.
What serendipity to have Lois' wonderful book fresh in my mind when Timanda and I went to see this play. I nearly flipped out: the first big number is about writing wishes on slips of paper and releasing them into the wind! There were so many echoes between Manami’s story and this big Broadway musical: the connection to family, people making gardens and growing their own food in the camps, and how baseball became an outlet for young people there.
We had a great trip to New York, I finally met my editor and, for the first time in my life, I waited outside the backstage door for autographs.

PAPER WISHES is available in January. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:
A moving debut novel about a girl whose family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II--and the dog she has to leave behind.
Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family's life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It's 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn't until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family. 
PAPER WISHES is a middle grade novel, appropriate for third grade through middle school. Younger children may enjoy it as a read aloud. Either way, be prepared to answer a lot of questions.
In this time, when our country is debating the definition of citizenship and whether we have enough empathy for war victims to provide them refuge, PAPER WISHES is an important book to read with children.
Who will like it?
  • History buffs.
  • Readers who are interested in (or living) bi-cultural or first generation experiences.
  • Kids who will recognize the strong bond Manami has with her grandfather.
  • Groups who want a safe platform for discussing a complicated moral issue like xenophobia.

What will readers learn about?
  • What it was like to live in a Japanese internment camp. 
  • How to cope with loss, grief, and racism.
  • Hope is possible, even in the most difficult circumstances.

The poem I'm pairing with PAPER WISHES isn’t officially a poem. Instead, here are the opening lines from the song “Gaman,” which is featured in ALLEGIANCE.

“Gaman” from Allegiance
Words and Music by Jay Kuo

Gaman is a word to be spoken and heard
In this place where each face tells a story of pain.
Gaman we must say as we get through each day
We will bear any nightmare with a simple refrain.
Gaman. Gaman. Sturdy and sure. Keep faith and endure.
Gaman. Gaman. Hold your head high. Carry on. Gaman.

Learn more about the Japanese word “Gaman,” and listen to amazing Lea Salonga singing the song (<3 and="" has="" history.="" in="" insights="" into="" lea="" moment="" musical="" nbsp="" o:p="" salonga="" she="" some="" the="" this="" u.s.="" video.="" wonderful="">

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Craft Talk with Author Lee Gjertsen Malone

I have a confession to make. I am addicted to craft books.

Not the kind with knitting patterns, beading advice, or recipes for adorable cupcakes that look like space aliens (though I do have those).

I'm talking about books about the craft of writing.

These are just a few of my books
about the craft of writing.
Debut middle grade author Lee Gjertsen Malone is stopping by today to give us a pep talk. Sometimes the best advice for authors and NaNovelists is to stop worrying about how to write and just write. That's the moment when our characters, instead of our self-help books, guide us through a draft.

Let's welcome Lee Gjertsen Malone to Author Amok.

Lee Gjertsen Malone is the author of
debuting on February 23, 2016.
“I’m bored,” Francesca said, for what seemed like the tenth time today.

I was jogging along side the two of them, barely able to match their steps. “What’s going? I don’t understand any of this!” I squeaked out, struggling to keep up.

“This is all moving so fast,” Bartholomew whispered, his hands in her hair. “We just met yesterday.”

Many authors find themselves writing this kind of dialogue all the time in first drafts. But sometimes writers need to stop and listen to what our characters saying.

Not to each other – but to us.

I’m a firm believer that we all have a subconscious writer, a little muse (or nag, depending on your point of view) helping us as we grapple with the many facets of writing a novel – the characters, the plot, the voice. And sometimes that muse tells us things we need to hear through our own invented people. I was reminded of this recently while mentoring in this fall's Pitch Wars contest, and I think it’s worthwhile for many writers to consider.

Because let’s face it. If your character thinks the story is boring....or confusing...or moving too fast...what will your readers think?

Sometimes, it’s true, characters need to express certain emotions like frustration or confusion as part of the plot. This kind of dialogue can allow a more knowledgeable character explain what’s going on, or provide needed character depth. For example, a character who is easily frustrated by simple situations could be very compelling in the right story.

But all too often, these bits and pieces of dialogue are telling us what we don’t want to hear – that the romance is actually moving too fast. That our story has become confusing, or repetitive. Or, because the plot demands it, some of the characters are behaving in a way counter to their own personalities.

So looking at dialogue this way during the revision process can be a good method for finding some of the flaws in your work -- especially if you are the sort of writer who is reluctant to listen to critique partners who might be saying the same things.

I generally think reading dialogue out loud is a great way to see how it works for your story, and looking for these kinds of problems is another way you can improve both your dialogue and your plot. If you find can places where what your characters are saying feels more like a commentary on the story itself, then you have an opportunity to solve those problems and avoid some of the tropes that so often torpedo our work, like sagging middles, insta-romances, and plot points that get buried in blur of action.

So, what are your characters you?

Find out more about Lee's debut
novel on Goodreads.
Lee Gjertsen Malone is the author of the upcoming middle grade  novel THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S. As a journalist she’s written about everything from wedding planning to the banking crisis to how to build your own homemade camera satellite. Her interests include amateur cheesemaking, traveling, associating with animals, shushing people in movie theaters, kickboxing, and blinking very rapidly for no reason. She lives in Cambridge, Mass. with her husband, daughter, and a rotating cast of pets.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Poetry Friday Special Guest: Caroline Starr Rose

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone. It's been raining here in Maryland, and I'm thinking of the poem "November for Beginners" by Rita Dove.

We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give...

We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.

This week's Poetry Friday host is Bridget
at Wee Words for Wee Ones.
You'll find a feast of poetry posts there
We are preparing to "sit down in the smell of the past" at my house. It's less than two weeks until Thanksgiving, when we'll gather together for turkey and treats. The biggest treat of all? Our son is coming home from college for a short visit.

This is the time of year when elementary schoolers engage with the past, often learning about Thanksgiving's roots in the history of the United States. The focus is often on Plymouth Colony. But there were other early colonies that deserve our attention and study as well.

Today, guest blogger and verse novelist Caroline Starr Rose is here to tell us more about one of the earliest English colonies in America, at Roanoke Island.

That historical story is the subject of Caroline's most recent novel-in-verse, BLUE BIRDS.

Find out more about the book
on Caroline's website.

It’s that time of year when thoughts turn toward Pilgrims and Plymouth and America’s beginnings (at least as far as the English go). Most of us remember learning in school that Plymouth wasn’t America’s first English colony. That was Jamestown, established thirteen years earlier in 1607.

But not as many of us recall that twenty years before Jamestown, another English settlement tried to take root and failed. This colony, a collection of 117 men, women, and children, started on Roanoke island, 150 miles southeast of Jamestown. All we know about the colony and its inhabitants took place over a five-week period in the summer of 1587.

The colonists had been promised land in the Chesapeake Bay, perhaps not far from the place that eventually became Jamestown. But throughout the voyage, their leader, Governor John White, fought constantly with ship captain Simon Ferdinando. By the time they arrived in Virginia, Ferdinando was done. He left the colonists at Roanoke, refusing to take them any farther.

This and other drawings
from Roanoke Island
by John White can be viewed
at First Colony Foundation.
This was not the first time the English had visited Roanoke. Explorers had come to the island in 1584, and interactions with the Native population had been positive. But by the time the colonists arrived in 1587, the English were no longer welcome. Those intervening years included the burning of a Native village because of a missing silver cup, the Roanoke’s growing frustration as English soldiers who’d built a fort on their island insisted the tribe provide for them, and English diseases that decimated many of the Native peoples. Then escalating mistrust between the Roanoke and English led to English leader Ralph Lane’s pre-emptive attack on the tribe, killing Wingina, the Roanoke chief. When, days later, the English left, they knew there was no chance at reconciliation.

When the colonists arrived, the stage was set for tragedy, and tragic things happened on both sides. I wanted to show this historical truth in my verse novel, Blue Birds, but I also wanted to breathe into the history my own version of hope: Two imaginary girls destined to be enemies choosing friendship instead.

Alis, who is English, and Kimi, who is Roanoke, face many barriers to their friendship, the first being their own perceptions of each other. Both see the other as foreign, inferior, and strange. Kimi, who has lost family members at the hands of the English, understandably is angry. When an Englishman is killed one week after their arrival, Alis understandably is scared. Yet both girls are curious — Kimi about the English women and children that have come to Roanoke this time, Alis about her new surroundings, including the Roanoke girl.

The girls move from seeing the other as an oddity to understanding the humanity they share.

Soon both girls make excuses to leave their homes so they might meet each other. The closer their bond grows, the more risks they are willing to take. While the adults around them rage, these children find a common ground.

This poem, told in both girls’ voices, illustrates just that:

Alis                                  Kimi

This must
remain secret.

My people
would not understand.

We share
no language.

She does not
know our ways.

Because of her tribe,
we live in fear.
The English
tried to destroy us.

Yet she’s shown
me kindness.

She knows

She is Kimi,
a Roanoke Indian,

an English girl.

She has

my friend.

While Blue Birds is rooted in fact, I’ve used my imagination to fill in the blanks. I hope readers will finish the book interested in learning more about Roanoke, England’s very first New World colony. But I hope even more that Alis and Kimi’s bravery might encourage all of us to discover the commonalities we share with those who feel different from ourselves.

Caroline Starr Rose is the author
of the verse novels
Thank you so much for this lovely post, Caroline. Alis and Kimi's friendship is timeless, but fraught with tension because of the time and place where they meet.

For those of you who are interested in the history behind BLUE BIRDS, there have been recent archaeological developments in the search for the Roanoke settlement. Check out this New York Times article from August.

REMINDER to Poetry Friday bloggers: 

Spaces are limited for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE book vine. If you’d like a chance to meet Ms. Hill’s fifth grade poets before they debut, read more about it here or sign up now! I’m sending the Advanced Reader’s Copy out on Poetry Friday tour soon.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Laura's Bookshelf: THE GIRL WHO FELL

Happy Poetry Friday. I've got a terrific YA novel and poem pairing to share with you this week.

Katya at Write. Sketch Repeat. is hosting
this week's Poetry Friday link up.
One of the best parts about being a debut novelist has been connecting with other children's authors in the class of 2016.

I loved THE GIRL WHO FELL by S.M. Parker. It’s contemporary YA about Zephyr, a star field hockey player who has her life together and her college plans in place, until she meets a boy. At first, it’s all racing heart beats and cute kissing at the playground after dark, but over time Alec goes from needy, to possessive and manipulative, to full on abusive stalker.

I have to admit that this book was difficult to read because of my own history. When I was in high school, an ex-boyfriend stalked me for several months. You can read about it here (scroll down to the UPDATE). 

I had to take it slow – a chapter or a few pages at a time. There were many times when I wrote Zephyr a note in the book: “No, Zee!” and “Wake up, Zephyr!” I was so invested in her character and in Zephyr finding her way back to herself.

Pre-order from your local indie bookstore
via Indiebound.
This contemporary YA launches on March 1, 2016. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

His obsession.
Her fall.

In this dark kissing book, high school senior Zephyr Doyle is swept off her feet—and into an intense relationship—by the new boy in school.

Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College.

But love has a way of changing things.

Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control.

Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and…terrifying?

But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed.

So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life.

If she waits any longer, it may be too late.

THE GIRL WHO FELL is appropriate for high schoolers and up.

Who will like it?
  • ·         Teens who like edgy romance.
  • ·         Athletes and kids who struggle to balance social life with commitments.
  • ·         Readers who love first person narrators.
What will readers learn about?
  • ·         Abuse is complicated. A victim can feel attracted to, and have a healthy sex life with, an abuser.
  • ·         Indicators that someone has the potential to be abusive or controlling, e.g. forbidding you to spend time with other friends and family.
  • ·         Especially for teens, the importance of putting your own needs first, before those of your romantic partner.
The poem I'm pairing with THE GIRL WHO FELL was published in Little Patuxent Review (the literary journal for which I edit poetry) earlier this year. It’s by Maryland poet and educator Rachel Eisler.

If I were Zephyr’s teacher, this is the poem I would hand to her, to remind her how strong she is as an athlete and as a young woman.

I shared the poem with Shannon Parker, who said, “I love how this turns objectification on its head and makes women have all the power.”

It’s Lovely to Watch Young Women
By Rachel Eisler

It’s lovely to watch young women
elbow opponents as they strive
in each others’ shining faces to make the shot.
They pound down the boards,
dribbling and swiveling, seek allies,
in the frantic five.

It’s lovely to watch young women,
so passionate and cool,
as the fouls squeak silent, the lines fade
into screens, fake-outs, and passes
to move and seize the ball.

Their pure ferocity
the urge to wrest
something from someone
because you want it more
right then and you
better best them.

Someday, it may get old or tame
headlong lose or wild win,
both such cool water to a woman
parched by politeness,
hungry for this fight.

Rachel Eisler teaches Upper School English at Garrison Forest School, working closely with colleagues in Grades Six through Twelve. She received her B.A. in English from Yale College and her M.A. in Poetry from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.  Before joining the GFS faculty in 2010, she taught at The National Cathedral School, The Bryn Mawr School, The Writing Seminars, and The University of Baltimore. Her poems have been featured on WYPR’s The Signal, and have appeared in The Baltimore SunThe New York Times, and The Urbanite.  Her first chapbook of poems was published in fall 2009. 

Thanks to Shannon and Rachel for their contributions to this post.

REMINDER to Poetry Friday bloggers: 

I still have a few spaces left for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE book vine. If you’d like a chance to meet Ms. Hill’s fifth grade poets before they debut, read more about it here or sign up now! I’m sending the Advanced Reader’s Copy out on Poetry Friday tour soon.