Thursday, September 27, 2012

Buttoning Down: Interview with Anne Ylvisaker

Writing brings people and worlds to life that never would exist if someone hadn't written them down. This, I think, is my favorite part of writing--the endless possibilities. Today, author Anne Ylvisaker shares some of her thoughts on writing and other things. And . . . Anne's last name is pronounced: ILL-vi(as in victory)-soccer(just like the sport). My questions are in blue, her responses are in black.

Me: I always love asking this (for authors who write for kids): Why have you chosen to write for kids?

Anne: I don’t think I consciously chose to write for kids so much as I found my voice when I discovered Isabelle, Harold, Tugs, and Ned, characters who happened to be children. Childhood is fascinating. The daily life of a child is intense and in the moment. There is a bottomless well of emotion and growth to explore.

Me: Oh! I love that writing for kids chose you! What did your path to publication look like?

Anne: I feel very lucky to have made a match with Candlewick Press through an SCBWI conference. While I was working on Dear Papa, my name was drawn in a lottery for one of eight individual meetings with an editor. I was paired with a Candlewick editor who was very encouraging and suggested I submit the completed manuscript. I experienced plenty of rejection before and during that year as well, with Dear Papa and earlier projects, but ultimately, thanks to that conference and editorial meeting, I found my home at Candlewick.

Me: Rejections and writing seem to go hand in hand. That's encouraging (in a weird way) for writers like me who are finding their way. What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Anne: The match-making! Thesaurus is one of my favorite Billy Collins poems. The last stanza goes like this:

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.

I love those moments when a unexpectedly perfect word match is made, when a whole sentence erupts that articulates precisely what I want to say, the sensation I want the reader to feel, a sentence that makes a character come alive. And then when the words keep volleying...those are the moments that keep me working.

Me: That's such an interesting way to think of writing--as word match-making. What part of the writing process is hardest or most frustrating for you?

Anne: The constant decision making is a challenge for me. Every sentence written is a choice made about character, plot, tone. Everything a character says or does shapes them. Every action sets in motion every following action. Once I am well underway it gets easier, but at the outset of a story particularly, I find myself saying but what if, or what if a lot. When I leave the page for the day I am decisioned out. I’m worthless at the grocery store after writing. Wheat or multigrain? Strawberries or raspberries? Vanilla or chocolate? At least that one’s easy. Chocolate.

 Me: "Every sentence written is a choice made . . ." Powerful, Anne. Do you have a habit or ritual while writing?

Anne: I really don’t have any writing rituals. If anything, I guess I spend a lot of time looking out the window while I write. It’s a bit like playing the piano. If I look at my hands while I play I stumble all over the place. I suppose it has to do with letting go of the mechanical part of my brain and letting the wandering part take over. Now that I think about it, I spend a lot of time gazing out the window before writing, too. And taking thinking walks. Anything that allows me to slide away from daily life concerns and into my imagination.

Me: Window gazing and thinking walks. I do both of those while writing too! What is the best writing advice you have or have been given?

Anne: Read. When I met my late mentor and friend Judy Delton, she overwhelmed me with reading assignments. She’d think of something late at night and call me to say, listen to this! Read this! She encouraged me to read a wide variety of authors and poets and subscribe to several literary periodicals. Reading good writing does for the act of writing what following the path of a trail groomer does for a cross country skier. The more I read, the better I glide. 

Me: That's great advice. I wish I could have met your friend Judy. And just because I'm curious, are you a dog or a cat person?

Anne: We have cats, but I like dogs, too. I fall in love with certain animals because of their personality, whether they are cats or dogs. LeRoy, the dog in Little Klein, is the dog I would love to have because he is takes so seriously his role in the family. Leopold, the cat in The Luck of the Buttons and Button Down is a lot like our cat Perot, a regal wanderer, with a dash of the mischievous nature of our cat Leo.

Each writing path is so unique. Thank you for sharing yours, Anne. And if you haven't already, enter the giveaway for an ARC of Anne's just-released Button Down. Simply comment on the post below.   

Monday, September 24, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Button Down (with ARC giveaway!)

To begin, I need to announce the winner of last week's giveaway, an ARC of The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck. That lucky person is . . .

Yay! Email your mailing address to barbarawatson94 (at) gmail (dot) com so I can get this treasure (wink, wink) to you.

And for today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday . . .

Button Down by Anne Ylvisaker continues the adventures of the down-home Button family of Goodhue, Iowa (but in a stand-alone book way). Set in the late 1920's, these stories--the first being The Luck of the Buttons and featured here--are beautifully written, full of times past but also completely relating to readers today, and simply . . . FUN! Anne sent me an ARC of Button Down (it officially released on September 25!) which I'd like to pass on to one of you. Stay tuned for giveaway details at the end of this post.

The premise: Scrawny Ned Button wins local football hero Lester Ward's football right before Lester heads off to the University of Iowa to play football for the Hawkeyes. But Lester's younger, bully-like brother wants to keep Ned and his friends from playing with or enjoying his brother's prize football. Ned's Granddaddy Ike, although old and growing older, is determined to help--with more than just football.

What keeps readers reading: Cheering for the boy who can't ever seem to win. In pitch perfect middle grade voice, Anne Ylvisaker gives readers a boy (and a grandpa!) who deserve more than our cheers. They deserve our admiration.

What I loved: The way readers are led into the story. We care for the characters, especially Ned and Granddaddy Ike, and we feel what they feel. Anne shows family at its best . . . and also at its most vulnerable. Because I never want to spill too much and ruin the joy of discovery, you'll simply have to read this book yourself and see where it takes Ned and Granddaddy Ike.

To enter the drawing for my ARC of Button Down, just comment on this post by Sunday, September 30, 2012, by 8pm CDT. Blog followers will be entered twice! U.S. mailing addresses only, please. And return this Thursday for an interview with Anne!

For more middle grade reading recommendations, follow the links at Shannon Messenger's blog.
Happy middle grade reading!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Tracing Stars

Over the summer I heard about Tracing Stars by Erin E. Moulton on several Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts and knew it was the kind of book I HAD to read. And then . . . I was fortunate enough to win an ARC from Literary Rambles. But . . . when I received the copy I'd won (a gift from Erin Moulton, who provided the giveaway), it wasn't an ARC at all. It was a beautiful, shiny-new, and signed hardcover! What a delightful surprise.

The premise: Indie Lee Chickory has a pet lobster named Monty and a sister named Bebe--both of whom she loves very much. But when Indie accidentally brings Monty to school, bad things happen with both Monty and Bebe, and Indie must set things right. She has a lot of help from a new kid, Owen, who no one seems to like. And with that, Indie's problems grow bigger.

What keeps readers reading: Indie. As she tries to balance one life with her sister and another part of herself with her new friend Owen, readers will identify with the struggle to do what's right vs. what's popular, what you want vs. what you should. It's something that hits at the heart of all people at any stage of life.

What I loved: Indie. :-) Yes, again. She's such a stand-out character. She's genuine, conflicted, and trying to do what she thinks she should. And even though she's a girl, both boy and girl readers will see themselves in her.

If I were nicer, I would offer my hardcover as a giveaway. But I adore hardcovers. Especially hardcovers of books I adore. So I'm keeping this one. But please find a copy, or better yet, buy your own hardcover, and read Tracing Stars!

For more middle grade recommendations, visit the links at
Shannon Messenger's blog. 
Happy middle grade reading!