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!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Find a Way

Here is a tree. With an atypical trunk. When it was a baby tree, it split off into branches at it's base rather than growing skyward, tall and lean with a single trunk. But it found a way--a different way to reach the sky. And today, it stands, stately and proud, as tall as any other tree in the wood.

Trees have stories, I think, deep inside themselves. And if we listen, we'll hear those stories. This tree tells me that I, too, can find a way. Every day. Find a way to write even though I teach and mom and freelance edit and do laundry and . . . (ugh) . . . cook.

And I can find a way to hope. Every day. Hope that one day my writing will reach the sky.

What do you need to find a way to do?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck (with ARC giveaway!)

This fun middle grade mystery, The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie, releases on September 25th, but I was lucky enough to snag an advance reading copy (a gift from Natalie Aguirre over at Literary Rambles) and figured the best thing I can do with it, after having read it of course, is share it with one of you. Details on the giveaway are at the end of this post. 

The premise: Tuckernuck Hall's treasure has been hidden for eighty years. The school's founder, Maria Tutweiler, first set students on the adventure, but no one has ever located it. When Laurie Madison and Bud Wallace begin sixth grade at Tuckernuck, they are on the road to finding what has never been found. But with the school board threatening to close down the school, time is running out. 

What keeps reader reading: The adventure and mystery! Questions such as: Is there really a treasure? What's the school board's hurry in shutting down the school? And . . . if the treasure is real, what is it and can it save Tuckernuck? These questions and more keep readers turning the pages. 

What I loved: The unlikely alliance between Laurie and Bud. Their search becomes more than just a search for treasure. It helps them work through other areas in their lives -- things like Laurie's friendships changing as she grows up and Bud dealing with his mother's death. These huge things in their lives are aided by Laurie and Bud's common goal of finding Tuckernuck's treasure.

To enter the drawing for my ARC of The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck simply comment on this post by Sunday, September 23, 2012 by 8pm CDT. If you're a blog follower, your name goes in the drawing twice! U.S. mailing addresses only, please.

For more middle grade reading recommendations, visit the links found on Shannon Messenger's blog.

Happy middle grade reading!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Kindness Project: Opinions

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts.

". . . when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole." I love that phrase in The Kindness Project's mission statement. Because if we only act kind and do kind and are kind when we feel kind, what does that really mean anyway?

Not much if you ask me.

But then, you didn't ask me, did you? You didn't say you wanted my opinion, but I gave it to you anyway. We do that often--give our opinions when they aren't asked for, I mean. If we all kept track for a day, maybe even for a week, of the times we give an opinion--an unsolicited opinion--just how many opinions that no one asked for are we giving out? My guess is . . . LOTS. More than too many.

I've been thinking about this lately, and I've concluded that most of the time, people don't want my opinion. They simply want me to listen. So I've been working on it--keeping my opinions to myself unless specifically asked for one, that is.

And I've been listening more.

And listening better.

I say I'm working on it. Meaning I don't always succeed. With time, I won't have to work so hard on it; it will become part of who I am.

Visit others posting with The Kindness Project this month:
Next month, The Kindness Project launches a group blog. Details forthcoming.

Be searching for what kind of kindness you can spread.

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! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group: My First Post

After spotting the Insecure Writer's Support Group in the blogosphere over the summer, I thought, "What writer doesn't need that?" It doesn't matter if you're a published writer, an agented writer seeking publication, or a beginner on the writing journey because ALL writers suffer through the "what if my writing really sucks?" blues. Sometimes on a daily basis.

So displaying writing insecurities once a month sounds perfect to me. If you'd like to join, just grab the button and sign up here. Share whatever you're feeling insecure about, struggling with, or questioning in your writing. And other writers and friends will show up and strengthen your resolve to keep plugging. The Insecure Writer's Support Group 'meets' the first Wednesday of each month.

This month my insecurity lies in a BIG and overwhelming concept.

I have a middle grade manuscript that I love. It's not my first manuscript. In fact, it's my third. And I love, love, LOVE this story. The way I feel about it is much different than I did my first two stories. So much so that I wish the English language, like Greek, had variations of the word love so I could properly communicate what form of love I have for this story. Because it would fall somewhere close to agape.

But what if no one ever loves this story the way I do?

That's a daunting thought. And one I'm struggling with right now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gearing Up to Get an Agent

I'm VERY excited to be part of Gearing Up to Get an Agent! Also known as GUTGAA. On Twitter, just use the acronym with a hashtag. You can find details about the whole thing at Deana Barnhart's blog -- things like the schedule and the participaters. Today is introduction day, so I'm following the questions suggested by Deana. Here we go . . .

Where do you write?
On my laptop, which I don't actually use as a laptop because I sit at my desk when I write.

Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down, and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
The staircase climbing to the second story of my home. Much more interesting would be looking to my right. My beautiful book hutch, filled with my very favorite books, sits there.

Favorite time to write?
Late afternoon with a break for supper and then into the early evening. I'm not sure it's my favorite time for writing; it's just what works.

Drink of choice while writing?
I'm not allowed to have beverages anywhere near my computer (self-made and self-enforced rule). Things around me have a tendency to spill, and my computer doesn't enjoy being wet or sticky, so I take water breaks in the kitchen followed by a handful of dark chocolate M&Ms. Coffee, however, is never a drink of my choice, and this seems to break many a writerly rule.

When writing, do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
Music distracts me, but neither is it completely silent when I write. My husband is often watching football or other sports while working on his teacherly stuff (my desk is located in a space open to our main living area), my kids are hustling about, and there is general hubbub.

What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
The middle grade novel Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. Its mystery, voice, characters, and small town setting hit hard at my heart. I wanted to write a book that would hit readers the same way.

What's your most valuable writing tip?
Just keep writing. If you have stories living inside you, they won't come out until you write them. They might really stink at first, but with time (and revision!), writing improves. Who will tell your stories if you don't?