Follow book people, enter to win Kindle

I Am a Reader Kindle Fire giveawayI love book bloggers. They have the most interesting stuff. And one of my favorites, I Am a Reader, is giving away a Kindle Fire HDX!

Even better, if you already have a Kindle — lucky you — you can enter to win a $229 Amazon gift card or $229 in Paypal cash.

But the prizes don’t stop there. There are loads of opportunities to enter to win, and for all of them, you just have to follow a fellow book person, a book blogger or awesome author.

It’s a win win win.

The giveaway runs through the whole of April. Enter at I Am a Reader today!


Upcoming Book Alert: Hidden by Megg Jensen

Hidden Book Blitz

While I’m still a huge fan of traditional publishing, I’m also all for the opportunities that are now available for those who want to go it alone. And as an editor, I’m impressed and admire those indie authors who go the extra mile to make their books professional.

Megg Jensen

Megg Jensen

Megg Jensen is one such author, which is why I’m happy and excited to talk about her new book, which is coming out in January.

Megg writes young adult fantasy, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you should check out her Cloud Prophet Trilogy. Anathema, the first book in the series, is great fun.

Her latest book, HIDDEN, is the first in the Dragonlands series. Here’s the synopsis:

HiddenThe mystery enshrouding Hutton’s Bridge is as impenetrable as the fog that descended at its borders eighty years ago. Each year, three villagers enter the mist searching for answers. No one ever returns.

Then a dragon falls from the sky to the town square, dead—the first glimpse of an outside world that has become nothing more than a fairy tale to Hutton’s Bridge. Except to Tressa.

Tressa grew up with Granna’s stories of the days before the fog fell. When Granna dies, leaving Tressa without any family, Tressa ventures into the fog herself, vowing to unravel the foul magic holding Hutton’s Bridge captive.

What she discovers beyond the fog endangers the lives of everyone she loves.

Sounds fun, huh?

If you want to win an eARC of Hidden and a swag pack, leave a comment on this post and one lucky reader will be chosen randomly. Add the book on Goodreads and tell me about it below for more chances to win. The winner will be decided on Dec. 13 and prizes will be sent out after Dec. 20.

Here’s where you’ll be able to find the book once it’s available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iBooks.

And catch up with Megg here: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads and on the web.

2013 Debut Author Bash: Claire M Caterer

Debut Authors Bash at There’s nothing more inspiring than debut authors, which is why I’m thrilled to be part of the 2013 Debut Author Bash, organized by YA Reads. Today I’ve got a wonderful guest post by Claire M. Caterer, whose debut book is the middle-grade adventure The Key & the Flame, published by Simon & Schuster imprint Margaret K. McElderry Books.

And Claire’s giving away a signed copy of the hardcover book. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered. One commenter will be randomly selected on Oct. 8.

Here’s the synopsis of The Key & the Flame, which is an American Booksellers for Children New Voices pick:

An ancient key grants three children passage to an amazing world where a ruthless king seeks to obliterate magic forever. If 11-year-old Holly can unlock the magic within herself, she just might find a way to get them all home—unless the king finds her first. The Key & the Flame is the first in a five-part fantasy adventure series for ages 8 and up.

Sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to read it.

Now I’ll turn it over to Claire, who’ll tell us: “What I Learned From My Debut Year.”

Claire M Caterer

Claire M Caterer

It was nearly two years ago that I got that wonderful, heart-stopping Call (“Guess what?! Someone wants to publish your book!”). And I’m nearing the end of the Year in Which I Was Published, when I finally got to hold a hardbound copy of The Key & the Flame in my very own hands (and yes, wept just a little). So what have I learned? Plenty. But I’ll limit it to Seven Very Important Things.

1. Structure Your Writing Time.

In my happy-go-lucky, pre-publication writing days, I wrote whenever I felt like it. I worked at home, so I could structure my own time. I tried to write for the first two hours of the workday, when I was at my most creative. But I thought that being flexible meant that I could chat on the phone instead of write, or do the laundry instead of write, or walk the dog instead of write.


Getting a publication contract meant that other people depended on my keeping a consistent working schedule. That meant—means—that voicemail handles the telephone. The laundry piles up. I walk the dog early in the morning. During my writing time, I write.

2. Make Time for Promotional Stuff.

Another good reason for writing first thing in the morning: It isn’t my only job. Promotional tasks took a lot more time this past year than I thought they would—on average, one to two hours a day. You all know that writers are responsible for that stuff, right? Stuff like:

  • blog posts and interviews
  • Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads updates
  • designing promotional items like bookmarks, stickers, author bookplates, signage
  • planning a book launch
  • setting up author events and presentations, including school visits

Make time for them. You will need it.

The Key & the Flame3. Be Patient. Really Patient.

Book publishing is a sloooowww process. Slothlike, in fact. You think it’s not moving, but oh! It just blinked an eyelid. Hang on, it might do something else after a month or two.

The steps toward publication seem to take forever: finalizing the contract (4 months), finishing the cover (4 months), the editorial process (4 months), the production phase of copyediting and proofreading (5 months). Many of them overlap, but still, the time period between the Call and my publication date was 17 months. That timeline is not only reasonable, it’s far longer for some people.

4. Make Friends with Other Writers.

There will come a time when Hubby, Wife, or Special Someone Else tires of listening to the whinings of the neurotic author. Best Friend, Sister, and Mom start to wonder why you’re always complaining when your lifelong dream is coming true. They mutter to each other and turn a deaf ear.

That’s why you have writer friends. They’re super easy to find online—the internet forum was basically invented for socially awkward, introverted people—and you will kiss your mouse every time you virtually chat with them. They get it, as no one else will.

5. Stop Reading About Your Writer Friends.

You’ll love your new writer friends. You’ll rejoice at their successes. You’ll be their number one cheerleader. You’ll be so selfless that you’ll think, Ha! I guess that nasty imp named Envy doesn’t live in my brain. Lucky me!


At some point, the envy imp will rise and attack. You’ll see all the starred reviews and movie deals and fan mail your colleagues are getting, and one day it will start to burn. That’s when you stop reading. Stop comparing. It sounds corny, but yes, everyone’s path is different. Chances are the people you envy are envying someone else—maybe even you. Don’t give that nasty imp any head space, because it will eat you alive from the inside out. If that sounds unpleasant, trust me: It is.

7. Write Down What Works.

If you want Year Two to go more smoothly than Year One, write down what works for you. Keep a journal, notebook, notes on the wall, whatever. Which do-it-yourself bookmark printer is easiest and cheapest? Was the blog tour a huge waste of time or did it result in a lot of good exposure? Who became your champions and fans? (Love them. Cherish them. Shower them with hugs and free stuff.) Which bookstores were enthusiastic and helpful? You’ll want those notes later, so keep them organized.

6. Keep Writing, No Matter What.

It’s the cure for all the angst: The how-many-books-am-I-selling angst; the everyone’s-better-than-I-am angst; the what-if-no-one-comes-to-my-launch angst. Stick to your writing schedule like a barnacle to a barge. Disappear into your head and talk to your imaginary friends. Not only will you get something done (because you want to write another book, right?), you will silence the noise of the insanity around you, and that will be a blessed relief. Writing is what this whole gig is about, anyway. Remember?

Find out more about Claire at her website, on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. And you can buy The Key & the Flame at IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million.

Interview with Kimberley G. Little, author of When the Butterflies Came

Summer Author Blitz buttonI’m always up for promoting wonderful authors, so when I heard about the Summer Author Blitz, I jumped on the chance to participate. The Summer Author Blitz is organized by Belle Whittington and Tabatha Perry of the Montgomery County Book Festival. Thanks, guys! And there will be a Twitter party for the #2013SummerAuthorBlitz on July 19 at 7pm and a Facebook event on July 26 at 3pm, so don’t miss them.

Kimberley G. Little

Kimberley G. Little

Today I’m featuring author Kimberley G. Little, author of the middle-grade mystery novel WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME, who’s giving away a copy of her book and some swag (see below). Told you she was wonderful.

This book is her sixth for young readers, and it tells the story of young Tara Doucet dealing with love, loss, family and magic. Here’s the description:

Everybody thinks Tara Doucet has the perfect life. But Tara’s life is anything but perfect: Her dear Grammy Claire has just passed away, her mom is depressed and distant, and she and her sister, Riley, can’t agree on anything. But when mysterious and dazzling butterflies begin to follow her around after Grammy Claire’s funeral, Tara knows in her heart that her grandmother has left her one final mystery to solve.

Tara finds a stack of keys and detailed letters from Grammy Claire. Note by note, Tara learns unexpected truths about her grandmother’s life. As the letters grow more ominous and the clues harder to decipher, Tara realizes that the secrets she must uncover could lead to grave danger. And when Tara and Riley are swept away to the beautiful islands of Chuuk to hear their grandmother’s will, Tara discovers the most shocking truth of all, one that will change her life forever.

Sounds so enchanting! I can’t wait to read it.

I asked Kimberley four quick questions. Here’s what she said:

What inspired you to write WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME?

When the Butterflies Came bookcoverSo many things! The magical world of butterflies . . . spooky Louisiana swamps . . . old plantation houses . . . treehouses on an island in the South Pacific . . . and a girl who is connected to all those things through her Grammy Claire.

I love mysteries and wanted to try my hand at writing a mystery that didn’t have ghosts or paranormal elements. I took the prettiest girl at school (also a character from my book, CIRCLE OF SECRETS), but gave her a brain along with her silky, waterfall hair.

Tara begins receiving secret letters and keys from her scientist grandmother whose sudden death was untimely, and who imparts her secrets from beyond the grave through these letters so Tara can figure out who/what is trying to destroy the unusual butterflies her grandmother was researching in Micronesia.

It was fun to write about a very smart and very cool grandmother because I never knew my own grandmothers — and I hope I can be a very cool grandma too someday!

What were your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge was putting the pieces of the mystery together and having it all make sense. Plotting out a book often gets convoluted. I use 3×5 cards to help me piece it together. It’s helpful to spread them all out on a big table or the floor to make sure the puzzle *fits*.

Learning about the island of Chuuk in Micronesia was also a challenge — without spending my life-savings to travel there. After exhausting the Internet and books and YouTube, I came across two people who’d lived there and was able to interview them. I adore the cool tidbits you learn through research and incorporating them into the story.

Did anything surprise you about the process?

I *love* unexpected twists, and there is a marvelous twist at the end of this book that didn’t come to me until I was part way through the first draft.

Are you working on anything else now?

I just turned in the editorial revisions for my next novel to my editor at Scholastic for Summer, 2014. It’s called THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES and is about a girl who lives in an antique store with a cursed doll.

I’m also doing final work on my YA debut with Harpercollins Fall 2014. It was pitched as the YA version of The Red Tent and sold in a huge deal to Harper. The story is about the roots of bellydance in the ancient Middle East, goddess temples, tribal warfare, and a delicious romance.

A firm title is still forthcoming so keep checking my website for details and keep up with me on Facebook and Twitter where I’m pretty active. 🙂

Thanks, Kimberley!

And active is right! You can find Kimberley online at all these places:

And here’s the trailer for WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME:

Have a look at the rest of the Summer Author Blitz schedule.

Now, click the link below to enter for your chance to get a copy of Kimberley’s novel and swag:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cover Reveal! Riptide by Lindsey Schiebe

Lindsey Schiebe

Lindsey Schiebe

The launch of a new book is the greatest thing, but when it’s the debut book from a new author, it’s especially sweet. That’s why I’m THRILLED (yes, it deserves all caps) to be part of the cover reveal for author Lindsey Schiebe‘s first young adult novel Riptide.

Here’s the description of the book:

17-year-old Grace is fully aware her best friend Ford has a crush on her, but she refuses to acknowledge it. Surfing with him is the only time she forgets about her abusive father, stifling mother, and the pressure to be impossibly perfect. She’s not willing to risk their lifelong friendship to find out if it could be something more.

No matter how tempting it may be.

All Grace wants is to graduate, get out of the house, and make the UC San Diego surf team. The problem? She’s never had the guts to sign up for a competition, the only way she’ll ever get noticed by the UC scouts. Until that is, Ford does it for her.

Now she has one summer to train. One summer to prove she’s good enough– to the scouts, to her parents, and most of all, to herself. As the training grows more intense, the violence at home escalates, and the romance reaches a point of no return.

Grace is about to gain everything she’s ever wanted… or lose the only things that have ever mattered.

As the tagline says: One summer… Endless possibilities.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But check it out this awesome cover:


I love the eye-catching design, the vivid colors, and the way the image lets me imagine all kinds of stories for this surfing girl.

I can’t wait to read Riptide, which is scheduled for release in May, 2013, from Flux. Congratulations, Lindsey!

You can find Lindsey — who has tried surfing, bouldering and other outdoor sports but has since traded her hiking books for family dinners and theatrical bedtime stories — at her blog and on Twitter, @LindseyScheibe.

What do you think of the cover?

Jonathan Poku on the Ebook of Borlosanti

As printing and digital technology gets better, it’s easier than ever for writers to get their work to readers. I applaud writers who take the leap, perfecting their work, hiring editors and designers, publishing and promoting the story to readers. It’s a tough road as the writer wears so many more hats, but it can be very rewarding.

Jonathan PokuJonathan Poku decided to go the indie route with his book Borlosanti. He’s here today with a guest post about his journey…

The rise of the ebook has definitely revolutionised the publishing industry. Never before has it been so easy for a writer to publish his book and distribute it with the main, albeit online retailers or to sell it from his own website to a worldwide audience. In the past a writer who decided to publish his book independently had to go round all the different book shops and struggle to convince the manager to take their book or they had to get a distributor to do this task for them. Often the profit that the writer could make in these circumstances was very small because of the cut the other two parties took. I experienced this problem first hand when I published my book of poetry called Welcome Back to Paradise years before the rise of the ebook.

Many independent writers reached these stumbling blocks and faltered, however I managed to manoeuvre around them with persistence, hard work and adaptation of my approach. I soon learned that having a good book was not enough. I had to be innovative, thick skinned, good at marketing and most of all, I had to find my target audience and go directly to them, i.e., do poetry readings in universities and sell my books immediately afterwards.

My experience with publishing Welcome Back to Paradise was great training for publishing ebooks, because as an independent writer, although it is now much more easier to publish and distribute your work digitally with the help of services like SmashWords and Amazon KDP, you still have to take on the humongous task of marketing your book and creating a buzz.

Marketing a book can consist of blogging, liaising with bloggers to organise giveaways and reviews, tweeting, engaging with your possible audience on sites like Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter and taking part in Amazon Select.

As an independent author, you need to be able to wear many hats because you are responsible for doing the different jobs that a publisher usually has a team of people doing, i.e., commissioning art work, editing, marketing, finance, PR and so on. You do not have the luxury of focusing solely on your writing while others worry about the business side of things.

Borlosanti bookcover

After spending a year writing and rewriting Borlosanti many times, I finally sent it to a few editors and got a couple of people to read it. Once I received everyone’s feedback, I carefully assessed which criticisms were valid and which were not before I did a final rewrite taking the valid criticism into account. This was a very hard task because I couldn’t allow my emotional ties to my book to influence my decisions. I had to be objective for the good of the book. At this point, I gave a friend who was good at art my design for the cover and asked them to do it more professionally. Once I had a book and a cover that I was happy with, I sent my book to one of the people on the SmashWords formatting list. After it was formatted, I uploaded it to SmashWords so that they could distribute it to all of the major online retailers and then I uploaded it to Amazon’s KDP.

was inspired by a role playing game I used to play with my friends in primary school. Writing and publishing it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. However my journey with Borlosanti is not over because I have to continue to market it whilst working on its sequel.

Personally although self-publishing is far from easy, I absolutely love it because there are so many challenges and there is so much to learn. My advice for anybody who wants to embark on this journey is to:

  • Stay committed
  • Allocate an adequate amount of time for writing and marketing on a daily basis
  • Apply the same level if not more energy than the amount you put into writing your book into the marketing and promotion of it
  • Start marketing before you even finish writing the book
  • Base your marketing activities on tangible facts (do more of what works) and
  • Learn from others like Amanda Hocking, J.A Konrath, John Locke and so on.

At the moment, for a limited time only, the readers of this blog can receive a free ebook copy of Borlosanti all you need to do is email me at with the subject “Free giveaway.” Please remember to inform me what format you would like it in.

Thanks, Jonathan. Great advice about staying committed. Good luck on your continued journey.

Read more from Jonathan on his blog.

Adam Sidwell on Making Evertaster #1 on Amazon

New author Adam Sidwell has an amazing story behind his debut novel, the self-published Evertaster, and he’s here to tell us how he got his middle-grade adventure book to Amazon’s No. 1 spot for Children’s Mystery.

Before Adam gives us the scoop, he’s represented by literary agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media Group, and she talks about Adam’s success with Evertaster over on From the Mixed Up Files. Evertaster wasn’t planned to be self-published. Like many such novels, the manuscript was taken out to publishers first AND, according to Alyssa, got great feedback, but sales departments didn’t bite, saying it was too quirky. When Trident launched its own ebook publishing platform, Evertaster was the first middle-grade novel in the line. And the hardwork paid off.

Here’s Adam:

Using Facebook as a platform for an online launch, my debut novel Evertaster shot up into Amazon’s top 100 list in a single day. It rose as high as #51 in overall books and claimed the #1 spot in Children’s Mystery right next to John Grisham’s latest novel and one of the Percy Jackson books. On that day, Evertaster passed up many of the current New York Times bestsellers as well.

And this all happened without the help of a publisher or an experienced marketing team. My agent at Trident Media Group was astounded at Evertaster’s immediate viral success, and she’s been around the publishing block. She said she’d never seen anything like it.

There were certainly a number of circumstances involved, but the Facebook Online Launch Event was a powerful tool to help Evertaster rise so high. Here’s why:

Facebook allows users to create events that differ from wall posts in the following ways:

  1. Events have a specific time and date associated with it.
  2. Friends can join, then decline or accept the event.
  3. Friends can invite other friends.

In the months leading up to the launch, I was very excited to tell all my friends about the book and show off the killer cover art that was being done by Goro Fujita, Dreamworks concept artist. There it is, to the right.

So naturally I wanted to show it off, and Facebook was a great place to do that. It is the perfect platform for authors to announce to the world and their friends that their book is coming out, especially because it allows so much interaction. In the months prior to the launch, the fan base for Evertaster grew to over 2,250 fans. Some of those were friends, but the overwhelming majority were not. This was an incredible place to start for the online launch event.

After you’ve created your facebook event, you can click on “invite friends” to spread the word. You can also encourage others who are attending the event to invite friends as well.  The advantage to having a specific time and place for your event is mostly this: people will remember to buy your book. We set our event for 12-2pm on launch day, and people were clamoring about it beforehand. It’s like having an online party — one that stretches across the world — and nobody has to get into their car or dress up to go. Once they get there though, they are expecting something fun. So in the case of Evertaster, I released a snippet of the book trailer I’d promised them. Then we also did a video recap of how things went. You can think of other creative media to share as well. It allows people to feel they’re part of something larger — which they are, and really makes for a fun hour in the middle of an otherwise boring work day. It is a great way to celebrate with the friends and fans of the book.

And the result? Well check it out:

To see some of the other fun ways you can engage your readers, come check out the Evertaster Facebook page.

Thanks, Adam. Facebook Events sounds like a great tool.

You can follow Adam on his blog, and definitely read his fun bio. And, of course, Evertaster is available on Amazon.

Author Interview: Shana Burg, Laugh With the Moon

Laugh With the Moon bookcoverIt’s launch day for the second novel from author Shana Burg, Laugh With the Moon (Delacorte Books for Young Readers), and Shana has graciously stopped by to answer our writerly questions.

Partly based on her own experiences traveling to Malawi, Laugh With the Moon tells the story of 13-year-old Clare Silver, who feels that mourning her mother’s death is far more important than being dragged overseas with her doctor father. Mad that she has to spend 64 days in the African jungle, Clare must learn a new language and deal with new surroundings. As she begins to make friends, things get better, but she gets more heartbreak when an outing to see more of the country goes horribly wrong.

Laugh With the Moon is suitable for ages 10 and older and is already getting rave reviews, including a starred review from the School Library Journal. Shana’s success from her well-received 2008 novel A Thousand Never Evers is obviously continuing.

We posed our six little writerly questions to Shana, and her answers are as interesting as her books. Here they are:

Shana Burg

How did the story come to you? Characters? Situation? Whole thing at once?

As a graduate student in public policy, I found myself in Malawi, Africa, one winter tooling through the bush in a jeep with my driver, Norman, who later became a friend. Norman and I were investigating whether there were adequate learning materials such as pens and pencils and notebooks in the rural schools. However, we found that there were hardly any materials at all. Still, the children and teachers in the schools had incredibly creative ways of getting by with what they found. So, for example, children learned to write with sticks in the dirt. And they made letters with the mud from termite hills.

I went to Malawi back in 1997. When I came back, my sixth-grade students saw my pictures and were fascinated. That led me to think that American kids beyond my classroom would be intrigued by the way children in Malawi live. But I didn’t really have a story or a character in mind, until I began free writing from the point of view of an American girl who visits the country with her father. My main character, Clare, changed ages several times through many drafts until I finally found the age—thirteen—when she seemed real and right to me.

From your first inspiration, did you outline or jump in?

I jumped right in for the first few drafts. Once I had a character who I liked enough, I moved to an outline. My outline included a very short description of each scene, along with sensory details that I wanted to feature in that scene, the conflict in scene, and any key lines of dialogue. This launching off process of jumping in and then outlining was very helpful, but still, there were a million more drafts that followed.

Shana Burg interviewing students in Malawi

Shana Burg interviewing students in Malawi

Which do you enjoy most, the first draft or revising?

I really like both for different reasons. The first draft is exciting. You think, “Okay, this time I’m going to get it perfect right off the bat.” But then you go back and read what you wrote, and reality sets in: “Nope! It’s going to take years again.” Good news is that when I wrote my first book, A Thousand Never Evers, the entire process from free writing the first pages to publication took me eight years. Now, I’m happy to say, I’ve halved that time with Laugh With the Moon. Four years.

Revising isn’t as tummy-turning with ups and down as the first draft, because I’ve already got something to work with, and I’ve already come to grips with the fact that this is going to be an uphill climb. I love revising because the characters and scenes you don’t need, peel away and what you’re left with is the stuff that really works.

Were there any scenes or plotlines that were written but got cut, and if yes, why?

Oh, funny you should ask that next. Yes, tons!! I have to say, one thing I’ve become a lot better at is being okay with letting things that I’ve written go, including sense or plotlines that I really like but I know, in my gut, aren’t working. I find that when I’m willing to cut, cut, cut, it’s always better in the end. By the time my manuscript is finalized, it only shows a small bit of the life that character has actually lived in all the previous drafts and scenes that have been cut.

What was your biggest challenge with this story?

The biggest challenge was updating my research to the present day from the time I had been in Malawi. I was very fortunate to work with two Malawian research assistants, who had access to the Internet and helped tremendously. I also reached out to many other Malawians, as well as Canadians and Americans, who were so generous with their time and expertise in answering my questions and translating words from Chichewa to English too.

When you’re done with a manuscript, how do you celebrate?

In my opinion, you’re never really done with a manuscript until it’s actually published. Until that time, there are milestones (like first draft, second draft, fortieth draft, copy edit, etc.), but it seems like there’s always another step, until you really and truly can’t make any changes anymore. To finally celebrate my pub date today, my husband and son and I are going to the bookstore to buy a copy of the book, and then we’re going out for dinner. I’ll also be celebrating at my launch party at BookPeople on Sunday, June 24 at 4pm. There will be live African music and Malawian crafts for kids. Everyone in Austin is welcome to join me!

Thanks, Shana. The launch party will be fun.

Shana explains more about the inspiration for her novel on Cynsations today, which is also giving away a copy of the book. So go there and enter.

Also don’t miss the trailer for Laugh With the Moon:

Cynthia Levinson on We’ve Got a Job

Cynthia LevinsonToday, I’m thrilled to have a guest post from brilliant author Cynthia Levinson, whose debut book has garnered more awards than a Steven Spielberg movie.

Cynthia’s We’ve Got a Job is an stunning non-fiction book that tells the amazing story of how, 49 years ago, hundreds of children in Birmingham, Alabama, went to jail for the civil rights of themselves and their families.

Cynthia has talked a lot on the blogosphere about the research and interviews she did to write this book. When I invited her on my blog, I wondered how she felt post-release, going from all the uncertainty of a new author to the whirlwing of all her well-deserved praise.

Here’s what she said:

Except for feeling vastly relieved, I don’t know what I expected would happen when We’ve Got a Job was finally published. And, I certainly had no specific hopes. In retrospect, that sounds loony or literally incredible. But, since this is my debut book, I was too naïve to know the possibilities. It’s now been out for four months, and I’m thrilled—as well as exhausted!

I’d started working on it in 2007, took an extended break for 18 months in 2008-09, during which time about 20 publishers rejected the manuscript. Then I picked it up again when Peachtree Publishers bought it. But, even then, there were periods when steady writing, frenetic research, intense re-writing, and frantic photo quests were interspersed with prolonged fallow periods while I waited for responses from my editor. All of this is pretty routine, I gather. The peaks, valleys, plateaus, and gullies kept me focused on the work itself, as well as on a few other projects I was developing, rather than on the aftermath of publication.

Responses starting popping when Peachtree began distributing ARCs (advanced reader copies) in the fall of 2011. A class of fourth-graders in Round Rock, Texas, led by one of the world’s greatest teachers, Mrs. Christa Armantrout, agreed to write and produce a video trailer of the book. Meeting with the kids and talking with them about the four people who tell their stories in We’ve Got a Job was a thrill. And their trailer, which had its world premier at the book launch in Austin, was a thrill for all of us.

At the same time, a class of 11th- and 12th-graders in Cambridge, MA read and discussed the book, focussing on heroes. I got to observe their discussions, which were fascinating. Some kids were angry that they’d never before learned about Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth; others were so intrigued by the four principle “characters” in the book that they concluded that everyday heroes are more important than well-known ones, such as Dr. King. So, I could tell early on that young people were likely to find the book appealing.

We've Got a JobEven before its February 1 release, a few reviews trickled in. Oh my goodness, ***STARRED*** reviews! First, Kirkus, then Booklist and, soon, Publishers Weekly. Naively, since this is my first book, I didn’t know that some journals publish reviews before the official publication date. And, some waaaay after. Horn Book provided a wonderful review recently, and School Library Journal announced a fourth ****STARRED**** review over three months later.  I was so naive, I didn’t even know which journals gave stars.

The biggest surprise was The New York Times, which provided a brief review on its children’s Bookshelf of Black History books in mid-February and followed that the next week by naming it an Editor’s Choice. This is a list of “books of particular interest,” both adult and children’s. As one friend who happened to see it said, “holy moly!”

And blogs! My friends at EMUs Debuts, the blog for the gang of first-time-published writers who are clients of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, planned a week-long release party that was the equivalent of getting balloons, cards, and cake every day.

Then, more blogs. And interviews. And, newspaper articles. I won’t list them all. But, I confess that every one is posted or linked on my website, making for a total to date of 23 reviews and a dozen interviews.

Requests for school and library visits started drifted in, too—which meant preparing PowerPoint presentations. And, since my older daughter is another one of the world’s best teachers, I knew I needed to make them interactive. So, I scripted a Reader’s Theater in which kids take roles, read quotations from real people, sing civil rights songs, and march. And, each “character” gets a prop, which I needed to construct. I also got permission to use contemporary newsreel footage of children being attacked by dogs and washed down the street by powerful water hoses, which I incorporated into my slides—but which required a lot of technological assistance and, ultimately, my buying my own video projector.

In addition, bookstores and libraries in Birmingham, Austin, Washington (twice!), and Boston offered to hold signings, and a friend hosted a book party at my publisher’s home in Atlanta—a very generous gift from both of them. I was invited to work with teachers in Delaware on incorporating nonfiction narrative into classrooms. And, I also gave a presentation at the International Reading Association in Chicago on Joseph Campbell, a scholar of myths and folk tales, and nonfiction writing.

On top of all this, a wonderful publicist, Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, suggested that I prepare video clips of interviews with my four main sources and post them on YouTube, entailing multiple SOS exchanges with audio-video consultants and expansion of  my website.

The most recent development is that Random House is producing an audio version of the book, and I was able to both read the Author’s Note at their studio in New York as well as to help select the narrator, who is wonderful. I’m also providing interview clips for an expanded version of the book on CD.

And, all of this happened, unexpectedly, in about a four-month period. A pell-mell and breathless, four-month period.

Every bit of it has been exhilarating. But, the most gratifying aspect has been sustaining the friendships I made with the principals whose stories propel the book. Audrey Hendricks, unfortunately, died three years ago. However, her sister, Jan Fuller, not only came, with many, many of their cousins, to the book launch in Birmingham, she also spontaneously sang the song Audrey sang while marching to jail. And, the 75 or so other people there sang along. Jan also let me record a copy of the title song “We’ve Got a Job,” from an album on which her father sang with the Birmingham Movement Choir. This song, too, is now incorporated into my presentations at schools.

Arnetta Streeter Gary, alas, has been sick recently. But, I’ve visited her in the hospital, and I’m keeping a scrapbook of all the reviews, interviews, articles, and blog posts, including this one, for her.

Washington Booker and James Stewart have participated in several book launches and have visited schools with me. They’ve even started doing school visits on their own. The conversations we’ve had with adults and kids following our presentations have been heartfelt and candid. Nearly fifty years later, the residue of the Civil Rights Movement continues to reverberate.

While the book’s reception has been a joyous surprise, it is this recognition—that, as a country, we still have much to say and to share about race, discrimination, and inequalities—that has been the most stunning and stirring revelation. To the extent that the articles, reviews, blogs, interviews, presentations, visits foster these ongoing conversations, I will consider the book to have fulfilled the goal that I was unaware I had while I was writing it.

Author Interview: Lynne Kelly on Chained

Lynne Kelly and her own Nandita elephant

Lynne Kelly and her own Nandita elephant

A huge congratulations to Lynne Kelly, whose debut novel Chained was just released — and I can’t wait to read it!

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Chained tells the story of 10-year-old Hastin, whose family borrows money to pay his sister’s hospital bill. To work off the debt, Hastin leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper, thinking it will be an adventure. But he isn’t ready for the cruel circus owner, who hurts the sweet elephant, Nandita — Hastin’s best friend — until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin tries to protect Nandita, but knows the only way they’ll both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape.

The story sounds charming, and Lynne’s wonderful writing pulls readers in. I had the pleasure of reading the first chapter and I can promise, it’s beautiful.

Lynne graciously answered my 6 Little Questions for authors. Here they are:

Me: How did the story come to you? Characters? Situation? Whole thing at once?

Lynne: For this book it was the situation first, but I knew an elephant would be one of the characters. Most of the plot threads and characters were added later, but I’d planned to write a story about a captive elephant.

Me: From your first inspiration, did you outline or jump in?

ChainedLynne: I’m not an outliner at all, and I literally didn’t know from one chapter to the next what was going to happen. I had the ending in mind all along, but I didn’t know how the characters were going to get there and what they’d be going through along the way.

Me: Which do you enjoy most, the first draft or revising?

Lynne: I like revising much better! It’s scary having that blank white page staring you in the face, and it feels like such an accomplishment to have a first draft finished.

Me: Were there any scenes or plotlines that were written but got cut, and if yes, why?

Lynne: Oh, yes! One thing I’d like to do this summer is add a “deleted scenes” page to my website. I had a pretty cool stampede scene right after Nandita the elephant is loaded from the trap to the truck. The commotion attracted the attention of the herd, and they chased the truck as it drove back to the circus grounds. My editor asked me to cut it because it didn’t seem realistic to her. I also had Hastin telling his sister a story near the beginning of the book, when she’s sick and he’s helping to take care of her at home, but it turned out that the folk tale he was telling her isn’t one that’s told in that region of the country. I didn’t know the stories varied so much from place to place within the country, but it makes a big difference. I found a book of folk tales from Rajasthan, where Hastin lives, and there was one about a princess-witch who flew on a marble elephant! So I used that one, and when Hastin had to leave home later to work as an elephant keeper, he asked his mom to tell his sister that he’d flown away on the back of an elephant, and that he’d come back for her. We ended up cutting the storytelling scene althogether so it wouldn’t take the reader away from the story that was going on with Hastin and his sister.

Me: What was your biggest challenge with this story?

Lynne: Showing the Indian setting and culture accurately, and in a way that was clear for readers unfamiliar with it.

Me: When you’re done with a manuscript, how do you celebrate?

Lynne: Well, this’ll make me sound like a total dork, but usually I take time to read something from my giant to-be-read pile, after a little jumping up and down.

Me: Gotta have some jumping up and down. But I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

Check out the wonderful trailer for Chained below, then head to your favorite bookstore to pick up a copy.