Friday, September 28, 2012

Natalie Bahm is da bomb

Author Natalie Bahm unearths the excitement of exploration in THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, a novel with lots of dirt and blisters to accompany danger and adventure as a group of sixth-graders dig forbidden tunnels.

One of the fabulous things to know about Natalie is her heart is so big she is donating all proceeds from the sale of this book to the family of a very sick little boy. In this post, I interview Natalie and add a mini-review at the end, along with some significant links to learn more about this extraordinary publishing tale.

So for this Q&A, I had to ask Natalie about her personal relationship with shovels and got a surprising answer.

Me: So, shovels?

Natalie: To me shovels mean only one thing: yard work. When I was ten my family moved to a new house with a big weed-filled yard. I can't even tell you how many hours I spent with my parents and brothers digging up weeds and laying sod and planting plants. My brothers and I always joked that the only reason my parents had kids was so they could have cheap yard laborers. :) By the time I went to college the yard was amazing. Seriously. It was full of thick green grass and colorful flower beds and big pretty trees and a big playhouse that we'd built with dad. The next year they moved again and had to start all over.

Me: (taking that a shovelful deeper) Where did the idea about kids digging underground tunnels come from, and did you need to consider safety issues when tackling it?

Natalie: My dad used to tell us stories about him and his buddies digging tunnels in a vacant lot by his house. It was obviously an EXTREMELY dangerous thing to do, and he made sure to tell us about the scary stuff that happened because of their digging. In the book I tried to show that tunneling is treacherous. The kids build supports to make them safer, but they aren’t ever really safe. I really don’t think it would be possible to dig tunnels like the ones in the book in real life (thank goodness!)

Me: What is it about writing for middle grade readers that excites you to write?

Natalie: Middle grade is such an interesting time in kids’ lives. I love trying to capture that transition between being a kid and being a teenager. There’s still sort of a dependence on parents and family, but there’s also a longing for freedom. I also love writing about the changing dynamic between girls and boys at that age. When I was that age I only liked to read things that had a bit of a love story, so I make sure to include one in all of my books.

Me (looking over shoulder and listening for creeping sounds): The villains in this story are scary and dangerous how did you decide how far to go with them?

Natalie: When I first wrote the book (three years ago) the villains weren’t nearly so scary. Then I started reading some scarier MG, like Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and Suzanne Collins GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series and realized scary is good.  The story got a little scarier every time I revised. I hope that it’s just scary enough now, but I suspect it will be too scary for some kids and not scary enough for others.

Me: Do you have a favorite line in the book?

Natalie: This is sort of a random one, but it’s always been one of my favorites. The main character, Ally, is home alone when the doorbell rings. She expects to see a door-to-door salesman and has a speech all ready for him. “Sorry, we are vegetarians who would never think of killing bugs and have nothing worth stealing. Our vacuum works fine, we just bought knives, and all of our charity money goes to Greenpeace.”

Me: What do you want kids to take away from this story, especially from the actions and relationships of your characters?

Natalie: For me, the story is about friendship and loyalty. I hope that shows through.
This is Natalie, a mother of four and children's book author represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

This is an excerpt from my Goodreads review: A mystery is brewing in Grantsville. Ally thinks it odd that her younger brother, Eric, is digging in the backyard every free moment, and the boys at school all have dirt caked under their fingernails. They whisper and pass notes. Something is up, and Ally decides to snoop.
THE SECRET UNDERGROUND by Natalie Bahm is a fun, spooky middle-grade novel about the adventure and also trouble kids dig themselves into when they sneak around behind their parents’ backs, trying to gain access to the secrets and wonder of a long-closed steel mill. Ally has more to worry about than tunnels. She likes Paul, the cutest boy in her sixth-grade class and the one who the most popular girl, Taylor, has called dibs on.
Ally is also plagued by nerves ever since she witnessed a bank robbery by the dangerous and not-yet-apprehended Gauze Men (they cover all but their eyes with gauze).
Ally’s curiosity and fearlessness gets her admitted to the all-boy, secret-tunnel project, but they get in over their heads digging to a place where real danger lurks.
 There is mystery, intrigue, mortifying middle-grade moments, best-friend fights, mean-girl betrayals, and the wonder of friendship, loyalty and family love in this story.

Natalie is donating the proceeds of this book to help the family of a little boy who's had the odds stacked against him since before he was born and still puts up a mighty fight to survive. Meet Jayden in his Mr. Cool Spidey mode:

Natalie's blog
Help Baby Jayden blog
Roni Loren's interviews with Natalie, Sara Megibow about publishing

Where to buy (eBooks and print books available Sept. 28, check Natalie's blog for additional sites):

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book winner and many musings

The winner of a copy of the wonderful new release THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas is Laurel Garver, who if you've never met her is a Hobbit-loving, grammar-loving author/editor/blogger. I drew the winner the old-fashioned way from slips of paper in my hat. The paper was recycled from my WIP, so on the back it read, "You'll wake everyone." There you have it: A very good morning to all.
Here are some good moments I found recently:
On a trail in the Dana Point highlands, searching for a songbird.
a questioning tweet
above, from a bird as small
and gray as a mouse
Dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds of these odd, tiny jellies washed ashore. They look like pretty paperweights, but I wouldn't dare pick one up. Watched my step, as well.
The space shuttle Endeavour flying over my neighborhood! I loved how the pier was packed shoulder-to-shoulder and the beach dotted with people holding cameras and cell phones, waiting, then cheering. It was like magic came to call, and, for a moment, we were transported.
So many pretty sunsets. And because we started with good morning, here's a shot of dawn on my block:

PSA: Later this week I have a Q&A with Natalie Bahm, author of THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, and one of the nicest people on the planet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

For the love of Trinket and a giveaway

Do you remember the first time someone told you a story that gave you shivers or that lived in your head for days? There can be such power in a story well told, and a gift in finding stories in the world around us.
In celebration of the release of THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas, I'm giving away a hardcover copy (I'm keeping another for myself, by the way!) and posting a little review:

What do you do when your father’s disappeared, your mother’s died, and all you’ve got is an old map and faint hope? Go on a quest, of course. I love Trinket—an eleven-year-old girl who discovers her talent and courage and never lets a challenge defeat her.
 THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET is an old-timey story that weaves Celtic folklore into Trinket’s journey of self-discovery. Trinket and her young friend, Thomas, earn their way and sometimes make their escape from gypsies, selkies, fairies, ghosties and more. From each experience, Trinket creates new tales and songs, which encourage her dream of becoming a bard.

“My mother’s last breaths begin this story, for each story has a beginning. That is the first thing a storyteller must learn.” Trinket learns not only beginnings but endings, of which there may be more than one. More importantly, she finds that the truth can be both painful and healing.
I enjoy sharing small samples of an author’s writing, so I’ll give you a taste of Shelley’s style:
The king said nothing. He turned to leave, gesturing with his hand, and all of the Gypsies stepped back together, as if in a dance. ‘Twas strangely beautiful as they all faded into their caravans and tents, leaving Thomas, myself, and the Gypsy girl alone together.

There were bones on the shore. Bones of large sea beasts called whales. Whiter than the clouds, they rose from the rocks like the ghosts of old tree branches.
Thomas made me think sometimes, which was a good thing and a bad thing. True, ‘twould not be the smartest course to follow a woman the village regarded as deranged. Follow her into the ocean, no less! And yet, I felt in my blood that there was a story to be found among the selkies. My mother once said that the secret to a good story was to listen to the hum in your veins.

In the back of THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET, Shelley wrote Author’s Notes about the folklore she used in the stories, such as this tidbit she shares about The Harp of Bone and Hair: “Harps made from bones and hair have appeared in folktales all over the world. More often than not, the bones used are human. However, there is an old tale of a babe stolen by faeries and a mother who bargains with a harp made of sea creature’s bones, which is the basis of this story.”

One of my favorite moments in this book comes in the Acknowledgments when Shelley tells her daughters: “My stories are always for you, first and foremost. So is my advice: never be afraid to live your dreams and tell your tales.”
And that is the heart of THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET.

Shelley’s blog StoryQueen’s Castle features her life as a professional storyteller, schoolteacher and author of ten children’s books, including the popular GOOD NIGHT, GOOD KNIGHT series.
Two launch parties are planned for Thursday, Sept. 20—one on her blog and one at the Barnes and Noble in Oceanside, CA at 6 p.m. where you’ll find Trinket swag, Shelley the StoryQueen and Irish dancers!

If you'd like to win a copy of this wonderful book, leave me a comment. In the spirit of Trinket, if you can, tell me a little anecdote of an early memory of a story that made an impression on you. And be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winner chosen by random draw. I'll let this contest run through the weekend. If you want to Tweet or post, just let me know you did and you can add an extra draw for each.

To purchase Shelley's books:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kids and books and dirt, oh my

This kid's abandon makes me grin as he plays in the water near Marina del Rey, CA. Behind him looms a barge and dredging machine. In this post I'm going to link kids and digging and books. Trust me.
This multi-million-dollar dredging project has been going on for months. The dredger lifts up buckets of sediment to clear the boat channel, and the barge gets hauled miles south to dump the sand at other ports where its needed.

When I first saw that tall rig, I couldn't figure out what it was, so I walked a mile or so to the marina for a closer look. I was even baffled the first time I saw the barge being hauled to sea. Eventually, I put all the puzzle pieces together (and looked online for an explanation!). There are so many projects and jobs in this world that are discoveries to me.
Here's someone watching the barge being tugged out to sea by a smaller craft.

Anyway, I promised kids and books and digging. Yesterday as I walked the shore, a boy yelled, "Dig faster!" to his friend. They were trying to beat the tide as they burrowed into wet sand. Their energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and again, I had to smile. This time I was thinking of a middle-grade adventure I just read, THE SECRET UNDERGROUND by Natalie Bahm, which captures the excitement of kids digging tunnels, the problem of where to put the dirt so they go undetected, the dark secrets they uncover, as well as the value of friendship and loyalty.

I'm not going to give away more than that today, because I have a fun Q&A with Natalie planned for the week of Sept. 28, the release date. Natalie will talk about why she likes to write for middle-graders--that transition period between being a kid and a teenager. If you haven't heard that she's donating all proceeds from the sale of this book to the family of a sick, little boy, she explains why here. *
More heads up: There's another middle-grade book I'm going to highlight, THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas. I plan to review it this coming week, because Shelley is going to hold a launch party Sept. 20 with all kinds of Trinket-swag. You don't want to miss her party or this delightful book.
UPDATE: Shelley is hosting two parties on the 20th--one on her blog and one at 6 p.m. at the Oceanside Barnes & Noble in Southern California. If you're anywhere in that neighborhood, it looks like it's going to be really fun.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Retreat, retreat!

Hey, how was that writer's retreat, you might ask? I'm not posting tell-all pictures of round table discussions or people belting out Queen's "We are the champions," although that did happen (and I'm sure photos will surface...). Lyrics custom-made for writers, right? Karaoke night rocked. Agent Abigail Samoun put the cool into "Mack the Knife," and former stand-up comedian Karen Soliday sizzled Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." What a night.

My phone camera came out, though, in reflective moments, which happened, too. Like this morning walk around a duck pond with a few other early risers.

dabbling ducks jockey,
spreading frothy trails across
the olive-green pond


This weekend event was held by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators on the grounds of a religious retreat, which had the perfect blend of quiet areas and up-to-date facilities. Our four-person critique groups moderated by agents and editors were intensive and inspiring. Most of us did revising between sessions, coming out with stronger work before we went home.
Letting my mind wander in the non-intense moments was restorative:

web invisible,
spider huge as an acorn
against the pale sky

A grotto Mary
prays for eternity
in her rock cave
The early-morning clouds shifted from pale pink and gold to white-against-blue quilts. On the eastern horizon one stark white thunderhead fist-pumped.

So what's the take-away? I'm still processing, but some immediate thoughts:

Inspiration: It's hard to beat pros discussing your work with you, giving insight into what they think will make it better. Great advice was given by author/agent Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency, Abigail Samoun, who was a children's book editor for ten years and now is an agent at Red Fox Literary and from Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon of Writers Ink. Heather Alexander, assistant editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, gave such substantive suggestions to each person that it was the buzz of the conference. Agent Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency came only for the final first-pages readings, so her comments came as one who hadn't heard earlier and longer versions.

Notes on writing and revising:
Learn to love revision. It's a time to explore.--Abigail
Look at every sentence and ask if it's developing the plot, the character, the world. If not, change it. --Heather

Fun: People had a good time despite the terror of reading their work in front of strangers and the horror of finding out how much work they still have to do if they hope to sell that work. Yeah, baby, no one said this is easy, so take a deep breath and try to enjoy the ride.

Deep breathing: Speaking of. The event included several stretch moments with Lynette Townsend, a certified Jazzercise instructor, who helped get the kinks out, not only for conference time but with tips for everyday desk work.

Organization: This almost deserves its own post. Every thing from check-in to meeting spots to meals was spot-on. I've rarely attended anything that ran so smoothly and was so well-planned in advance. Besides pre-event emails of our schedules and on-site print-outs, our name-tag holders included a little slip of paper with our individual schedule on it, so we'd never be clueless on where to be next. Just wow. On top of that, the organizers are all volunteer. I don't know everyone who helped out but here are some super-deserved shout-outs: Sarah Laurenson, Lee Wind, Nutschell Windsor, Marilyn Morton.

Would I go again? In a heartbeat.