Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: Nancy Bo Flood

This is the second in my new series of interviews with authors who I feel are writing wonderful books I'd like to share with you. Today I'm featuring Nancy Bo Flood, a trained psychologist and author who is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of several collections of retold legends from the Pacific (From the Mouth of the Monster Eel, Pacific Island Legends, Mariana Island Legends, Micronesian Legends), a child counseling handbook (The Counseling Handbook), a book for parents of premature infants (Born Early), a children’s book on school fears (I’ll Go To School, If….), and a children’s book about the Navajo calendar (The Navajo Year; Walk Through Many Seasons) that was awarded the Children’s Choice and Arizona Book Award.

Here is what she has to say about her debut novel, WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE: “WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE is my newest book, my first novel. It is a historical description that speaks of peace and survival when war reigned in the Pacific. Another important recent publication in the IRA Arizona Reading Journal is “Beyond Bows and Arrows, Books about or by Native Americans,” because it voices my concern regarding the need for contemporary, stereotype-free, Native American books for children. I am not Native American but I live and work on the Navajo Reservation. Our winter this year was amazing and this month, everything is covered with a foot of new snow! I am ready for the hummingbirds to return and the cactus to begin blooming. The seasons of the desert remind me that life is about continuing to grow and change – and learn.”

Welcome, Nancy! Congratulations on the publication of your young adult novel, WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Saipan is a tropical island in the western Pacific, the kind one imagines with sweeping white sand beaches and clear turquoise-blue waters. It also has rusting army tanks left from WWII, cement bunkers built by the Japanese military and Suicide Cliff where hundreds leaped to their deaths. The presence of war washes in and out like the tide. I lived there, taught students and teachers and the more I learned about the island, the people, their history, the more I was amazed. They have survived super-typhoons and earthquakes and they survived war. I talked with elders, their children and grandchildren to listen to their story of survival. Their stories haunted me until I felt I was ready to try to write with honesty, authenticity and power. Their story deserved nothing less. Another realization was the situation of many children during war: children are caught in the crossfire between warring nations. Children’s schools, homes, families and entire childhood are taken from them. But I wrote with a sense of hope. The human spirit endures, heals, even forgives, and re-builds. Someway I wanted to convey all of that.

I know you have been writing for a long time; please tell us about your work.

I wrote about my grandmother’s calloused hands when I was a kid. I continued trying to share my experiences and passions with others by creating word images. Finally as my own children became a little more independent – at least in bed on time! – I began writing seriously about 20 years ago. Another influence has been my work with children as a therapist. Stories heal, both the telling and re-telling of them and the listening or reading of other’s stories.

My very first book is still in print, Working Against World Hunger, by Rosen Publishing. The subject continues to be a strong interest: one out of every four children in the world die of a hunger-related disease. With Beret Strong and William Flood, we developed a series of anthologies about the cultures, legends and geography of the Pacific: From the Mouth of the Monster Eel, Pacific Island Legends, Mariana Island Legends, and Micronesian Legends. When I closed my counseling practice I tried to put into a practical handbook the information that was helpful to me as a practicing child psychologist: The Counseling Handbook. My first book that received national recognition was The Navajo Year; Walk Through Many Seasons , awarded the Children’s Choice, Notable Social Science and Arizona Book Awards.

Can you describe your path to the publication of WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE?

A mighty bumpy path! After many rejections and then the experience of unsuccessfully revising several times for an editor, I applied to Vermont College’s MFA Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults. I was going to learn what was needed to go from “almost” to “yes.” What a terrific experience of learning and growing as a writer. I took the manuscript one step further to the Whole Novel Workshop with Carolyn Coman and Jane Resh Thomas at Honesdale, Highlights Foundation. Carolyn and Jane asked the hard questions, the right questions, that guided me to dig deeper, see more clearly and write clean and strong.

Do you have any more advice for beginning writers?

Keep trying, keep writing, keep learning the craft. Writing is a journey of learning, practicing, and being just plain stubborn. Develop a writing community for critiquing work (yours and theirs), encouragement, linking to other communities – online, virtual and “real.” And read!

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I enjoy learning about people. My search to understand why people behave as they do began with studying psychology. For a decade I was a research neuropsychologist looking at brain function. Today my goal is to continue to write better and that my work will build bridges of understanding and tolerance. I have combined poetry and nonfiction narration to write about the Navajo Rodeo: Rider Up, Come to the Rodeo. I hope to do research at the Peace Center in Hiroshima and write a sequel to WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE in which Kento’s grandson returns to Japan to find his family’s story.

That sounds wonderful. Do you have any other new writing ventures underway?

namelos, the new publication online POD press of Stephen Roxbough, just acquired my novel, NO NAME BABY, a coming-of-age historical novel. This one takes place in the Midwest, just after WWI.

Another interest of mine is writing to create awareness of the need for books by, about and for children who are Native American. I will participate in a panel at this April’s International Reading Association (IRA) conference on social issues and speak about the need for contemporary, accurate and stereotype-free books with characters who are Native American. My recent publication in the IRA Arizona Reading Journal is “Beyond Bows and Arrows, Books about or by Native Americans.”

Congratulations! We'll look for your next books. Do you have a website where readers can learn more about WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE, and your other work?

Thanks, Nancy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Launch: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

I'm delighted to introduce debut author Josh Berk, and his new book (already making waves) THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN. I love the title and the cover, and Josh is a hoot.

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your novel, THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN. It sounds hilarious! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thank you! The story does have a lot of wise-cracking in it, even though it is a mystery and the inspiration was a sort of eerie/scary dream. I woke up remembering a dream about a kid reading lips on a school bus. I don't remember why it was scary, just that I woke up thinking about reading lips on a school bus and feeling freaked out. So I started jotting down ideas about why the kid might be freaked out and decided that a field trip where a classmate went missing seemed sufficiently creepy. And then I started pulling things from my own life -- a deaf kid I knew years ago, a field trip I once took to a coal mine (I do live in Pennsylvania after all), and an episode of "My Super Sweet 16" I had seen. I thought that the sweet sixteen party and the coal mining setting and the deaf narrator might all make a cool book somehow. The book has changed a LOT since the first draft, but that basic germ of it came together very quickly.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

While studying to become a librarian, I took a course in Young Adult literature at the University of Pittsburgh. This was 2004. I had always been interested in writing and had published a few things -- poetry, newspaper articles, essays -- but never really thought about writing a book until I started reading YA. The class was really great -- we read so many fantastic YA books, but it was Rob Thomas' RATS SAW GOD that made me think, "Hey, this really feels like something I would like to try to do." It was funny and wild and it captured my own feelings as an adolescent. I felt like trying so I wrote two YA manuscripts around that time that went nowhere. Then I wrote DARK DAYS. I wasn't quite sure of course, but I sort of felt I was onto something as soon as I started it.

Can you describe your path to the publication of THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN? When will the book be available?

The book was sold in November of 2007 and it hits the shelves February of 2010. That seems like a ridiculously long time, but it's not all that uncommonly long (maybe a bit longer than average). But the path to publication for me began with finding a writing friend to bounce ideas off of and help me through the various steps. For me I was lucky enough to have this be Cyn Balog, who herself has become a successful YA novelist! I met her when I was working on the second of my two never-published YA books and she gave me a lot of tips about what was good about my writing, what needed improvement, and what happens next. I knew nothing about querying agents or any of that stuff and she was really a huge help!

Then I signed with a great agent (Ted Malawer) and he was great in getting my manuscript ready for sale and ushering me through all the ups and downs of submitting to publishers. I'm also part of The Tenners, which is a group of 2010 debut authors and they've been a great help too for moral support and generally being awesome.

Can I repeat this part again? The book comes out February 9, 2010. Haha.

And yes, it is out now! Given how long it can take to produce a novel, do you have any advice for beginning writers?

I think it's best to focus on the writing almost exclusively for quite a long time. I'd say don't even think about landing an agent or getting a book deal or learning "how the business works" until you've written a few book-length projects just for the fun/learning experience of it. Also any writer should definitely read a lot! And maybe consider working for a newspaper. Lots of newspapers hire freelance writers and it'll be a good experience. You'll learn about how to remove your ego and get out of the way of a story. Also working with editors and deadlines is good for your future. I had a great time working at a paper before I jumped into fiction and it really helped my writing.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I still have the day job, a pressing deadline, and two small children so my main goal is to make it through each day without a nervous breakdown. My future plans include a day where I can pick which movie to watch and possibly experience a five-hour stretch where no one cries or pees on the floor. Also maybe to become an award-winning author and possibly get the band back together.

That's a lot to carry! In the midst of all this do you have any new writing ventures underway?
Right now I'm revising my second YA book. It will come out from Knopf in 2011! It's similar to DARK DAYS in that it's a mystery with a lot of humor, but I think it's different in a lot of ways too. The basic hook is that a high school forensics club stumbles across a real corpse and gets sucked into a murder investigation. But it's funny I swear! Mark your 2011 calendars. Do it.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN?

I have for more information & for too much information.

Also you should totally be my facebook friend:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Craft Issue #10: Dialogue


I’ve been thinking about dialogue lately – when it works and when it doesn’t. What is it about reading great dialogue that takes you right into the heart of a character? Margaret Bechard gave a fabulous lecture on dialogue during my first Vermont College residency in July of 2008, and I thought I'd share what I learned from her and others on this subject.

1. Dialogue needs to be about emotion and needs to reveal character. Subtlety is important.

2. Dialogue in great writing is not like real people talking. Lots of what real people say is boring. You don’t want your work to be boring.

3. Gesture, rhythm, poetic intonation – these are all part of great dialogue.

4. Dialogue provides white space on the page, and so it catches the reader’s attention and tends to move the story at a faster pace.

5. Dialogue tags are best avoided. People don’t hiss or growl their words. Even avoid “said” if it can be made obvious who is talking through how they talk.

6. The best dialogue doesn’t say anything right out, but hints at emotion, action, desire. Most people when they feel strong emotions say exactly what they don’t mean, and this leads to conflict.

7. The less said, the better. Monologues are dull.

8. Characters who finish one another’s sentences or who react in unexpected ways are more interesting than those who indulge in “straight talk.”

9. Try not to have characters address one another: “But, Dad, I don’t want to!” “Now, John, you have to.” “No, I don’t, Dad.” You get the idea.

10. One of the best examples of fine dialogue is found in the short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway.

11. Beats – pauses, gestures – in dialogue should be followed by something really important. Reversals are good to put after beats. For example: “You do realize that we’ve missed the train?” He looked up at her. “Or was that what you hoped?”

12. Try this exercise: put two characters in a room. Put an unopened package between them. Only one of them knows what’s in the package, and it’s something dangerous/special/frightening. Have them carry on a conversation without any tags at all, and without any reference to the box or its contents.

If you have any thoughts on dialogue, ideas, great examples, please share. Thanks!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hearts Out to You...Contest at Class of 2k10

The Class of 2k10 is sponsoring a contest this week, with book give-aways and lovely swag, all in honor of our please head on over to our blog and sign up to win!
Check out this lovely selection of prizes:

Go to the Class of 2k10 LiveJournal blog and give a shout-out to your favorite sweetie to enter.

And here's a hug and a kiss to my two favorite Valentines - my husband Jeff and son Kevin.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Irene Latham

I have another exciting introduction for you today - Irene Latham's LEAVING GEE'S BEND is a stunning debut.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, LEAVING GEE'S BEND. I love the cover! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you, Janet! I love the cover too -- it is so Ludelphia (my main character) that I cried when I first saw it. Truly, it was THE most emotional experience of the whole publishing journey so far. As for what's inside the cover... the book is about a ten year old girl in 1932 Gee's Bend, Alabama who sets out to save her sick mother and records her adventures in quilt pieces. It was inspired by the Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art. When I walked in to those rooms, I was so touched by the colors and textures, and the voices of the women from this teeny tiny isolated community that is caught up on three sides by the Alabama River. Couple this fascination with the fact that I am the daughter of an amazing seamstress who very early on put a needle and thread in my hands, and it's no mystery where this story comes from.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I've been writing poems and stories since I could hold a crayon, but I got my publishing start in poetry. Since first deciding to pursue publication in 2000, I've published over 120 poems in the adult market, including a solo collection WHAT CAME BEFORE that was named Book of the Year by Alabama State Poetry Society and earned an 2008 Independent Publisher's (IPPY) Award.

Wow. Congratulations! Can you describe your path to the publication of LEAVING GEE'S BEND?
For a long time, I had this dream of getting published off the slush pile. But then I got impatient. So when I heard Rosemary Stimola speak at an SCBWI conference in 2006, I thought, hmmm, if I ever decide to pursue an agent, this is who I'm going to go after. I was, of course, way too shy to talk to Rosemary at the time. Fast forward a few months... I sent a Gee's Bend story I'd written in verse (poetry- my comfort zone!) to Rosemary. She promptly declined - said she had a novel-in-verse sitting on her desk that she couldn't sell. So, instead of feeling sorry for myself (well, AFTER feeling sorry for myself), I decided I would rewrite the story in prose. So I worked on that for several months and re-subbed to Rosemary as if we had never had the previous contact. And this time, she said YES and sent it to the editor she had in mind. That editor was Stacey Barney at Putnam, and she really liked the voice of the story but didn't feel like it was quite fleshed out enough. (Again, I write lots of poetry, which is of course very spare: the manuscript was only 17,000 words!) She requested a revision, so I got busy adding meat to those bones. Stacey liked what I did with the story, and at that point Putnam offered a contract.

Your story sounds like a tribute to persistence. Do you have any other advice for beginning writers?
Write for yourself first. Not your kids or your grandkids or the fickle market. Love your story, and others will too.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
My favorite characters in books and real life are ones who go their own way. So it probably comes as no surprise that I have very interesting friends, and the characters that call to the writer in me are strong, independent-minded types who are constantly doing things I didn't anticipate or plan for.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I'm working on a contemporary midgrade DON'T FEED THE ANIMALS. It's set in an Alabama zoo and is about the son of a zoo director mom and elephant keeper dad whose terrible misfortune is that he was born human (with no particular interest in exotic animals.)

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about LEAVING GEE'S BEND?
You can find my book trailer and all sorts of other goodies at

Thanks, Irene!