Monday, January 31, 2011

Voices You Should Hear: Kathi Appelt - Award-Winning Author & Friend

I consider Kathi Appelt to be my mentor. 

Around ten years ago, my son was in school, and I was floundering around, looking for a new focus for my energies. I'd found a pile of unpublished children's stories written by my mom before she'd passed away a few years earlier; Kevin struggled in school, and I wrote little stories to try and help him. I'd always wanted to write, but never thought about writing for children...and there I was, living in the wilds of Texas, knowing no one in the writing world.

A mutual friend said, "You need to call Kathi. She's a successful writer, and she'll know how you can start."

I don't like picking up the phone and bugging people I've never met, but Kathi's generosity and warmth radiated right through the lines, and I felt I had a friend from that moment. She suggested I join SCBWI. I did, and that action launched my career. Eight years later she encouraged me to apply to Vermont College of Fine Arts. I did (again), and graduated last July with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and that action changed me forever.

Kathi is one of the nicest people on the planet. She also happens to be a supremely talented writer. Her awards accolades are so long - for picture books through novels - you'll have to visit her website to see the long, long list. Her first novel, written for middle grade readers, The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008), was a finalist for the National Book Awards and was a Newbery Honor Book, and her second novel, Keeper (Atheneum, 2010), received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers' Weekly, School Library Journal and the Horn Book, and is a Best Book pick from Kirkus and SLJ and will, I know, garner even more accolades in coming months. I love it when good things happen to good people, who also happen to be deserving of all the good things going their way.

It's a true pleasure to host Kathi on my blog. (And that sweet picture of Kathi was taken by her husband, Ken, who is her soul-mate, and as great as they come.)

JF:  You are, I think, at heart a poet. Your picture books are lovely examples of this; as readers we are enthralled by the poetic beauty of your language in both The Underneath and Keeper. Can you tell us what kind of transition you made as a writer when you decided to write novels?

KA:  The transition wasn’t easy for me.  I was used to writing pieces that basically ended at the bottom of page three.  Or sooner.  But I wanted/yearned to write a novel for many years, it’s just that the form kept eluding me.  I felt humbled in the face of extended narrative. So, I kept pecking away at it.  First I wrote a collection of short stories, Kissing Tennessee, and I used those to explore point of view, tense, theme, etc.  The stories are “linked” by an event and place, which gives them the feel or sense of a bigger piece.  Sort of like “united we stand.”  I remember that one of those stories was about 20 manuscript pages and I had this enormous feeling of jubilation, as if I had cracked some sort of code.  Of course, it got whittled down in the editing process, but I definitely felt as though I had passed some sort of marker.

Right after that, I started exploring prose poetry, really as no more than an exercise.  But as I worked on these fat, chunky poems, I began to recall the summers of my childhood and eventually I wrote an accidental memoir, My Father’s SummersThe prose poems felt like snapshots, square on the page, not at all chronological, images really.  But when they were strung together, they made a solid book. 

The two efforts—the short stories and the prose poems—gave me the courage to try something longer.  I told myself that I could get there, I could write an entire novel in very short scenes. 

All those years of writing short did not mean that I couldn’t write something longer.  What it meant was that my natural inclination is to write in short flashes.  I decided to honor that natural bent of mine, to use it. 

That doesn’t mean that the idea of a novel or longer work doesn’t terrify me.  It does.  But I keep chanting:  short significant scenes.  And that’s what gets me there . . . eventually.

You were a teacher and administrator for years at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Please tell us about that experience. How did it influence your writing?

VCFA is like my campfire, or maybe I should call it my “storyfire.”  Since the dawn of time, humans have been gathering around campfires and sharing their stories.  It’s what we do.  We’re built for it.  To be able to gather around a particular storyfire, one that provides heat for stories that are uniquely spun for children gives me sustenance, but it also inspires. 

I remember feeling, and I still do, that my place on the faculty had to be “earned.”  When I first started there, I was in the midst of Tobin Anderson, Marion Dane Bauer, Alison McGhee, Norma Fox Mazer, my heroes.  It made me feel like I had to write stories that were just as important, just as ground-breaking as theirs in order to keep my place at the fire.  It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

When I became a mother, I read somewhere that being a parent was a “terrifying beauty.”  That’s not too different from the way I feel about being on the faculty at VCFA. 

Add to that the fact that we have the smartest students!  My first semester there, one of my students was Candice Ransom.  She had published over 80 books when she became my student.  What could I teach her? That was my huge concern, so I just point-blank asked her:  what can I teach you?  Her response was typical Candice:  “whatever you have to give.” 

She turned out to be one of my favorite students of all time.  Why? Because we learned so much together. 

In fact, I’ve learned from every one of my students, and I still do.  I really believe that the best way to learn any craft is to teach it, and that has certainly been true for me. 

The three forces that surround the VCFA storyfire—the faculty, the students and our child-readers—make it both intimidating in its fury and comforting in its warmth.  I feel so lucky that I get to stand at its hearth.  And even though I’m on leave for now, that fire sustains me.

I began writing for children partly because my son needed stories and partly because my mom wrote them. Where did you start your career – what pushed you to begin?

My sons too, were the spark to begin writing for kids.  I always knew I’d write something.  I started out wanting to write songs, but since I wasn’t all that musical that turned out to be a dead end, especially when all I seemed to come up with were barroom ditties that I really couldn’t sing for my mother.  When the boys came along, I rediscovered the wonder of children’s books.  I owe Jacob and Cooper a huge debt of gratitude for leading me to my heart’s work. 

Do you have “favorite” writing teachers? Who has influenced you most in your career?

I’ve been so lucky in teachers, yes.  I have three who have been instrumental in my work:  (1) Elizabeth Harper Neeld, who continues to be my mentor and excellent friend; (2) Venkatesh Kulkarni, who demanded that I push beyond my self-imposed barriers; (3) Dennis Foley, who is my champion and something of a muse and who has taught me more about teaching than anyone else.  They’ve all three been instrumental for me.  I owe them big time.

Your love of, and understanding of, animals is so clear from The Underneath and Keeper. I know you have cats; please talk a bit about your relationship with animals.

As a Unitarian Universalist, one of our key principles is to consider the interrelationships between all beings, the interconnected web of life.  As long as I’ve been on the planet, I’ve had pets—cats, dogs, lizards, a variety of rodents, fish, horses—so I’ve grown up with animals.  I think of them as intermediaries in a way, between what we consider domestic life and wild life.  They have something important to teach us, and they require a certain kind of stillness on our parts in order to consider what it is we’re supposed to learn, the major thing being kindness.  And perhaps loyalty.   

I can’t really imagine life without cats especially.  We currently have four gifted and talent cats:  Jazz, Peach, Hoss and D’jango.  I’ve never had a cat like Jazz.  She’s as close to a familiar as any animal I’ve ever met.  When I’m home, she’s rarely more than ten feet away from me.  Even when she’s sound asleep, if I step out of the room, within five minutes she’ll be right there beside me.  I love this about her, as if we’re connected at some cellular level.  It’s very sweet. 

Would you be willing to share something about your writing habits? Do you write every day? Do you use any special tools? Techniques? Inspirations?

I do write everyday, although some days I only write for a few minutes.  I would say that deadlines serve as a great inspiration for me.  I always appreciate a deadline.  They should more aptly be called lifelines I think.  Without them, I begin to feel a little lifeless. 

Years ago a friend/mentor encouraged me to make a commitment of time to write everyday.  I chose five minutes because I knew that was what I could definitely commit to…without cheating.  That was well over twenty years ago, and I’ve never changed that.  It’s surprising, actually, how much you can achieve in five-minute chunks of time. 

I also drink quite a bit of coffee, work the daily NY Times crossword puzzle, listen to music and read copiously.  And okay, I’m an internet junkie, so if I really need to get some work done, I ask my husband to disable our modem so that I can’t spend hours on Facebook or the political blogs (which I love beyond compare), or which makes me wish I could do something cute and crafty. 

This past year I bought a Flipcam, and I’m learning to make my own small “movies,” which I’ve found is a new kind of storytelling for me.  I’m not very good at it, but I really enjoy it.

(Kathi is super-good at her Flipcam interviews, as the one she made with me attests. But back to my interview with her!)
Personally, I cannot wait for the next novel to come from your pen. What can we expect?

Hah!  That is the million-dollar question. Let’s just say it involves aliens and French horns. I have a June 1 deadline to turn in the first draft, so ask me after that.

Aliens and French horns. Wow. I cannot wait.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Craft Issue: Getting It Down on Paper...Ugly First Drafts

I’m working on the first draft of a new novel. Boy, do I hate first drafts.

For me, the purest joy of writing comes in revision. Not that I take no joy in first drafts; in fact, when I write the first draft sometimes I experience the most intense creative energy of my writing life, that blank page momentum. But during my first-drafting more than at any other time I have to fight off my internal editor. Actually I think of my internal editor as my internal Demon – since I picture him (yes, him) as a tiny leering evil thingie jabbing me with a pitchfork. Every time I get flowing with my first draft, up pops that old pucker-face giving me every reason why I should quit writing and become a…well, what?
I’m sorry, Mr. Demon, but I’m a writer, so gea’roff.

Because of this push-me-pull-you battle with the Demon-dude, I’ve developed some strategies for first drafting that I thought I might share. I’ve also listened to the strategies others have developed and I’ll toss a couple of those into the mix.

1. There’s always time to fix it later.
This is why I love revision. Okay, so the scene in the bar didn’t work; chuck it later. So that run of dialogue sounds forced; replay the interaction later. How’d they get from “a” to “b”? Add clever transitions. Where’d that character come from? Weave her in during revision.
By giving yourself permission to fix problems later, you can move forward now. Get the story down on paper, just lay it down brick by brick, and then go back and add the mortar that may be missing in spots. In fact, the building may be so wonky it needs entire reconstruction, which gives you a great reason to take it apart and rebuild it better.

2. Write when you’re tired.
            I often write my first drafts in the evening, after supper. Why? Normally, I’m a morning person. Wide awake, energy pulsing, coffee brewing kind of morning person. Unfortunately so is my internal editor, uh, Demon.
            Which is why I find that first-drafting is a wee bit easier in the evening or afternoon when I’m sleepy and the Demon is actually taking a snooze. Somehow my unconscious me-writer can work on and on uninterrupted. Lovely. Take that, D.

3. Dream it.
            This is one of my favorites. I’m kind of an insomniac; I tend to wake up at 3ish and lie there worrying. Sadly for my Demon, I’ve discovered that I can banish him and the worry and the insomnia by puzzling out what happens next in the story. And often my subconscious will blossom with possibilities.
            As an example of this, I wrote one of my favorite passages (and no, it didn’t get axed) in Faithful while half asleep. Then I had to memorize it, so I said it to myself over and over until, in the morning, I wrote it out in full in about five minutes.
            The next night I slept like a baby.

4. Story does not equal plot.
            This comes from Stephen King, he who is my story-crafting hero. A story should ask questions, should probe mysteries, should derive from the heart. A plot imposes structure on the story. Plot structure comes later. Much later.
            Yes – I’m an organic writer. It’s okay for me to know this about myself. I’m a plunger, a diver, a “write from the gut till you die” writer. A “fat” writer in the words of Ellen Howard, one of my VCFA instructors – I get it all out in one great organic vomit and pare it later. (FYI: “Thin” writers write lean and slowly and prune and edit as they go. Which kind of writer are you?)
            I know this: if I try to structure a story, it dies. Why? Who knows? You may need structure, but if you are frustrated with your first drafts I urge you to try plunging.

5. Love the process, not the outcome.
            I try never to think about publication.
            (Okay, yeah, right. When I started, it was all I thought about. “When will I ever be published?” kind of whiny thing. You know what? That’s Demon-talk. I had to chuck that kind of thinking long before publication.)
            You are a writer. It’s who you are, and it’s what you do. You need to write. Nothing else you do could ever, ever, ever make you as happy as writing does. You will write when your pencil is a stub, when your eyes are blind, when the lights go out and you are in the cold and you cannot write but only tell stories, and then you will tell stories to keep yourself sane and warm and to light your soul.
            And the souls of every one who can hear your voice. Ah, the sweet pain of this need.

Which is why I hate first drafts but will, I pray (no…Mr. Demon, I know), I will keep on churning them out.

If you have first-drafting hints, tips or strategies, please do share!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And The Winner Is...

ax20! the lucky winner of Trent Reedy's Words in the Dust!

Congratulations! Please contact me so that I can send you the book.

Back soon with a new craft discussion.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Voices You Should Hear: Trent Reedy + Giveaway!

Please read to the end - I'll be giving away a copy of Words in the Dust to one lucky reader!

I'll confess right here that I know Trent Reedy. He graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts in the residency that I started. When I heard he'd sold his first novel, Words in the Dust, I celebrated his success.

What I couldn't know was what an extraordinary novel it is. I'm reading it now, and it's wonderful. I'm delighted to feature Trent, one terrific writer.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, Words in the Dust. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thank you, Janet.  Because I was born and grew up in Iowa, I always thought my first novel would be about people living the adventure of growing up surrounded by the corn fields of home.  I certainly didn't expect my first novel to be about a girl in Afghanistan.  Words in the Dust was inspired by an experience I had while serving in 2004 and 2005 with the Army National Guard in the western part of Afghanistan.  My unit encountered a girl named Zulaikha who suffered from birth from a horribly disfiguring cleft lip, crooked teeth, and a misshaped nose.  My fellow soldiers and I knew we had to help her so we pooled our money to provide transportation to our main base in Afghanistan where an Army doctor volunteered to conduct the needed corrective surgery.

When Zulaikha returned to our outpost I was amazed at how she had been transformed!  Only the smallest scar hinted that she had ever had a problem.  Seeing her smile was one of my happiest moments in the war.  Throughout it all, she possessed this sort of quiet courage and dignity, and for me, she began to represent the struggle of all of Afghanistan, particularly of Afghan women and girls.  She had faced difficulties, but, like Afghanistan, she exhibited that indomitable spirit and proclivity for hope.  The last time I saw Zulaikha, I watched her ride off of our base in the back of a truck, and although she could not hear me or understand my words, our eyes met and I promised her I would tell her story.

Keeping that promise was a challenge because outside of Zulaikha's appearance I really knew very little about her.  I wrote Words in the Dust by combining a lot of elements from research and my other experiences in Afghanistan.

Words in the Dust is the fictional story of an Afghan girl named Zulaikha who suffers from a cleft lip.  Because of this she is tormented by local bullies and she believes she will never marry and that she will be a burden on her family.  She wishes she could look normal, or even pretty like her sister Zeynab.  Soon Zulaikha meets a woman who offers to teach her to read and write and about the ancient poetry that Zulaikha's mother loved before her death.  When American soldiers arrive in Zulaikha's village and offer her corrective surgery for her mouth, Zulaikha dares to think all her problems may be over.  But few things are that simple in Afghanistan, and Zulaikha will have to search for something lasting and meaningful for her own life.

We are both graduates of the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (yay!). Was Words in the Dust written as part of your thesis? Can you tell us a bit about the process?

I applied to the Vermont College of Fine Arts with the express mission of keeping my promise to that girl in Afghanistan.  Words in the Dust was certainly my creative thesis.  I received some wonderful guidance there from all of my instructors.  I'll never forget approaching my first Vermont College advisor Rita Williams-Garcia with the idea of writing this book.  I really believed she would think I was crazy.  After all, I was a white guy from Iowa wanting to write a book from the perspective of a young Afghan girl.  But Rita is enormously talented and thoughtful.  In her own writing she has never shied away from a challenge or difficult topic.  She was incredibly encouraging and patient.  Two other advisors Jane Kurtz and Margaret Bechard also helped a lot.  I learned a lot as I wrote Words in the Dust.

Can you describe your path to the publication of Words in the Dust?

Like any writer, I received many rejection letters when I began to send Words in the Dust to agents.  I always forced myself to view those rejections as "trophies for trying."  In fact, I still have all of my rejections hanging from a nail on the wall just above my computer.  When I recently moved from Iowa to the state of Washington, that stack of rejection letters was the first thing I hung up.  I didn't start work without them there.

Years ago, when I was about to graduate high school and go to college,  I confessed my dream of being a writer to my father.  He told me very sternly that I should never give up on my dream, "because the world is full of people who did."  With that in mind, every rejection letter was physical proof that I was still trying.  

What's more is that some of the rejection letters offered useful feedback.  On one occasion I received two rejections, one from an editor and another from an agent, both citing the same problem with the manuscript.  I took their advice and revised.  The result was the version of the manuscript that finally was accepted for publication.

I was blessed with an offer for publication from Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic.  In our first telephone conversation, I was very nervous, having never spoken at length to a children's book editor, certainly not to one who was interested in my book.  There were one or two other editors at the time who were still considering my book, and so my agent told me that this first conversation with Cheryl Klein was an opportunity to see if I thought she was someone with whom I could work.  I don't remember much of that conversation.  I know I nervously paced the whole house.  The one thing that I clearly remember was when Ms. Klein and I were discussing the war in Afghanistan.  She said that after reading Words in the Dust, whenever she read about the war or changes in war policy, she couldn't help wondering what effect that policy would have on girls like Zulaikha.  That's when I knew that Cheryl Klein was the exact right person to work with on this novel.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

I think it's important to love writing and revising for its own sake.  If a beginning writer is satisfied to just have fun working on a story and to enjoy revising and improving his craft, without constantly worrying about publishing and promoting, he has a much better chance of writing the sort of book that agents and editors are looking for.
Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

My wife and I have recently moved to the state of Washington, so I look forward to exploring my new home.  So far it's a beautiful and fascinating place.  I'm also eager to meet other writers.  I'm always interested to learn about how an author works or about her philosophies about writing and literature.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway? Please share!

I always have new writing ventures underway!  Writing is my favorite activity in the world.  One of my favorite challenges is that I'm always dreaming up ideas faster than I can write the stories.  I do have a few novels in various stages of production, but it's still too early to offer details about them, except to say I'm having loads of fun writing them.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about Words in the Dust? 

Absolutely!  I hope people will take a moment to look around my website at:

There's a section there where readers can contact me.  I'm always eager to hear from people.

And now for the give-away!! I have one copy of Words in the Dust to give to one lucky responder. Here are the rules:
1. To be eligible, you must be from the US
2. You merely have to leave a comment with contact info
3. If you tweet or Facebook this post, add that to your comment for one additional "comment" point per
4. The winner will be chosen next week! 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Voices You Should Hear: Bethany Hegedus on Character

What a great way to start off 2011. I'm hosting my sweet friend and talented writer Bethany Hegedus, whose newest novel is Truth With a Capital T (Delacort Books, 2010), a charmer of a book. Here's a brief synopsis of Truth:

Lots of families have secrets. Little-Known Fact: My family has an antebellum house with a locked wing—and I’ve got a secret of my own.

I thought getting kicked out of the Gifted & Talented program—or not being “pegged,” as Mama said—¬was the worst thing that could happen to me. W-r-o-n-g, wrong. I arrived in Tweedle, Georgia, to spend the summer with Granny and Gramps, only to find no sign of them. When they finally showed up, Cousin Isaac was there too, with his trumpet in hand, and I found myself having to pretend to be thrilled about watching my musical family rehearse for the town's Anniversary Spectacular. It was h-a-r-d, hard. Meanwhile, I, Maebelle T.-for-No-Talent Earl, set out to win a blue ribbon with an old family recipe. But what was harder and even more wrong than any of that was breaking into the locked wing of my grandparents’ house, trying to learn the Truth with a capital T about Josiah T. Eberlee, my long-gone-but-not-forgotten relation. To succeed, I couldn't be a solo act. I’d need my new friends, a basset hound named Cotton, the strength of my entire family, and a little help from a secret code.

With grace and humor and a heaping helping of little-known facts, Bethany Hegedus incorporates the passions of the North and the South and bridges the past and the present in this story about one summer in the life of a sassy Southern girl and her trumpet-playing adopted Northern cousin.

Bethany consented to write an excellent guest post on character, clearly her forte:

“Ensemble pieces,” is a phrase that is most heard when discussing acting.  It could be bandied about when seeing a film, a play or even a sitcom such as Modern Family or a dramedy such as Parenthood. Interesting to note, these are both current popular TV ensembles that are based around families—but there are others. What about the cast of Lost, Mary Tyler Moore, Cheers, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All of these have viewpoint main characters (well, except for Lost but most would say Jack is the MC of the show) and still all are considered ensemble shows. Is this because television is somewhat comparable to series fiction? What about stand-alone works?

Recently, the Happy Nappy Bookseller, blogged about my newest novel, Truth with a Capital T. She wrote: “I liked Maebelle from the start…she could easily carry the story on her own but the author doesn't put it all on Mabelle's shoulders. Hegedus writes a great story, using all the characters she created. The friendship between the five (friends) was one of my favorite parts of the book.” This got me to thinking…hmmmm…did I write an ensemble book? Why, yes, I believe I did.
So how does one write an ensemble book? I am not 100 % sure. I’ve never read about ensemble character development in any of my favorite craft books, but I have some idea why Truth with a Capital T doesn’t rest solely on Maebelle’s shoulders though the book is told in first person and from her pov. Some of the important elements in creating an ensemble piece are:

1.     A likable but flaw-filled main character.
Yes, Maebelle is likable (I hope) and goodness knows she is flawed. The fact that Maebelle has flaws—numerous ones—made her all the more fun to write and I hope all the more fun to read. She is tenacious, jealous, and she jumps to conclusions.  (And, she has a big, big heart as well as a love for little-known-facts.) To overcome her flaws and to learn from them, Maebelle needs to interact with others. She has to butt up against Isaac, her trumpet playing prodigy of a cousin. She needs to not quit when it comes to finding her talent—whether it be baking a blackberry cobbler,  trying to learn a clogging routine, or somehow getting in the locked wing of her grandparent’s newly inherited historic home. And, she needs to face the facts, that acting rash and jumping to conclusions can lead her into trouble, with a capital T.

2.     An over-arching story problem that affects ALL, and not just the main character.
What may or may not be found in the locked wing affects the Hillibrand boys, Ruth, and everyone in the town of Tweedle—not  just Maebelle and Isaac.
Who is Ruby Red? Did Josiah T. Eberlee, Maebelle’s long dead but not forgotten relation, own slaves? What is the truth about the town’s past and how will finding out the answer affect the town’s future.
The over-arching story problem—the mystery that is history—is one that needs to be answered and has implications for all.
Maebelle has the most at stake in finding out the answer but others are involved to.

3.     A unique and well-drawn cast of supporting characters, who have wants and needs of their own.
Issac wants to be accepted and loved. Ruth wants a boyfriend. Jimmy Hillibrand wants to kiss a girl under the Kiss-Me-Quick Bridge before the summer is over and Taylor Hillibrand, the older of the Hillibrand boys, wants to play video games and do pop-a-wheelies.  Together, along with Maebelle these four make up the heart of the ensemble cast. But, there are more characters and they have wants and needs too.
Gramps wants the locked wing to stay locked and everyone to stop digging in his family’s past. Granny wants to know as much as the kids do what is behind the locked door. Cotton, the basset hound, just wants to howl. And, Mr. Phelps, the town librarian and historian wants to know whether or not Oak Alley, the inherited historic home, was or was not a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Ah, and then there are the townspeople of Tweedle, Georgia. They just want to witness one heck of an Anniversary Spectacular.  And what does Maebelle want—some may say she wants to find her talent but she really wants to be appreciated for who and what she is. Perhaps her want is very similar to Isaac, who wants acceptance and love, but it is still slightly different. Maebelle needs to accept herself and Isaac wants the acceptance of others. Isaac’s talents are appreciated by others and Maebelle wants her talents to be seen as valuable too. They are good foils for one another.

4.     The ensemble comes together to act as one.
The Clandestine Cloggers, as Maebelle, Isaac, Jimmy, Taylor and Ruth, come to be known don’t just dance as a group. They act as one. Together they research and record many facts about the town in 1859, the townspeople, and what may or may not have transpired there. What they discover together is what helps Maebelle, as the main character, discover the necessary information for the BIG reveal at the climax.

Creating an ensemble cast of characters isn’t easy but there are reasons why readers may respond to ensemble casts. By the time the reader gets to the novels end, he/she may have identified with any one of a number of characters. As a child, I was as fond of the Cowardly Lion as I was of Dorothy and even though I came to Because of Winn-Dixie as an adult, I am as fond of Gloria Dump as I am of India Opal Buloini. That brings me to another plus of ensemble work. By its very nature, a group dynamic creates a sense of community and by the end of the book, just like the main character, the reader will know he or she is not alone.

I am not sure if it takes a village to raise a child but I am sure it took a village to surround Miss Maebelle and give her the time, tension, and attention she so needed and deserved.

You can find out more about Bethany, Truth, and Bethany's other work at