Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Matt Faulkner On His Graphic Novel, GAIJIN: AMERICAN PRISONER OF WAR

This week I'm delighted to introduce my EMLA colleague Matt Faulkner, whose newest book is the graphic novel (yes, he's the artist, too) Gaijin: American Prisoner of War

Matt is an award-winning children's book author and illustrator who has illustrated twenty-nine books and written and illustrated seven since he began his career back in 1985. He enjoys working on projects of both historical and fantastical natures (and he concentrates very hard not to get them confused). His author/illustrated book A Taste of Colored Water (Simon and Schuster) was recently chosen by the School Library Journal as a significant book for sharing concepts of diversity with kids. And the San Francisco Chronicle calls his recently released graphic novel, Gaijin: American Prisoner of War (Disney/Hyperion) “superb”! Matt is married to author, national speaker on early literacy and librarian Kris Remenar and lives with their children in the lower right hand corner of Michigan.

Congratulations on the publication of your new graphic novel, Gaijin: American Prisoner of War. What a gorgeous cover. And, ahem, Trekkies (raises her hand) should check out your blurb from George Takei. How cool! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thanks, Janet, for the invitation onto your wonderful blog!

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War (Disney/Hyperion, April 2014) is my first graphic novel and tells the tale of 13 year old Japanese/Irish American Koji and his Irish American mom, Adeline, as they are interned in a prison camp in California during WWII. As a result of hysteria, racism and economic exploitation, over 110,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned in these camps from 1942 to 1946- what is more, over half of those interned were children.  When Koji first receives a letter from the government informing him of his pending internment, Adeline marches down to the army office, irate at the insanity of imprisoning a 13 year old because of his race and demanding that he be exempt. She is told that because of his race Koji must go to the camp, but, because of her protests she is allowed to accompany him. For most of the book Adeline and Koji bunk together in a horse stall at the former racing track now prison camp- Alameda Downs. Being a teen, Koji expresses his angst and anger toward the situation by acting out. He soon gets involved with bunch of older kids- trouble makers. Only through the love of his mother and the help of friends is he able to free himself from their influence.

The book was inspired by the internment of my great aunt Adeline, her daughter Mary and Mary’s three babies. When I first considered writing a story about their experiences our two sides of the family had lost touch back in the 1970’s. I looked for them over the years but until very late in the process I wasn’t able to locate my “Adeline cousins”. Eventually, I decided to write the story and honor Adeline by using her name and as much as I knew of their experience. The night that I turned in the my first set of sketches to my editor I did one last online search and, believe it or not- I found a post at the Manzanar National Park research site that eventually lead to our reconnecting after 40 years! Boy, did we ever have a party!

How fabulous to connect your work with your family like that! How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

My first authored/illustrated picture book came out in 1985. It’s called The Amazing Voyage of Jackie Grace (Scholastic). It’s got pirates. And big waves with faces in ‘em. I still get emails about this one!

Since 1985 I’ve written/illustrated seven books for kids and illustrated another twenty-nine.

Can you describe your path to the publication of GAIJIN?

GAIJIN was first conjured back in the late 1990’s along with a picture book I wrote for Simon&Schuster called A Taste of Colored Water. It’s not that I thought of these two as a compendium pair. I just came up with the concepts around the same time. GAIJIN sat on a back burner for over ten years until I started playing with imagery for it in 2007. Originally I had thought the book would be executed in ink. Then I started messing around with pencil images and finally, when I came upon the idea that Koji’s daylight panels would be rendered in browns and blues and his dream imagery would be rendered in vibrant, full color, I decided to work in water color and gouache. My agent at the time, Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Lit.,  did a great job in negotiating the books contract with Disney/Hyperion in 2009. It took three years to render all 140 pages of panels.

Wow. That's such a commitment of time and energy. Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Sure. I’ve gone back and forth about how to structure my creative process and I find it an absolute necessity to have a set place and time in which I will create. Defining a specific space somewhere in my house (or out of it) and setting firm time frames in which I will create has gone a long way toward helping my creative self (or muse, if you will) develop a trusting relationship with me. Prior to working in this manner, I spent a lot of time indulging my muse's whims- working all night, sleeping all day, having to use a certain brush or pen or laptop, allowing all sorts of interruptions to separate me from the sometimes difficult process of creating.

A little discipline goes a long way.

It sounds like you have discipline in spades. Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.? 

I got married a few years back to my lovely wife, Kris Remenar- kid’s book author (Groundhog’s Dilemma, Charlesbridge, 2015), children’s librarian and national speaker on early literacy. Being with her, developing a partnership, supporting our family and our dreams- this has been tremendously inspiring to me. 

The future? I want to continue to develop the graphic novel format for children. For so long I’ve witnessed a disconnect in our education system in which nurturing our children’s creative process sat on the scale of importance. Of late, I’ve seen the tremendous exodus of arts programs from so many school systems and the development test taking mania I’ve become fairly frightened for our future “creatives”. And yet, with the recent emergence of the graphic novel and the way it has been embraced by librarians and media specialists, I’ve found some hope. I’d like to help continue this healthy development by adding some of my own titles to the graphic novel library.

I think you are well on your way with GAIJIN, especially in its appeal to boy readers. Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I am illustrating two books: Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar, Charlesbridge, 2015
and Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport, Disney/Hyperion, 2015

And I have two of my own projects on the drawing table- one tells the story of a mob of bunnies who venture into town one day annually in search of the perfect burrito and the other tells the story of Quin, a youngster who wakes to find that a large number of his dreams have missed their train back to where ever it is they come from and are stuck over here. He helps them build a bridge back to their world, utilizing a good deal of his parent’s prized possessions.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about GAIJIN? 

You bet!

You can also hear more from me at:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Elizabeth Dulemba: Why I Write For Teens

My guest this week is Elizabeth Dulemba. She's a talented picture book author who has ventured into the middle-grade world with her debut novel A BIRD ON WATER STREET, already garnering great praise. Elizabeth is also my new "agency-sister" at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, so I'm doubly thrilled to have her here. And her question - why write for kids and not for adults - is one I encounter all the time, and I share her passion for the answer to that question. 

Elizabeth has graciously offered to host a giveaway of a signed copy of A BIRD ON WATER STREET, so please comment to enter, and if you've reposted let me know for more points!

Here's Elizabeth:

Most authors of mid-grade novels get the question at some point, "Why do you write for teens? Why not write for adults?" And within the kidlit community, "Why write mid-grade? Why not write Young Adult?”

As a picture book author/illustrator for thirteen years, I'd heard the stories of such conversations, but I thought it was a cliché, a myth of the writing community. That was until word got out about my debut historical fiction mid-grade, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, and I started getting the questions myself. Happily, I have an answer.

Adult novels seem to me to be about solving problems (mysteries!), or finding that perfect mate, or re-discovering oneself. The first two elements might be indicative of any good story (replace mate with friend/companion/whatever). But the third is where I like to dwell. But I skip all of the re-discovery nonsense and go straight to the source, in the beginning, when a main character isn't re-discovering anything - when they are discovering who they are and what the world is all about for the first time.

To me, it makes for unpredictable scenarios. Young teens arent yet set in their ways. They dont know if they are generally good or bad, if they tend to make smart decisions or not. It's all new territory and the pendulum could swing either way.

Like thirteen-year-old Jack in A BIRD ON WATER STREET… will he stand up for what he believes in, or follow the generation of miners in his family into a career that causes him anxiety and distress? When Jack’s uncle is killed in a mine collapse, will he stand by mining as a viable option for his future, or will he try to do something to improve the damage that has been done to the land after a century of poor copper mining practices and pollution? His family may love everything underground, but Jack loves everything above - or what is supposed to be above anyhow. His denuded home has no weeds, no trees, no bugs, no birds. How can Jack follow his heart and support his community at the same time?

In the hands of a young boy, these are enormous questions - how to be true to yourself, or who you think you might be, especially when it runs counter to who youve been taught to be.

It's all about firsts really, when the world is still a wonder. When a teen is trying to make sense of things. It’s an exciting and unpredictable time. There is such promise and possibility - the world is wide open! It's a powerful sensation, which is why I find it especially profound to explore those emotions when they're happening for the first time. It's why mid-grade may very well be a sweet spot for me. I hope for my readers too!

·      Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance OKRA Book Pick
·      Gold Moms Choice Award
·      ABOWS has been chosen as THE 2014 title to represent the state of Georgia at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Website:          http://dulemba.com
Twitter:           @dulemba
Sign up for my newsletter and get free coloring pages at: http://dulemba.com/index_ColoringPages.html

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children's book author/illustrator with two dozen titles to her credit. She is Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Southern Breeze region, a Board Member for the Georgia Center for the Book, and a Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program. She speaks regularly at schools, festivals, and events, and her "Coloring Page Tuesday" images (free to parents, teachers and librarians) garner around a million hits to her website annually with over 3,500 subscribers to her newsletter. A BIRD ON WATER STREET (Little Pickle Press) is her first novel and has already won three awards: it is a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Okra Pick; a Gold Moms Choice Award Winner; and is THE 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for the state of Georgia in Washington, D.C. Learn more at <http://ABirdOnWaterStreet.com>.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Map Art: A Fab Nonfiction Project Lab

This week I'm participating in a blog tour for a gorgeous new book: Map Art Lab, by Jill K. Berry and Linden McNeilly.

Before I began writing for children I experimented with design, and took a series of classes at Rhode Island School of Design, one of which was 2-Dimensional Design. One of my portfolio requirements was to design a game board.

I wish I'd had this book back then - because there, on page 94, is a wonderful way to make a game board, complete with lore and images of some of the earliest boards.

And that's what this book is filled with. Beautiful and artistic projects, with stunning visuals and fun histories. And, hey, there are 52 of these projects, so you and the kids could spend an entire year, one week at a time, having a blast.

If you comment on this or on any of the other tour stops (see below) you'll be entered in contests to win a copy of this must-have book. For this stop, please leave a comment with contact info and whether you've posted to other social media. 

May 7 Linden McNeilly  http://www.facebook.com/lindenmcn
May 8 Kim Rae Nugent   http://kimraenugent.blogspot.com/
May 9 Cynthia Morris   http://www.originalimpulse.com/blog/
May 12 Sean Corcoran  https://www.facebook.com/TheArtHand
May 14 Tony Kehlhofer  http://www.maps4kids.com/blog
May 15 Laurie Mika   http://mikaarts.com/wordpress/
May 16 Jill Berry  http://jillberrydesign.com/blog/

Go for it!

And the Winner Is..........

I'm delighted to announce that L Myles has won an ARC of Penelope Crumb Is Mad at the Moon! Thanks for all your comments!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Interview With Penelope Crumb...err, Shawn Stout

Shawn Stout and I overlapped at Vermont College of Fine Arts a few years ago. At the time she was just getting started - and, zowee. She has some fantastic books out now, including this series, Penelope Crumb. Check out those luscious covers, and, let me tell you, the voice in these is spot-on.

Now, I happen to have an ARC of Penelope Crumb is Mad at the Moon. IF I get a handful of comments, oh, say, five or so (include contact info, please), I'll enter you all in a giveaway of this ARC. Otherwise, she's mine.

Hi Shawn! I LOVE Penelope. Please tell readers a bit about the series.

Thanks, Janet! There are three books out now in the series, and the fourth one, which I think is the last—PENELOPE CRUMB IS MAD AT THE MOON—is set to come out in September. They follow fourth grader Penelope Crumb as she tries to make sense of the world, understand why her teacher Miss Stunkel has it in for her, deal with her older brother who’s an alien, figure out how her big nose gives her super powers, and find her long lost grandpa. Oh, and she gets in a lot of trouble along the way. And did I mention that she is kind of obsessed with dead things? Oh yeah, she totally is.

Not since Clementine and Junie B. have I read such a strong and charming middle-grade voice.  Where does Penelope come from?

That’s so nice of you to say. I’m not quite sure, to be honest. There’s a lot of me in Penelope’s voice, but mostly she is a character who has been in my head for many years. I knew only three things about Penelope when I started writing the first book: 1) she had a big nose but didn’t know it, 2) her father was Graveyard dead, and 3) she wanted to find her grandpa who she thought was dead but turned out not to be.

Please tell readers something about how your career began and developed.

I wrote for many years and then stopped for about a decade, mostly out of fear of failing. But after a series of unfulfilling day jobs, I decided to take a writing class. During a writing exercise, what came out was the voice of a 10-year-old, which was as much of a surprise to me as it was to my teacher. That was a jumping off point for me to rediscover the world of children’s literature. I dove in head first, reading as much as I could and taking more writing classes. I stalked Mary Quattlebaum and hung out in her living room for her advanced writing workshops until, with her encouragement, I applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts to get my MFA.

VCFA changed my life. I sold my first book before I graduated, and I’ve been lucky since.

This is your second series for middle-grade girls. Do you envision stepping out of that genre one day?

I have a middle grade constitution, I’m afraid. Inside I’m really nine or ten, but I have been working on a middle grade adventure book about a boy, so we’ll see. Maybe one day I’ll grow up and write YA, who knows?

How do you balance your life as a mom with life as an author? Does your daughter have any input as you write?

I have a full-time day job, too, so combined with being a parent to a toddler, the answer is barely. There is barely a balance, and the scales are usually tipping over. I write when I can, and I have bursts of productivity followed by days of the blankest pages you’d ever want to see. My daughter is just about three, so she doesn’t really give input in my writing, but we read a lot together, so it helps me to discover what characters she likes and finds funny.

We share a history as grads of and love for Vermont College of Fine Arts. (VCFA whoot!) How did that experience influence your writing?

VCFA changed my life. Did I say that already? Well, it cannot be said enough. I learned so much about writing, in particular, how little I knew beforehand. The faculty, the students, the alumni—they are a community unlike any other. I want to go back. Can I go back?

Let's go back together! Where else are you headed from here? Upcoming publications or story ideas? Anything else you'd like to add?

I’m currently working on a middle grade novel called A TINY PIECE OF SKY (Philomel/Penguin), which is slated to come out in early 2016. The story is set in the summer of 1939, and Frankie Baum, the youngest of three sisters tries to prove herself by clearing her father’s name after he is accused of being a German spy. She does some spying of her own to get to the truth, and what she discovers surprises everyone.

Please let readers know where they can find you...and thanks!

You can find more than you ever wanted to know about me on my Web site at: www.shawnkstout.com.

You know you want this book, so comment!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

We Need Diverse Books

Today is the day to celebrate diversity - or the lack of it in kidlit. In fact, there are many excellent books out there by outstanding authors, books like these:

But there isn't enough diversity at the top - the books that hit the big time. 

The campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks is working to get my friend Varian Johnson's newest book The Great Greene Heist on the bestseller lists.

And you know, that shouldn't be hard, given Varian's talent and the fact that it's received a starred review from Kirkus and has been named a PW Best Summer Book of 2014.

Check out Varian's blog post on this topic, and by all means, pre-order his book. And by all-all means, lobby for diversity in kidlit.