Monday, July 30, 2012

Guest Post: Andy Sherrod on Boy Readers

Today I have the honor of hosting my Vermont College of Fine Arts fellow grad Andy Sherrod. Andy is not only a talented writer and all-around nice person, he's also made a close study of how boys read and why many don't, and how we as writers can appeal to so-called "reluctant readers."

Here's his research - I'd love to hear what readers think!

It’s Not Just About Gender

Many boys lose interest in voluntary reading around the age of ten or twelve earning them the label “reluctant reader.” I prefer “aliterate reader.” An aliterate reader is one who CAN read but chooses not to engage in voluntary reading because he thinks books are boring. Here’s how I know:

A national survey conducted by the Young Adult Library Services Association asked boys, an average age of 14, to list their top obstacles to reading.

39.9% said reading was no fun.
29.8% said they were too busy.
11.1% liked other activities better.
7.7% said “I can’t get into the stories.”
4.3% said they just weren’t good at it.

The top four responses, a whopping 88.5%, are essentially saying “books are boring.” Then along came Harry Potter…Hmm, they aren’t reluctant after all, they are aliterate.

So what makes for a good boy book?

Many believe that a good boy book MUST have a male protagonist. One study shows that, yes, boys prefer it by 61.7% but there is another dynamic at work. In a study by researchers at the University of Georgia, preschool children were read four stories.

1.     A male protagonist engaged in a stereotypically male activity (playing with trains).
2.     A female protagonist engaged in a stereotypically female activity (playing with dolls).
3.     A male protagonist playing with dolls.
4.     A female protagonist playing with trains.

The boys’ number one pick was the male protagonist playing with trains. However, coming in second was the GIRL playing with trains pointing to the fact that the ACTIVITY is as important as the gender of the main character.

In an article by Thomas Newkirk entitled “Misreading Masculinity: Speculations on the Great Gender Gap in Writing”, he cites research that analyzes the reading and writing differences between boys and girls. Here’s the conclusion:

In their own writing, girls keep their main characters in familiar surroundings, they are connected to a community (friends), and the conflict involves relationships.

Boys, in their own writings sent their protagonists “out there” away from the familiar, they acted alone (sometimes in isolation) to conquer physical challenges.

Many children’s books written today have both genders acting in concert with a friend or in groups, staying in a familiar place and dealing with relationship issues. No wonder so many boys think books are boring.

Here’s the take-home message. When selecting a book for an aliterate boy reader, do NOT consider the gender of the protagonist ONLY. Choose books where the main character:

1.     Acts alone
2.     Takes off somewhere
3.     Must overcome physical challenges.

If you do, you have a better chance of capturing the interest of an aliterate reader.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

New: Trailer for FORGIVEN

My son is making me a series of video teasers and trailers for my upcoming release, SIRENS, so I thought it was high time to ask him to make me a trailer for FORGIVEN. I love it! What do you think?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Debut Authors of Class of 2k12: Joanne Levy and SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE

I'm delighted to have on hand another of the talented members of the Class of 2k12, Joanne Levy, here to talk about her debut middle grade novel SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE. I really love the title (and the cover!) Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it? 

Thanks so much, Janet! I’m getting so much love about the title and I have to tell you that it all started with that! I woke up with it in my head one day and it nagged at me for about a year until I figured I needed to write a book to go with it. I’m glad I followed my instincts!

Absolutely! And following your heart, too. How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

I’ve been writing seriously with the hope of being published for about 9 years now, but it wasn’t until sometime in 2007 that I wrote my first YA. I’ve written several YA books that got some interest, but no sales. SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE actually was first written as a YA (and was the twelfth book I’d written), but an editor thought my voice would be more suited for a younger audience, so, long story short, I rewrote it as a Middle Grade and it ended up selling, so I guess she was right!

Can you describe your path to the publication of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE

It’s a very long one with a lot of winding and bumps along the way and just about no part of it was easy, linear or logical. SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE was the only book I’ve never queried an agent on, but the one that sold. But, the agent that sold it, wasn’t the one who first shopped it, but she signed me on a different book that never sold. See what I mean? None of it makes much sense. I’ve had four agents and have been on submission more times than I care to admit with several different books, and have had more rejections than some people have had hot dinners. Honestly, my path would take hours to write out, but let me just say after a lot of trying and failing and dusting myself off, I got there. 

And you've just suggested the key: persistence. Do you have any further advice for beginning writers? 

If you’re just in it for the writing—then write. Enjoy the process and let it carry your spirit to magical places. BUT, if you’re looking to get published, it’s a different beast. Be prepared to fail. Be okay with failing, because you will learn and move forward from it (and will probably learn more about writing, too). Be strong and prepare to work your butt off and make sure you REALLY want it, because it’s probably going to be hard. And even if your first book deal is easy, the stuff that comes after will be hard. I don’t know anyone in this business, even the big-name authors, who hasn’t faced failure and hardship at some point. But stay hopeful: read Stephen King’s ON WRITING and learn how failure does not mean you will continue to fail. Fail. Step over your failure. Fail again, learn. Move on. Succeed.

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

I’d love to write full-time. But I also love eating, so until people buy enough of my books to make my pesky eating habit viable from book royalties, I’m stuck with a day job. That said, right now, my biggest goal is to keep writing and hopefully make people laugh and enjoy reading the silly stories I make up in my head. Oh, and I’d like to go on a cruise soon. I really need a holiday—that counts as a goal, right?

For sure. :) Do you have any new writing ventures underway? 

I’ve just finished a funny rom-com YA about a tomboy. It’s called, uh, TOMBOY. No word on what’s happening with it yet, though. I’m also hoping SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE will have a sequel, but I’m still not sure about that, either. So really, there’s not much to tell.

Best of luck with both of these! Do you have a website where readers can learn more about SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE?  

YES! – for all the latest Joanne Levy news and other goofy stuff.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Adrian Fogelin Chats About SUMMER ON THE MOON

When a mutual friend sent me a copy of Adrian Fogelin's SUMMER ON THE MOON with the note "you must read this!" I did. And I was delighted that I did. SUMMER is a rich story of growing up in difficult circumstances, and has an authentic "boy" voice that is a marvel of craft in a rich, layered story. I had to invite Adrian to appear on my blog. Little did I know that she is not only a talented author but a songwriter with a band! Here is our interview:

Hi Adrian! Can you summarize SUMMER ON THE MOON for readers?

Sure—although writing a summary of a book has got to be harder than writing the book itself, but here goes!
Socko and his best friend Damien have just finished their last day at school and are looking forward to a boring summer in their hot inner-city apartment building where the local gang, the Tarantulas, will probably add the only excitement they can look forward to—and not the good kind—when Socko gets an unexpected get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of an offer from a great grandfather he's never met. The General, as he likes to be called, will buy a house for Socko and his mom if they keep him out of a nursing home.
Socko's mother, Delia, quickly takes the old man up on the offer and selects a house in an only partially-built housing development. What she doesn't know is that the subdivision is going bankrupt and that they are the only ones who have purchased a house in Moon Ridge Estates.
At first it seems that Socko’s summer will be spent keeping  his cranky great-grandfather company while Delia goes to work, but as he explores the wasteland that is his new neighborhood he begins to claim the territory as his own, just the way the Tarantulas claimed the old one. He turns the empty community pool into his own personal skate park and walks the beams of half-built houses.
But always at the back of his mind is the unfinished business in his old neighborhood—how can he save the best friend he left behind from being engulfed by the gang?
This book ends with a splash. Socko, who is now the guy who knows the territory, tricks Rapp, the gang leader, into putting his Trans Am in the swimming pool (now full) after a chase through the empty streets of Moon Ridge. When Rapp doesn't get out of the car Socko has to decide whether to save his worst nightmare or let Rapp drown.

A most excellent summary. Do you write from personal experience?

There is always some of my own life experience in my books. In the case of Summer on the Moon, the setting was familiar. I grew up in a brand-new subdivision a lot like Moon Ridge Estates. The only trees were planted by the developer, one on either side of the driveway. Each cast a shadow as thin as a pencil. The water for the subdivision was still a work in progress. Some days it was pink, some days blue. Standing behind my house at one end of the block I could see the houses at the other end with nothing green in between.
But personal experience played a smaller role in this book than usual. Summer on the Moon was built around a shared experience: the economic recession. Socko’s neighbors in the apartment building are all losing their jobs, in the new neighborhood he finds a homeless family squatting in one of the unsold houses. The recession affects everyone in the book, just as it has affected many of the readers I hope will pick up this book.  I wanted young readers to see their own hard times in a story and maybe open the topic for discussion.

I love the General. Please talk about how his character came to be.

The General is a member of the generation that fought in WWII—my dad’s generation. Tough and practical, they survived the Great Depression, fought in a global war (often in their teens), went to college on the GI Bill and raised families. Those that remain are in their eighties and, like the General  who is about to be surplused to a nursing home, are often dismissed for being old, cranky and irrelevant—or as Delia observed “past their pull date.”  
Before they fade into history I wanted to portray the grit and wisdom of what Tom Brokaw labeled “greatest generation,” so I created the General.

You’ve written a number of highly acclaimed books (CROSSING FORDANANNA CASEY'S PLACE IN THE WORLD). What is your process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write every day?

Pantser?  I love it! The term I’ve coined for my method is “blurter,” and yes , the seat of my pants is always involved. I have come to trust the process, even though I sometimes have no idea where I am going when I write page one. Scenes, like the pages in a pop-up book, open up as I need them. Something below the surface of my brain must be working awfully hard coming up with that next scene, but by the time my conscious mind is aware of it the scene appears as a detailed picture. All I need to do is find the words to describe what I see.
As for every-dayness, I do some kind of writing every day, even if it is only journal-keeping, but most days I am churning out pages for a novel and waiting for the next scene magically appear.

What’s up next for you?

I've just completed a draft of the next book in the Neighborhood series. So far this series goes like this: Crossing Jordan, Anne Casey's Place in the World, My Brothers Hero, The Big Nothing, The Sorta Sisters.
The new book revolves around a fedora, long forgotten in a closet.  It was left by the mysterious Uncle Paul who has not been heard from in three years. When Cody Floyd finds and begins to wear the hat it seems to give him magic powers. At first the older kids in the neighborhood make fun of Cody and his “magic hat” but when the hat finds them an abandoned garage deep in the woods, the perfect clubhouse, they begin to listen to Cody and gradually come to depend on the magic of the hat. The story is told in the course of one week, the week before Cody's seventh birthday, a birthday he shares with his vanished uncle who will unexpectedly reappear on their shared birthday.

What an engaging idea! Is there anything else you’d like to tell us – secret dreams, childhood favorite books, how you got started as a writer...?

One thing I always mention is the library my neighbors and I started at the house across the street from mine. My father lived there until his death in 2007. Because I didn’t want to sell the house I needed a good excuse to keep it (who needs two houses?).  The best excuse I could come up with was to turn it into a library for the kids of Seminole Manor Neighborhood. We now have more than 2,000 cataloged books and run programs for the kids every Sunday.  I put a link below if you would like to visit the Front Porch Library.
Secret dreams? Okay, but remember that “dream” is the operative word here. One of my favorite forms of writing is songwriting which I do collaboratively with my singing partner, Craig Reeder. I’d love it if we could write a hit—you know, the kind guys who have giant busses with their names on the side play for crazy-big audiences.
My more realistic dream is to continue to write and have my novels published and read. I am lucky to have worked for a dozen years with Peachtree Publishers, a great independent house in Atlanta. I wish every writer could find a home for their work that is as supportive. The “peaches” feel like my second family.  
Thanks for helping me keep the dream of reaching readers going Janet!

You are more than welcome! Please give readers a way to find out more about your books and you. And thanks!

My author website:
My blog for adult readers:
Literacy music video made by my band, Hot Tamale and the kids of The Front Porch Library:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Denise Jaden's New Release: NEVER ENOUGH

I love the fact that my 2k10 pals are releasing their next books, and I get to host them here! Last week Kristina McBride...and this week I'm featuring my friend Denise Jaden, and her new novel NEVER ENOUGH. Keep an eye out for her collaborative video, which is such a cool idea; I'll feature it here when it's out. Here's Denise:

Congrats on your new release, NEVER ENOUGH! Please give readers a synopsis of the story.

Loann’s always wanted to be popular and pretty like her sister, Claire. So when Claire’s ex-boyfriend starts flirting with her, Loann is willing to do whatever it takes to feel special… even if that means betraying her sister.

But as Loann slips inside Claire’s world, she discovers that everything is not as it seems. Claire’s quest for perfection is all-consuming, and comes at a dangerous price. As Claire increasingly withdraws from friends and family, Loann struggles to understand her and make amends. Can she heal their relationship —and her sister—before it’s too late?

LOSING FAITH was such a terrific debut. Did you find the second novel harder to write? Easier? How about your writing process – has that changed?

I had actually written many drafts of NEVER ENOUGH before I’d even come up with the concept for LOSING FAITH. NEVER ENOUGH has been a work in progress for about eight years, and has gone through many extensive revisions. I have since discovered NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which has taught me a lot about fast drafting and moving forward to find my real story, rather than getting caught up for months on one section.

How about the publication process now – do you feel more comfortable with it?

Yes and no. Everything takes FOREVER in publishing, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that. Also, being a figure of public scrutiny is hard to get used to. But I’m at the point now where I have so many projects on the go, it keeps me from getting too caught up in any of the more difficult parts of publishing.

You are great at publicity. Would you mind sharing what you think works best?

Thank you! I don’t enjoy selling myself, but I do enjoy social media very much. Maybe too much! So I’ve learned to put my time into the things I enjoy (read: Twitter) and not so much into the things that I don’t (read: sitting behind a table in an empty bookstore). I’m always trying new things regarding publicity, and I say yes to pretty much anything that comes my way (time-permitting), but I spend less of my time seeking out opportunities now. One new thing I’m trying with the release of NEVER ENOUGH, is a collaborative author video on self-esteem. It should be out soon and I’m really excited about it!

Has anything in your writing or personal life changed that you’d care to share?

Plenty has changed in my life since the publication of my first book. I actually had a pretty rotten year in 2011, lots of tragedies, including the sudden loss of my dad. All these things have really given me a dose of perspective. I love writing, and I’m back to a place where I’m doing it because I love it. Family is certainly my priority, though, and where my life got swept off course with the release of LOSING FAITH, I feel much more balanced coming up to this release.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a couple of projects I’m excited about. One is another YA contemporary novel with strong romance/mystery elements. It’s called FOREIGN EXCHANGE, and is about a girl who has to sneak away from her class trip in Europe, along with her crush, to find her missing best friend.

The other is my first attempt at non-fiction. I’m working on a book called WRITING WITH A HEAVY HEART: USING GRIEF AND LOSS TO STRETCH YOUR FICTION. This book is the result of a workshop I taught earlier this year on writing grief in fiction. It should be out later this year.

That sounds amazing - I look forward to both of those! Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

I try to keep my website up to date at
You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter under denisejaden.

Thanks so much, Denise!

Thank YOU, Janet!!