Friday, December 5, 2014

104th Annual NCTE Convention

The NCTE conference was held at the Gaylord Resort and Conference Center. I snapped this picture in the Atrium.

I was on a panel called, "Linking Young Adult Literature and Non-Fiction," with authors Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Lisa Luedeke, and Jacqueline Woodson. After each author spoke, educators Barry Gilmore, ReLeah Cossett Lent, Jennifer Buehler, and Joan Kaywell presented ways to use our books in the classroom. Here's a description of our session:

Join popular YA authors and literacy experts for this session that links YA literature to nonfiction texts. Hook students through storytelling, and they will become motivated to discover more. Participants will learn how fiction can lead students into deeper reading and expanded study through inquiry, research, writing, and speaking.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti spoke about her non-fiction titles. Her newest book is TERRIBLE TYPHOID MARY.

My topic was how I research historical fiction. I talked about how my process for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL differed from the process for my forthcoming novel, CAROLINA GIRLS. It's all a matter of how much knowledge you have beforehand, as to whether research or writing comes first.

Lisa Luedeke shared how contemporary fiction can be used to broaden classroom discussions about hot topics like bullying, underage drinking, and parental neglect. 

And coming off her National Book Award win from the night before, Jacqueline Woodson wowed the crowd by reading from her book, BROWN GIRL DREAMING.

Jacqueline's poetry and rich reading voice were the perfect way to end our session. 

I spent the rest of my time at NCTE learning. I attended as many sessions as I could fit in watching authors like Kate Messner, Varian Johnson, Linda Mullally Hunt, Augusta Scattergood, Erin Dionne, Linda Urban, Christopher Paul Curtis, and many more. NCTE is truly a "writers' bucket list" experience.

Happy Holidays to all, and I hope you'll add lots of books to your shopping lists!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Putting the Personal In History - Augusta Scattergood and Shannon Hitchcock

A photo with Augusta Scattergood following our presentation, Putting the Personal in History, at the Bloomingdale Public Library in Valrico, Florida.

Here's the official description:


Augusta Scattergood and
Shannon Hitchcock

Saturday, November 1, 2014
2:00-4:00 p.m.
Bloomingdale Public Library
1906 Bloomingdale Ave.
Valrico, FL 33596-6204

In this session, Augusta Scattergood and Shannon Hitchcock will reveal how they used events that were up close and personal to write their Crystal Kite Award-winning novels GLORY BE and THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, as well as their current works-in-progress. Augusta and Shannon will interview each other to reveal how writing what you love, finding the hook, and careful research can benefit any manuscript, not just historical fiction. I like to think of this session as dueling banjos, but with books.

Augusta and Shannon will also dialog about how to find your story's heart. And will share the best writing advice they ever received, as an extra added treat. Plus there will be some fantastic door prizes, including a book bag full of brand new books!

Bring your writing notebooks, pens, and ideas for your own stories and we'll brainstorm together in this interactive session.

Augusta Scattergood's next book, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, will be released by Scholastic in January 2015. Learn more about Augusta at her website. Shannon Hitchcock's next book is entitled CAROLINA GIRLS and will also be released by Scholastic. Learn more about Shannon at her website.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

I recently heard Deborah Wiles speak at the SCBWI Orlando Conference, and was thrilled to get an autographed copy of her latest novel.  This is from the book jacket:

It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded. Or at least that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi, are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They're calling it Freedom Summer.

REVOLUTION has an unusual format. It's part novel and part scrapbook. In my opinion, that's the book's greatest strength and greatest weakness. I can absolutely see that the black and white photos make a great tool for classrooms. On the other hand, stopping to read a nine-page essay about Cassius Clay, (Muhammed Ali), took me out of the story at hand.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. But with this caveat: Skip all of the photos and essays and read the novel straight through. Then go back and study all of the extra material. It really is fascinating and worth the time, just not when you're trying to become engrossed in a novel.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl Featured on SCBWI Blog

Lee Wind posted a very nice interview with me about winning the Crystal Kite Award for the southeast region. You can read it on the Official SCBWI Blog:

And in case you missed it, I wrote an article for Writers Digest called Writing Historical Fiction Based on a Family Story. You can read it here:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Remembering Cynthia Chapman Willis

Cynthia Chapman Willis

I worried when Cindy died about what would happen to her stories. Over the past couple of years, I had critiqued two novels that she had been working on, but never got the chance to finish. I shouldn't have worried. Cindy took care of her manuscripts by leaving them to her dear friend and  colleague, Wiley Blevins. Wiley got right to work using Cindy's notes and his long history of collaborating with her. When Wiley finished, he gave me the privilege of being the final person to critique Cindy's manuscript. I had such a good time doing so. It was like being given the opportunity to spend one more day with her. Cindy's voice spoke to me on every page. I remembered our many conversations about her love for animals and wanting to write a high concept book. I truly believe that A Fighting Chance has evolved into the manuscript that Cindy envisioned. Wiley shared with me that Cindy said, "One of the things I mind most about dying is that I have so many stories yet to tell." I hope she has the opportunity to tell at least one more.

In addition to working on Cindy's manuscript, Wiley himself has a new novel out called, The Healing of Harold Lily. He describes it as a "hillbilly Romeo and Juliet." I recently purchased a copy and can't wait to read it.

Best of luck to Wiley on selling Cindy's manuscript and in garnering sales for his new book!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview With Author and Musician Joni Klein-Higger

Joni Klein-Higger is a children's book author, songwriter, and musical theater playwright. Her children's musical Recycle was just released by Guardian Angel Publishing.

Joni, How did you first get into writing musicals?

I grew up in a musical home. Between my parents, my three brothers and me there was always someone singing, whistling, playing the piano, strumming a guitar or squeezing an accordion. Even my bedtime routine as a young child was based around music. Instead of reading me a picture book, my father serenaded me with Irving Berlin songs and Broadway show tunes, only to be followed by a Broadway show album to help me go to sleep. It’s no wonder my brain to this day is constantly filled with music.

After graduating with a BA in Speech Communications from Ithaca College, I attended a variety of songwriting workshops in New York City. My love for songwriting and theater eventually came together when I enrolled in a musical theater workshop, and next thing you know, I was hooked!

Give us your "elevator pitch" for Recycle – The Musical

In this fun, educational musical about recycling, a “nutty professor” transports four modern day kids back to the 1950’s. Together they compare the lifestyles of today’s “disposable generation” to kids living in a time before plastic bags, aluminum cans and water bottles became a part of our every day life.

Before listening to your musical, I'd never thought about the amount of disposable products we use today as compared to the 1950's. What inspired your concept?

I’ve been writing children’s musicals for over thirteen years now. Several years ago, one of the elementary school teachers I worked with requested I write a musical about recycling for her classroom. I jumped at the opportunity to create a musical for kids involving a subject matter near and dear to my heart. The only catch was this teacher requested that we re-use the “50’s-style” costumes from a show I wrote for her that previous year. In the words of Professor Rosco, “What better way to help our future than by revisiting the past.” And so, Recycle – The Musical was born.

My favorite song from your musical is "Rock N Roll With Me." It has a real 50's vibe. What were your musical influences for writing it?

This song was written to introduce the time traveling kids to the 50’s kids while capturing the essence of the 50’s decade. The way I see it, you can’t have a “50’s musical” without a fun, hopping, 50’s dance number. My goal when creating “Rock ‘N Roll With Me” was to combine the high energy of  “Rock Around The Clock” with a song that had motions the kids could easily perform, like “The Locomotion," written by my favorite songwriter, Carole King. I loved watching the kids perform this production number—they were so into it!

How does marketing children’s musicals differ from marketing children’s books?

With children’s books, the world is our oyster for marketing our products—school visits, online promotions, book readings, etc., but for musicals I mostly target educators, summer camps and theater programs. My publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, also markets to home schoolers, religious schools and children oriented organizations.This particular musical, however, is different in that I can market it as a book as well as a musical due to its story and subject matter.

What can fans of your work look forward to seeing next?

I currently have three more works that will soon be released by Guardian Angel Publishing. 

First is A Rainbow of Friendship, which is a rhyming picture book about a girl who moves from the comforts of her “little red town” to Rainbow Row City. On her journey she discovers that friendship comes in many colors, shapes and sizes.

Next is I Have A Voice, a children’s picture book I co-wrote with Dr. Flora Zaken-Greenberg, a licensed PhD.  It is the story of a five-year-old girl who is afraid to speak and learns to overcome her problem with the help of a “Feelings doctor.”

And finally, another musical, RED, which I co-wrote with Jane Tesh.  In this musical Red Writing Hood, with the help of her magic pencil, changes fairytales and turns Fairy Tale Land upside down.

You can learn more about Joni Klein-Higger at her website, and copies of Recycle - The Musical can be purchased at Guardian Angel Publishing.

Friday, August 1, 2014

What Is A Text Set And How Can Having One Benefit An Author?

A text set is a collection of materials to supplement the study of a topic, a picture book, or a novel. A good overview can be found here.

Emily Roderique, M.Ed. English III Teacher, recently developed a text set to be used in conjunction with my book, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. A text set gives a book an advantage with educators because some of the prep work for using it has already been done.

My text set is divided into four categories: I. Tuberculosis, II. North Carolina Sanatoriums, III. Famous People Affected by TB, and IV. NC History, Culture, and Geography. Under each of these categories, Emily listed nonfiction books, websites, articles, documentaries, even blog interviews, and Pinterest boards. All of these resources supplement understanding the world in which my protagonist lived.

My favorite nonfiction book included in my text set is Jim Murphy's INVINCIBLE MICROBE.

And perhaps the most famous authors to die from tuberculosis are the Bronte sisters. Catherine Reef's wonderful biography is also included.

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL'S text set is available for free download. Leave any questions you might have in the comments. Both Emily and I are available to answer them.