Look Who I Found! (And What She Wrote!)

Lisa tyre bookOne of my favorite things about being a member of the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI is meeting all the wonderful authors who live right down the road from me. Of course, in the South, right down the road might be miles and miles away, but us Breezers always seem to have an immediate connection wherever we are.

That’s the way it was when I met Lisa Lewis Tyre, and when her first book came out this month—LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS—I had to invite her to come and share this delightful middle grade novel as well as her journey.

Lisa, I just loved these characters! From 12-year-old Lou to her grandmother to football star, Isaac, I was drawn in by their deep authenticity. How many relatives think they’re in your book? (And come on, we won’t tell anyone. How many actually are?)

Ha! There are several, shall we say, similarities between characters in the book and family members. Lou loves UT like a dear cousin, and my father does actually own a dump truck (or two), but all of the characters are works of fiction, despite what my family thinks.

Your book skillfully weaves a Civil War mystery, the Underground Railroad, and modern day racism into a page-turning debut. Tell us a little about your research for LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS.

Thanks so much. I spent a lot of time on Civil War websites, reading. I wanted to make sure that the diary entries matched what was actually happening. I bought a Civil War diary off of Ebay, (best $6.00 dollars I ever spent) and got a lot of information from the TN.gov website. I haven’t received any angry emails from historians saying I got something wrong so far. Fingers crossed!

God, church, the bible—I really liked the way you worked this spiritual element throughout Lou’s story without being heavy-handed. We don’t often see religion in our mainstream books and I’m wondering if there was ever any question about adding religion?

I am happy to say, not once! The religious aspect was important to me for a couple of reasons. One, I felt like it was realistic. Small, Southern towns are full of churches and I would expect Lou to either go, or wonder why her family didn’t. Secondly, because the story takes place over the summer, it gave me a way for the kids to meet/plan.

lisa_tyre_webAnd what about your publishing journey? When did you start writing and how did you end up at Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six, and I’ve written short stories off and on for years. About six years ago, I decided that if I didn’t really give it my all, it would be my one regret. So I finished REBELS, and started looking for an agent. After about a month of querying, where I sent out 5 or so a week, I found my agent, Susan Hawk. (Side note: LOVE her.) Susan sent the book out on submission and we landed, happily, ecstatically, and euphorically with Nancy Paulsen.

So now is the time I ask you to share your writing wisdom and/or gems. What’s the best advice you can give to my readers? And what’s the one thing you will never do again?

One, Get serious. Writing may be a dream, but you have to treat it like work. And secondly, Don’t give up. It’s hard in the beginning to believe it will happen, but I’m proof that it does. If the silliest girl that ever came out of Zollicoffer, TN can do it, anyone can.

The one thing I will never do is disparage another writer. Not every book is my cup of tea, but my hat is off to anyone that sits down and finishes a manuscript.

Amen to that, Lisa! And thanks so much for stopping by!

Honestly, if you have middle grade readers at your house (or in your classrooms), they’re going to zip through LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS. The history and mystery hooked me from the get-go, as Lou’s grandmother might say, and I can’t wait to see what Lisa Lewis Tyre comes up with next! (And maybe she’ll give us a sneak peek this weekend at wik’15, my SCBWI region’s fall writer’s conference in Birmingham, Alabama. Hope to see lots of friends there!)

Oh! Wait a second, y’all! I have an ARC (that’s an Advanced Reader’s Copy) of LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS and I’ll give it away to one of my lucky (and US only, please) readers. All you have to do is…let’s see. One of the things I LOVED in Lisa’s book was her use of Southern expressions. So leave an expression–it doesn’t have to be Southern but it does have to be PG–in the comments and I’ll enter your name in the giveaway. Then I’ll draw a name next week when I get back from conferencin’. (See what I did there? I took a noun and made it a verb. That’s a Southern thing, y’all.)

Cultural Diversity in Children’s Books with Fiona Ingram, Author of The Search for the Stone of Excalibur

excalibur front cover final2-2Author Fiona Ingram is visiting the blog today, on a WOW! tour for The Search for the Stone of Excalibur

This middle grade adventure picks up the story following the first mystery she penned, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab. Cousins Justin and Adam face modern as well as ancient dangers in their search to find Excalibur. And what’s up with Kim, the girl their aunt has sent along to help them?

Fortunately for us, we have Fiona to explain a little something something about Kim–and Cultural Diversity in Children’s Books:

In the early 1960s, Canadian philosopher and writer Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ‘global village,’ in effect predicting that in time electronic media would draw the world’s populations closer. Now in 2015, over fifty years later, we need more than ever to acknowledge, accept and celebrate that there are people with different languages, cultures and religious beliefs. We should know more about the other people on our planet, but do we in essence teach our children that everyone has the same rights and deserves acceptance? I was brought up in apartheid South Africa by open-minded parents who valued people and taught us acceptance of everyone, regardless of color. Post-apartheid South Africa has a wide range of people from different race groups, languages, and cultural beliefs; and indeed there are still haves and have-nots. In my second book, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, the two young heroes—Justin and Adam—meet someone who is just like them, yet comes from a completely different background. They have well-off parents, while disadvantaged Kim is living with their Aunt Isabel so as to get a better education.

Readers might be interested to know that the character of Kim in Book 2 is based on a real child, an African child I fostered and later adopted. My young nephews (who inspired the book series) did have a bit of a cultural shock meeting someone who did not come from a well off background, and who needed another person’s help to perform better at school. In subsequent books, the heroic trio encounter different scenarios in different countries, and truly experience multiculturalism. Young readers who follow their adventures are steeped in various histories and cultures covering thousands of years in diverse locales. Book 3 (The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper) takes the trio to Central America, where they meet an uncontacted tribe and learn about people who wish to preserve their own unique way of life in the jungle. They also learn about the dangers facing the rain forests, wildlife and indigenous people from industry and mining.

A reviewer commented on my books, saying: “Contrary to today’s apparent trend of watering down our differences, your stories celebrate those differences, which I believe will better serve your young readers as they become the next wave of world leaders.” I was moved by this comment because the places I have chosen as locales for the future adventures are rich in ancient history and stories and legends that anyone would be proud to call their heritage. These elements should be preserved as cultural wealth; special and unique moments in a people’s history that have meaning for them. By including diversity in children’s literature, an author is able to help broaden cultural understanding and acceptance between young readers and reduce conflicts. It’s a great way to teach kids that there are others who might not have all the advantages they enjoy, and that caring and sharing, and respecting others is part of the process of being a compassionate human being. As an end note, Book 1: The Secret of the Sacred Scarab is now available in Japan and I hope young Japanese readers will just love reading about an amazing Egyptian adventure in their own language.

The internet has made the world a smaller place than when I was a kid, sharing information about people from all over the four corners of the earth. And yet we still struggle with the big issues: accepting others, treating those who are different from us with respect, and celebrating those differences. I love to see books like The Search for the Stone of Excalibur that embrace and celebrate different cultures–and tell a rollicking good story to boot!

FionaIngram-794310And now here’s a little more about Fiona Ingram:

Fiona Ingram was born and educated in South Africa, and has worked as a full-time journalist and editor. Her interest in ancient history, mystery, and legends, and her enjoyment of travel resulted in The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, the first in her exciting children’s adventure series—The Chronicles of the Stone. This was inspired by a family trip the author took with her mom and two young nephews aged ten and twelve at the time. The book began as a short story for her nephews and grew from there. The Search for the Stone of Excalibur is a treat for young King Arthur fans. Fiona is busy with Book 3 entitled The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper, set in Mexico.

While writing The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, Fiona fostered (and later adopted) a young African child from a disadvantaged background. Her daughter became the inspiration for the little heroine, Kim, in The Search for the Stone of Excalibur. Interestingly, the fictional character’s background and social problems are reflected in the book as Kim learns to deal with life. Fiona’s experiences in teaching her daughter to read and to enjoy books also inspired many of her articles on child literacy and getting kids to love reading.

You can follow Fiona on Facebook or Twitter, and check out her blog, too. (She always shares the most interesting animal stories!) And of course, look for her fun and fascinating mystery, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur. You’ll learn something new on every page!

Five Questions for Margo L. Dill, Author of Finding My Place (And A Giveaway!)

Final Finding My Place CoverI’m SO excited to have Margo L. Dill joining me today! Her debut middle grade historical fiction, Finding My Place, has been out for a month or so and Margo is visiting blogs to share her story and her wonderful writing expertise. So I put five questions to her that I thought might be helpful to any and all writers out there, a little something for everyone! And P.S. You’ll want to read to the very end because Margo has something special for one lucky commenter!

 

1. Finding My Place is set in Vicksburg, Mississippi during the siege there in 1863, and honestly, I think the setting really makes this a unique Civil War story! I often wonder whether, when it comes to historical fiction, writers have an idea, then jump into the research? Or if a writer falls in love with a subject, then comes up with a story. So which came first for you, the history or the plot?

What came first for me was the history. I was teaching fifth grade social studies, when I read in the book, ONE PARAGRAPH about Vicksburg, Mississippi. It said how the citizens showed remarkable strength, lived in caves, and ate rats to keep from surrendering to the Yankees. I needed a novel idea because I was taking a correspondence course about writing for children, and so there was my idea!

 

2. Your heroine, Anna Green, has several siblings, but it’s her younger brother, James, who really tries her patience! How much of your own sibling relationships came into play in the story?

You are going to laugh at this—I am an only child. I have no idea what it’s like to have a sibling, but my husband has two younger siblings—a brother and then a sister. Whenever they are together, they talk all about the past and all the awful things they used to do to each other. Now, they love each other and are close—but back then, my husband is lucky that he has all of his limbs! Actually, my brother-in-law is the one that is lucky—one time my husband accidentally shot him in the leg with a bow and arrow!

 

3. I know this is totally geeky, but I love research notes as much as story, and you had some wonderful tidbits of information in your notes! What surprised you the most about life in Vicksburg during the war? And what made you say, “Ewwww. You’ve got to be kidding!”?

The substitutions that the Vicksburg citizens used so they wouldn’t surrender to the Blue Bellies were amazing to me. Instead of drinking coffee, they created coffee out of acorns! When they didn’t have any paper left, they printed their news on the back of wallpaper. They were creative and resourceful, and I love that spirit. As for gross—all the stuff I read about wounded soldiers and their treatments—gross—it is amazing anyone survived the Civil War. I couldn’t put a lot of that in my book since it’s middle-grade, but I do have some in there when Anna goes and works at an army hospital.

 

4. The road to publication for Finding My Place seemed to hit a few bumps along the way, but I’m so glad you succeeded! What advice can you give to writers struggling to get their novel published?

Don’t give up. It took 11 years from the idea to holding the book in my hand. Part of that was the fact this was my first novel, and I had no idea what I was doing. J I had a critique group that helped me , and I went to writing conferences. Once I had it revised and ready-to-go (really!), I found a publisher fairly quickly—I think I sent to three or four and got two responses—to get to that point took five years. Then once I signed my contract and turned in my final copy, instead of 18 months to publication, it took almost five more years! This was because of the economy and things beyond my control. I just kept writing and kept publishing and kept communicating with my publisher. In the end, it all worked out!

 

5. So we’ve talked about history, but now it’s time to take a look at the future. Inquiring middle-schooler (and older) minds want to know, so what can we expect to read about in the next Margo L. Dill novel?

I am working on a few things—I have a YA that is almost finished—my critique group says send it out, but I have a few more things I want to do. I also have a rough draft finished for a middle-grade mystery novel (contemporary, humorous) that I want to work on in the winter and hopefully send out in the spring. I have two picture books under contract, and those will be out in the future, too. As for more historical fiction, I’m not ruling it out, but it is very time-consuming and difficult to write. I’m going to have to wait until my daughter is in kindergarten!

 

Margo short hairSo there you have it–all you wanted to know about Finding My Place! Oh! Hold on a tic. I didn’t give you the story itself. As it happens, I read Margo’s wonderful book and was lucky enough to review it over at The Muffin. I’m also lucky enough to know Margo, in a virtual way. She’s a contributing editor at WOW! Women-on-writing, which brings me to another lovely surprise for you!

Margo is offering one of two professional critiques/evaluations. There will be one winner and she/he may choose one of the following:

**Professional critique of the first 5 pages of any novel, nonfiction work, or short story
OR
**Professional evaluation of a blog or social media profile with a written summary of what works and suggestions
All you have to do to win is leave a comment here and I’ll draw a name. It’s a swell prize, right? And Finding My Place is a swell book. You can find out how to get an autographed copy for your favorite young reader right here. It’s so easy, even I could do it. (And P.S. I did.)

 

Finding Tips on Writing Historical Fiction

I’m so glad that Vicky Alvear Shecter (author of CLEOPATRA’S MOON) guest posted over at Cynsations! Because when she spoke recently about writing historical fiction at our local schmooze, I was so busy doing the schmoozing that I forgot to do the note-taking.

Vicky’ book, as you can guess, is based on ancient Egyptian times, during the reign of Cleopatra and beyond as we follow the Queen’s daughter (Yes, Cleopatra had a daughter. Her name was Selene.) So as you can also probably guess, Vicky had a handful of researching to do.

Of course, she loves ancient history. She’s really kind of geeky about the whole subject, in an infectious way. And though she doesn’t mention this as one of her tips, I think you should keep “loving your subject matter” in mind. Because you’re going to be cozying up with your subject for quite a long time. Not to mention that your readers will sense your passion in your writing.

I’m always impressed with authors who take on historical fiction. Not only do they have to come up with a great story, and a story that’s believable for the time period, but they also have to be on the lookout for people who’ll read their book and say things like, “Pardon me. But you referred to this man’s cape as magenta. Magenta was not even invented for another 37 years. Ha!”

Attention to detail is very important with historical fiction. But don’t take my word for it. Go read Vicky’s post–and the comments, too. (Um, you may want to take a few notes.)

Like History? A Keeper of a Contest for You!

I’ve always been kind of a history nut. Like if I’m walking along a path around Native American mounds, I might say, “Wow. Four hundred years ago (give or take a decade), a Cherokee woman might have walked this exact same path.”

When my kids were little, and accompanied me on these adventures back in time, they laughed about my “Wow” remarks. That’s okay. I’ve always been seriously awed by the people who’ve walked before us. I still am. So I just might give this latest Children’s Writer Contest a go.

It’s historical fiction for age 13, up to 1500 words, and due by October 31st. And you must have a strong bibliography of resources. That’s the sticking point for me. I don’t have any historical research hanging around.

But if you’ve written an historical novel, and have tons of interesting tidbits in your research file, you should jump on this contest! You could win FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS! And if you already subscribe to Children’s Writer, you don’t have to pay the entry fee. But even if you have to pay the $15, you’ll get an 8 month subscription with it.

Um, anyone got some great historical research they’re not using? I’ll trade you for a scathingly brilliant story idea.