Saturday, September 23, 2017

My Trip to ALA Midwinter 2017

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing
with Rob at Bocado
Thanks to the Humanities Tennessee Award, I was able to travel to Atlanta and attend ALA Midwinter 2017. Although I have attended an International Reading Association conference before, this was my first time to attend an ALA conference and I was very excited about the opportunity. I arrived at my hotel and was pleased to find that it was within walking distance of the convention center and would make a great base of operations for my stay.

My friends, Rob and Pam Taylor, picked me and took me to dinner at a wonderful place, Bocado. Between the great food and the even better company, it was the perfect start to my visit.

My new pal, Oscar
On Friday, January 20, I checked in with the registration desk and explored the convention center. I wanted to make sure that I knew where all the sessions were being held so that I wouldn't miss anything. That afternoon I attended "OITP - Libraries Ready to Code: Google's CS First program & other free resources." There is great interest among my students in starting a Computer Club, so I have been researching the different programs available to use in elementary schools and a chance to meet with experts on CS First was very useful. I made a new friend named Oscar, who was also attending the conference. Unfortunately, he was too large to bring back in my carry-on bag.

The Opening Session featured W. Kamau Bell, political comedian and podcast host. The conference program described him as, "Bell is the ACLU’s Ambassador of Racial Justice and serves on the advisory boards of Race Forward, a racial justice think tank, and Hollaback, a non-profit movement to end street harassment. "

Exhibit Hall Grand Opening
Then it was time for the grand opening of the exhibit hall, and I was swept up in the crowd rushing to see what review copies and refreshments were on offer. I had emailed all the friends from various publishing offices that I knew were coming to the conference, so I pulled out the map from my program and began putting faces with all those e-pal names. I also managed to fill several promotional tote bags with ARCs (advance reader copies) and other giveaway items. When I returned to my hotel room, stuffed with snacks and feeling like a Sherpa hauling enough supplies for a party of 10, I spread out all my loot and admired it.
January 21 began with a panel discussion featuring Susan Tan, LeUyen Pham, and Scott Westerfield. They talked about many topics, including their work in the medium of graphic novels and also the issue of diversity in publishing for children and young adults. I had the chance to speak with each of them afterward while they autographed books for me.

Kwame Alexander
A session that afternoon featured my friend, and Nashville native, Jessica Young along with Linda Ragsdale and Susan Eaddy. They discussed "how books can be seeds for growing a more compassionate world." I met several other authors, including poor Kwame Alexander, whom I stalked and then went fan-girl on. He was very kind as I gushed praise at him and then begged him to take a selfie with me. (Mr. Alexander, if your're reading this, I really do appreciate your patience.) He was there promoting several of his books, including Solo and Animal Ark. The poems he has created to accompany the beautiful photographs of animals around the world are incredible and the Animal Ark collection is as much a coffee table book as it is a children's title.

At the August House booth I met Rob Cleveland and then won a door prize drawing for one of his books, which I had him autograph. Rob is a storyteller and has written many of the books in the Story Cove series, which collects folk tales from around the world. I chose The Bear, the Bat, and the Dove: Three Stories from Aesop. I visited with Charles Ghigna, the author of Strange, Unusual, Gross, & Cool Animals a book of fascinating facts from Animal Planet. Anything gross or unusual is a big draw for elementary school boys, so I knew they would love the book. And I had the pleasure of meeting Reem Faruqi and hearing about the inspiration for her book, Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story. With the need for diverse books, it is fortunate to find a picture book about something like a lunchbox that younger children can relate to.

Planting Seeds of Peace Panel
Rob Cleveland
Charles Ghigna
Reem Faruqi
Kit Seaton & Leila del Duca
All the excitement in the exhibit hall was followed by a panel with Kit Seaton and Leila del Duca. They discussed  "how the YA Fantasy and Science Fiction genres are opening up to diversity and increased representation, broadening horizons not only for characters but for authors and audiences as well." Kit and Leila are the creators of Afar, a graphic novel with a young woman of color as the protagonist who is able to travel to other worlds and visit their cultures in her dreams.

Becky Coyle
Dr. Duchess Harris

January 22nd began with a presentation by Deputy Sheriff Becky Coyle on how she came to write picture books about "the role of school resource officers, lockdown drills, and school security in her new series, Police in Our Schools." Next, I heard Duchess Harris talk about her work on Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA. Dr. Harris is "the granddaughter of Miriam Daniel Mann, who was a Hidden Human Computer at NASA from 1943-1966." Her presentation included some of the family photos and other archival images of Mrs.Mann and her coworkers.

In the middle of the day, I attended the Boyds Mill Press ALA Midwinter Spring 2017 Preview Luncheon. Along with a tasty meal, those in attendance also saw all the upcoming titles from the publisher and heard book talks on each one. Among those present were John Schu (author of the blog - "Mr. Schu Reads"), and Della Farrell, an editor for School Library Journal. After a brief visit to the exhibit hall, it was time for the ALA President's Program, featuring Kwame Alexander. Mr. Alexander discussed how his "work is inspired by his belief that poetry can change the world, and how he uses poetry to inspire and empower young people all over the world."

Congressman John Lewis
The end of the day had two very exciting events. First, I waited in line with many others to meet Congressman John Lewis and have him sign a collection of his graphic novel series, March, about the Civil Rights Movement and the 1963 March on Washington. And then I was a guest at an author dinner sponsored by Sourcebooks, where I was able to chat with Jen Calonita (author of the Fairy Tale Reform School series), and Carol Weston (author of The Speed of Life). Several of the folks from the Sourcebooks offices were there along with other librarians and Deborah Ford, the Director of Outreach for the Junior Library Guild. We talked for hours about all sorts of literacy topics, Jen and Carol autographed books for us, and we finally traveled back to our hotel rooms full of delicious Italian food from Pasta da Pulcinella and clutching our goodie bags. (It was also my first Uber ride, which made me feel very cosmopolitan.)
Sourcebooks Author Dinner

The last day of the conference began with the event I had been waiting for - the announcement of the ALA Youth Media Awards! I was fortunate enough to bump into Deborah Ford while waiting to enter the auditorium, so I sat with her and Susan Marston during the ceremony. It was fun to watch the two of them do mini celebrations every time a JLG title won an award, but we cheered for all of them. I was especially pleased at the number of awards March garnered; as a graphic novel about a tumultuous time in American History, it was very gratifying to see it receive so much recognition. And I had just shaken the hand of the author the day before.

 A few more sessions with publishers such as Animal Planet, Time for Kids, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and HarperCollins filled the rest of the morning, along with one last trip through the exhibit hall looking for any other titles that I just had to take home with me. Then we all gathered in the auditorium for the Closing Session with Neil Patrick Harris. As a parent and a debut middle grade author, Mr. Harris shared his feelings about books. “Books are awesome. Reading and books have become a mainstay in my family, and they have gotten me thinking in a new way about the power of storytelling,” he commented. “Playing with elements of magic, adventure, and friendship, The Magic Misfits is the kind of series that would have thrilled me as a kid, and I hope it does just that for today’s young readers.” He also talked about his work  playing Count Olaf on the Netflix "A Series of Unfortunate Events" which is based on the bestselling series of books.

I came home with over 100 new books - review copies, published copies, autographed copies - and business cards from all the new friends I had made, as well as memories of all the events and speakers. Thanks to the generous invitation to the Boyds Mill luncheon from Kerry McManus, I met Della Farrell and she invited me to apply as a reviewer for School Library Journal. I have been submitting reviews since March and it is still an amazing thrill every time I see my name next to one of the reviews in the magazine.

Jen Calonita
I've also been able to share stories with my students about the authors I met and how they were inspired to write their books. Seeing an author's autograph in a book and learning that I actually sat down and ate dinner with that author makes them realize that writers are real people, and that perhaps one day they may become writers, too. I've book-talked  many of the titles to the other teachers in my school as well as the other librarians in my district, suggesting lessons or units they might complement. Hidden Human Computers is perfect for a unit on Civil Rights or the Space Race. Becky Coyle's The Lockdown Drill can help young students understand why we have such practice sessions, reduce their anxiety, and introduce the concept of community helpers such as police and EMTs. When I do my yearly unit on holidays, Lailah's Lunchbox will be included to show children how the holiday of Ramadan might be observed by someone their age. It's impossible to list all the titles and ideas without filling pages of text, but I know the results of this conference will be felt for a long time to come.

If you have never heard of the Humanities Tennessee Outstanding Educator Awards and you (or someone you know), are a teacher for 3rd - 12th graders in the Volunteer State, please look into it. If you are chosen, the award benefits your school and your own professional development. I had the chance to learn about award-winning books, meet authors and even an historical icon such as Congressman Lewis, and expand on what I have to offer the staff and students at my school - all due to the award funding my trip to the conference. It is the best professional development experience that I have ever had.

Footnote: Quoted materials about the sessions and speakers was taken from the conference schedule provided by the American Library Association.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Artemis

Let me start off by saying that I was very excited to read a new book by Andy Weir, mostly because I loved The Martian. But Jazz is nothing like Watley, so I admit to being a little discouraged as I read. Okay, now that we've cleared the air...

If you enjoy stories that are scientifically detailed and could plausibly happen in the future, then you should enjoy Artemis. As usual, Weir has done his homework and gotten the various science facts worked out. Rather than a combination Boy Scout/MacGyver (a la Watney), we have a protagonist who has made bad life decisions and lives outside the law. Jasmine Bashara is an entertaining mix of smuggler, entrepreneur, and 20-something on a quest to redeem some of her earlier mistakes. The way she goes about this redemption is what leads to the action of the story. The plot involves multi-million dollar business deals, criminal cartels, assassins, and other components of many crime caper movies. For the science geeks there are plenty of gadgets, chemistry, pressure differentials, and other principles and factoids. 

I've read plenty of science fiction stories, some set on the moon (Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress comes to mind), but this book makes it seem very much like a small town. Limiting the number of inhabitants and having a single law enforcement officer gives it the feel of a frontier town in the Wild West days, which means readers who enjoy space frontier stories can enjoy it - even though it is set so close to home. There is also the fact that Jazz is a female protagonist and the administrator of Artemis is also female, so those who enjoy strong women as lead characters are also in luck.

Altogether, not as much my cup of tea as The Martian was, but still a solid Sci-Fi read and entertaining while keeping true to the science.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Giveaway - Mask of Shadows

If you haven't picked up a copy yet, don't despair. I want to pass my ARC on to a loving home. Please enter below and good luck, auditioner!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Goblins of Bellwater Launch & Giveaway

Prize Descriptions

Grand prize package:

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• $10 Starbucks gift card
• “Flowerwatch” necklace/pocket watch
• Artistic guided journal/sketchbook
• Copy of Brian Froud’s Goblins!

Air prize package:

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Air-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Earth prize package:
• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Earth-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Fire prize package:
• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Fire-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Water prize package:
• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Water-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Q & A With Molly Ringle
The Goblins of  Be llw at e r

How closely did you follow Chris:na Rosse<’s poem “Goblin Market” as a basis for the   story?

I call this a book “inspired by” Rosse6’s poem rather than saying it’s “based upon” it, because I did veer from the poem a significant amount. I first read the poem a few years ago, and it intrigued me deeply. It’s evocaAve and strange, and, like a fairy tale, has many symbols and events that could be interpreted as having several different meanings. My assignment to myself was to use it as a jumping-off point for a modern paranormal novel, which would then go its own way as the plot required. What I kept from the poem was the basic surface framework: we have a pair of sisters, grown but on the young side, one of whom becomes enchanted by eaAng goblin fruit in the forest and begins wasAng away as a result, alarming the other sister into seeking a way to save her. Since Rosse6’s poem ends with a fast-forward to the women being “wives” and telling their children about their adventures, and since I wanted to write a paranormal romance anyway, I gave my modern sister characters a pair of men to get involved with, in a double love story with eerie angles that I think match the eeriness of the original poem. Mind you, another interpretaAon of the poem is that the two women aren’t really sisters but lovers, which would be a different route to take and which I think would be lovely to see too!

For those of us who haven’t been there, what is Puget Sound like and why did you choose it as a se<ng for a retold fairy  tale?

Puget Sound is a vast area of Pacific seawater, meandering into countless inlets and coves in skinny, deep Lords leM behind by glaciers. SeaNle and Tacoma and Olympia lie on its shores, on some of its largest bays, but it also has many wilder and more rural shores, especially on the western side where it backs up against a huge naAonal forest on the Olympic Peninsula. That’s the region where my grandparents bought a vacaAon cabin decades ago, and where my family has been going for many vacaAons ever since. I can safely say it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. In order to agree, you have to enjoy a cool, rainy climate and all the thick moss and ferns and mushrooms and huge evergreens such a climate produces, and I happen to love those things. Fairy tales, at least those from Northern Europe, almost all involve a deep dark forest. That’s where the faeries, witches, werewolves, vampires, elves, and all the other interesAng beings live. Everyone knows that. I haven’t spent much Ame in the forests of Europe (alas! I will someday), but I reckoned our Pacific Northwest deep dark forests were more than adequate for housing supernatural creatures. My grandmother used to tell us that the mossy ruins of big tree trunks in the Puget Sound forests were the homes of Teeny-Anies, whom I always took to be faeries. So I set the story there, at the edge of the Sound, where saltwater meets woods and where the Teeny-Anies live.

What is the significance of the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in this story?

The four elements are common fixtures in many ancient cultures, and have remained popular into the modern day. One of my favorite TV shows is Avatar: the Last Airbender, which uses the four-element framework brilliantly in its world-building. In reading up on faery lore for this book, I found that scholars oMen classify types of fae under the four elements, and since that appealed to me, I did the same. As one of the characters in The Goblins of Bellwater muses, there’s something human and emoAonally real about looking at nature that way, even if we technically know, thanks to science, that nature contains far more than four elements. And in my novel, the only way to break the goblin spells involves respecAng and trusAng each of the four elements, even when they’re at their most daunAng.

Why do you think fairy tale and other myth and legend retellings are so popular right now?

I think they’ve always been popular! Maybe it’s a case of selecAon bias, because I personally have always been into ghost stories, fairy tales, and other supernatural lore, but it seems to me that human culture has never stopped telling such stories. As scholars of fairy tales will tell you, reading and wriAng about fantasy and the paranormal may look like escapism from reality, and someAmes I tell myself that’s what I’m doing, but in truth these stories end up giving us all the useful lessons about real life that any good stories do: empathy, courage, love, respect for nature and community, and the importance of thinking fancifully and creaAvely.

What are the goblins like in this book?

In keeping with both the “Goblin Market” poem and the bulk of faery lore, they are mischievous and villainous. They laugh a lot, but they are decidedly laughing at you, not with you. They steal, and in parAcular they lust aMer gold. Like other fae, they enjoy making deals with humans, but humans would be wise not to enter into such deals, as the obligaAon tends to be heavier than it sounds at the outset. These goblins go further than merely theM, too; they assault and someAmes steal away humans and turn them into fellow goblins, and at other Ames enchant them into wandering unhappily in the woods unAl they waste away and die. Although the goblins are someAmes amusing in their level of wiNy rudeness, they are nearly all amoral and highly dangerous to get involved with. Only a scant few of them, who were once humans, manage to retain any human empathy. However, not all of the fae in my book are this cruel—the goblins are the worst of the lot! Others are willing to be quite helpful to humans as long as they are respected in return.

What kind of magic system does this book involve?

In this book, my main characters are ordinary humans who can’t do any magic, but they become involved in the dealings of the fae realm, which is a bit like another dimension. It can be entered or glimpsed by summoning the fae (which includes goblins), who might or might not answer you. But you’re luckier on the whole if they don’t, because many of them are treacherous, and the realm itself is a wilderness containing many uncanny dangers. From the point of view of the human characters, the magical rules and the cultural norms of the fae are nonsensical, almost inexplicable, but since some of these people have fallen under curses, they have to step in among those dangers and work with the rules as best as they can anyway.

What do you find most challenging in wri:ng a novel?

At first, it’s usually ge6ng to know the characters. I tend to start with a general idea of who they are, but then when I begin wriAng, I realize there’s too much I sAll don’t know about these people and therefore they aren’t coming across as real yet. It slows me down in the early stages while I take breaks to write notes in which I interview them and figure them out. I also have a perennial problem with wriAng antagonists. They have to do fairly awful things (being antagonists and all), but I sAll want them to feel like real people (or other beings), and therefore I have to get into their heads and figure out why they would feel jusAfied in doing such a thing. It’s not a comfortable place for my mind to go. I suppose that’s why I gravitate more toward romance and lightheartedness: I much prefer spending Ame with those who love and laugh.

What are the easiest parts of wri:ng a novel for you?

No part of the process is exactly easy. But someAmes lines will occur to me seemingly out of nowhere when I’m wriAng, and they’re perfect for the moment; or I’ll find my characters talking to each other in my head when I’m not wriAng. And I love those moments, because for them to have come to life in my imaginaAon like that, it means I must have done sufficient groundwork in figuring out the world and the characters. So although the groundwork is the hard part, it pays off and leads to easier parts later!

How did the wri:ng of this novel, a fairly short stand-alone paranormal, compare to the wri:ng of the Persephone trilogy?

It was far simpler! The Persephone’s Orchard trilogy had dual Amelines, for one thing: the ancient world in Greece, and the reincarnaAons of those people in the modern day. For another thing, it had far more characters, both in original and reincarnated versions. And for any series, you need to have plot arcs that stretch over the whole series as well as smaller ones that get wrapped up within each volume; and you have to keep the whole thing internally consistent in terms of mood and themes and character personaliAes. It turned out exhausAng enough that I didn’t want to write another series again anyAme soon. So I picked The Goblins of Bellwater as my follow-up project: small cast, straighaorward plot, and simple Ameline. Most of the acAon takes place within about six weeks, in this small town, which is indeed a contrast to the millennia of world-spanning events covered in the trilogy!

Would you want to live in any of the fic:onal magical worlds you’ve created?

Strange though it might sound, I’d love to visit the Underworld as I wrote it in Persephone’s Orchard and its sequels. I made it much less scary, for the most part, than it is in tradiAonal Greek mythology; and besides that, I love caves and glowing things, and definitely would be interested in a ride on a ghost horse as long as an immortal was keeping me safe during it. As for the fae realm we see in The Goblins of Bellwater, I’d like to catch glimpses of it, and of the fae themselves, but I wouldn’t want to actually enter the realm. Too perilous!

What are you wri:ng next?

One of the genres I love, and haven’t wriNen enough of myself, is male/male love stories, so I’ve been working on a couple of those. One is contemporary, no magic or supernatural stuff, and it’s undergoing the feedback-and-revision stage right now. Another will involve a fae realm like that of The Goblins of Bellwater, only in a new locaAon in the world, a ficAonal se6ng I’m creaAng. I sAll have to figure out how this place works and what its magic system is like, in addiAon to ge6ng to know the characters, but I’m excited about the idea and it has definitely taken root in my brain.

What are the most magical places you’ve been to in real life?

Puget Sound and its surrounding forests and mountains—which is why I chose the area for the enchanted lands in The Goblins of Bellwater. Also some of the forests and meadows in the WillameNe Valley in Oregon, where I grew up. Oregon and Washington are both overflowing with natural beauty and I’m spoiled to have spent most of my life here. In addiAon, some places in Great Britain have felt quite magical to me, such as Tomnahurich (Hill of the Fairies) in Inverness, Scotland; or Old Town Edinburgh with its many close alleys and dark medieval buildings and brick-paved streets; or Westminster Abbey, not only because of its beauty and its many graves of astoundingly famous historical figures, but because when I first visited it as a 19-year-old, I’d never been in any building anywhere near that old before (having grown up in the Pacific Northwest), and it blew my mind.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Mask of Shadows


Enter a world recovering from a brutal war, magic gone awry, and a new kingdom forged atop old animosities and fragile alliances. The queen who ended the war and united the people depends upon her Left Hand - 4 assassins each named for a jewel. Thief and street fighter Sal learns that auditions are being held to replace the recently deceased Opal. This means Sal has a chance to gain access to the nobles who allowed her people to be destroyed by the results of the twisted magic, and decides to try out. As Sal and the other auditioners struggle to stay alive and pass the tests set them by the other Jewels, we learn more of the history of Igna, of Sal's home in Nacea, and of how delicate the balance is that maintains the newly united lands.

The rich backstories of the individual characters and the kingdoms flesh out the world around the characters in believable detail. The characters themselves are all easily recognizable individuals with their own motivations and foibles. Sal, as a gender fluid character, offers another type of diversity into the playing field of fantasy writing.

For fantasy readers, this is the start of a series that will keep them coming back for more. The conflicts, both personal and political, are complicated and keep us thinking about ethics, responsibility, and the balance between what we want, what is right, and the difference between justice and revenge.

I won an advanced copy in a giveaway by the publisher.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You


Imagine that you are two 18- or 19-year-olds who have agreed to participate in a psychology study. You are in a room together with 36 questions and you have to answer them honestly to each other. What do you think would happen? In the story, the study is testing to see if a sense of connection can be fostered by this type of communication. Bob and Betty (our test subjects' code names), seem to be such total opposites that they may not make it through all the questions without some sort of violence. It doesn't help that Betty is dealing with a tense situation at home and isn't eating or sleeping well. The fact that Bob seems to be there only for the $40 stipend, and is sarcastic and grouchy, isn't helping. In classic rom-com style, opposites make sparks fly and also make progress on the questions despite all the interruptions and delays that come up. Everything from tropical fish, snow storms, and doodles on a restaurant table play into the final resolution of the question. Can a connection be fostered by requiring two people to be honest with each other?

Based on an actual study that used this type of organization, the story of Bob and Betty (aka Paul and Hildy) will have you laughing, wincing, groaning with despair, and perhaps even suffering from spillage out of tear ducts that are too small. The characters of Hildy's friends Xiu and Max are entertaining as support cast in the drama unfolding between the two test subjects. And I must say that Kong, for a nonverbal fish, manages to add quite a bit to the mood of the story.

A great pick for fans of tales such as "Ten Things I Hate About You," The Only Thing Worse than Me Is You, or YA romantic comedies in general. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Invictus


The blurb does such a good job of covering the basics, there isn't much left to say. Imagine a world where time travel is not only possible, but taken for granted. Students can attend the academy and train to be a Recorder (the one who goes out and actually gets video of history), an Historian (who helps prep the Recorder and works on wardrobe design, etc.), or an Engineer (who can run the ship and all the gadgets). And the rest of the populace watches the recordings and mimics the historical wardrobes when they get the chance. After going to work for a black marketeer as the only way to have access to time travel, Far and his crew plunder history for artifacts. One mission it might be a pirate's cutlass, another it might be a rare bottle of wine - but always things that are already considered lost, or not easily missed in their own time.

So, partly it's a good heist tale with high speed chases, split-second timing, and cover stories firmly in place. Then there's the time travel, paradox, alternate universe side of things. And the mystery - where does the enigmatic Eliot come from before they meet her on the Titanic? How is she able to teleport and travel through time without a ship? What is she planning? Friendship, trust, family, loss, redemption, all sorts of themes also work their way into the fabric of the story as a whole. By the time we reach the climax, we feel as if we have lived for hundreds of year with these characters and that the fate of the universe truly does rest with them.

Highly recommended for fans who enjoy historical fiction with a sci-fi twist. "Carpe the hazing mundi!" (And as a Latin major, I have a great appreciation for the Latin words and phrases scattered throughout the story, including the title. Just saying.)

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.