Monday, June 30, 2014

MMGM: Interview with S.A.M. Posey, Author of the Last Station Master


I am so excited to introduce you to S.A.M.* Posey, author of THE LAST STATION MASTER. S.A.M. is a gifted writer, whose stories are full of heart, peopled with well-rounded characters, and immersed in African American history. I feel fortunate to be able to call her one of my critique partners and a dear friend. Her debut, THE LAST STATION MASTER, came out last February.

It is a fast-paced read that will especially appeal to boys--and it sneaks in a little history while being entertaining at the same time. Besides, Nate is a likeable, but imperfect protagonist, and he has interesting parents and grandparents--always a plus for me.

Synopsis of THE LAST STATION MASTER:
On his grandparents remote North Carolina farm for the summer, Nate discovers there's more happening on the rambling property than anyone realizes. To stop a terrorist's plot and prevent a military disaster, he must unravel the clues around him and use what he learns about the farm, the Underground Railroad, and the lost secrets of an old ghost to become the Last Station Master.


Hi, S.A.M.! Thanks for stopping by! 

When did you decide to be a writer?
That was about eight years ago. I was looking for MG books with boys of color as the MC. There wasn’t very much of an offering. This had to be fixed, so I started writing. Yeah, I was naïve enough to think that writing was easy! Thank goodness for naïveté because I discovered a new passion. I love writing for kids.

I know you do a lot of research for your stories.  How do you decide what to include and what to leave out?
Great question. I research as I write. I want to make sure that if I write something based in facts, it’s accurate, Sometimes, I have to rewrite parts of a story to accommodate the facts. Still, I don’t want to bore the young reader with too much realism in my imaginary world. I try not to ramble on about all the things I learned while writing the story. The facts introduced into a story need to be essential to the telling of the story. If a reader wants to know more, I’m awfully fond of glossaries and I like to include one at the end of the book.


How did you get the idea for THE LAST STATION MASTER?

You know, I wanted to write a modern-day kid-friendly story that was rich in African-American history. Having a main character who needed to dig into his family’s past to solve a predicament with a current event seemed like a good way to do this. It was fun writing this sort of parallel between the two eras.


Your characters are so well-rounded and authentic. Can you give us any tips on how you create your characters and make them come alive?

Oh, that is so easy. Everything I know about teen boys, I learned from my son and his friends.  They can be charming when the need arises (not with their parents, of course, but with people their parents know), they can be stupid and really smart at the same time.  They are, in fact, a work in progress, and it’s rather easy to write those types of characters in this constant flux of growth. Teens are not set in their ways so they can be many things, even contradicting things, at the same time. When it comes to teens, I write what I see.

You sold THE LAST STATIONMASTER to your publisher without an agent. Can you tell how this came about? What made you decide to submit directly to publishers?

I had a couple of agents interested in The Last Station Master before I sold it to Key Publishing.  Really, the offer came in from KPH while the agents were still considering it . I knew that even if the agents decided to represent the story there was no guarantee the story would be sold to a book publisher.  KPH was a sure deal, so I went with them.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a series. The first book, Josephus Maxwell and the Lost Tribe, is an adventure story set in Brazil where Joe encounter a boy from one of the lost tribes of Brazil, drug cartels, U.S. military, and  of course, lost treasure.


 What your favorite books or authors influenced you? Do you have any favorite books on the writing craft?

I love so many writers. Jacqueline Woodson, J.K. Rowling, Angela Johnson, and Lois Lowry to name a few. The Giver (which is coming out this year as a movie, woot, woot!!!) remains my favorite book of all times.

I’m really bad about reading how-to books nowadays. But when I first started writing I found Stephen King's book On Writing really insightful. Mostly because it gave me a peek into his writing process. I think every writer can benefit from hearing what King has to say about writing.

The Element of style by Strunk and White is a must have for writers, methinks. I know all that I know about word placement from this book.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss is another good one. I don't read a lot of how-to book anymore. I find critique groups and beta reader very helpful when it comes to pulling a story together. It's a process that works best for me.


What piece of advice would you give to other writers?

Patience is probably the best attribute a writer can have. We all want to publish the next bestseller yesterday. But, writing, like any craft, takes time to hone. Once you’ve done that, it takes even more time to find someone who loves your baby as much as you. My advice is to believe in yourself and your work. Then wait for your time. It will surely come.
Great advice!  That answer will be going on my fridge.
*S.A.M. Posey is a penname. Check out her "About Me" page on her website to learn more.
You can find S.A.M. Posey online at: http://www.samposey.com/, Twitter, Facebook
To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.







Monday, June 23, 2014

MMGM: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry


I’ve been trying to pre-read some of the books my son (who’ll be in 7th grade) will be reading next year. This was one that I hadn’t read, but had been meaning to for awhile.

This is an unforgettable story. I’m so glad I picked it up.


Here’s the synopsis (which doesn’t do the book justice):

Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family's struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. And it is also Cassie's story—Cassie Logan, an independent girl who discovers over the course of an important year why having land of their own is so crucial to the Logan family, even as she learns to draw strength from her own sense of dignity and self-respect.

What I loved about this book:

This book reminded me of the power of fiction. It’s one thing to read about terrible things happening due to racism, but quite another to experience it through Cassie's eyes.

I loved the characters in this book. The fact that Cassie was so sympathetic and her family so strong and loving contrasted so well with the evil she experienced at the hands of many of the whites in the book.

I loved how her family would never back down. Other characters in the novel had given up hope that anything could change. Her family stood up to racism whenever they could.

The ending, though sad, was poignant and real. Taylor didn’t whitewash racism and that shows how much she respects her readership. Although the ending wasn’t happy, it was hopeful. I know Cassie and her family won’t give up.

Author Notes: My edition included a foreword by the author. She talked about how she got the lines for the song “Roll of Thunder” in her head around the same time she had a feeling this book would win the Newberry. The story was based on her dad’s family history. He didn’t live to see it published.

She also talked about how the book has been banned. Her response: “My stories will not be ‘politically correct,’ so there will be those who will be offended by them, but as we all know, racism is offensive.’”

Parent/Teacher Advisory: There is quite a bit of violence in this book, although most of it takes place off stage. There are a couple of instances of the “n” word.

If you are interested in reading more middle grade novels that touch on African-American history, please come back next week. I’m going to be interviewing Sam Posey, author of THE LAST STATION MASTER, who has a passion for bringing African-American history to life, especially for boys.
What amazing middle grades have you read lately?

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Only So Many Words...


I’m sorry I don’t have a regular MMGM post for you today. The truth is that I haven’t done a lot of reading this week.

But I have done a lot of writing.

This week, my two boys were at camp all week, which meant a sort of  “writing retreat” for me.

It is the first time that I’ve had this sort of time to work on my writing: 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. It was simply amazing. I’ve been furiously drafting, though I’ve taken breaks for walks and a few errands as well.

But after writing so much, I find at the end of the day, I have no energy for reading. I keep picking up books, but they don’t hold my interest for more than a few minutes.

It’s as if I only have so many words in me and I’ve used them all up in my own story. I can’t bear to tackle any more words—even if I didn’t have to make them up myself. 

I’m ashamed to admit that the only stories I’ve partaken of is movies and TV shows this week. That’s how tired I am after my experiment with “writing full time.”
What about you? When you’re writing a lot, do you find it hard to read?

Monday, June 9, 2014

MMGM: May B


I suppose I’m the last person in the world to read this wonderful book. Although I heard good things about it and heard it compared to Little House, I stayed away. I think it’s because it was a novel-in-verse.

I can’t explain why I’ve been afraid to pick up a novel-in-verse. Maybe it’s because I didn’t like the only one I’ve read so far.

But I'm so glad I got past my prejudice and picked up May B.  I am now on the look out for more novels-in-verse like it.



Synopsis:

 May is helping out on a neighbor's Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it's hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May's memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she's determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose's fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

 What I loved:

  1. Survival! I am a sucker for survival stories, which is probably why I loved Little House series so much as a kid. Starr gets her details right and pulls us into life on the prairie. I felt for May B. and her desperation to survive.
  2. Dyslexia As Starr says in her author’s notes, she was interested in exploring how a person with learning challenges would manage in pioneer times. This was one of the most fascinating parts of the book for me. I've taught many students with dyslexia, and I am always pleased to see books which feature characters like this. I think many kids can relate to May's struggles in this area.
  3. Character’s wants There were so many things that made May B compelling, but in addition to the dyslexia,it was her (a seemingly) impossible goal of being a teacher. Not only did she have to fight her own obstacles in learning to read, but others' expectations as well. This is a character-driven novel with almost only one character--an amazing feat in itself.
  4. The poems Despite my reticence to read a novel-in-verse, this is another one where I can’t imagine it any other way. It would’ve been difficult to read about May's long stretch of solitude in prose. Starr made an excellent choice here.

Despite these highlights, I don’t feel like my words do this book justice. This is one of those books that I’ll be thinking on for a long time, a classic, so full of heart.


Have you read any great novels-in-verse?





To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Insecure Writer's Group: To Revise or Rewrite



Last spring I attended a writer’s festival where an author gave a talk about writing.
It was one of those talks I don’t usually like, because he gave us these iron-clad rules for writing:
1.       Only revise your work three times.
2.       Don’t revise unless someone pays you to do it.
3.       Keep sending out your work.
(And repeat)

I didn’t agree with most of his points, but one thing he said is still sitting with me. He said, “I don’t revise, I rewrite.” I asked him more about it, and he explained that if you revise a scene too much (which he said often happens in critique groups), you beat the life out of it. It’s better, he said, to start over and write the scene again, so you don’t lose that vitality, that force that drove you to write the scene in the first place.

Now I don’t think it’s wrong to revise. I do it all the time and often on the advice of CPs. But there’s been times where I couldn’t revise. The scene or the book was so flawed that I needed to start over.

That’s what I’m doing now. I recently received some feedback on a particular manuscript that showed me I needed to basically start over. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, because I’d already revised it plenty, and to me, all the words are in the right places.

Boy, did I hate staring at the blank page again.

But once I started, it was amazing. I already know these characters, this setting like the back of my hand. It was pure pleasure writing about them again, albeit in a different way. Besides, I’m a different person and a different writer since I first set down the first draft of them—18 months ago.

Now I’m realizing that it may not be just a couple of scenes, but the whole book that I’ll need to rewrite—that’s how much the tone and the voice has changed. 

But I am not afraid of the work. Although my goal is to be published, of course, my first goal is be a better writer.

No matter what ultimately happens with this rewrite, I will get better, that’s guaranteed.

What about you? Would you rather revise or rewrite?

Monday, June 2, 2014

MMGM: Odin's Promise

This was a title I won recently from Suzanne Warr. But even if I hadn’t, I would’ve picked up this book. I have Norwegian heritage, so I'm fascinated by books set in Norway. But the fact that this was about the Nazi occupation--a part of World War II history I knew little about--made this a must read.



Here’s the synopsis:
ODIN'S PROMISE is a historical novel for middle-grade readers, a story of the first year of German occupation of Norway in World War II as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Eleven-year-old Mari grew up tucked under the wings of her parents, grandma, and older siblings. After Hitler's troops invade Norway in Spring 1940, she is forced to grow beyond her "little girl" nickname to deal with harsh new realities. At her side for support and protection is Odin, her faithful elkhound. As the year progresses, Mari, her family, and her neighbors are drawn into the activities of the Norwegian underground resistance. 
 What I loved about this book:
--Mari, the main character, is not like most historical fiction characters I’ve met. She’s shy. I loved how Behr used Mari’s shyness as an advantage, rather than something that she needed to get over. Mari also had an innocence about her that was really appealing. She didn’t want to be the “little one” anymore, but she was still a child and enjoyed being a baby at times. I found this very refreshing, since it’s almost become a cliché for historical main characters to be feisty and spunky and not at all like their times.
--Family: You might be able to tell from previous MMGM posts that I’m a sucker for stories where family is central to the story. Mari solves her own problems, but her family is a great support to her and a source of wisdom. I loved how her family interacted: parents, grandparents, siblings in this book. It truly was lovely and inspiring.
--Handling of difficult themes—You would think that a book about the German occupation would be violent.  There is a small amount of violence, but it is not gratuitous. This is not a book showing the grim reality of war. It’s more a book about how one family, one community, and one child find a way to resist evil. It is a story about finding the good in the midst of the bad. Because of that focus, I think this book would be appropriate for kids on the younger end of the middle grade age range and would also make a good read aloud or addition to a study about World War II.
If you like classic, old-fashioned books with memorable characters, check it out. I think fans of the Little House series and Number the Stars (Lois Lowry) would love this book.


To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.