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Thanks so much for visiting HipWriterMama, my blog about children's books, authors and readergirlz!

It's time for a change. I've decided to focus my attention on my writing blog, www.vivianleemahoney.com. Hope to see you there!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Questions about Books for Boys vs. Books for Girls

I found something quite interesting during my search for some great books for boys. There are far more books for girls than there are for boys. Why is that? Do girls really read that much more than boys? Do boys have a harder time reading?

Is it harder to write a book that boys would be interested in reading? Is it harder to write the boy point of view? Am I delusional and reading too much into this?

What do you think about this?

Another Great Book for Boys: Jonathan Swift's Gulliver

When I was in middle school, I owned a handful of books, which I treasured and read over and over again until the binding cracked, the books split apart, pages fell out and were taped back in. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, was one of those special books. How I loved this book. I really enjoyed the extraordinary adventures, the political satire, and the different people and customs found along the way.

So when I discovered Jonathon Swift's Gulliver, by Martin Jenkins in the library a couple days ago, I had to pick it up. Young readers, ages 8 and up, will be able to appreciate the comic situations poor Gulliver finds himself. What youngster wouldn't laugh out loud at the thought of a giant Gulliver in the land of tiny Lilliputians, peeing on a castle fire to put it out? Or the tiny Lilliputians laughing because they can see Gulliver's underwear?

The illustrations by Chris Riddell, British artist and Kate Greenaway medalist, are simply magnificent. The colorful illustrations capture the humor of Gulliver's interesting predicaments.

While I think some girls may enjoy this book, boys will definitely appreciate this wonderful adaptation of the original Gulliver's Travels.

Great Books for Boys

I've read so many books featuring strong girl characters; it's about time I gave some attention to some great books for boys. I've been reading quite a few books about some great boy characters. I'll start off with two older books I rediscovered and will blog about some of the newer books in the next couple of weeks.

The first book featured today is Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. Perfect for boys 9-12. This classic was published in the 1970's...I even read this book back then. And it is entertaining to read as an adult.

Poor Peter. He has a three year old baby brother named Fudge, who he has to watch like a hawk to make sure his stuff isn't touched--especially his pet turtle, Dribble. I think boys will enjoy commiserating with Peter over Fudge and his neighbor, Sheila Tubman.

The next book boys will enjoy reading is How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell (son of famous artist Norman Rockwell). Another classic book from the 1970's that is perfect for boys ages 9-12. Billy makes a bet with his friends--Tom, Alan, and Joe. If he wants to win a $50 minibike, he has to eat 15 worms in 15 days. Gross, isn't it? But this book is amusing, with fun chants, disgusting worm recipes, and brilliantly plotted desperate strategies of this serious war of worm eating. Even Billy's mom plays a magnificent hand in this battle. After freaking out for a bit, she finally decides if her son has to eat worms, it might as well taste good. The coolest mom ever, in my book.

Two great books to entertain the boys--even reluctant readers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Great Book for Girls

I have so many books to tell you about that I've read over the past few weeks, but sadly, I haven't been able to write everything down yet. The kids have only been out of school for a week, and even though we have things to do, clearly I didn't plan enough for all the "I'm bored" and "It's too hot" phases. Oh yeah, and all the endless bickering. I remain ever hopeful that we will glide into a smooth transition for a relaxing summer.

So, in honor of all this summer heat and humidity, I offer up a cool, refreshing read for girls 9-12. If you plan on reading this book out loud to your children, children as young as six and seven, would enjoy this book.

Introducing...The Tail of Emily Windsnap by U.K. author, Liz Kessler. Yes, it's not a typo. Tail. Not tale. If you haven't guessed by now, this is a mermaid story, perfect for mermaid wannabees ages 9-12.

Twelve year old Emily lives on a houseboat with her mom. Her mom is afraid of the water and won't let Emily learn how to swim. Her mom finally relents and Emily starts swim class. To her amazement, she is a natural at swimming but feels so uncomfortable, she doesn't want to swim again. Emily's curiousity gets the best of her, and she tries to swim near her houseboat. She gets the surprise of her life when she realizes she becomes a mermaid only when she's in the water.

Emily befriends a mermaid named Shona. Together they unravel the mystery on what happened to Emily's merman dad.

Overall, this is a charming book with some interesting adventures. If you like this book, you can continue with the next two books in the series: Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep and the most recently published Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Inspiration Monday: Tex & Sugar Giveaway

If any of you read Barbara Johansen Newman's blog, Cats and Jammers, you know she's a serious artist and an accomplished children's book illustrator. Now, she adds new children's book author onto her many credentials.

Barbara's new picture book, Tex & Sugar: A Big City Kitty Ditty, was released in April 2007. A couple decades after she realized she wanted to write children's books. Like many of us, she was very busy with her own career in editorial illustration and raising her family.

But...Barbara wanted to follow her dream. She wrote a collection of poems called Seven Working Kitty City Ditties. She even went so far as to go to New York City with her portfolio and manuscript in 1984. Barbara received positive feedback from one editor who told her to turn one of the poems into a story.

But...even though Barbara wanted to follow her dream, she was getting more work as a book illustrator and her children were still young. It took another six years before Barbara worked on her manuscript again. She finally had a chance to sell her manuscript to a publisher, but found out another artist would illustrate the book. Barbara was disappointed yet very determined to be the illustratrator of her own book...after all, she was an illustrator, and a pretty good one at that. So, she decided to find another publisher who would embrace her manuscript and her artwork together.

Barbara writes in her blog, "In the spring of 2005, it (Tex & Sugar: A Big City Kitty Ditty) sold 22 years after I first wrote it, and it came out two years after that. So, for all of you out there who have been juggling families, and careers, but still long to write or illustrate, listen to me: you should never give up on your dreams. And, for what it is worth, my first book as author and illustrator is about that: following dreams."

I was really inspired reading Barbara's story on her blog. When I had a chance to meet Barbara in person last week, she made quite an impression on me. She's exactly like she is on her blog--warm, funny, honest, kind. She's comfortable with who she is, she's so welcoming and, can I mention again, how warm she is? I so enjoyed hearing her tell her story. I have to admit, I was a little shocked. I mean, here's a well respected illustrator of children's books. Even with an "in" to the children's publishing world, Barbara still had to jump a few hurdles to get to her dream.

Now I don't want you all to start freaking out and stress out about how you're going to make your work stand out, if Barbara had to work it. Remember, she kept going until she found someone who loved her work. And don't even go there with the whining about how long it will take you if Barbara's journey took a bit of time. Remember, Barbara was working at her own pace, juggling her career and her family and working the manuscript in when she had the time.

You know what you need to do, if you want to reach for your dream. Use Barbara's story for some inspiration, to get you through some of those tough days. Because if you get anything from this post today, you're gonna totally see that despite the hurdles in her path, Barbara kept at it until she reached her dream.


And what a lovely dream. Tex & Sugar: A Big City Kitty Ditty will delight children and adults with its rhythm and sweet illustrations with a folksy feel to them. Reminiscent of a hopeful country song, this beautiful picture book starts off with enthusiastic anticipation, throws in a tiny bit of adversity, then gathers up into a hopeful croon. Look at this page from her book. Isn't it lovely?

In celebration of big dreams, I decided to give away one copy of Tex & Sugar: A Big City Kitty Ditty. All you have to do is go on over to the Tex & Sugar website, find out the answer to what Barbara's dream was when she was in junior high school, and e-mail me the answer to hipwritermama@comcast.net with the subject line: Tex & Sugar Giveaway.

I will try to get a personal autograph from Barbara. On the chance that we can connect with our summer schedules, just include the name and message you'd like written in the autograph in the e-mail. Just because I'm curious and this is my contest. No addresses required now. Only if your name is selected. Answers need to be in by this Saturday, June 30th, 5pm EST. The winner will be announced next Monday, July 2nd. Good luck! Now get cracking and start working toward your dreams!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Weekly List: Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature

I've been remiss. I've neglected my weekly Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature list for the past few weeks. All because I've been focusing on my 30 Day Challenge, working on revisions, author interviews for The Summer Blog Blast Tour, end of school year activities, and more. Of course this is where I need to lecture myself and say...Hey! Make the time. You already had this weekly habit in place and now you fell off the wagon? Get back to it!

Did anyone miss this weekly list? Anyone? Well, I know I've missed working on it. So it's back again. But instead of Sundays, I've decided to post this weekly list on Wednesdays, under a new title, Great Books for Girls. I'm going to keep blogging to a minimum on weekends...at least, I'm going to attempt it.

It's also about time I start looking at books with strong boy characters. So. Look forward to my new weekly feature, Great Books for Boys. Hope some of you will find this information helpful.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

SBBT: One More Interview

I can't believe the SBBT is ending. And what better way to say farewell, but with an interview with the philanthropic Justina Chen Headley at Finding Wonderland?

This has been one super week of information packed interviews with some incredible authors. I want to personally thank Justina Chen Headley, Mitali Perkins and Justine Larbalestier for answering my questions and allowing me to share their thoughts with you. This has been an incredible experience.

Thanks to all of you who stopped by to read my interviews with these literary divas. I hope you enjoyed them. If there are any questions you'd like me to ask future guests, send me e-mail at hipwritermama@comcast.net or comment below.

A big thank you goes to Colleen, for including me in this whirlwind of interview fun. I had a blast. Check out what Colleen has to say about this week's SBBT interviews.

Here's a final rundown of the SBBT interviews, organized by author:


Holly Black at The YA YA YAs
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Holly Black at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

David Brin at Chasing Ray

Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray

Cecil Castellucci at Shaken & Stirred
Cecil Castellucci at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland

Chris Crutcher at Bookshelves of Doom
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland

Christopher Golden at Bildungsroman

Brent Hartinger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Brent Hartinger at Interactive Reader

Sonya Hartnett at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Justina Chen Headley at HipWriterMama
Justina Chen Headley at Big A, little a
Justina Chen Headley at Finding Wonderland

Tom & Dorothy Hoobler at Chasing Ray

Kazu Kibuishi at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans

Justine Larbalestier at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a
Justine Larbalestier at HipWriterMama

Carolyn Mackler at The YA YA YAs

Bennett Madison at Shaken & Stirred
Bennett Madison at Bookshelves of Doom

Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom

Kirsten Miller at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production: Part One and Part Two

Mitali Perkins at Big A, little a
Mitali Perkins at HipWriterMama
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Julie Ann Peters at A Fuse #8 Production: Part One & Part Two
Julie Ann Peters at Finding Wonderland

Dana Reinhardt at lectitans
Dana Reinhardt at Interactive Reader
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman

Laura Ruby at Writing and Ruminating
Laura Ruby at Miss Erin
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs

Jordan Sonnenblick at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Shaun Tan at A Fuse #8 Production

Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray

Ysabeau Wilce at Finding Wonderland
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Ysabeau Wilce at Shaken & Stirred

Gene Yang at Finding Wonderland

Sara Zarr at Interactive Reader
Sara Zarr at Big A, little a
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating


The Summer Blog Blast Tour has endeth. Go forth, be merry, and get yourself some great books!

Friday, June 22, 2007

SBBT: The Magic of Justine Larbalestier

Ah....Justine Larbalestier. This cool Australian writer weaves magic in her books and in her blog. Even her last name is magic. Three variations: Lar-bal-est-ee-er, Lar-bal-est-ee-ay, and Lar-bal-est-ee-air (as divulged in Kelly's interview). Each pronunciation surrounds the air with sophistication and intrigue.

Justine Larbalestier is the author of the Magic or Madness trilogy and two non-fiction books (Daughters of Earth and The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction).

And talk about awards. Daughters of Earth was awarded the William Atheling Jr. Award this month. The book won the Susan Koppelman Award, was shortlisted for a British Science Fiction Award, and nominated for 2 Ditmars.

The Battle of The Sexes in Science Fiction was short-listed for the Peter McNamara Convenors' Award, the William J. Atheling Award and the Hugo for Best Related Book. That's not all. Locus listed the book as one of the 15 Top SF and Fantasy Anthologies, Collections, Non fiction books, and Art books of 2002. This book was also an editor's pick at Fantastic Metropolis.

Magic or Madness, the first book in the trilogy, won the 2007 Andre Norton Award. It was shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Award, one of the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards for 2006. Magic or Madness also received honors from the School Library Journal, Tayshas (the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Libary Association), Magpies (Australian children's literature magazine), the ALA (American Library Association) 2006 Best Books for Young Adults list, the Locus Recommended Reading List, the CCBC Choices list and the Bank Street best teen books.

Magic Lessons was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award for best Australian YA book as well as a Locus award for best YA. Insideadog favored the book as a best book of the year selection. Other honors include the CCBC Choices List and 2006 Locus Recommended Reading List.

I even added Justine's trilogy to my Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature list. Very strong female characters.

Whew...how's that for some heady accomplishments? And now, without further ado, I give you Justine Larbalestier.


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HWM: You've written two non-fiction books (The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction and Daughters of Earth) before you ventured into YA fiction. What made you make this
transition? Do you miss the non-fiction world?

Justine: The Battle of the Sexes was my PhD thesis and Daughters of Earth was conceived when I was still an academic. Getting both of them published was part of furthering my career, plumping up the old cv. I have never enjoyed scholarly writing nearly as much as I enjoy writing fiction. I made the transition because I am not cut out to be an academic. I'm WAY too lazy. I've written fiction all my life and have always wanted to make a living at it. I'm very lucky that it's working out for me.

I don't miss scholarly writing. I still do research for my writing, but now I don't have to footnote everything and second guess every possibly objection to every sentence I write. Nor do I have to write as though I have constipation.


HWM: I loved your Magic or Madness Trilogy. What made you choose the magic to be centered in mathematics?

Justine: Thank you. I wanted to create a magic that made sense to me. So many fantasies don't really explain how the magic works or where it comes from. And fair enough---it is magic afterall, being mysterious about is fine. But I wanted to see if could make a more science fictional approach to magic work.


HWM: What are the biggest similarities between you and Reason?

Justine:
We both love food.



HWM: I understand you pitched your trilogy idea to Razorbill and it was accepted after some time. As a first time novelist, what was your strategy to write a successful trilogy?

Justine: It was actually accepted quite quickly. Eloise Flood, who created the Razorbill imprint, had seen one of my unpublished novels so she knew that I could write a novel and decided to take a punt on my being able to write a trilogy. I'm very very very grateful to her. She not only
took a chance on me, she taught me so much about writing. Eloise is a brilliant editor. I was very lucky.

I wasn't a first-time novelist. Magic or Madness is the third novel I've written, but the first to be published. (I've now written six novels.) Having two novels (one I'm very proud of and the other that we shall not speak of) under my belt meant I knew---at least to some extent---what I was doing. I would never have tried to sell a novel from a proposal otherwise. Learning how to write a novel under deadline would have been terrifying.

It took years of writing and sending stuff out before I was published. Decades even.


HWM: When did you know you had the right ending for the trilogy?

Justine: I'm not sure that I do know that. When I first wrote the proposal I had a very clear idea of how it would end, but when I got there that ending no longer made any sense. Because I am stubborn I wrote it anyway. It was the ending to a completely different trilogy. I wound up having to rewrite it at least six times. Probably more. I'd have to go back and check to see exactly how many times and looking at all those drafts again would break my brain.

Writing the third book was incredibly hard. I had to wrap up everything in a way that wasn't too obvious but at the same time didn't come out of no where. Some of the story threads kept unravelling on me, stubbornly resisting my efforts to make them all come together. Magic's Child wound up going through more drafts than the other two books of the trilogy put together and I'm big on rewriting. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to read it again. Too painful recalling the agony of writing it.


HWM: What advice would you give to writers who are working on a trilogy?

Justine: Don't! Me and Libba Bray have sworn to never write another one again. Too brain destroying. We have elaborate punishments planned for each other if either one of us breaks that vow.


HWM: What made you decide to blog? Why do you blog?

Justine: All the other kids were doing it and people said it was a good way to promote your work. Turned out to be enormous fun. I think I'm addicted. Sometimes I joke that if I could blog for a living I'd give up novel writing in a flash. I doubt that's true, though. Part of the appeal of blogging is that it's not writing I have to do. I always feel slightly naughty blogging.

I've kept a diary since I was nine---a typically self obsessed angsty affair (which I hope no one ever sees until long after I'm gone)---so keeping a journal is something I've always done and enjoyed. I especially like the public aspect of blogging. It keeps me from being too whingey or self-indulgent. It's the corrective my diary always needed. And I adore all the comments. One of the loveliest things about blogging is that it's not just me crapping on there's my readers, who also chime in with comments, and then all the other bloggers. I'm part of a writing/reading/blogging community. I love it! I'm even more addicted to reading blogs than I am to blogging.


HWM: I'm a big fan of your blog. You are quite vocal and supportive of the writing community. What made you decide to write such detailed posts such as how to write a novel and first novel advances?

Justine: Thanks! I wrote "first novel advances" because I'd just sold my first novel and I was really curious about what everyone else was getting. I figured others might be curious too. It was eye opening. We make much much less than people realise. And even those who get six-figure advances are often getting it for a book they spent years on so that if you sit down and work out how much they're being paid per year it's not that fabulous.

I actually wrote "how to write a novel" as a joke. While it does have some useful advice, I was mostly just being silly. I note that you should never write about unicorns which was a shout out to a friend of mine who's writing a novel about killer unicorns. The spreadsheet thing was me mocking my husband who tracks the content (action, talking, sneaking) of each chapter of his novels using one. And the thing about typewriters being evil was because another friend insists
on writing on one. So the whole thing was self indulgent silliness!

I was amazed by how useful so many people have found it. Gratified too. I was helped by a lot of writers when I was struggling to be published (still am) so I definitely want to do that in turn. And I loved that a bunch of other novelists were moved to write about their own novel writing method. I started a meme! Though it was amusing that people assumed that I was describing my own novel writing practise. Alas not. I'm not nearly that ordered or organised. Every novel I write seems to demand a whole new set of methods. It's very annoying. Why can't all novels be the same?


HWM: What was your biggest challenge while starting up your YA fiction career?

Justine: The YA fiction career has gone relatively smoothly. I sold my first YA novel not long after I wrote the proposal. However, I'd been trying (and failing) to sell adult fiction for something like twenty years before the trilogy sold. Dealing with rejection was really, really,
really hard. I still find it difficult. It was a shock to realise that even when you're published you still get rejected and it doesn't stop hurting either.

I've been reading and loving YA for years. Some of what I'd written and thought was adult was actually YA so the transition was an easy one. It feels very natural to be writing YA. And I love the YA community of writers, librarians, booksellers, bloggers, editors, publicists, sales reps etc. It's wonderful.


HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?

Justine: I'm not sure I really have one. Unless hours spent online in order to avoid writing can be counted as part of the process. Step one is definitely procrastination. And there's also the crying part . . .


HWM: What was your biggest surprise with the success of your Magic or Madness trilogy?

Justine: Pretty much all of it. Just being published and read feels like a tremendous gift. This is going to sound weird but I never expected to have readers. The first time someone wrote me to tell me about reading my books I was so surprised. Not to mention moved. I'm a reader. There are so many wonderful books that are an incredibly important part of my life----books like Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia trilogy. I can't imagine my life without them. So to have some people write to me to explain how much my books mean to them, well, it's beyond words.

Thank you Justine for your time and thoughtful answers.
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Books
Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (2002)
Magic or Madness (2005)
Magic Lessons (2006)
Daughters of Earth (2006
Magic's Child (March 2007)

Where to find Justine
Justine's website
Justine's blog
Excerpts from the Magic or Madness trilogy


Liz B.'s SBBT interview with Justine
Kelly's SBBT interview with Justine
For links to other interviews with Justine

SBBT: Friday Interviews, Day Six

Here are today's Summer Blog Blast Tour interviews....Enjoy!

Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray
Justina Chen Headley at Big A, little a
Ysabeau Wilce at Shaken & Stirred
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman
Julie Ann Peters at Finding Wonderland
Cecil Castellucci at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Bennett Madison at Bookshelves of Doom
Holly Black at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Justine Larbalestier at HipWriterMama
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production: Part One and Part Two

Thursday, June 21, 2007

SBBT: The Fifth Day of Interviews

I can't believe it's Day Five of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. I hope you've been finding this blog tour interesting. I, for one, am discovering some cool new authors, interesting writing tips, and great books. My list of books to read is growing...growing...I'm telling you. This is the life!

Here is today's interview schedule for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.


Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating
Brent Hartinger at Interactive Reader
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a
Cecil Castellucci at Shaken & Stirred
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

SBBT: The Accomplished Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins (on right side of picture) is the talented author of The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Monsoon Summer, Rickshaw Girl, and First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover. I've read all of these books except for First Daughter, and really enjoyed each one. I was pleased that each of these books featured strong girl role models. I'll have my next list up soon and Mitali's books will definitely be on it.

Check out all the awards Mitali received for her books: Sunita Sen was honored as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, an ALA Recommended Book for the Reluctant Young Reader, Christian Schools Association's Lamplighter Award Winner, CBC Notable Children's Social Studies Book, nominated for the Mark Twain Award, Children's Book Council Summer 2005 Showcase Title, a California State Eureka! Title, and selected for Scholastic Book Fairs and the Scholastic Book Club.

Monsoon Summer received the distinction of the 2005 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, Bank Street 2005 Best Children's Books of the Year, nominated for the 2006-2007 Lamplighter Award, Texas Library Association TAYSHAS 2005-2006 Best Books for Young Adults, nominated for the Rhode Island 2007 Teen Book Award, nominated for Maryland's 2006-2007 Black-Eyed Susan Award, nominated for Nevada's 2007 Young Reader Award, CBC-NCSS 2005 Notable Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies, recommended by Teen People, Guideposts Sweet 16,Cosmo Girl UK, and Justine Magazine.

Rickshaw Girl was chosen as the Cooperative Children's Books Center Book of the Week.

Mitali has three new books to be released: First Daughter: White House Rules, 2008, Asha Means Hope, 2008 and The Bamboo People, 2009.

And now, here's Mitali.

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HWM: Your books focus on strong girl characters. I understand from your bio that you have sons. Are they jealous your books are all about the girls? Why is it so important to you that your books feature strong girl characters?

Mitali: While my sons are proud of me, they wouldn’t want to discover a character in my books who resembled them in any way. The good news (for them) is that if a hot girl in their school reads and likes my book, she just might glance their way with a new gleam in her eye.

My books feature strong girls perhaps because I am still the same stubborn, opinionated loud-mouth I was when I was fourteen.


HWM: Do you have any plans to write books on strong boy characters?

Mitali: I have a book coming out in 2009 from Charlesbridge called The Bamboo People which features not one, but two boy protagonists. I had to research guns and land mines to write it. It’s the story of a boy soldier in Burma who’s forced to join the army against his will and a Karenni refugee who’s fighting against that army for the survival of his people hiding in the jungles.


HWM: The title of your book, The Sunita Experiment, was changed to The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen. I actually picked up both books, thinking that one was the sequel to the other. Why did you or your publisher decide the title needed to be changed? What has been the general feedback.

Mitali: Sorry about the confusion — you’re not the first to make that assumption. When Little Brown decided to re-issue the book a decade after it was first published, there was talk that the original title (The Sunita Experiment) made the book sound more like an action-adventure novel (The Bourne Identity, etc.) than a middle school read. Feedback post-title-change has been “way, way too long,” and “why’d you change it?” Nowadays, most people just refer to the novel as “Sunita Sen.” As for the new cover, I still think the the painting on the original is gorgeous, but kids absolutely love the photo on the re-issue, and so do I.


HWM: In Rickshaw Girl, Naima loves to paint beautiful alpana patterns. I understand your mother (see picture) is quite talented in this wonderful art. How are your artistic skills in alpana painting?

Mitali: Funny you should ask — I spent last Sunday afternoon with our 8-year-old houseguest drawing alpana patterns on the sidewalk (with chalk, not the traditional rice paste paint). I’ve definitely improved since the book came out; I watched my Mom intently as she demonstrated the art during our joint appearances.


HWM: You have such an interesting life. You've lived in different countries. You've taught in Thailand. You've been a visiting professor. How has all this shaped your writing?

Mitali: “Interesting” could easily be replaced by “unsettled” if you’re a glass half-empty kind of person. Positively, living in so many places has deepened my understanding of universal human characteristics, like humor and joy and sorrow. Negatively, I know what it is to always feel like a visitor or a stranger and never quite at home. That’s why one vision for my writing and on-line presence is to create safe spaces for other travelers, especially young ones.


HWM: You've written non-fiction books on the weighty topic of media and religion: Ambassador Families: Equipping Your Family to Engage Popular Culture and Approaching the Bible: Islam and Christianity. What inspired you to write these books?

Mitali: Both books were about building bridges between groups who could benefit from a better understanding of each other’s cultures — Muslims and Christians, parents and teenagers. That’s not a new theme in my writing. Many geezers are terrified of the fast-paced techno-glitz our kids encounter and look back with longing to the days of our youth — or some idealized version of that time period. My take is that every culture, including youth culture, demonstrates beautiful, life-giving aspects of the human experience as well as some ugly, soul-killing stuff. Do we really want to go back to the day when you and I couldn’t drink from the same water fountain, or when children everywhere were dying of diseases that are now history? No way! I prefer to dive into the deep end of youth culture and celebrate the grace I find there.


HWM: What made you decide to leave the world of academia to write children's books? What do you enjoy about being a children's book author? What do you enjoy about writing non-fiction?

Mitali: Monsoon Summer came out ELEVEN years after The Sunita Experiment (which I wrote as a hobby/cheap therapy while teaching at Pepperdine University). After that, I remember debating and thinking hard about whether I wanted to pursue a doctorate in political science. I loved teaching so much. But I was starting to love being a mother, too, and hating those difficult choices about how to spend a daily quota of 24 hours. Some people can do many things at once, but I’m a terrible multi-tasker -- I figured I’d end up failing at both vocations. So for me, it wasn’t a choice between academia and children’s books — I took a hiatus between the two vocations to raise the boys while they were small.

The good news is that through author visits I get to teach without having to grade papers or exams — one thing I love about being a children’s book author. Here’s my series on why I write for kids, if you want to see some of the other reasons the vocation rocks. As for non-fiction, I doubt I’ll write a book, but I try and keep the aging left brain in good working order by writing articles every now and then, like this one for School Library Journal’s Curriculum Connections.


HWM: Your books have been published quite steadily over the past few years. When you first started writing, was it difficult to find an agent or publisher who was interested in publishing multicultural books? Do you think the marketing process is different for multicultural books?

Mitali: Part of the reason Monsoon Summer was rejected by so many publishers was because “kids in America won’t want to read a book set mostly in India.” Good thing Random House didn’t feel that way — it’s been my bestselling book to date. My agent, Laura Rennert, agreed to represent me years ago after reading The Bamboo People, which is set along the Thai-Burma border and has also traveled the Rounds of Rejection. Laura has a heart and eye for great international reads, and so does Charlesbridge’s Judy O’Malley, who finally acquired Bamboo.

One thing that’s tough about the word “multicultural” is that you’re never sure if the book is rejected/ignored or praised/celebrated mainly because of that label. I have low moments of self-doubt, wondering if I’m not as good of a writer as white folk but have gotten published or reviewed favorably because I’m brown. I also have depressing episodes of industry-doubt, wondering if my book is being overlooked because it features brown characters. The only remedy is to tell the voices to shut up, stop second-guessing myself and others, and concentrate with all my might on telling a story well. (See Hazel Rochman’s fantastic Horn Book article, “Against Borders,” if you want insight into how apartheid can come creeping into the world of children’s literature).


HWM: Which character do you think is most like you and why?

Mitali: None of them. All of them. The only character I’ve EVER written who is true to life is the grandfather in Sunita’s story — he is exactly like my beloved Dadu in Calcutta who died when he was 98 years old. I miss him every day.


HWM: What has been the biggest challenge of your writing career and how did you tackle it?

Mitali: Failure. So many rejections. I just kept plodding on and never giving up. I also learned how to revise. Also, success (or what feels like success after years of rejection). I’m back to making those difficult decisions about twenty-four hours that I still hate. Of course, in this business, failure and success tend to play “tag, you’re it,” so I could be back to the more relaxed lifestyle of rejections in a heartbeat.


HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?

Mitali: How much I enjoy using the internet to my benefit as a writer and what a techie geek I’m turning out to be.


HWM: If you could share any unique writing tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Mitali: I’d shout out Winston Churchill’s timeless rallying cry in perfect imitation of his gravelly upper-crust voice: “Nevah give in! Nevah give in! Nevah, nevah, nevah!”

Thank you for hosting me, HWM.

Thank you Mitali for sharing your thoughts with us!

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More places to find Mitali:

Mitali's website
Mitali's blog
Paper Tigers Outreach
Sameera Righton's blog: First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton, 2007)
Read Chapter One of First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover
YouTube of Sameera Righton
Kelly's SBBT interview with Mitali
7 Imp's SBBT interview with Mitali

Day Four: SBBT Interview Schedule

Today's SBBT interview schedule features:

Mitali Perkins at HipWriterMama
Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland
Dana Reinhardt at Interactive Reader
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Julie Ann Peters at A Fuse #8 Production: Part One & Part Two
Carolyn Mackler at The YA YA YAs
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating

30 Day Challenge Winner

The winner of the 30 Day Challenge has been decided. Drumroll please....

Cloudscome! You're the winner of the fabulous 3 prize combination package:
1. A productive new habit for you
2. Increased motivation to reach your goal
3. A $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble (accepted at stores and on-line).

Alkelda and Liz, you'll get a little something, just because it's the last day of school and I'm in a celebratory mood.

So send me your addresses to me at hipwritermama@comcast.net. I'll keep your information private. I'm a little behind with mailing out packages, but will get to it very, very soon. Congratulations!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

30 Day Challenge Ends Tonight, 11pm EST

As a reminder, the 30 Day Challenge ends tonight 11pm EST. Report in and you will be entered to win a fabulous 3 prize combination package:
1. A productive new habit for you
2. Increased motivation to reach your goal
3. A $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble (accepted at stores and on-line).

If you're looking for an inspirational read, check out my interview with Justina Chen Headley. This talented author of The Patch and Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) is motivated by this quote by Jack Kerouac: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…" You gotta love this quote!

For some more great author interviews, you might want to check out today's SBBT interview schedule. You'll find out some more inspiring and interesting information about some wonderful authors and their books.

This past week was tough for me. I had so many deadlines I was working on for the SBBT interviews, end of school activities, and summer fun organization (Which kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it? Spontaneous would be the way I would prefer to do it, but with three kids...). I was able to work on my character development and writing for four days last week. Not as much as I'd like, but this is something I know I will continue to do. Since I really am committed to my writing.

Cloudscome already checked in. How did everyone else do? Remember to check in by 11pm tonight. If you have written a post, leave a comment and I'll link to your results. If you didn't write a post, no worries. Comment below with your progess and you're all set. Now give yourself a nice pat on the back. You did it! You're on your way! Wahoo!

SBBT: Day Three of Great Interviews

The Summer Blog Blast Tour continues today with some more great reads on your favorite authors. Here's today's schedule:

Laura Ruby at Miss Erin
Bennett Madison at Shaken & Stirred
Shaun Tan at A Fuse #8 Production
Chris Crutcher at Bookshelves of Doom
Holly Black at The YA YA YAs
Kazu Kibuishi at Finding Wonderland
Christopher Golden at Bildungsroman
David Brin at Chasing Ray
Kirsten Miller at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Sara Zarr at Big A, little a
Sonya Hartnett at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Have no fear, in case you just found out about the Summer Blog Blast Tour (SBBT), here's yesterday's interview schedule. And while you're at it, please read my interview with Justina Chen Headley. Enjoy!:

Tom & Dorothy Hoobler at Chasing Ray
Mitali Perkins at Big A, little a
Sara Zarr at Interactive Reader
Justina Chen Headley at HipWriterMama
Justine Larbalestier at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Dana Reinhardt at lectitans
Brent Hartinger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at Writing and Ruminating
Jordan Sonnenblick by Bildungsroman
Ysabeau Wilce at Finding Wonderland

First Day Kick Off Interview:
Finding Wonderland interviews Gene Yang

Monday, June 18, 2007

SBBT: Nothing But The Truth with Justina Chen Headley

I am so pleased to welcome Justina Chen Headley, author of The Patch and Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) over here on my blog. Justina's new book, Girl Overboard, is due to be released in January 2008.

The Patch was named a NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People (Selector's Choice), and a Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice for picture books. The International Reading Association honored Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) as a Notable Book. This wonderful book was also chosen as a Borders Original Voices selection, Booksense Pick, NY Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best.

For those of you who are familiar with readergirlz, you know this vivacious readergirlz diva is big into encouragement, empowerment, and giving back. This generous lady not only talks the talk...she walks the walk. Check this out. Justina donated half of her advance from The Patch, her first picture book, to InfantSEE, a public health program that provides free eye assessments to babies. Justina also worked with Patch Pals to offer a limited edition eye patch, featuring the characters in the book. One dollar from every sale of these special eye patches will be donated to InfantSEE.

And that's not all. Justina celebrated her book, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) in a big way. In 2006, Justina personally sponsored a Nothing But the Truth Essay Contest for a $5,000 college scholarship. Justina writes on her website, "My parents both sacrificed so much so that all four of their kids could go to college without incurring too much debt. In my small way, I’d love to honor my parents and help out a college-bound student." The winner of the essay contest and the award winning essays are here.

I really enjoyed reading The Patch and Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies). Both books were featured on my Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature List in March 2007. Here's what I wrote about The Patch: Aspiring five year old ballerina Becca has to wear eyeglasses and an eyepatch to treat amblyopia. She is brave, smart and creative. Join her on her adventure as she returns to school with her eyepatch and eyeglasses. She charms her schoolmates and convinces them they want to look like her too!

Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) is one book I would recommend to every teenage girl. Here's part of my review: Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) gives a remarkable insight to our differences, our insecurities and sense of belonging. Patty Ho is a self-deprecating fifteen year old who unwittingly learns self-acceptance, confidence and self-empowerment through people she would never have given half a chance to before. This is a funny, heartbreaking story that mixes culture, teenage confusion, and an unlikely support system into a wonderful celebration of our differences.

Now without further ado...meet Justina Chen Headley.

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HWM: Becca, from your picture book, The Patch, made it to my Strong Girl Role Models list. I understand your daughter inspired this book. What was her impression of the book?

Justina: As of this moment, my daughter thinks it’s cool that she inspired a book, especially one who made it to your Strong Girl Role Models list! The problem is, my son has been clamoring for a middle-grade boy-adventure-fantasy novel with sword-fighting and interplanetary exploration. Unfortunately, my swashbuckling limit might have been reached at Becca wearing a pirate costume!

My daughter was three when she was diagnosed with amblyopia—a fairly common but often overlooked (pun unintended) eye condition. To strengthen her weak eye, she had to wear a patch. On her first day out in public, a little boy in her ballet class made fun of her. Being a writer-mom, I went home and wrote this story of empowerment for her.


HWM: The illustrations for The Patch are wonderful. With that said, what was your daughter's reaction when she found out Becca didn't look like her?

Justina: Let’s just say, we were both glad that Becca hadn’t been turned into a cockroach!

I mean that seriously! There is a definite church-and-state separation between authors and illustrators. So my illustrator, the wonderful Mitch Vane of Australia could have transformed Becca into a kangaroo or a wombat…or a huntsman spider. And I wouldn’t have been able to do much more than squawk about it.

I think the illustrations add so much energy, zest and personality to The Patch.


HWM: How did the title, Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) come about? Typically, most books have shorter titles. Was your editor worried about a long title?

Justina: My working title was Hapa Girl, but my agent told me after a huge pause: No.

Good decision. A lot of people have never heard of the Hawaiian term “hapa” for someone who’s half-Asian, half-white.

So I had something like 3 days to craft a new acceptable title before my agent sent out the manuscript to publishers. I created some new (horrific) titles that I’m too embarrassed to share. Since Patty’s final essay in English class—the dreaded Truth Statement—plays an integral role, I thought it would be fun to refer to that.

And now, the official way of saying the title: You must accompany the “and a few white lies” with a deliberate, yet somewhat discreet eye roll.

No one seemed worried about the length of my title. That said, I wanted something much shorter for my next novel, which morphed from Queen of the Mountain (ick) to Girl Overboard.

HWM: Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) was a sometimes tough book for me to read from an emotional standpoint. You were so spot on with the Mama Lecture Series (hysterical), the comparison shopping of children's accomplishments, the brand name college wars, being "yellow struck." I could go on and on. I would imagine you had to look back on your experiences as well as think about the experiences your children might go through. How difficult was this from an emotional viewpoint for you to write?

Justina: Let’s put it this way: I had no interest in writing this story. Not at all. In fact, I found all kinds of excuses to punt on Patty’s story. Oh, say, that cute bear family reunion book that I just HAD to write. (And of course, never sell).

Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) came to me on the day I took my kids to the Children’s Museum. A group of teens surrounded us as soon as we walked in. They started to “hung twung wung” us—you know, mock us in pseudo-Chinese.

That night, Patty Ho from my novel introduced herself to me and wouldn’t stop talking—not shutting up in my dreams. Or on my run the next morning. And especially not at the computer.

So, FINE, I wrote down her first chapter. And then her second. And then my agent sold the novel so I had to write the whole darn thing.


HWM: I found the use of names/labels and various stereotypes with the eventual introduction of the naming company quite interesting in your book. What are your hopes with this exploration of stereotypes and branding?

Justina: While at Microsoft, I worked closely with a naming company and remember being completely amazed that people were paid to make up names.

Think about it: stereotypes are often nothing but labels someone slaps on you. Power comes from defining how we define ourselves, not allowing others to define us. Just as people can make up a term for a product, why shouldn’t we determine who we are, what we stand for, how we view ourselves?


HWM: What advice do you have for Asian-American or hapa teens who want to feel comfortable in their own skin and break out of the stereotypical mold?

Justina:
Just as I believe my novel transcends race, I think this advice does, too, and applies to any teen.

Spend time figuring out who you are and what you stand for. Then stay true to yourself. Embrace the notion that being a cookie cutter kid is boring. Cherish what makes you different from the girl or guy next to you.

Oh—and remember, the people who are popular in high school may not be the same ones in college or after college. That’s key.


HWM: I loved the roles Anne, Jasmine and Brian played as Patty's unlikely support system. Who was your biggest source of support over the years and what did you learn?

Justina: If wealth was measured by our friends and relationships, I would be the richest woman on the planet.

So I suppose if Patty had Anne, Jasmine, and Brian, I have my triumvirate, too, in my mom, my sister and my husband. They have always believed in me, whatever it is that I’ve set out to do. They truly practice unconditional love, and that’s something I wish to give to my kids and true friends.

My triumvirate has grown in the last year. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know three amazing women and YA novelists who’ve taught me the true meaning of giving back generously: Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey and Lorie Ann Grover, my readergirlz co-founders and cohorts. And I cannot wait to get to know the postergirlz for readergirlz even better—Little Willow, Jen Robinson, Jackie Parker, Miss Erin, and Alexia.


HWM: What has been your biggest surprise with the success of Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies)?

Justina: The biggest and best surprise of all: the extraordinary people I’ve had the privilege of meeting because of this one book. The experts I interviewed while researching the book. The fans who’ve taken the time to tell me the book changed them. The bloggers, librarians and teachers who’ve championed my book so ardently. All of this—all of you—have been a wholly pleasant gift.


HWM: Nice cover for Girl OVERBOARD.

Justina: I love the Girl OVERBOARD cover. My art director is a genius; that's all there is to it. She designed the Twilight book cover, too, which I think is beautiful.

Quick note: Justina refers to this quote by Jack Kerouac on her website as a great motivator: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…" Justina writes, "I love this quote so much that I actually used it in my upcoming novel, Girl OVERBOARD."


HWM: What inspired Girl OVERBOARD?

Justina: My innate klutziness is completely to blame for Girl OVERBOARD. There I was, on top of the mountain, thinking to myself: Wow! I am *good*!! See, I had just made it down a really hard ski run. And I thought--woo hoo!--my skiing has progressed to the next level...at last! Big mistake.

So on my next run, I hit a bit of powder, and one ski went one direction, the other ski went the other, and TWANG! went my knee. I totally tore through my ACL. So there I was, flat out on the snow, whimpering, "My knee! My knee!" Ski patrol came to my rescue and did the whole "ma'am" thing to me. As in "Ma'am, are you hurt?"

"No, I just like to writhe in the snow, thank you." Duh. So then I thought, Geez, what if I was 16 and had just blown out my knee and ski patrol was, like, "Yo, kid!" And then I thought, no... What if I was 16, had just blown out my knee when I was on the brink of becoming a pro snowboarder, and the ski patrol said, "You had no right to be riding here..."

Just like that, Syrah, my character, sprang into my head... That's actually the moment when I called myself a writer, because only a writer would be composing as she was being tobaggoned headfirst down a mountain.


HWM: What was your biggest challenge when starting your writing career? What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Justina: Oh, gosh, my biggest challenge was believing in my ability to write! All through elementary to high school, I had teachers who told me that I would be an author one day. But then, first quarter at Stanford in my freshman writing seminar, the professor eviscerated my writing. He told me I had no talent. I believed him. So I put away my writing for years until I had the courage to face—not a blank page, but my words on a page.

My advice to aspiring writers is simple: believe in your voice despite all the No, No, No you will hear. And be persistent.


HWM: If you had to write a brief truth statement about yourself, what would it say?

Truth: I am Justina Chen Headley, writer-mom, wife, friend, daughter, sister. I admire all the writer-women-mothers-wives-friends who have come before me and made this road possible…and thoroughly enjoyable!
Truth: I believe passionately in people helping people. In giving back to the community. In forming communities. And that is why I will continue to tie philanthropy with every one of my published books.
Truth: I believe in the transformative power of words coupled with action. And that is why readergirlz is so important to me: teen girls reading and reaching out will change our world. I believe that.
Truth: I think teachers and librarians are angels on earth. And people develop soul and spirit, empathy and sympathy through books.

Thank you Justina for time and thoughtful answers.

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Where to find Justina Chen Headley:
Justina's website
Justina's MySpace
readergirlz
technorati search on Justina
Read an excerpt from Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies)

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Here is a list of today's interviews. Enjoy the tour!

Tom & Dorothy Hoobler at Chasing Ray
Mitali Perkins at Big A, little a
Sara Zarr at Interactive Reader
Justina Chen Headley at HipWriterMama
Justine Larbalestier at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Dana Reinhardt at lectitans
Brent Hartinger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at Writing and Ruminating
Jordan Sonnenblick by Bildungsroman
Ysabeau Wilce at Finding Wonderland