I’m pleased to announce that my next book is now under contract with Holiday House publishers. BOBBY LEE CLAREMONT AND THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT will be published in the fall of 2016, and I couldn’t be happier!
Here’s a quick synopsis:
Robert E. Lee Claremont–or Bobby Lee, when he’s not walking the straight and narrow–is leaving New Orleans. He is bound for Chicago, where he hopes to join the criminal element and make a new life for himself, far from the condemnation of his mother’s death and the heavy-handed salvation of the Sisters of Charitable Mercy. He finds himself making the journey with a young widowed mother, her companions, and a policeman, who suspects them of having murdered her husband. It seems like his big chance to join up with criminals. So why does the truth about Jimmy O’Halloran’s death and his young widow’s hopes for a future make Bobby Lee’s hardened criminal heart yearn for the wholesome comforts of family and home? And once he’s uncovered that truth, how far is he willing to go to save her, and himself, from the criminal element he had hoped to join?
This will be my third book, but is also a first in several ways:
My first book with Holiday House
My first book not set in Colorado
My first book with a boy protagonist
This is the manuscript for which
I spent a whole day reading about the history of toilets on trains
I sang The City of New Orleans around the house for days straight (the cats are really tired of that song!)
I read dozens of oral histories from African-American Pullman Porters
Because those are the sacrifices a person makes for her art. What can I say. Some days, my job is pretty amazing.
I look forward to sharing more updates as this manuscript grows into a book with the help of my amazing new editor. Every story is a journey. This one in more ways than one.
March has been Women’s History Month, so I’ve been seeing images of famous women of history in various places. It is a topic of interest to me. I like history, and I am a woman, and I am fascinated by all the ways women find their power and their voice in eras where they aren’t afforded many opportunities. It’s what inspired me to write my novel, Searching for Silverheels, which centers on women of a variety of callings, who find their own ways to be strong.
But all month, I’ve been thinking about one woman in particular, thanks to this wonderful book that came out in January of this year.
AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder.
AUDACITY is the story of Clara Lemlich, a poor, eastern European, Jewish immigrant, who came to American at the turn of the twentieth century, and became the pivotal voice in the garment workers’ strikes of New York. Those strikes would play a critical role in reshaping labor law in America.
I had never thought too much about what distinguished Clara Lemlich from so many of the other women who are celebrated during this month every year, until I went to the release of AUDACITY, and listened to Melanie Crowder talk about what inspired her to write this book. She mentioned that she was drawn to Clara’s story because, unlike so many of the suffragists and other women reformers of the 19th and 20th centuries, Clara was neither wealthy nor educated. She did not achieve change from a privileged position that gave her power, but rose from the very working classes that she sought to protect. In fact, the title of the book comes from a quote from Lemlich herself, who said that all she had to get her through was audacity.
Clara Lemlich was a truly remarkable woman, and her story is a remarkable story. Those are two of the reasons why AUDACITYis a remarkable book. But those are not the only two reasons.
This is a novel in verse, a story told in a series of first person poems, that track the life of a young Jewish girl, from her homeland in Russia, where Jews lived in fear of the violent pagrams, across the ocean in the filthy bowels of a ship with the poorest of travelers, to the shores of a new land, where the American dream consisted of urban poverty and low-paying work in horrible conditions. Though the realities of life were harsh, Crowder has given a fierce beauty to Lemlich’s voice through spare, lyrical verse that soars with dreams here, is pinned down by the realities of poverty, violence and injustice there. Lemlich comes alive as a painfully real person, with daring dreams, and hard realities that make those dreams beyond her reach. It is the story of hard choices, realistically made. Of hard victories, won with blood and sweat and tears. It is a beautifully told story of what it truly means to be a hero.
Women’s history month is almost over, but there is still plenty of time to pick up and read Melanie Crowder’s AUDACITY. You won’t be sorry that you did. Be prepared to have a new favorite hero in your life.
AUDACITY, Melanie Crowder. Philomel Books, 2015. ISBN 9780399168994
One hundred years ago today, on February 4, 1915, Germany declared a U-boat blockade of Great Britain. Historians note that the blockade changed the shape of the war, as it made civilians potential targets. The German blockade would have its most notorious moment three months later, on May 7, with the sinking of the Lusitania, resulting in the death of 1,198 civilians.
While sinking the Lusitania was a momentary victory for the German navy, it would ultimately be a huge propaganda win for Great Britain and her allies, as “Remember the Lusitania” became a rallying cry for their war efforts. In America, the disaster was couched in terms that focused on the women and children on the ship–innocent victims of war.
Of course, civilians, and by extension women, have never been immune to war. Women have been victims of war throughout history, whether they died innocently or fighting, or survived to become the spoils for the victors. Women have been more than victims, too. They have always picked up the slack on the home front while men marched away. They have defended their homes, done their husband’s jobs on top of their own, nursed the wounded both on and off the battlefield, and even fought beside the men.
That’s why I find it fascinating to explore the ways women have been portrayed in wartime. I don’t believe that women’s roles have varied all that much through the years, but certainly the public perception of those roles has changed.
The sinking of the Lusitania resulted in one of the most iconic images of womanhood in World War I, the sinking mother, babe in arms–innocent victims of the war to be protected. Other images of women from the Great War likewise show women as creatures to protect, images of comfort and home and prosperity to be returned to. The calls for women to help, show images of passive, sweet-faced maidens or nurturing matrons. They show mothers, arms lovingly outstretched to sons, or nurses, looking pretty and peaceful in their uniforms, or even mythological representations of women, such as Lady Liberty sowing fields.
Not quite the reality of what women really did, for example these French women plowing their fields in World War I.
In contrast, the women of World War II, twenty-some years later, are a stouter lot. The iconic, attractively-burly Rosie the Riveter and her companions burst on the scene with cries of WE CAN DO IT! OF COURSE I CAN! and IT’S OUR FIGHT TOO! Women are working in the posters of World War II, doing real labor–active, fighting, tough! Not just comforting helpers, but partners in the war effort.
The contrast between portrayals of women in the propaganda of the First and Second World Wars offers an interesting insight into how much attitudes about women had changed between 1915 and the late 1930s/early 1940s. It’s easy for modern readers to think of the struggle for women’s rights being a post World War II, civil-rights-era phenomenon, but the suffragists, labor leaders, and generally strong women of the early twentieth century achieved more than just the vote. These images are a great reminder of what they accomplished in changing the perception of women in the first half of the twentieth century. We must remember the Lusitania, but we must also remember the women who were fighting on the home front, for the sake of their sons on the battlefield, and their daughters, of future generations.
This is what inspired me to write SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, a story of women on the home front during World War I, the challenges they face, and all the ways they must find strength to meet them. It is my tribute to the universal truths of womanhood, across the generations, whether or not we live in an era that acknowledges them.
I’m back from my holiday hiatus, perhaps a bit later than most people. For me, the holiday break isn’t a time to put away work for a while. It is a time when I am away from the day job, and therefore can buckle down and get a lot of work done on my writing. I always have a few goals for myself to complete before the students come back to the college campus where I work (which happened this week.)
I more or less reached my writing goal for the holiday break. I finished a revision that’s been a struggle for me. I think I’m done, but then, I’ve thought that before. Revision is a process of finding a balance between my vision and the vision of others, and trusting that their vision is sometimes the right one, and that even when I can’t see it, I can reproduce it. And that’s hard. So it takes a lot of tries.
So, the revision is done, or at least at rest until I get some feedback to tell me it isn’t done. And that means I have time to ramble a bit about the end of one year and the beginning of the next.
I’m not a resolution maker. Sure, there are things I want to change or adjust in my life. There’s always body fat to be battled and disorganized cupboards that could be cleaned. But I find nothing magical about January that’s going to push me into doing what I haven’t been doing, and anyway, for the first few weeks of the month, I’m busy with more important writing goals.
But I do like looking back on past years, and what I’ve accomplished. In that vein, I thought I’d sum up 2014 with books I read. Unfortunately, I didn’t start keeping track at the beginning of the year, so I’m sure there are a few books missing from my list.
I am an eclectic reader. I like many genres, and I try to read classics that I missed, as well as new books. I try to keep up with what’s going on in middle-grade and YA fiction, since that’s what I write, but I try to read adult books too.
Here, in no particular order, and for no particular reason, are my 2014 reads, as my own way to sum up the year. I can’t say I could pick a favorite. It was a good year for reading–I didn’t meet a book I didn’t like this year:
STRANGE SWEET SONG by Adi Rule
SIRENS by Janet Fox
KAFKA ON THE SHORE by Haruki Murakami
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer Holm
SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson
COUNTING BY SEVENS by Holly Goldberg Sloan
NAVIGATING EARLY by Clare Vanderpool
THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein
ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor
ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman
JEWEL OF THE THAMES by Angela Misri
THE OTHER WAY AROUND by Sashi Kaufman
RADIO GIRL by Carol Brendler
KISSING SHAKESPEARE by Pam Mingle
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith
THE THREE MUSKETEERS by Alexandre Dumas
RHYME SCHEMER by Kari Ann Holt
DIRTBIKES, DRONES, AND OTHER WAYS TO FLY by Conrad Wesselhoeft
THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tart
GOBLIN SECRETS by William Alexander
GRAVE IMAGES by Jenny Goebel
THE RUNAWAY KING by Jennifer Nielsen
THE FLAME THROWERS by Rachel Kushner
THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton
VIVIAN DIVINE IS DEAD by Lauren Sabel
FUTURE FLASH by Kita Murdock
GLANCING THROUGH THE GLIMMER by Pat McDermott
FINN FINNEGAN by Darby Karchut
GIDEON’S SPEAR by Darby Karchut
THE SUN KING by Nancy Mitford
Now on to 2015, another year of reading, reaching, writing, and living with cats. Happy New Year, everybody!
Really, I make lists all year long. I’m a firm believer in the “To Do List,” mostly because I enjoy scratching things off of them. It makes me feel productive. I admit, I have been known to add things I’ve already done. I also put down silly little things, like “refill coffee cup.” Because it’s all about the scratching them off. “YES!” I think triumphantly, giving myself a mental high five for such grand accomplishments as “wipe off the table,” “hang up wet towell,” and “wash eyeglasses.” VICTORY IS MINE!!!
But this is the time of year for that other kind of list.
The holiday list.
The truth is, I don’t go shopping on Black Friday. I don’t like the crowds, I don’t like the standing in line. But really, when I think about it, there’s nothing out there in all those deals that I really want or need. I’ve got plenty of stuff in my house. I’ve got plenty of clothes in my closet. And so do my kids, my siblings, my parents. Everyone on my holiday shopping list doesn’t really need anything, a fact for which I am very grateful.
Of course, there’s more on the holiday To Do List than shopping. There are the parties and cards and decorating and entertaining and baking and…
Listening to the commercials on TV and the radio, what we seem to be sold most during the holidays, is stress. At some point, we lost the idea that we are supposed to do things at the holiday to spread and share joy. Every radio commercial I hear on my commute to work features the frantic housewife, cooking and cleaning and decorating for the masses, the frantic parents or lovers trying to find the perfect gift, the overworked, stressed out shopper, desperate to get it all done. They aren’t helping us enjoy the holidays, they aren’t trying to give us a sense of joy. They are selling us stress–If you aren’t stressed out, you aren’t doing it right!
If that’s right, I gave up doing it right a long time ago. This can be a joyful time of year, but only if we choose to make it so. Likewise, this can be a hard time of year, for those who have lost loved ones or are alone. So my list, this holiday season, isn’t about what I can buy or how many things I have to get done. This list is about joy.
This holiday season, I’m going to do things that bring joy to myself and others.
All those things that the commercial society tells me to do but I don’t really want to? I’m saying no. Seriously, I’ve seen lights, baked cookies, been to parties. If I’m in the mood, I’ll do those things, but the season isn’t made better by overdoing them, when I’ve already had enough.
I’m going to spend time with those I love, instead of spending time spending money on useless stuff for those I love.
I’m going to remind myself to look on the bright side–even the things that make me angry or frustrated must have a bright side somewhere.
I’m going to seek joy, even when its hidden.
I’m going to find time to write. Because that’s important to me, and grounding, and stress relieving. Even when the cats are on my page.
That’s my holiday list as we enter the Christmas season. Now to start ticking them off.
**Addendum: The cats have made their stress free holiday season lists too:
I’ve been busy, busy, busy, working with the fabulous Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, putting together some fun and games for book clubs! So today, I’m proud to announce, a new book club kit for my book SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS! This book would be a great choice for readers ranging in age from about 10-14 (although adults have told me they enjoyed the book as well!) It might be a good choice for mother-daughter book clubs, or groups interested in the 100th anniversary of World War I, or researching the heroines of the suffrage movement!
What, you ask, is a book club kit? Well, it’s 20 pages chock full of stuff to make your book club meeting more fun! Including:
Menu items, to have a book club lunch or snack, including recipes from the era that came directly from my great-grandma, transcribed from my grandmother’s recipe book
Crafts that fit the themes of the book
Decorations, to take your club meeting back in time
What’s that you say? You aren’t looking for fun? You have a serious book club that prefers a more intellectual approach to reading and discussing?
Fear not, academically minded reader! Those twenty pages also include:
Thought provoking discussion questions, chapter by chapter
Historical background about the era and the place to make you even smarter.
Web links to sites with primary historical documents and photographs to learn more about the suffrage movement, World War I, and Como, Colorado, where the story is set.
But wait! There’s more!
Read alikes (other books with similar themes that readers might want to explore)
Videos (for young and old, that address women’s suffrage–be prepared for an ear worm)
Advertising help for bookstores, schools, or libraries hosting the book club meeting
Instructions on arranging a free Skype visit with the author during your book club meeting
What would you pay for a valuable resource like this?
And does it come with a free set of Ginsu knives????
Sorry, folks. No knives. BUT, to make up for that, we’ve made the SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS BOOK CLUB KIT
Because for a limited time, if you are a librarian, teacher, or book club organizer, you can not only download the book club kit, but you can enter to win a free copy of SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS over at Curious City. And while you are there, browse around for the other great reading enrichment materials they provide free of charge!
I only said that because I believe every author should begin every piece of writing with an overused idiom.
But seriously, how did we get to mid-November.
Every year, October takes me by surprise and is over before I’ve gotten used to the idea of it having arrived. This year, it seems to have taken the first couple weeks of November right along with it.
So, here I am, crawling out into the light of a new day, blinking in the sun, wondering what happened in this strange new world, where it suddenly looks like winter (and feels like it too–brrrr!)
More soon, but for now, I just wanted to announce that MARISSA was the winner of the Halloween Book Trail prize of a book, a critique or a visit. Yay, Marissa! I’ll be contacting you by email, so check your spam filter. I’m one of those people emailing you to say You’re a Winner! I’m the one who isn’t a sweet, God-fearing African widow without any heirs.
Hello, brave trick-or-treaters, and welcome to the OFF THE BEATEN PATH Halloween Booktrail.
There are six intrepid authors here, waiting in the dark to jump out at you with our Halloween posts. At the end of this post, you will find the link for the next one, and a chance to win some extra stuff here, in addition to the cool stuff you can win at the end. So, let’s get rolling.
I’ve chosen to answer some interview questions, sent to me by the lovely and charming bruja, Zoraida Córdova! Here they are:
If your MC went trick or treating, what would they dress up as and why?
That’s an easy one! Pearl is a romantic at heart, so she wouldn’t be one to go parading around all dripping with gore and nasty goop. No, Pearl would go dressed as her heroine–the beautiful dancer Silverheels. This costume would include a dance-hall girl dress, circa 1861, and of course, beautiful silver-heeled dancing shoes.
If Pearl were doing this today, she’d probably end up feeling a bit embarrassed. When I was getting ready to do a release party, I thought, “I know! I will dress up as a dance-hall girl myself for the release party–that will be fun. Then I Googled old west dance hall girl costumes and discovered how–um–minimal some of those run these days. And I realized me in one of those itty bitty saloon girl costumes would qualify for the “most terrifying costume ever” award. So I refrained.
If your villain went trick or treating, what would they dress up as?
My villain, Mrs. Phoebe Crawford would not be playing dress up when there is a war on and all our efforts are needed for our boys over there, thank you very much! Then again, who can blame her for being a bit cranky with a name like Phoebe.
Do you legit believe in ghosts and things that bump in the night? (We won’t think you’re cray)
To be honest, I’m not sure what I believe. I have several scenes in Searching for Silverheels set in a cemetery, because I think cemeteries are places with a unique energy. Whether that energy is there because of ghosts or because of all the grief and emotion of visitors, I’m not sure.
When I was writing Searching for Silverheels, I gave a character the last name Sanford, a name I picked because college mailings were coming to my son at the time I was working on the manuscript, and a letter from Stanford was sitting near me on the table as I tried to think of a name for the character. I changed it to Sanford and went on to write the rest of the story. Later, after the manuscript was written, I found out that the real person in the past who did almost exactly what my character did, was a Mr. Sanford. Coincidence? Spiritual channeling? Whatever it was, it gave me goose bumps.
What is your favorite Halloween memory?
Halloween in Colorado is a bit of a challenge. No matter what you dress up as for trick or treating, chances are it will be under a parka, hat and gloves when you actually go out trick or treating.
When I was a kid, Halloween consisted of picking an outfit out of the family trunk of costumes–ghost (sheet with eye holes), hobo (old patched up clothes), Mummy (strips of torn up sheet to wrap up in), and we went up and down our road with all the other kids. I lived in the country, so, there were only about five or six houses, so no matter what house we went to, it was someone’s mom who opened the door.
I remember being insanely jealous of the kids whose parents bought them a brand new costume, which in those days was one of those cheep crinkly plastic masks and a glorified trash bag printed with a character. Now, when I open the door and see a kid in a sheet with eyeholes (which is almost never) or wrapped in miles of toilet paper, I give them an extra handful of candy.
What is the most haunted place you’ve ever been to?
In my day job, I’m an archaeologist, so I have been in a lot of museums and archaeological sites, some of which can be pretty spooky. Most museums have ghost stories or “odd occurrences” associated with certain rooms and artifacts. I’ve definitely gotten some weird vibes in deep, dark storage areas filled with creepy stuff.
My most memorable “haunting,” though, was when I was recording an archaeological site all by myself. I got that “someone’s watching” feeling. It kept getting stronger, and finally, while I was mapping the ruins of a big ceremonial structure, I realized a great horned owl was sitting in a tree watching me, even though it was broad daylight. It was pretty cool, but a little creepy too, because I know that owls are associated with native witches in that part of the world. It watched me map the whole structure, and then when I moved on to map some other parts of the site, it glided to another tree to keep an eye on me. It watched until I mapped the whole site and left, and then didn’t follow me any more. I couldn’t help but think it was a guardian to the site, or maybe working for a guardian.
BUT BEFORE YOU GO, leave me a comment, for a chance to win your choice of a book, a manuscript critique (15 pages max.) or a skype visit for your school or book club! And don’t forget all the fabulous prizes you can win at the end of the booktrail too!
I love the leaves changing, the nights getting cool, the first snow on the high peaks to the west.
I love the smell of the air in the morning, and the haze of frost on the lawn.
I love the way the light plays across the surface of the world, more golden and sharp, like it, too, is drinking up the beauty of this last hurrah before the cold sets in and the world grows dreary.
Every year, October means harvest festivals, corn mazes, and pumpkin carvings.
Of course, October has its scary side too. Let’s not forget about all the ghosts, goblins, demons and monsters.
The things that jump out of no where and try to grab you.
And the fact that the creepy crawlies of summer have, by now, gotten really big and are starting to turn monstrous–like this October grasshopper, encountered on an October hike.
Let’s face it, October is a month designed to change everything–the world, your sense of reality. It’s beautiful and scary and joyful and creepy, all wrapped into one bright, colorful, dark, spooky package.
And what’s not to love about that, right?
But this year, October is about to do you one better. Because this year, October is going to include the
HALLOWEEN BOOK TRAIL!!!!
In case you thought you were too old to trick or treat, think again! From October 27th through November 1st, a whole bunch of middle grade and young adult authors are going to give you the chance to go door to door among our blogs and get all kinds of treats!
You can learn about us and about our books! Find out our deep, dark, weird secrets, earn the chance to WIN WONDERFUL PRIZES!!!! You can check out the wonderful prizes for every path right here! There will be several paths through the deep dark forests of our souls. Or, um, through our blogs. I will be participating in the OFF THE BEATEN TRACK path. Scary, right?
It’s gonna be fun, and you don’t even have to dress up to participate. But, if you want to you can. We’re not the type to judge.
Something about the fall is making my cats go a little nuts. Maybe it’s the cooling weather. Maybe it’s the fact that night is expanding in the world, and they are creatures of the night. Maybe they are just a little nuts.
Whatever it is, they are running randomly around the house, attacking things (shoes, tennis balls, the dog, each other.)
As I watch them, I realize they are taking play seriously. This is something I don’t really do enough.
It is something I need to do more in my life and my writing.Because I’m feeling desperate for growth right now, and one thing I used to do when I was growing, was play. A lot. But then I got all grown up, and I put away both growing and playing a little too much, I think.
So today, I’m going to go sit in the sun and write something silly and joyful. Maybe I will share it with you. Maybe I won’t. But I’m going to commit to making it fun. Who knows, maybe I’ll run around the house, throw myself down on the living room floor and attack a tennis ball. Or maybe I’ll go for a walk and enjoy the fall color. But I’m going to commit to more play.