Monday, February 26, 2024

Q&A with Linda Crotta Brennan

 


 

 

Linda Crotta Brennan is the author of the new middle grade novel The Selkie's Daughter. Her many other books include When Rivers Burned. She lives in New England.

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Selkie’s Daughter, and how did you create your character Brigit?

 

A: Brigit inspired me to write The Selkie’s Daughter. One morning she strode onto the page of my journal. She was standing on a cliff hurling a prayer over the raging sea, “Bring him home, bring him home, bring him home.”

 

Who was she? Who was “he” and what had happened to him? I journaled further to discover the answers, finding them on the mist-shrouded coast of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and its storied Celtic traditions.

 

Brigit’s father was a fisherman, lost at sea, and her mother…well her mother was a selkie, a seal woman, a secret Brigit must keep from her suspicious neighbors. 

 

Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book said, “This fresh and evocative tale, rendered in Brigit’s clear voice, is propelled by a resilient protagonist toward a satisfyingly complex resolution.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: Oh, what a lovely one! I worked long and hard to achieve this. In the original version of this story, Brigit was less resilient and more passive. I pushed and prodded her character to make her stronger.

 

Then there was Brigit’s voice. Originally this was a novel in verse which flavors Brigit’s way of expressing herself. I tried to retain that flavor as I rewrote it in prose, expanding and enlarging the novel.

 

And while the first two thirds of the plot came together easily, I struggled with the final third and the resolution. This published version of the book took years, seven years in fact, of revision after revision to achieve.

 

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Brigit and her mother?

 

A: Brigit’s mother is forever drawn to the sea, and although she loves her family, she is not particularly present for them. Brigit is forced to take up the slack, cooking, cleaning, and caring for her little brother. Because of this, Brigit sometimes resents her mother and is afraid she’ll leave them.


But Brigit also loves her mother deeply and is inspired by her mother’s songs and tales. She admires the jewelry her mother makes which gives Brigit a glimpse of life in Sule Skerrie. She aches to hear more about her mother’s life as a selkie.

 

Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

 

A: Even though this is a fantasy, I did a lot of research for this book. I’ve written over 20 nonfiction books for young people, so I’m in the habit of digging deeply into a topic.

 

Of course, I delved into the Celtic myths surrounding selkies and into the rich heritage of Celtic song and legend. But I also researched the diphtheria epidemic, the symptoms of hypothermia, how to sail a dory, the lives of seals, and much more.

 

One of the most fascinating things that I discovered was how finely attuned seals are to their underwater environment, possessing senses beyond our own that can read current trails through the sea.

 

Getting the setting details just right was also important to me, so I studied Cape Breton history, the customs of its people, the plants and animals that are found there. I had someone who lived in Nova Scotia read the manuscript through for accuracy.

 

One startling discovery was a site on Cape Breton that is eerily similar to Brigit’s Finn’s Point, with caves like the one I envisioned leading to Selkie Cove. I will not reveal exactly where that is, but my husband and I drove down six miles of dirt road to see it, with Hurricane Fiona bearing down on us.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m juggling a few projects in various stages of development, and I’m not sure which of them will bear fruit. One is a historical fantasy set at the dawn of America’s industrial revolution, another is a fantasy featuring mini humanoids. And I’m in the gathering stage of a fantasy based on Italian folklore.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I wrote The Selkie’s Daughter, but now the story belongs to its readers. I am eager to hear what they bring to it, and what they take away. I’m hoping it encourages young readers to be more accepting of differences, in themselves and in others.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Chris Wade

 


 

Chris Wade is the author of the new story collection Strange and Mysterious Stories. His many other books include The Art of John Atkinson Grimshaw. Also a musician and filmmaker, he lives in Leeds, England.

 

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Strange and Mysterious Stories?

 

A: Well, one of them, "Roger's Place," was written about 10 years ago. I had written it for an actor to narrate on audio, but that didn't work out, sadly because the actor who was going to read it died. So I left it to one side and forgot all about it until last year. I dusted it off, rewrote parts, and changed the tone of the story.

 

Apart from that the rest of the tales were all written throughout 2023. 

 

Q: As a writer, musician, and filmmaker, how do the three disciplines work together for you?

 

A: To be honest,  it's perfect for me. As soon as I start to get a little tired of doing one of them, I move over to the next.

 

After writing every day, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, every couple of months or so I feel like making some music, so I get all my instruments out and make an EP or an album.

 

Every now and then I come up with an idea for a surreal art film or a documentary and I take time out of writing to put my all into that for as long as I need to. I just love writing, making music and anything to do with film.

 

When I was a kid, I used to draw and write stories all day, play along to my favourite records on the guitar, and put together little film guides in notebooks. I was always obsessed with books, films, and music. They've always been my passions, so I feel lucky that I get to do them all the time, every day of most weeks, as a "job," though it never feels like a job. 

 

Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear in the collection?

 

A: That's a good question. At first the book started with "The Rat Faced Man" because I thought it was punchier and a more fitting opener, but then I wrote "The Death of Arthur Kind" and I just thought that was a perfect start to the book.

 

I came up with the idea for Arthur Kind in early ‘23 and finally got it down in October of ‘23. I swapped the tales around for a bit to see if I liked the order, but in the end I decided the way they are placed in the book now was the best of all.

 

I think the closing tale is so dreamy and surreal that it's a nice way to let the reader off gently before it all ends. 

 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the stories?

 

A: I hope that the tales genuinely creep them out. So far people have said they are creepy and that they keep you hooked, so I am really pleased with that.

 

I recently made a CD of instrumentals to go with the book, released under my pseudonym, Dodson and Fogg. That was really fun, getting the sounds that matched the stories, experimenting, trying to conjure up the spooky atmosphere.

 

I love ghost stories and odd tales, especially English ones of the 1900s, those great tales by MR James, Conan Doyle, Dickens and all those wonderful writers. They really get you imagination flowing.

 

Ideally I would like people to read them while listening to the music. You can get the CD or download the EP at my bandcamp music site: https://wisdomtwinsbooks.bandcamp.com/album/music-for-strange-and-mysterious-stories

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Well, I just released my instrumental EP and I recently put out a book on a Leeds-based painter called John Atkinson Grimshaw, a Victorian artist.

 

Now I am finishing off a film book on the work of Tom Cruise, and then I am releasing audio versions of the Strange and Mysterious Stories, which are being narrated by some actor friends of mine.

 

After that I will look at my planned projects and see which nonfiction book I fancy diving into next. I have a folder with about 60 book ideas that are formatted and which I toy with to see if I am interested enough to start them.

 

I also have a folder of fiction ideas I need to finish off, but that will probably be done leisurely over the next couple of years. I just love writing. 

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: That I have five cats who are the loveliest animals you could ever meet. Well, most of the time.

 

Cats aside, I have a website, http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/, where there is info on me, my books, films, music, art, photography, and everything else. 

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Lindz Amer

 

Photo by Ella Pennington

 

Lindz Amer is the author of the new children's picture book Hooray for She, He, Ze, and They!. They also have written the book Rainbow Parenting, and they host the Rainbow Parenting podcast.


Q: What inspired you to write Hooray for She, He, Ze, and They!?

 

A: I dedicated the book to my childhood self! Writing this book was really healing for me in that way. So much of what I create as a queer and trans person making work for kids and families is what I wish I'd had when I was a kid.

 

I hope they can have access to the language and information they need to be their fullest most authentic selves. 

 

Q: What do you think Kip Alizadeh’s illustrations add to the book?

 

A: Oh my gosh, Kip's illustrations take the book to a whole new level! I'm obsessed with the art.

 

They came up with the brilliant idea to illustrate versions of us, creating a direct line of communication between the trans creators of the book and its young readers. Which is something I'm super excited about!

 

Their textures and use of color really bring the visual imagery to life in a way I couldn't even imagine when I was writing the manuscript. 

 

Q: How would you define “gender euphoria,” a term you talk about in the book's author's note?

 

A: It's that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you can express your fullest, truest, most awesome self to the world! Sometimes that's through our words, our clothes, what we like to do. It's joy first and foremost!

 

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

 

A: I hope they start to engage in a pronoun practice! The book ends with a question, "What are your pronouns today?" I hope that the book leaves young readers with the ability to answer that question whenever they like!

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A:I'm one of those people who always has a million irons in the fire. Right now, I'm really concentrating on my webseries Queer Kid Stuff and the educational advocacy work I do around it.

 

We're gearing up for a big campaign to bring the series back as a fully-fledged preschool show so lots to come on that front over the next few months! Folks can visit queerkidstuff.com to learn more about that and follow us on socials for updates!

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I'm just really excited for this book to be out in the world! It's a perfect companion to my book for grown ups, Rainbow Parenting: Your Guide to Raising Queer Kids and Their Allies, and is something I've wanted to make happen for a long time.

 

After a very long process, I'm so glad it's finally going to be on bookshelves!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Feb. 26

 


ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Feb. 26 1802: Victor Hugo born.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Q&A with Fred Bowen

 


 

 

Fred Bowen is the author of the new middle grade novel Extra Innings. His many other books include Hardcourt. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Extra Innings?

 

A: In June 2009, I was leafing through the pages of my most recent Sports Illustrated when I came upon a photograph that stopped me cold. The photo showed a college pitcher striding off the mound, his eyes staring straight ahead. Behind him, the other team was celebrating, dog-piling their teammate who had driven in the winning run.

 

The caption explained the pitcher was Mark Miller, an All-American for College of Wooster, who had pitched 11 1/3 innings only to lose 3-2 to the University of St. Thomas in the bottom of the 12th inning in NCAA Division III national championship game.

 

I knew right then I wanted to write about that picture. Or more accurately, about what that picture represented. I think one of the toughest lessons kids learn from sports is that sometimes you can try your hardest and things still don’t come out as you had hoped.

 

Q: How did you create your main character, Mike McGinn?

 

A: I remember when my son was around 14 years old. He was too old for summer camps but too young for a job. He was at loose ends most of the summer, doing odd jobs around the house. But Liam loved baseball and that gave his summer some purpose and structure.

 

I was remembering that summer when I came up with the character Mike. He is 14 years old and is enjoying his last summer without a job. But he is working hard to become a better pitcher.

 

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Mike and his dad?

 

A: Mike’s dad is a hard-working guy who owns a local moving business. He worked summers as a kid and thinks baseball is just fun and games. Mike loves baseball and is working hard to become a better pitcher. So there is a natural tension between the two.

 

Part of the book is about how they work out this tension and how Mike’s father begins to respect Mike’s dedication to the craft of pitching.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book said, in part, “Will tide over youngsters longing for the start of the sport’s spring season.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: It is always nice to get a positive review from any of the major publications. Most of my books, such as Extra Innings, are part of a series, the Fred Bowen Sports Story series. The books combine sports fiction, sports history and always have a chapter of real sports history in the back. Extra Innings is the 26th book in that series.

 

Over the years, I have noticed that series and especially sports series books do not always receive a lot of attention from the review publications. So it is nice whenever the reviewers do give some attention to my books.

 

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

 

A: First, I hope they will enjoy the book and have fun with the story. I always put plenty of games and sports action in my books because I know my readers like those scenes.

 

But I hope the kids will take away the lesson that I mentioned before, that sometimes in sports (and life) you can try your hardest and things still do not turn out as you hoped they would.

 

In the history chapter in the back of Extra Innings, I tell my readers about Harvey Haddix. In 1959, Haddix, a lefthanded pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, threw 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves. Thirty-six batters up, 36 batters out.

 

But Haddix and the Pirates lost the game in the 13th inning. It may have been the greatest game ever pitched and Haddix still got the loss.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I recently turned in another book in the Fred Bowen Sports Story series to my editor. It’s a football book that I am calling Special Teams. It will be published in the fall of 2025.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: In 2020 and 2022 I had two sports history books – Gridiron: Stories From 100Years of the National Football League and Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association – published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

 

During the pandemic, I wrote a history of Major League Baseball (MLB) as a follow-up to Gridiron and Hardcourt, but my S&S editor turned it down. Maybe a lesson that you can try your hardest and things still do not turn out as you hoped.

 

Anyway, I am trying to find a publisher for that book. MLB is enjoying a comeback with the new rules providing for a quicker pace of play and more action. Attendance was up 9.6 percent in 2023. Maybe the time is right for a well-written and deeply researched baseball history book for young readers.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Fred Bowen.

Q&A with B.A. Raven

 

B.A. Raven is the author of the new novel Primal Instincts.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Primal Instincts?

 

A: Honestly, it may sound a bit ridiculous, but I just looked at my cat one day and thought, “What would happen if domestic animals like dogs and cats just suddenly went wild?”

 

Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

 

A: I had some clue of how the story would end, but it wasn't until I reached that point that I truly knew how things would go down.

 

Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

 

A: I didn't have to do a lot of research, but I learned more about myself then anything. 

 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

 

A: I want readers to take away that anything can be possible, that something like the events in this book are capable of happening. This novel is fiction, but that doesn't mean it can’t happen. 

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I am currently writing a murder mystery called The Ginger Killer.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I just want to thank Deborah for taking the time to talk with me. She seems like an amazing woman and I hope to work more with her in the future.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Feb. 25

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Feb. 25, 1937: Bob Schieffer born.