Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Author Interview: MAC

MAC is the author of The Professionals, a cool new mystery series for middle graders. I had so much fun reading the first book in the series, Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink, that I had to pick MAC's brain about it. She graciously answered my questions. :o) Thank you, MAC!

You’re a freelance writer for Popular Science Magazine. What made you decide to write middle grade fiction? Can you tell us about your road to publication as a writer for kids?

It all started during my wayward youth… (Ha! I’ve always wanted to say that.)

I think the decision just followed the idea that I had for Anna Smudge. I wouldn’t say I am completely a middle-grade writer and that’s all I can or want to do. But you have to go with the idea and, as you develop it, you get a sense of the voice of the piece, the intended audience, and the best medium for it (short story, screenplay, novel, comic book, interesting party anecdote, etc.)

The road to publication went something like this…

Can’t stand serving bacon on bacon with a side of bacon at diner, write novel for 10-year-olds, quit waitressing, get foot in door writing freelance for magazines, waste years of precious life force waiting on editors to read book submissions, find my first grey hair, rewrite Anna Smudge into 1st person at editor’s request, learn how to split the atom, rewrite Anna Smudge back into 3rd person when same editor says “I think I liked it better the other way”, wake from cryogenic freezing, submit to many other places, finally land my first published book, talk to awesome bloggers halfway around the world who share my love of books!

Which is harder: interviewing NASA scientists and writing about topics like asteroids and weapons design, or writing a mystery series for middle graders? :o)

NASA peeps are the coolest!! So, they are much easier to write about. They do such interesting, inspiring, and important work. I especially enjoy talking with the scientists who are just starting out because the excitement they have about their work is extremely contagious. I once talked with this dude who taught physics to high school students by day, and by night he was building a Lunar Lander in his garage.

Writing an action/mystery series is one of the hardest genres because it has to appeal to a broad group of people, show you the stuff you’ve seen a zillion times (the hero, the villain, the secret plan, the chase scene), but do so in a brand new way.

I’ve read that you’re a huge comic book fan and The Professionals is partly inspired by comic books. Are there specific comic books that influenced The Professionals in general or Anna Smudge in particular?

From very early in the development process of Anna, I started to see these guys coming together like a super team. So, the structure of The Professionals is kind of like an old Justice Society comic from the 1940s: Part one is where the JSA hears that some supervillain has got a crazy plan to steal a weapon and take over the world. Then, the whole middle of the story is separate chapters where the heroes break off into 1s and 2s to fight various henchmen and chase down clues. At the end, they all come back together to defeat the head bad guy. But they can only beat him by standing together as friends.

What are your favorite comic books?

Currently? I’m loving Criminal and Captain America by Ed Brubaker, Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Bendis, Runaways, Age of Bronze, Ultimate Fantastic Four. Of all time? Planetary by Warren Ellis, Watchmen, Top Ten, Sandman, Surrogates... Somebody stop me. We could be here all day.

Is it true that you first started writing Anna Smudge on the back of order pads while waiting tables at a diner in New York? What was it like when you finally settled down to finish writing the book?

Settled down? Not on this planet! The only way I got to finish Anna while working that job was to just come home and, with my apron still on, sit down in front of the computer and start writing until I fell asleep at the keyboard. I think if I had known how hard it was going to be, I might not have finished. I just kind of dived in because I was having a blast with the story. Then again, there is nothing more motivating than working somewhere that drives you absolutely crazy.

I have to say though, I made a lot of great friends. I still hang out with my regular customers. And there was a steady stream of loonies eating at that diner. Lots of material. I miss that.

Can you describe your experience unveiling Anna Smudge at the New York Comic Con?

Um, let me think… WHOA MOMMA!!! It was a whirlwind. I had quite a few interviews in print, podcasts, web video, network TV. My publisher sold out of the entire stock of books at the show and had to go back to a storage facility for more. I met a guy dressed as Wonder Woman.

But I think the best part was finally getting the “team” all in one place- my story editor Rena Pacella, the book’s designer Greg Collins. And cover artist Greg Horn and interior artist Glenn Fabry both flew in to NY for the show. So, I got to hang with them in person for the first time which was really cool because they are the nicest guys you could meet and work with, and I am such a huge fan of them both.

I’m a little sad that Anna Smudge (a very likeable character) will not take center stage in the next Professionals books. What prompted you to have several main characters for the series, instead of just one?

When I first started populating Anna’s world I started to feel like her friends had just as much to say as she does. They have interesting lives and get into sticky situations each on their own. And they all have their own personal vendettas against Mr. Who. So, I couldn’t just tell her story. I had to spill the beans on everyone else too!

Which of the main characters in the series is your favorite, and why? (My favorite is Quenton Cohen, the professional chef!)

I think it is probably Amy Lerner. She makes a lot of mistakes, she’s painfully shy, but she grows the most, and I feel the closest to her.

But each book brings some new characters that I really latch onto and “hear” them. That’s the real joy of writing — you get to hang out with some really interesting folks all day, and you don’t even have to leave your house!

What can we expect from Quenton Cohen: Professional Chef, book two of The Professionals?

Lots of gourmet cooking. One of my favorite forms of procrastination is to go pretend that I am researching Quenton’s career by sampling the amazing restaurants here in NYC. That’s one way you get a little spoiled here in this city.

And I’ve got some fan-favorite characters popping back up again too. So, all of you who’ve written asking for more Naked Seaweed Man are going to be happy. Quenton’s not… he’s trying to pry him off of his living room couch. Oh, and the Chief is back and on the trail of some serious conspiracies.

But all in all, Book Two is more hardcore. The villains are tougher & meaner, and they really put Quenton through the strainer (Hey, what’s with the cooking puns?). And this is before Mr. Who does something really unforgivable.

What do you want kids to take away from the series?

That you have to stand by your friends. That you’re never too young to pursue your dreams. That not doing anything to stop evil in the world is the same as doing that evil yourself. And that bathroom humor is a fine art form.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Playlist of My Youth

I think one reason why I am so partial to middle grade fiction is because my middle school years were some of the best years of my life! I thought it would be fun to relive those years by putting together "the playlist of my youth" and sharing it with you all here. :D This is the playlist of my favorite songs during middle school: songs that were really popular (like "The Sign" from Ace of Base and "I'll Make Love To You" from Boyz II Men), songs that I played over and over and over again in the car or at home (like Disney's The Lion King soundtrack and "Stay" from Lisa Loeb), songs from my favorite tv shows (that's right, Shari Lewis' Lamb Chop's Play-Along AND Beverly Hills 90210), and songs that really meant something to me (guess which song was playing in the background when my first "boyfriend" broke up with me).

Happy listening! :o)

Edit: There are 17 tracks on the playlist. You won't see all of their titles and artists right away, but you'll get to listen to all of them if you press play. :D


Twilight Tuesday: Sam and Embry

Last night I finished reading Eclipse, and today I bought Breaking Dawn. I am liking the Twilight series more and more! I am torn about something though. I have always LOVED werewolves. I've never really liked vampires. I am fire, not ice... But I love the Cullen vampire coven. I really wish the Cullens and the Quileute werewolves would be friends. *sigh*

For this edition of Twilight Tuesday, I would like to share some pictures of Solomon and Krys, the actors who play the werewolves Sam and Embry in the Twilight movie. Click here to check out the BEAUTIFUL shots (they are copyrighted by Amy Howe Photography). Then step back Into the Wardrobe to watch a fun interview of Solomon and Krys from Twilight Lexicon!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Author Interview: David Michael Slater

David Michael Slater is the author of:

The Sharpest Tool in the Shed
Comin' Through
Missy Swiss
Seven Ate Nine
Flour Girl
Ned Loses His Head
Jacques & Spock
The Ring Bear
Cheese Louise!

These picture books are fun and colorful, but also thought-provoking and possible springboards for very meaningful talks with children. :o) But David doesn't just write picture books. Coming soon to a bookstore near you (October to be exact) is David's first novel for middle graders and teens, The Book of Nonsense. The Book of Nonsense is the first volume of the Sacred Books series. Young readers who want to puzzle over clues in books will have their interest piqued by the story of Daphna and Dexter (twins who hate each other!), their mysteriously significant thirteenth birthday, a book full of nonsense discovered by their book scout father, a terrifying old man who runs a large shop full of books on magic, and the threads that tie all of them together.

Read on to learn much more about David and his work!

Can you tell us about your road to publication as a children's book writer?

Sure. I wasn't one of those kids who always knew I wanted to be a writer, not at all. I wasn't a big reader, either. In fact, I was as likely to read Cliff's Notes as my assigned books in high school. (Don't tell Mrs. Calabrese!) I was in graduate school for English when I came across the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. After reading the first one, "The Circular Ruins," I suddenly knew I wanted to write. At that time, I had no thoughts of writing for children, though. I started writing adult short stories, some of which were published in tiny magazines no one has ever heard of. Which was great as far as I was concerned. One of those stories wasn't quite working, and it seemed to me the idea was better suited for a picture book. So, I tried it. Then I wrote a second because it was so much fun, and that turned out to be CHEESE LOUISE!, my first published book. After that, while I started teaching middle school, I began writing for kids and adults, and then teens as well.

Do you have any writing rituals? How do you prepare/research for your books? What is your "writing time" like?

I really don't have rituals, unless reading e-mail and surfing the web to procrastinate while I'm writing counts. Since I teach full time and have a family, I grab whatever time I can find. I use a laptop, but have had to stop writing while lounging on a couch (can you say repetitive stress?). Speaking of the web, I do nearly all necessary research there.

I think it is great that you teach Language Arts and Social Studies to seventh graders! How does your teaching influence your writing?

Well, I do write for teens, so working with them every day keeps me in touch with them. I think my writing influences my teaching as well because I try bring my experience into the class. I have some credibility with the kids when I tell them what they need to do to improve their writing.

And even more importantly, you are a father. Does your son influence your writing in any way?

Well, the silliness we engage in is a source of ideas. For example, I wrote Jacques & Spock after we folded a basket of laundry and were left with one lone sock. It was drooped over the side of the bed, so I asked my son (about four) what it was going to do without its brother. He laughed. I wrote the story. Also, he came home from school one day and asked me why Six was afraid of Seven. When he told me it was because Seven ate Nine, I asked him why. He didn't know. And so I wrote the story.

I noticed the fun play on words in your picture books. Is that something you do very consciously? Do you purposely set out to play with words in order to entertain readers?

It reflects my sense-of-humor, I think. I like to joke with word play. And I like to entertain myself when I write picture books. It's been gratifying to hear from parents who are thrilled to have a book they don't mind reading over and over. And it's fun on school visits to see different age groups "get" different jokes hidden in the texts.

I also noticed that your picture books usually start with dialogue. What effect are you hoping to achieve by starting a story with dialogue?

It's often a good way to immediately establish both a scene and character personality differences. Picture books are all about efficiency, so I look for ways to kill lots of birds (oops, no killing birds in picture books : )

My favorites among your works are The Ring Bear and its companion book Flour Girl (an excellent set!). Where did you get the idea for The Ring Bear and Flour Girl?

Thanks! My sister phoned a few years ago to tell me she’d just returned from a wedding. Prime teary time was upon the scene when she leaned over to her five year-old and whispered, “The ring bearer is coming.” He heard “ring bear” and promptly panicked and ran screaming up the aisle. No, my sister didn’t think it was amusing when the wedding came to a screeching halt as she chased him down in her heels, but well, I sure did hearing about it. When I put down the phone I began writing THE RING BEAR. About a year later, after hearing me read THE RING BEAR, a sixth-grader wrote me a thank-you note in which she said, “I could TOTALLY relate, because I made the same mistake when I was little with “Flour Girl,” instead of “FLOWER girl.” And so another book was born. (Thanks, Amber Pasternak!)

There is some buzz about your new series for middle graders and teens being controversial. Why would some readers find Sacred Books controversial? How will you deal with the controversy?

I don't expect an problems with Volume I: THE BOOK OF NONSENSE (due in Oct.) We are expecting objections to build with each book, though, and don't want to be naive about the Sacred Books series as a whole. With each book (all five are completed), as the deeper and deeper secrets are revealed, there will be folks who disapprove. It's hard to explain why without giving away plot points, but I can say that the series has been called an original concoction of Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, and the Da Vinci Code, if that helps. But I'd like to say that I have no problem with people deciding the books aren't for them or their children. I am all for choosing books that fit young readers. I'm really not sure how we'll deal with calls for "banning" if there are any. I guess that's a bridge we'll cross when we come to it.

When you were writing the Sacred Books series were you aware that you were writing something potentially controversial?

Actually, not until I completed the third book and realized where it had all gone. It's a bit unusual for an author to complete an entire series before the first one is published, but it's been a real blessing because I've been able to weave the books together closely. There are hints in book one that only become clear in book five.

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for your books to be award-winning, or for your books to be bestselling? Why?

Wow. That's a doozy. I'll be honest — a bestselling book at this point will make it easier for me to spend the rest of my life shooting for awards!

What are you working on now? What's in store for readers from David Michael Slater? :o)

I am working on revising my screenplay, MOCHA COLA HIGH, which has just been optioned by Right Angle Studios. It's a satire about a globe-dominating corporation that uses special "elite" high schools to, well, dominate the globe. My first wordless, picture book, THE BORED BOOK, will be out in early '09, and a new set of six later on in the year. Also, my first novel for adults, SELFLESS, is due this Dec. 20th. Details about all this on www.davidmichaelslater.com.

Thank you, David!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's Twilight Tuesday again!

Eeeps! I just realized that all of my latest posts have been about the Twilight saga and/or movie. What can I say? Right now I am reading the third book in the series, Eclipse, and I am all caught up in the world of Bella, Edward, and Jacob. :D I promise to post about other children's/YA literature-related things soon - before you all get annoyed with me. In the meantime, enjoy this exciting behind-the-scenes look at the Twilight movie!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

It's not Twilight Tuesday yet, but...

This couldn't wait: The release of Twilight the movie has been moved from December 12 to November 21! :D

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More for Twilight Tuesday

Twilight Quiz
Twilight Quiz by QuizRocket.com fun quizzes!
Fun Quizzes | Quizes for MySpace » MySpace Quizzes

I am Bella Swan, the apple of Edward's eye. I am very private, clumsy, sweet, and funny. I have a wonderful ability to accept people (or mythical creatures) for what they are. I have an amazing capacity to love, even though I can be too hard on myself.

Who are you? :o)

Twilight Tuesday

Every Tuesday on MTV (USA) is "Twilight Tuesday": great stuff (behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, etc.) about the Twilight movie is shared. Hmm, good idea. :o) Not that I will blog about Twilight (the books or the movie) every single Tuesday. For one, I wouldn't have enough to blog about. LOL. I haven't finished reading the series yet! (I finished reading book one of the "saga" Sunday evening. I'm hooked! Okay, I admit it: I'm actually OBSESSED with Twilight now.) But I figure that if I do want to blog about Twilight (the books or the movie), I can do that on a Tuesday. :o)

Here are the two trailers for Twilight the movie. I actually started reading Twilight because my interest was piqued by the first trailer. That's right, my interest wasn't piqued by the millions of readers and the dozens of Twilight-themed posts in the blogosphere. I picked up Twilight because the movie trailer hinted at a good movie. I wanted to read the novel so that I would be able to fully appreciate the movie in December.

So... Who thinks I am crazy for watching these trailers over and over and over again every day? ;o) It's okay, don't be shy. :oP



Saturday, August 09, 2008

Tastespotting in Children's Literature? :o)

The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat by Enid Blyton

"You may all have a picnic in the garden," she told Pip. "Daisy, see that everyone behaves, please, and if you don't have enough to eat, go and ask Cook politely - politely, remember - for some more bread-and-butter."

"Yes, Mrs. Hilton. Thank you very much," said Daisy. The children watched Pip's mother going down the drive at half-past three that afternoon, looking very smart. They were glad that they did not have to dress up and go out to tea. It was much more fun to have a picnic tea and wear old shorts and shirts!

They had a lovely tea, and went in twice to ask Cook for some more bread-and-butter. Daisy went, and remembered to ask very politely. There were ripe plums and greengages as well to eat, so it was a good tea.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink by MAC

Cover art by Greg Horn and interior illustrations by Glenn Fabry
Kids who love comic books and/or mysteries will enjoy Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink, the first book in the Professionals series by MAC from Toasted Coconut Media. (You gotta love a publisher with the name "Toasted Coconut"!)

The Professionals series is about a group of eleven-year-old classmates who are all somehow connected to the criminal mastermind Mr. Who. Mr. Who is a big mystery. Nobody has seen his face and the FBI and CIA say he doesn't exist, yet he runs all the criminal organizations in the world! Each of the kids is a "professional" in his or her own field; and they use their special skills to uncover Mr. Who's identity and reveal his master plan.

Anna Smudge has a lot on her plate: She wishes she could spend more time with her busy parents, hates how adults never really listen to her, and has to deal with a bully at school. She's also the youngest shrink in Manhattan. Anna's free therapy sessions are so successful that everyone from third grade girls to middle-aged men stuck in bad marriages is trying to set an appointment with her. To top it all off, Anna has to figure out a way to save her father from the hitman Donny "the Meatball" Fratelli. Mr. Who is trying to get his shipping company to win a government contract. The shipping company of Anna's father is his greatest competition, so he orders a hit on Anna's father.

Anna Smudge author MAC has said that it was the abundance of fantasy (a genre she loves) in children's literature that made her start working on a mystery series. She wanted to do something different, so she started writing a series set in the real world. This gave me the impression that Anna Smudge is very much grounded in reality, so I was disappointed when I had a hard time "suspending my disbelief" while reading the book. I can accept a larger-than-life hitman. But to have him escape from prison using just a plastic pail on wheels and a mop? I can even accept an eleven-year-old "shrink". But to have literally hordes of New Yorkers readily and eagerly accept her as a therapist and want to set appointments with her? There are many implausible situations in Anna Smudge.

But I soon remembered to put Anna Smudge in its proper context. MAC is a huge comic book fan and the Professionals is influenced by comic book story structure. The cover art and interior illustrations are great in-your-face art by veterans in the comic book industry. When I think of the premise of the entire series and think of Anna Smudge as a sort of novelized comic book, everything makes perfect sense. :o) Anna and her friends are heroes. Only instead of using superpowers like Spider-man or amazing physical skills and technology like Batman, they use their "careers".

Anna Smudge is definitely a fun read overall. And it was fun trying to solve the mystery of Mr. Who's identity. (I guessed wrong. Argh. Either MAC threw readers an exciting curveball at the end of the novel, or I really suck at deciphering clues. :P) For kids looking for a fun, light read that is a good mystery, Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink won't disappoint.

I look forward to the rest of the series. I want to find out more about Mr. Who and his master plan. I want to learn more about the interesting professional kids. I am particularly looking forward to book two, Quenton Cohen: Professional Chef. Children, literature, and food - woohoo!!!


Links:

The website of the Professionals series: www.whoismrwho.com

MAC's website: http://macismy.name/

Toasted Coconut Media's website: www.toastedcoconutmedia.com

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Remember The Tales of Beedle the Bard from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? The Tales of Beedle the Bard was a prized possession of Albus Dumbledore that he bequeathed to Hermione Granger. Hermione used clues from the tales to help Harry defeat Voldemort.

This is part of a quote from J.K. Rowling in the latest edition of Children's Bookshelf, the free weekly newsletter from Publisher's Weekly about children's and young adult literature:

“....I am therefore delighted to announce that... The Tales of Beedle the Bard will now be widely available to all Harry Potter fans....”

The standard edition of the book will feature five fairy tales, an introduction and illustrations by J.K. Rowling, and commentary on each of the tales by Professor Albus Dumbledore.

There will be a collector's edition available exclusively at Amazon. It will be housed in its own slipcase to resemble a wizarding textbook found in the Hogwarts library. It will also include (aside from the features in the standard edition) metal corners, a clasp, and a skull; and 10 additional illustrations not found in the standard edition.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard will be released December 4. All proceeds will go to Children’s High Level Group, the publisher of the book and the English children’s charity co-founded by Rowling and Emma Nicholson.

I will save up to buy a collector's edition! :o) One hundred US dollars. *gulp*

We are the champions, my friends...

And we'll keep on fighting till the end. We are the champions, we are the champions...

Last Sunday, my younger brothers JP and Brian competed in the National Poomsae Championships. (poomsae = taekwondo forms) Brian took home the gold for the senior men's division. JP took home the silver for that same division. JP and his partner Rani won the gold medal for the pairs competition. JP, Brian, and their teammate Tonek won the bronze medal for the group competition.

Congratulations!!!

I can use more than one word!

I'm feeling down about something... Been disappointed about something for a while now. I distracted myself for a while by finally answering this meme that Aves of Trying to Wake tagged me for.

1. What date is it? August 1, 2008
2. What time did you wake up? 8 a.m., to the alarm...
3. Did you go somewhere yesterday? I went to work yesterday.
4. What did you do there? Edited materials on nuclear technology.
5. How old are you? Um. I've never actually given my age on this blog...
6. Are you mature or immature? Is this a trick question? Well, there are some things I am mature about, and some things I am immature about.
7. What do you call your mom and dad? Mommy/Mom and Daddy/Dad. Sometimes, when talking to my brothers, I call Mom “The Mother.”
8. Are you an only child? Hahahaha! I have nine siblings.
9. Where do you go shopping? Trinoma and SM North.
10. Do you like school? Yes. :o)
11. Do you like books? Hahahaha. LOVE books.
12. Do you want to get married? Er. If it will be a good marriage, yes.
13. With whom? I have no idea. It's really okay if I don't get married.
14. Are you spoiled? In some ways, yes.
15. What's the most flattering compliment you ever got? The one from my semantics professor. :D
16. Only girl/boy in the family? The answer to this question is complicated.
17. If you were to marry a celebrity, who would it be? Oh! Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian)!
18. Would you like to meet Josh Hartnett? Nope.
19. Where do you think your bestfriend is? She's on a flight to the US right now. :o)
20. When was the last time you talked to your best friend? Yesterday, through text.
21. You think she/he needs you now? She's probably asleep.
22. What do you want for your birthday? Good question. I don't have an answer right now.
23. If you were to buy a car, which car would it be? I have no idea.
24. A duet with Heart Evangelista? What?!
25. Do you wear make-up? Blush and lip gloss sometimes.
26. What lip balm do you use? Burt's Bees Raspberry Lip Gloss, a Christmas gift from Yanka. Weee!
27. Would you get a tattoo? Maybe.
28. Belly pierce? No. I used to want one though.
29. How many kids do you want? Ah! Three. At least one girl. :o)
30. Do you have any homework? I have a take-home exam!
31. Any song that you’re listening to? Nope.
32. Do you believe in spells? Nope.
33. Where do you want to go now? I don't know. Home, maybe.

I invite everyone to share their answers to any of the questions in the comments section! :o)