Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chronal Engine

I recently read Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith.

From the author's website:
"When Max, Emma, and Kyle are sent to live with their reclusive grandfather for the summer, they’re dismayed to learn he thinks there’s a time machine in the basement.

But when Grandpa Pierson predicts the exact time of his own heart attack, and when Emma is kidnapped by what can only be a time traveler, they realize he was telling the truth about the Chronal Engine. And if they want their sister back, they’ll have to do it themselves.
So Max and Kyle, together with their new friend Petra, pack up their grandpa’s VW and follow Emma and the kidnapper back in time, to Late Cretaceous Texas, where the sauropods and tyrannosaurs roam. Can the trio find Emma and survive the hazards of the Age of Dinosaurs, or are they, too, destined to become part of the fossil record?"

This novel has been on my to-read list for quite a while -- since the fall of 2009 to be exact, long before it had ever been contracted by a publisher. You see, the author happens to be married to Cynthia Leitich Smith and from July through December 2009, she was my Vermont College advisor. During that time, I completed the first draft of a middle grade thriller featuring rival paleontologists while Greg was working on Chronal Engine. Cynthia's letters to me often included recaps of their visits to natural history museums or links to dino resources.

I didn't meet Greg in person until this spring, at an SCBWI conference in Austin, just before the release of Chronal Engine. Our conversation went something like this: Time travel and dinosaurs? Sounds like Terra Nova (now cancelled Fox tv show).
Greg: No, it's Nothing Like Terra Nova.

He's absolutely right - Chronal Engine is so much better!

I was truly inspired by Greg's ability to make an adventure tale literary. His nods to Robinson Crusoe, HG Wells and Jules Verne raise this story from campy Land of the Lost to a new level of smart fun.

Also impressive is the way he handles the scientific explanation of time travel:
"Dr. Einstein's relativity implies space-time pinholes, requiring infinite gravity.
But this came to me during the game today: quantum tunneling of pseudogravity particles and modulation of resulting chronal wave with field-resonant material should make instantaneous temporal inversion of massive objects possible."
No, I have no idea what that paragraph means either, but that's it - he doesn't slog on for pages to explain this fictional science, he puts it out there and moves on. :-)
The "massive object" turns out to be a classic VW bug - how cool is that?!

Another huge plus is the author's use of an ensemble cast. Kyle and Emma are about to start their freshman year of high school and Max is in eighth grade. This mix of ages, combined with a healthy dose of full-page illustrations give the book an almost graphic novel feel. These elements combined with a quick pace should appeal to a wide range of readers - including the illusive reluctant boy reader.

Greg Leitich Smith is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown and Chronal Engine was edited by Daniel Nayeri of Clarion, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sales & Releases

CONGRATULATIONS to K.A. (Kelly) Barson - one of my fellow Bat Poets from the Vermont College Class of January 2011 - Viking will be publishing her book!
Here's the listing from Publishers' Marketplace:
Children's: Young Adult
K.A. Barson's 45 POUNDS, about a girl who doesn't fit -- not into her blended family, and certainly not into Snapz! clothes, and who is certain that if she could lose 45 pounds, her life would be perfectly normal, only to find that there is nothing perfect about normal, to Sharyn November at Viking Children's, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (world).
Also, AFTER OBSESSION by the team of Steven E. Wedel and VCFA alum Carrie Jones was released last week. A great ghost story for getting you in the Halloween mood. Here's the book trailer.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

AFTER OBSESSION - Interview and ARC giveaway (part 2)

Here is the second half of my interview with co-authors Carrie Jones and Steve Wedel. Thanks for all the comments so far - and yes, it is a great cover! Be sure to  read to the end of the post to find out how you could win an ARC of AFTER OBSESSION.

Gayleen: Carrie, the female protagonist, Aimee is a kayaker. Are you a kayaker too? Have you ever seen scary things down on the river? Do you often incorporate you hobbies into your writing? Are there other similarities between you and Aimee?

Carrie: I kayak. I used to live on the river that the river in the book is based on and yes, I did see some scary things on the river. There's a scene in the book where someone dies that is based very much on real events. I was involved in trying to locate the body. Aimee and I both paint. She is much better at it. Um..... Hm...... There may be other similarities but they are secrets really, things I don't talk about. Mostly because I prefer not to be institutionalized.
I think some of my hobbies occasionally filter into the characters' lives. It's not always the main characters though. The thing is that I have a pretty short boredom stick so I'll try pretty much anything. This makes for a lot of weird random experiences and hobbies. So, sometimes it's hard to find things for my characters to do or be interested in that I haven't once done or been interested in.
Yes, that includes football. I was once an assistant football coach for a youth team. Scariest experience in my life. The head coach liked to make me be the one the kids tackled. He was evil like that.

Gayleen: Steve, what about Alan and the football? Did you ever play football or is that one of your unfulfilled fantasy hobbies?

Steve: I do love me some football! I never played, though. Well, I played in the street and yards, but never on a real team. When I was younger I was a total non-participant in everything. That's something I regret now. Of course, when I was in high school I was pretty scrawny and our team won the state 5A championship that year, so I wouldn't have made the squad, anyway. One of the players, our running back, even went pro for a while.

Gayleen: Alan is Navajo, but he hasn't grown up within the tribe. I found this very interesting since I and many other Oklahomans have some Native ancestry, but no formal tribal affiliation. Was there anything special that prompted you to construct a character with this unique background?

Steve: We wanted an exorcism ritual that wasn't so familiar to our audience. I read a lot of books on possession, mythology, and various religions. I knew the Navajo had an "exorcism" for what they called Ghost Sickness. So, I was thinking of that, and trying to decide what Alan would look like, talk like, etc., and then I thought of one of my former students, an American Indian who played football and who really impressed me by going from a sort of average, don't really care about English sophomore to one of my better senior Advanced Placement students. So, physically, that student provided quite a bit of the look, attitude and voice for Alan.

I don't have any American Indian ancestry, myself, and I was a little nervous writing this character because of that. Also, there's the fact that Oklahoma doesn't have many Navajo, so I had to think of a reason for Alan's mom to have met Alan's father, and that went a long way toward developing her character, which also played a big role in who Alan is. Since his mom didn't know much about his father, it prevented him from being on the rolls, so he had to research his heritage the same way I did, which was a convenient cover.

Carrie: I was really nervous about this actually. Steve handled it well though and I think it lends to that bigger issue of trying to find your identity through race or gender roles or class or a million different things. That is a really big issue for so many of us, myself included, but it's not really talked about. What does it mean for someone in the U.S. who finds out they have an ancestry that's not white and Christian? What does it mean when you grow up missing half of your family story? How do you find it? Do you need to? It's a lot of big questions.

Gayleen: One of the subplots that I really enjoyed was the eBay Cheeto auction. I am guessing that one or both of you may be addicted to Cheetos. Fess up, which one of you has the orange fingers and do you prefer crunchy or puffed, organic or original?

Steve: That was totally Carrie, and totally brilliant. That's one of those quirky little things I wish I could come up with, but probably never will be able to pull off on my own. And I like the puffs.

Carrie: I am addicted to Nutella, not Cheetos, and my brain is a weird, quirky thing. It's almost embarrassing how quirky it is.

Gayleen: The supernatural aspect of this book deals with fighting demons. Either of you ever had any supernatural encounters you would care to comment on?

Steve: Yes. Honestly, I don't care to go into much detail about them. I've had a couple of instances where ... odd things have happened. There really are things out there people shouldn't mess around with.

Carrie: Me too.

Gayleen: Any plans for another book together, or a sequel?

Carrie: We are working on a potential project. We have the first draft finished and it's in our agent's hands right this second! I hope Steve will work with me again but I may have terrified him with my quirk. (Carrie and Steve are both represented by Edward Necarsulmer IV with the McIntosh and Otis agency.)

Gayleen: Anything else you would like to add?

Steve: Have I said Carrie is awesome? Really, other than maybe my long-time critique partner and former college newspaper editor, I don't think I could have found a better co-author to work with. Also, so far as I know, Carrie and I will only be doing one physical appearance together to promote After Obsession, and it happens to be about a week after the book is released. We'll be at FenCon in Dallas. This is a great science fiction/fantasy/horror convention run by some really nice folks. I hope people will come out and see us and all the other authors, artists, singers and dancers.
Carrie: Have I said Steve is awesome? Or that his long-time critique partner and current cool Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults graduate is? They are.

So, can't wait until Sept. 13 to get your copy of AFTER OBSESSION? If you sign up to follow my blog, you'll be entered in the contest. If you mention the contest on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or any other online forum, you'll get a second entry in the drawing (you'll have to email me the links for this part: gayleen [at] Commenting on the posts will also enter you into the drawing. Entries will close on August 31 and I will draw the winning entry on September 1 and contact the winner to get their mailing address. Good luck everyone!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

AFTER OBSESSION - Interview and ARC giveaway (part 1)

In less than one month (Sept. 13 to be exact) my long-time critique partner, Steven E. Wedel, and fellow VCFA grad Carrie Jones will have a book birthday when After Obsession is released by Bloomsbury.
Now this isn't the first book that Steve's written (and it certainly isn't the first one I've read.) But it is the first one from a MAJOR publisher which means more copies, more marketing, more exposure.
That includes ARCs or advance reader copies. Steve was kind enough to share one of those with me and I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the story of two teens trying to save a friend from possession. At the end of this post, you'll learn how this ARC can be yours.

This release illustrates where hard work and determination can take you. I've watched Steve's relentless dedication to his writing through good times and bad for more years than I'd care to count (we've been exchanging manuscripts for close to a decade now.)
It is also one of those "isn't it a small world" stories.
In 2008, I decided if I was really serious about writing, I needed to go back to school. I looked around at MFA programs, discovered the low-residency option and made a list of places to apply. I wanted to mark Vermont College of Fine Arts off the list. It gets SERIOUSLY cold there and the two weeks on campus were in January. That alone seemed like enough of a reason to look other places.
But, I could not eliminate it from my list. I asked around about grad programs and the name VCFA kept popping up. Award-winning, well published faculty. Successful graduates. And a self-guided program that meant I could continue writing mysteries instead of reading poetry or picture books. Doubting I would be accepted, I mailed the application.
I couldn't believe it when I got a call from Sharon Darrow that I had been accepted. When I arrived on campus in Montpelier, Vermont in January 2009, I was greeted by a talented crew of graduate assistants, including one Carrie Jones. She helped welcome me into the VCFA literary family and made me feel right at home.
Needless to say, I am very excited to have a personal connection to both halves of this collaboration team and even more excited that they agreed to let me interview them here. You'll have to read to the end of the post for the ARC giveaway details.

Gayleen: I'm very intrigued by this collaboration (and maybe a smidge jealous that my long-time crit partner would go off and write a book with someone else.) Can you tell me more about how it worked? Did you do an outline first? Did either of you know exactly where the story was going? Or how it would end?

Steve: Oh, not to make me feel guilty, or anything! haha I'll tell ya what, since you're my crit partner and a mutual friend of both Carrie and I, I'll attach the outline we began with for your reference purposes only.
(Gayleen's note: don't feel cheated - this document said, "boy and girl notice friend acting strange, wonder if she could be possessed.")

Carrie: Wait. We did? We had an outline?

Steve: As you'll see, it's a bare minimum framework. We did that in late October 2008, then agreed to put the idea aside until December because I was working on something else and Carrie was going to do NaNoWriMo. I cheated and wrote Alan's first chapter sometime during November and sent it to Carrie. She confessed she'd cheated, too, and written Aimee's first chapter. Then it was off to the races! We wrote the whole first draft, which was quite a bit longer than the published book, in less than a month. We were averaging a chapter a day, and couldn't wait to get the new chapter from each other.
As to the ending, we knew there would be an exorcism. But as you'll see from the attachment, in the very beginning we didn't even know what spiritual base it would come from. Most of the plot turns and twists and details just grew organically as we wrote.

Carrie: It was much more of a discovery process that happened in the first draft, which is probably why the first draft was so long but also so much fun.

Gayleen: Were there any challenges or benefits to working this way?

Steve: Umm, working with Carrie.

Carrie: You are mean!

Steve: Oh, do I need to qualify that by saying challenge or benefit? haha Writing with Carrie was amazing! Our styles are pretty different, but we share the same goals of caring for and wanting to entertain young people. There was never any argument or ego trips or any of that stuff you sometimes hear about. We were just two people on fire with the power of the word. Can I get an amen?

Carrie: Amen.

Steve: Technology, of course, was a huge benefit. I would have gone insane if we'd had to mail chapters back and forth and wait on them to arrive.

Carrie: It was still really hard for me to wait for chapters to arrive. I'd check my email every five minutes, hoping that Steve had sent something. As for the challenges? Sometimes it was hard having Steve throw me a plot curve ball when I had my mind set on a certain thing happening after my chapter, but those curveballs were also what made it fun and gave it energy. Plus, he writes a really good kissing scene.

Gayleen: What was the best part about writing After Obsession together? Do you think it is a story you would have written on your own?

Steve: For me, the best part was not really knowing what would happen next. I never knew what Carrie would do in her chapter, so getting that e-mail attachment was like a Christmas gift every other day. Then we got to where we'd try to leave a big and bigger cliffhanger for the other one.
Eventually, yes, I would have written a possession novel. That's something I'd wanted to do for a long time. It wouldn't have been this one, though. I might have still done a Navajo Ghost Sickness angle, but there's no way I could have written this rich of a story on my own.

Carrie: Getting new chapters really was like getting something amazing in the email Inbox every other day. So that was the best part - the anticipation and excitement that comes with the collaboration. Every novel is a collaboration already really. You collaborate with your editor, with your readers, but this one was one level deeper. It was a giant adventure.
I probably would have eventually written a possession story in like 800 years. I used to be terrified of possession when I was little. I couldn't look at any horror movie images implying it or read any books. So, yeah.... I have issues with possession. My issues tend to get worked on the page.

Gayleen: Have you collaborated before? (feel free to share group project horror stories, if you'd like)

Steve: I sort of did once, a long time ago. Basically, I wrote the whole book and a friend critiqued it and made some suggestions, then said he felt like he did 30 percent of the work and wanted 30 percent of any money it made. The book -- which is a really bad sci-fi novel written during my political awakening -- is tucked away in a drawer.

Carrie: Nope. Other than really silly oral fan fiction when I was a kid. My best friend, Jackie Shriver, and I had this entire alternative reality world going on in eighth grade where we were magically trapped with Bruce Springsteen and... um.... okay.... Doctor Who (Shh!!! Do NOT laugh) and we'd talk on the phone every night making the story more and more elaborate. I am so ashamed of this.
We really wanted boyfriends.

You'll have to check back for the rest of the interview later in the week when we'll talk more about the plot of After Obsession.
Here are the details on the ARC giveaway. If you sign up to follow my blog, you'll be entered in the contest. If you mention the contest on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or any other online forum, you'll get a second entry in the drawing (you'll have to email me the links for this part: gayleen [at] Commenting on the posts will also enter you into the drawing. Entries will close on August 31 and I will draw the winning entry on September 1 and contact the winner to get their mailing address. Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Hero's Journey

I recently listened to the audio version of Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell discussing the Hero's Journey and the important place myth holds in our lives. It wasn't my first time for exploring the topic.

Last December, I tried to read Campbell's original Hero With a Thousand Faces for a special lecture MT Anderson was giving at the Vermont College residency. Sadly, between creative thesis deadlines and holiday madness, I didn't make it through the whole thing. But, I did enjoy Anderson's talk – he did just what speakers should do: get you excited enough about the topic that you want to go learn more about it yourself.

In May, I attended another talk on the Hero's Journey given by Max McCoy at the Oklahoma Writers Federation Conference in Oklahoma City. He talked about how the hero structure shows up in lots of familiar stories: The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Now, I was right on board with McCoy about Dorothy and Luke – I could see the call to action, the journey and the realization that the power lies within themselves. But I wasn't too sure about Indy. I could see how the greed of the Nazis spelled their doom when they opened up the Ark, but how did that translate into Indy finding power within himself? I ended up watching Raiders of the Lost Ark again, keeping that question in mind.
I found this trailer that illustrates just a bit of what I discovered.

Early in the movie, when the suits are meeting with Indy at the University, we see how much he wants to find the Ark. His excitement shines through as he is working on the chalkboard, explaining it to them. Then there's the gleam in his eye when he uses the staff to reveal the Ark's location. His motives may be "pure" compared to the Nazis, but he wants to uncover the secrets of the Ark every bit as much as they do.
So then, when the Ark is opened, Indy finds the power within himself to keep his eyes closed. He has realized that some secrets are best left concealed. He and Marion are spared.
And I found the famous melting Nazi clip that shows what happens when your curiosity gets the better of you.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Peter Pan and Edinburgh

A few months ago, my husband and I traveled to Scotland and England. In anticipation of this, I decided to revisit a few classics written by English and Scottish authors.

I started with PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie.

Barrie was born in Scotland and attended the University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a delightfully literary city and includes a Writers Museum and a Poets Museum as well as an impressive monument to Sir Walter Scott (IVANHOE).

Sir Walter Scott Monument

University of Edinburgh
But alas, no monument or marker commemorating the creator of Peter Pan. So, the best I could do was take a picture of the University of Edinburgh. By the way, one of Barrie’s classmates at the university was Arthur Conan Doyle – but I’ll save that for another post.

Like most Americans, my familiarity with Peter Pan comes from the image on the peanut butter jar, or the Disney animation, then later influenced by Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. I also remember attending a Lyric Theater production back in high school. Had I ever actually read the book?

Sadly, I had to answer no. Time to remedy that.

Though the story itself was quite familiar, one element really surprised me: point of view. From the title,
I would assume that this is Peter’s story, so it would be told from his point of view. Or maybe Wendy – a girl on the verge of being a teen who encounters a boy refusing to grow up. But no, the story is told entirely by an omniscient narrator who never delves too deeply into the minds of any character. But then, maybe that is part of the magic of the story. Consider this passage:

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children's minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

Barrie even uses direct address in the form of second person “you” to speak directly to the reader. It is as if he is assuring us, don’t take this too seriously. The story you are about to hear is all in fun, no need to be worried, but do hold on tight because we are about to embark on a marvelous adventure.

Yes, Peter Pan is a great adventure story and if you haven’t ever taken the time, I urge you to visit Barrie’s original.