Monday, September 26, 2016

Guest Post by Joyce Hostetter: On Writing a War Series

Congratulations to Michelle Leonard for winning Radioactive! on last week's blog.
If you read my blog regularly, than you are no stranger to my friend Joyce Hostetter who I have featured on my blog many times. It is my privilege to host her today as she shares her reflections on some behind the scenes thoughts on writing a war series. Take it away, Joyce!
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When I wrote BLUE I thought I was writing a book about polio. I had no idea that it would grow into a series that would make a statement about war and its effects on family.   However my hometown’s polio epidemic took place in 1944 so it was a natural for my protagonist’s father to be drafted.

Ann Fay is exceptionally attached to her wise, affectionate Daddy when he leaves home, asking her to be “the man of the house” in his stead.  While Leroy is away at war, she faces multiple challenges while longing for the day he returns. She hopes against hope that he will come out alive and unscathed.
But is it possible to survive the battlefield, emotionally unscarred?  
After publishing BLUE, I did not intend to write a sequel.  However, Ann Fay’s voice kept echoing in my head.  And other things echoed there too—memories of childhood friendships with children whose fathers had served in WWII and The Korean Conflict.  War Trauma and PTSD were not yet identified in the 1960s.  I don’t know all the factors that contributed to these men’s personalities, their alcoholism, and abuse of spouses and children but I knew they all had combat memories in common.  
I suspect they each had war going on inside their heads.  
Later, much later, one of those friends told me what a gentle man her father was before going to war.  “He never wanted to kill people,” she said.  I thought about that man with the soul of a poet who played guitar and composed original music.  I considered the times I’d been in his presence and how gentle he still appeared to be. And I remembered that when his family was growing up he was unable to hold down a job.  My friend told me that, while she was still a child, one morning, in an attempt to motivate him to go to work, she actually took his bed apart with him in it.   
So having published BLUE, I decided to listen to the echoes.  I began to ask myself how Ann Fay’s relationship with her father would be changed by his war experiences. The result was the publication of COMFORT, a story about a girl and her father each on their own post-trauma journeys and how they begin to heal.

Ann Fay is much like the friend I mentioned above.  The one who tried to prod her father into going to work.  You would think such an action would have provoked abuse.  But I don’t know that my friend’s father was abusive to her.  Apparently he saved that for one of her brothers. And I see the devastation in that grown son’s life today. 
I see the pain of war moving down the family lines of my other friends.
When my publisher asked me to write a prequel to BLUE and COMFORT I knew immediately who the story would be about—Junior Bledsoe, Ann Fay’s neighbor.  I would explore his emotional journey after his father’s death. And as I began to listen again to those echoes I discovered the story of four generations of men traumatized by war. That story, AIM, will be released on October 4.

I’m not a sociologist but my reflections on life, my research on wars, and war trauma lead to me believe that war begats war. Trauma gives rise to more trauma and the cycle is in great danger of repeating itself.
How do we stop that cycle?  
I believe stories, historical fiction, in particular, help us to listen to history.  As a historical novelist, my task is to find the universal truth or emotion that will hold a reader and focus attention on history that might otherwise be overlooked. 

Although I don’t set out to write anti-war novels, I hope that my stories encourage readers to reflect on the effects of war and to consider alternatives.  I trust that even in their personal lives they will observe that anger and arguments give rise to more of the same. After all, change begins at home and the ripples spread.  Better that they be ripples of peace than those that lead to war.
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Next week I am reviewing AIM using material from a workshop I took with Jillian Sullivan at Highlights Summer Camp. PLUS I'll be giving away two ARCS.  Stay tuned!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World-- A Review and a Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won my Mr. Puffball Stunt Cat Across America ARC and Linda Phillips who won the hardcover book. Thanks to all of you for entering. Lots more giveaways coming up, starting right here.
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Radioactive! is one of those books that makes you wish you had listened better during high school chemistry and physics. But even if your high school days were a long time ago like mine were, Winifred Conkling has written the history of how artificial radioactivity was discovered in such an engaging and reader-friendly way, that the science is accessible.  Better yet, it made an unscientific person like myself want to understand concepts like nuclear fission and transuranic elements. And that says a lot! 

Radioactive! is the story of how two largely unknown women- Irene Curie and Lise Meitner--worked independently on this important discovery. I selected this book from Recorded Books because Lillie, the African American protagonist in Half-Truthswants to become a scientist.  Irene's and Lise's stories helped me gain insight into Lillie's motivation and her thoughts about science.




Irene Curie 

Conkling includes the backstory for both scientists. Irene, the daughter of famous Marie Curie who developed the theory of radioactivity, seems to have been born to be a scientist. She was educated along with other French children of notable academics, studied science at the Sorbonne, and her doctorate dissertation was on the alpha rays of polonium, the element her parents discovered (along with radium) that was named after Marie's country of origin, Poland. 
Irene and Marie
working together in 1925
Irene worked with her mother during WWI helping to set up and operate mobile x-ray units. Irene not only inherited her mother's passion for science, but also the conviction that women scientists should be treated equally with men. Like her mother, she received a Noble prize in Chemistry (Marie also received one for Physics). But unfortunately,  Irene's death--like her mother's--was a result of working closely with radioactive materials. 
In 1934 the Joliot-Curies finally made the discovery that sealed their place in scientific history. Building on the work of Marie and Pierre Curie, who had isolated naturally-occurring radioactive elements, the Joliot-Curies realized the alchemist’s dream of turning one element into another: creating radioactive nitrogen from boron, radioactive isotopes of phosphorus from aluminum, and silicon from magnesium.....
Irène’s group pioneered research into radium nuclei that led a separate group of German physicists, led by Otto HahnLise Meitner, and Fritz Strassman, to discover nuclear fission: the splitting of the nucleus itself, emitting vast amounts of energy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irène_Joliot-Curie.

Lise Meitner

 As a child growing up in Austria, Lise Meitner kept a notebook under her pillow of things she was enthralled with such as the colors of oil slicks and reflected light. As a grown woman, she was not allowed to attend a public institution of higher learning so she studied physics privately. Since she enjoyed both mathematics and physics, she attended lectures on both subjects and was the second woman in Austria to receive a doctorate degree in physics. Born of Jewish parents, she converted to Christianity as an adult. 

These excerpts from Wikipedia, summarize Meitner's scientific career: 
In 1912 the research group Hahn–Meitner moved to the newly founded Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute (KWI) in Berlin-Dahlem, south west in Berlin. She worked without salary as a "guest" in Hahn's department of Radiochemistry. It was not until 1913, at 35 years old and following an offer to go to Prague as associate professor, that she got a permanent position at KWI.


In 1917, she and Hahn discovered the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium, for which she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences. That year, Meitner was given her own physics section at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry.[11]
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In 1926, Meitner became the first woman in Germany to assume a post of full professor in physics, at the University of Berlin. In 1935, as head of the physics department of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem (today "Hahn-Meitner-Building of the Free University) she and Otto Hahn, the director of the KWI, undertook the so called "transuranium research" program. This program eventually led to the unexpected discovery of the nuclear fission of heavy nuclei in December 1938, half a year after she had left Berlin. She was praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie".[11][22][23]
World War II divided countries and scientists. Even though protected for a time by her Austrian citizenship, when the Nazis found out she had Jewish parents, she was forced to flee Germany. Exiled in the Netherlands and then in Sweden, Meitner continued her research--although without her precious laboratory equipment.

World War II

I admit that the science behind their discoveries is incredible. But what interested me was how the war changed everything for Meitner and Curie. Suddenly, the research they had done to harness the huge power within the atom, was taken out of their hands and used to create the atomic bomb. Both woman wanted nucleaer energy to be used in peaceful ways. Neither anticipated an application for warfare and both felt guilty after hearing of the destruction in Hiroshima. 


Nuclear fission experimental setup, reconstructed at the Deutsches Museum, Munich
In an interview with the West German television (ARD, March 8, 1959) Meitner said:[30]
Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann were able to do this by exceptionally good chemistry, fantastically good chemistry, which was way ahead of what any one else was capable of at that time. The Americans learned to do it later. But at that time, Hahn and Strassmann were really the only ones who could do it. And that was because they were such good chemists. Somehow they really succeeded in using chemistry to demonstrate and prove a physical process.
Although I quoted Wikipedia above, I can assure you that Winifred Conkling did an amazing amount of original research before writing Radioactive! and that is apparent when reading or listening to this book. Readers will be fascinated by the interplay of science, history, and political intrigue. 

I am giving away my copy of this audio CD in conjunction with the fall issue of Talking Story on Radiation: Friend or Foe. Leave me a comment by September 23 for one chance to win this excellent book that would be useful in a middle or high school classroom. Share this on social media or leave another comment through Talking Story and you'll be entered twice. Just make sure that you tell me what you have done and PLEASE leave your email address if you are new to this blog. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America- A Review and TWO Giveaways!

Some of you may remember when I featured NC author, Constance Lombardo, and her debut graphic novel, Mr Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars. I'm happy to report that the sequel, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America is being released on September 27 by Harper Collins. So, for all you Constance Lombardo fans, here's the scoop on Mr. P's next adventure!

Mr. Puffball has a problem. He's tired of suffering burns, bruises, frost-bite, and all manner of stunt-cat injuries to his pride and person.  He is itching to do more. So when his friend and mega-movie star El Gato wants Mr. P. to co-star in a buddy movie with him--he can't refuse. 

Figuring that their movie will be his ticket to stardom, he is ready to start filming when El Gato informs him that they don't have the cash they need for a director, costumes, extras...well, just about everything. Turned down by the head honchos of Purramuont Studios in favor of Jude Claw and Benedict Cumbercat, Mr. P. decides to take the bull by the horns (or maybe the tiger by its tail?). He and El Gato will make a demo reel that outshines Cumbercat's and show Purramount who they should hire to star in Mac and Cheesy's Excellent Adventure.

Cue Mr. Puffball.



Mr. P. and El Gato, along with their friend Rosie as the director, set off across America on their Cross-Country Road Trip Demo Reel Adventure.


Even though Mr. P. wants to shed his stunt-cat identity, young readers will applaud his courage as he outwits hobos in Las Vegas,  jumps through fire at the Cirque de Soleil, and rescues Pickles, the adorable kitten who has joined them, from drowning in the Colorado River. In typical Mr. Puffball fashion, he doesn't always understand how courageous he's been until Rosie gets her footage and they're on the road to their next destination. 
Pickles makes his debut!
Constance brings all the characters to life through her animated drawings as well as through the voice of the characters. Besides Mr. P. himself, one of my favorites is Bruiser, the Russian stunt cat who trained Mr. P. Early in the story he flies into the hobo camp from a passing train exclaiming, "Looking out Below!" When he lands on his paws after a perfect flip he says, "Mr. Puffyball! How you here?" From that moment on, his voice is heard as he travels across America--often saving Mr. P. from disaster. 

I don't want to spoil the story, so you'll have to get your own copy to read about all the crazy adventures the crew has on their way across America.

Constance and I are giving you two chances to win her latest Mr. Puffball creation. I have my autographed ARC to give away and she will send an autographed book to another winner. Leave me a comment by September 16 and I'll enter your name in this double giveaway.  Share on your social media of choice and/or become a new follower of my blog and I'll give you an extra chance to win; just make sure you leave me your email address and tell me what you did. This book will definitely entertain the 3-7th grade reader in your life.

PLUS: If you live near Asheville, NC, Constance's book launch is at Malaprop's Bookstore on October 8.

In case you're new to Mr. Puffball's adventures, here is how it all began:


And yes, there will be a third Mr. Puffball book in early 2018! Hooray!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Moments and Memories: Summer Camp at Highlights Part V

It's been over a month since I've returned from summer camp at Highlights. In this last post I leave you some of my lasting impressions from the week.

When you attend a workshop at Highlights Foundation, this Welcome sign on the Barn will greet you,



as well as a sign on the screen window of your temporary home.


You may stay in one of these cabins


Photo courtesy Judie Anderson Offerdahl 

and will definitely eat wonderful food like this.



What, whip cream again??


You'll probably have a drink or two when schmoozing with your fellow writers before dinner.




Of course, you'll go to classes,

Jillian Sullivan's students appreciating her
presentation of The Hero's Journey.


And yes, there is time to write too.
Photo courtesy Gayle Krause
Pictured: Theresa Milstein and faculty member, Mitali Perkins

There will be time to play,
Photo courtesy Jilanne Hoffman


So many words to choose from!
The Word Garden

It was fun rearranging stones, adding and subtracting.
and creating new sentences and phrases.
Great classroom activity!
time to meet favorite authors,


Clark Gillow Clark and I are Twitter
friends. It was great meeting her in person!
and time to collect autographs.
Enjoyed talking to Lamar Giles who
shared personal stories of colorism after he
heard about Half-Truths

In your cabin you'll find a stuffed bookcase, lovely prints, and NO TV!




Do you see that little black book under the Native American picture? That's a journal where past residents leave their thoughts for future workshop participants. This will be fun to read and if you're fortunate, there will even be an encouraging entry from someone special. 

You will leave with a pile of books like this.




And when you return home, you'll receive a wonderful memento of your time at Highlights.



If you write or illustrate for children or aspire to do that one day, do whatever it takes to attend a Highlights workshop. You will be glad you did. 

And when you go, make sure you tell them that THE Carol Baldwin sent you.