Monday, October 31, 2016

You Heard it Here First: Halli Gomez Signs with Agent Kathy Green!

Congratulations to Gretchen Griffith who won my autographed copy of SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY off last week's blog. Thanks to all who entered the contest.

One of the things I love to do on my blog--besides reviewing great middle grade or young adult books--is announcing a friend's publishing news. Today I am excited to share wonderful news from Halli Gomez--my former Tai Kwon Do instructor and fellow Your Best Book participant. Take it away, Halli!

CAROL: I understand you just signed with Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary. How did you meet Kathy?
HALLI: I first heard about Kathy online, but actually met her on the phone when she called to offer to rep my middle grade manuscript.

CAROL: Why did you query her?
HALLI: She had all the things I looked for in an agent. Her agency is small, which is what I prefer, and she reps both kidlit and adult, all of which cover a wide range of genres. (Yes I do have an adult novel forming in my brain. Actually, the notes were put into their own folder which means the book will eventually be written.) I also read about her on QueryTracker and was really impressed with the comments, even from those who received rejections.  

CAROL: How many other agents did you try?
HALLI: I queried a lot. Okay, 60. And I did get partial and full requests, one even after I signed with Kathy.

CAROL: How long did it take to find an agent?
HALLI: I will focus on this manuscript since my first one is tucked away in a drawer where, hopefully, no one will find it. Ever! For this book, I started querying in September 2015, but I took my time. I queried a few agents, revised then took a break until I found the courage to query again. I repeated this process several times over the past year.

CAROL: Tell us about the book Kathy is subbing for you.
HALLI: Kathy signed me for ARLO ECKERT’S EMOTION MODIFIER, a middle grade science fiction novel. Sixth grade scientist Arlo Eckert has a hypothesis: if he can get his parents to stop fighting, they won’t mention the D word. Divorce. Arlo invents the Emotion Modification Device, a laser capable of zapping the brain and temporarily changing a person’s emotions to the exact opposite. His success at home propels him to bring it to school but it misfires and transforms his principal into a deranged bank robber. To make things worse, the government has discovered his device and wants to get their hands on it. Arlo must outsmart the government or his principal will go to prison and his family will be torn apart forever.

CAROL: That sounds terrific! Did Kathy give you any feedback on what drew her to your book?
HALLI: When she requested a partial she said it sounded fun.

CAROL: Do you expect Kathy to be editorial? Has she told you what changes she expects you to make? 
HALLI: Kathy is an editorial agent, which is another thing I love about her. She sent me her suggestions for revisions and after reading them a light went off in my brain. It was more like a slap in the face. Why didn’t I think about that and how did I miss that?

CAROL: And last, but certainly not least, I understand that the first paragraph of a query letter should state why you are querying this particular agent. Can you share that winning paragraph with us?
HALLI: Gladly! “I was excited to learn about your interest in middle-grade stories and books about home science experiments. I hope my middle-grade manuscript, ARLO ECKERT’S EMOTION MODIFIER, will appeal to you. Complete at 47,000 words, it is a novel about science, divorce, and greed.”

CAROL: That is great! How long did it take for her to respond?
HALLI: That was August 30th. She asked for the first 50 pages 30 minutes after receiving the query! She asked for the full on September 6. She offered representation on October 6. I had a couple full requests out there so I gave the other agents one week. Then I accepted Kathy's offer on October 14.

CAROL: That’s so exciting and encouraging to the rest of us who are working on our manuscripts. Anything else you want to share with your fellow writers?
HALLI: My interaction with Kathy happened fast in my opinion. I guess what they say is true - it is all very subjective and when you read something it either hits you or it doesn't.

Halli teaches martial arts to kids and adults who inspire her with stories and dedication. She writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain; two of her manuscripts won third place in SCBWI Carolinas Writing Contests. She loves time with family, the outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter @hbgomez701 and at The Winged Pen. She was born in New York, but grew up in Florida until chased out by hurricanes. Now she lives equidistant between the mountains of North Carolina and the beach with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

Stay tuned for more from Halli. I can't wait to share her publishing news next!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

BEING FRANK: Five Free Skype Visits with Author Donna Earnhardt

I don't want to overload anyone's inbox, so I rarely blog twice a week. But every once in awhile I want to pass along information in a timely fashion and this post is an exception to my once-a-week blog rule. 
Donna Earnhardt is no stranger to the Carolina's SCBWI region and to this blog. I first blogged about Donna's picture book in 2012 when Being Frank was new to the world. Now, she has a special offer that I wanted you to know about. Without further ado, here is Donna!

Kindness is needed in today’s world… lots of it!
In an effort to share Frank, and his message of sharing truth with kindness, Donna is hosting a “Being Frank: More Sugar, Less Pepper!” contest!
To enter:
1. Post a picture of your librarian, students, or teachers reading Being Frank on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
2. Use the hashtags #MoreSugarLessPepper and #BeingFrankIn followed by your state’s initials (example: BeingFrankIn NY) PLEASE NOTE: BOTH hashtags are required!
3. Donna will choose the post she likes best, so be creative! She wouldn’t be opposed to seeing your principal in a Mrs. Peacock hat!
4. The FIVE winning schools will earn a free Skype visit with Donna Earnhardt, author of Being Frank.
Each individual post is counted as its own entry, so the more posts, the better!
Contest ends November 12, 2016.
Winners will be announced on November 13 in honor of World Kindness Day!

Find more Being Frank info and handouts at Flashlight Press.
Librarians and teachers--this is an opportunity you don't want to pass up. Donna is hilarious and will give a great Skype lesson for your school. Please let me know if you win!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sure Signs of Crazy: A Review and Autographed Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips who won an autographed copy of BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD on last week's blog.

Several years ago I bought Karen Harrington's book, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY (Little Brown Books, 2013) at a SCBWI conference. As my bookshelves fill up with newer books, sometimes older ones take a back seat. Deciding it was time to read this debut novel, I sped through it in just a few days. For some fortunate reader of this blog, I bet you will too.

Twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson is haunted by her past. When she was two, her mother tried to drown her and her twin brother, Simon. Sadly, Simon died and her mother was sent to a mental-health facility. Sarah hasn't seen her for the last ten years and hears from her only two times a year. More than anything, Sarah longs to know her mother, to have her mother know her, and to not go crazy like her mother did. 

Recently, I blogged about Jan Cheripko's workshops at Highlights Summer Camp about secondary characters. Since I found the secondary characters in SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY to be so well-developed and adding so much to the plot, I decided to show how they contributed to Sarah's story. 

Early on the reader meets Plant, Sarah's best friend. Plant gets moved from one rental house to another and is the recipient of Sarah's confidences and fears. 
Most days when I water Plant, I have a new trouble word to tell her. All of them are mixed deep in her soil. If secrets were seeds, she could bloom leaves that would make me blush.
And if she did bloom and show the world all my secrets, I just don't know what I'd do. Probably I'd lie and say, "Oh, she was here when we moved in. These are the secrets of another girl." (p.  13)

The book begins with the end of sixth grade. Sarah receives an assignment from her English teacher, Mr. Wister, who is another important secondary character. On the last day of school he hands out composition books with the assignment to write an actual letter or story. When the students complain he answers, "Most people don't know what they truly think until they write it down. Don't you want to know what you truly think?" (p. 39)

Without too much thought, Sarah begins a letter to Atticus Finch, one of her literary heroes.
Dear Atticus Finch,
I am writing to you for a class assignment given to me by the greatest English teacher ever, Mr. G. Wistler. He had the idea that we should choose a character to write to. I can't say for certain, but I think I'm the only one writing to you. That is good for me. Most of my classmates are writing to Harry Potter and Lucy Moon. Maybe you've met them at the library. When I was little, I used to think that when the library closed, all the characters came out of the books. (p. 41)
With that, a "correspondence" between Sarah and Atticus begins in which she pours her heart out to him. Although she tries hard to hide the reality of her mother's actions from the people around her, Atticus (and Plant) are safe. They'll never rat on her and they help her feel less alone. 

Lisa is her best friend ("But when you hardly have any friends, best is relative." p.45) who really doesn't serve as much purpose as Atticus or Plant do--except that Sarah hides the truth of her family from her. Lisa is also the girl who is what Sarah wants to be-- a "normal" about-to-be-seventh-grader that has pierced ears and wants her first French kiss. 

Charlotte is the college-aged babysitter who Sarah stays with while her father is at work. She is like a big sister to Sarah, helping her out when Sarah gets her period for the first time and teaching her about make up. But Sarah is more sensible than her babysitter. When Charlotte can't seem to break up with her loser boyfriend, Sarah tries to convince her that she'd be better off without him.  

Because Sarah spends her summer days at Charlotte's house, she meets Charlotte's younger brother Finn. Despite a big age difference, the two connect over their love for words. One day they're killing time watching The Price is Right when an announcer breaks into the show. 
"This is only the second time in Texas's history the charge has been brought forth, the first time being the case of Thomas Nelson following the trial of his wife, Jane Nelson." And there she is, entering my life announced and unwanted. (p. 157)
Finn handles the news with aplomb and later says to her,
"Anyway, we all have big secrets," he says. 
"Really? What's yours?" I ask. "Do you have a tattoo somewhere?" 
He leans into the door frame, studies his shoes."My dad killed himself when I was eleven." 
Then time waits for him to speak again. That's how big the secret is. It has to come out slow. "Apparently, I look just like him, which is a real problem for my mother," he says. "She still has a big reminder of him, you know, whether she wants it or not. So when he died, I sort of lost both my parents, you know. I was mad at both of them, but that doesn't help. I think that's how it might be with your dad." 
I swallow hard. This is the kind of information you want to run and be alone with, dissect it and break it down to be sure you heard it right. 
"It sucks," is all I can say. 
"I agree with your choice of verbs," he says. 
"At least your secret cannot be announced during The Price is Right.  (p. 190)
Sarah's alcoholic professor father, Thomas Nelson, is a very important secondary character. Although Sarah hates his drinking and even at one point pours out his Jim Beam, he is all the parent she has. Her growth is almost in spite of him. At the end of the book after Sarah sees him passed out on the sofa at his parent's house Sarah announces: 
"I'm going to go see her so I can talk. Just to her. I have things I need to day." 
"Couldn't we talk---" 
"No," I cut him off. 
"Maybe a counselor..." 
"No," I tell him again. I want to cry, but the brave girl won't let me. "You are evading. Atticus says a child can spot an evasion quicker than grown-ups. You are supposed to answer my questions." (p. 253)
Sarah tosses To Kill a Mockingbird at her father, tells him to read it and suggests he might learn something from it. 

Easily the most important secondary character is Sarah's mother, Jane Nelson.  The reader mostly meets her in Sarah's thoughts about her, but despite her father's protests, Sarah decides to visit her at the hospital. On the bus trip to the hospital, Sarah writes a moving letter to her mother, pouring out all of her hopes for the relationship they never had. Sadly, Sarah never gets to say what she longs to tell her.  

But her letter writing to Atticus has changed her. Before visiting the hospital they stop by Simon's grave. Afterwards her fathers asks Sarah:
"What did you put on Simon's grave?"
"A page." 
"From the book?" 
"The part where Atticus describes courage. What it means to have it." 
Dad tells me I'm the most courageous person he's ever met. It goes straight to that secret place inside of me where I keep my favorite words. (p. 272)

To win my autographed copy of SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, please leave me a comment by October 27th. If you decide to follow my blog or post this on social media, I'll enter your name twice. Just let me know what you decide to do and PLEASE leave your email address if you are new to my blog!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Behind the Scenes with Monika Schroeder and an Autographed Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Sandra Warren who won my ARC of  BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD. In this week's post, Monika Schroeder provides some behind the scenes information about writing her newest middle grade novel AND offers an autographed copy as a giveaway.

CAROL: I’m curious about the backstory behind this book. It’s very different than your previous books and I’m wondering how you got interested in the topic of landfills. Why Michigan? Do you have a personal connection to the area or the topic? 

MONIKA: My husband is from Michigan and we inherited a cabin that his father built on an island in the Upper Peninsula. (We actually got married there.) Here is an excerpt of my answer regarding the setting I gave for an interview with School Library Journal:

"I often start a book with setting. The 'seed idea' for Be Light Like a Bird came to me the first time I saw a landfill. My husband and I had cleaned out the cabin my husband inherited from his father in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I couldn't believe it when he drove all the stuff to a landfill nearby, a big hole where people bury unwanted items. In Germany we recycle or incinerate most of our garbage, so it left an impression on me when I saw a guy dropping a vacuum cleaner, a book shelf and an entire carpet into this landfill...a cemetery for junk.

I learned more about this landfill and read about the people in the community who had fought its expansion. Then I asked myself a "What if...?" question: What if there were a girl who loved birds and whose bird watching was threatened by the expansion of the landfill? Once I had that girl in my mind I found myself asking more and more about her life. How did she get to Michigan's Upper Peninsula? And why was birding so important to her? I learned that her father had recently died and that her mother had more or less dragged her up north. She was grieving and lonely and once she arrived in Upper Michigan she came up with a plan to make her mother stay. From there the story of Wren developed."

CAROL: How did you come across the turtle and Native American connection? I assume that is true? It definitely adds another dimension to the book. 

MONIKA: In my research I found articles that mention the ceremonial use of turtle shell rattles among Chippewa Indians and several archaeological sites around the Great Lakes contained fragments of turtle shells. I did, however, not find any written evidence of the excavation of a Native American burial site on the Upper Peninsula with such rattles. I had read stories in the paper about constructions sites for road building in the area having to be stopped after possible Native artifacts or remains were found.

I called the former head of the Sault Tribe Office of Cultural Repatriation in Sault Ste. Marie, MI and asked him about the shell. He said in our phone conversation that turtle rattles were used for many purposes but they also were burial gifts and under the right soil conditions they could survive and be found. 

The article the librarian finds and uses in the council meeting remains fictional, but I think that is okay, given the possibility of such findings.

If you haven't already, you can read my review of Be Light Like a Bird on last week's blog. Plus, Monika is generously giving away an autographed copy; leave me a comment by October 20 for a chance to win. If you are new to this blog or share this on social media, I'll enter your name twice. Please, let me know what you do and leave your email address if I don't have it. 

Monika with Frank, the dog she and her husband
adopted when they were in India.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Be Light Like a Bird: A Review and ARC Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders and Karen White who won copies of AIM from last week's blog. Thanks to everyone who left comments.
In August I featured Susan Campbell Bartoletti, a faculty member at Highlights Foundation Summer Camp. Her keynote was so packed with information that it was impossible to give you everything she said. In this blog post I use more of her points to review Monkia Schroeder's latest middle grade novel, BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD.

Major Dramatic Question

In that previous post, I quoted Susan as saying that every book should have a MDQ--A Major Dramatic Question that can be answered yes or no.

In BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD, Monika poses this dramatic question for Wren, the protagonist: Will she and her mother resolve her father's death? The answer to that question drives many scenes and is raised again at the climax of the book. 

Key Scenes

Susan offered a working description of key scenes which Patti Gauch shared while helping her with her first novel. You might not want to use it as a writing formula, but it’s a helpful approach to analyze your work as well as other writers' novels. 

A Scene that Incites: Wren's father's plane crashes and his remains are never found. We read,
After the search-and-rescue people called, there was an explosion in my brain, and a cloud appeared, spreading out over everything. The cloud pressed down on me like overstuffed down bedding, the kind you want to push away so you can breathe. Except there was nothing I could do to lift it. The cloud made all my thoughts seem as though they came through a fun-house mirror, like the one Dad and I had stood in front of at the county fair last year, laughing...It made it hard to think. 
It was because of the cloud that I didn't notice at first how much Ma had changed. I didn't remember her often being angry before... (p. 9)
The cloud over Wren and her mother's anger trigger their reactions. Wren's mother goes from town to town in a seeming random effort to escape their past. She refuses to talk about Wren's father, leaving Wren angry, confused, and the two estranged from one another. They end up in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and for the third time within a few weeks, Wren starts attending a new school. 

A Scene that Agitates: Wren's new teacher asks the students to find a controversial topic for a class presentation. She mentions that the township plans to expand the landfill. In this snippet, we meet Theo, the dorky kid in class who is a loner, like Wren. 

"They've already started to survey the area, I blurted out. "I saw it. It's so sad!"
"There's nothing wrong with it," Carrie piped up. "My dad runs the landfill. They just need more space."
I frowned. Why did I not know that about her?
"Who cares about that swamp anyway?" Carrie added.
"Pete's Pond is not just a swamp," I said quietly. In my mind I added, There's actually a wetland surrounding the pond with very exciting bird life.
"Sounds like this is already controversial here in our classroom," Mrs. Peters said with an encouraging smile. "Theo what do you think?"
Theo was the master of pauses. He didn't seem to mind that a gigantic silence spread out, hovering in the middle of the conversation. He just sat there, thinking about an answer. "I wonder why we need that space to bury garbage," he finally said. "The town hasn't grown very much."
Mrs. Peters gave us a big smile. "Looks like you've already figured out why this is an interesting issue." She wrote our names and the topic on her chart. 
After school Carrie and Victoria left the building together, giggling as if they had known each other forever, just like a pair of turkey hens." (p. 62-3)

A Scene that Confuses and A Scene When the Character Faces Choices. Wren is at recess with Carrie and Victoria, the two girls who she hopes will like her. Wren has been doing Carrie's math homework in an attempt to win her friendship. Victoria is reading through a quiz in Miss Magazine that determines if you're compatible with a friend. Victoria asks, 

"If you had to spend a week on a deserted island and could only take three things what would you take?"
"That's easy," Carrie said. "I'd take my gel pens, my journal, my pink sweater."
"I'd take my photo album, my favorite quilt, and my pink jacket," Victoria said.
If I had to spend a week on a deserted island, I would take matches so I could make a fire. I'd take my binoculars to observe birds or watch for a boat to come. I'd also need a pocket knife. But I knew I couldn't say what I really thought.
"I would take..." I began slowly.
But Victoria was already reading the next question.  She looked at me, and when I didn't finish my sentence she said, "Okay you can come back to that one." Then she read the last question: "What is your favorite hobby?"
Carrie spit out her answer. "Playing tennis."
Victoria nodded eagerly. "Mine is playing tennis too!"
They both looked at me. "What's yours?"
I didn't want them to roll their eyes when I said I liked watching birds. Maybe I should tell them I liked to read. That was also true and much safer. But before I could give an answer, the bell rang, and I was glad we had to go back to class. It was easier to avoid answering than to be true to myself. (p. 72-3)

A Scene that Confronts. Wren and Theo decide to collect signatures to petition the town to preserve Pete's Pond. At lunch Carrie confronts her,
"I heard you're exhibiting your bird photos at the library and collecting signatures for a petition against my dad's landfill."
"We're just collecting signatures," I said. "It's not a big deal." I was thinking about Ma and didn't have any patience for Carrie's hysterics.
"I can't believe you're doing this to me," she said. "Making my dad out to be some evil destroyer of nature." 
"I'm not doing anything to you." I looked at her and added. Not everything is about you." (p. 140-1)

A Scene that Shows Strength or Courage. (this is continued from the previous scene)
Carrie inhaled sharply and glared at me. "You probably just want to hurt my dad because you don't have one."
Suddenly the kids at the tables near grew quiet. Everyone was watching.
I didn't know how Carrie had found out about my dad. I was mad at her for saying that, and at the same time, I was scared to what I felt the need to do next.
Then I heard Dad's words again: You are braver than you think you are.
I slowly got up, not saying a word. But before I left, I paused and looked down at Carrie. My voice was calm when I said, "I don't think I want to have anything to do with you anymore." (p. 141)

A Scene that Resolves. Wren's mother tells her daughter that after her husband died, she discovered that he was having an affair and this was why she has refused to talk about him. Wren is shocked, denies it, and decides to take a bus to Chicago to confront his girlfriend. Her mother finds Wren walking along a road holding a dead dog she wants to return to its owner. 

"Oh, baby," Ma said. "I'm so glad I found you."
"I was going to Chicago," I said. "I wanted to talk to that woman. I don't believe what you said about her. I don't want to think of Dad having done something like that. I just don't want to." Suddenly there wasn't enough space inside my chest and I could only take small breaths. "And now... now I have to tell these people that their dog died. But I can't do it. I can't. It's too sad."
"You don't have to go to Chicago," Ma said, holding my shoulders. "And I'll go with you to meet Corey's owner."
[Wren asks her mother why she hadn't told her about the affair and hears her mother's explanation.]
..."Oh, Wren, I've made so many mistakes. I hope you can forgive me."
I was startled for a moment. No one had ever asked me for forgiveness. I looked up at her. "Of course I'll forgive you. But it's still so hard to believe that Dad did this. I don't how to..."
"I know, Ma said. "It means we have to forgive him for what he did and mourn him. I don't know how to do that by myself either. But maybe we can do it together."
I fell into her arms, and Ma held me tight as I buried myself in her jacket. I could feel her lips on my hair. We stayed like that for a while, and I felt good and warm.
When I looked up at her, Ma gently pushed a strand of hair from my forehead. "Come on, baby. We'll bring Cory home." (p. 211-213)
Although this isn't the end, you can see how the MDQ has been raised and answered. 

For a chance to win my ARC, please leave me a comment by October 13. If I don't have your email address, please make sure you include it. 

Come back next week when Monika will share some of the backstory of BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD and you'll have a chance to win an autographed copy. 

This review originally appeared on

Monday, October 3, 2016

AIM: A Review, an ARC Giveaway, and The Hero's Journey

The Backstory

What do you do if you write a book based on a story in "your own backyard" because of an editor's advice (BLUE, Boyds Mills Press, 2006.  The polio epidemic in Hickory, NC) and then the main character keeps talking to you and you want to know what happens next? (COMFORT Calkins Creek, 2009. Anne Fay deals with the effects of polio and her father's return from WWII.)

If your name is Joyce Hostetter and these first two books are award winners, your publisher then asks you to write a prequel to these books starting with the letter "A." And if you're as great a writer as Joyce is, then you imagine the world before BLUE and write Junior Bledsoe's story and name it AIM

I've been privileged to be a part of AIM's development from the time that Joyce asked her Facebook friends for suggestions on a book title beginning with "A." (I think she might have already had a title in mind, but it was fun hearing everyone's thoughts.) She bounced story ideas off of me and I read several drafts. Since I have learned so much from Joyce ("less is more when crafting dialogue, internalization and action"); I was honored that Joyce incorporated some of my suggestions into her book. 

As I've done previously, this review uses craft principles I've learned from another writer. This time, I'm drawing from Jillian Sullivan's presentation of The Hero's Journey at Highlights Summer Camp.  

The Review

Hand me that wrench," Pop wiggled his grease-covered fingers. 

I gave it to him, but I wanted real bad to get my hands on his repair job. "I could do this if I had me half a chance," I said. (p. 7) 
 In less than 50 words Joyce brings the reader into the world of Junior Bledsoe: a world full of unmet desires and tension. In this powerful first chapter, many of Junior's conflicts are foreshadowed. At fourteen, he longs to show his father what he is capable of doing, ("Sometimes I wondered if I'd ever get to show him what I could do."); feels the sting of not being as close to him as Ann Fay is with her father who "go together like biscuits and gravy"; reads in the paper about America preparing to go to war; and hears his father poke fun of him for wanting to stay in school. "After the first day, quit. Least you can say you went to high school."

His father's last words as he drives off in the car come back to haunt Junior later: 
"Find yourself a job and take care of your momma." He climbed in the car. "I'll be back before you can say, 'Yankee Doodle Dandy.'" Then he drove off and left me to put the tools away.  
"Yankee Doodle Dandy," I said. And he wasn't even out of the driveway yet. (p. 14)

Junior's father never returns. 

Jillian Sullivan talked about the reluctant hero--the character who is forced on a journey when one way of life ends and another begins. This is an appropriate description of Junior. AIM narrates the grief and anger-filled year of his life when he searches to find out who he is and where he is headed. 

Jillian pointed out that surpassed desires and conflicts can trigger a hero's journey. In Junior's case, his quest to discover himself is prompted by his father's death. But in the process desires and conflicts emerge and he is presented with choices. 

"Choices are made when the character must decide what he will give up in order to move on," Jillian said. "Each of these decisions and choices represents a death to self so that by the end, the character must overcome his ego to make a courageous decision."

For Junior Bledsoe, choices assault him on a variety of levels. How he will respond to sharing his bedroom with his cantankerous grandfather? What will he do when faced with the temptation to skip school or steal a car? What will he have to give up to earn self-respect? Can he be different than the generations of men who've gone before him? 

Jillian said that heroes often cross several thresholds as they overcome trials, confront their own egos, and ultimately make a courageous decision. In this beautiful coming of age story, there is one scene in AIM that I will never forget. In a moment of introspection, Junior crosses one of these mini-thresholds. He has just tried working at the cotton mill and found it much harder than he'd imagined. He comes home and pulls off his shoes and socks because he wants to feel dirt on the bottom of his feet.
Eleanor was already bawling and I knew there was gardening to do. There wouldn't be time for going into the woods. I tended the animals, and on the way back to the house I plopped myself down onto a sweet potato crate under Pop's oak tree. I hadn't managed to rake up the acorns last fall, and one of them had sprouted into a small tree not four feet away. 
It was only six inches high, but it had four perfect leaves and was doing its best to become a real tree. Any other time I would've pulled up a sprout like that. Today, though, I didn't have the heart to destroy it. After all, what if the big oak tree was hit by lightening one day? The seedling would be there to replace it. (p. 239)
Even now, I get teary-eyed over that marvelous piece of introspection and characterization.  

What are you waiting for?

For fans of BLUE and COMFORT, you will be amazed at how AIM's ending is a perfect set-up for BLUE. On the page it appears effortless. But here's a secret: Joyce wrote that chapter first. It gave her a powerful starting point in her mind. From there she created the wonderful story of a boy named Junior Bledsoe, who spends the year after his father's death learning what to aim for. 

If you haven't read BLUE and COMFORT, what are you waiting for? AIM's (Calkins Creek, 2016) pub date is TOMORROW and you can order it here or here. You can download an educators guide for all three books here.

Last February I shared Joyce's cover reveal and began the giveaway for this ARC. I will add your name to the list of those vying to get their hands on this book if you leave a comment along with your email address, if I don't have it. I already have a long list of contenders, but there's good news--I have TWO ARCs to give away! I'll pick the winners on October 6.

Besides being good friends and critique partners,
Joyce and I co-publish Talking Story. (To sign up, see article in the sidebar)
This was part of a "photo shoot" this summer when we
were getting pictures for the newsletter.
Photo by Linda Phillips

This review was originally published on LitChat.


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