Foodie Kidlit Friday: Interview with A TANGLE OF KNOTS author Lisa Graff!

Foodie Kidlit Friday iconWelcome back to my new blog series, Foodie Kidlit Friday! On selected Fridays, I’ll be talking to authors of great food- and cooking-themed books for kids and teens, giving books away, and sharing recipes from my own forthcoming foodie middle-grade novel, All Four StarsToday I am thrilled to welcome the fabulous Lisa Graff to the blog!

Lisa GraffLisa is the author of numerous middle-grade novels, including The Thing About Georgie, Umbrella Summer, and most recently, A Tangle of Knots, (which has a big foodie element and was longlisted for the National Book Award!). A former children’s book editor, she now writes full time. You can learn more about her at www.lisagraff.com.

Here’s a little more info about A Tangle of Knots:

Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born.  And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever.  However, these encounters hold the key to Cady’s past and how she became an orphan.  If she’s lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent.

Tara Dairman: Welcome to Foodie Kidlit Friday, Lisa!

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa GraffA Tangle of Knots takes place in a universe where many people have a special Talent—and for one of your characters, Cady, that Talent allows her to instinctively bake the perfect cake for any person. I love this idea, and was wondering what your inspiration was for it.  Is there a real Cady out there? (And if so, can she move in with me?) 

Lisa Graff: I wish there was a real Cady out there! If so I would beg her to make me cake all the time. I’m not sure exactly where the idea came from, to be honest, although I do remember that I was in an airport when I decided that’s what Cady’s Talent should be, so most likely I was incredibly hungry at the time.

TD: Cady is one of many characters in A Tangle of Knots, and her story one of many intersecting plot threads. But somehow—like ingredients in the perfect recipe—every thread comes together in the end in a deliciously satisfying way! Did this require a lot of planning before you wrote the book, or were you able to make connections as you drafted? 

LG: Lots and lots of planning was required for this book, which was tough on me because I absolutely hate outlining. For most of my books I prefer to start writing a draft and going wherever the characters take me–which always ends up with me having to do TONS of revising on the back end, but I would happily throw away two-thirds of a draft rather than outline beforehand. For this book, though, I knew that would be an impossible way to do things. I spent three months brainstorming and outlining before I wrote a single word, and my outline–no joke–ended up being 72 typed pages. And, of course, I still had to do a ton of revision after my first (several) drafts. But the outlining was worth it, definitely.
 
Absolutely Almost by Lisa GraffTD: Cady’s scrumptious-sounding recipes for cakes for various characters are sprinkled throughout A Tangle of Knots and are also available on your website—as is a recipe from one of your other books, Sophie Simon Solves it All. Do you have plans to write any more foodie-themed books in the near future? 

LG: The main character in my newest book, Absolutely Almost, which comes out next June, is more than slightly obsessed with doughnuts, although he doesn’t make them himself (he only eats them).

TD: When you were developing recipes for A Tangle of Knots, did you have to do a lot of test baking at home? Which recipe was the trickiest to get right, and do you have a favorite of all of the cakes?

LG: I tested so many cake recipes for this book! I knew I wanted to include nine different cake recipes in the book, and I wanted them to not only represent the nine main characters but also cover a wide range of cake types and be recipes that children could theoretically make themselves fairly easily. I think I tested about thirty or forty cakes before I settled on the final batch that’s in the book now. (It was a tough job, but somebody had to eat it. I mean, do it…)

Lisa testing cake recipes!The trickiest cake for me to get right was V’s Mystery Fudge Cake, which is basically a lava cake (a chocolate cake with a gooey chocolate center). I knew from the get-go I wanted to do a lava cake for her, but I tried out recipe after recipe, and none of them worked at all! I must have made four or five “lava” cakes that ended up having no “lava” in them. It was very frustrating. I finally found a recipe that worked really well, though!

I love all the cakes in the book, but my favorite at the moment is probably Miss Mallory’s peach cake. Or Will’s s’more cake. Or… I think I might have to go find some cake to eat now!

Thank you so much, Lisa, for talking to us today about writing and food! And wow–that s’more cake looks incredible!

Readers: If Cady were to bake you your ideal cake, what would it taste like?

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There’s a Monster Inside Me!

Or, well, there was in December of 2009. Andy and I had just returned from the first leg of our round-the-world trip, but little did we know that I was carrying an extra-special souvenir from Central America…in my scalp.

I’d tell you more, but why read when you can watch? 🙂 That’s right–tonight at 9 p.m. eastern, you can watch the whole, disgusting story of my parasitic infestation with botfly larvae unfold on the Animal Planet “docu-horror” show Monsters Inside Me. There’s even a three-minute preview of our segment online!

We taped our interviews a few months ago, and in a fun twist, my sister Brooke (who is an actress in New York) was hired to “play” me in the reenactments. (The actor who plays Andy is a stranger to us, but has come to be known as “Andy 2.0” around the house.)

Here’s hoping you enjoy our national television debut–and if you have any questions about the whole process, feel free to post a comment, and I’ll answer as best I can.

Interview with Colorado author Claudia Mills!

Colorado is for writersWelcome back to the Colorado is for Writers interview series! Every other Tuesday, I talk to different Colorado-based authors about their work and their connections to this beautiful state. Today, I’m happy to welcome chapter book and middle-grade author Claudia Mills to the blog!

Claudia Mills, Philosophyclaudia.mills@colorado.eduphoto by: Larry HarwoodClaudia is the author of a very long list of children’s books (seriously, check it out–it is impressive), and Kirkus reviews recently called her “a master of the school story” (also very impressive!) Welcome, Claudia!

First things first: Colorado native or transplant?

I’m a transplant, directly from Maryland, originally from New Jersey. I came to Colorado for my day job (professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado in Boulder) and for my husband’s dream (he was raised in Golden, and once we had our boys, he had his heart set on raising them in the West).

Tell us a bit about your book(s), published and/or in progress!

My two most recent books are Kelsey Green, Reading Queen and Zero Tolerance, both published this past June by Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Macmillan.

Kelsey coverKelsey Green is a third-grade-level chapter book, first in a series called Franklin School Friends. Kelsey, a passionate reader, is determined to read the most books for her grade in a school-wide reading contest, but there’s only one problem: Simon Ellis is reading even more books than she is. Or at least, Simon Ellis says he is reading more books than she is. She and her two best friends, Annika Riz (who is a math whiz) and Izzy Barr (who is a running star), decide to make a top-secret cheater-catcher plan to see if Simon has earned his status as Kelsey’s chief rival, or not. This book is my valentine to readers and book lovers everywhere.

Zero-Tolerance-CoverIn Zero Tolerance, Sierra Shepard is a seventh-grade honor student and “perfect” girl who has never been in trouble in her life – until the day she brings her mother’s lunch to school by mistake. In the lunch is a knife to cut her mother’s apple. Sierra, good girl that she is, turns the knife in immediately, and finds she is now facing mandatory expulsion under her middle school’s “zero tolerance” policies for drugs and weapons. Of all my books, this is the only one I’ve written where I myself didn’t know how it would all turn out until the very end. I kept on writing to see: would Sierra get expelled or not? And if she did, by that point, would she even care?

photo couchWhat’s the view like from your favorite writing space?

I write curled up on a little couch with a blanket, clipboard, pad of paper, pen – and mug of hot chocolate. So no view. But very cozy!

What’s the best thing about being a writer in Colorado?

For me, the best thing is being part of my terrific writing group. I’ve been a member of this group for twenty years, and together we have published over a hundred books during that time, everything from children’s books to adult mysteries, science fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction about Colorado history. The best Colorado thing about my writing group is that we have a retreat every summer up at Lake Dillon. We spend a whole weekend writing, reading, talking about writing, talking about reading, walking by the lake, and sitting in a hot tub under the Colorado stars. That’s when I most think what a sweet thing it is to be a writer in Colorado.

Thank you, Claudia–and may I just say that both of your new books sound completely fabulous? (As does that retreat at the lake!) 

Interview with Aiken Avery, author of The Disaster Tourist

Ahoy there, blog readers! (Yes, that nautical greeting was deliberate–you’ll understand why in a moment.)

The Disaster Tourist by Aiken AveryIf you follow me on Goodreads, you may recently have seen my ecstatic review for a book called The Disaster Tourist, which takes place on a round-the-world cruise and is one of my tippy-top favorite reads of 2013. But I wasn’t content merely with reviewing it and gushing about it to friends. I just had to hunt down the author, Aiken Avery, and lure him over for an interview at this here blog.

Luckily, hunting him down wasn’t too difficult, since Mr. Avery and I were college classmates (where we both studied creative writing with Ernie Hebert). And even more luckily, he agreed to share his insight and wisdom about travel, writing, travel writing, and today’s publishing options for literary novels. Hooray!

Here’s a blurb about the book itself, and my interview with the author follows. (Also, since this is a blog usually devoted to children’s literature, I should probably insert a disclaimer here that this is most definitely an adult novel, complete with strong language, queer content, and all that good stuff.)

About The Disaster Tourist:
When foul-mouthed RG boards the S. S. U. Sea for its fall semester voyage, she does so with her usual intentions: knock people down a few pegs and hopefully score some hot chicks along the way. But intentions and itineraries don’t always sync. Part international romp, part descent into madness, The Disaster Tourist follows a crew of sometimes thought-provoking, often ridiculous characters as they circumnavigate the globe on a cruise ship turned floating college. RG’s plans to corrupt her lovely, wholesome Midwestern classmate Dottie fail when she turns out not to be the simple beauty she seems. The two forge an unlikely partnership—straight with gay, principled with radical—as the climate on-board, and in the various ports of call, grows from silly to paranoid to downright dangerous. In the end, The Disaster Tourist strives to capture what it means to be an American abroad in the 21st century.

Tara Dairman: Welcome, Aiken Avery!

Your debut novel, The Disaster Tourist, takes place in so many different locations—Japan, Vietnam, China, and India, just to name a few—and you write about them so evocatively! Here are a couple of my favorite descriptions:

India was like an ice cream cone with every topping imaginable—not just ice cream ones but pizza toppings, too, salad toppings, cereal toppings, and then handfuls of dirt and sh*t thrown on for good measure.

The poor—which, from what they could tell, was everybody—subverted physics in order to balance great loads of merchandise on tiny carts and rickshaws and bicycles, Pisas of metal tins, breaching whales of straw baskets, to name only ten degrees of the surrounding three-sixty.

I was wondering how you carried out your research on these locations for the book. I believe that you’ve been to most or all of these places yourself—did you go back to journals or photographs? Rely on memory? Or did you need to look to books and the Internet to bring yourself up to date on these destinations?

Straight from the old photo album: Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

Straight from the old photo album: Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

Aiken Avery: I definitely appealed to my old photo albums for detail. I come away from a trip with a general sense of the place, but detail gets lost just because of the overwhelming abundance of it—especially in crowded places like China and India. In years past, writers might have needed to shell out for plane tickets to these places or bury themselves in books at university libraries (which I’ve done plenty of myself). Now, without the benefit of photographic memory, we have the Internet to help flesh out descriptions.

I’ll admit, it felt a bit like cheating, but I definitely made use of Google Earth! I could zoom in on a locale like Ho Chi Minh City and click on the icons for other people’s photos, a great feature of theirs. What does the Rex Hotel look like these days? What would a typical street scene bustling with locals look like? Now we have a wealth of evocative imagery and information right in front of us on our laptops. So yes, I’ve been to all of the countries in the book—authentic experience is still top dog—but technology helps to fill in the gaps.

TD: Follow-up question: Did you have any trouble separating your own, real-life experiences in and opinions of these places from those of your characters in the book?

AA: Like most people (I assume…), I leave a place with all sorts of conflicting feelings about what I’ve just experienced. Is India dirty and stinky and wretched in a lot of ways? Absolutely. Is it also a beautiful, diverse, fascinating place? Of course. I would go back and travel around it for a year if I was able (still barely scratching the surface). So I actually found that it wasn’t all that difficult to voice these varieties of opinions through characters; they already cohabitate, bickering in my head.

A scene on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India

A scene on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India

The really interesting question is whether or not I had trouble separating my real-life experiences from those of my characters. Fictionalizing real events, adding new people, contexts, twists—which I did often when writing this book, having gone on a study abroad program similar to The Disaster Tourist‘s “University of the Sea”—can change your memories of those events, or even replace them with the new ones to an extent. I don’t mean to say that I’m incapable of separating fiction from reality! I just mean that taking actual events and attaching meaning to them—in the way that the very deliberate process of writing always does for bare reality—can often place the fictional event even above the real one in importance. I now value my experiences much more because of what I was able to cultivate from them, if that makes any sense.

TD: Here’s another quote from the book that I loved, describing the main character, RG.

She could feel the claws of her personality climbing up the walls of her skull to predetermined places—a large, articulated crab getting into position—and then it was only through its eyes, the lenses of this refracted self, that she was able to see and act.

On paper, RG, might turn some readers off; she’s snarky and manipulative (not to mention doggedly, unapologetically anorexic). But I was completely charmed by her—just like many other girls on the ship are, and I’m sure many readers are, too. How did you come up with this complicated character—and did she take any turns over the course of the book that surprised you?

AA: RG is an amalgam of a few different people I’ve encountered: a solitary and obsessive exerciser from my college days (never knew her, but found her compelling); the beleaguered adopted daughter of relentlessly well-meaning Brahmin parents in Cambridge, MA (where I did a lot of private tutoring); and my own “Negative Nancy” inner voice. RG is a minority and a Devil’s advocate in every possible way, and as such, I risk alienating people who start reading and can’t handle her! Trust me, I worry about that.

But the intention was always for her to change, to soften and wise up over the course of the story. Really—without giving too much away, I hope—she was always meant to become more and more like her “silver linings” friend in the story, Dottie, while Dottie grows more and more (to RG’s horror) like the old, bitter RG. To say “the characters took on a life of their own” would be cliché, but yes, they changed in surprising ways—unpredictable even to me—as I slowly discovered what their motivations should be. I guess my long-term writing strategy is “plan, but in pencil.”

TD: You write such beautiful (and often twistedly funny) descriptions and observations. Here are a few of my favorites:

Her jokes were like puppies head-butting the gate to get out and play.

He’d been crying like an old man—which was to say that his eyes were completely dry over a low, trembling voice.

To go abroad, even to sail to the other side of the world, is to be taken for a walk on a leash—and then, inevitably, brought back home again.

This makes me curious about your writing process. Do the words just tend to just come out this way for you in the moment, or do you do a first draft more focused on plot and focus on the language later?

AA: I can’t say I’ve never written a passage and then thought of an improvement—either to the plot or to the language—later on. An advantage to undertaking big, novel-length projects is that you have as much as a year or two for all of the best “improvements” to occur to you, sometimes well after the first draft. But for the most part, I focus on the language and the tone as I’m writing for the first time, not later. I’m glad you liked the head-butting puppies comparison—I came very close to ditching that one!

TD: You self-published The Disaster Tourist as an e-book rather than pursuing traditional publishing. Can you share what led you to choose this path, and how it’s working for you so far?

AA: At the time I was writing my first novel (a yet-unpublished Civil War story), self-publishing was basically taboo. In most cases, doing so meant that you had tried traditional routes and no agent or publisher would touch you, so you must have written a dud. The only recourse for duds was self-publishing. I used to go so far as to say that I would rather not publish at all than self-publish.

However, as I was writing my second book, the Kindle was introduced, and e-books really took off. Opinions both in the industry and among laypeople have shifted pretty dramatically on the subject of self-publishing, so a writer no longer has to pray for a big publishing house to discover his needle status in the haystack of the “slush pile.” He can be much more proactive about getting himself noticed: by taking the book to market himself and by proving, sometimes in a big way, that customers are indeed lining up with dollars in hand. I’m still learning the ropes, but I hope my marketing campaign will do just that.

Well, Aiken, I’m with you in hoping that many, many readers discover this incredible book!

To that end, here are a few links where you can purchase The Disaster Tourist:

Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * Google Play

You can also find the book via the iBooks app on iTunes–and other digital formats (including optimized for laptop, if you don’t have an e-reader) are linked on its Facebook Page.

Thank you so much for this interview, Aiken Avery! And readers, if you end up reading The Disaster Tourist, please let me know–I’m dying to find some more folks to discuss it with. 🙂

Now & Later

Well, friends, blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground here recently–but that doesn’t mean that exciting things haven’t been going on behind the scenes, or that I haven’t got some great stuff lined up for you going forward! Here’s a little recap/preview.

NOW (well, not right now, but recently):

1) Writing: Hey, remember that post I wrote back in September about how I sped up my drafting process by 96%? (If you remember any post on this blog, it’s probably that one, by far my most popular post ever.)

Well, what comes after drafting is lots and lots of revising–which, in the case of my sequel to All Four Stars, involved writing a new 20-page insert to help round out the ending, cutting 8,000 words overall, and loads of other tweaks. But I am pleased to say that I finally turned that manuscript in to my editor last week, and I’m feeling pretty good about it! And I also need to say that this book would be nowhere without the insight of my incredible critique partners Ann Bedichek, Jenny Goebel, Jessica Lawson, and Lauren Sabel. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

2) Reading: I have also been busy reading advance copies of lots of 2014 releases, and people out there are starting to read mine! Thank you so much to those folks who’ve taken the time to leave reviews and ratings on Goodreads for All Four Stars and who have been sharing their ARCs with me. I have truly enjoyed every single ARC I’ve read so far, but have to give particular shout-outs to When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens (February ’14) and The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner (August, ’14) in middle grade, and Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule (March ’14) in YA. Buckle your seat belts for these releases, folks–they are incredible!

3) Eating: I spent the long Thanksgiving weekend with family in the Washington, D.C. area, during which time we deep-fried a turkey…

Deep-fried turkey

…and also visited Ted’s Bulletin for homemade Thanksgiving pop tarts (filled with turkey and stuffing, and topped with sweet potato swirls and cranberry icing!).
Thanksgiving pop tarts

Yes, both of those things tasted just as amazing as they sound.

Later (or, in other words, coming soon–like, as soon as tomorrow!):

1) Interviews: I am really excited to be interviewing Aiken Avery, author of the fantastic literary/dark humor/round-the-world travel novel The Disaster Touristone of my top reads of 2013. That post goes up tomorrow, so please come back for it!

Foodie Kidlit Friday iconI’ve also got my next Foodie Kidlit Friday interview lined up–the lovely Lisa Graff will be talking about all of those scrumptious cakes Cady bakes in her 2013 National Book Award-longlisted novel A Tangle of Knots. Hooray! That should be up next Friday.

Colorado is for writersAnd next Tuesday, Colorado is for Writers returns featuring middle-grade author Claudia MIlls!

2) Recipes: Starting in the new year, I’ll be sharing recipes for some of the delectable dishes that Gladys cooks and reviews in All Four Stars. I’ve been developing these for a while, and am so excited to finally share them with the world!

Sneak peak: Tree nut tarts

Sneak peak: Tree nut tarts

So, stuff. It’s been happening. It will continue to happen. Stick around. 🙂

Interview with Colorado author Melanie Crowder!

Colorado is for writersWelcome back to the Colorado is for Writers interview series! Every other Tuesday, I talk to different Colorado-based authors about their work and their connections to this beautiful state. Today, I’m happy to welcome debut middle-grade author Melanie Crowder to the blog!

Melanie is the author of Parched, a brutal and beautiful survival story published earlier in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s books. Parched is a Junior Library Guild selection and the recent recipient of a starred review from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Melanie Crowder authorFirst things first: Colorado native or transplant?

Transplant.

I’m a west coast girl—still not sure how I ended up landlocked and living in the high desert. But I’ve fallen in love with the blue sky and the wide open spaces and those big grey mountains.

PARCHED by Melanie Crowder

Tell us a bit about your book(s), published and/or in progress!

My first book for young readers is a survival story called Parched. It released in June, and it has been so fun to see the reaction of kids and teachers and librarians and even adult readers as they discover Musa and Sarel and Nandi. No matter how long and varied your career, you only get one chance at your debut, and I’m really proud of mine.

With writers though, it’s always on to the next project, and for the past six months I’ve been completely immersed in my next book. This time, it’s a poetic historical novel for teenagers—a huge challenge, and a lot of fun!

my [snowy] writing cave

What’s the view like from your favorite writing space?

It depends on the season. In the summer, I write outside any chance I get. In the winter, I hunker down in my office with a whole pot of tea and a fuzzy blanket. In the in between times, I like to work on the couch, with the morning light coming in through the bay window, classical music on the TV and my dog curled up on the chair opposite me.

What’s the best thing about being a writer in Colorado?

We have a real work hard, play hard mentality here. I really do work really hard, so I love that there are so many ways to get out and play in this state. I love that a mountain writing retreat is just a short drive west. And I love that if you go just another hour off the beaten path, you can unplug completely. 

Thank you so much, Melanie, and I can’t wait to read your upcoming verse novel! (Well, read it again–I got a sneak peak at an early draft, and it was amazing. Get ready, world!)