Monday, July 12, 2010

FEATURED AUTHOR: Rick Riordan - Award-Winning and New York Times Best-selling Author of "Percy Jackson & The Olympians:The Lightning Thief"

Rick Riordan is best known for his YA series Percy Jackson and the Olympians and also for his series of multi-award-winning adult mysteries featuring San Antonio P.I. Tres Navarre.

He was Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas on June 5, 1964. He knew from the time he was young that he wanted to grow up to be a teacher and a writer. His father was a ceramicist and his mother was a musician; both were teachers.

The first book he ever read was the Lord of the Rings' series. He began his writing in middle school. His favorite topic in middle school was Greek and Norse mythology; he also liked to read fantasy and science fiction books. His biggest inspiration was his 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Seaholm, who often pushed him to write. His first job was at a middle school in New Braunfels, Texas.

He went to Alamo Heights High School and became interested in mystery novels. That’s where he got his inspiration to write adult mystery novels because they intrigued and fascinated him. He also was caught writing an underground newspaper that made fun of their school’s football team.

He went off to college at first North Texas State. He transferred to the University of Texas at Austin in 1986 where he graduated with a double -major in English and History.

After college, he became a teacher, and was quite happy with the idea of doing that the rest of his life. He was a teacher for 6 to 7 years at Presidio Hill School & Saint Mary’s Hall and also worked as a music director at Camp Capers for 3 years.

In 1997 he began publishing mystery novels “Tres Navarre” mystery series for adults. The series has won the top three national awards in the mystery genre – the Edgar, Anthony and the Shamus.

Tres Navarre is a Tex-Mex thriller featuring San Antonio PI. Jackson "Tres" Navarre, a complicated loner with an offbeat pedigree. Navarre is a tai chi master with a University of California English Ph.D. degree in medieval literature who turns to detective work when he is unable to find a teaching job!

His first novel in the Tres Navarre series is Big Red Tequila. The sequel, The Widower's Two-Step, won the coveted Edgar Award in 1999. THE LAST KING OF TEXAS; and THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO AUSTIN. He is also the author of the acclaimed thriller COLD SPRINGS

Rick Riordan has presented workshops for such organizations as the International Reading Association, the California Association of Independent Schools, the National Council for Teachers of English, the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute and the Texas Library Association.

Reluctantly, he left teaching a career he thoroughly enjoyed in order to write full-time. He still harbors hopes that someday he'll return to the classroom. Meanwhile, he makes frequent visits to schools and enjoys meeting young readers on his book tours. For a total of fifteen years, he taught history in public and private middle schools in the San Francisco Bay Area in California and also in San Antonio Texas. In 2002, Saint Mary’s Hall honored him with the school’s first Master Teacher Award. In 2003, he was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters.

He wrote grown-up mystery novels for about seven years before he even started the Percy Jackson series for young readers. He began Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief as a bedtime story that he invented for his son Haley -- who, at eight, had just been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Although Haley was having trouble in school, he loved the Greek myths and asked his dad to tell him some stories about the gods and heroes.

Motivated by his sons’ request, Mr. Riordan quickly came up with the character of Percy Jackson and told Haley all about Percy's quest to recover Zeus's lightning bolt in modern-day America. It took him about three nights to tell the whole story, and when he was done, Haley told his dad that he should write it out as a book. He chose to give the character of Percy certain attributes that hit close to home.

The Lightning Thief won the Red House Children's Book Award in June 2006.Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a terrific YA series that features a twelve-year-old trouble-prone boy with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. He is the modern-day half-blood son of the Greek god, Poseidon., which is one of the twelve Olympian gods making mischief right in the 21st-century America.

The novel was an instant hit all over the world with preteens, who loved the concept of a kid like themselves because the novel embroiled in the everyday problems of school, family, and relationships -- embarking on heroic quests, soothing vengeful gods, and battling monsters.

He said in one of his interviews that making Percy ADHD and dyslexic was my way of honoring the potential of all the kids I've known who have those conditions," says Riordan. "It's not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes, it's the mark of being very, very talented. That's what Percy discovers about himself in THE LIGHTNING THIEF."

The Film rights for the The Lightning Thief have been purchased by Twentieth Century Fox, and was released to theaters on February 12, 2010. The fantasy-adventure film was directed by the award-winning director, Christ Columbus. He is best known to audiences as the director of the runaway hit "Home Alone"and "Mrs. Doubtfire" with Academy Award-winner, Robin Williams.

The cast for The Lightning Thieft are: Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson alongside an ensemble cast which includes Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener, Kevin McKidd to name a few....

His book The Sea of Monsters was a Child Magazine Best Book for Children for 2006, a Publishers Weekly and BookSense national bestseller. The Titan’s Curse, made the series a #1 New York Times bestseller, and the fourth title, The Battle of the Labyrinth, which was published in May 2008 had a first printing of one million copies. The series concluded with The Last Olympian, which was also a major national bestseller.

In September 2008, Scholastic published the first in a new series of “The 39 Clues”, for 8-12 year olds. Mr. Riordan sees “The 39 Clues” as a potential vehicle for doing some education in a fun way — to take some of these amazing stories from history, and make them alive for kids.

The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones was another #1 New York Times bestseller. The film rights for The 39 Clues have been purchased by award-winning director Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks.

Each volume of the 10-book mystery series will feature a different historical figure. Scholastic published one volume every 2-3 months. He wrote the first volume and outlined the plots for the remainder of the series, which will be written by other authors.

The story, is about Amy and Dan Cahill both orphans, 14 and 11, who are competing against other branches of the sprawling Cahill family to discover the first of 39 clues - which when revealed will provide the key to a secret that will lead to ultimate power. The books are designed to compliment the Internet game. Each book reveals one clue, leaving gamers to find the remaining 29 online.

The 39 Clues: The Black Book of Buried Secrets will available in bookstores October 2010.The Black Book will reveal the shocking truth about history’s most notorious family.

His later book, The Kane Chronicles Series is titled Book One: The Red Pyramid which was released on May 4, 2010 by Disney's Hyperion Press and is now available in every bookstore and on line.

The first in a brand new series which is set to be a trilogy is another adventure and fantasy following two siblings, fourteen-year-old Carter and twelve-year-old, Sadie Kane.

After the death of their mother, Sadie and Carter Kane have become complete strangers. One lives with the grandparents and the other one is travels across the world with the father who is an Egyptologist.

The siblings are brought together by Dr. Kane, their father, in British Museum where he is conducting a research experiment. During the experiment the Egyptian God is freed and Dr. Kane banished, absorbed by the floor of a museum during a failed experiment.

The children are a descendant of Ancient Egyptian Magicians and Pharaohs and now their mission is to search for their father.

They understand their own magical powers as they move into a shape of animals from London, Cairo, Paris and Phoenix. Throughout their journey they use the ancient Egyptian tools, such as clay figurines and an ancient form of paper, made from the papyrus plant, which grows wild in the marshes of the Nile river.

The papyrus scroll helps them with information, during their all important battles. Sometime, when they get into trouble they try to summon a sword to fight for their lives but all they get is a butter knife.

Mr. Riordan again makes mythology and history really cool for his young readers with vivid tales, relatable characters, and immersive plots in his novel.

The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles” will be released 9/28/2010
The Lost Heroes” will be released 10/12/2010

Rick Riordan writes full-time and lives in San Antonio Texas, with his wife Becky, and his two sons Haley and Patrick.

Photo of Mr. Rick Riordan by Becky Riordan
To learn more about Rick Riordan, please visit his website
To purchase his books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

INTERVIEW: Kristina McBride - YA Author of "The Tension of Opposites"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with YA Author, Kristina McBride. She was a HS English teacher at Springboro High School in Springboro, Ohio and a year book advisor for eight years. She has a B.A. and Master’s Degree in Education from Wright State University.
She now lives in Centerville Ohio with her husband and two young children.

Her debut novel, THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES is about a haunting psychological thriller of a very serious subject of child kidnapping. It also shows the emotional aftermath on the victim, and the people that were left behind.

Tagline: What happens when your best friend is kidnapped - and returns home two years later?

Short Summary: Two years ago Noelle disappeared. Two long years of no leads, no word, no body. Since the abduction, Tessa, her best friend, has lived in a state of suspended animation. She has some friends, but keeps them distant. Some interests, but she won’t allow herself to become passionate about them. And guys? She can’t get close—she knows what it is like to really lose someone she cared for.

And then, one day, the telephone rings. Noelle is alive. And maybe, just maybe, Tess can start to live again, too.

Excerpt: Sometimes I saw Noelle sunning herself on a tropical beach, away on an endless vacation. But like my old therapist had told me, it isn’t healthy to ignore reality. Most of the time, I envisioned Noelle in a dark basement, chained to a moldy wall. But that went directly against the information I had found online the day the crisis-intervention speaker came to our middle school and tried to soften the blow of Noelle’s absence. In my worst moments, I pictured Noelle’s clean bones peeking up from a pile of damp leaves in the woods.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Kristina McBride today -- the woman behind the book “The Tension of Opposites”?

Kristina McBride: As a teenager, I was an obsessive journaler. I loved my friends, and was the one who kept everyone on track – my nickname was Clipboard. Needless to say, my love of writing and intense need for organization have helped me move into the world of publishing. My first real job was at a local pizza joint called The Flying Pizza, where I worked for several years in high school. I loved it; pizza is one of my favorite foods! I think the most important thing about any job is that you love what you do. This is one thing that I have always used to gauge what I am doing in life; if I’m not loving something, I make a change. After college, I went on to teach high school English for eight years. While I loved that job so very much, I decided that being a mother was more important, and quit teaching when I had my first child. It was at that point that I really dove into writing and focused on my life long dream of getting published. As cheesy as it might sound, paying attention to my inner-self and being true to my needs and desires has been the best guide for my life. And, luckily, it has been a very good life so far!

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing YA novel that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Kristina McBride: You use a wonderful word, I am definitely enchanted with YA literature! First, let me say that I am blessed with an intense need to write. Always have been, which makes it easy to continue, even through the tough stuff. Writing is something I would do regardless of it being my official profession. I’m just lucky enough to have gone through the long struggle of acquiring an agent (it took me 3 manuscripts and 2 ½ years), perfecting my manuscript (another 11 months), and garnering the attention of some amazing editors (3 offers in 3 weeks!). Having taught high school for eight years, I simply feel more connected with YA literature. The characters offer so many various struggles that the options are endless when I’m plotting a new idea.

E.I. Please tell your YA readers about “The Tension of Opposites.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about the book?

Kristina McBride: The Tension of Opposites is the story of sixteen-year-old Tessa McMullen whose best friend was kidnapped two years ago. The book starts when Tessa learns that Noelle has been found alive and is coming home. We follow Tessa through her struggle to reconnect with her friend, who returns as a distant and self-destructive version of her old self, and to also reconnect with a life she has felt too guilty to live while her friend was missing. There’s also a love interest, a new guy in town named Max, who tries to help Tessa along her journey. Through the book, there is much question as to whether or not Tessa will succeed at regaining her friendship, her life, and if she will allow herself to open up to Max, the first guy she has ever had any real interest in.

The inspiration for this story came to me one day while my daughter was napping and I caught an episode of Oprah. This is the day that I learned the story of Shawn Hornbeck, a young man who was kidnapped at the age of eleven and returned to his family four years later. I was in awe of this young man’s strength and fortitude to have survived such a traumatic ordeal. Soon after, the character of Tessa started speaking to me.

E.I. How do you weave so much information while writing and creating the character ‘Tessa McMullen', and yet you keep her so fast-paced and interesting? Did you work her out in advance, or did she evolve as you wrote the story?

Kristina McBride: Dirty Little Secret: With the guidance of my agent, I revised this book for nearly a year. Six months into revisions, I deleted all but five chapters and started over. I think I got to know Tessa through all of the writing, revising, and re-writing, which helped immensely. It’s essential to really know your characters as you write. The fast pace was difficult to handle. I wanted the book to flow well as I showcased the tension of all the opposing forces. As I write, I do some initial plotting and character study, but have to wait until I’ve written a few chapters to really work out all the kinks. And then, of course, there are a lot of changes to be made once the first draft is complete. The main thing here is to have a pretty intense desire to see it through to the end.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably believable and captivating really interesting characters: Noelle (Elle) Pendleton, Tessa McMullen, Max Kinsley, Cooper Pendleton (Noelle’s brother) and that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

Kristina McBride: Thank you so much! I’m glad you like the characters! I try not to think too much of the reader as I’m writing. I’m not sure if that’s bad to admit, but it’s true. I just write the story as it needs to be told and cross my fingers that others will like it. As for my creative process, I’ve already talked about it a bit, but I hover between outlining and flying by the seat of my pants. I outline a little and fly a lot in the beginning. But as I really dig in (around the 100-page mark) I start to really plot things out to make sure everything is weaving together nicely and that it will all come to a close by the end of the book.

E.I. How did you pull the readers into Noelle’s life, when she returns to Centerville, Ohio two years after she was kidnapped by a pedophile? The distress and raw emotions behind her that follows is such a raw story that makes it so hard to imagine what Noelle had to live through day to day in order to survive.

Kristina McBride: Elle was a difficult character to handle. I wanted the reader to get to know what she had been through, but it would have been way out of character to force her to just open up and share her traumatic ordeal. One of the main devices I use to help the reader learn about Elle is her journal. Through the journal entries written by Elle, we learn about the time she spent with her kidnapper, and get to dive deeper into her story. I tried not to be too heavy handed with these entries, not wanting to divulge too many details, because I wanted leave the reader some room to wonder. I felt that this was important because it’s a true feeling that most of us experience when we hear these stories in the news.

E.I. Tessa is a completely believable character, you’ve written her in an almost painful manner, having given up much of her own life after Noelle’s disappearance. Tessa had become more of a loner and finds herself fading away as much as her best friend did. How did you write this character while playing her in your head?

Kristina McBride: Okay, this might make me sound a little crazy, but I have to be honest, right? When I’m writing, it’s as if I am the character. So, to answer your question, Tessa kind of just flowed out of me. Her thoughts, emotions, and dialogue just came naturally. Here’s another secret, I originally tried to write this book from Elle’s perspective. But she wouldn’t talk to me until I started listening to Tessa. From the start, the characters knew this was Tessa’s story to tell.

E.I. Ms. McBride, you as an author of this book, you have done a phenomenal job describing Tessa’s emotions, struggles, and trials that she went through with Noelle’s disappearance and re-immersion into society. I loved hearing the story from the best friends’ perspective. I think, people sometimes forget that others that were left behind are just as hurt when someone disappears. How did you overcome these challenges creating Tessa’s emotions?

Kristina McBride: Thank you again – I love this praise! One of the hardest things for me to do was deal with the emotions of these characters. I thought the book would be easy to write, emotionally speaking. But as I researched kidnapping, it became more real. And more difficult. I began to really care about these characters, and hated writing some of the scenes because I knew they were struggling. But I just had to keep going. I wanted to write them out of their conflicts so they could find some sort of peace. At the end, things certainly aren’t perfect, but there is more of a balance in regards to the tension of opposites pulling Tessa in different directions. (To find out where Tessa finds that balance, your readers will have to go get the book!)

E.I. Max's journey with Tessa is so inspiring, though, he pushed Tessa a little bit too far at times, but he’s a pretty decent young man. He is really a determined and knows what he wants and will go for it. Although he begins to fail the same tension and battle as Tessa- except he's fighting to keep her while she struggles to keep Noelle. Is Max character based on a real life experience of a victim’s friend or family? Did you find it difficult to write Max’s character?

Kristina McBride: Max was a blast! He is not based on anyone I know or have ever known. Like Tessa, he just hopped into my mind one day and started hanging out. I loved him from the start! He’s this intense guy who just wants to make things right for Tessa.

E.I. How many years of research did you do to create the realistic events in the kidnapping? Did you speak to any real life survivors of a similar trauma, their Psychologist, victims family, etc?

Kristina McBride: I did a ton of internet research, and also watched countless television shows on the return of a kidnapped child (interviews with Shawn Hornbeck and several others were a huge inspiration for me).

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “The Tension of Opposites” is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans? And why?

Kristina McBride: I have done several public readings, and when I planned for those, I always had a difficult time. I wanted to find a passage that would showcase the tension of opposites within the book. However, each time I came back to the same thing, this book starts with Tessa learning of her best friend’s return, which sets up all the following scenes. If I had to choose, I’d definitely start at the beginning.

E.I. And finally what’s next with Kristina McBride? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book?

Kristina McBride: I signed a two-book deal with Egmont USA, and am working on the next book right now. The only thing I can say is that it’s totally unrelated to The Tension of Opposites.

E.I. Ms. McBride, thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

Kristina McBride: Thank you so much for having me and introducing my book to your readers. For any aspiring writer out there, the main thing I can say to you is to never give up. Keep writing. Learn how to break into the business (finish your novel, query agents who represent your work, and know that you will face rejection). The key is in not allowing rejection to get you down (at least not for more than 24 hours – eat lots of chocolate), and to think of each pass as a step closer to that desired agent or editor. For more advice on this matter, people can check out my blog post “Query Away! 3 Essentials That Helped Me Land My Dream Agent” or my blog series “One YA Author’s Journey to Publication”. I hope this can help someone out there!

Photo of Kristina McBride courtesy of Easterling Studios
To learn more about Kristina McBride, please visit her website
Order Now From Your Choice of Online Retailers
To purchase her book, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Today we stand up and salute all of our men and women, from the past to the present, who have served their country in the U.S. Armed Forces and have given their lives, fighting for our freedom.

Because of their bravery and dedication to their country, we remain a Free Nation. This is a salute to all of them and their families.

Have a safe 4th, everyone!

Friday, July 2, 2010

INTERVIEW: Diane Falanga - Interior Designer / Author of "P.S. I Hate It Here! Kids' Letters From Camp"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Diane Falanga. She's is the Interior designer founder of Heart Homes Initiative Designs for Dignity (a non-profit organization providing furniture for those in need). She’s a mother of two and the author of number one book this summer “P.S. I Hate It Here! Kids' Letter’s From Camp.”

Her new book is a collection of one hundred fifty real-life, laugh-out-loud letters from kids. Ms. Falanga was inspired to write the book after receiving a very entertaining letter from her then eight-year-old daughter, Bianca complaining about her chores. It went into hysterical detail about how her camp counselors made her “the maid, sweeper and scraper.”

This book is amazingly funny and perfect for the whole family. File it in the category of truth is stranger than fiction. You could not make this up!!! If you've had kids at camp, it will bring a smile to your face. That's how good Ms. Falanga’s book is... packed full of real, laugh-out-loud letters, from real kids who will now appreciate the sage old camp song… “Camp Granada” in a whole new light!

Ooh ahhh, sunburn pain, yes, its summertime – Summer of angst: While you send your kids to camp thinking they’re living it up, making friends and getting active, the experience may also be a test of their ability to survive outside the cocoon of parental supervision. This is also the time of year marked by mosquitoes, lightning bugs or also called fireflies - those small blinking creatures that lights up nights or illuminating earth’s summer nights at home or at a camp.

Ms. Falanga’s collection of real letters written by children ages eight to sixteen to their parents about their adventures at summer camp is laugh-out-loud funny and will have readers reminiscing about their own camp days. Every letter in the book will make you smile:) “P.S. I Hate It Here: Kids’ Letters From Camp” really captures a childhood experience shared by millions of kids dealing with growing pains at camp.

After sharing her story with her friends, sending e-mails across the country, and working with camps nationwide, and the American Camp Association®, Ms. Falanga was able to gather hundreds for this collection for her book.

For every parent who’s ever received a letter from a homesick child or anybody who’s ever written their parents with crazy requests from the upper bunk, P.S. I Hate It Here: Kids’Letters From Camp will delight with hilarious and heartwarming real-life letters.

If you’re the parent of a camper, you will recognize the unedited quality of what kids write to home speaking directly from the heart. Campers have no appreciation for how their raw thoughts will be received, analyzed, critiqued, digested, read, re-read, and re-re-read as much for what they don’t say, as for what they do. While some kids may bitterly complain about hardships and homesickness, all the imaginable scenarios, cabin lice inspection, bunkmates grinding teeth at night while sleeping, to breaking the bad news about a retainer lost while canoeing on the lake.

These letters reveal that kids are wittier and more sophisticated than their parents might ever have known. And that the experience of being away from home for the first time creates hilarious and lasting memories touching a common cord in all of us.

E.I. Please tell your young readers about your book “P.S. I Hate It: Kids’ Letters From Camp.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this famous latest release summer book for kids and parents as well?

Diane Falanga: When my 8 year old daughter, Bianca, went to overnight camp for the first time - she really thought she was ready, emotionally. In her case, 8 was just a bit too young. She felt the effects of homesickness pretty quickly. However, she really was able to vent beautifully on paper. (A budding writer!) Knowing she was okay and on her way back from the week-long camp by the time I rec'd the letters ... I was definitely able to find some humor in her homesickness. She has developed a wonderful gift at a young age (now she's 12) of being able to laugh at herself and move on!

E.I. You've compiled a hundred-fifty captivating letters from different kids that it’s so remarkably hilarious. How did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work that your make your readers definitely clamor for more page after page after page......

Diane Falanga: I was definitely looking for a certain voice in each of the letters. Without knowing most of the letter writers personally - I needed to feel a real connection to the kids, their humor, sense of self, sense of family. It was important to me that I related to their voices. I found each of the kids very affable - like people I'd want to sit down with and really get to know.

E.I. How do you imagine audience specially the parents as you are writing this book? Do you try to do outlines and brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls thinking which letters comes first or last?

Diane Falanga: When the letters started to come in - I separated them in giant piles. ( My daughter was a wonderful help to me, too. She and I share such a similar sense of humor and comedic timing - that she was able to know which letters would spark my interest and make me laugh.) Those that made it into the giant piles had the "voice" qualities that I mentioned in question 4. It became very clear to me quickly how they also be categorized ... those categories became chapters from the book: Just To Let You Know, Camp Ailments, What I Really Need, Guess What, Get Me Outta Here, I Lke Camp A Lot, This Is My Supper Letter.

E.I. How many years of research did you do to gather those letters from different kids, to create this wonderful summer book? How did you overcome these challenges?

Diane Falanga: Once I had the deal from Abrams Books NY I had about 7 months in which to collect 150 letters. I read through more than 3500 to find those gems. Camps around the country posted my query for letters on their websites and in their newsletters. Friends emailed friends across the globe ... the letters just started to pour in.

E.I. What is your advice to parents whose children’s at camp for the summer? Should they write their children every day and should they tell them in their letters any funny news from home so they don’t feel they’re left out?

Diane Falanga: While I'm absolutely no expert on this topic, I will say that I learned a lot about kids away at overnight camp after collecting and reading thousands of their letters. I would advise parents to prepare their kids in advance so they know they might get a bit homesick at first. Assure them that this feeling dissipates quickly and that most kids only feel this at the very beginning of a camp session. Advise kids to take pen to paper and write home often - get those feelings out and then move on! Suggest to the kids that they Read P.S. I Hate It Here Kids' Letters From Camp before they go so they know they are not alone in their feelings and experiences. Camp is a wonderful rite of passage and many emotions are so universal.

E.I. What should parents do when letters of their kids from camp starts to come in? Should they try to simply enjoy in their minds that their kids spending the summer away at camp will all be perfectly fine and that kids will get over their summer angst away from home and their electronics?

Diane Falanga: Save and cherish those letters! Most camps don't allow any kind of electronic gadgetry - so this is your time to relish a hand-written note (not a text, IM, tweet, email, etc.)! Pack up the kids with plenty of stationery, pens and self-addressed stamped envelopes!

E.I. And finally what’s next with Diane Falanga? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your schedule promoting this book or do you have any upcoming new book in back burner?

Diane Falanga: Would love if there's an opportunity for a P.S. I Hate It Here Kids' Letters From Camp volume TWO! This project was such a joy that I'd love the chance to start over again!

Ms. Falanga, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure to have you.

Photo of Diane Falanga by Brian McConkey
VIDEO w/ Diane Falanga "P.S. I Hate It Here: Kids Letters From Camp"
To learn more about Diane Falanga, please visit her website
To purchase her book, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

Thursday, July 1, 2010

FEATURED AUTHOR: Sara Gruen - International Bestseller & Award-Winning Author of “Water for Elephants”

Sara Gruen is the author of the award-winning best-selling historical novel “Water For Elephant” which won the 2007 Book Sense of the Year award, Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Fiction award, Book browse diamond award for the Most Popular Books, Friends of American Literature Adult Fiction award and Winner of ALA/Alex's award in 2007.

The novel instantly became a Los Angeles Times Bestseller, Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Newsday Favorite Book of 2006 and USA Today Bestseller.

Water For Elephants, spent 12 weeks on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list and sold 248,000 copies while being nominated for General Fiction slot at the year's Quill Awards.

Ms. Gruen was born in Vancouver British Columbia but raised in London, Ontario. Her books deals greatly with animals, and a supporter of several charitable organizations for animals and wildlife.

She graduated with a degree in English literature at Carleton University in Ottawa. In 1999, she became a technical writer when she moves to the U.S but was laid off from her work in 2001. Instead of looking for a job, she decided to write fiction full-time. Her first two novels, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, both enjoyed moderate critical success.

“Riding Lessons” a deftly woven tale of tragic loss and redemption of a promising world-class equestrienne and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer. At eighteen she was thrown from the horse and had many injuries’. The accident leaves her struggling to recover from the hospital, being paralyzed with a broken neck, and her dreams are shattered. The freak accident ultimately destroyed her riding career and the death of her beloved beautiful Horse, Harry from a broken leg on a jump. The incidents sets off a chain of events that comes to a crisis point nearly twenty years later.

Her second novel “Flying Changes” is the much-anticipated sequel to “Riding Lessons” which continues the story of Annemarie Zimmer, as she struggles to make peace with her daughter. It is a story of a family of equestrian women in New Hampshire who are stronger than they imagine.

Her third release, “Water for Elephants” was initially turned down by her publisher at the time, Avon Books, which is a Harper Collins imprint, forcing Ms. Gruen to find another publisher. She interested Algonquin in the book, but they paid only just $55,000 for the manuscript in 2004.

The novel tells the story of a young man named Jacob Jankowski, who is about to take his final exams in veterinary medicine at Cornell University when his parents are killed in an automobile accident. Finding himself parentless and penniless, he drops out and joins a second-rate struggling circus world of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Shows on Earth--otherwise known as a train circus in 1930's America. It is a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits making one-night stands in town after endless town become his home and family.

As he learns the ropes of circus life, and how to navigate the strict and dangerous social pecking order of this strange circus life. Jacob finds himself making some unusual alliances and he befriended an elephant name Rosie, who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

Jacobs falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful, soulful, young star of the equestrian act, but married performer. Later Marlena works with Rosie, the elephant, with whom they both fall in love with the animal. It is their love of animals that pulls both the twenty-year-olds together. They have so much in common —their age, their love of animals, and their joy of life that it is hard for them not to be friends as their passion grows up.

Water for Elephants tells a story of a love between these two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford, and yearn for each other, but can't grow old together

Many of the characters and incidents in the novel are based on real people and true stories gleaned from Ms. Gruen’s extensive research into the world of traveling circuses of the 1930s.

The movie rights for Water For Elephants were optioned to the renowned producer of the spy movie “Bourne” series, Andrew R. Tennenbaum. Mr. Tennenbaum appointed award-winning screenwriter and occasional film director Richard LaGravenese to pen the script.

Mr. LaGravenese is best known as the writer of The Fisher King a comedy-drama film made in 1991, stars Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams. The film is about a radio shock-jock who tries to find redemption by helping a homeless man whose life he inadvertently shattered.

The cast of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS are the following: Christoph Waltz, an Austrian actor best known for his portrayal of SS Colonel Hans Landa in the film Inglourious Basterds, for which he won Best Supporting Actor at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010. He is also a Golden Globe winner is the second Austrian actor to receive an Oscar. Mr.Waltz will play August Rosenbluth, the abusive paranoid schizophrenic husband to Witherspoon.

Reese Witherspoon, Golden Globe winner for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical for “Walk the Line” also an Academy Award winner will be playing the character of Marlena Rosenbluth in the film. I love the dynamic, she will bring to the story.

English actor, Robert Pattinson well known for his role in Twilight films where he plays the vampire Edward Cullen will play young Jacob in the movie.

Ms. Gruen’s fourth novel is “Ape House,” which will be released September of 2010. It is a riveting, funny, compassionate, and deeply moving novel about Bonobos, a Pygmy chimpanzee who end ends up starring in a reality television show.

She sold Ape House, on the basis of a 12-page summary to Spiegel & Grau, who paid $5 million and another for unnamed book. She, her husband and three children live in Asheville, North Carolina.

Photo of Sara Gruen by Terence W. Bailey
To learn more about Sara Gruen, please visit her website
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, June 27, 2010

INTERVIEW: Linda Benson - Middle Grade YA Author of "Finding Chance" & "The Horse Jar"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Linda Benson. She grew up in Northern California on a prune ranch. Ms. Benson spend a lot of time running barefoot in the orchards, picking prunes in the summer for 25 cents a box, playing with her animals, riding her bike, and enjoying being a kid.

She always wanted to write children's books ever since second grade, but she didn't get around to it until later in life. Ms. Benson is the author of two middle grade novels: “Finding Chance” & “The Horse Jar”

Finding Chance is about the story of a lonely twelve-year-old Alice and a lonely dog named Chance. Her debut novel “The Horse Jar” is about Annie Mitchell. Annie loves horses and dreams to have a horse of her own.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Linda Benson today -- the woman behind the two middle grade YA author of “The Horse Jar” & “Finding Chance.”

Linda Benson: As a teenager, I rode my horse a lot, played the piano and guitar and fancied myself growing up to be a singer/songwriter. One of my first jobs was working at a zoo, and I’ve also started a native plant nursery, a plant rental business, and a horse brokerage, and have been a substitute teacher and elementary school librarian, among other things. Nature and animals always seem to find their way into my books because they are such a large part of who I am. Today, I still have horses, donkeys, dogs and cats, and I love to read and write.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing middle grade YA novels entirely that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Linda Benson: The reason I write for young people is that I so distinctly remember those “in-between” years - having my own distinct thoughts and ideas but having such a hard time making myself “heard.” Those formative years, when you are developing the sense of who you are in this big world, are a great source of conflict, interesting story lines, and I hope satisfying or a least hopeful resolutions.

E.I. Please tell your young readers about your novel “Finding Chance.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this book?

Linda Benson: I started Finding Chance after a move to a new area (and I have moved many times in my adult life) in which I felt like a new girl, all over again. So Alice’s feelings at the beginning of the novel – knowing no one, feeling like an outsider – were very easy for me to identify with and write. The setting of that story was sparked from magical times in my childhood, walking the creeks and back roads of the Santa Cruzmountains of California. Although Fox Creek is a fictional town, it is not too far removed from small towns sprinkled throughout the coastal mountains of California.

E.I. How do you weave so much fun of information while writing and creating the character of twelve-years-old ‘Alice’ and yet you keep them so fast-paced? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story?

Linda Benson: The characters in Finding Chance just kind of showed up during the course of writing the novel. For instance, without giving too much away, of course there would be a librarian at the library, but that particular character and plotline just developed on its own as Alice’s story unfolded. And Heron – yeah, she’s a great character, isn’t she? I think all the people we ever meet in life are all there in our minds as inspiration to draw from, and we kind of mix and match unconsciously as they show up in new and interesting combinations on the page. That is such a fun part of the creative process.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably captivating and really fun characters: Alice, Chance, Heron, the Librarian and Alice mother that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

Linda Benson: The Horse Jar was actually the first novel that I completed, although it is the second one published. I have written about the long road to publication of The Horse Jar here: It was a storyline that came to me pretty much in its entirety, although the ending was tweaked a bit in final drafts. The Horse Jar was the one I wrote following the advice writers hear so often: “write what you know.” Well, I certainly knew about growing up as a young girl living and breathing horses. And I knew about buying and selling horses, because I’ve done that also. Many of the characters and situations in that novel were easy to write because they were so close to home.

E.I. And finally what’s next with Linda Benson? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book?

Linda Benson: I have two new manuscripts that I am excited about - one is a horse story set in the future, and the other is a contemporary story about a boy and girl whose paths cross because of a lost dog. Hopefully you will be hearing more about them soon.

E.I. Ms. Benson, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers all over the world?

Linda Benson: Advice for aspiring writers. Read, read, and read some more. Join a critique group, and keep seeking to perfect your craft. There is a lot of information out there about how to become published. Find it and study it. But most importantly - believe in yourself, and don’t give up on your dreams.

Photo of Linda Benson courtesy of her daughter
To learn more about Linda Benson, please visit her website
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON
Linda Benson's BLOG
Linda Benson on Twitter

Saturday, June 26, 2010

INTERVIEW: Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve - Screenwriter, TV & Film Producer and Award-Winning Author of "Drizzle"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Kathleen De Marco Van Cleve. She is the author of children's book “Drizzle.” She's a screenwriter and also wrote 2 adult fiction novels: Cranberry Queen which was a Book Sense 2001 pick, originally optioned by Miramax Films, and The Difference Between You and Me 2003, both published by Miramax Books.

While living in New York, Ms. Van Cleve was working as a film producer and writing partner for many years to Emmy award-winning actor and Golden globe nominee, John Leguizamo. Mr. Lequizamo is famous for his role "Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec" with Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar with Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipe.

Ms. DeMarco Van Cleve was co-writing with Lequizamo in films such as The Secret Life of Jesse Sanchez, under option to Universal Films in Rebel Films, a NY-based production company.

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve has also been the producers of numerous films, among them are: Undefeated, Pinero and Joe the King which won the 1999 Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, Big Shorty an animated TV series under option to Nickelodeon, Sexabolix; a Love Story HBO Films and others.

She had been very active as a Development Executive, seeing through such films as The Story of O, Before He Wakes, King of the Jungle, Murder at 75 Birch Street, The Beast based on the novel by Peter Benchley and others. For several films she managed the development process, she wrote the treatment that sold the project to the studio or network.

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve holds her B.S. and B.A. in Creative Writing from Penn University where she graduated in 1988. She also has dual degree from the Wharton School College of Arts & Sciences.

She has been a consultant for NYU's Tisch School of the Arts M.F.A. dramatic writing program as well as for Tisch's undergraduate dramatic writing candidates. Ms. DeMarco Van Cleve, also teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her book for younger readers, “Drizzle” is about an eleven-year-old girl named Polly Peabody, who lives at her family’s world-famous magical rhubarb farm.

Jennifer Long, a girl from Polly's class does not like her and thinks that everything about her is weird, except her brother Freddy, who she has a crush on. Polly has literally no friends at school but she has a best friend named Harry, which is a rhubarb plant on her family’s unusual Midwestern rhubarb farm. Polly and Harry communicate. Harry nods when he agrees with her and swats her with his leaves when he is angry and Polly can talk with the other bugs.

The most magical thing is every single Monday, at exactly 1:00 p.m. it rains. Also, some of their plants in their rhubarb farm taste like chocolate. One day, her Aunt Edith, shows Polly a secret room with bugs that fly in patterns and spells out words.

Until suddenly the weekly rain stops and plants starts to die. Polly’s seventeen year old brother, Freddie has a mysterious illness. Now, Polly has to make it starts raining again before it’s too late for her brother’s life and the survival of all of the plants and her family’s future.

Polly's gradual discovery of her own strange power and the joy she takes in her ability to help those she loves best is both entertaining and gratifying. Does Polly have the power to save them? Let's find out.....“Drizzle” is a fantasy book that will take 5th through 8th graders on a magical adventure.

Ms. DeMarco Van Cleve leaves in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her family.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve today -- the woman behind the screenplay, film producer and award-winning author of 2 adult fiction novels and author of the children book “Drizzle”?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: Ah, self-reflection. As a pre-teen, I was a geek with thick glasses and braces who was always, literally always, reading. As a teen, I had contacts and straightened teeth and discovered boys - well rather, they discovered me. (I always knew they were around.) I still read a lot, but I was definitely distracted.

Besides reading, the one thing that "defined" me (and other members of my hometown) growing up was blueberries. Specifically, the fact that I grew up in Hammonton, NJ, the "blueberry capital of the world." (No joke.) My family owned a blueberry (and cranberry) farm in the Pine Barrens of NJ, and my mother insisted that my three siblings and myself would work there every single summer until we were 18. By 5, we were picking blueberries in the field; by 12, we were "packing" blueberries in the shed (meaning that we would put the cellophane on top of the cardboard pints for packaging... now it's all been replaced with plastic containers). We would also watch the cranberry harvest in the fall - my mother would have made us work there too, but we had school.

My childhood spent on our family farm has become a major theme in all my writing. Adding to this was that our farm was in NJ, which everyone - outside of people from my southern area of the state - sees as either a massive turnpike or toxic waste dump. From my perspective, it is neither, and the beauty of my hometown's farms was something I wanted to extol in my writing.

Fun Facts: (1) I was New Jersey's 1982 Blueberry Queen. (2) I never liked blueberries growing up, and preferred to eat at McDonalds. (3) I'm an avid Philadelphia sports team fan, particularly the Philadelphia Eagles, and am crushed when my oldest son - age six - tells me he wants to root for the Dallas Cowboys.

One more thing: I started teaching creative writing at the age of 40, and besides becoming a parent, it has been the most rewarding, delightful, fun experience in my life.

Oops. One final thing. I love being a wife and mom. Love it more than I could ever possibly have imagined.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing screenplay and children’s book that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: Well, first of all, I'm not really good at anything else, which kind of limits my chances of success in other fields. More importantly, there isn't anything I DON'T find enchanting about writing and storytelling. What other profession allows one to imagine literally anything and put it in narrative form? In other words, I consider myself the luckiest woman in the world that at 44, I can spend my days dreaming up chocolate rhubarb and spelling dragonflies and actually make an (admittedly small) living from it. Screenwriting to me is just another venue to communicate one's imagination - one that has its own "rules", for sure, but none that inhibit the fundamentals of telling a good story.

E.I. Please tell your young readers about your book “Drizzle.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this book?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: Drizzle tells the story of eleven year-old Polly Peabody, who lives on her family's famous (and magical) rhubarb farm. Some of the rhubarb tastes like chocolate, diamonds pop out of the ground, and it rains every Monday at one o'clock... until the one Monday when it doesn't rain, and Polly has to figure out what has happened.

My favorite aspect of Drizzle is the combination of "real" and "magic." I was always drawn to stories like Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – when the “real” world (Zuckerman’s farm, London) mixed with the “magic” world (talking pigs and spiders, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and the Oompa Loompas). This is exactly what I was going for with Drizzle – to create a very real world for an eleven year old girl, complete with school bullies and mean older sisters, mixed with a completely plausible magic world – a farm with communicating plants and enchanted lakes, etc.

I also love the “supporting” characters of Drizzle: Beatrice, Owen, Ophelia – they were so fun to write. And I love writing about the joy of being outside, and the idea that “nature does nothing in vain” – that we are, and should be, powerless against nature.

E.I. How do you weave so much information while writing and creating the character ‘Polly Peabody’ and yet you keep her so fast-paced and interesting? Did you work her out in advance, or did she evolve as you wrote the story?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: What a kind thing to say! Thank you! Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Drizzle was detailing the “magic” nature of the farm while pushing the plot along. Since this is a first person present novel, all of this had to be expressed via Polly – and it was very, very, very (did I say very?) difficult. Her voice was always clear to me – but the explication of the farm’s magic was only achieved through thousands of revisions and the very close attention of my editor.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably captivating and really fun characters: Polly, Freddie, Patricia, Aunt Edith, Jennifer Jong, Christina, George, Beatrice and Ophelia that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: Thank you again. (I will always do interviews for you!) I have to admit I didn’t spend a lot of time wondering what the readers would “accept” – it was more about making the people that existed so clearly in my mind come alive on the page. I assumed that if I could capture even a fraction of, say, Jennifer Jong’s meanness or Ophelia’s whimsy, it would work.

Re: creative process. I’m still figuring this out, actually, but I’ve begun to realize that I’m the kind of writer who needs to just sit at a computer and write, with perhaps only an idea or a character in mind, and then see what happens as I type. It’s only after a complete first draft that I discover the “theme” of the story and then I can go back in and revise to make it crafted. It’s the hardest part for me, but also the most exciting. I watched Elizabeth Gilbert (author of EAT PRAY LOVE) talk once about how the writer’s job is showing up (i.e., getting in the chair) and the “muse’s” job is to appear and help out. (I’m paraphrasing here.) I think I know what she was getting at – in that I can’t control what happens in that first spark of connection between my creative brain and the page. I just start to type, and the story and characters unfold, and then, after I print out the pages and can go back and read what’s there, then the craft part of writing takes over. But the most important thing is to show up: to sit in the chair.

E.I. How did you pull in the reader into Polly’s life, living her life hour after hour as she deals with the magical events in the farm and the illness of Freddie that follows?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: I have two brothers whom I absolutely adore. I also was lucky enough to grow up on a farm that I loved. It was relatively easy – but emotionally painful – to envision a situation where my brothers were sick and I wanted to do something to make them healthy, just as it was easy/painful to imagine our farm withering without rain.

E.I. How do you imagine audience as you are writing? Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: Again – and perhaps I should rethink this – but I don’t really think about the audience as I’m writing, except in the more general “will anyone like this? What am I doing? Perhaps I should be an accountant?” kind of way. The one thing I try to do is read as many middle grade and young adult books as I can. This is my way, I think, of learning what is out there and being well received by kids. For example, I read Gennifer Cholodenko’s AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS about three thousand times while writing Drizzle, since it was also a first person present novel. It is also a master class in writing for middle graders. I tried to examine why it was that Moose Flanagan was such a delightful protagonist, and then incorporate some of that with Polly. I’d also read other masterpieces: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and THE GIVER and BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA and THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN (for only a few examples) just to give me that “running start” to going back and trying to improve Polly’s story.

I should also add that I am, fundamentally, a reader. Most of the time, I don’t read as a writer –I read as the little bespectacled geeky girl I was, gulping books like water. That’s the kind of person I’m trying to reach when I write my own stuff.

I don’t have sheets of newsprint… but I do have index cards taped up all over, with random sections/selections from novels I like. Even when I’m not in the middle of a project, I like to read (and reread) these quotes … they always make me smile in awe, and admiration.

E.I. How many years of research did you do pertaining to the creation of a magical farm which is a totally different enchanted world run by plants and bugs? How did you overcome these challenges?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: I had to do a lot of research about rhubarb, since I knew basically nothing about that plant. I wrote Drizzle over three and a half years, and certainly I spent a lot of that time discovering specific rhubarb traits like the oxyalic acid on rhubarb leaves and how it can be used to combat the CFC’s in the ozone. I also did a lot of research about genetics and the water cycle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, since those are all important threads in the novel. But writing about growing up on a farm, perse, was not that difficult: there are many autobiographical details in Rupert’s Rhubarb Farm that come from my childhood spent on a blueberry and cranberry farm. Plus, as I said earlier, I really do think our real farm was “magical” even though we didn’t have the magic bugs or talking plants.

E.I. Do you take the view from the perspective of a woman who grew up in a farm, or do you see yourself as an objective observer, while writing “Drizzle”?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: Absolutely, 100% the former. I think it’s obvious (!) from these answers that I was anything but an objective observer about Polly, her family’s farm, or anything else she encounters in her story.

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “Drizzle” is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans? And why?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: If it didn’t give away the ending, I’d read the seven paragraphs of the novel, since I love what it says about Polly’s growth and her state of mind at the end of her story. Besides the last line of the novel (which I can’t reveal here!), I do have three other favorite lines:

p. 263
“But parents are just people. Tall third graders. It’s hard to find balance between your own stuff and your children – and the whole time you just watch as they grow up and you have to accept that they’re a whole different person than you are. It’s hard. You plant watermelons, out grows broccoli.”

p. 352“I’ve learned something during this process. No one, absolutely no one, suspects than an eleven-year-old girl is capable of anything.”

p. 249 and again on p. 357
“There’s a feeling you get when you achieve something all by yourself that will bring you more peace and contentment than anything money or love can provide. It is at that moment when you can look around and say “I did it” – and know no one can take it away from you.”

E.I. If you were allowed total control of the Hollywood version of “Drizzle” who would be in it? And in your opinion who do you think should direct?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: I love this question!

Directors: Peter Weir, Robert Zemeckis, Guillermo Del Toro, David Yates, Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne, Mo Ogrodnik, Tim Burton, Stephen Spielberg (oh please, please, please!).

Actors: I think Polly (and her peers) would be portrayed by young actors new on the scene… but re: adult roles…
Aunt Edith: Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Helen Mirren
Owen: Owen Wilson (who was always the guy I pictured as I wrote him)
Ophelia: Emma Thompson, Diane Keaton,
Christina: Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock,

E.I. And finally what’s next with Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: I am having a terrific time with my new story… about a 12 (perhaps 11?) year old boy named Ike, who desperately wants to be on his town’s summer basketball team, but alas, Ike is very short for his age. He is also a gifted piano player, although his teacher… the very sweet-seeming Mrs. Johnson, may also be a very petty, very sinister, witch. The working title is SMALL TOWN GODS, but that may change.

E.I. Ms. DeMarco Van Cleve, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve: At the risk of telling them something they already know: read! Read anything you can. Also eat cupcakes. And finally, take notes: I’m still learning how to do this with consistency, but it’s impossible to remember every detail that you may consider a potential story idea/character trait, etc.

To learn more about Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve, please visit her website
Photo of Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve, by Emory Van Cleve
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

Monday, June 21, 2010

FEATURED AUTHOR: Brian Selznick - New York Time Bestselling & Award-Winning Author of “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

Brian Selznick, born in July 14th, 1966 in Brunswick, New Jersey is an author and an illustrator of children’s books and young adult books. He is the author of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret".

He graduated at The Rhode Island School of Design and worked at Eeyore’s Books for Children in Manhattan, after graduation where he learned all about children’s books from his boss Steve Geck who is now an editor of children’s books at Greenwillow.

His grandfather was a first cousin of David O. Selznick an American film producer. He is best known for producing Gone with the Wind.

Brian Selznick first book, The Houdini Box, about a boy who almost meets the great magician which Mr. Selznick also illustrated, was published in 1991 while he was still working at Eeyore’s bookstore. The book, won the Texas Bluebonnet Award and the Rhode Island Children’s Book Awards for. His other books are: The Boy of a Thousand Faces, but The Invention of Hugo Cabret is by far the longest and most involved book he’ve ever worked on. His obsessions with old French movies, clockworks, mechanical figures and the filmmaker Georges Méliès inspired him to write the book, “Hugo.”

The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been awarded the 2008 Caldecott medal. It also was named a finalist for the 2007 National Book Awards in the Young People's Literature and won the Quill Award in the Children's Chapter/Middle Grade category. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which has been a New York Times #1 Bestseller, was named one of the New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Books of the Year.

Academy award-winning director, Martin Scorsese’s will be making his first children’s movie base on "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." But just how child-friendly this movie will be is entirely up to Mr. Scorsese’s. He admits, he does not abide by any rules of genre, let alone his own. The media has said that Martin Scorsese, suggests that he’ll make the leap to 3D with The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It’ll be the first time for the Oscar winning director, Martin Scorsese will directly aimed and marketed towards young kids movie.

The historical fiction book, which is set in 1930’s Paris tells the story of a 12 year old orphan, clock keeper, Hugo who is also a thief. The boy lives in the walls of a Parisian train station. Suddenly Hugo’s lives interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station. Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

The cast would be Academy award-winning actor, Ben Kingsley is being cast Georges Melies, a famous silent filmmaker with a pivotal role in the story. English actor, comedian, and writer, Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his portrayal of three unorthodox fictitious characters, Ali G, Borat and Brüno step into the role of the station inspector.

As for the two lead children,, Chloe Moretz from the movie Kick-Ass, will play Isabelle and English child actor, Asa Butterfield known for his role “Nanny McPhee” a movie with Emma Thompson, will be playing the role of Hugo.

Brian Selznick also illustrated many books for children, including Frindle by Andrew Clements which won Christopher Award. The Doll People which is a trilogy by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan and The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, received a 2001 Caldecott Honor.

Mr. Selznick have one sister who is a teacher, and a brother who is a brain surgeon. He also have five nephews and one niece. Brian Selznick divides his time between Brooklyn, New York, and San Diego, California.

To learn more about Brian Selznick, please visit his website
To purchase his books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Nobles

Sunday, June 20, 2010

UPCOMING INTERVIEW: Thomas Cobb - Award-Winning Author of "Crazy Heart"

Novelist, Thomas Cobb was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of Crazy Heart, a novel, Acts of Contrition, a collection of short stories that won the 2002 George Garrett Fiction Prize and Shavetail.

Mr. Cobb, a former-country-music-covering-journalist-from-Arizona turned writing-professor/author-living-in-Rhode Island with his wife. He now teaches English and creative writing at RIC, a public college in Providence where enrollment in his graduate fiction-writing workshop has blossomed since the film Crazy Heart release.

The novel, originally published in 1987, and it was Mr. Cobb’s doctoral dissertation. Mr. Cobb's adviser on the project: famed postmodernist author Donald Barthelme. The book only sold 11,000 copies before being pulled from print after initial buzz died down. Now, it's being reissued in paperback by publisher HarperCollins.

CRAZY HEART is a 2009 musical-drama film starring Jeff Bridges, which earned him his first Academy Award for Best Actor, Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

Supporting roles are played by Golden Globe award-winning Irish actor, Colin Farrell, Academy award-winning & four times Golden Globe winning actor Robert Duvall, with child actor Jack Nation. Bridges, Farrell, and Mr. Duvall also sing in the film. The film was written and directed by Scott Cooper.

In the movie, Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, the protagonist of "Crazy Heart," A boozy, down-and-out country music singer-songwriter past-his-prime country star saddled with the indignity of playing backwater bowling alleys and opening for his former side man played by Collin Farrell.

He tries to turn his life around after beginning a relationship with a young journalist named Jean, portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The film's main character is based on a combination of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard. The media talk about Mr. Cooper initially wanted to do a biopic on Haggard but found the rights to his life story were too difficult to obtain. The novel on which the film was based was actually inspired by country singer Hank Thompson. The film has been described by critics as "half Urban Cowboy, half The Wrestler.

Thomas Cobb other book, Shavetail, was a winner of 2009 Spur Award for Best Western Long Novel. The novel is set in the desert of the Arizona territories in 1871. Shavetail is the story of Private Ned Thorne, a seventeen-year-old boy from Connecticut who has lied about his age to join the army.

On the run because of a shameful past, Ned is desperate to prove his worth—to his superiors, his family, and most of all, to himself. He is young and troubled; Ned is as stubborn as a shavetail, the soldiers’ term for a willful, untrained mule. After a band of Apaches attacks a nearby ranch, killing two men and, perhaps, kidnapping a woman,

Ned’s superiors, also seeking to atone for their mistakes, lead Ned and the rest of his company on a near suicidal mission through a particularly menacing stretch of desert and into Mexico in hopes of saving the woman’s life.

Photo of Mr. Thomas Cobb by Alberto E. Rodriguez
To learn more about Thomas Cobb, please visit his website
To purchase his books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

Thursday, June 17, 2010

UPCOMING INTERVIEW: Barbie Latza Nadeau - Journalist for Newsweek, CNN & Author of Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox

Barbie Latza Nadeau is an American journalist and the author of Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox. Ms. Knox , is the American university exchange student convicted of the murder of her roommate, an English exchange student, Meredith Kercher, by Italian criminal courts in December 2009.

Amanda Knox a fresh-faced honor student from Seattle who met anyone’s definition of an all-American girl—attractive, athletic, smart, hard-working, adventure some, in love with languages and travel is known as Foxy Knoxy, has proclaimed her innocence ahead of her trial for the murder of her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy.

The murder took place in Perugia, Italy, where both girls were studying abroad. The case, with its suggestions of ritual sexual violence, and Knox’s bizarre behavior throughout the investigation and trial transfixed the Italian media.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, a Rome-based Daily Beast senior writer cultivated personal relationships with the key figures in both the prosecution and the defense – describes how the Knox family’s heavy-handed efforts to control media coverage distorted the facts, inflamed an American audience, and painted an offensive, inaccurate picture of Italy’s justice system. An eye-opener for any parent considering sending a child away to study, Angel Face reveals what really went on in this incomprehensible crime.

Barbie Latza Nadeau reports for a variety of publications: Newsweek, The Daily Beast, CNN Traveller Magazine, Delta Sky Magazine, Budget Travel, Frommer's and Globe Pequot Press. She makes frequent broadcast appearances on BBC, NPR, NBC, CBS, FOX and Seattle's ABC affiliate KOMO TV.

Photo of Amanda Knox by Pier Paolo Cito
To learn more about Barbie Latza Nadeau, please visit her website
To purchase her book, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

INTERVIEW: Cynthia Jaynes Omololu - Author of YA Novel "Dirty Little Secrets"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Cynthia Jaynes Omololu. She was born in New Jersey, but grew up in San Diego, California. She majored in English at U.C. Santa Barbara. The best part of her college was living in Scotland for a year.

She met some amazing people in Scotland who she still consider some of her best friends all these years.

She’s the author of two YA adult books: “When It's Six O'clock in San Francisco” and her latest novel “Dirty Little Secrets.”

Dirty Little Secrets is novel that deals with compulsive hoarding and its affect on a child's life.

The book tells the story of a girl forced to make an agonizing decision in this nicely realized page-turner. Sixteen-year-old Lucy has been painfully isolated from her peers for years, refusing to let anyone near her house lest they discover the towers of garbage and heaps of mold-encrusted dishes. This is a mind-blowingly intense novel.

Ms. Omololu’s leaves in Northern California with her husband and two sons.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Cynthia Jaynes Omololu today -- the woman behind the author.

CJ Omololu: My two best friends in high school became cheerleaders and homecoming queens. I felt like I couldn’t compete with that, so I dyed my hair black and started hanging out with musicians downtown. I recently found my senior yearbook and there were two signatures in it, which didn’t bother me at the time, but now I find sort of sad.

I got my first real job as a junior in high school. It was working in City Hall in our small seaside town, doing administrative stuff. That first experience pretty much inspired me to not want to work in an office if I could help it in the future. I’ve been a lot of things (several of them office jobs) in my life before I discovered that I was actually good at something. I’ve worked for a travel agency, a weekly newspaper, a fashion designer, as a waitress and a barista before Starbucks existed. I spent my life looking for the job I have today.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing YA novels entirely that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

CJ Omololu: I love writing about a time in my own life that was full of conflict and confusion. Those years are so formative, and it’s interesting to me that the people who look like they have it together in their teens don’t necessarily do the best as adults. The stories that come to me so far have all had teenage voices, so that’s what I write. The children’s and young adult writing community is so supportive, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

E.I. Please tell your young readers about your novel “Dirty Little Secrets.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this book?

CJ Omololu: I read a magazine article about adults who had grown up in hoarded homes and that got me thinking what their childhoods must have been like. I feel that all of the characters are multi-dimensional – I made a real effort to have Lucy’s mother seem like a real person and not just a monster.

E.I. How do you weave so much information while writing and creating the character ‘Lucy Anne Thompkins’ and yet you keep her so fast-paced and interesting? Did you work her out in advance, or did she evolve as you wrote the story?

CJ Omololu: Thanks for saying that! Lucy came to me pretty fully formed, although I found out a lot about her as I worked. I try to cut anything that doesn’t add something significant to the story.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably captivating and really fun characters: Lucy, Joanna, Kaylie, Josh Lee, Sara and Phil that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

CJ Omololu: I didn’t really think about that in advance – I guess I write the book that I’d like to read. When I come up with an idea, I let it stew for a month or two. When the characters start talking to me, I know it’s time to start writing. I use a very loose, 9 step outline (I’ve got a post on how I do that on my blog) and then just start writing. Fiction for me is just the process of writing down the ‘movie’ that is going on in my head, so I start writing with the first scene and go until it ends.

E.I. How did you pull in the reader into Lucy's life, living her life hour after hour as she deals with the tremendous hardships of her mother's hoarding and the tragedy that follows.

CJ Omololu: When I started the book, I wasn’t sure what the format would be, but I realized pretty quickly that it would take place in a short period of time. I basically just followed along as she dealt with what happened.

E.I. Have you witnessed hoarding in your life, but never thought of it as a disease until you wrote this novel? I’m sure your audience felt so bad for Lucy’s life. I know that this is fiction but in reality a child should never have to go through that.

CJ Omololu: Great question, and the answer is yes. We used to joke about the mess and all the belongings without understanding that it was a disorder that actually had a name. I didn’t grow up like Lucy did, but unfortunately, many kids have. I have the emails to prove it, and each one breaks my heart. I have a lot of resources on my website, including, which is one of the best places to start for someone who has a hoarding problem in the family.

E.I. Can you explain the difference between a packrat and a compulsive hoarder?

CJ Omololu: Semantics. Hoarder is a pretty recent term for what people used to call packrats. My test for hoarding is if the person can get rid of things, either by giving them away, recycling or just putting things in the trash then they’re probably going to be okay. If they always come up with excuses as to why things could be useful to someone, then they might have a problem.

E.I. Does a hoarder spends money on lockers or additional storage space, and is filling up their car with possessions because they've run out of room in the house?

CJ Omololu: Absolutely – that is classic hoarding behavior. I know one hoarder who has purchased three homes that are now full of possessions.

E.I. Are people born compulsive hoarders, or do they become them?
CJ Omololu: There is just starting to be a lot of research on this disorder, so there isn’t a clear picture of a typical hoarder at this point. There does seem to be an element of OCD that many hoarders show early in their lives. Contrary to what it might seem, hoarding can often come from perfectionist tendencies – they don’t want to get rid of things that might be useful in the future. Hoarding does seem to get worse as people get older or have a traumatic event happen in their lives like a death or divorce.

E.I. Do hoarders tend to collect different things, or are there commonalities among hoarders?

CJ Omololu: For a disorder that has been so secretive, hoarders do tend to collect similar things. If you watch the hoarding shows you will see a lot of newspaper and magazines, books, clothes and toys (even if they don’t have kids).

E.I. Do people ever go back and read the newspapers or magazines they've saved? Can you explain what it's called churning? Which I guess one of hoarders habits?

CJ Omololu: While I can’t speak for all hoarders, I doubt that most of them go back over newspapers and magazines. They tend to save them ‘just in case’ they might need them someday. Churning is when a hoarder is trying to deal with the mess, but they are really just moving items from one location to another – not actually getting rid of anything. They may start to tackle a stack of magazines, only to realize that they might need an article in every copy and end up stacking them somewhere else.

E.I. Some people hoard animals. Is that related to compulsive hoarding? Some people will say, "A stray came to my door, how could I turn it away?" It's the same kind of thing -- they think," Everything is important.

CJ Omololu: There is a similar disorder called animal hoarding where people collect dogs, cats and other pets, but I didn’t include that aspect of hoarding in my book. Hoarders tend to put an abnormal amount of emotional attachment to things, and animal hoarders do this to pets. Even though they may have many more animals than is safe or sanitary, they can’t part with any of them, even if they know they are going to good homes. I foster kittens for our local animal shelter. Every year we have about 20 kittens come through our house (in twos and threes) and each and every one is special, but when it’s time, we give them back to the shelter so that they can find their ‘forever’ homes.

E.I. What are some of the factors that can lead to someone becoming a hoarder? Are some people predisposed to collect things? Men vs. women, old vs. young, rich vs. poor?

CJ Omololu: Hoarding is one of the great equalizers. At this point, it does seem to affect more women than men, but we are just starting to get a better picture of the disorder. You don’t need money to be a hoarder – many hoarders love garage sales and dumpsters for their treasures.

E.I. How many years of research did you do about hoarders to make your novel realistic? How did you overcome these challenges?

CJ. Omololu: When I wrote the book back in 2008, there weren’t many TV shows on hoarding and it wasn’t talked about too much. Once I got the idea, I Googled ‘hoarding’ and found the website Children of Hoarders. Through that site, I found three women who worked very closely with me to get the details right. They would tell me stories and read parts of the book as I wrote to give me pointers. I’ve had people who grew up in situations similar to Lucy’s in my story tell me it was like I had a camera trained on their lives. That is the best possible compliment I can get.

E.I. And finally what’s next with Cynthia Jaynes Omololu? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book?

CJ Omololu: I’m just finishing a book that is very different from DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS – a bit lighter, with more romance. I felt like I needed a little break from such heavy subjects. I do have some more “issue” books waiting to be written, so I’ll probably come back to writing important issues soon. People can watch the blog at for updates and news.

E.I. Ms. Omololu, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

CJ Omololu: Thank you! It’s been great. People told me in high school that I was a good writer, but I really didn’t pay attention and I was well into adulthood before it even occurred to me to write books. If you love writing, keep at it and don’t be afraid to share your work with other writers. Almost every writer has several ‘practice’ books in a drawer somewhere (and those who don’t, we don’t talk to) so don’t give up if your first novel isn’t perfect. It’s a long learning curve, but the rewards are awesome.

Photo of Cynthia Jaynes Omololu courtesy of the author.
To learn more about Cynthia Jaynes Omololu, please visit her website
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble
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