Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Author Interview: Robin Herrera

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Robin!

Congrats on your Middle Grade debut, Hope Is A Ferris Wheel. It is a terrific book.

Here is a synopsis:

Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future. With an unforgettable voice with a lot of heart, Hope Is a Ferris Wheel is the story of a young girl who learns to accept her family and herself while trying to make sense of the world around her.

Star is such a likeable character and, yet, has so many obstacles in her way. Overall, she has this shining, hopeful spirit that had me cheering for her from the start. I also really liked that you used first person perspective for this particular story. Was it always written in first person or did you play around with other perspectives?

I believe I wrote the first chapter in third-person when I started. It never quite took off for me – even in third-person, there should be a voice there. But there wasn’t. It was just blah and bland.

However, I then wrote Star’s first set of Vocabulary sentences using first-person (because she was the one writing them, natch) and her voice came through bright and clear. I decided to write the rest of the manuscript in first-person and haven’t changed it since.

I like how Eddie both challenges Star and sees her strength. He also points to her character flaw a few times. Another author might have chosen one of her family members to point out Star’s stubbornness but I like that you have a character a bit further outside herself that pushes her to grow. Was this your intention?

That was intentional, yes! I’m of the belief that the people closest to you (like your
family) sometimes have glaring blind spots about your flaws. So Eddie was the perfect
person to do that, especially because Star sees him as very flawed herself. It helps that Eddie’s incredibly blunt, even to Langston.

Plus, I think it shows that Eddie actually really likes Star. He’s the only person in the book, I believe, who sees this stubbornness in her. He’s very observant. I wanted that to come across.

The way poetry is weaved throughout the book shows the earnestness of the age group to learn and to absorb beautiful material. As a creative writing teacher of 8-12 year olds, the awe and intrigue the kids had in the poems felt very accurate. Were you an early poetry lover? Did you ever make up a club yourself?

The poetry I loved as a kid was the silly poetry. Shel Silverstein and Judith Viorst were
my favorites. I also listened to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel as a kid, who I think are very

The only club I belonged in during Elementary School was, oddly enough, the Stamp
Club. It sounds boring, but I had a lot of fun. We went to a stamp convention once and I
bought some Disney stamps from another country. My favorite stamp was a 3-D stamp
from I think Abu Dhabi? Actually, I just googled it, and they were from Bhutan. But they
were 3-D!

That does NOT sound boring. The relationship between Winter and Star is probably my favorite part of the book. I noticed that the book is dedicated to your sister. Did you do any free-writing from Winter’s perspective? As I was reading, I felt like I could have read a YA book from her point of view simultaneously. She felt as three-dimensional to me as Star.

I never did any free-writing for Winter, though I got a lot of comments on early drafts of
the book that it seemed to center around her too much, so I had to dial that down for the
final drafts. But I felt like I knew Winter very well, though she’s not all that similar to my sister.
The thread I hung onto while writing scenes between Star and Winter was the memory
of looking up to my older sister when I was Star’s age. My sister was the coolest person
I knew. She had the most awesome clothes. Her hair was amazing. She was funny and
witty and smart. So I kept that filter on Star when I wrote, and I’m really glad that so
many people have commented on their relationship. I love those two!

Me too! Anything else you would like us to know about you or your book?

It’s funny! I think that’s something that hasn’t been advertised quite as much, but it’s not
all drama and family secrets and trailer parks. There’s some very funny stuff in there.

And now our “3 for 3” book-related questions:

1. What were three of your favorite books as a child/teen?
 I Am Regina by Sally M Keehn, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

2. What three books have you read recently that surprised you?  
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (because I didn’t like it as a child), Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (because even though no one dies, it made me weep ugly tears), and Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, by Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen. Okay, so I read that last one for work, but it still surprised me! Both in plot and art. Dan’s art is fantastic, and I think it’s Jamie’s best work yet.

3. What are three books that influence(d) your writing?  
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban, The Wayside School Series by Louis Sachar, and probably (oddly enough) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.


Robin Herrera is an aspiring cat lady living in Portland, Oregon. She has a BA in English from Mills and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In the past, she has worked as a waitress, an after-school teacher, a cashier, and an omelet flipper, but she now works as an Associate Editor for Oni Press in addition to being a writer. Hope Is a Ferris Wheel is her first book.

Thanks for reading!!!

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order a copy of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Next up: In mid-April, come check out Jen's interview with Delia Sherman, author of The Freedom Maze.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Janet's Five Hopeful Wings or Yes, Spring IS Coming

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin, $27.95)
Two unlikely soul mates, a slave and the daughter of the family who own her, grow wings and fly into an unimaginable freedom by giving voice to who they are and what they believe.

The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis (Penguin, $27.95)
Originally written in the late 1100s by Farid Ud-Din Attar. Sis adds his unique illustrations to the translation of this epic poem. Through love, faith and an arduous flight, the king is reached.

Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby (Workman, $24.95)
For those who put their heart in their cooking, Vedge is a tapestry of delicious recipes with beautiful illustration and easy to follow instructions.

A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle Books, $16.00)
Beautifully illustrated by Sylvia Long, the patience and perseverance of butterflies is simply described filling the final pages with soaring exuberance. Others in the series include A Rock is Lively and An Egg is Quiet.

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera (Abrams, $16.95)
This is a young adult book about the loss and gain of hope. To ten-year-old Star, hope comes with the release of dreams, allowing them to fly. Release date on this young adult book is March 11, 2014. (Watch for Cordelia's author interview on our blog next week!)

Janet Elfant, March 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Author Interview: Elisa Ludwig

by Jennifer Sheffield

Hi, Elisa! Congratulations on the imminent release of Pretty Sly!

Synopsis: Following the events of Pretty Crooked, Willa Fox was ordered to stay out of trouble by a juvenile court judge. But that was before her house was ransacked . . . and her mother went missing. Now Willa and her crush, Aidan, decide they must violate her probation and hit the California highway in search of her mom. When Willa and Aidan wind up as the focus of a national police chase, their journey becomes dangerously criminal. Soon Willa realizes it's easier to escape the law than the truth. And that everything she thought she knew about her mom--and her life--was wrong. (Check out the book's trailer on YouTube.)

Pretty Crooked, the first in the series, reads as a Robin Hood tale, with the twist that Willa is stealing from people in her own crowd. How would you characterize Pretty Sly?

PRETTY SLY is a kind of Bonnie and Clyde story, as Willa blankets the West Coast in search of her missing mother, with her romantic interest Aidan in tow. As a national manhunt for them heats up, a series of mishaps and circumstances force them to rely on Willa's criminal tactics for survival. So you have action, adventure, road tripping, thievery, car chases and lots of kissing. Oh yeah, and a night in a movie star's house.

How did you first come up with the idea for the series? Did you have the three-story arc in mind when you started Pretty Crooked, or did it come to you during the writing process?

The idea came about when Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit, was in the news for his criminal exploits in the Pacific Northwest. I was fascinated by the idea of how a kid could break into houses, steal planes, dodge the FBI and become a folk hero in the process. In the PRETTY CROOKED series Willa's character has more of a benevolent goal in mind (at first, just evening the social playing field in her school, but later it's to save her mother and find out the truth about her family), which makes her a bit more relatable for teens. I always had a three-story arc in mind but the specifics of that arc, the ways the mysteries unfold and some of the themes have definitely changed in the writing and editing process.

Which character(s) in the series do you find the most difficult to write, and which come the most smoothly? Does it change from book to book? Do you have particular strategies to help you along with this?

Overall, the beauty of writing a series is that once you pin down those characters in the first book, it's much easier going forward. When it came to writing the sequels, I could really concentrate on all of the plot twists (of which there are many!) because I already knew the voices and motivations of Willa, Aidan, Tre, et al. I would say Willa herself was difficult to write in the first book, especially, though it got easier with the other two. It was a fine balance to achieve—she had to be naive enough to believe that what she was doing was "right" while clever enough to pull off her heists and schemes. All the while she is gradually becoming more self-aware and more independent. Plus, she needed to be likable, even though she's a crook! There was no particular strategy per se, but it just took several revisions to hone the transformation her character goes through and her internal thought process along the way. (Sadly, my only strategy is hard work, but I'd love to know if anyone out there has any others!) As for the smoothest, I have always found Tre easy to write for some reason, even though he is technically the least like me of any character in the book. Go figure.

How do you feel about Willa and her decisions/motivations? Aside from my assumption that you have rather more impulse control than she does, in what ways do you find yourself like or unlike your protagonist?

This is certainly a high-concept book, so the onus was on me as the author to make a highly unbelievable story seem real enough that my readers will go along with me—or at least humor me! That often included giving her rationales and motivations for behavior that most of us would not agree with. So while I don't condone stealing as a solution to any problem and I think it becomes clear to readers that Willa has to pay for her mistakes, I also hope that readers see this book for what it is—a fun fantasy. As the series moves on, of course, her motivations become even deeper and more complicated. She wants to find out more about her family and who she is, and that process, though dramatized here in an extreme way, is really what growing up is about. As for me, well, I was very different from Willa in high school! I was a shy, Doc Marten wearing, poetry-writing girl who didn't really get the appeal of the popular crowd. About the only thing we have in common is our sense of humor! But maybe, just maybe, I could have been swayed by a bad boy like Aidan.

Pretty Sly takes Willa on a rather unusual tour of the West Coast, some very scenic and some not so much. How (without giving too much away) did you plan her route? I know you like traveling; have you been to the places that Willa visits along her mad journey?

This was one of the most fun aspects of planning this book, for sure. I picked their first destination somewhat randomly, but from there I looked at maps. The route actually changed a few times in revisions—it's not a straight line, as you noticed. I chose some of the places because they seemed logical, some because they seemed scenic or had dramatic potential, and others for the names! And truth be told, I have only been to Santa Barbara and that was when I was 12. I would really like to go to Carmel and the Painted Hills, though!

How is the third book in the series progressing? Have you been finding surprises as you work, or is it fitting close to a plan?

The third book is actually now in copy-edits, so it's pretty much complete. Actually, the third book surprised me quite a bit. The mysteries Willa uncovers take her to a very different place, literally and psychologically, in the final installment. I'm really excited about it, because I think it's a fitting conclusion to the series, but at the same time, it's not an obvious one.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about Pretty Sly, or about you as an author?

About Pretty Sly: I think this might be my favorite book in the series, if I'm allowed to say so! About me: I just feel really, really lucky to be doing what I love to do.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:
1. What were 3 of your favorite books from childhood/teen years?

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson: The fantasy world was so evocative... I remember this book inspiring a lot of my play.

Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball by Paul Zindel: Nobody did quirky outsider characters like Paul Zindel and I really wish people still read his books. (Also, I still think the 1970s and 1980s has the lock on the best YA book titles.)

Mom, the Wolf Man and Me by Norma Klein: Again, title! I loved all of Norma Klein's books—they always had sophisticated characters with unconventional parents, sort of the edgier Judy Blume.

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

Destroy all Cars! by Blake Nelson: I loved the voice in this book—he gets the smart, disaffected and alienated teen boy perfectly. The story isn't groundbreaking, but I was drawn right in because the characters were so believable.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: This book stunned me with its economy. She gets us so deep into these characters in so few words. Miraculous and beautiful.

Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang: I don't often read too much outside YA these days, but this hilarious and boastful memoir was a great palate cleanser. I loved all of the descriptions of food and once again, the voice was pretty spectacular.

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

The Sweet Valley High series is a big influence on Pretty Crooked, in that I wanted it to be as fun and page-turn-y as these books were for me in my childhood.

That Summer by Sarah Dessen. This was one of the first "newer" (i.e., not from my era) YA books I read when I first started thinking about writing YA, and I am continually amazed by its pitch-perfect realism. There's a reason Dessen is a perennial bestselling author—she just nails the teenage experience in the most relatable way, year after year. Maybe it's less influence and more awe.

King Dork by Frank Portman. See above. This was something else I read in that same era, about eight years ago and it made me want to write for teens. It's funny, it's smart , it's timeless and it has all the makings of a classic.

Thanks for joining us, Elisa!

Elisa Ludwig studied writing at Vassar College and Temple University, but she wanted to be a writer long before all of that. Technically since she started writing, editing and publishing The Elisa Bulletin which she printed out on a dot matrix printer and sold for ten cents a pop.

In the intervening years she has worked as a freelance writer, covering the following topics: hot dogs, insurance, cyber theft, penny-pinching, drug development, weddings, other people’s books, music, movies, restaurants, mental health issues, diets, engineering, whiskey, furniture, real estate and travel. But writing about teenagers is her favorite subject.

She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son. Her novel PRETTY SLY is the second in her PRETTY CROOKED trilogy, with the third installment coming in 2015. You can visit her online at www.elisaludwig.com.

Thanks for reading!!! Elisa Ludwig's Pretty Sly comes out next Tuesday, March 18!

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order a copy of Pretty Sly, or the first book, Pretty Crooked. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Next up: On March 25th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Robin Herrera, author of Hope is a Ferris Wheel.