After sitting on the manuscript for my first middle grade novel for over a year, I finally finished edits and sent it off for publication.
The prompting came from Katie Rose, my eleven-year-old, who seemed to have an avatar moment. We were driving home and she asked me what I was thinking about.
I replied, “an idea for a new book.”
She suddenly took on a commanding tone. “Mom, you need to publish The Dragon’s Cave. I love that book and it needs to be out in the world.”
She spoke with such conviction that I decided to follow her advice. I could re-write until I’m ninety and probably never think it’s perfect. It’s time to move it off my plate and move on to fresh projects!
I’m pleased to welcome Donna Cook, an author I met twenty years ago. We both studied writing at Knox College and you can see from her new release, Donna has put her education to good use. Her first book, The Gift of the Phoenix won 1st Place Fantasy in the North American Book Awards and Kindle Book Review Book of the Year Award Semifinalist. The Lost Branch is the newest book in the YA fantasy Lost Branch series.
The Lost Branch
A portion of ash stuck on the altar at the Rock of Light reveals a mysterious new threat.
Corren embarks on a perilous quest for the secrets of a long-extinct branch of the Order. In his absence, a menacing illness threatens the extinction of the earth faeries. But is it Nicolai’s healing they need or Corren’s powerful staff? And while Marcellus delves further into his bond with the element of water, he finds it may require more than he’s able to give.
In this intriguing continuation of Cook’s epic saga, Gift of the Phoenix, the Three discover the power of ancient secrets, new enemies, and treacherous desires. Together, they must protect their world from its most dangerous threat yet. If it isn’t already too late.
What early readers had to say about The Lost Branch:
“An intriguing new angle on a familiar world.”
“A great read!”
“I loved the book and was captivated by the characters and the story. The way you so expertly and effortlessly wove together all the story lines and points of view still has me marveling. Well done!!!”
“The Lost Branch is a compelling, original, engaging story.”
Donna Cook is an award-winning author and freelance book editor. Her epicfantasy adventure, Gift of the Phoenix, has won numerous awards, including 1st Place Fantasy in the North American Book Awards and Kindle Book Review Book of the Year Award Semifinalist. She’s an Arizona native transplanted to Boise, Idaho, where she is delighting in the change of scenery. When she’s not writing her next novel, she spends her time chasing the kids, exploring delicious eateries, and dancing with her talented husband (Salsa, baby!). She also makes a mean Navajo taco.
I am thrilled to welcome Iva Valentino here today for an interview about her middle grade book Black Cats and Ballet Slippers. I have actually had Iva in my dance class years ago, so I can attest that she really does know her dance! My ten-year-old Katie Rose and I read her book together and came up with some questions we wanted to ask:
Katie Rose: How did you get the idea for this book?
Iva: The idea for Black Cats and Ballet Slippers came about during my last year of teaching middle school science. In the book, Gemma’s science teacher, Ms. Pruett, has a really creepy classroom. The classroom has a preproom with lots of “witchy” things, such as powdered unicorn horn and other ingredients for spells. In my classroom, I also had a big preproom. My classroom was actually very nice and not creepy at all, but over time my imagination took over. I started to envision this preproom as being Ms. Pruett’s! Then, to my already existing “witch’s brew” of story ideas, I added my love of dance, which is something that I’ve done since I was a kid.
Rose-Marie: Have you ever made a false assumption about someone the way Gemma did?
Iva: When I was growing up, my family and I lived in this quiet little neighborhood. One day we got some new neighbors. I was convinced that it was one of the New Kids on the Block moving in with his parents! I thought it looked just like him. I thought that if I played my New Kids on the Block tape really loud on my boombox with my bedroom windows open, he would come over and introduce himself. Needless to say, it ended up NOT being one of the New Kids. Definitely a false assumption!
Katie Rose: Why did you choose the title Black Cats and Ballet Slippers?
Iva: The title Black Cats and Ballet Slippers just popped into my head one day! Even though Gemma tells the story through her diary, there are a lot of books out there that already have “Diary” in the title, and I wanted to do something different. Then one day… TA DA! I just knew it was the perfect fit.
Rose-Marie: What made you choose the journal style of story-telling? What did it make easier in telling your story, and what challenges did it pose?
Iva: I really wanted the story to be funny and light-hearted, even though there is some Halloween spookiness going on. I thought, what better way than in diary format? I found it very easy for Gemma to tell her story, straight out of her own head and onto paper. One of the challenges I came across with this style was near the end of the book. So much happens in such a short period of time, and sometimes it was challenging to give Gemma enough opportunities to write everything down!
Katie Rose: Why did you want to become a writer? How many books did you write before you wrote this one?
Iva: I’ve loved writing since I was a kid. I used to write short stories all of the time when I was growing up. I had so much fun creating characters and taking them on fun, crazy adventures! I wrote my first novel after I finished college. To be quite honest, I don’t think it was very good at all! However, it was great practice and I’m glad that I wrote it. It will probably never come out of the drawer. ☺
Rose-Marie: Are you working on another book now?
Iva: Yes! I’m actually working on a sequel to Black Cats and Ballet Slippers. All of the same characters will be there, along with some new ones. I’m really excited to introduce them to everyone!
Katie Rose: How long have you been writing books?
Iva: Black Cats and Ballet Slippers is my first published book! It came out a year ago, last March.
Rose-Marie: You used to teach middle grade students– how much of what appears in this book comes from your students?
Iva: Teaching kids at the middle school level is what really gave me a lot of insight into writing about kids at this age. I absolutely LOVED working with middle schoolers! They told the best jokes and made me laugh every day. However, there aren’t any students or teachers that I’ve based any of the characters off of—they are all completely original characters!
Rose-Marie: I loved the interaction between Gemma and Joey – I think you nailed the middle grade boy/girl experience there. Did you go to a dance with a boy when you were in middle school? Any awkward boy stories to share?
Iva: Haha! I love this question. I went to several dances in middle school. And—yes— they were VERY awkward. Middle school was just a very awkward time for a lot of kids! Although I wasn’t tall like Gemma, I was super skinny and always felt self-conscious. I was very shy and I think I only danced with maybe one or two boys. I definitely would have liked to have a boyfriend, but I never had one until I got to high school. I had a diary during my middle school years, and I always filled them up with stories about all of my secret crushes!
Iva Valentino lives in Arizona with her husband and their dog, Lupo. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Education. She loves living year-round in the warm desert.
Iva spent many years as a middle school teacher, where she enjoyed teaching her students all about science. She currently works as a science editor at an educational publishing company. She loves travel, yoga, and photography. There is nothing that brings her more happiness than a good dance class!
I am pleased to welcome Ruth Silver to Middle Grade Munch today. Her book is considered young adult, so my daughter didn’t read it with me this time. I did get the chance to ask Ruth a few questions…
Rose-Marie Lyttle: What was your favorite childhood book?
Ruth Silver: The Velveteen Rabbit, it’s not only a beautiful story but also quite sad. Plus I love rabbits, I used to have one in college (that I snuck into my dorm room).
Rose-Marie Lyttle: What do you like to do besides writing?
Ruth Silver:I love to read, which probably goes without saying. I also enjoy photography, video games, karaoke, traveling and just hanging out with my friends.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: Do you have any plans to write a spin-off for Aberrant?
Ruth Silver:Yes! I am currently working on an untitled project that is a prequel, spin-off. I haven’t spoken much about it, but I will say there is plenty of action and a world to explore that we’ve barely touched in the Aberrant trilogy.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: How did you come up with creating Cabal, dystopian society in Aberrant? What inspired you?
Ruth Silver:The name itself, Cabal, comes from its definition. “A small group of secret plotters,” which I felt fitting for a dystopian society. I wanted the name to signify a revolution, because Cabal is not the perfect society that the government wishes and pretends it to be. I wanted Cabal to strive for Utopian but instead of being perfect, it was something else entirely.
The inspiration itself comes from most of us striving towards perfection. I don’t think there are many people that want a world without jobs, filled with homeless people that are starving. I think it’s easy to see what’s going on in society, what’s happening now and see a glimpse of the current world in its worst. It made me want to imagine a better world and then I realized how would this perfect world be flawed?
Rose-Marie Lyttle: In few words, why should we read your book?
Ruth Silver:I believe Aberrant will appeal to readers who liked the suspense of The Hunger Games, the thrill-seeking tests of Divergent and the romance and unique abilities of Graceling.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: What was the hardest part of writing Aberrant?
Ruth Silver:The hardest part was writing the characters suffering. I know that they will get through the pain – physical or emotional – and it will make them stronger, but it’s still hard to torture your favorite character.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: Who was your favorite character to write in Aberrant?
Ruth Silver:I had the most fun with writing Olivia. She’s full of so many mixed emotions and traits that we’re always learning something about who she is. She’s not complacent. She has a mind of her own and likes to explore the world around her. She’s curious by nature and it has the tendency to get her into trouble. She’s complex, which makes her three-dimensional, but also incredibly caring and supportive of those she loves.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: Why did you decide on making Aberrant into a series?
Ruth Silver:I felt like I had a huge story to tell. Something that would span across hundreds of thousands of words. That may not seem like a lot but when sending your novel to agents and publishers, there’s a certain word count they’re looking for in new authors and in young adult/new adult titles. The only way to properly tell the story, was to turn it into a trilogy.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: How long have you been writing?
Ruth Silver:I started writing poetry and just putting my thoughts onto paper when I was in high school. I loved reading fan fiction and it wasn’t long before I started writing it. In college, I spent at least as many hours writing as I did studying and going to class. I had some friends that were supportive and there were others that thought I couldn’t do it, which made me even more determined.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: Where did the idea for Aberrant come from?
Ruth Silver:The idea of Aberrant came from both my imagination and personal experience. The story developed out of choices that we have and that each of us make. I wanted to delve into those choices and imagine a world where they weren’t given to us but expected of us.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: How are you like, or unlike, Aberrant’s protagonist, Olivia?
Ruth Silver:At eighteen, Olivia is incredibly brave. She’s thrown into this tough situation and forced to leave her family and the only home she’s ever known. I couldn’t imagine leaving those I love behind. I wouldn’t want to. So much so, that I’d probably refuse to go.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: What are you currently working on?
Ruth Silver:I’ve got several writing projects underway. Forget Me Knot (Royal Reaper 2) is in edits right now with an expected Spring 2015 release. I’ve got an untitled spin-off for Aberrant in the works, which is a prequel story. Elfinland (Orenda 2) is about half-way written. To top it off, I’m also writing steamy adult fiction under the name Ravyn Rayne, which will be available this year as well. You can find those projects on Ravyn Rayne Reads.
What if your existence was illegal?
It was supposed to be the perfect system: food, shelter, and jobs for everyone. A strive toward Utopian.
When children can no longer be conceived through natural means, a lottery is established to determine which families will conceive a child in a lab through IVF.
Eighteen year old Olivia Parker is an anomaly. She shouldn’t exist.
The government wants her dead. The rebels have their own perverted agenda. In a world filled with secrets, betrayals, and death lurking at every turn, Olivia must decide her own path and who to trust.
Adventure, mystery, and romance come together in this fast-paced Young Adult dystopian fantasy that will keep readers of all ages turning the pages. Aberrant is the first novel in the Aberrant series.
Joshua came into my room, ignoring all rules as he helped push the dresser further from the wall, knocking it to the floor allowing me more than enough room to grab the journal and go. I tossed it inside the pack and Joshua put the map inside before we stepped out of my bedroom. I glanced down the hall, not sure what I expected to see. To the right the dormitory had been hit, and a roar of smoke and fire filled the confined space. Jacqueline was gone. Hand-in-hand we ran in the opposite direction toward the staircase.
My eyes burned. Coughing, I refused to let go of his hand as we stepped outside. Drones weren’t the only things attacking Haven. Tanks rolled into town. A few soldiers jumped off, taking over the perimeter, guns drawn. I paused, gripping Joshua’s hand as we were shrouded in smoke. Just a few feet away, a soldier lifted his weapon and unleashed fury on a group of innocent people. I covered my mouth with my hand to keep from crying out when a child no older than three hit the cement. His eyes remained open as blood seeped from his head. He didn’t move. Didn’t blink. It took only a moment to realize he’d died instantly. All I could do was stand there in shock.
“We have to move,” I heard Joshua’s voice, but it didn’t register. The smoke swirled around us and gunfire erupted in every direction. He grabbed my arm. “Olivia, I need you to focus.” I nodded once, trying my best to clear the cobwebs from my mind. I couldn’t, though. I wanted to run out to the child and protect him, but it was too late. I was too late. They were here because of me, innocent blood on my hands. I felt the heat radiating from the dormitory and my eyes flashed back. “I need you here with me, Olive.”
“I am,” I insisted, knowing if I didn’t focus we’d both be dead. I spotted more soldiers – their standard issue uniform and the Cabal crest on their jacket sleeve told me all I needed to know. The government had come looking for us. “Which way?” I couldn’t see the exit. With the smoke enveloping us and the fear coursing through my veins, I forgot the direction we’d come from.
About the Author
Ruth Silver is the best-selling author of the Aberrant trilogy. With a passion for writing and a love of story-telling, Ruth is actively writing YA fiction under her own name and adult romance novels under Ravyn Rayne. Her interests also include traveling, reading, and photography. Her favorite vacation destination is Australia. Ruth currently resides in Plainfield, Illinois. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and her blogs Write Away Bliss and Ravyn Rayne Reads.
My nine-year-old, Katie Rose, and I recently read The Time of the Fireflies by award-winning author Kimberley Griffiths Little. It’s a lush, rich story set in the Louisiana bayou about a girl who shifts through time with the help of a swarm fireflies to uncover the mystery behind a family curse. We liked the book so well we connected with the author to ask her a few questions about it.
Katie Rose: What genre is The Time of the Fireflies? Mystery? Literary Fiction? Fantasy?
Kimberley Griffiths Little:Actually, this book issort of a mash-up of time-slipping, mystery, family drama, and magical realism. I tend to stay away from calling it a true fantasy because the story is set in the contemporary real world with real people (not witches or ghosts or “creatures”) and a few real-life problems the characters are dealing with. When we think of fantasy we usually think of an entirely new world the author has created with a set of magic rules.
But I think everybody loves a bit of magical realism and time-slipping! 🙂
Rose-Marie Lyttle: The setting is such an integral part of the book. Do you draw your knowledge of Bayou Teche from personal experience?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Yes, I’ve been to the Bayou Techeand dozens of small towns along the bayous and swamps of Louisiana many, many times. It’s a spectacular, mystical place with herons, egrets, owls, and raccoons and Spanish Moss dripping from gorgeous cypress trees. Louisiana has practically become a second home to me. I’ve also taken MANY boat rides in the swamps and seen dozens of alligators, even baby alligators on the banks. Here’s a picture:
Katie Rose: Is the Island of Dolls a real place?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Yes, there is an Island of the Dolls south of Mexico City. It’s a
VERY CREEPY place, much creepier than The Time of the Fireflies. People who visit the Island say the dolls are possessed and sometimes blink their eyes and whisper to each other at night.Eeek!
Rose-Marie Lyttle: I was a little nervous when Katie Rose and I started reading that the book might be too scary for her. There is something inherently terrifying about possessed dolls. Did you have to tone it down to make it readable for middle-grade?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: I worried that it might be too terrifying, but I had my audience in mind as I wrote it (speaking as a childhood doll lover) and knew where to draw the line. My editor didn’t have me tone anything down, but I worked on those scenes with the doll *coming alive* many times to get the tone right. I also wanted the story to include redemption and love so as not to leave those scenes with only negative connotations. Love and forgiveness and redemption are much more powerful than greed and selfishness.
Katie Rose: Do you have other books that I might like?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Of course! 🙂 I’ve written three other MG novels set in Bayou Bridge with other characters from the town. All 4 books have fun little connections between the characters and past events so readers love meeting the four different girls and going more deeply into their stories and mysteries and families.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: I loved the part with the Cajun traiteur. Have you ever seen a traiteur yourself?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Yes, I’ve met several traiteurs, actually. On one of my research trips I did a 2-week road trip with a very good friend of mine who grew up in the South and we met lots of wonderful people who knew traiteursand helped set up times for us to meet them personally in their homes. Everyone we met was very friendly and generous. I loved it.
There is a wonderful DVD about the Cajun traiteurs called Good for What Ails You, a documentary filmed by some New Orleans filmmakers. There are several traiteurs in the video who talk about their healing abilitiesand knowledge. It’s fascinating. http://coteblanche.com/good-for-what-ails-you
Rose-Marie Lyttle:The Time of the Fireflies incorporates elements of magic (time slipping, possessed doll, etc). I assume you were drawing on Louisiana Voodoo, but I also know you live in New Mexico and I thought I recognized the flavor of the “magic realism” of Spanish-American fiction. Where did the inspiration for incorporating magic into this book come from?
Kimberley Griffiths Little:In New Mexico there are herbal folk healers called curanderos who are very similar to Cajun traiteurs, and their history goes back several hundred years as well. Traiteursand Curanderosuse a mix of herbal medicine and faith, with a bit of folklore and mysticism, or “old wives’ tales” mixed in.
When I first learned about traituers, I knew I wanted to incorporate them into my first book, The Healing Spell. It took a lot of digging into special collections and the university libraries in Louisiana to find much. If you want to know more about Miz Mirage Allemand, you must read The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets.
The traiteursI met are warm and wonderful people who very much believe their giftscome from God and they are to use those gifts to bless others. They do not accept any payment or gift in exchange for their help.
Katie Rose: Do you believe magic/magical experiences like this can really happen?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Hmm, personally I’m sort of on the fence. I’m a religious person and have faith in God so I do believe in miracles, and have seen them in my own and other’s lives. Unfortunately, there are people out in the world (we even talked to some in Louisiana, actually!) who have become involved in magic-craft or witchcraft. I tend to stay away from that because I worry that those beliefs and practices are used for mischief or to hurt, instead of to do good and help others.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: You don’t touch much on ethnicity, although I believe the issue of race had a subtle presence in the book. Was that purposeful?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: When I began drafting this story I knew that the servant girl from the turn of the century would be an African–American girl who had come from slave heritage, but I was too focused on the character’s relationships and purpose to the plot. The Time of the Firefliesisn’t a story about slavery or bigotry.
It wasn’t something I purposely stayed away from—it just didn’t fit the story. I hope it was woven into the story in such a way that readers can take away what they’d like from it. From all that I’ve read, researched, and personally experienced, the portrayal in my book is very true to life—back in 1912 and in modern day.
The Time of the Fireflies
When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family’s antique shop, she knows she’s in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy river banks, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight. The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take her on a magical journey through time, where Larissa learns secrets about her family’s tragic past — deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could harm the future of her family as she knows it. It soon becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.
With her signature lyricism, Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a thrilling tale filled with family secrets, haunting mystery, and dangerous adventure.
When I was a kid I read a book a day, scribbled stories, and dreamed about having my very own book on the library shelf. I grew up in San Francisco, but now live in an adobe house on the banks of the Rio Grande with my husband and sons. I think I’ve drunk so much Land of Enchantment water that some of that ancient magic got into my blood and now spurts out my pencil–I mean ergonomic keyboard.
Which means I adore anything old and musty with a secret story to tell.
I make way too many cookies when I’m writing or revising a new book – and I’ve got the best book trailers in the universe – for reals! Check them out here: www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com. Please find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Youtube.
Awards: Southwest Book Award, Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel, Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2013, Crystal Kite Finalist, and New Mexico Book Award Finalist.
My daughter claims she only likes the Trader Joe’s brand white cheddar shells. My husband bet her five bucks that if he made five different kinds of mac and cheese, she wouldn’t be able to identify her favorite one. We invited some other kids over for a blind taste test, with seven different brands of shell macaroni and cheese. The kids rated them on a scale of 1-10.
The order below is how the test taste came out, with Annie’s Creamy Deluxe taking the win. My daughter’s came in second to last, but she did rank it as her highest, so she won the bet!
I took my kids to see Colossal Cave over the holiday, which gave me a chance to do a little hands-on research for my current wip The Dragon’s Cave. The cave has been open to the public since the 1800’s, which means it has not been as carefully controlled as Karchner Caverns. At Colossal Cave, there are stones that have been worn smooth from touch. It makes for a great experience for kids, complete with the tale of outlaws and hidden treasure.
The cave I imagine in The Dragon’s Cave is colored with gems in blue, black and green, while this one is oranges and reds. You can see some of the beautiful natural architecture in this photo: