Monday, July 29, 2013

Keeper of Wonder: Interview with Karen Jensen

(And the winners of last week's T-shirt giveaway are Lindsey L., Jen Malone, Vickie Weavil, & Akossiwa Ketoglo! - Emails coming  your way)

I'm so pleased to introduce you to Karen Jensen, one of the staff members at! I've followed Karen on her Twitter account, @tlt16, for a while now and knew I wanted to pick her brain when I came up with the idea for this interview series. Best part is, she said YES! So here we go, ladies and gentlemen, the Keeper of Wonder series, inaugural interview.

So you’re a librarian, how’d that happen?

I have been a teen services librarian for 20 years this year, at 4 different libraries and now in 2 states.  I began working at my local library while in college working on my undergrad degree and just found myself at home.

Tell us about your library?

My current library is a branch of the Grand Prairie Library System in Grand Prairie, Texas.  We serve a diverse community of about 170,000 people.  This is my first time working at a branch and it is a different experience for me because we have a smaller space and budget to work with, which presents unique challenges.  It is a very nice building, built in the last 12 years.

What was the most recent book request?

We are getting a lot of requests for graphic novels from middle grade and teen readers.  And because I have a poster for the N.E.R.D.S. series up on my endcap I get a lot of requests for that.  And of course Divergent by Veronica Roth is really popular right now. 

What was your most recent book suggestion to a patron?

My go to suggestions right now are the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry and Hourglass by Myra McEntire, unless my RA interview indicates something else is called for.

What was your most recent book suggestion to a friend?

In addition to the books above, I am telling everyone to read County by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, which comes out in the fall.  It is such an inspiring read, perhaps this year's Wonder.  For older teens I highly recommend Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez because she captures the voice of a depressed and scared teenage girl dealing with grief and graduating from high school perfectly.

If you could sit down to your favorite beverage with any current kidlit author, who would it be? And why?

Hands down A. S. King because she is so intelligent and amazing and advocating for a lot of things that I am also concerned about.  She doesn't dumb down her work for teens, but speaks to the heart of who they are and what their experiences are in really creative and meaningful ways. (oooh, me too. I love her writing and she seems so invested in making a difference in the world.)

What book do you wish you had in your library but don’t? (this can be something written or something you’ve never seen)

This is a really hard question because as the person who buys for my collection, I pretty much have what I want and think we should have - except we don't have enough space.  So instead of advocating for a book, I would really advocate for more space so I could have more books.

What’s the biggest librarian stereotype? How do you fit snugly within it? What makes you bust wholly out of it?

The biggest librarian stereotype is probably that we are quiet.  The truth is, if you are incredibly loud and disruptive, I will sometimes shush you.  Ironically, I am a very loud person.  I don't just mean loud in personality, which some people might say I am, but my volume control does not go very low.  And I am very talkative, I do love to tell a good story.

Five favorite books of the past five years.

This may possibly be the hardest question ever. (I know, don't flog me :0)) There are a lot of good books out there, and I read A LOT.  I guess I would say the Rot & Ruin series, Ask the Passengers by A. S. King, Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater and oh - wait, that is five.  Darn.  I had more.

Thanks for stopping by, Karen!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reading As A Writer - When Did that Happen?

I suppose it was inevitable. You spend so much time learning a craft, refining, expanding, that at some point you must look for new and stronger teachers.

In my case, I've gone from my fledgling words, to on-line forums, to an in-life writing class (or two or three), to tentative chapter swaps, to full novel critiques, to beta reads from strangers and students. Years of this, in case you're wondering.

Then my book sold and I started working with my lovely editor. I hit the first round of revision with only a trowel. It was the wrong tool. I needed a full fledged shovel. I'm still in it. Digging, patching, replanting, but I'm finally getting to the place where the yard is less of a riddled dirtfest and more of a hint of a future show piece (or at least something the neighbors won't phone with complaints about.)

And the oddest thing has happened. I've lost the ability to simply read. Every book I pick up, I  now, consciously or subconsciously, dissect. In the case of a recent crime thriller, much lauded with splashy blurbs from media outlets tucked into a glossy frontispiece, I noted the kudos to the tricky plot. I figured out who dunnit the second time I met the killer. Is it because I'm "oh so smart?" No. I just recognized the tiny hints an author might put so when you get to the end you're not left saying "no way, there was nothing."

I've purposefully read looking for transition words. My characters tend to look and smile and glance and raise eyebrows and shrug and nod. As I've spent so many hours now between my pages, they're all looking funny to me. (see, I just used looking, how many times have I used looking, what should I use in its place, should I say appearing, or seeming, or GAH.....anyway, you get it.) It helps at times to see every author has their characters moving and talking and gesturing.

You might be thinking, "wow, bummer for you, no relaxing beach reads or getting lost in other worlds." Believe me, I've had the same thought. But my hope is, like taking a great class when you need it, this reader dissector I've become is only here temporarily soaking up what she needs from this teacher. While I need her. While I'm learning. Because once I'm back to a first, I got that. Bring on the gestures.

Do you ever find yourself reading as a writer?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Introducing-THE KEEPER OF WONDER SERIES-Librarians & A cool T giveaway

Some of my earliest memories of books have less to do with books than the place where they lived. The Mobile Municipal Library, Springhill branch, was the holder of my dreams. My mother drove me, and my younger brother, most Saturday mornings to exchange old books for new.

In the summer, you’d push through the thick glass doors and be greeted by a blast of icy cold air conditioning. When your skin adjusted to the prickle, the smell would hit your senses. To me it smelled like far-off places and horses. It smelled like Laura Ingall’s prairie and Walter Farley’s sands of Arabia. People probably walked by me and said things like “Ah, what an odd little girl with her nose in the air.” Or probably not. They were, most likely, recognizing a kindred spirit.

In the center of the main room were good old-fashioned card catalogs (I had a pre computer childhood), to the left were the circulation desks, somewhere beyond all that were magazines and nonfiction and adult novels, but the room to the right. That was the mecca. The children’s library.

I’m sad to say I don’t remember my exact librarians. In my mind, they are amorphous adult-like forms who were kind and treated me with the respect of a reader. I remember hands passing me a stack of books with my library (MY LIBRARY CARD!) card across a counter. I remember following a skirted form through tall aisles and a hand more vertical than my own, reaching up to pull something down. I remember smiles. And shusshing.

There’ve been school libraries, college libraries, libraries in different towns where I’ve lived, now there are the libraries in the school system I work and I finally can say “I know the librarian’s name.”

In that spirit, of wanting to shine a light on these women and men who have made their passion for the written word their career, to let them stand in a few minutes of author blog glory (laughs), I’ve decided to start a weekly interview series.




Because, you see, the interviews I’ve received so far are fantastic, interesting, funny. The gracious women (come on guys!) who agreed to play along, know their books and they’re telling us what they recommend, what gets checked out, and what they’d wish for in their own personal collection. It’s going to be fun.

So in honor of this series, the first will be next Monday, with the awesome Karen Jensen, @TLT16 on Twitter, one week and a day, I’m giving away T-shirts!!

(Some of you may or may not know that I teach art. I do a silkscreen unit and every so often I get my own wild hair to make shirts. This logo was inspired by fellow 2014 debut author, Mary Elizabeth Summers, who tweeted that she needed a shirt that said Twitter Is My Jam.  I was all over that.)
T-shirt is a true black, flash faded it out.

So, it’s easy to fill out the rafflecopter below, but MAKE SURE YOU DO IT FOR YOUR SIZE SHIRT! There are 4 forms. One for S, M, L, XL. They are roomy, so for you tiny people the small may feel REALLY BIG. But hey, if you win, it’s free, right? The shirts are made by Anvil and are a substantial pre-washed 100% cotton, boxy, scoop neck style. Black with Twitter blue printing ink. And people, they are home-made. By me. So any tiny ink flaws are entirely my own fault.

So that’s it! I hope you’re as excited as I am. And if you have any librarian friends, please send them my way! I already have interviews scheduled out into September, but they’re so great, we’re going to want to keep this going.

Mwah! Librarians! For The Win!

*back flips off the page*

Monday, July 15, 2013

Oh Boy - The Aliens have landed! Oh wait? What's that Green Cloud?

I have a most unusual guest on my blog today. He's this little green dude named Ace Hansen that my writer friend, Angelina C. Hansen introduced me to.
But get this! Little Green Dude is a writer, too. And his book just came out this past Friday!
Here's the awesome cover and some links to purchase it! For less than FIVE DOLLARS load this on to your kid's Kindle!

Amazon Link - Muse It Up Link

But the most exciting part is Ace granted me, LITTLE OLD HUMAN ME, an interview! So without further ado:

Hi Ace! Tell us about your  new book!

People all over the earth are farting green and no one knows why. Whoever solves the mystery of the green gas will win a million-dollar prize. Who will solve the green gas crisis? 

What scene is going to make your readers roll on the floor in hilarity?

All of them, of course! But especially when Julius is trying on his Farty Pants in the school bathroom for the first time and in walks the dreaded bully, Jake the Snake.

If you could go shopping for gummy worms with any fictional friend, who would it be, and why?

ET. 'Cause he prefers Reese's Pieces and won't ask me to share my gummy worms. 

Can we find you on the web?

 Absolutely! Here's my website. 

Thanks Ace! And don't forget if you want to keep him rolling in the gummy worms, click on one of the two purchase links below the book title!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

All About My Firsts! Like A Virgin Pitch Contest Bloghop

Hey y'all! Nice to meet you. As a brief introduction, I'm JRo, author of NO PLACE TO FALL, a contemporary YA coming Fall 2014 from Harper Teen. As well as being a writer, I'm a high school art teacher, an equestrian, dog lover, blueberry picker, and lover of wild things (nature that is). Looking forward to getting to know you and reading your AWESOME WORDS!!

So, without further ado:

My first birthday and first piece of chocolate cake! I still enjoy it as much!

1. How do you remember your first kiss?

Honestly? I remember being totally grossed out. I was at summer camp in Missouri. The boy's name was Steve. I think I was eleven or twelve and he'd been following me around for weeks. We went frog gigging promptly after the kiss.

2. What was your first favorite love song?

I'm pretty sure it was Lorelei by Styx. I was obsessed with them. They were my first concert, my first oil painting was of one of their album covers (Crystal Ball), and my first celebrity crush was the guitarist (Tommy Shaw).

3. What's the first thing you do when you begin writing for the day?

That one's easy. I pour a big cup of coffee with enough half and half to make it caramel colored.

4. Who's the first writer who truly inspired you to become a writer?

Honestly, I don't think a writer inspired me to become a writer. I just wrote. But, I am currently obsessed with THE ELEGANCE OF A HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery. She makes me want to become a BETTER writer.

5. Did the final revision of the book have the same first chapter it started with?

No. The one thing consistent about my writing is my beginnings always change. Sometimes I'll write half a book to get to know the story and the characters and I start over from scratch. But even if it's not that extreme, beginnings always change for me. It's hard to know the perfect place to start a story when it's just being formed. It's been a blessed release to learn this about my process and allows me to draft with some freedom.

6. For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot, or setting?

Always characters. I'm a very character-driven writer. When I hear the voice, know the intricacies of their relationships, the issues they're battling, then I have enough to worm my way in and let them tell me their stories.

7. What's the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone's tongue when they think of your writing?

Oh wow, what a FABULOUS question! And hard to do just one. Okay, heartfelt is what first came to mind. But genuine followed shortly thereafter.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Contest Opportunity for Young Adult & New Adult Authors

Hi Blog followers! Just wanted to give you a heads up about a pitch contest I'm participating in.

Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez, the brains behind the Thursday's Child bloghop, have put together a manuscript pitch contest for Young Adult and New Adult un-agented authors.

The contest, called Like A Virgin Contest, or #LV13 on Twitter, is for manuscripts that have never been touched before (ha ha!). But...since there are a metric ton of contests happening in July, you may enter LV13 and one of the others (like Pitchmas or Xmas in July) concurrently.

Want more deets? Well head over to the contest blog site and learn tons more. I'm going to be a first round judge and am excited to have the chance to give back to this awesome community!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Focus on Back Story

As writers we always hear about the importance of back story. To me, back story is the "why" of our characters. And it's not only your protagonist who needs a healthy back story. The more you know about each person who appears on the page, the deeper you'll be able to write them.

Back story informs our actions. If I had never had a bad horse wreck, I'd still be riding with gusto. But that accident informs my decisions in the here and now. For example, you're reading this story about a girl who loves horses. Loves the way they smell, the way they sound, the way they move. This girl even loves cleaning stalls. She's that enamored. But the girl won't get on. As a reader you're probably frustrated by her. She obviously loves horses so why won't she ride? But if the author slips in a hint, or even writes the horse loving girl in a way that points to a checkered past, you, the reader, get it and go along.

As a writer when I find my characters are feeling flat, or I can't move ahead, chances are I haven't dug far enough into their past. Here's an example. I was writing parents in a manuscript who were feeling deep grief over the loss of a child. Even though the parents were in no way central characters, I spent tons of time on websites dealing with what happens when you lose a child. Once I had enough research, once I'd filled in the backstory, then I was able to continue writing.

Currently, I'm having to fill in the backstory for a character in NO PLACE TO FALL. I don't know why I never had. I had a vague idea of his background, but I never flushed him out. And now, in edits, the lack of "why" is showing up. So I'm having to back pedal and dig in. It's time to think hard about who this guy is and why he does the things he does.

But not only do I need to think about his individual backstory, but the backstory that's been woven between him and every member of the Vaughn family. That shared backstory informs present day decisions as well. If every time you see your Aunt Lucy, she brings a box of chocolates, you might choose to skip dessert (or in my case, I'd probably eat both!).

Think of a Venn diagram. You have your character's history, your other character's history, and their joined history. NONE of that stuff is going in your present day story, but every bit of it will answer a WHY in the present day. Crazy, right?

And you thought writing was easy. ;0)

What are your thoughts on back story and how you write?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's COVER REVEAL day for DAUGHTER OF CHAOS, by author, Jen McConnel

I am so excited about this release and reveal day! I first met Jen on Twitter, then we met in real life at a Cheryl Klein workshop hosted by the SCBWI Carolinas. We stayed in touch and became critique partners. She was with me when I got news of my book deal and we are still quick to e-mail one another when exciting writerly things happen. Having read Daughter of Chaos (be jealous), I was blown away when I opened the e-mail to see Darlena made flesh and bone as the super hot red witch that she is. Look at this girl! She's definitely got the power! Now read on and don't forget to sign up for the giveaway, conveniently linked below!

Nothing is more terrifying than the witch who wields red magic.

DOC cover
Witches must choose the path they will follow, and Darlena Agara is no exception. She’s been putting it off long enough, and in her case, ignoring it has not made it go away. In a moment of frustration, Darlena chooses to follow Red Magic, figuring she had outsmarted the powers that be, since there’s no such thing as Red Magic. But alas, Darlena’s wrong (again) and she becomes a newly declared Red Witch. Her friends are shocked and her parents horrified by the choice Darlena has made. As a Red Witch, she now governs one third of the world’s chaos. She is the walking personification of pandemonium, turmoil, and bedlam, just as the patrons of Red Magic would have it to be. But Darlena believes there must be more to Red Magic than chaos and destruction, and she sets out on a journey to achieve balance. Only doing so puts her at odds with the dark goddess Hecate, who simply will not allow Darlena to quit. She encourages Darlena to embrace who and what she is and to leave good magic to the good witches. If only Darlena could, life would be simple, and she would not be the Daughter of Chaos. DAUGHTER OF CHAOS is the first in a YA paranormal trilogy. Coming March 2014 from Month9Books.


Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. Since then, her words have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals, including Sagewoman, PanGaia, and The Storyteller (where she won the people’s choice 3rd place award for her poem, “Luna”).
She is also a former reviewer for Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), and proud member of SCBWI, NCWN, and SCWW.
A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. When she isn't crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches writing composition at a community college. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.
Follow Jen McConnel on Twitter
Connect with her on Facebook.
Visit her website.
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