Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I Used to Think All Authors Were Dead People...

When I was little, I assumed that all authors were dead people. I rationalized this because Shakespeare was an author and he was dead... so were Tolkien, Lewis and Alcott. Since I had never met a real live author, it made sense that they were all dead. After all, Dr. Seuss magically came out with a book after he died, so all old drawers must contain forgotten manuscripts, which is where new books came from. Then my mom became an author, and since I was pretty sure that she was flesh and blood and wanted to keep her that way, I decided that it was time to revise my theory. Authors are living breathing working artists that are always writing and creating new stories... which brings me to my point... I want you to come and meet our authors.

That's right people. We are having a party! Come by our office, have some snacks, talk about books and meet our authors.

Who is going to be there?! (Besides me, of course.)
  1. Danny Schnitzlein: Danny is the author of three books with Peachtree, which happen to be some of my favorites.The Monster Who Ate My Peas, The Monster Who Did My Math, and Trick or Treat on Monster Street. These are fun rhyming books that are great for story time in and out of the classroom. Besides, what kids don't love monsters?!
  2. Elise Weston: Elise wrote a fabulous historical fiction book with Peachtree titled The Coastwatcher. She is a graduate of the University of South Carolina. She has published articles and book reviews in numerous publications and is the former book page editor of Augusta Magazine.
  3. Gail Karwoski: With four Peachtree titles under her belt, Gail is a favorite in schools and libraries. Her books The Tree That Owns Itself, Surviving Jamestown, Seaman, and Quake! have won multiple awards. You can view teacher's guides for her titles here.
  4. Anne Ginkel: With cute rhymes, elephants in tutus and a little counting, Anne has given us I've Got an Elephant, an adorable picture book that little ones love to read over and over again.
  5. Michael Montgomery: Lest you think we've forgotten the illustrators, I give you Michael Montgomery. I am absolutely in love with his lush, gorgeous, and often humorous illustrations. His Peachtree titles include Night Rabbits, Over the Candlestick, The Amazing Mr. Franklin, Santa's Eleven Months Off, and First Dog Fala.
But wait... there is more. Since many of our authors live all over the U.S. we have a few of them that will be visiting us via Skype. Even more fabulous? Some of our authors will do school visits using Skype as well. Welcome to the new world of publishing, eh? The authors we will have chatting with us tomorrow are as follows:
  1. Barbara Bottner: I was first introduced to Barbara's writing with her book Bootsie Barker Bites. As you can imagine, I loved this book and was thrilled when she became one of our very own, authoring two Peachtree books, Rosa's Room, and Raymond and Nelda.
  2. Dori Butler: As a kid, I played baseball on the boys team, which made me make a special place in my heart for Dori's book Sliding Into Home, about a little girl who loves baseball. Equally fabulous, while very different, are Do You Know the Monkey Man?, with its companion book Yes, I Know the Monkey Man. These two books look at the lives of identical twin sisters and the mystery that surrounds their lives.
  3. Leslie Bulion: You have to love Leslie's The Trouble With Rules. When it comes to the forth grade, Nadine has to learn that sometimes, breaking the rules is the best thing you can do, especially when the rules don't allow you to be yourself. Don't miss her other Peachtree book Uncharted Waters.
  4. Kristin Wolden Nitz: Kristen lives in Michigan and has written two books with us here at Peachtree, Defending Irene and Saving the Griffin. Whether she's writing about soccer, or fantastical creatures like griffins, her books are accessible and fun to read.
 You can find more information about these authors and others on our *NEW* Authors in Schools Page! Bring our authors to your school and teach kids that authors aren't dead people.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Judging a Book by its Cover

    When you're spending your Sunday afternoon browsing through your local book store, you tend pick up a book based on the cover. Unless you've read a great review, or had a recommendation from a friend, you are judging the typeface on the binding, the title and the image on the book cover. You have an immediate reaction that makes you pick it up, or walk away, never having even read the jacket flap...

    Now that we've all admitted that we're secretly superficial when it comes to picking up an unknown book, lets look at what goes into putting that cover together. Today I have MW with me to show us how many changes a cover can go through before being finalized and to teach us a little bit about why publishers make certain decisions in regards to covers.

    For this demonstration, so to speak, we will be looking at the book Gaff by Shan Correa. The book is set in Hawaii, where Paul lives with his disabled father, who makes a living raising, training and caring for roosters. However, Paul has been sheltered from the harsh reality of the ties between the family business and the underworld of cockfighting. He struggles to understand his family's livelihood and learns that being a man has nothing to do with wielding the power to hurt people and animals.

    MW, for starters, are there any basic book cover 'rules,' or elements that you try to avoid when designing a cover?

    If we are talking about rules to follow, the main one to remember is the 10 ft rule.  The title and cover really needs to be legible from at least 10 ft away.   The thing about rules is that once you know them and can follow them there are always some instances where they can be broken.  I really think the most important thing about designing a book cover is not to follow any rules but to capture the essence of what the book is about in a single statement. 

    What is your favorite part about designing covers?

    Designing YA book covers lets you take the words off the page and literally transform them into something graphic and visual.  The best part for me is looking at the text not just as words but as images and then finding the right one to really capture what I think the book is.  I must admit that I love seeing a cover to fruition and holding the final product in my hands. 

    What was your original idea for the cover of Gaff? Why didn't it work?

    Well, like I said before, words can conjure up all sorts of images.  I don’t know about you but the word gaff does not come up in many of my conversations, but has a very intersting and graphic natrue to it.  I wanted to show a gaff on the leg of a rooster and really have the gaff be what stood off the page.  Unfortunately, like most starting ideas, it was not polished enough, and although it was a good idea it did not read as a blade at first glance.  So we decided to really show the rooster and still highlight the gaff but let the reader stop and say... “what is that thing on the roosters leg. 

    How did you feel about the changes you made to the second and third covers? What did you like? What wasn't working for you? 

    When creating anything, especially book covers, changes are going to happen and first ideas will become third ideas or even sixth ideas.  But, with every change or every new idea comes a more polished and a more cohesive cover, so that the end result is something that we are all proud of and something that highlights the story.  You can see that while designing Gaff, I threw out many ideas. I liked the idea of grabbing the harshness of cockfighting but making it what a kid would see on the bookstore shelves today.  However, in the first two covers the main part of the book was not coming across.  Yes, the book deals with cockfighting but it is also a coming of age story, and that part of is was lost.

    This next cover is my personal favorite. Why was it not an option? How did it not work for the book? What were the main criticisms of it?

    I think my personal favorite will still be the rooster skeleton as well.  We wanted to label parts of the rooster and highlight the Gaff as if it was actually a part of the rooster itself.  Although it was a good concept it was not right for the age group (8-12).  It came off too adult and as one editor said “a little like something you would see on a Chuck Palahniuk novel.”

    Four covers in and you had something pretty final. Were you happy with this cover? Why was it ultimately changed again?

    To be honest I was okay with the cover.  It was not my favorite but it was something that we all thought was a good fit for the age group and the book itself.  It still highlighted the Gaff, but made it feel younger.  However, it lacked movement, excitement and the tropical feeling that created the unique setting in the book.  This particular story takes place in Hawaii where cockfighting is still part of some cultures.  I am glad we came to the decision that that the cover needed to have the movement of a  cockfight and a splash of color. 

    It was important to the author that the cover reflect Hawaii in some way. Was this a difficult element to add in?

    It was not as important for the author as it was to our booksellers.  The Hawaiian element is one of the things that would really help this book sell.  In the end, lets face it, we want a good book but we also want it to sell.  The problem was that the main Hawaiian elements we were thinking of were very clichĂ© and feminine.  This book takes place inland where there really is no ocean and Hawaiian shirts.  So instead we played with color.  The blues and oranges give it a feeling of the tropics and palm tress really just seal the deal. 

    The final cover really makes the rooster pop off of the page and seems to fit with the overall themes of the book. How did you make the final choices as far as typeface, colors, etc. Do you think the changes made from the original concept were positive changes?
    I love where this cover took us.  I think that my original ideas were blended nicely with the idea and changes of those around me.  The final choice of the colors stems from wanting  a tropical feel like I mentioned before.  But I wanted something that would pop of the page as well, which is where the bright blues and oranges came from.  As for the typeface.  I love typography and think it can really add or take away from the character of the book.  In this case the final decision to use these fonts was for the sheer fact that they gave that beach feel but were still a little rugged and harsh in places, just as this novel is.  With the combination of the blue background and making the rooster stand out with the image within it made this cover have the movement we were looking for.  The rooster kind of jumps out at  you like roosters are meant to do at a cock fight, but still keeps the elements it needs to be right for boys of this age group.  And with a little help of production magic we have a foil on the rooster’s gaff.  This final, simple touch, is what really made the idea come full circle.  I wanted the reader to see a rooster and say what is that thing?  And now they just might. 

    What else goes into designing a book cover that most people don't realize?
    Covers are not made overnight.  There are many tweaks and changes that happen behind the scenes.  There may be one change that is simple as making the authors name larger or, like Gaff, there might be multiple versions.  Like you said in the beginning a book is judged by it’s cover.   The cover has to show the books personality and make it look interesting enough to pick up.  So we, as book cover designers, really have to sift though and pick out what we feel are the most eye catching nuacnes of a book and hope that the reader can see it too.

    Thanks so much to MW for taking the time to give a little insight into designing a YA book cover. Be sure to leave and comments or questions for MW below! She's be happy an answer anything you think has been left out.

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    I Finally Get a Chance to Use the Word Numismatist

    With us today is author Sneed B. Collard III, who is here to talk a little about his book, Double Eagle. I asked Sneed here today to teach us about what exactly the Double Eagle is, and where the idea came from. I will go ahead and let Sneed take over from here, since he's the real numismatist.

    My third novel, Double Eagle, revolves around the discovery by two teenaged boys of a previously unknown twenty-dollar gold piece, or “double eagle,” in a Civil War fort in southern Alabama. In the story, what makes this coin so alluring is that it was minted not by the USA, but by the Confederate States of America. If the coin is indeed genuine, the boys realize, it is surely worth a fortune—a fact that propels them on a relentless search for the rest of the missing treasure.

    Since Double Eagle came out, many people have asked how I came up with the idea for the Confederate twenty-dollar gold piece that is the book’s major plot premise. I have to give my son some credit for this. About three years ago, he and I decided to start collecting the State Quarters that have been so popular with young people. Looking through rolls of quarters, searching for “P” and “D” mintmarks, rekindled my own childhood fascination with coins and the histories behind them. I began reading about all kinds of coins and, one day, discovered that the Confederacy had minted four silver half dollars with their own CSA design on the reverse.

    “Ah-ha!” my mind shouted.

    For decades, I had been wanting to set a story on Dauphin Island, Alabama, a place where I spent a summer with my marine biologist father back in the early 1970s. “What if,” I now mused, “the Confederacy had also made a batch of their own double eagles? And what if this treasure disappeared after the Civil War? And,” I asked myself, “what if two boys discovered one of the coins in the fort on Dauphin Island?”

    The four CSA half-dollars gave merit to these suppositions, but so did other historical facts. One is that the Confederacy continued minting double eagles after they took over the New Orleans Mint in 1861. The Mint still had a good supply of gold and silver sitting there, and the CSA needed money, so they just kept the presses going until all the gold was gone. The CSA did not use their own dies for these double eagles. In an odd quirk of history, they just kept using the old Union dies that were on hand. In my mind, though, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that the CSA used their own dies to mint at least a few of these coins.

    Another thing that gives credence to the boys’ find is that many people believe that large amounts of Confederate gold disappeared during, or just after, the Civil War. In fact, many people still discuss this possibility and some are still searching for that gold today. As I pondered these facts, it didn’t take long to imagine that this missing gold might be in the form of CSA double eagles, and that it had been safely hidden in a Confederate fort ever since the war’s end.

    I confess I have never found anything very valuable while searching for coins, but I think that every coin collector dreams about discovering just the kind of coin Mike and Kyle find in Double Eagle. One of the really cool things about coin collecting, however, is that every coin—even common coins we get in change every day—tells a story. I hope that in addition to enjoying a thrilling adventure, kids will stop the next time they get a quarter or nickel in their hands and look at the dates and mint marks. I’ll feel doubly rewarded if they ask themselves “What was going on when this coin was made? Who else has held this coin in their hands?” Coins are not just potential treasure, they are tangible links that connect us with a rich historical past. If readers spend even a few moments pondering such matters, I’ll consider Double Eagle a success.


    A very big thank you to Sneed for teaching us about the Double Eagle. If you’re interested in learning more about Sneed’s book, check out his previous stops and reviews around the blog-o-sphere. Be sure to visit them all, because one or two are still giving away copies of Double Eagle.

    Beth Fist Reads Blog, Author Guest Post
    Sneed’s guest post about how he went from being a biologist to an author.

    “…Double Eagle has enough depth to appeal to a wide range of readers.”

    Word Lily Blog, review
    “A great adventure story set in a well-drawn Southern setting against a great back Civil War backdrop.”

    “…a fantastic adventure story for all ages to enjoy.”

    “…this will become one of those rare books I will place on the high shelf, to be given to my son in a couple of years to enjoy.”

    “…the perfect book to engage and age, particularly young adults, girls and boys alike.”

    "...a well written, action packed mystery..."

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    An Action-Packed Story of a Girl and Her Horse...

    ...on a nineteenth century riverboat. What a combination, right? I never would have thought that horses and riverboats were a likely pair,but Alison Hart has thankfully proven me wrong.

                The year is 1852. Ten-year-old Emma and her mother, have boarded the Sally May for a steamboat journey that will take them up the Missouri river to St. Joseph where Papa will be waiting. Dr. Burton, who is tending Mama's fragile health, treats Emma like a bothersome child and bosses her around, even though she is used to getting her own way. Also along for the journey is Emma's beloved horse, Licorice Twist. It is concern for her horse that first lures her below deck--a place she is forbidden to go. What an incredible shock it is for Emma to encounter a world so different than her own pampered life of comfortable staterooms and fine food. 

                As Emma's excursions below deck become more frequent, she encounters Patrick, an eleven-year-old stowaway who recently emigrated from Ireland. Slowly, Emma and Patrick develop a friendship that spans classes and ship levels. When the boiler explodes and the steamboat starts sinking, Emma must fight her way through the black smoke to find her friends and family before it is too late.

              So much happens in this book, that I thought it would be interesting to hear where the idea first came from, so here, straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, is Alison Hart. Be sure to read to the bottom to find out how to enter to win your own copy of Emma's River.

                "Ideas are everywhere, and one of my favorite things about writing is discovering an idea that can turn into a terrific story for young readers.
                  When I was researching for my early chapter book, Anna’s Blizzard (Peachtree 2005), which is all about the Blizzard of 1888, I read many books. One of my favorite was Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford (Bison Books). Mollie Sanford traveled from Indianapolis to Nebraska City by train and steamboat. She was one of the first families to settle in the Territory of Nebraska, and I was eager to read about her life on the plains to help shape my characters and setting for Anna. However, as I read, I was totally fascinated by her description of her steamboat journey. Mollie and her family traveled on the luxurious cabin deck, which “boasted of staterooms, saloons, and a nursery.” She wrote of meeting “fussy old ladies with their poodle dogs” and a new friend Dora who turned “sweet sixteen.” But she also wrote that a “destitute creature was found today with a dying child” on the main deck, where the immigrants traveled. This piqued my interest!
                 In Ham, Eggs and Corn Cakes: A Nebraska Territory Diary (Bison Books), Erastus F. Beadle wrote about his steamboat trip up the Missouri River. He described the passengers boarding the New Lucy “like a mass of sheep tumbling over each other in the dark.”  He wrote about geese on the sandbars, thunderstorms, and climbing to the top of Chimney Rock. By now, I had decided that a steamboat trip would be the perfect setting for an adventure. Further research cemented the idea.    
                 My first version was a picture book titled Up the Big Muddy.  I envisioned illustrations of lovely ladies waltzing under chandeliers on the cabin deck as well as immigrants and sweaty deckhands squashed together on the main deck accompanying my rollicking text. Alas, the picture book was nixed for several reasons; the main reason was a similar picture book had just been published by a different publisher. Fortunately, my editor liked the idea and suggested turning it into an early chapter book, which meant a more complex plot.
                Journals and diaries offer observations, details and language that history books can not, which is why I love them for research. However, Steamboats of the Western River, a detailed history of steamboats, gave me my plot.  I read true tales of steamboats exploding, sinking, catching fire, and running aground. Who knew? Further research helped flesh out my characters and focus the plot. Soon Emma, Patrick, Twist, Mama, and Doctor Burton boarded The Sally May for a suspense-filled adventure on the Missouri:

                “Look Emma!” Mama waved at her to hurry. “There she is.” The Sally May rose from the river as tall as a three-story building. The steamboat was white, with gold and black trim. Pendants and flags snapped in the breeze. Its name was written in red scroll on the paddlewheel housing.
                Hand on her hat, Emma tipped back her head so she could see the top of the two chimneys. They belched thick smoke. Above the pilothouse, gulls dove and soared. Emma’s heart soared with them."

    And now for the giveaway! Simply leave a comment below letting me know why you want to read Emma's River. What about it interests you? Be sure to leave your e-mail address. The Contest will go on until March 12th, so keeps those comments coming! Also, feel free to leave questions for Alison to answer.