Monday, June 28, 2010

Treasure Hunting... Not Just for Pirates Anymore

If you've ever secretly imagined that you were a pirate while tracing your metal detector across the sand at the beach, or pretended that life and death were in the balance while you eagerly went diving for bright, neon rings at the bottom of your neighborhood swimming pool, then we've got a new game for you: geocaching!  

Here to tell you more about the writing process and this treasure hunting game at the center of her new book, Hide and Seek, is Peachtree Publishers' author, Katy Grant. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to win a signed copy of her new book!

1. How did you get the idea for Hide and Seek? What made you want to write this book? 

Two things, really. Ever since my family and I had tried geocaching, I kept thinking it would make a great backdrop for an adolescent novel.  You’re outdoors, using a GPS, looking for “hidden treasure” that no one else knows about. That was the first inspiration.

The second was when my family and I spent a long weekend in the White Mountains of Arizona. We did a few geocaches, one quite late in the afternoon in a remote area. I realized we hadn’t brought along flashlights.  We were concerned about being out in the wilderness after dark, but fortunately we made it back to our car without incident.  That weekend we saw elk, deer, and Canada geese. We also took along Dexter, our German shepherd, and even though he’s a city dog, he LOVED every minute of that weekend, except for when he got a fishing hook stuck between the pads of his paw. 

I came home and could not stop thinking about writing a novel featuring geocaching. But it’s such a benign activity.  There’s no danger involved, just fun, so what would the conflict be?  Then I got the idea that the protagonist would find mysterious messages in the cache. And it just started falling into place. Quite a few events from that weekend made their way into the novel. 

2. Do you have a writing system or routine to help you focus on your writing? 

I think a lot of writers have a routine, and we tend to be rather fussy about it to the point that it is almost a ritual. I like to do my initial note taking, outlining, and early drafting in longhand. I have a certain type of legal pad with a spiral binding that I like, and my pens are a certain brand, and they must be black ink. Then I start basically journaling, writing notes to myself: “I have an idea for a book about geocaching. I think the protagonist is a boy about 13 or 14. Don’t know his name yet but . . . .”  And I just write everything I know at that point about the idea. Lots of times in the beginning, there’s a flood of ideas, and it’s very exciting and invigorating—like having a good workout when you haven’t exercised in a while. By the time I’m ready to begin actually writing a chapter, I usually switch to the computer and start composing there. But whenever I get stuck or blocked, I’ll go back to the legal pad and just talk myself through it on paper. This particular novel came quite easily for me. I think I began writing in September and I had a complete draft by December. 

3. A lot of the readers of our blog are interested in the process that goes into editing a book. Can you explain a little about what the editor/author relationship is like and your editorial process?

The editor/author relationship is very collaborative. Both the editor and the author have a vision for the book that this manuscript could evolve into, and ideally they will have similar visions. By the time I reach the editing stage, I am lazy. In my mind, the book is “finished,” because it’s a complete draft. Oftentimes, I don’t want to make any changes. It’s the editor’s job to remind the author that the manuscript just isn’t there yet in terms of being a finished novel.

Fortunately, for this manuscript, two years had elapsed from the time I had finished it and the time we began the editing process. So I was able to see with fresh eyes things that I wanted changed, and Kathy Landwehr, my editor liked those changes. There is a lot of back and forth exchange during the editorial process; I’ll bring up questions or insecurities I had about the manuscript, and she will let me know her favorite scenes or least favorite, etc. It’s a time of great feedback and discussion about the manuscript.

One thing that Kathy wanted me to work on was the weak ending. I agreed, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. One of the copy editors made a suggestion that I had never considered, and initially, I didn’t think I wanted to go in that direction. But I tried her suggestion, and it worked wonderfully. It occurred to me that I probably would not have thought of that ending without that editorial guidance. So truly a collaborative experience.  

4. What was the most challenging part of the book to write? What was the easiest?

The most challenging aspect was trying to capture a believable 14-year-old boy voice. Even though I have two teenage sons, it was difficult for me to breathe life into Chase and make him sound like a real adolescent male. That was tough. The easiest part was writing the last 60 pages or so. I reached a point where the action was so fast that the chapters just poured out of me. That certainly doesn’t happen with every novel, but it did with this one, and it was wonderful. My fingers could hardly type fast enough as I wrote the final action-packed chapters.

5. Geocaching plays an important role in the advancement of the plot. Can you tell us a little bit about what exactly that is and how you got into it?
Geocaching is a kind of treasure hunting activity where some people hide caches for others to find later. The cache is a small container with various trinkets inside. There’s also some paper and a pen for logging a record of everyone who has found the cache.

The person who hides the cache marks the location with a GPS and then enters the coordinates on a geocaching website. Sometimes he or she will leave clues, riddles, or verses on the website to make things interesting for the prospective treasure hunters.

If you want to find geocaches in your area, you first log onto a geocaching website and enter your location (that is, your coordinates from your GPS) to get a list of nearby caches. Once you’ve enter the coordinates of nearby caches, you’re ready to start your search. Caches can be anywhere—in busy cities with crowds of people nearby or out on a remote hiking trail. When you’re searching, you try to be a little secretive. Non-geocachers are called “muggles,” and if you’ve hidden a cache, you don’t want muggles to accidentally find it, and if you’re searching, you don’t want muggles to know what you’re up to. Once you find a cache, you can take one or two of the items inside, as long as you leave something in exchange. My brother introduced my family to geocaching when my boys were young.

6. What is the coolest thing you ever found while geocaching? What do you think the best thing you have left is?

We have found a few micro caches—very small containers that don’t contain any items for exchange, but they do have a logbook, usually just a piece of paper inside. We once found an Altoids box that had been painted black and had a magnet attached to it hidden under a footbridge. That was a particularly challenging cache to find, so we were really excited when we finally came across it.

We have done several caches when we were camping, and when you’re camping out, you invariably forget to bring along something you need. So we have left small pocket knives behind because we figured other campers out geocaching would find those useful.

7. Why do you think geocaching has such a huge following?

I think it taps into everyone’s desire to hunt for hidden treasure, even if the treasure is just a small metal box full of trinkets. There’s the challenge of finding the hidden cache, the thrill once you’ve finally discovered it, and then the fun of leaving it in the same place so someone else can find it later. And even though geocachers don’t have actual contact with each other, there’s still a sense of community. You know there are people out there hiding caches and others out there looking for them. 

8. While the main character in the book, Chase, uses his GPS to find a geocache, that is really just skimming the surface of what this book is really about. Without giving away too, much, can you explain a little bit about what Chase finds and how it starts his adventure?

On his first geocache, Chase finds a cryptic message, WE NE, written in the logbook. He can’t figure out what it means, and he so he goes back to the cache and leaves a message of his own. Then to his surprise, he finds a response to his message indicating that someone needs food. With the thought that someone is stranded in the wilderness without food, Chase begins his adventure of finding out who needs his help.

9. What inspired the storyline with the missing kids? Did you read a news article, or was it simply out of your imagination?

It really just came from my imagination. I came up with the idea of strange messages being left in the geocache logbook, and then I asked myself, who would be leaving messages? Why would they be in the wilderness alone? What would the messages say? And the idea grew from there.

10. What type of research did you have to do for this book? Do you have any advice for other writers about the research that goes into a book?

I researched quite a bit about the White Mountains of Arizona and the wildlife of the region. I was pretty meticulous about details; for example, I researched what time the sun sets in early September in Northern Arizona because Chase mentions an exact time at one point, and I found a chart online that gave me actual sunrise and sunset times for the month of September in that particular county. In the scenes where Chase is in the desert outside of Globe, AZ, I used Google Earth images around that area to get a sense of the terrain.

I would tell other writers that each book is different as to the research you’ll need to do. For this book, I was able to do all of the research online, so that made it easy. But for previous books, I have consulted experts in the field and asked them to read sections of the manuscript for accuracy.  So your research will vary, depending on your subject matter. But I think all writers want their work to be accurate, and those little details are important, so do whatever research is necessary to ensure that what you’re writing comes across as legitimate.

11. Lastly, what is your favorite kid’s book and why?

Oh, no—do I have to pick only one? I was an avid reader growing up, averaging about a book a week. I loved the classics—Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Mary Poppins. I remember reading My Side of the Mountain and thinking I wanted to run away and live in the wilderness, and then reading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and deciding I wanted to run away and hide out in a museum. But my absolute favorites to this day would be The Borrowers series by Mary Norton, about tiny people who live hidden in households and borrow items from “human beans” in order to survive.

I received that series for my tenth birthday, and three weeks later my mother died. I was reading those books at the time of her death, and while that may sound terribly sad, the books were such a wonderful escape. They got me through those very dark days of my childhood. I still own the same copies of those books, and every now and then I’ll take one off the shelf, open it at random, and start reading.

Thanks to Katy for the great interview. This book has been great to read all through the editorial process. 

And now for a GIVEAWAY! Since the Annual American Library Association Conference is this week, we've decided to give away TEN SIGNED COPIES of Hide and Seek to our blog readers and attendees of ALA. Fill out the form below to enter! Be sure to include your e-mail address at the end of your response!

Monday, June 21, 2010

When I was a Kid, My Dad Taught Me How to Fly

Yesterday was Father's Day and I spent the morning having breakfast with my dad. When I was a kid, my dad would humor me and my active imagination on a daily basis. We had one of those giant green turtle sandboxes in my backyard that my sisters and I would play in every day. In our heads though, this was no ordinary giant turtle sandbox... it was a teleporter! Believe it or not, this was my dads idea. We would sit on top of the turtle and yell, "Take me to Egypt!" and the backyard would magically take us there. Our swing set became the Great Pyramid of Giza and our cat was the Sphinx! We would run around the yard and pretend to be pharaohs and queens and get involved in epic battles with tomb robbers. Then we would jump back on our turtle and go to another time and place. 

It is because of memories like this that I have of my dad that I love the book Flying! by Kevin Luthardt so much. The book starts with a simple question: 

"Papa, why can't I fly?" 

The exchange continues between father and son with the father explaining that you need wings to fly and the son asking why he doesn't have wings. 

"Well, that's because you have ARMS!
Well, why do I have arms, Papa?
To hold up yout HANDS, of course!"

This pattern continues throughout the book until the father raises the boy above his head so that he can "fly." Luthardt's bright illustrations filled with colorful birds are exactly how I think a child's imagination should be. The end brings it all home with the seemingly innocent new question of, "Papa, why can't I breathe under water?" 

This book is wonderful to read with your kids, share with your dad and to spark some imaginative thinking. Thanks to my great dad and to Kevin Luthardt, who wrote a fabulous book that reminded me of how fun it is to be a kid.

Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jumping on the Bandwagon Early!

As many of you know, Book Blogger Appreciation Week is kind of a big deal in the blog-o-sphere. It is a chance for all of us to get recognition for the work we do writing about books, but more importantly, support each others blogs and discover new ones. Fortunately for me, book bloggers love publishers as much as we love them, so they have created an industry section where we can submit our posts for review, recognition, awesomeness, etc. So below, I give you my top five posts to be considered for Book Blogger Appreciation Week.

Posts to be considered for Best Publishing/Industry Blog: 
Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from Bloggers  
It Takes a Village to Acquire a Book 
Baseball and Children's Books: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things  
Once Upon a Time...
About Raptors... The Birds, Not the Dinosaurs...

Posts to be Considered for Best New Blog:
Judging a Book by its Cover
Yes, We Do Read Your Review Policies
It Takes a Village to Acquire a Book
Baseball and Children's Books: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things
Once Upon a Time...

So there you have it... A few repeats, but they were my favorite posts to write (and they said I could use the same posts in different categories! huzzah!). Did I choose well? I hope so! Also, don't forget to follow Book Blogger Appreciation Week on Twitter or check out the hash tag #BBAW

Monday, June 7, 2010

Yes, We Do Read Your Review Policies

I was hanging out on Twitter, and I noticed people talking about review policies on their blogs--whether they should they even bother writing them, and what to include.

A few months ago I wrote a post for publicists wanting to work with book bloggers, so I figured that this was a good time to write a companion post for it. Book bloggers... how do you get a publishers attention and what are we looking for?

There are so many book blogs out there and as a publicist, it is hard to sort through them. There are a few things that stand out to me though that will make me take the time to look through a blog to see if they are a good fit for our books:

  1. Is the blog organized? If a blog is cluttered with tons of stuff that make it difficult to find things, I will go on to the next blog.
  2. Is the blog easy to read? Sometimes people use fonts and colors that make it really difficult to read a post.
  3. I am a grammar snob. Sorry. I judge poor grammar. A typo here and there is fine, because it happens (even with yours truly), but a blatant disregard for the rules of the English language miffs me and I will quickly move on. I admit, this may just be me though. 
  4. Is the blogger a good writer? Do they have insightful reviews? I like to read a review that is entertaining, but also is fair to the books. I like to hear pros and cons. I buy a lot of books based on reviews I read on book blogs. I think that giving a fair and honest review is a lot better for a book than simply saying, "OMG! This was so awesome!" and not explaining what was so awesome about it. The review doesn't have to be traditional to be good. I love reading reviews that people do with their kids, or from a different perspective. Sometimes more than one person reviews a book and it is written out more like a dialog. Every blogger has their own voice that comes though, which is what I love to see and read.
  5. I like to see if there are comments on posts and if the blogger interacts with people that leave comments. I would rather have my books reviewed on a blog where people are actually reading and interacting, instead of just sending them to a blogger with a gazillion followers, but zero interaction between the readers and reviewers. Note: this does not mean that you have to have tons of comments on everything you post or that you have to comment on everything. Those are not realistic expectations. Different books are of interest to different people and different types of posts get more or less response from readers. We know this, but it is nice to see you interacting, or even just your readers commenting with each other relatively regularly.
  6. That being said... we still look at your followers, and if you're willing to give us stats about the number of visitors you get, it is helpful. As a publicist, it helps to know the reach of a blog and numbers are a part of that.We look at the circulation that a print newspaper has to see the reach that it will have, so we like to know online stats as well. I know that there has been a lot of debate as to whether or not a blogs stats should be paid attention to, so you don't have to share, but it is helpful to us.
  7. I love a good review policy. Seriously. I get unnecessarily excited when I find a blog with a clear review policy. If a blog does not have a review policy then I rarely contact them. A blogger comes across as much more professional when they have a review policy in place. It also helps me know what to send. I don't want to waste your time or mine, by contacting you about books you aren't even interested in. A helpful review policy should include: contact info, what books you will consider for review, what you won't even touch, how far in advance you need a book, what formats you're willing to review (i.e. ARCs, Galleys, E-books, finished copies, etc.), if you participate in blog tours, and if you do guest posts and author interviews. 
  8. Lastly, please contact us! There are so many book blogs that it really helps for you to drop us a note on Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail us. It's easy to introduce yourself, your blog, and let us know what you're interested in. I personally like it when I blogger includes a mailing address so that I can send them a catalog of our books to look over and request for review. Remember, we want to work with you, so don't be unsure about approaching us!
Did I miss anything? Do you have any questions? Are there things we as publicists could be doing differently? Let me know! 

***If you want more information about this topic, check out the Bookalicous blog post from a Pam's, a book blogger,  perspective.***

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June Blog Tour of Epic Proportions!!!!

The June Blog Tour of Epic Proportions started a while back, when I got the idea of sending blog tour check lists to book bloggers and letting them pick which book or books interested them the most to write about. This evolved into a month long celebration of three of our new titles, The Brain Full of Holes, The Everlasting Now, and Gaff. Below you can find a list of current posts, previous posts, and upcoming posts. Check them out, support our books and your fellow book bloggers and let us know what you think of it all!

June Blog Tour Stops:
"This book is a wonderful description of 1930s life in the South."

"The Brain strikes again in this wacky but wonderful tale that will have you reaching books end in record won't want to put it down."

  • The wonderful Indiependent Books reviewed The Everlasting Now on their store blog. If you haven't checked out this online retailer, you should!
"From the very beginning you are drawn into this book."
  • Galleysmith came out in full force with a review and giveaway for The Brain Full of Holes.
" hell of an enjoyable mystery. A mystery that is neither predictable nor too twisty that middle graders will have difficulty following."
"This is a highly recommended book for upper elementary/middle school kids to get a glimpse at an important subject that is not often talked about. In the process they will meet some indelible characters and learn more about the Hawaiian culture and language."
  • Another giveaway over at The Fiction Enthusiast, along with a review of The Brain Full of Holes. Its a great book. You can to go here to win it!
  • Martin guests posts on Beth Fish Reads about black holes, swiss cheese, and a Large Hadron Collider underneath the Swiss Alps. Need I say more? Read it here.
  • Beth Fish Reads Has a review of The Brain Full of Holes up today! You can also read her review of Martin's previous book The Brain Finds a Leg here

"...a fun and zany mystery, good humor, and fast action."

  • Jenn over at Jenn's Bookshelves reviews The Brain Full of Holes. If you haven't seen how great her new blog look is, I suggest you head over there right now... and she's a wonderful reviewer.
"The wit and humor his main characters exude will leave the reader crying with laughter."
"...a good historical read. The prose of a sleepy Southern town, alive with rich characters, is enjoyable, and offers a happy note even in a time of a downtrodden nation."

  • One of my favorite independent online book stores, {Indie}-pendent Books, invited Martin Chatterton to do a guest post about how his new book, The Brain Full of Holes, came about. Sometimes the real story is weirder than fiction.

"It all started with the highly unexpected humpback whale attack. Not  to mention the killer koalas, the organized lorikeet poop-strafing, and the SUV-stealing possums. For sure, there are strange things afoot in Sheldon McGlone's sleepy little town of Farrago Bay"

  • Martin Chatteron spends some time at the Rasco from RIF blog talking about what it is like writing for boys. Carol Rasco is the CEO of Reading is Fundamental, America's oldest and largest nonprofit children's and family literacy organization. You really want to check out her blog. *Carol is also on twitter.

  • April at Cafe of Dreams interviews Martin Chatterton, author of The Brain Full of Holes. Check it out to see what Martin has to say about two-headed butlers, soccer, and swiss cheese! *Also, follow April on twitter!
  • Shanyn at Chick Loves Lit asks five questions with Gaff author Shan Correa, followed by a brief review of the book. See what she had to say here.
  • Scott is a librarian at the Stillwater Public Library in Oklahoma and writes a blog about books at The Scott Freeman Blog. You can read his review of The Brain Full of Holes here.
"This book is a fun read and highly recommended for pre-teens and younger teens as well. For that matter, this adult looks forward to reading more exploits from Sheldon and The Brain."