Reading Past, Present, and Future

Fountains of Silence

I’m in a holding pattern with my own writing at the moment while I await editorial feedback on my book in progress (more later) so I’m able to tackle the books on my bedside table. Here’s what’s happening now:


I just finished This Tender Land  by William Kent Krueger  Set in 1932, the book follows four runaways from the Lincoln School, where Native American children are forcibly sent, as they launch a canoe and head for the Mississippi River. They encounter tragedy, heartbreak, kindness, and hope. Some lovely passages, exciting incidents, and interesting characters. Think Homer’s Odyssey.  I greatly enjoyed the book and will search out another by William Kent Krueger.

I’m now reading (gobbling up is more like it) Fountains of Silence by the brilliant Ruta Sepetys. Madrid, 1957. Silence, secrets, danger, fear.  Such writing, such research! I’m gobsmacked.

Next up is an indie titled The Serpent, The Puma, and the Condor, written by Gayle Marie. It’s a tale of Machu Pichu. Incas, conquistadors, and the tragic conflict of cultures. I can’t wait.

A list of fantasy books, part six

The Last UnicornAnother of my favorite fantasy novels, No. 6. The Last Unicorn—Peter Beagle.

Probably the first fantasy I ever read.  Schmendrick the magician captured my heart.

We’ve been celebrating fantasy novels because I’ve delved into that genre.

Here’s an insightful review of the book on The Mountain Echo.

On Fantasy: Gennifer Choldenko

For the next few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Next up, Gennifer Choldenko, whose book No Passengers Beyond This Point is set in an original fantasy world.

Gennifer CholdenkoQ: What is the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: The most challenging part is developing a completely original fantasy world. There are a lot of novels based on fantasy worlds that seem closely aligned with previous works. While you can make a case that a familiar trope fantasy can still be engaging, it isn’t what I am interested in writing or in reading. But how do you create something totally original? I believe fantasy worlds are a gift. I don’t think you can “try” to write a fantasy, so much as open your mind and your heart to the possibility.

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: In some ways, writing fantasy is remarkably similar to historical fiction. In both, you create a place and a sensibility which is not in a reader’s frame of reference. In both you have to give your reader a lot of carefully selected details that make the world come to life for him or for her. With historical fiction you can depend on research to feed your process at every stage of the game. There may be parts of your fantasy world which are fed by research—and if there are, lucky you—but that is not a given. The pure creative idea generation is at its most powerful in the fantasy genre.

No Passengers Beyond This PointQ: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

A: I love to read. I especially love reading (and listening to) middle grade fiction. Generally, I read everything I can before I start writing. But I stay away from books I think might be similar to what I’m planning to do. I don’t want to inadvertently plagiarize. As for a favorite, I never like this question. Who has a favorite book? I adore: The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Oz books, A Wrinkle in Time and Charlotte’s Web. These are all books I read as a child. One of the reasons I write for kids is because I believe books you love during the ages eight to fourteen become a profound part of who you are. Certainly that is true of me.

Q. Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A. Kids always ask me what is my favorite of my novels. Generally I say: “the one I’m working on right now” which is true. On the other hand I have a special place in my heart for No Passengers Beyond This Point. Partly this is because writing it was such an incredibly intense experience. The ideas came to me as if I were looking through a kaleidoscope: a thousand different pictures I couldn’t write down fast enough. One of the characters in the novel is named Bing. He is the imaginary friend of the character Mouse. Since I had an imaginary friend when I was little who was named Bing, I would really like to invite him to dinner. I would ask him why he came to me. And why he left.

Thank you, Gennifer, for answering these questions with such candor. Do read all of Gennifer’s books: the historical Al Capone series, the contemporary If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, and her recent and exciting historical thriller Chasing Secrets. Learn more about Gennifer Choldenko on her website.


bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. Lena Dunham wrote, “Like all Karen Cushman’s gorgeous novels, Grayling’s Song delves into the past to let us know what we must ask of our future. I want Cushman’s books to raise my children for me: that way I can be assured they’ll grow up witty, vastly knowledgeable, and tough as nails.”

Announcing the 2014
Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award Winner

Jennifer SommerThe Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators congratulates Jennifer Sommer of Kettering, Ohio, as the award winner for authors over the age of fifty who have not been traditionally published in the children’s literature field. Jennifer received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University and has worked as a children’s librarian for twenty years. She won the award for Octopus Capers, an interesting twist on nonfiction in which octopuses are the culprit in aquarium mysteries around the world. Learn more about Jennifer.

The grant was established by Newbery Award winner and Newbery Honor Book recipient Karen Cushman and her husband, Philip Cushman, in conjunction with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Karen published her first children’s book, Catherine, Called Birdy (winner of the 1995 Newbery Honor), at the age of fifty-three and has gone on to become one of the field’s most acclaimed novelists.

“I chose Jennifer Sommer’s Octopus Capers because it reached out and grabbed me—it’s original and engaging. The proposal made me wonder, laugh, and want to know more about octopuses, and I am looking forward to reading the whole thing,” said Karen.

SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver added, “Due to the generosity of Philip and Karen Cushman, this award recognizes the fact that creative life has no age limit. Jen pursued her MFA during midlife and her dedication has borne wonderful fruit!”

To read an interview with Jennifer Sommer by SCBWI official blogger, Lee Wind, visit SCBWI: The Blog.

To find out more about the Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award and the application process visit the “Awards and Grants” section on the SCBWI website.

Busy Weekend

Zane and the Hurricane and The Shadow ThroneIn the past three days I have battled hurricane and pirates, floods and evil kings, false friends and kind strangers. I was angry, frightened, discouraged, and determined. All this while I rode a train from here to Portland and back. Yup, I was reading—two amazingly good books.

Rodman Philbrick, author of the entirely splendid Freak the Mighty, took me to New Orleans in Zane and the Hurricane, just in time to to be trapped by Hurricane Katrina. Zane and his dog, Bandy, also encounter a feisty young girl and an elderly musician, dangerous drug lords, uncaring officials, and generous strangers. I could feel the wet and the cold and the hunger. Great book. 

Entirely different but equally compelling is The Shadow Throne, the third book in the Ascendance trilogy that started with The False Prince. Jennifer Nielsen has done it again, given us a rip-roaring adventure about good and evil, courage, loyalty, and love. I read this one much too late into the night. Great book.

I recommend you get these titles from your local independent bookstore. What would we do without them?

My Own Favorite Medieval Novels

Favorite Medieval BooksHappy Birthday, Birdy

2014 is the 20th anniversary of Catherine, Called Birdy. There will be celebrations all year, there will be hoopla, there will be cake. Here for your reading pleasure is a list, in no particular order, of my own favorite medieval novels for young people.                       

Crossing to Paradise — Kevin Crossley-Holland

Gatty, the engaging peasant girl from Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy, accompanies her mistress on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When tragedy hits, it is Gatty who leads the group to the fulfillment of its pilgrimage and, by the time she returns home, she is much changed. The story is compelling, and the writing is gorgeous.        

Blood Red Horse — K.M. Grant

Will and his brother Gavin follow the king on crusade to the Holy Land. Blood is shed, lives are changed and lost, but two things are constant—his love for Eleanor and the blood-red horse called Hosanna. Lovely, thoughtful depiction of the Muslims and their side of the conflict.

Book of the Maidservant — Rebecca Barnhouse

Johanna, serving girl to Dame Margery Kempe, a renowned and difficult medieval holy woman, accompanies her mistress on a pilgrimage to Rome. But Dame Margery abandons Johanna, who must journey through fear and anger and physical hardship to find her own way. 

Knight’s Fee — Rosemary Sutcliff

A game of chess, a brave minstrel, a kind old knight, and a friend lead the orphaned Randal to squirehood, and his own courage paves his path to becoming a knight.

The Puppeteer’s Apprentice — D. Anne Love

Mouse, a timid orphan, joins the company of a master puppeteer, and she, too, learns to make the puppets dance. Searching for her own identity, Mouse ultimately receives a name and experiences great joy and great sorrow on her way to fulfilling her dreams.

The Ramsay Scallop — Frances Temple

Eleanor and her betrothed, Thomas, are sent on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James and come to realize the glorious possibilities of the world around them … and within each other.

The Wicked and the Just — J. Anderson Coats

Cecily’s family moves to Wales, where the king needs loyal Englishmen to control the rebellious Welsh. The Welsh Gwenhwyfar, struggling to survive under the hostile English, is taken as servant to the bratty Cecily … until tensions explode and the tables are turned.