Archive for the ‘Fiction for MG’ Category
Dee Garretson is the author of Wildfire Run, which is being released on August 31, 2010. She writes books for middle graders. Dee has a degree in Landscape Horticulture and worked as a landscape designer and taught landscape horticulture classes for several years before returning to writing. Please visit her website at http://deegarretson.com/index.html
1. The idea for the plot of ‘Wildfire Run’ came to you during the 2008 primary elections for the U.S.presidential race. Please tell us what the story is about and how you developed the idea for it.
Here’s my one sentence blurb for it: When Luke Brockett, the President’s son, is trapped at Camp David during a wildfire by high tech security gone haywire, he and his friends Callie and Theo know they have to find a way out before it is too late.
I developed the idea for the story because I’m one of those people who follow elections and politics obsessively. (I have a degree in international relations from Tufts University.) It’s my version of sports addiction. The fascination is partly with the people and personalities behind the events. Having children of my own, what struck me during the ’08 primaries was the number of young children or grandchildren of the candidates. That led me to think of how some of those children’s lives were going to take a drastic change.
2. Can you tell us a little more about Camp David?
Camp David is the presidential vacation retreat located right in the middle of Catoctin National Park in Maryland. It’s supposed to be a place where the presidents and their families can vacation safely and away from media scrutiny. Information about what’s inside is very limited, especially after the events of 9/11. I cobbled together what I could from a variety of sources, so the historical detail in the book is as accurate as I could make it, and the rest, well, it’s fiction.
3. What age group do you think would enjoy Wildfire Run? Is this a book for middle graders?
The book is for middle graders, and probably slightly older readers up to the age of about fourteen.
4. When you were writing this story, did you do any research about what life might be like for a child of a U.S. President?
I had already done quite a bit of research on presidential children, because I was toying with the idea of a nonfiction picture book on the subject. I ended up using that material to write a play which will be on my website in the near future for teachers’ use as a class project. Doing the research gave me an overall feeling of how to handle my main character.
5. Wildfire Run will be released on August 31, 2010, will it be your first published novel?
Yes, it will be my first published novel.
6. Did you give any thought to the prospective audience for this novel when you were writing or editing it? Did you intend for this to be a book for boys?
I did intend it to be a book for boys. I became interested in middle grade fiction targeted to boys when my son was about nine. He was so excited about some of the books he was reading, and he really wanted me to read them as well. I took a serious look at the books he particularly loved that he read over and over, and that’s what made me decide to try my hand at a sort of book he would want to read.
7. What about this book do you think boys in particular might enjoy?
There’s problem solving with cobbled together gadgets. I’m showing my age, but I’ve always described the main character, Luke, as a MacGyver-type kid. There’s a kid-built robot. And Luke gets to drive around in the woods in an old jeep. I think that appeals to any pre-licensed driver!
8. If you had to describe it by comparing it to other books, which would you choose and why?
It’s set up more like an adult thriller/suspense novel, because early on I switch points of view each chapter between several different people, but the later parts are more action oriented from the main character’s perspective. I would hope kids who like Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series would like this book as well.
9. Are you working on another novel? Do you plan to write any other books with male protagonists?
I’m working on a second middle grade book right now for HarperCollins, also with a male protagonist. This one is about kid actors on a sci fi movie set who get trapped in a blizzard. It’s been so much fun to research movie-making for this, plus I’m a huge science fiction fan, so that part is exciting as well.
10. Is there going to be a book trailer for your novel? Are you or the publishers taking any special steps to try to reach boy readers?
I plan to have a book trailer up by early summer. One very exciting step HarperCollins is taking is their new site, Awesome Adventure Books, http://www.awesomeadventurebooks.com/, which targets their action-oriented books with some additional games for kids. It also has special sections for parents and teachers. I’m hoping my book will be on the site when it is released.
11. Which novels by other authors would you recommend to boys?
There are so many I enjoy, it’s hard to limit it. The GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series by Suzanne Collins is fantastic. Most people now know her for her young adult books, HUNGER GAMES in particular, but the earlier middle grade GREGOR series shouldn’t be overlooked. The ARTEMIS FOWL series by Eoin Colfer are both fun and imaginative. Those were my son’s absolute favorites.
12. Besides your author website and your blog, you have another website called “Adventure Books” at www.kidsaventurebooks.com , please tell us about that website and what inspired you to create it.
I’m very interested in why some kids love to read and others don’t, and it seems that many kids who say they don’t like to read may think that only because they haven’t been exposed to the sort of books that would draw them in. I wanted a site parents, teachers and librarians could use with kid-tested high appeal books. It’s not a traditional review site, because I don’t list any books that don’t pass my kid readers and my own somewhat arbitrary parameters. There are many books I’ve recently read that need to be added to it, but I just haven’t had the time. Too many great books in the world!
Rebecca Barnhouse is the author of The Coming of the Dragon. She writes books for middle graders and young adults. Rebecca teaches and writes about medieval topics and about children’s literature set in the Middle Ages. Please visit her website at http://www.rebeccabarnhouse.com/
1. I try not to interject myself into these interviews, but I have to comment on the premise of your book, The Coming of the Dragon. As I understand it, the story is not a retelling of the Beowulf story, but it does involve King Beowulf and some elements of the original Beowulf story. When I was a teenager, (which was probably only about 20 or so years after the whole Beowulf/Grendel incident occurred) most of my classmates (all boy school) were very good readers, but the idea of reading an epic poem in something that only vaguely resembled the English we knew was not exactly one that we embraced. However, most of us loved the story and I think that proves that if a story is compelling, we are willing to push through anything to finish it. The story of Beowulf had many of the elements that boys love: heroes, monsters, and battles. So, with that entirely self-absorbed introduction over, please tell us about The Coming of the Dragon. Is the story involving Grendel mentioned in this book? Where in time, in relation to that event, does this story occur?
How great that you and your classmates loved Beowulf when you were teenagers! “Heroes, monsters, and battles,” as you say—what’s not to love? (Well, besides all those digressions and difficult names and stories within stories that can make it very hard to follow the main action of the poem.)
In The Coming of the Dragon the focus is not on the first half of the poem, in which Beowulf battles Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Instead, I skip forward to the second half of the poem, which takes place after Beowulf has ruled for 50 years. When a thief steals a goblet from a dragon’s hoard, the dragon gets revenge by destroying much of Beowulf’s kingdom. The king takes a small band of warriors with him to fight the dragon—but except for one young warrior, they all abandon the king in his hour of need. That’s the story I’m telling in my novel, so in that sense I am retelling part of the poem. But I’m also inventing a lot of backstory for my protagonist, Rune, whose nickname comes from the from runic letters inscribed on the amulet he wears around his neck. It was there when—as a baby—he washed up on Geatland’s shores. So was a sword, a shield, and a coat of mail. Throughout the novel, Rune struggles to find his courage and his identity.
2. What about this novel do you think young boys would enjoy?
Besides heroes, monsters and battles? How about ancient swords, chain-link mail, and masked helmets? Or a terrifying, fire-breathing dragon? Trust me, this is not your friendly, ride-on-my-back, read-my-thoughts kind of dragon. It has no name and it wants vengeance! If that’s not enough to get boys reading, there is also friendship and a smidgeon of romance—and plenty of action to make them keep turning the pages.
3. What style would you say it is written in? Is there any history to
be learned from this story?
Although the novel—like Beowulf itself—is historical fantasy, the style is realistic. I want readers to experience the heat and wind and acrid smell that Rune feels when a dragon flies directly over his head. The kind of weapons sixth-century Scandinavian tribes used, the architecture of their halls (no castles here!), the kinds of food they ate, the drinking horns they used; that’s the kind of history readers will pick up from this novel. There are also references to Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse literature and culture.
4. Is this novel intended for middle graders? Do you think young
adults would like it, too?
Rune is 16 years old. Originally, the book was intended for a YA audience, although now it’s being marketed for middle grade readers. But I think it’s for anyone who loves fantasy.
5. Your previous novel, The Book of the Maidservant, has a girl
protagonist. Did you give any thought to the prospective audience
for The Coming of the Dragon when you were writing or editing it?
Did you intend for this to be a book for boys?
I wasn’t really thinking about the audience when I wrote the book—instead, I was thinking about how to tell Rune’s story while remaining as true as I could to Beowulf. As a teenager, I loved fantasy novels about both male and female characters (still do, in fact), and never thought of them as being boy books or girl books.
6. Is there a sequel planned for The Coming of the Dragon?
There’s a companion book, called Peaceweaver, in the works. A different character, a girl, tells her version of events, and there’s some overlap with The Coming of the Dragon.
7. If you had to describe this novel by comparing it to other books,
which would you choose and why?
Besides Beowulf, right? The novel is full of the classic fantasy tropes, such as a main character of unknown parentage who has to prove his mettle both to himself and to those who are suspicious of him. In some ways, I’m drawing on all the fantasy novels I read growing up, starting with the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (who makes liberal use of Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon literature himself). Recent novels that might make good comparisons to this one are Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother, which is the first novel in her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, or John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books.
8. Can you think of any novels by other authors that you would
recommend to boys?
For readers who want more about Beowulf, Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, Beowulf, is excellent. Other fantasy novels I recommend include Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, starting with The Thief, and Cinda Williams Chima’s The Warrior Heir and its sequels. A wonderful novel that middle grade boys and girls are going to love, Matthew Kirby’s The Clockwork Three, is coming out in October 2010.
For readers who have the patience for gorgeous, complex language, I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea (published in 1967, it features a school for young wizards). For YA readers, I can’t recommend Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock highly enough. Cynthia Voigt’s The Wings of a Falcon, too.
9. When is this novel being released?
October 26, 2010.
10. Rebecca, your bio says that you’re a teacher. What do you think
schools can do to encourage boys to read?
Individual schools don’t have control over this, but the number one thing I wish the country would do is get rid of our focus on testing. Without meaning to, No Child Left Behind has turned “reading” into reading sentences and paragraphs in order to answer multiple choice questions. It has gotten rid of the concept of reading for pleasure (not to mention its pernicious effect on the arts, on science, and on any subject other than reading and math).
Something I think teachers and schools can still do is to recognize other forms of reading than novels, which we sometimes focus on to the exclusion of nonfiction. I’ve known boys who can very happily absorb encyclopedic works about engines and vehicles, but who are left cold at the thought of reading fiction. I know I’m stereotyping here, but I’m also taking examples from my own family. Exciting magazine stories, for example from Flying or Sports Illustrated, are valid reading material, too, and reading about subjects they feel a passion for can help both boys and girls gain confidence in their reading skills.