Cover Reveal – MULROX AND THE MALCOGNITOS, by Kerelyn Smith

Hi Kerelyn! Thank you so much for doing your cover reveal with us at MG Book Village. Before we get to the new book, would you care to share a bit about yourself?

Sure! I’m Kerelyn Smith, a writer and avid reader of all types of books, especially fantasy, classic, literary, and children’s fiction.

I work as a software engineer, but I’m one of those weirdos who majored in English literature and then somehow stumbled my way into a career in tech.

I’ve lived all up and down the west coast of the United States and now live in the greater Seattle, Washington area. I love rain, wind, and fog and prefer large pockets to purses, boots to shoes, and sweatshirts to sweaters.

Mulrox and the Malcognitos is my first novel to be published, but I’ve been writing books for several years now, never intending to show them to anyone. Mulrox is my great leap out into the world.

What is this book of yours all about?

Mulrox and the Malcognitos is about an ogre named Mulrox who wants to be the greatest poet in the world. Unfortunately, all his ideas are terrible.

Then the worst thing he can imagine happens: his terrible ideas come to life. The malcognitos, as they are called, are annoying, wild, and troublesome, but worst of all, they need his help.

Mulrox soon finds himself on a quest to save the very ideas he loathes, accompanied by his sassy pet toad, quirky neighbor, and a hoard of mischievous bad ideas.

The book is raucous and fun, but Mulrox’s story is really about learning to find your voice and embrace your imperfections.

Having confidence and pride in myself without the need for external validation is something I continue to struggle with and I wanted to explore this subject in depth in this novel. I’m still a work-in-progress, but I’ve adopted the word “malcognito” into my daily life now so that when I make a mistake I’m embarrassed about, I just write it off as yet another malcognito. I hope the book will encourage others to go on to create many more malcognitos of their own.

How did you come up with the idea for the book? What was the inspiration?

The idea for Mulrox came from several smaller ideas. I wanted to write about an ogre poet, a character at odds with himself. I always love characters that seem to contain a contradiction, as they never quite fit in and there is always room to keep nudging and subverting the reader’s expectations.

The idea for the malcognitos has a strange origin. My partner had a wall-mounted blackboard, but when we moved we no longer had a place for it. Because of the new apartment rules, we had limited options about where to store it. We ended up wrapping the blackboard in a tarp and leaving it on the deck (do not try this). A few months later we went back to look at it and the front and back had molded through. We threw away the blackboard, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that mold. How the dust—these scattered and erased ideas—had turned into something else, something alive. Malcognitos.

In the original version of the book, all the malcognitos were made of scattered chalk dust, just like the ones out on my deck. I took that idea and ran with it, creating the worlds of Sounous and Veralby and all the creatures within them. 

What do you hope readers, especially young ones, will take from the book?

I would like young readers to walk away with the courage to embrace their mistakes and imperfections. Perfection just doesn’t exist.

It takes bravery to put yourself out there. You won’t always get the response you want, and that’s okay. The important thing is to keep trying. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Your malcognitos are necessary and central to who you are.

And you never know, some of the best ideas come from the places you least expect.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them—in particular those planning to add the book to their classroom libraries?

First, thank you. I can’t say how much I appreciate the work that you do. I’m delighted by the things I’ve read from the people in MG Book Village—encouraging children to read what they want, promoting diverse voices, meeting children at their level — it’s amazing. I truly believe that reading books builds compassion, empathy, and understanding which are things we desperately need in this world. I also believe it helps to build courage. The courage to be the hero in your own story and stand up for what you believe in. What’s more important and magical than that?

Back to Mulrox. I’d love for the book to find its way into the hands of kids who are quieter, struggle with self-esteem or perfectionism, or are afraid to express themselves. I hope that Mulrox’s journey can inspire these readers to find strength within themselves.

I was so lucky early on to an amazing group of educators who encouraged and supported me, especially within the arts. One of the best things we did was to have a writers group as part of our curriculum. In our writing time, they encouraged us to focus only on the ideas and the story. We did not worry about sentence construction, spelling, or anything else.

If I had to pair a class exercise with Mulrox, it would be a free write, or perhaps a brainstorming session for the worst ways to solve a particular problem. Anything to free up the brain and get it thinking outside of the box. Having the courage to try something new, or be the first to throw out a messy idea is a skill that is valuable later in life. It’s something I use every day as a software engineer.

OK, let’s not keep folks waiting any longer… here it is!

Wow, I love the magical, whimsical look of it! Were you involved in the process of designing this cover?

I was! I spent over a year looking at different cover designers and illustrators and Matt Rockefeller was always at the top of this list. His covers are emotional, fun, and incredibly expressive. I love the light, colors, and sense of story in his work.

I was ecstatic when he agreed to work with me, and the process was far better than I could have imagined. Before contacting him, I had written up a detailed book brief, with things like a plot summary, key scenes, and character descriptions, assuming that he would base the cover off my notes. But Matt took the time to read my book and understand it and my characters. He then presented me with several thumbnail sketches, all of which were incredible. We picked one of these options and then went from there refining and swapping ideas. I think we ended up with something amazing.

What did you think when you saw it?

I was at work at the time and I almost burst into tears. It’s hard to express how amazing it is to see something you created, come to life through someone else’s eyes.

Matt Rockefeller is an expert at capturing the essence of a story. There are so many hidden details and little expressions that make the cover so much fun to explore. I think it also raises questions and draws you in. It takes someone special to create a cover like that. Matt is not only an incredible illustrator but also an amazing person. It was such an honor getting to work with him.

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

Mulrox and the Malcognitos comes out March 29th and should be available from all retailers.

You can find out more about me at https://www.kerelynsmith.com/, but if you want to keep up-to-date on Mulrox and my other projects, you can join my Readers Group: https://www.subscribepage.com/ReadingGroupSignUp.

You can also follow me on social media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KerelynSmith

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kerelynsmithauthor/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KerelynSmithAuthor/

You should also check out Matt Rockefeller: http://www.mattrockefeller.com/

Thank you again for stopping by the Village, Kerelyn. I really look forward to reading it, and best of lucky with your book’s release!

Thanks so much for letting me share my cover with you and talk about Mulrox’s story.

Also, if anyone is interested in reading a digital ARC of Mulrox and the Malcognitos, please reach out to me through any of the methods above.

Kerelyn Smith is a writer of literary, speculative, and children’s fiction. By day she is a software engineer, but she gets up in the wee hours of the morning to write. She lives in Seattle, WA with her partner and dog, and enjoys hiking, gardening, and overcomplicating things. Mulrox and the Malcognitos is her first novel.

Cover Reveal: HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS, by Jasmine Florentine

Hi there, Jasmine! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS and reveal the book’s cover. Before we get to the book and the big reveal, though, would you care to share a bit about yourself?

First of all, thank you so much to MG Book Village for hosting this cover reveal! I’m really honored!

I’m a mechanical engineer and artist, and now I get to add writer to the list of things I do, so that’s really exciting! I’m also proud nerd who loves obsessing over MG and YA books, comics, animated movies, and musicals.

HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS is your debut novel. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page? 

Sure! The idea to write a book stemmed (pun intended) from my passion for STEM outreach and education. I wanted to use storytelling as a way to inspire kids — particularly girls and underrepresented minorities — to pursue STEM.

Naively, I thought, “I know, I’ll write a book where the characters use STEM, how hard can that be?” Ha! That was like 5 years ago. It took me a while just to learn how to plot a story, to scrap the first few versions entirely, to figure out how the publishing industry works, and to revise, revise, revise. I’ve always written stories or drawn comics for fun, but they usually never made it past a few chapters. This was the first time I was like, “I want to PUBLISH a book because I want to convince every kid that ENGINEERING IS AWESOME!”  So that gave me a lot more motivation to push through.

It took 2 or 3 years before I queried, and then another 2 years-ish of work with the publishing/editing team at Innovation Press. They’ve been INCREDIBLY patient with me, and I’ve learned a lot from them. The book is about a million times better because of everyone who helped so I’m thinking it might just be best to set the original draft on fire so I never have to go back and read it because my brain probably couldn’t handle the embarrassment.

How has all of your learning and experiences outside of writing influenced your writing and the stories you choose to tell?

I studied mechanical engineering at MIT, which has a tradition of very hands-on engineering. People build roller coasters out of wood, put police cars on the roofs, and build upside down rooms in weird places. We’re surrounded by technology every day, but those kinds of crazy engineering stunts always reminded me how magical engineering, and STEM in general, really is. I wanted to convey that sense of awe and amazement in the book, which is why I set it in a world where magic is normal and STEM is mysterious.

Another influence was my own experience, falling into engineering kind of by lucky accident. I really had no clue what engineering was growing up, and applied to tech schools because a friend encouraged me to do so (and because I thought the pranking culture at tech schools was awesome). I had a college counseler tell me, first that I wouldn’t get in, then that I would but only because I was a girl, and that I wouldn’t like it anyway. I spent my first year at MIT with a major case of imposter syndrome thinking I got in only because I was a girl . . . I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.

Okay – let’s get to the book. What’s HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS all about?

I started writing a whole summary and then realized it wasn’t as good as the book blurb, so I’m just copying and pasting that instead!

“Hex Allen can’t do magic—a huge problem when everything from lights to locks is powered by simple spells that everyone (save a few unfortunate “Undevelopeds”) can do. After years of feeling useless, Hex seizes the chance to change her future by journeying to the Wishing Wyrm, a legendary dragon that will grant a single wish once a century. Unfortunately, Hex isn’t the only one after the wish, and every rival wish hunter has magic on their side—every rival except the Clanksmiths. Like Hex, Cam and Fuse can’t do magic, but they’ve learned to build clank using the mysterious, forgotten arts of science and engineering.

After a fairy fiasco throws Hex and the Clanksmiths together, they agree to cooperate—for the time being.  With the Clanksmiths’ know-how and Hex’s creativity, they outsmart monsters with everything from LEDs to electromagnets to water balloon launchers. But as they race to the Wishing Wyrm, Hex must decide between her friendship with the Clanksmiths and the wish that would give her a normal, magical life.”

There’ll also be illustrated instructions for how to build some of the projects in the back of the book!

Were you like the Clanksmiths as a kid – a tinkerer who always had a project (or two, or three…) in the works?

Ha, yes! I was into origami, model airplanes, making Halloween costumes, drawing comics, craft kits, science kits, making things with random stuff around the house. I built a life-size puppet out of a coconut and a tomato trellis for my elementary school talent show.

The funny thing was I had never heard of engineering, so I always thought of all these projects simply as “art”.

You could be variously described as an engineer, an artist, a craftswoman, a designer, and about a billion other things besides. Of course, you are ALL of these things at once. But have you found any interesting parallels or similarities among these disciplines that are often presented as disparate and unrelated?

Holy moly yes. I’ve always made things, and never drew a line between what was art and what was engineering (largely because I didn’t know what engineering was). I have no clue why these disciplines are presented as unrelated! They’re all about using your imagination to make things, it’s just different ways to approach it. Look at product design, for instance — it brings together the technical aspect of making something functional, with the artistic aspects of making it visually appealing and user friendly. It’s one of many areas where art, design, and engineering overlap.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS?

I hope they come away from the book thinking that STEM is fun! And just as importantly, that anyone can be a maker, an engineer, a scientist. Maybe some of them will realize that they are already those things!

Also, I think some people are intimidated by STEM disciplines or just don’t have the clearest idea of what they encompass. I often hear people say things like “engineering seems cool but I’m not good at math”, and are surprised to hear I don’t do much math on a day to day basis. Engineering is really about creative problem solving.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS to their classroom libraries?

If the book inspires some of your students to learn more about STEM or to build some cool clank themselves (which I hope it will!), there’s a lot incredible free resources out there. The book includes instructions for the projects Hex and her friends build, but for kids who want even more, Instructables.com and Makezine.com are fantastic websites with a lot of projects.

For kids who want to get even deeper, they should see if there’s a local Makerspace or look into joining a FIRST team (I’m biased, I worked at FIRST, but it’s a really incredible program). 

And of course, teachers can always contact me if they want other inspiration for STEM projects or want me to Skype in to a class. I’m always happy to gush about STEM!

Just as a teaser, here’s a snippet from the project instructions included in the book. 😉

All right – let’s get to the cover. Were you at all involved in the process?

Yes! The Innovation Press is great about involving the author throughout. I had input into picking the illustrator, the initial sketches, the lettering (I got to do the coloring on the lettering actually!). But honestly, Ebony’s art was spot on except for a few minor details (the characters’ age, adding more clank). Mostly I just flipped out about how awesome the Clanksmiths’ outfits were or how much I loved the characters.

You are an accomplished illustrator in your own right. What was it like seeing another artist bring the characters you’d written to life?

I was nervous at first about giving up creative control but I AM SO GLAD I DID.  Even before I saw Ebony’s cover, I was already in love with her portfolio, so I was really excited to see what she was going to bring to the characters. And what she brought was AMAZING. I was basically fangirling over my own characters for a week after because the way she drew them was so perfect. I’m super excited to see the rest of Ebony’s illustrations for the book.

You should definitely check out her website and her other books to see more of her beautiful illustrations: http://www.ebonyglenn.com/.

Okay — I think we’d better check it out. Here it is!

What was it like seeing the cover art for the first time?

I was at a friend’s birthday party when I got the email with the full color version, and brought the party to a full stop by freaking out and then passing around my phone so everyone could have a look. The goggles! The colors! The monsters peeking out from the trees! The more I stare at it the more I’m in love with it!

When can readers get their hands on HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS, and do you have any exciting upcoming events to celebrate the release and spread the word about the book?

September 15, 2020! Ebony is going to be doing book signings at the 2020 Seattle Children’s Book Festival, and there will be an ARC giveaway at the Baker and Taylor/Follett boot at ALA Chicago 2020.

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

I’m on Twitter at @jrflorentine (admittedly, I’m still kind of figuring out Twitter). I also have a website, jasmineflorentine.com, which is currently my engineering/art portfolio, but I will be updating soon with a writing section (still can’t quite believe that’s happening, woo!)

Thank you again so much for hosting this cover reveal!

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Kate O’Shaughnessy

Hi Kate, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about your upcoming debut novel, THE LONELY HEART OF MAYBELLE LANE, which I really enjoyed.

Thank you! I’m really excited to be here—this is one of my very first blog interviews. 

I’m honored to hear that! This book comes out on March 3rd; can you give us a quick summary of it so our readers know what it’s about?

When 11-year-old Maybelle Lane finds out that her estranged radio DJ father is going to be judging a singing competition, she impulsively signs up as a contestant. But Maybelle has terrible stage fright and no way of getting to Nashville, where the competition will take place. But with the help of her neighbor and a tag-a-long classmate, Maybelle makes the journey to Tennessee—where she hopes she’ll not only be able to win the competition, but also her father’s heart. 

Can you tell us about the process of writing this story, and something you learned along the way?

I was actually working on another novel when I started writing Maybelle Lane. For this other book, I was wrestling with a revision that wasn’t working out. I was agonizing over it, as I’d been working on the novel for over a year. But then, I was writing in my journal one morning, and Maybelle’s voice just sort of…appeared. I try to write at least a couple of pages longhand most mornings, and I let it be about anything. A to-do list, recounting my dreams from the night before, story ideas. And when Maybelle popped into the pages, I just couldn’t stop writing about her. It was her voice that came first, and then the other details started to fall into place. I felt a little guilty at the time, because I pretty much tossed my other novel out the window, but I’m glad I did. So I guess that something I learned while writing this book is just the value of remaining open. I was laser-focused on this other novel, but I still allowed myself a silver of space to explore other ideas in my morning journal. And I’m so glad I kept that window cracked open for myself.

I love that! I also love the role that sound plays in this story, whether it’s music, the radio, or Maybelle’s recordings. Does sound play such a prominent role in your own life, or did the inspiration come from some other source?

I LOVE music—from an appreciation stand-point, music has always been an important part of my life. It’s such a beautiful form of self-expression. I’ve always wanted to be a musical person, so I think the music aspect of this story is definitely wish fulfillment, as I myself cannot carry a tune. And when I decided to give Maybelle both a beautiful singing voice as well as a musical background—her mother plays the guitar and sings, her dad is a radio DJ—I knew that sound would probably be a lens through which Maybelle saw the world. I knew I wanted her to be a collector, so it just made sense to me that she would want to collect sounds. And since she’s such a careful, perceptive kid, I knew it would be the quieter, more everyday sounds that spoke to her. 

Without giving too much away, the journey to Nashville is such a heartwarming trip where those involved all learn from each other. If you could pick three writers you don’t already know (alive or dead)  to go on a road trip with you, who would you pick, and why?

Oh wow. This is such a tough question! I have so many favorite writers that I’d be scratching my head for days trying to answer this, so if it’s okay with you, I’m going to cheat a little bit. Since it’s a road trip, I’m going to prioritize fun. I would want to travel with Anthony Bourdain, Adam Rippon, and Cardi B. I love food—I went to culinary school and used to be a chef—so I feel like Anthony Bourdain would set the route, and we’d eat some truly amazing food along the way. And I sincerely just love Adam Rippon and Cardi B. I think they would make a fantastic—and hilarious—duo, and I would love to bear witness to their shenanigans. And I guess I’m not cheating all that much, because Anthony Bourdain and Adam Rippon are both published authors, and Cardi B has claimed in the past she wants to write a book about her life. So…it kind of fits! 🙂 

For most of the novel, Maybelle has her mind fixed on one thing, and that’s getting to Nashville to sing for the dad she’s never met. What advice do you have for a reader who has their mind set on becoming a writer?

Above all, be kind to yourself. I feel like writers believe they should come out of the gates with the ability to write a novel that looks exactly like the ones you can find on the shelves. And if their first effort doesn’t look like a “real” book, then it must mean they’re no good at writing. But that’s so not true! Can you imagine if you expected the same of yourself for, say, driving a car or building a piece of furniture? That you should just be able to parallel park or construct a perfect credenza on your very first try? No! Never! Writing is a skill that takes a lot of practice and patience—patience with the process, but also with yourself. 

Do you have a new project on which you’re working, and where can our readers go to keep up to date on your writing life?

I am working hard on my next novel! It’s a standalone middle grade contemporary. The drafting process for this book has been so different than it was for Maybelle Lane. With Maybelle, the words came really fast. This book is going much slower. The characters are taking a little bit more time to reveal themselves. But the more I work on it, the more excited I am about where it’s going.

I wish you all the best in the upcoming year, and once again, thanks for joining us!

Thank you so much for having me! I had a ton of fun answering these questions.

Kate O’Shaughnessy writes middle-grade fiction. She is a graduate of Yale University, a member of SCBWI, and is the events and outreach coordinator at Left Margin LIT, a creative writing center in Berkeley, California. When she’s not writing, you can find Kate in her garden, eating good food, hiking, and chronically mispronouncing words she’s read but never heard said aloud. Her debut novel, THE LONELY HEART OF MAYBELLE LANE, will be published March 3, 2020 with Knopf Books for Young Readers. 

Cover Reveal: HIDE AND SEEKER, by Daka Hermon

Hi there, Daka! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HIDE AND SEEKER and reveal the book’s cover. Before we get to the book and the reveal, would you care to share a bit about yourself?

Sure! I was born in Chattanooga, TN, and growing up in the South greatly influenced my writing and love of food! I could live off sweet tea, buttermilk cornbread and peach cobbler. I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote stories for my classmates and family members, and loved when I was able to make them laugh or surprise them in some way. I spent most of my childhood in bookstores and libraries, imagining the day when I could share my stories with the world, so Hide and Seeker is a dream come true.  I majored in English Literature/Creative Writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia and I currently work in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, California. When I’m not writing, I’m adding to my growing toy collection, reading, exercising, hanging out with friends and family or searching for the best chocolate cupcake.

HIDE AND SEEKER is your debut novel. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?

It’s been a very, very long journey, with a lot of starting, stopping and some moments of doubt. I worked on several other projects, but always seemed to come back to this story. I think it’s because it’s based off one of my favorite childhood memories—playing Hide and Seek with my sisters, cousins and the kids in my neighborhood. I decided to put aside all my other ideas and only focus on this story. I joined SCBWI in 2008 and began to attend the workshops and conferences. I met some very talented writers who encouraged and supported me. Once I was ready, I started submitting my manuscript. There were many rejections, but also some positive feedback from agents. In March of 2017, I entered a #DVpit contest giveaway and won a query and first pages critique from author Will Taylor (@InkAndHive). He was amazing and I can’t thank him enough for his support and feedback. During the contest, I received several requests from agents to read Hide & Seeker.  Will also referred me to agent Emily Keyes from Fuse Literary. After a R&R, I signed with Emily and she’s the best! We work really well together. In March of 2018, we submitted the manuscript to Matt Ringler at Scholastic. We went through a few rounds of revisions and in November of 2018 Scholastic officially acquired my novel. There were lots of tears, screams and chocolate involved on my part. I’m tearing up just thinking about it now.

Let’s get to the book. What’s HIDE AND SEEKER all about?

Justin and his friends attend the welcome home party for a kid who mysteriously disappeared a year earlier and recently returned home.  After playing a game of Hide and Seek, strange things begin to occur. A mark appears on the wrist of every person who played the game and one by one they begin to vanish. They are taken to another world, called Nowhere, where they not only have to face their greatest fears, but also the Seeker, an evil monster who is determined to keep them imprisoned forever.

The book sounds seriously scary. Have you always been a fan of scary stories? Did you set out to write one?

It’s funny because my friends will tell you I’m afraid of my own shadow. I’m the person who has to watch a scary movie during the day so I have time to recover before I go to sleep. I do enjoy spooky novels, but I didn’t set out to write one. In my mind, it was an action-adventure, but as more people read it, they explained it was a Horror novel. Once I started revising, the creepier the story became. I’m still surprised these ideas flowed out of me, but I’m also excited I can embrace all things scary in this way.

So many young readers gravitate toward scary stories, and even crave them. What do you think it is about kids and scary stories? Why are so many of them attracted to being terrified in their reading?

I’ve often wondered that myself. I asked one of my young nephews and he explained that it’s all about the adrenaline rush scary stories give you. He enjoys those heart-stopping moments, the ups and downs and eventually seeing the monster defeated. I’m excited for everyone to read Hide and Seeker and I hope it more than satisfies the need for all things creepy and terrifying.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from HIDE AND SEEKER?

Hmmmm… I’ve thought about this a lot. Many of the main characters in the book are a reflection of me as a child, of the feelings I had growing up. I would want the readers to understand that it’s okay to be afraid or to feel lost, sad, confused or not enough. You’re not alone and stronger than you think. I want the readers to see the power of friendships, helping others and embracing who you are no matter the circumstances. I hope the readers will be entertained and but more importantly empowered.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add HIDE AND SEEKER to their classroom libraries?

Definitely! At its heart, this novel is about loss, facing your weakness and overcoming your fears.  The main character, Justin, is struggling with the aftermath of his friend’s sudden return and the recent death of his mother. He also has to deal with the terrifying realization that something sinister is hunting him and his friends. He’s ultimately able to learn the true meaning of family and friendship, and the value of believing in yourself. I think these are issues students can identify with. I hope I’m able to visit your schools and talk to your students about this story, my journey, the writing process.

Now for the cover. Were you at all involved in the process?

I wasn’t involved in the initial design stage. My amazing editor had an idea of what he thought could best reflect the creepiness of the story and I trusted him whole-heartedly. The one thing I knew I wanted was for the main character to be featured on the cover. Before it became final, I was able to suggest some changes, but they were minor. The overall process went very smoothly.

What was it like seeing the cover art for the first time?

I remember the moment vividly. I had just pulled into a parking lot in Santa Monica and glanced at my phone. I saw I had an email referencing the cover artwork. My chest tightened. I was so nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I said a quick prayer that the cover was something I liked. I opened the file and gasped. It was beautiful and spooky, exactly how I imagined it. I LOVED it. The first person I shared the artwork with was my dad. His response, his happiness and excitement… it was an amazing moment I’ll never forget.

All right – enough waiting! Let’s check out the cover!

Art by Marcela Bolívar.

When can readers get their hands on HIDE AND SEEKER?

In the true spirit of Hide and Seek, I can say… Ready or not. Here it comes! September 15, 2020. I’m so excited!

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?  I’m looking forward to communicating with my readers! For more information about me and the novel, they can find me at dakahermon.com or follow me @dakadh.

Daka Hermon was born in Tennessee and spent her childhood huddled under a blanket with a flashlight reading and writing fairy-tale and fantasy stories. She works in the entertainment industry, and is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She loves peach sweet tea, chocolate, cupcakes, and collecting superhero toys. Daka lives in California and can be found online at dakahermon.com and on Twitter @dakadh.

Cover Reveal: SUMMER AND JULY, by Paul Mosier — featuring an interview by Katherine Applegate

I love Paul Mosier’s work. He creates fascinating characters. He writes dialogue that rings absolutely true. And he’s funny. Really funny. 

SUMMER AND JULY is such a joy to read. It would be a mistake to call it a “summer read” because it’s so much more than that — sweet and tender and poignant — though it does evoke the magic of summer in the most lovely of ways. 

Don’t miss it.

— Katherine Applegate

. . .

Katherine Applegate: You’ve written for other ages. What draws you to Middle Grade novels?

Paul Mosier: Reading lots of stories to my two daughters made me realize I could write for middle graders with the emotional depth necessary to have a rewarding experience myself. I read very little when I was a middle grader— I often say that between “Go, Dog, Go!” and “Heart of Darkness” for AP Lit there was an extensive dark ages for me. But I was always writing stories. Reading to my older daughter, Eleri, it was specifically Kevin Henkes’ “Junonia” that made me realize I could write the kind of book I’d like to write for that age group. And it’s said that most adults never read another book after graduating high school, but middle graders are forced to read. So it’s like I’m Johnny Cash playing to prisoners at Folsom. My own childhood feels very near, and I don’t feel like a grownup, so I may be well suited to the age group. Now that I’m in this world, I’m grateful to be a part of the community of middle grade writers, which is full of generous and supportive people.

KA: You claim you believe in “the muse.” What do you do when she’s a no-show?

PM: Yeah, I feel a kinship with the ancient Greeks about this. When I look at the words that have appeared on my laptop screen and wonder where they come from, and cry at them, and knowing that I’m not that smart and not that pretty, it’s impossible for me not to believe in the muse. My belief in the muse is such that I think she’s never a no-show, that if I cannot hear her it’s my own fault. I had my back turned on her for many years, but she never gave up on me. I’m so grateful for that. On a practical level, I try to remember that I should always write down whatever the muse is showing me at that moment, even if I’m wondering about a different scene. It’s unwise to argue with her or to refuse an assignment.

KA: What’s the very worst part of writing? What’s the part you can’t live without?

PM: Whenever I’ve heard myself complain about any element of writing I’m keenly aware that these are first-world problems, and problems that some of my unpublished writer friends wish were their own. Waiting is tough, as the time from first draft being bought to the book appearing on shelves can be excruciatingly long. When you’re excited to share the story, that’s brutal. Working with the story editor can also be tough, but it always results in the story improving. What I can’t live without about writing is everything. I’d still be writing novels even if I wasn’t getting paid for it. It’s my avenue toward feeling. Giving birth to a story and getting to know the characters is an amazing experience, and sharing that world with others is a privilege and an honor, and deeply gratifying. 

KA: You’ve said “Summer– seen through the eyes of Juillet– is my favorite character that I’ve come to know through writing.” Why is that? 

PM: I love how free spirited and adventurous Summer is. She’s goofy, affectionate, and courageous. I was not much like Summer when I was 13. I was probably more like Juillet. Seeing Summer through the adoring eyes of Juillet, it’s hard for me not to find her charming. And the pain she shoulders makes her for me a sympathetic character. She’s probably the kind of girl I would have wished to force her way into my life when I was thirteen.

KA: You really bring a time and place to vivid life in SUMMER AND JULY. How did you get southern California so right?

PM: Thanks for saying so! Santa Monica has been my little family’s favorite summer holiday spot for years, and we stayed at an Airbnb very much like the one in the story where Juillet stays. “Ignore Alien Orders” is actually in the sidewalk right where we stayed.  So in this case it was the sense of place that gave birth to the story, and then the girls walked into it. I have said if I cannot write a beautiful story about a first crush in a seaside town with an ice cream shop and surfing, then I shouldn’t be writing stories. It’s great when research consists of watching videos of surfing on Instagram, reading the vocabulary of surfing, and taking a surfing lesson.

KA: Can you share a little more about this statement? “SUMMER AND JULY is the sort of novel written by a man living in an intermission between rounds of fear and pain, in love with his family, and with life.”

PM: As you know, Katherine, my younger daughter Harmony passed to the next dimension after a two year cancer battle in May of 2018, at the age of nine. The idea for Summer and July came during our holiday in the summer of 2016, during her first remission. Observing the achingly beautiful sweetness of time shared with the ones you love during a break from fear of losing them gives you an appreciation of the moment you are living in. Harmony always taught me that. The first draft was essentially complete by the time of her first recurrence, and looking at what I had written, it looked like a break in the clouds, even though the story has its own sadness.

I’d like the reader to know that you and I became acquainted because I contacted you to share that your beautiful novel, WISHTREE, was the last story Harmony heard. I was reading it aloud to her when her oxygen level started to plummet. She was fully aware until her last breath, and I’m glad that the last story she heard was one as beautiful as WISHTREE. Then when I went to the celebration of her life at her school, by beautiful coincidence they had planted a wishtree to which Harmony’s classmates had attached written messages and wishes. She said “this isn’t real” three days before her last breath, and I expect I won’t understand what she meant until I have taken my own last breath. I do believe that the distinction between what we call real and the stories we experience is a flimsy one, and characters in stories are pretty much as real as those in this physical world, and often more impactful. Most of us will never impact as many lives as Hermione Granger, just to name one, or Ivan for that matter. Is that why we write stories? Maybe so.

Thank you so much, Katherine, for your beautiful books, your support, and for being in the delivery room for the birth of Summer and July!

Paul Mosier began writing novels in 2011 but has written in some fashion his entire life. He is married and the father to two daughters, one of whom has passed to the next dimension. He lives near his place of birth in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. He loves listening to baseball on the radio, eating vegetarian food, drinking coffee, and talking nonstop. He has written three critically acclaimed books for middle grade readers: Train I Ride, Echo’s Sister, and Summer and July. Visit him on his blog, novelistpaulmosier.wordpress.com.

Book Trailer Premiere: THE INSIDE BATTLE, by Melanie Sumrow

I’m so excited to share the book trailer for my next Upper Middle Grade book, The Inside Battle! One of the reasons I wanted to create a book trailer was to give everyone a peek into Rebel’s world and shed light on his story.

The Inside Battle is a work of fiction but was, in part, inspired by the rise of racist militias in our country. White supremacy was created by white people, and I believe white people need to talk about racism, even when (and I’d argue, especially when) it makes us uncomfortable. All forms of racism are harmful, from the blatant to the subtle. This necessarily means we should first listen to those who are directly affected by racism and then speak, making a concerted effort to include all children in the conversation.

Books can also be a way to normalize discussions surrounding mental health. Rebel has anger management issues and, like my grandfather, his dad suffers from PTSD. Like my grandfather, Rebel’s dad won’t talk about it. It’s important we remove the stigma surrounding mental health for kids and recognize the positive impact of treatment.

As a mom and author, I hear children talking about social justice, and books provide a safe space for thoughtful dialogue. I’m hopeful The Inside Battle will demonstrate that even though we may struggle with speaking up for what is right, our silence can be far more dangerous.

For the book trailer, I wanted to capture Rebel’s dramatic internal battle and the ultimate choice he must make. I hope you enjoy!

Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying social issues. Before becoming a writer, Melanie worked as a lawyer for more than sixteen years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. Her debut novel, The Prophet Calls, was a 2018 Writers’ League of Texas Award Finalist and her next novel, The Inside Battle, publishes March 3, 2020.