Cover Reveal: THE FORBIDDEN LOCK, by Liesl Shurtliff

Hi there, Liesl! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your new book and reveal its cover. But before we get to that, since this is your first time at the Village, would you care to tell our readers a bit about yourself and your work?  

Hi! Thanks so much for having me here. I’m a middle-grade author from Chicago. I have a series of humorous fairytale retellings called the Fairly True Tales series and then the Time Castaways series, which is a family time travel adventure. My writing style usually includes quirky characters, fast-paced plots, fantastic world building, and lots of magic. I love my house plants, fuzzy socks, and afternoon tea with friends.  

All right — onto the new book, THE FORBIDDEN LOCK, the third book in your Time Castaways series! Can you tell us what this installment of the series is all about?

The third and final book of the Time Castaways trilogy! Without giving away too much about Books 1 and 2, The Forbidden Lock continues the saga of the Hudson family and their feud with Captain Vincent and his crew of time pirates. The Hudsons are in a race for time itself. Captain Vincent has gained the power to change events in time, and with the help of famous chemist Alfred Nobel, he can even erase a person’s entire existence. Captain Vincent plans to make his perfect world, and it doesn’t include the Hudsons. The world literally starts to fall apart. People start to disappear. Time periods are crashing into each other, dinosaurs have taken over Central Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is overtaken by the very historical figures it features. Our hero Matt finds himself increasingly alone, wondering if he’ll be able to hold on to his family, his friends, or even himself. 

Have you always been interested in history?

Yes! For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the past, especially when it’s presented as a great story. I want to know about people and places from long ago, how they lived, what they wanted and felt, how they’re different for me, how they’re the same. I also love to learn the unusual, lesser-known details of their lives. For instance, most people know Alfred Nobel as the famous chemist who invented dynamite who then left most of his fortune to found the Nobel prizes, but a lot of people don’t know that his first love was literature. He wanted to be a poet, and actually wrote some pretty darn good poetry, but his father convinced him it wasn’t a practical profession. (I mean, he’s not totally off base, is he?) I include that tidbit in The Forbidden Lock, and even use one of his poems called A Riddle as the epigraph of this book, as well as in the story.

Is time travel something you fantasized about as a kid, or something you do fantasize as an adult? What influences did you have in developing your time travel world?

What kid doesn’t fantasize about time travel? Every time I even mention it to a group of kids they always go “Ooooooh!” I think it’s a very natural thing to think about. We wish we could go back and change things. We wish we could see what’s coming. I did fantasize about time travel as a kid, and still do. I thought about how it might be possible, what you could do or not do, the consequences, the way it would feel. I once attended a lecture by a mathematician who described in detail how time travel was indeed possible in theory, but no one was quite sure how to do it without dire consequences, like your head exploding. It really sparked my interest, and though this series is more fantasy than science-y, I did draw upon some of the concepts in his lecture to build my own logic around time travel and how it works. Time sickness is a thing, and some get it worse than others.

The line between fiction and non-fiction can, of course, be a fuzzy one – but things get especially fuzzy when you, say, feature actual people from the past in your fictional stories. Can you speak to that fuzzy line, and what you find so fascinating, beneficial, and fun about blending fact and fiction?

Fuzzy is definitely the right word for it. I include a lot of historical character in the Time Castaways trilogy, including Queen Elizabeth I, Annie Oakley, and Alfred Nobel. I did a lot of research, digging through multiple sources to try to get as clear a picture as possible of the time and people that I want to include in my book. I try to stay true to history as much as possible, but the thing about history is we can’t always know what’s true or false. There’s a lot of blank space, so many questions we can’t possibly answer with 100% certainty, and historians are constantly making new discoveries that shift our view of the past. That’s where history can be really fun in fiction. We can take liberties in filling in those blank spaces. Some might say this can be problematic with young readers, that they might be confused about what’s true and what’s not, but that hasn’t been my experience. Quite the opposite. Often, I hear readers ask, “Did that really happen?” Sometimes true facts are stranger than fiction, and kids want to know more. Historical fiction can be a great springboard into deeper historical research and interest for students.

You’ve mentioned that these books are uniquely challenging to write – I can’t even begin to imagine! Can you share with us some of those challenges, and perhaps how you dealt with them?

I think one of the biggest challenges with writing time-travel is that the possibilities are endless! I know that might seem like a good thing, but when we’re storytelling, it helps to have some constraints. When you have the possibility of time travel, you open up infinity possibilities and it can easily overwhelm you. Where do I decide to take my characters? Who will they meet? What will they do? How will their actions affect various timelines? How will time travel affect them? It’s a lot to wrap the brain around, and I had to spend some time developing a framework. I’m not typically an outliner, I generally find it too confining. But in this case, I needed confinement! It’s a good example of how every book is different. We can’t approach every story in the same way.

The other big challenge for me was simply keeping track of everyone’s timelines. This is a multi-generational family saga with characters coming from all different centuries and countries. Some people get lost in time for years and then come back where they started. They could be decades older while everyone else hasn’t aged a minute. I had to make some spreadsheets to manage it all. And oh boy, do those spreadsheets come in handy when it’s time for copy edits! Poor copy editors. These books have to be their worst nightmare.

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from this book, and the Time Castaways series in general? 

Mostly I hope readers simply enjoy the ride. That’s always my goal as a writer. I want to create stories that make reading a joy and not a task. Beyond that, I do hope these stories help readers think and wonder and stretch their imaginations about what’s possible. Just like time travel, the possibilities are infinite. 

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 share THE FORBIDDEN LOCK, and the Time Castaways series in general, with their students?

This series is full of potential for further discussion, learning, and research, so I do hope many classrooms will benefit from those opportunities. I do have a great educator guide on my website for this series, with several Common Core-aligned activities. I’d say it’s best suited for middle-schoolers, grades 5-8, though not out of bounds for grades 3-4.  

Okay – let’s get to the cover! Were you at all involved in the creative process?

I was! Of course, we wanted the books to match the other covers in style and tone, so we knew there would be a vehicle at the center, and two location silhouettes on the top and bottom. My publisher asked me which vehicle and locations I thought should be featured on this particular cover. As we’d done a train transforming into a ship, and then a bus, I thought it was time for flight! As for the locations, The Forbidden City of China and the Lost City of Colombia are two key locations in this book, so I knew I wanted those featured.

What was it like for you to see the cover art for the first time?

I was beyond thrilled! It’s perfect. The design is by Katie Fitch, and the art by Alexandria Neonakis. I love her style. It’s perfect for these books. I love how the cover captures the adventure and magic (with a dash of humor) that readers will find within the pages.

Okay — let’s take a look for ourselves!

Wow! It’s fabulous! And the three covers look wonderful together!

Now, when can readers get their hands on THE FORBIDDEN LOCK?

October 15, 2020!

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

You can learn more about me and my books on my website, Lieslshurtliff.com. I’m also active on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook as @LieslShurtliff. There you can see more personal tidbits on my work and family, plus super cute photos of my new kitty!

Liesl Shurtliff is the New York Times bestselling author of the (Fairly) True Tales series and the Time Castaways series. Her books have been named several state award lists and have won many awards including a Children’s Book Award from the International Literacy Association. A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Liesl has called Chicago home for fifteen years. She and her husband have four children who have inspired many characters in Liesl’s books, both hero and villain.

Book Trailer Premiere: GARGANTIS, by Thomas Taylor

There’s a storm brewing over Eerie-on-Sea, and the fisherfolk say a monster is the cause. Someone has woken the ancient Gargantis, who sleeps in the watery caves beneath this spooky seaside town where legends have a habit of coming to life. It seems the Gargantis is looking for something: a treasure stolen from her underwater lair. And it just might be in the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, in the care of one Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder. With the help of the daring Violet Parma, ever-reliable Herbie will do his best to figure out what the Gargantis wants and who stole her treasure in the first place. In a town full of suspicious, secretive characters, it could be anyone!

In the second fantasy set in Eerie-on-Sea, Herbert and Violet team up to solve the mystery of Gargantis — an ancient creature of the deep with the power to create life-threatening storms.

Click HERE to check out a recent interview of Thomas Taylor in the School Library Journal!

THE POWER OF IDEAS, by Katharine Orton

My brain is “fidgety.” It doesn’t sit still. It likes to go off adventuring while the rest of me does other things – things such as: waiting to arrive at my train station. Having an important meeting. Sitting an exam.

As you can imagine, this has its problems.

But now that so many of us are finding ourselves at home and facing some really tough things, I’m discovering a new benefit to my “fidgety” brain: aka my imagination.

Imagination is like an inbuilt escape hatch after all. Even if we can’t physically go there, in our minds we can explore the funny shape on the horizon we can see just over the rooftops from our bedroom window. Or countries that are thousands of miles away. Even other worlds. We can visit friends and family, meet new people, encounter fantastical beings.

What’s not to love about that?

In my book, Nevertell, eleven-year-old Lina escapes from a Siberian prison camp and soon discovers a world of magic beyond its fences. Later in the story, Lina realises the true power of ideas, and of imagination. Without either she may never have escaped. She would never have known of the existence of fairy tale beings – or discovered a touch of her own magic.

Ideas are powerful. They can change the world – in big ways and small. If you think about it, without ideas, or imagination, there wouldn’t be much of… well,  anything.

While we’re zipping around the place in our minds – reading, writing, daydreaming – we’re helping ourselves, too. We’re transported. Maybe we can forget stuff for a while, figure a thing out that’s bothering us, or feel a little better. And feeling better, even for two minutes, is a precious thing in hard times. Lina knows it, and I’m certain that she’d say the same.

Without my fidgety brain there wouldn’t have been a Nevertell. That much I do know. So, one day, when I’m finally in the lovely position to miss my train station again, I’ll remember how much my imagination helped me, too.

Katharine Orton lives in Bristol in the UK and Nevertell is her first book. You can find out more, ask her questions or find free resources and creative activities on her website: www.katharineorton.com.

Cover Reveal: HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. What’s HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE all about?

Thanks so much for having me! This is great fun.

I pitched the second Myrtle Hardcastle mystery to my editor like this: “How To Get Away with Myrtle: in which a boring railway holiday to the seaside is livened up by jewel thieves and murder, and Aunt Helena has (sadly) probably not killed someone.”

What’s it like writing a series? How does your approach to Book 2 differ from your approach to Book 1?

Series are as much fun for the author as they are for the readers. Maybe even more! As I spent more and more time with my characters, they naturally started to suggest further adventures to me. I didn’t set out to write a series, but even before the end of Premeditated Myrtle, it was clear that all of these characters had more Investigating to do. Happily, my publisher agreed and signed on for four Myrtle books.

The biggest difference is that the first book started off much longer—quite a bit longer than is typical for series mysteries (for adults or young readers). I whittled it down to a more manageable size—but writing a shorter book was entirely new to me. My young adult novels have all topped out just over 100,000 words. I wasn’t sure I could write a shorter book, but I was determined to learn how. And the first draft of How to Get Away with Myrtle was half that length! It’s since been fleshed out to its final length of around 74,000 words, which feels just exactly right. (I think I have the knack now—I just turned in Book 3, at just over 73,000!) They’re a terrific length for book-loving middle graders (who often email me asking for longer books!).

The Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series is set in Victorian England! Can you tell us a bit about this setting and why it is so important?

It would take several college courses, an army of historians, and thousands of pages to explain the significance of Victorian England and the global shadow we still live under, well more than a century later! But for these books, I really wanted to explore a world that was just developing all of the standard criminology tools we now take for granted (fingerprinting, blood analysis, etc.), and how exciting that must have been for crime fighters of the era.

Myrtle’s world is like the world of kids today: she lives with many technologies that are “old hat” for her—she’s never known a world without railways, gas lighting, telegrams, or photography. But many things are new and modern and thrilling: telephones, electricity, innovative advances in crime science. Sometimes the past can feel like one blurry lump that’s hard to distinguish, but the world is constantly changing, and people of every era have lived in modern, technologically advanced times. (1893 might seem old-fashioned or even primitive to us, but to people of the period, it was the most advanced the world had ever been.) Myrtle’s cutting-edge enthusiasm for All Things Modern helps bring that sense alive for readers. 

What do you hope your readers–especially the young ones–take away from this book?

These books, above all, are a celebration of curiosity and a determined search for knowledge. I hope readers find Myrtle’s curiosity infectious—the way she is easily distracted by any new bit of fascinating information that crosses her path, and can’t wait to share that information with the reader (whether or not it’s actually relevant to the matter at hand!). And, in turn, that they’ll see this irrepressible curiosity as a positive trait. In Myrtle’s case, she uses it to solve murders and further the cause of justice. But curiosity also fuels science, it fosters understanding between cultures, it drives discoveries and pushes boundaries. Joined with perseverance and determination, curiosity can make a person unstoppable, capable of achieving whatever we set our minds to.

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 HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE to their classroom libraries?

We’re developing a Common Core-aligned classroom guide for Premeditated Myrtle, the first book in the series, which will also work with Book 2. These books are ideal read-alongs for units of history (How to Get Away with Myrtle in particular deals with the early industry of tourism, the effect of railways on culture and society, the science of photography and its use in crime scene analysis—which would make for a fantastic classroom exercise!—and more.). The books also include historical notes, and there are resources for readers on my website (www.elizabethcbunce.com). I have tried to share as much real history as I can in these books, but for even more historical fun, join me there. I’ll be sharing lots of period science and criminology, Victorian-era crafts and amusements, and other wonderful tidbits that will help enrich the reading experience.

I want readers to join in my fascination and delight for history—not just dates and battles and politics, but the way our ancestors lived their daily lives, what it might have felt like (or… smelled like) to live in a particular era, in a particular class, with particular interests. Myrtle shows one face of history to young readers, and I hope she opens up windows to other facets of the past, as well.

I love to talk to young readers, writers, and historians, and teachers or librarians interested in school visits (virtual or in person when circumstances permit) should contact me to discuss appearances.

All right — I’ve got some questions about the cover. But before we start discussing it, let’s take a look...

Tell us about the cover! Were you involved in the process?

Artist Brett Helquist’s covers have been more than I could have dreamed of for Myrtle. Sometimes an author has very little say in a book cover, but that was not the case here. Early on in the series development, I spent quite a bit of time with my editor discussing our shared vision for the series. As soon as we saw the artwork for Book 1, we knew we were on the right track. Myrtle’s expression of determined action was so perfectly captured!

The initial sketches for Book 2 originally featured the stolen tiara. I proposed featuring the train instead, thinking it would invite readers to come along with Myrtle on her holiday—and everyone embraced this idea enthusiastically (I’ve heard even the artist was relieved not to have to paint that tiara after all!). Now that the overall series design is established, I keep that in mind when writing the new books, making sure the stories include nice visual set pieces for the cover art, and small significant objects/props that can be featured in the frame corners and chapter headers. Keep your eye out for those scissors!

(Interesting nerdy footnote: Editor Elise Howard’s vision included the iconic red cow-catcher on the train, even though they were not typically used on English trains of the period! But it definitely helps set the stage.)

As a historical costumer, I was also asked to provide input on Myrtle’s clothing. I had one request: that she wear a middy (a sailor suit, fashionable seaside wear of the era). This request was actually borne from Brett’s original sketch for Book 1, where Myrtle was wearing an ascot with flippy little ties. It didn’t feel right for Book 1, but I knew it was perfect for How to Get Away with Myrtle! I sent along a photograph of an 1890s red and white middy in a museum collection—and it ended up inspiring the spectacular color scheme.

But I had NO IDEA how well Brett would realize all of these suggestions! In the story, the travelers are lured by a fabulous brochure advertising the Family Amusements of a luxurious seaside resort, including the beautiful beach and the quintessential pier. Brett’s cover for this book looks exactly like that Brochure! I’m beyond thrilled. The back-and-forth creative input of everyone involved in these books, including the covers and the internal design work, has been an amazing experience that makes the whole package that much stronger.

What was it like for you to see the cover for the first time?

My editor was whisking out of the country as she was sending me the artwork, so the exchange happened over the phone—there is no written record to record it for posterity. There are rumors that I might have squealed, but as there is no independent confirmation of that, it cannot be proved.

When can readers get their hands on HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE?

It will be out October 6, in a Fabulous Two-Book Launch Event Extravaganza, right alongside Book 1, Premeditated Myrtle! I’m so excited that eager readers will be able to grab both books at the same time—or pick the one that appeals the most. These books occur in sequence (Book 1 takes place in August 1893, Book 2 is in October, Book 3 in December, etc.)… but you can read them in any order you like!

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

My website and blog are at www.elizabethcbunce.com. If you subscribe to the blog, you’ll get all the newsy updates on everything Myrtle related, as well as everything I’m making besides books (there are some Myrtle crafts coming!). Readers can also follow the hashtags #MyrtleMondays, #DoubleMyrtle, and #PeonytheCat on Facebook and Instagram. My publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, also has fabulous resources and a robust social media platform, and you can see what else they have coming out.

Elizabeth is a fan of all things fantastical, mysterious, spooky, and old. She writes historical fantasy, mysteries, and ghost stories for young readers, and discerning not-so-young readers. Her books are inspired by real places and cultures of the past, often with otherworldly or magical elements. She’s been writing as long as she can remember—even before she knew it was a job. She’s always been interested in literature, folklore, history, and culture, so she studied English and anthropology in college. But she’s only ever worked as a writer (although not all her writing jobs were as interesting as being a novelist). She’s a native Midwesterner, living in the tall grass prairie near Kansas City with her husband and their feline supervisory staff. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her Making something—cosplay, needlework, historical costuming, quilting… but not cooking. In 2009 her first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut, further cementing her affection for librarians everywhere! You can read her acceptance speech on the Making Page, and learn more about the Morris Award from YALSA.

Cover Reveal: THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT: WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE, by Erin Soderberg Downing

Hello, Erin! Thank you for coming to the MG Book Village to chat about your new book and reveal its cover. But before we get to all that, since this is your first time at the Village, would you care to tell our readers a bit about yourself and your work?

Thank you so much for letting me visit to share my new series with you guys! My name is Erin, and I’ve written more than fifty books for kids and tweens. Some of the stories you might be most familiar with are the chapter book series PUPPY PIRATES; a middle grade series about a family of magical misfits, called THE QUIRKS; or the middle grade magical realism novel MOON SHADOW. Also important to note: my favorite kind of pie is KEY LIME.

Okay, now, onto the new book, THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT: WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE. Can you tell us what it’s all about?

The first book in THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT series is about a family traveling around the country, selling pie out of their newly-acquired food truck. 12-year-old Lucy, 10-year-old Freddy, 8-year-old Herb, and their dad are searching for a way to reconnect as a family after the loss of the kids’ mother, and decide to honor her memory by living out one of Mom’s lifelong dreams. The story is funny, heartwarming, and touching – and is my favorite book I’ve ever written. I love the kids in the Peach family (the perspective shifts in each chapter, so the reader gets to know all three of them really well during the journey!), and their dad is frustratingly charming and quirky. Also, there’s a lot of pie.

Where did the idea to write a book about a food truck come from?

My family loves to travel, and we’ve always dreamed of hitting the road and living out of campgrounds for a summer (we’re actually planning to do that this summer, since camping is a great way to stay socially distanced!). When I was trying to figure out *why* and *how* this busy family could justify taking a whole summer off to travel around, I realized I needed to come up with some sort of goal and objective for the family. I’ve always LOVED food trucks – the variety of food choices, the colorful designs that make them all look so festive, eating outside – and though I’d never have the patience or guts or cooking skills to actually start up a food truck of my own, writing this story gave me a chance to pretend. The story evolved a lot from initial idea and draft to finished story, but the food truck was there all along. It’s just such a random idea for a family to embark on, so it made me laugh and gave me joy while writing.

Did you have to do any research while writing the book?

So much! I knew nothing about food trucks going into this, so I visited a lot of them (and obviously bought lots of yummy food while chatting up the people running the trucks), did a ton of internet research, watched lots of Food Truck Wars, and also made a ton of stuff up. It’s fiction – and character arcs are ultimately the most important part to me in every story – so some of the food truck details and reality had to be fiddled with to fit my story. But I wanted the food truck basics and pie-baking details to be loosely based in reality, which required a lot of delicious research.

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE is the first of two books that have been announced in this series. Have you already begun working on Book 2?

Yes! I have a 17-page chapter-by-chapter outline done (I’m a big planner, especially with books in a series), and I’ve written the first couple of chapters already. It’s so nice getting to spend time with this family. They’re all so much fun! The second book is going to be about the Peaches’ second big family experiment – converting their Great Aunt’s massive ol’ mansion into a B&B, which involves a lot of messy mishaps and funny disasters.

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 share WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE with their students?

One of the fun things about this series (for me as the writer, and for readers!) is the rotating perspective – though it’s written in third-person, each chapter shifts to focus on a different character. So readers have a chance to get to know three very different kids, and I’m guessing everyone will have a favorite – which will lead to some fun discussions with friends and classmates. All of my books have a lot of humor and heart, so while this book definitely has a layer of sadness and this family is working through some very difficult issues, I hope I’ve dealt with them in a funny, realistic, and relatable way.

Also, here’s a fun fact: my son Henry drew some of 10-year-old Freddy’s sketchbook entries while I writing this story (Freddy is very much based on real-life Henry!!), and now the designer & publisher are planning to use them in the actual final book! (In case you’re wondering, I always steal bits and pieces of my own kids to create my characters.)

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

I tried to suggest a few ideas, but ultimately, I know I’m really terrible at coming up with cover concepts. Luckily, designer/artist Michelle Cunningham is BRILLIANT and came up with four different cover concepts that were all amazing. It was hard to pick a favorite out of the four options she sketched up for us!

Well, let’s check out the one you did choose. Here it is…

Wow! It’s wonderful! What was it like for you to see the cover art for the first time?

I can honestly say that this cover is perfect, so I couldn’t stop staring at it. I still can’t – I have a giant version of the cover printed and hanging right next to my computer. The colors! The little food truck! The little lemon! The beautiful background! I don’t know how Michelle created something so marvelous and perfect for the story, especially considering how much text she had to fit on this cover.

When can readers get their hands on WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE?

April 6, 2021!! Add it on Goodreads, please (!): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53413451-when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-peach-pie?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=XTkZbTDtMy&rank=1

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

My website (for lots of info about me, my books, school visits, and more):  http://www.erinsoderberg.com

Facebook (the latest book news): https://www.facebook.com/ErinDowningBooks/

Instagram (mostly pictures of my kids and dog): https://www.instagram.com/erinsoderbergdowning/

Twitter (reading life stuff): https://twitter.com/erindowning

I can’t wait for you all to meet Lucy, Freddy, Herb, and Walter Peach – get ready for a fun adventure in the Peach Pie Truck!!!

Learn more about my books at: www.erinsoderberg.com

Erin Soderberg Downing has written more than fifty books for kids, tweens, and young adults. Some of her most popular titles include the middle-grade novel Moon Shadow and two fun chapter book series: Puppy Pirates and The Quirks. Erin loves creating stories that are accessible and help inspire a lifelong love of reading for fun. Before becoming an author, Erin was a children’s book editor, a cookie inventor, and also worked for Nickelodeon. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, three hilarious kids, and a mischievous pup named Wally (the star of Puppy Pirates!). More information can be found at www.erinsoderberg.com.

COVER REVEAL – The Last Shadow Warrior, by Sam Subity

Hi Sam, and welcome to MG Book Village! We’re very excited to reveal the cover for your upcoming debut MG novel, THE LAST SHADOW WARRIOR, which comes out in April 2021 (Scholastic). Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Thanks so much for having me! I’ve been following MG Book Village for a long time, and it’s an honor to have my book featured here. My original pitch for The Last Shadow Warrior was Percy Jackson meets Beowulf, and I hope readers will find some of the same pulse-pounding adventure and humor in my story of a fierce 12-year-old named Abby Beckett who has been training her entire life to take her place in a long line of Grendel hunters. Only her plans are turned upside down when she discovers that she is the one being hunted and must flee to the mysterious Vale Hall, a school where nothing is quite as it seems. 

I’m curious to know the inspiration behind your story?

The book actually started as a short story in response to a call from a kids’ magazine for stories about Vikings. That story earned me a polite rejection, but by that time the idea had already taken hold of my imagination, and as sometimes happens in writing, my brain was off plotting a novel-length version combining Norse mythology and Beowulf lore into what eventually became The Last Shadow Warrior. 

What has the debut publishing experience been like for you so far, and has anything surprised you?

I’d heard from other writers about their debut experiences, but I think it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that you’ve been doing all this writing and revising—maybe even for years on one manuscript—and you think it’s pretty close to done. And then you get an agent and there’s more revising. And then you sign with a publisher and there’s…still more revising. So at this point I’m fairly exhausted but feeling that the story is much stronger for having gone through this process.

Writing is often hard to balance with other life commitments. How do you fit writing into your daily life?

In writing circles, there’s a lot of discussion about there being two types of writers—pantsers and plotters. But I think there’s at least one more type that I call a “parentser,” and that’s the mom or dad who has to fit writing into the odd corners of the day, whether it’s a 5 a.m. writing sprint when the kids are still asleep or a 15-minute gap before your next meeting. Somehow you just find the time, and fortunately my wife has been awesome through the whole process both with taking the kids when I need to meet a writing deadline and being my biggest fan. 

OK, let’s talk about your cover. Did you have any input on it, and if so, what was the experience like for you?

I was pleasantly surprised because I’d heard that authors sometimes don’t get much input on their covers, but I felt very involved in every step of the process. Of course, I owe a huge shout-out to the illustrator Jay Bendt (jaybendt.com) who asked me about my vision for certain elements of the cover and nailed it right from the start. As an author, the process forced me to do a final check on my descriptions of the characters—were all the details of everything from eye color and height to the clothes and jewelry they wear consistent throughout the book? 

OK, let’s show everyone what it looks like!

Wow, what gorgeous artwork! I love the colors and I’m intrigued to see how all those elements on the cover connect to your story.

Thank you! I was impressed by how Jay was able to incorporate so much of the story into one image, down to the smallest details like the tiny Ping-Pong paddle in the sea monster’s tentacle (background at top of cover) that comes from a key battle scene in the book. And particularly her renderings of the characters’ hair and wings are just amazing. 

What is it that you love most about writing for kids?

I absolutely love how kids are so open to fantastic and magical things. As an author, it really lets me set my imagination free to put on the page whatever I can dream up. And to see a kid giggle at or be so lost in one of my stories that the world fades away—that’s what makes it all worth it right there.

Where can people go to find out more about you and your writing?

My website is http://www.samsubity.com, and I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @sjsubity. 

Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, and we look forward to following your publishing journey!

Thanks so much! Looking forward to sharing The Last Shadow Warrior with the world next April!

Sam Subity loves writing stories that explore the magic and wonder of being a kid and is thrilled to share his writing with readers everywhere—both the young in age and the young at heart. When he’s not writing, you might find him running the trails of northern California where the endless, winding miles past fog and ocean inspire stories of adventure and mystery.

 

MIDDLE GROUND BOOK FEST

I had a chance to speak with Tanya Guerrero, one of the founding members of the online Middle Ground Book Fest which will take place on August 1st.

Hi Tanya! I’m pumped to hear there’s an online book festival coming on August 1st. Can you tell us how you got involved with this project?

Hi Kathie, thanks for hosting me on MG Book Village once again. A few years ago, when I got my first book deal for HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, I met Shannon Doleski (MARY UNDERWATER), Janae Marks (FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON) and Lorien Lawrence (THE STITCHERS) in the Roaring Twenties debut group. Since then, we’ve formed a small group, which we’ve nicknamed The MG Squad. We chat almost daily about our publishing experiences, our works-in-progress, our personal lives, and so much more. When all the virtual book fests started popping up, Shannon sort of jokingly posted on Twitter about the possibility of creating an MG only virtual book fest that would highlight 2019 and 2020 debuts. Low and behold, she got loads of enthusiastic responses, so she thought, Why not? That’s when she brought the conversation to our group chat, and we all agreed that it was a great idea that we could definitely pull off together as a group.

What was the reason for starting the event?

It’s a pretty well-known fact that conference panels are quite competitive. Many authors who are just starting out apply for them, but may not necessarily get approved because of a limited amount of slots. Priority is usually given to bigger named authors, as well as lead authors that have big marketing budgets to back them up. We noticed that when the virtual book fests started happening, the playing field was still pretty skewed. It’s really hard for debut authors and midlisters to get the same kinds of exposure as the bigger named authors, even in a virtual platform.

We saw a void that needed filling, so that was a huge motivation for us to create the Middle Ground Book Fest—a safe space where a diverse group of MG authors can get together to discuss varied themes in MG literature. It’s an opportunity we want to give to authors who may have been snubbed from bigger events. In a way, providing a more even playing field not only for debuts and midlisters, but for international authors as well.

You are open for applications for presenters. Who do you hope will apply?

Yes, we officially opened up our application process on May 1st and will be continuing to accept applications until the end of the month. Besides 2019 and 2020 MG debuts, we are hoping to get applications from marginalized authors, authors from smaller presses, international authors, as well as bloggers, reviewers, editors, agents, educators and librarians who specialize in MG books. 

What will differentiate the Middle Ground Book Fest from other online book-related events?

We feel like MG literature is really having a moment right now. So why not put MG books and their creators front and center? We want to give that spotlight to authors, educators, librarians, agents and editors, who may not have been given those opportunities in the past.

Additionally, we view this as way to bridge the gap between creators and gatekeepers. By boosting the voices of educators who work with middle school kids on a daily basis, authors, agents and editors can benefit greatly from hearing their experiences. It’s important for those of us creating books to listen to readers and gatekeepers, especially when it comes to knowing what works and what’s needed content-wise.

Can you tell us where we can go to keep up-to-date on everything you have planned?

Please check out our website for more info, including the application process at:

https://www.middlegroundbookfest.com

And for the latest updates, you can follow us on:

https://www.instagram.com/middlegroundbookfest/

https://twitter.com/middlegroundbf