Christie: Hi Betty! Norm And Ginger Enter The Hidden comes out today (happy book birthday!) Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?
There is a secret hiding inside a remote Vermont farmhouse where eleven-year-old Becky and her family move after her father is fired from his job under mysterious circumstances. A guardian emerges with an ominous warning that someone is coming through a mirror to take Becky from the safety of her new home, and leads her to the discovery of artifacts hidden under her bedroom floor. That same night she finds an abandoned puppy destined to protect her, and whose collar causes the artifacts to turn on. An ancient battle resumes for control over a secret once thought buried too deep to be uncovered. As more mysterious creatures arrive, how will she know who is there to help and who means her harm? Becky and her new puppy must race to interpret the warnings, overcome their fear of sinister forces, and trust in new alliances to solve a mystery that has been hidden from her family for generations. But is it too late?
Christie: Can you tell us the idea that inspired the book?
Betty: I love walking in the woods and I find that nature is a treasure trove of beauty and inspiration. Our children when they were younger enjoyed the stories I made up as we spent time outside together.
Christie: Did you have a character that you most enjoyed writing?
Betty: That is hard because I love many of the characters in this book. I would say Rothschild, the praying mantis. He is often misguided and headstrong. It gets him in trouble!
Christie: What was one of your biggest challenges writing this story?
Betty: As a debut author I found the editing process challenging at times. It is hard to cut characters or scenes in the initial phases. Even though the editing process is challenging it is worth it. I was fortunate to work with a wonderful editor at Koehler books.
Christie: What do you think it’s important for young readers to know about this story?
That it is safe to dive into the world of The Hidden. It is scary without being too dark. I want them to know that they will laugh with these characters and learn a lot about friendship and trust.
Christie: What has your debut publishing journey been like?
A big learning curve! It has been fun, mostly. I am so happy to be working with my publisher. I feel they are supporting me and my success.
Christie: Is there something unique about you or your story that you’d like to share with our readers?
So many fantasy young adult and even middle grade books are dark. Our world is dark enough. I think this book has all the elements that readers of fantasy will enjoy without the overly dark themes in so many other books. This is book 1 in a series. I want readers to feel tension and explore the mystery, but feel safe. The reader will ask themselves which characters are trustworthy? Who is good? Who is bad? Even with the tension there is humor throughout.
Christie: What’s one thing that I haven’t asked you about your book or your writing process that you could share with us?
When I would reach a slowdown in writing or a block about where I wanted the story to go, I would take a walk in the woods and find my inspiration. Maybe I would see a garden spider weaving a web or crawling on a branch and ask myself questions about the spider, what should her name be? Where is she going? Those trips deep into the woods always jump start my writing!
Christie: Where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?
Betty Fudge graduated from N.C. State University and has enjoyed a career in healthcare, sales, and consulting. Inspired by her childhood spent exploring the woods with a pack of neighborhood dogs by her side, she writes stories about adventure, friendships, and mysteries.
Kathie: Hi Mahtab, it’s such a pleasure to welcome you to MG Book Village today! I’m really looking forward to learning more about your upcoming MG novel, VALLEY OF THE RATS which will be released by DCB on September 18th. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?
Mahtab: Thank you for inviting me to the MG Book Village, Kathie! It’s such a pleasure to share thoughts and ideas with an awesome community, invested in bringing books and readers together!
Synopsis: Book nerd Krish hates the outdoors, and camping. But especially germs. When Krish and his father, Kabir, take a camping trip to Ladakh, he convinces himself that they will bond, despite their differences.
When they’re lost in a bamboo forest, teeming with black rats, and germs, Krish is at an all-time low. His GF (gut feel) and a couple of rats lead them to a hidden village, Imdur, unmarked on any map.
Krish and his father are allowed to stay, only if they follow rules. But Krish soon realizes the village has an odd custom of worshipping rats. They also have a secret. And so does his dad. Turns out, Krish has a secret too.
When all the secrets explode into the open, Krish and Kabir are in grave danger. Can Krish overcome his fears and phobias to take the chance offered to him? Or are he and his dad doomed to spend the rest of their lives among rats?
Here’s the book trailer:
Kathie: This story is much creepier than your previous books. Where did the inspiration for the story come from, and what was it like for you to write something in this genre?
Mahtab: I’m a huge advocate of channeling your emotions, fears, hopes, dreams into your stories. You have a deeper connection with your audience when you can translate these emotions into words, and make them feel the way you do.
The inspiration for this story came from a National Geographic documentary I saw on YouTube about the Karni Mata temple in Rajasthan. Here rats are revered instead of reviled.
Being a city girl, now living in a rural community, I’m often scared of the most harmless critters. Even as a child, growing up in Mumbai, I was deathly afraid of lizards (gecko in this part of the world), rats (large ones) and flying cockroaches (which were plentiful.)
All of this came together in a kind of “idea soup” which became the story for Valley of the Rats.
Fun anecdote: I live in a semi-rural residential community outside of Vancouver. Sometimes the “outdoors” tends to slip indoors! While doing the final edits for Valley of the Rats, I woke up one morning to find a tiny mouse (think Despereaux + Ratatouille) on the stairs to my office. Despite writing about rats for quite a few months now, I shrieked for help and woke my husband at five-thirty am to get it back outdoors. Reality is so far from imaginative endeavours. The fact that I hate rats and am so afraid of them helped me get into Krish’s head to describe his fears.
Kathie: I love that you explore the impact of Krish and his dad’s disrespect for the community that’s providing for them. What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
Mahtab: I’m so happy you asked about that underlying theme in the story!
After I watched the documentary, and given my own fears about rats, I started thinking about how animals (people, too!) are viewed differently, depending on where you are in the world. Gross-factor aside, rats are extremely intelligent creatures—able to adapt and survive in the harshest conditions, while cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast!
I knew then I had to write a story about a community of people who are judged on their customs and traditions by outsiders who tell them what is right and wrong. At the back of my mind was the recent tragedy of the Residential Schools in Canada and how the indigenous people suffered because they were told what was best for them and their children by outsiders.
As technology makes travel to the remotest corners of the world possible, countless communities are now being visited and changed by outside influences. Not always for the better.
First off, I hope readers will enjoy the action, the adventure, and the fantastical/mysterious elements of the story. The goal of a novel is to entertain, and I hope I’ve achieved that in Valley of the Rats.
Secondly, I hope readers will understand that you need to respect cultures and communities that are different from your own. They have their own way of life and do not need, or want, to be judged. They may not welcome the change you propose so, tread carefully and follow their requests even if they are not to your liking. After all, you are a guest in their home.
People, instinctively, fear those who do not look or behave like themselves or share the same beliefs. There is suspicion and disdain among the privileged for those who are different. I explored this theme with Krish and Tashi. Krish, who comes from the city, looks down on the Imdura, believing them to be ignorant and dirty. Eventually, he realizes that Tashi is a much better person than he is, in every way. He comes to understand her way of life, accept her differences, and they become best friends. She is the catalyst that changes his life for the better and it is because he kept an open mind and was willing to make the effort to change.
After reading this novel, I hope readers will ignore the knee-jerk reaction to the obvious and look beyond the surface to appreciate the heart of the story. I sincerely hope this story will encourage empathy toward the Other.
Kathie: Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers about the research you did for the book, or something interesting you learned in the process you didn’t know before?
Mahtab: The village of Imdur and all its inhabitants are pure fiction. Though this story is set in Ladakh, which is part of the foothills of the Himalayan Range (and very cold!), I imagined a micro-climate which supports the growth of a bamboo forest.
This idea was inspired by a PBS documentary about Mautam or Bamboo Death—a true event which occurs in Mizoram every 48 years. Here’s the link in case anyone wants to check it out. There is a longer, one hour documentary as well on YouTube, but this link gives the gist of it.
I also researched how communities lived and survived in Nepal and in the northern regions of India. I used the bits which were interesting. For example, the headdress of Imma, the shaman of Imdur) was inspired by this research.
I also researched how people around the world use bamboo. I found out that it’s used not just for building houses or furniture but even as cooking vessels. This is such a clean and green solution, I had to use it in the book.
Kathie: What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Mahtab: Definitely the research. Even when I came across an interesting article which wasn’t relevant to the story I was writing, I filed it away for future use. Everything is valuable and I’ve got thousands of bookmarks under the “Ideas” folder on my browser!
First drafts are the hardest and I used to have a tough time starting every morning. Of late, I tend to plot out my story and it’s easier to write the first draft. I know where I’m going and enjoy diversions sparked by the act of sinking deep into the story.
I also enjoy the revision process because it means there are words on paper and now I can tweak and massage them into an actual story. The draft stage was when I told the story to myself, and revision is when I have my audience firmly in mind.
Kathie: Where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?
Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Mahtab. Your book is coming out at the perfect time to appeal to readers who like stories with a dark mystery behind them.
Mahtab: Thank you for your support, enthusiasm, and for this wonderful community of MG writers and readers, Kathie!
MAHTAB NARSIMHAN is an award-winning author with numerous critically acclaimed books, nominated for several awards, including The Third Eye which won the Silver Birch Fiction Award. She is inspired by the desire to make sense of the world through stories and is deeply committed to representing diversity in her books. Please visit www.mahtabnarsimhan.com for more information.
Kathie: Hi Jessica! It’s such a pleasure to have a chance to chat with you today about THE WOLF’S CURSE, your MG debut which will be published on September 21st by Greenwillow Books. Please tell our readers a bit about your story.
Jessica: Thank you for having me! The Wolf’s Curse features a Great White Wolf that is very old and very tired. For hundreds of years, she’s searched for someone to take her place. But in all that time, only three people have seen her. One died young. One said no. One is still alive—a twelve-year-old boy named Gauge.
Unfortunately, everyone in the village thinks Gauge is a witch. He’s been in hiding half his life, all because he once saw the Wolf, and right after that, the Lord Mayor’s wife died. Things go from bad to worse when the Wolf steals his grandpapá’s soul.
The Wolf visits the boy again, this time with an offer; she can save him the pain of growing up––if he’ll take her job. Now that he’s all alone in the world, it may be the only way to escape the bounty on his head. Too bad his beloved grandpapá’s last words were Stay away from the Wolf.
Kathie: I thought your use of the Wolf as the narrator was so clever and original. Can you tell me why you chose to write it from her perspective?
Jessica: I was standing in front of my bookshelves one day, seeking inspiration, when my gaze landed on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I knew right away that I wanted to try writing a story with a death-like narrator, but I wanted to do it in a way that reimagined the Grim Reaper for middle grade readers. I knew that would mean making the narrator female, and I knew that she’d want to try to trick someone into taking her place, but I didn’t know that was going to mean making her a Wolf until I sat down and started writing. Right away, the Wolf’s snarky voice took over and there was no turning back!
Kathie: I really loved the protectiveness and loyalty that develop between Gauge and Roux despite knowing each other for a short amount of time. Why do you think Gauge is willing to jeopardize his own escape to help someone he hardly knows?
Jessica: Great question! Humans are inherently social animals, and when we endure traumatic events, those shared experiences can forge deep bonds almost instantaneously. Other than his grandpapá, Roux and her father are the only people who show Gauge the slightest kindness over several years. He has a big heart and he’d never turn his back on the one person who was there for him in his darkest hour. (Plus, there is the matter of his emerging crush; as adults, it can be hard for us to remember the intensity of those new feelings!)
Kathie: I was struck by the similar economic situations of Gauge and Roux, and yet how differently they were treated by the community because of fear. What were you trying to show young readers with this disparity?
Jessica: I think this aspect of the story is an exploration of issues from my own childhood. I moved nearly twenty-four times before fourth grade and lived in places ranging from apartments to campers to school buses to one-room cabins with no plumbing or electricity; by the time we (more or less) settled down in middle school, I was acutely aware of, and embarrassed by, the differences between my family and the students around me. My hope is that by highlighting the contrast between how the community treats Gauge and Roux, readers might start to examine how not being familiar with a particular aspect of someone’s identity might lead us to unconsciously fear them or assume that they are “bad.” And while the difference between Gauge and Roux in The Wolf’s Curse is supernatural/fantastical, in real life it can be all too easy to focus on how a member of our community may dress or look or talk differently (or any number of other differences); it’s only when we set these externalities aside that we can focus on our common humanity.
Kathie: This story felt like historical fiction to me with a touch of magic. I’m curious to know what genre you would classify it as?
Jessica: I’ve gone back and forth on how to best categorize this book many times! Although the story is set in an era that might loosely be described as late medieval or early renaissance, I worry about labeling it historical due to the many liberties I took with the world building. I tend to stick to calling it fantasy in my own mind, but I suspect historical fantasy might be a more useful label in terms of helping readers determine whether the story is of interest, and I agree that historical fiction with magic works, too!
Kathie: Is there one thing you’d like our readers to know about The Wolf’s Curse that you haven’t been asked by anyone yet?
Jessica: One of my favorite aspects of this story is how it depicts Lord Mayor Vulpine’s abuse of power. As the highest-ranking official in the village, it’s incumbent upon him to protect those in his charge; instead, he uses his position to enrich himself and to wield absolute control over the villagers. Oftentimes, kids (and adults) can feel helpless in the face of such abuses, and I hope that learning to recognize such behavior within the pages of a story will give young readers the tools, and confidence, to begin identifying and questioning unhealthy power dynamics in their own lives and in our society at large.
Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?
Jessica: Yes! My sophomore novel comes out in the fall of 2022; it’s a loose companion novel to The Wolf’s Curse in the sense that it’s set in the same general era but in a neighboring country with different magic. I absolutely love the premise, which is both the opposite of The Wolf’s Curse and a perfect complement, and I can’t wait until I can share more.
Kathie: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Jessica: Readers can learn more about me and my stories at www.jessicavitalis.com; I’d also love to connect on Twitter (@jessicavitalis) and IG/FB (@jessicavauthor).
Kathie: I’m so glad we had a chance to talk today, Jessica. Thanks a lot for sharing some insight on your story, and I look forward to seeing it in the hands of young readers.
Jessica: It’s been a pleasure! Thanks for having me––and for everything you do to support kidlit creators.
Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer specializing in middle grade literature. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing, and scuba diving, but when she’s at home she can usually be found recording book talks for Magic in the Middle and changing the batteries in her heated socks. Her debut novel, The Wolf’s Curse, will be published September 21, 2021 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins with a second book to follow in the fall of 2022.
Kathie: Hi Maisie! Thank you so much for joining me today on Fast Forward Friday. Your new book, DANNY CHUNG SUMS IT UP, comes out in the US on September 7th from Amulet Books but was released in the UK in June under the title DANNY CHUNG DOES NOT DO MATHS. Can you give us a short synopsis of it, please?
Maisie: Thanks so much for having me Kathie. I’m really excited to tell you more about Danny Chung Sums It Up! Danny really loves drawing comics and creating awesome characters, however, his parents would like him to be more studious. He gets the surprise of his life when his Chinese grandmother (that he’s never met before) moves into his room. And as you can imagine, Danny’s not too thrilled about having his privacy taken away and is especially unhappy when he has to look after her during the spring break. It is a book about family, friendship and belonging. It has bingo, frenemies and is a fun and humorous book.
Kathie: Can you tell me how you promote a book with two similar titles and if there are any other differences besides the title?
Maisie: Well, it’s sometimes been tricky as I have to do my best not to say the wrong title when talking about the books in! It’s also good that the book is coming out at different times of the year so I can promote the book in the U.K first and then in the States a little later on. I’m really lucky to have worked with two illustrators who have designed different covers and inside illustrations. We wanted to show Danny’s drawings and both illustrators had quite different styles and interpreted the writing in different ways – which was great.
Kathie: I really loved watching Danny grow to appreciate and love Nai Nai despite their language difference. Were you close with any of your grandparents, and do you have a fond memory you can share with us?
Maisie: I didn’t meet my Chinese grandmother until I was in my late 20s, so in that respect it was similar to Danny and his grandmother. My fondest memory was going to stay at her place and watching films with her. She was a very sweet woman and well-respected, I am sad I didn’t get to know her better.
Kathie: Nai Nai brings a lot of humour to this story, even though Danny often found her behaviour quite embarrassing. Did you use humour to teach as well as to entertain?
Maisie: I really like to use humor with pathos. In my life, there have been the occasional down moments and I think if we can speak to friends or family we’re close to, we might laugh and smile again. I wanted to write a funny story but that meant something too. I used humor a lot in the bingo scenes where the crowds weren’t always friendly to outsiders, this was on purpose to show how silly they looked.
Kathie: Friendship is a central theme of this story. Danny and his best friend, Ravi, have to navigate some low points in their relationship and Danny also explores being part of the “cool” crowd. There are also complicated relationships between some of the adults. If you could be friends with any of your characters, who would it be and why?
Maisie: What a brilliant question! I haven’t been asked that before so I loved this question. I think it would have to be Nai Nai and Mrs Cruikshanks as they are so fun-loving and I think that’s because at their ages they’ve seen it all, and aren’t too embarrassed to just be themselves. I think I could learn a lot from them and their friendship.
Kathie: What’s one thing you’d like our readers to know about your story?
Maisie: I think it would be that Danny loves being Chinese and he’s not embarrassed about that, he’s more embarrassed about his grandmother turning up unexpectedly and not having his space anymore to draw in peace. I didn’t want readers to think he didn’t like being Chinese because he does. I was hoping to lightly look at some myths about Chinese people like the model minority, without it being too heavy a subject.
Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?
Maisie: I am! I’m writing a second middle grade novel which I hope will have the same kind of humour and heart as Danny Chung Sums It Up but still have some themes that make you think about certain issues. I wanted to explore young carers, children who have had to look after another person and how they cope in that situation.
Kathie: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Maisie: My website is a good place to begin www.maisiechan.com where I have an about me section and also a blog. I am also on Twitter quite a bit so that’s a good place to find me @maisiewrites.
Kathie: Thank you so much for taking some time to answer my questions today, Maisie. All the best to you with your book’s release.
Maisie: Thank you so much for having me! It’s been great and your questions have been brilliant.
Maisie Chan is a debut novelist born in Birmingham, U.K.. She has written early readers (Hachette) and had short stories published in various books such Ladybird Tales of Superheroes (Penguin) and Stories From Around the World (Scholastic). She started the group Bubble Tea Writers Network to support and encourage new British East and Southeast Asian writers in the UK.
She enjoys writing cross-cultural tales that often feature generational misunderstandings; this is due to her background as a transracial adoptee and her experience caring for her elderly parents. She has a Masters in American Film and Literature and has an interest in race and representation. She has lived in the U.K, U.S and Taiwan. Danny Chung Sums It Up (Amulet Books) is her first middle grade novel.
Hello, Annaliese! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to reveal the cover for the American edition of your debut novel, The Nightsilver Promise. Would you care to kick things off by introducing yourself to our readers?
Hello, MG Book Villagers! I’m Annaliese Avery, I live in Suffolk, in the UK, and I’ve been writing for a while. Last year just before the lockdown I was selected as one of SCBWI UK’s Undiscovered Voices. Off the back of this amazing competition I met my awesome agent, Helen Boyle of Pickled Ink, and at the start of the first lockdown in the UK Scholastic made a pre-empt on The Nightsilver Promise. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since then. The past eighteen months have been bonkers for us all and this part of my writing has been an additional layer of brilliant bonkers amongst these strange times we find ourselves in.
Now, those readers who have been with us from the very beginning of the Village may recognize your name. You, in fact, got this whole thing started! What began as a month-long, Twitter-based celebration of reading and sharing blossomed into this website. Back then, you were working away at your novel, and now here we are, with one book already out in England and soon be launching in the States, and more on the way! What’s it like to come back, at last, as a published author?!
It is so lovely to be back and to share The Nightsilver Promise with you all. The MG Book Village is such a supportive and connecting community for readers and writers. I am amazed and in awe that the hashtag that I, Jarrett, and Kathie ran four (?) years ago has grown to become such a positive and much valued resource in the middle grade community. I can’t take any credit for all the good work that The MG Book Village has done but I am very proud to have been there when it started.
Okay, now that we’ve reminisced and caught up, tell us what The Nightsilver Promise is all about!
The Nightsilver Promise is an epic fantasy adventure set in the Empire of Albion where science rules and everyone’s destiny is mapped in the stars of the Celestial Mechanism at the moment of their birth. The Celestial Mechanism was created by the Chief Designer with the aid of the Great Dragons who have long been extinct, hunted by the rule of Albion – The George and his Knights. But smaller dragons still exist as do the Dragon Touched – women who have dragon-like attributes and powers. Paisley Fitzwilliam has waited thirteen long turnings to be given her stars and when she receives them she finds out that her destiny is to die before her next birthday. Paisley sets out to defy her stars and keep her Dragon Touched brother, Dax, safe as she finds herself his sole protector. To save her little brother Paisley must travel through the floating boroughs of Upper London and the labyrinthian sewers below to avoid the Dark Dragon that stalks her family and unlock an ancient secret that will change the course of history forever.
DRAGONS! I’ve got to ask — what is the appeal of dragons? Why do you think they are such an enduring, ever-popular (at least it seems to me) creature in fictional worlds and stories?
Dragons are intriguing mythical creatures, for me the appeal is that I can see how dragons might have evolved from dinosaurs. I’ve always been interested in paleontology and being able to see that link between something real and something mythical gives it a bit of credence. Also, we are all very familiar with different representations of dragons in the stories that we read. Dragons are part of our childhood we have lived and grown with stories of dragons – we have feared Smaug and loved Pete’s dragon, we have wanted to ride of Falkor and befriend Toothless, we have grown up knowing that “there be dragons” and part of us believes that this is utterly true.
Something that often comes up in discussions about fantasy writing is world-building. Can you tell us anything about how you built the world of this book?
Worldbuilding is one of my favourite things to do. The world of The Nightsilver Promise is inspired by many things but the biggest was my love of Astronomy. In the thirteenth century a monk and scholar called John of Sacrabosco theorised that the universe was a machine, this was also a popular idea during the enlightenment era, I thought it would be interesting to create a society that believed that they lived in a created clockwork universe, a machine with a purpose and a function. So I started asking lots of questions, like – what would this world look like? What constructs around this belief would the society have? The dragons appeared when I realised that the Chief Designer had created the unseen tracks of the Celestial Mechanism using alchemy to produce an exotic metal by fusing elements. I thought that it made sense that to make the metals The Chief Designer would need something hot to bond all of the exotic elements and particles together and that Dragon’s breath would be perfect.
What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from reading The Nightsilver Promise?
I hope they take away a sense of adventure and discovery. I hope the book encourages them to stay curious about our world, to find things out – to question. I hope it encourages readers to be bold and to trust in themselves, to make informed decisions and to take responsibility for their own paths in life. The Nightsilver Promise deals with some big questions about fate and destiny but I hope that all readers take away a sense of power from knowing that they are in control of their actions.
Okay — on to the cover… What did you think when you first saw the cover of your book? And what did you think when you saw a second cover, for the American version? How were the experiences similar and different?
The cover design process for the UK version was very different from the American version. We went through several designs for the UK cover before finding the perfect one. I was quite involved in the process, cover designer Jamie Gregory would send me images and we would have a conversation about them, when illustrator Natalie Smillie got onboard the cover leapt out and became the gorgeously deep and foil filled creation that it is. With the American cover I had little idea about the direction that the team was taking until I saw a near finished cover that designer Stephanie Yang had been working on with illustrator Alyssa Winans. You haven’t seen it yet (unless you’ve scrolled ahead) so I won’t spoil it for you but it is beautiful. We made a few tiny tweaks to achieve the final cover and I am so delighted with it. The two covers are quite different but both individually striking and I think that they both capture the adventure and intrigue in the story. I can’t really describe the way that I felt when I saw both of the covers, excited and very emotional, but also intrigued at how the story had been interpreted by both teams.
All right, let’s take a look!
WOW — it is gorgeous! And so intriguing! How could you NOT snatch this up off the shelf?!
In the promotional material for The Nightsilver Promise, the book is described as “perfect for fans of Philip Pullman, Cornelia Funke, and Diana Wynn Jones.” I am fairly certain that YOU are a fan of these fantasy giants — can you tell us how they and anyone else influenced your writing in general and The Nightsilver Promise more specifically?
As well as fantasy, I love science fiction and speculative fiction – I like anything that is smart and immersive and that makes me think. I love the writing of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both together and individually, they have both been hugely influential. I also love the works of Alan Garner and obviously Diana Wynn Jones and Cornelia Funke! I also love Ursula Le Guin and Orson Scott Card. Philip Pullman’s work was a huge motivation for me – I discovered the writer that I wanted to be by reading HDM – it was as if he was showing me that I could write the multifaceted and deep story that I wanted to tell because he had been rich and complex with his storytelling! I didn’t realise I was allowed to write like that for children until I read his work. One of my favourite books of all time is The Giver by Lois Lowey, I gift this book to others all the time – I adore her writing.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary fantasy authors? What books should American readers dive into while they’re waiting to get their hands on The Nightsilver Promise?
I’m going to share with you some of my favourite recent reads, that I know you can get hold of in the US: The Starfell series by Dominique Valente, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series by LD Lapinski, Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, The Apprentice Witch trilogy by James Nicol, Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston and The Brightstorm series by Vashti Hardy. Brilliant stories full of adventure!
The Nightsilver Promise is the first book of the Celestial Mechanism Cycle. Without any spoilers, can you tell us a bit about what’s in store as the story continues?
You can expect to move a little deeper into the world of Albion, we spend a little bit more time with the George and his Knights We also get to understand a little more about the attitudes towards the Dragon Touched. We travel to the Northern Realms and take in a new landscape. Paisley will continue to try and travel her track and the Dark Dragon will continue to try and thwart her! Lots of action and adventure, intrigue and mystery to be had.
Lastly, when can American readers get their hands on The Nightsilver Promise, and where can they learn more about you and your work?
The Nightsilver Promise is available from Scholastic Press on the 2nd November 2021, you can visit my website annalieseavery.com for more information or you can pop over to Twitter and say hi – @AnnalieseAvery. Thank you Jarrett and MG Book Village for hosting this cover reveal and to all of you brilliant book villagers too. Keep well and keep reading, Annaliese Avery.
Annaliese has spent most of her life surrounded by stories, both at work as a library manager and at home writing them. She holds an MA in Creative Writing and is now the Program Leader for The Golden Egg Academy in Scotland which leads creative writing workshops across the UK. In January 2020, Annaliese was shortlisted for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2020 anthology. The Nightsilver Promise is her debut middle-grade novel, and the first in a thrilling, new fantasy trilogy.
My high school drama teacher once said that theater is like real life with the volume turned up; we recognize our own struggles and joys but see them heightened onstage, and that’s what gets us invested. I think sports can give us real life with the volume turned up, too. There’s something so compelling and relatable for me about sports—the camaraderie, the teamwork, the competition…and the pressure. Oh, the pressure.
I’m writing this post in the midst of the Tokyo Olympics, and I (like many, many others) have been very moved by the way Simone Biles has spoken out about the staggering pressure she’s been under and offered such a brave, powerful example of what it looks like to prioritize mental health. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to be Simone Biles, or Naomi Osaka, or any world-class athlete, for that matter. But I was a kid who really loved playing sports…and really did not thrive under pressure.
Sometime around the beginning of high school, when sports got more intense, I lost confidence and got stuck in my own head. That was especially crushing on the soccer field, because I’d thought of soccer as my “thing” for years. And at times, it was especially obvious on the softball field, where the slower pace of the game leaves a lot of time for thinking and it can feel like there’s a spotlight on one player at a time.
I mostly played shortstop, and when the ball was hit to me so hard that I could only react on instinct, I was fine. But sometimes a voice in my head would say, “Hey. Remember that time you threw the ball way too high? What if you do that again? All these people are watching. Don’t mess up now!” And then if I did make an error, that voice got louder and more insistent—sabotaging me from inside my own brain, it felt like.
I set out to write about that kind of experience in my new upper middle grade novel, Coming Up Short. Bea, the thirteen-year-old main character, is a much more serious and accomplished shortstop than I was, but she gets stuck in these negative thought cycles, too. After her dad’s very public fall from grace, Bea finds herself questioning everything, including her ability to throw the ball to first base. She gets “the yips,” making error after error in the biggest game of her life, and then she has to figure out how to move forward when the thing she was best at seems to be slipping through her fingers along with her formerly happy family.
Coming Up Short, which will be published by Abrams on June 21, 2022, is very much a softball book. But it isn’t just a softball book, and it isn’t only for sporty kids. This is a story for anyone who’s found themselves stuck in a negative thought cycle, whether on a sports field, in a classroom, or somewhere else. It’s a story for anyone who has mistakenly believed, as Bea does when her dad is really struggling, that it’s their job to make another person happy. It’s for anyone who’s had to realize that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes, and anyone who has a hard time giving themselves compassion when they come up short.
I’m thrilled to share the beautiful cover, which was illustrated by Mike Burdick and designed by Deena Fleming. I cried when I saw the first color version because there is something so special and validating about seeing a cover that is just right for a book you’ve poured so much of yourself into.
Everything about this cover is just right for Bea’s story. I love the vibrant colors, the lettering, and all the thoughtful details. I love the way Mike Burdick has depicted Bea, capturing her fierceness and her fear. I love how perfectly this pairs with the cover of Up for Air, which is fitting since both books star sporty girls and much of Coming Up Short takes place on Gray Island, the setting of Up for Air, where Bea goes after her disastrous championship game to stay with an aunt she barely knows and attend a softball camp that’s run by her favorite player.
Working on this book has brought me a lot of joy and comfort during a hard time. I hope the cover piques your interest, and I hope the story inside will bring joy and comfort to readers, whether they love softball as much as Bea does or not.
COMING UP SHORT by Laurie Morrison (June 21, 2022)
Laurie Morrison taught middle school for ten years and now writes realistic middle grade novels for 10-14 year-old readers (and anyone who’s ever been 10-14). She is the coauthor of Every Shiny Thing and the author of Up for Air, Saint Ivy, and Coming Up Short (coming 6/21/22 from Abrams/Amulet Books). You can find out more about Laurie and her books at lauriemorrisonwrites.com, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @LaurieLMorrison.
Kathie: Hi Kate! It’s lovely to have a chance to talk with you about your upcoming book, BOOTS, which comes out tomorrow from Simon & Schuster. A very early happy book birthday to you. Can you please tell us about your book?
Kate: Hi Kathie! I’m excited to see my historical fantasy BOOTS flying into bookstores and libraries! It’s the third and final installment in The League of Secret Heroes series, which features CAPE, MASK, and now BOOTS. Our kid superheroes race to Paris to rescue the missing superheroes, but first they venture to Sweetwater, Texas, home of the barrier-breaking WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). One of the trio, Mae, knows how to fly, as she’s taken lessons from her aunts, Willa Brown and Janet Harmon—two African American women pilots who shattered barriers to flying too. These piloting skills will come in handy as the girls are challenged throughout the book and have to prove their heroism without the help of their capes, masks, and boots.
Kathie: I’d love to learn more about the inspiration behind your story?
Kate: Most books start from a question. Mine was, Who came before Wonder Woman? I was curious to learn whether there had been female comic book heroes leading up to World War II, and I was excited to discover Fantomah, the Magician From Mars, and many other wonderful caped heroes who were beating bad guys. So it grew from there. As I researched early superheroines, I started reading about the real-life heroines of WWII: early programmers and mathematicians, code-crackers, pilots, and spies. It was so much fun to try to pull them all together!
Kathie: BOOTS is set during World War II, which is a time period that’s very popular with young readers. What did you enjoy most about your research, and can you share an interesting fact that you learned?
Kate: So many cool facts! Possibly the coolest is that Wonder Woman made her debut in December 1941, right as the attack on Pearl Harbor officially plunged America into the war. I thought that had interesting symmetry. But what’s so fascinating to me is the way the war opened up entire worlds to women. The ENIAC computer that launched the modern computing age was built during the war in a secret program at the University of Pennsylvania. For women mathematicians who were graduating from college then, the war changed their trajectories. Ordinarily, their only job options would have been teaching math to kids. No high-powered business jobs, no higher-ed opportunities. But with male mathematicians pulled into the war, women with those degrees were suddenly incredibly valuable. That’s how they became “human computers,” and how they went on to become the first programmers who could make the machine computers function.
Kathie: I was fascinated to hear that you interviewed a pilot who flew with the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in World War II. What was that experience like for you?
Kate: Ever since I was in grade school, I’ve loved looking at old photos and hearing stories about how my parents and grandparents lived. So as I read about the WASPs, I realized a handful of them were still living. And that they gathered for “homecoming” celebrations where they trained—at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. So I bought a ticket and flew down from Chicago to Texas, where I’d lived, worked, and married years before. It was incredible, as a history nerd, to get to shake hands and speak with these women who’d broken so many barriers. One pilot in particular, Jane Doyle, who attended with her daughter, Laurie Preston, was delightful. So interesting and such a good storyteller, even at age 96! After meeting her in Texas, I did a longer interview with Jane at her home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a few months later. I was over the moon when Jane showed me her memorabilia from her WASP days, beginning with the 1943 telegram WASP-founder Jackie Cochran had sent to her, inviting her to training at Avenger Field.
Kathie: What sets your story apart from other books out there set during this time period?
Kate: I used to work in newspapers, so perhaps I bring a bit of a journalistic approach to my books? Who knows! But I like to find real-live people to talk to as I’m researching stories. So with CAPE, MASK, and BOOTS, I spoke with the children of the ENIAC programmers, a survivor of a Japanese internment camp, actual WASP pilots. This is all to show kids that our connection to “history” doesn’t mean it’s covered in cobwebs and dust. History is alive and just waiting for us to ask questions and take an interest. And that research means more than calling up a website and taking notes. It’s about connecting on a human level and finding universal emotions and shared experiences.
Kathie: If you could go back in history and meet one person from any time period, who would it be and why?
Kate: There are so many interesting people from history, it’s hard to single out just one. But what I’m drawn to are the unsung heroes. The people who are footnotes or nearly forgotten, rather than the luminaries. So I’d say first in my mind would be Kate Warne. She’s considered America’s first female detective, and she was hired by Allan Pinkerton for his Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1856, and she was instrumental in saving newly elected President Lincoln when he rode to Washington, D.C. I featured Kate Warne in my middle-grade history-mystery THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT, and I felt such a desire to do right by her. I visited her gravesite multiple times while writing the manuscript, and just the idea that I could touch the faded tombstone—it gave me a heavy sense of wanting to tell her story and do her justice. Having coffee with her would be pretty cool.
Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at this time?
Kate: I sure am! I love researching historical moments and figures. So I’ve found something wonderful from around 1920, and it features the Spanish flu and World War I and just some awesome, super-nerdy history! I am writing it as a mystery, which makes it even more fun to sit down at my laptop each day.
Kathie: Where can our readers go to learn more about you and your writing?
Kate: I’ve tried to put up some fun material on my website, along with curriculum guides to using these books in the classroom. I hope students message me with questions or comments! KateHannigan.com
Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Kate, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release.
Kate: Thank YOU!
KATE HANNIGAN writes fiction and nonfiction. Her historical mystery The Detective’s Assistant won SCBWI’s 2016 Golden Kite Award. Cape, Book 1 in The League of Secret Heroes series with (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), received the Oklahoma Book Award and was recently optioned for film. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com