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.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Kaela Noel

Welcome to MG Book Village, Kaela, we’re so glad you could join us today!

Thank you so much, Kathie! I’m thrilled to be here. MG Book Village is a treasure trove, an incredible resource for readers, writers, librarians, and educators. I’m honored to be included on the site.

Your debut middle grade book, COO, has a very unique synopsis, can you please tell us about it?

Ten-year-old Coo has spent her whole life being raised in secret by a flock of pigeons. When her dearest friend Burr is injured by a hawk, she’s forced to venture into the human world for the first time. She finds warmth, love, and family—and also discovers that not everyone in her newfound community loves pigeons. 

I’m so curious to learn where the inspiration for this story came from?

I first got the idea more than a decade ago when I was walking in a half-abandoned industrial area of Jersey City just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. I lived in Jersey City for most of my teenage years and my early twenties. I was looking at an old factory building that was in the process of being demolished and rebuilt, and I saw a flock of pigeons take off from the roof. I suddenly wondered what it would be like if someone lived up there in secret with them. I went home and started writing, and soon Coo emerged as a character. 

There are so many wonderful characters in this book, but I think Tully is my favorite because of her big heart and desire to do what she truly believes is in Coo’s best interest. Did you have a favorite character to write?

Oh my goodness, it’s hard to choose! I love Tully so much, but I think Roohoo, the most intelligent and grumpiest member of the flock, was my favorite to bring to life on the page.

I didn’t realize until I had finished writing the book that Roohoo’s personality is strongly inspired by Edgar, a bird who landed in my family when I was about nine years old. He wasn’t a pigeon, but a cockatiel—one of those yellowish birds with the round pink cheeks and little crest of feathers on their heads. 

Edgar was very smart and very, very angry. He originally belonged to a classmate’s family who asked my mother to birdsit him over winter break while they went on vacation. But…they never came back for him, and when my mom finally reached them they insisted he was now ours. Edgar clearly knew he had been abandoned by his original family and was upset about it. He and his large, hulking cage ended up near my bed, where he glowered at me at night from his spot hunched up in a corner. We let him out frequently, but it was an exercise in frustration. He was very destructive—he loved to grab my drawings and shred them to bits, and he even got to my homework a few times. He would retreat to nooks and crannies above cabinets and the fridge, where he sat mournfully brooding. My mother and I lived in a very tiny one bedroom apartment, yet she would still end up chasing him all over it for ages while he scurried away, nipping at her when she got close. We were both bewildered by him. 

But for all of his disagreeableness, I found Edgar fascinating and heartbreaking. For someone who weighed less than a pound, he had so much pathos, personality, and self-expression. He really opened my eyes to how complex birds are, and definitely inspired Roohoo. 

And I should add that Edgar’s story does end well! My mom ended up getting to know a woman who took in parrots and had several rooms of her house devoted to them. She adopted Edgar, and when we visited him later he was a changed bird—cheerful, social, and affectionate. He lived another fifteen years with her and her other birds, and by all accounts, despite his early tragedies, he was happy.

I love this story, thanks for sharing! I’m sure writing from the perspective of pigeons was an interesting challenge. Could you share with us another writing challenge you had to face while writing this book, and how it helped you grow as a writer?

I had a long road to publication, one that included querying dozens of agents over several years and then revising the manuscript extensively after I signed with my agent Katie Grimm in 2016. But that seems par for the course! 

Prior to all of that, I was raised by a single mom and until I was a teenager our finances were constantly, frighteningly precarious. We moved over a dozen times, and every year I was a free or reduced-price lunch kid in social settings where that wasn’t always the norm. Public and school libraries were an absolute lifeline for me. To be very honest, I’m not sure I would be a writer without having had access to them, since purchasing books was a luxury we couldn’t afford, and I was hugely inspired by the books I read—they made me want to write my own. I was blessed to have a mother who really believed in reading, too. Even though she was tired from working and taking care of me by herself, she brought me to the library at least twice a week throughout my childhood and read to me every night without fail. She also wrote down the stories I told her before I knew how to write them myself, and always told me I could be an author if I wanted. She gave me every advantage she could in our difficult circumstances, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. 

It always warms my heart to hear about the importance of a library to a young person.

What do you hope that readers will take away from your story?

I hope Coo’s story inspires kids and everyone to think more imaginatively and compassionately about how we relate to others, about the possibilities of love, and what the bonds are that make us family. Most of all I hope that they find Coo both comforting and exciting, like an old friend. Almost all of my favorite books are like that.

What is the release date for COO, and where can readers go to find out more about your writing?

Coo will be published on March 3, 2020, and readers can check out more on my website, www.kaelanoel.com, or my Twitter account, www.twitter.com/_kaelanoel_. I love hearing from readers!

Thanks again for chatting with us today, Kaela, and all the best to you in your debut year.

Thank you so much, Kathie! 

Kaela Noel was born in San Francisco and raised in New Jersey. She lives in New York City with her family.

Interview: Cathleen Barnhart

Hi there, Cathleen! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about your debut novel, THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO. Before we get to the book, would you care to share a bit about yourself?

I would love to! I’ve been writing, on and off, almost my entire life. I wrote and illustrated my first story when I was seven. It was called “Aunt Ant” (pronounced awnt ant). In high school, I was the editor of the literary magazine. I majored in Creative Writing at Carnegie-Mellon University, where I also worked on the literary magazine. I later got an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. But I never really saw myself as a writer because I didn’t do stuff I thought real writers did (like write every day). Believing in myself took a lot of years. I’m married to a wonderful and supportive man, and together we have three mostly grown children, a rescue dog named Zeke and a cat named Scout. In addition to writing, I foster kittens, do CrossFit, and am the co-leader of a chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom.

THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO is your debut novel. And as you’ve shared in a recent post on the site, writing it was quite a long process. But is there anything else you wish to share here about your journey to the printed page?

I’m just going to say (again) that there’s no formula for, or failsafe path to, being published. Everyone’s experience is different, but for all the not-yet-published writers out there: don’t give up. Believe in yourself.

Okay – let’s get to the book. What’s THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO all about?

It’s the story of one seventh-grade girl’s first #MeToo experience, told in alternating points of view by the girl, Sammie, and by her best friend, David, who’s on the other side of that experience. It’s the misunderstandings that lead to the #MeToo moment and the missed opportunities for communication and healing afterwards. But it’s also a story about learning to listen to your own, inner voice, and to be true to who you are.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to have books that tackle tough topics? What do you believe such a book can do for young readers?

Because so many children live through tough experiences. They need to see themselves in the books they read. Even someone who hasn’t had a #MeToo experience might have a friend who has. Books give children (and adults) a way to see a different path, other solutions to problems, other ways of behaving, and empathy.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO?

I hope they see that other kids struggle with fitting in and with finding their voice. I hope some kids say “that’s me,” to either Sammie or David’s experience, and that the self-recognition gives them strength and courage.

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 THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO to their classroom libraries?

Yes! First, I’d love to come visit your school and talk to your students about this book and the process of writing it. And second, especially for teachers who are concerned about addressing the #MeToo moment at the center of the novel: this is the lived experience of so many middle school girls and boys. I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t have some experience of being touched inappropriately or flashed or physically threatened. But that part of the story doesn’t have to be what you (or I) talk about with students. There’s so much more: parental expectations, finding your own voice, the ways that the same event can be seen and experienced very differently by different participants. 

In another recent post you did here at the MG Book Village, you interviewed a variety of those people who worked “behind the scenes” on your book. I couldn’t resist asking you some of the same questions you asked them — so, a quick, lightning round of questions before we say goodbye…

Describe your work space, and what you need to be productive.

I am a wandering writer. I don’t have a dedicated work space (although I’m working on creating one). I mostly write at my scarred and battered, purchased-secondhand kitchen table. Sometimes I work standing at the kitchen counter. When it’s really cold, I sit on the sofa in my family room, with a fire in the fireplace. And in the summer, I sit on my front porch. My porch the best. No matter where I am, what I mostly need to be productive is quiet. 

Do you have a drink of choice while you write?

Decaf coffee with homemade almond milk until lunch. Seltzer from about 1 pm until 3 pm. Then more decaf coffee. I have a mug or glass of something liquid next to me all day.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I wish I knew because then I could get more inspiration! These are the things that I do, without understanding or being able to quantify how they affect my writing: travel, travel, travel (especially to Italy); look at art; read the New York Times (these days, I pretty much skip the headline news in favor of Health, Obituaries, Science and Sunday Styles); walk in the woods with Zeke; and read adult nonfiction.

What do you do for fun that your readers might find interested and/or unexpected?

I foster feral kittens because they remind me of the importance of being open-hearted, patient and loving. I also do CrossFit because it’s really hard, every time. As an adult, I’ve gotten pretty good at a lot of life stuff (like cooking and bill paying and driving a car). CrossFit is a great reminder that it’s okay to do hard things and even things I’m afraid of. More often than not, I discover that I’m stronger than I thought I was.

What was your favorite book when you were a middle schooler?

Oh, this is such a hard question because I was a voracious reader in middle school. I’m going to say Joan Aiken’s Wolves series. The girls in her books went on such adventures! I especially adored Dido Twite.

Who was your best friend in middle school? Are you still in touch?

My best friend from fifth through seventh grade dumped me so she could be part of the popular group. I will be forever grateful to the nerdy second string who took me in at the end of seventh grade, although I’ve lost touch with most of them.  There are two friends from that time I’ve kept up with: Rebecca and Rick. Rick and I became friends when he joined the orchestra in my 8th grade year. He was in 6th grade, two years younger than me. We stayed friends through high school and college, and still see each other once or twice a year.

Now, when can readers get their hands on THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO, and do you have any exciting events or upcoming blog stops to celebrate the release and spread the word about the book?

The book appears in bookstores (or on your doorstep) on January 28, 2020.You can pre-order today at any online or bricks-and-mortar book retailer. I will be holding a book launch at Bronx River Books in Scarsdale on Sunday, February 2 from 4-6 p.m. Come on over, have a quindim (a Brazilian dessert; it’s in the book) or a brownie, get entered to win a sour cream apple pie, and get your copy of THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO signed by me! I will also be appearing on Melissa Roske’s Ask the Author blog on February 3: http://www.melissaroske.com/ and will be popping up in the Class of 2k20’s blog throughout the year. Check out the class of 2k20, a group of twenty authors with debut MG and YA books coming out in 2020 at classof2k20books.com.

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

The best place to find me is on Instagram, where I’m @CathleenBarnhart. I love the #mgbookchat Twitter chats on Monday nights and try to be on those whenever possible. For more about me, check out my website: cathleenbarnhart.com.

Cathleen Barnhart has been writing her whole life. She wrote her first story she she was seven. It was called “Aunt Ant.” Later, she majored in Creative Writing at Carnegie-Mellon University and then got an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She has held more jobs than she can count, including process camera operator, waitress, perfume salesperson, college writing instructor, and middle school teacher. She is married and has three mostly grown children, an excitable rescue dog named Zeke and a Machiavellian cat named Scout. When she’s not reading, writing, or walking Zeke in the woods, Cathleen fosters kittens and does CrossFit because it’s important to be sensitive and strong. That’s What Friends Do is her first published novel.

Making a Book: It Takes a Village

As I previously wrote on this site, I spent seven years writing my debut novel, THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO, out from HarperCollins on January 28. During that time, I sometimes thought about agents, and even met and talked to some. And I knew, theoretically, that there were editors out there who would look at manuscripts like mine and sometimes buy them and turn them into books.

Then I got an agent. And she sold my book to an editor. And I discovered that I had no idea, really none at all, about how vast and complex the publishing world was, and how many hands my manuscript would pass through as it made its way from being a Scrivener document on my computer to a real, beautiful book.

Did you know, for example, that there’s a book designer?! I didn’t.

And a whole team of people who market the book to school and libraries? I didn’t know that either.

I wanted to recognize all of those folks who work so hard to bring books to life, so I interviewed four people who were “behind the scenes” in the making of my debut novel.

They are:

Oriol Vidal, the cover artist.

Courtney Stevenson, my amazing editor.

Cat San Juan, the book designer

and Katie Dutton, my contact on the HarperCollins School & Library Marketing team

Enjoy reading!

Oriol Vidal

1. In a Tweet (186 characters) or a haiku (5/7/5 syllables), describe your professional journey. How did you come to be doing what you’re doing now?

I always liked drawing since I was a kid. I watched a lot of cartoons on TV & was very influenced by them. I had the chance to get a fine arts degree & after started my career as an illustrator. My hobby became my profession.

2. Describe your work space. What do you need to be productive? Music or no music?

I try to have a tidy workspace, with not too much things around. I always listen to music, or radio programs. And a cup of coffee next to me!

3. What is your drink of choice while you work?

Coffee! And I’m a chocolate croissant addict

4. Where do you get inspiration?

From films, mainly. When a project comes in, I Google a lot for references (art pictures, illustrations, photographers… but with a strong film background sense)

5. What do you for fun or in your off hours that is completely different from your professional work?

I try to go out for a walk, into some forest path, or simply going to the park with my daughter.

6. What was your favorite book when you were in middle school?

The Happy Hollisters

7. Who was your best friend in middle school? Are you still in touch?

I grew up with a friend from kindergarten until university. And we are still in touch from time to time!

Courtney Stevenson

1. In a Tweet (186 characters) or a haiku (5/7/5 syllables), describe your professional journey. How did you come to be doing what you’re doing now?

Never stopped reading children’s books, so knew early that’s what I wanted to do: bring stories into the world. (Got my start editing a friend’s Green Day fanfiction.) 6 internships and 2 jobs later, I’m living the dream!

2. Describe your work space. What do you need to be productive? Music or no music?

Have to have space to spread out—as long as the chaos is at least organized into piles! Music with lyrics for paperwork, soundtracks/lo fi for reading, editing, or copy writing. Ideally no email.  Sadly, I do my best focusing after work hours!

3. What is your drink of choice while you work?

Builder’s tea: strong, black, milk and sugar. Or, a froofy Starbucks drink with an extra shot of the good stuff.

4. Where do you get inspiration?

Reading really awesome books (of course). Also, watching all the masterful TV shows that are out now—some incredible storytelling and relationships.

5. What do you for fun or in your off hours that is completely different from your professional work?

I used to be part of a Highland dance troupe! 

6. What was your favorite book when you were in middle school?

So many! I’ve been a Harry Potter nerd from the beginning. I also bought every single book in the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer. Jacky was bold and bright and funny, and I loved her on all her wild adventures.

7. Who was your best friend in middle school? Are you still in touch?

I had the same best friend all through elementary school; we started to grow apart after I moved schools in seventh grade (nightmare time).  I went to her wedding a few years ago, and we text every now and then.

Cat San Juan

1. In a Tweet (186 characters) or a haiku (5/7/5 syllables), describe your professional journey. How did you come to be doing what you’re doing now?

I went to university for journalism but later took up graphic design. In the end, I graduated with both under my belt. I always knew I would work with books one day.

2. Describe your work space. What do you need to be productive? Music or no music?

My desk is decorated with art prints and mini figures and plushies of various pop culture fandoms. A meticulously neat workspace makes me feel productive. Depending on what I’m working on, I listen to music and true crime podcasts if I’m on autopilot. I like silence when I really need to concentrate.

3. What is your drink of choice while you work?

Grande White Chocolate Mocha to get me through the morning. Any fruity drink (particularly strawberry) to get me through the rest of the day.

4. Where do you get inspiration?

Nature, films, music, video games, Pinterest, mom and pop bookstores, watching other people hone their craft, artist alleys at conventions.

5. What do you for fun or in your off hours that is completely different from your professional work?

I like to cosplay characters from my favorite comics/anime/games at cons.

6. What was your favorite book when you were in middle school?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

7. Who was your best friend in middle school? Are you still in touch?

We lost touch after going to different high schools. LinkedIn tells me she’s a lawyer now.

Katie Dutton

1. In a Tweet (186 characters) or a haiku (5/7/5 syllables), describe your professional journey. How did you come to be doing what you’re doing now?

BA in English. Nanny turned teacher. MA in Children’s Lit. Now I get to combine my passion for KidLit & literacy in a profession where I put books in the hands of teachers & librarians.

2. Describe your work space. What do you need to be productive? Music or no music?

Lots of books! I also like to surround myself with little inspirational reminders – I have a few framed cards sent to me by good friends, photos of my family, a gorgeous flower bouquet made from recycled book pages, some succulents… my work space is not nearly as tidy as it probably should be, to be honest. Music when I need to be in the zone; no music when I want to participate in the conversations around me.

3. What is your drink of choice while you work?

I’m one of those people who constantly has at least two beverages in front of them, and at work it’s usually some combination of coffee, water, and Diet Coke in an endless rotation.

4. Where do you get inspiration?

Teachers and librarians are the most creative, innovative, hard-working, knowledgeable people in the entire world. They’re out there fighting in the trenches every single day to make the world a better place for their students, and they’re the ones I’m always keeping in mind when a new book comes across my path.

5. What do you for fun or in your off hours that is completely different from your professional work?

I love a good game night with friends. I also take krav maga classes as often as I can, which is an amazing (and fun!) way to learn practical self defense while getting a workout in at the same time.

6. What was your favorite book when you were in middle school?

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster & illustrated by Jules Feiffer; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg; and The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin (I’ve always been horrible at choosing just one favorite!)

7. Who was your best friend in middle school? Are you still in touch?

In 7th grade I became best friends with a girl named Kimberly, and we remained best friends all through college. We’re not as close today as we used to be, but we still try to get together whenever we can! She’s a high school teacher in Ohio now.

Cathleen Barnhart has been writing her whole life. She wrote her first story she she was seven. It was called “Aunt Ant.” Later, she majored in Creative Writing at Carnegie-Mellon University and then got an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She has held more jobs than she can count, including process camera operator, waitress, perfume salesperson, college writing instructor, and middle school teacher. She is married and has three mostly grown children, an excitable rescue dog named Zeke and a Machiavellian cat named Scout. When she’s not reading, writing, or walking Zeke in the woods, Cathleen fosters kittens and does CrossFit because it’s important to be sensitive and strong. That’s What Friends Do is her first published novel.