Tag Archives: historical fiction

War as Setting: Books by Steve Watkins + GIVEAWAY!

Sink or Swim

Ready for summer reading? Hey, if you’re planning to vacation at North Carolina’s Outer Banks, or if you love historical fiction or war stories, pick up Sink or Swim by Steve Watkins. The story opens in the waters off North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island. It’s an especially good summer selection for middle-grade kids who claim they don’t like to read. This one is sure to bring them around.

And you could win your very own copy of Sink or Swim! Just fill out the form at the end of this post. Deadline to enter: 11:59 PM, June 11, 2018.  (Multiple entries welcome! You can enter once a day from now ’til then.)

Steve has published nine novels for young readers and is working on his tenth. Formerly a professor at the University of Mary Washington and currently a yoga instructor while writing fiction, he lives in Fredericksburg, VA. He and I have spoken on author panels and run into each other at school librarian conferences, and today I’m happy to feature him and his books on my blog.

A.B. Westrick: Welcome, Steve!

Steve Watkins: Good to be here!

ABW: I loved Sink or Swim. The story hooked me right away, so let’s talk about your first chapter. Openings are always tricky, and yours is pitch-perfect. It’s 1942 and German U-Boats are picking off American vessels up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Twelve-year old Colton and his older brother Danny are fishing in small boats near Ocracoke Island when a U-Boat surfaces, catching Danny’s nets, entangling his boat, and throwing Danny overboard. As Colton struggles to rescue Danny, the Germans laugh at the boys’ distress. (I hated those Germans from the get-go.) It’s a great scene.

Was that always your first chapter? How did you decide to begin the novel there?

Steve WatkinsSW: Yes, it was always the first. I read a number of accounts of fishermen on the Outer Banks encountering submarines, or, more often and tragically, the bodies of victims of sub attacks on passenger and cargo ships going up and down the East Coast. Once I decided to begin the story off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the scene crystallized for me right away.

ABW: The bodies of victims? Ouch. I’ve read a lot about WWII but have to admit that before reading Sink or Swim, I didn’t realize how close the Germans came to our shores. Continue reading

Traveling through Time: Cold Summer

Cold SummerI met Gwen Cole two years ago at a fun author event (thank you, Richmond Public Library, for supporting YAVA -Young Adult Virginia Authors!), and really enjoyed her time-traveling teenager Kale Jackson. Cold Summer came out last year, and Gwen is here on my blog today for a little Q&A. Cold Summer: Debut novel. Time travel. Teen crush on the next-door neighbor. Summer romance. What’s not to love?

But before we get to the interview, congratulations, Gwen, on the release of your second novel, Ride On. I hear that it’s coming out Tuesday, May 22, from Sky Pony Press. Two novels in two years! Fantastic.

And I love that you’re doing a pre-order giveaway! Hey readers—May 21 is the deadline to sign up for swag: postcards, bookmark and a signed bookplate. Take a moment to sign up, then come on back. Hop to the end of this interview for more about Ride On, and keep reading here for our Cold Summer Q&A. We’re gonna talk time travel…

A.B. Westrick: Welcome to my blog, Gwen!

Gwen Cole: Great to be here!

ABW: Cold Summer is a fun story, and I want to start by asking about your favorite reads. Have you always been a fan of time-travel books? [Why the hyphen? See my *Note to grammar geeks.] Did you begin Cold Summer knowing it would be a time-travel story, or did it morph into that along the way?

Ride-On pre-order giveawayGC: At first, Cold Summer was just a fun summer book, but then I got bored with it. I knew it needed something more, and during that time I was really into watching the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. That show helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to do.

I’ve actually never been a fan of time-travel books because most of them are usually too complex with the time-travel aspect. So I knew I wanted my time travel to be easy to understand. But I’ve been a fan of time-travel movies, like The Time Traveler’s Wife and Back to the Future.

ABW: I’ve also thought many time-travel stories were incredibly complex. Even stories written for kids, such as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. I had to re-read that one twice in order to understand what was going on!

I’ve noticed that in time-travel books, writers seem to have a variety of rules for the road—triggers that cause characters to shift from one dimension to another, how time passes while they’re traveling, whether the characters’ clothing stays on, etc. In Cold Summer, the time-traveling character often smells like winter, and I love that he does. How did you decide on shivering as one of the markers that Kale Jackson would soon time travel?

GC: One of the first images that came to me for this story was of Kale in the middle of summer wearing a hoodie and being cold. I liked that this trigger was something that could be seen in the normal world and yet not be obvious to people who don’t know his secret. Shivering is a normal human reaction, but for Kale, it’s something he tries hard not to do because he’s trying to avoid time traveling. There’s a scene in the book when Kale is at the grocery store in the frozen food department, and just feeling that cold air from the refrigerator almost sets him off. I can’t imagine how he deals with winter. 😉

ABW: Oh, right. This would be a whole other story if you’d set it during the winter! Haha. Did you have to do research for the novel? If so, can you share a detail you didn’t know before you started writing, then added to the manuscript?

Gwen ColeGC: All my research had to do with WWII, for obvious reasons, but I went into this book knowing I didn’t want it to read like historical fiction. I didn’t want too many details bogging down the pace. I wanted a character-driven story, and for that, I focused on what Kale would being feeling, emotionally and physically. I also wanted a certain feel to the chapters while he was in the past. But as for research, a few of the things I had to learn about were WWII guns and what medics would carry with them.

ABW: You definitely succeeded in making the story character-driven and not bogging readers down in WWII details. Now, tell me about the secondary characters, especially the adults in the story. The mothers and aunts are either dead, widowed, or divorced and living elsewhere. The co-protagonists are teenagers—a girl and a guy—who interact mostly with the guy’s father and the girl’s uncle. It totally works. I’m just wondering if there was a reason why you chose to keep adult women characters pretty much off-camera.

 GC: This is a great question, but one for which I don’t have a good answer! For some weird reason, I always have the fathers and uncles present (even in other books). I have a wonderful relationship with my mother, so I can’t really pinpoint why that is. Maybe something I’ll have to be mindful of or think about for future books. But for Cold Summer, Uncle Jasper was one of my first characters, and he came naturally into the story as the “father figure” in the lives of both of the protagonists.

ABW: Right—both protagonists. So far we’ve only talked about Kale, the one who time travels. I enjoyed getting to know Harper, too, and I liked the way you developed their relationship. A neighbor-next-door romance but with the complication of time travel. Nice.

I’m curious about the editing and revision process you went through. (I assume you had to make some revisions along the way, but correct me if I’m wrong.) What was your experience with your editor like? What sorts of changes were you asked to make before the manuscript was ready for publication?

GC: I love my editor at Sky Pony, and I was so happy to work with her again on my newest book, Ride On. Nicole had great thoughts on ways to strengthen the story and also scenes I could cut. But because this was the book I queried with, and I’d edited it with my agent before submission, it was in pretty good shape to start with, so the edits Nicole wanted weren’t too heavy.

ABW: That’s great. Did you always plan to write fiction?

GC: Oh definitely. Fiction has been my favorite to read and write my whole life. There’s just nothing else like diving into a book and discovering a whole new world. And I’m beyond lucking to be the one writing those worlds. I just want to write books people enjoy reading.

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Ride OnABW: And you do! And you have Ride On coming out May 22. What can you tell us about it? 

GC: Ride On is my futuristic western. Something like True Grit meets The Book of Eli.

ABW: Ha! Oh, I love that. Publishing pros are always asking for comparable titles and mash-ups, and your image here is great.

GC: I had so much fun writing this book and I hope everyone enjoys it just as much when they read it. Here’s the summary: 

In the near post-apocalyptic future, the skies are always gray and people are constantly searching for the sun. For teenage outlaw Seph, it’s the only world he’s ever known. With his horse, his favorite pistol, and his knowledge for survival passed down from his dead father, Seph knows it’s safer to be alone. But after a run-in with a local gang that call themselves the Lawmen, and having been wrongly accused of murder, Seph teams up with Avery—a determined girl whose twin brother has been taken by the same gang.

After living in a small, rundown town her whole life, Avery knows nothing of the Wild—the lands controlled by nobody where travel is risky. With Seph’s help, they track down her brother but quickly find the tables have turned and they are now the ones being hunted. With rumors of mysterious dangers to the south and a safe sanctuary to the west, they’ve only got one option, but getting there won’t be easy with the Lawmen on their trail. The only thing that matters in the Wild is how fast your trigger hand is, but Seph doesn’t know if his will be fast enough to save them all.

ABW: Save them all. Excellent. I look forward to reading.

Chop Suey Books logoBOOK RELEASE!:

If you’re in the Richmond, VA, area, stop by Chop Suey Books, 2913 W. Cary Street, at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, May 22, to meet Gwen and get a personalized copy of Ride On (plus giveaway swag)!

If you want to know more about Gwen and her books, check out her website, and look for her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Wattpad.

*For Grammar Geeks: My rule of thumb for hyphenating “time travel” was this: no hyphen as a noun or verb; yes hyphen as an adjective. Whattaya think? Agree? Disagree?

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Kimberly Brubaker Bradley on Craft

Last week, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley won the Newbery Honor Award for her middle grade novel, The War that Saved my Life, and just this week she’s learned that it’s hitting the New York Times bestseller list. The book was also a co-winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, and the audio version won the Odyssey. Wow. Congratulations, Kim!

Kim and I “met” online after she blurbed Brotherhood (her lovely words appear on my book jacket and on the Brotherhood page of my website), and I was thrilled when she agreed to carve out time for this blog interview.

 

 

A.B. Westrick: Welcome, Kim! I loved reading The War that Saved my Life, and wanted to ask for your reflections on the craft of writing.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: So glad to appear on your blog! Thank you for asking.

ABW: Let’s get right to the heart of The War that Saved my Life. Set in England at the start of WWII, it’s the story of ten year-old Ada, who was born with a clubfoot and whose abusive mother has tried to keep her hidden. As world events compel Ada out into the world, she must struggle both to understand all that she’s missed and to heal from the trauma of abuse. My first question is: how did you go about crafting Ada’s voice, so British and so real? Continue reading

Crafting Nonfiction for Young Readers

I met Winifred Conkling in 2009 when we were students in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and today I’m thrilled to feature her reflections on the craft of writing. Winifred is the award-winning author of numerous books and articles for adults and children, and her newest book, Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery, comes out today from Algonquin Young Readers.

A.B. Westrick: Winifred, welcome!

Winifred Conkling: Thank you for inviting me, Anne.

ABW: Passenger on the Pearl is a heart-wrenching story that hooked me on page one. I can tell from the sidebars and source notes that you researched the life of Emily Edmonson and her contemporaries extensively. So my first question is how you distilled down what must have been a mountain of primary sources, and decided to begin the story where you did (with Emily’s mother’s fears about bringing children into the world)?

WC: I always struggle with where to start a story. You’re right, I started the process by reading piles of source material. I finally decided that the most natural way to frame the story was to focus on Emily’s birth into slavery and to end with her marriage and the promise that her children would be born free. In my background reading, I was devastated by the quote from Emily’s mother, Amelia, who had fallen in love but refused to marry, saying: “I loved Paul very much, but I thought it wasn’t right to bring children into the world to be slaves.” I am the mother of three, and I can’t imagine what it would feel like to know that my children would be destined to face the horrors of slavery. I know that young readers are familiar with the idea of slavery, but I wanted to make the suffering personal. Continue reading