Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Author Claudia Mills shares about the writing of ONE SQUARE INCH

Many years ago now, I met Claudia Mills at a Hodge-Podge Book/Reading Conference in Albany, NY. We started to chat and ended up having breakfast together with another good friend, author Pat Brisson . Then Claudia came to my presentation. She laughed in all  the right places and then everyone else did too! I was forever after charmed. If you don't already know her, you will be charmed, too, after reading her interview below and checking out her web-site and books. She's wise and whimsical! Click here to learn all about Claudia:  www.claudiamillsauthor.com 

Join me in celebrating  with Claudia Mills the soon to be released One Square Inch:

Pre-order ONE SQUARE INCH here:        http://amzn.to/dun54a

From the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux: Cooper’s grandfather gives him and his little sister, Carly, deeds to square inches of land in the Yukon. Carly uses them to invent her own imaginary kingdom of Inchland—far away from the silence of their home, where their single mother stays in bed all day. When their mom comes out of her season of sadness bursting with sometimes-frightening energy, Carly retreats into Inchland while sixth-grader Cooper tries to control the chaos. But can Cooper really keep Carly—and himself—safe? Ages 10-14  Sept 14, 2010


How did you come to write One Square Inch?

     When my husband was growing up in the 1950s, he participated in the marketing frenzy created by Quaker Oats when they began offering in every box of cereal a deed to one square inch of the Yukon, a tie-in the popular radio program, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.”  When he first showed his deeds to me, I thought nothing could be more magical than having a claim to such a tiny piece of land, one’s own square inch, with all its possibilities. I knew I wanted to write a book about this someday.

     I knew it would be about a boy and his sister who escape from something difficult in their lives by creating an imaginary world in their one square inch, but I didn’t yet know the source of their need to escape.  Finally, some twenty years later, my own life was touched in a painful way by mental illness.  So then I knew that Cooper and Carly would be trying to create a refuge from their mother’s bipolar disorder, and that they would discover that the only safe place anyone can ever find is the one we create for ourselves within.

You’ve said that this was the hardest book you ever wrote.  Why was that?

     Oh, so many reasons!  For starters, the topic itself had the potential for being simply depressing and painful to read about. While I wanted readers to connect with the sad core of the story, and to be moved by it, I also didn’t want them to refuse to read on because they found the story a “downer.”  So I tried to develop the sweet beauty of Cooper and Carly’s shared fantasy life, as well as creating some humor in the story by setting various scenes in the “Food Fun” class Cooper is taking in middle school, taught by the comical Mr. Costa, whom the kids of course nickname Mr. Pasta.

What other challenges did you find along the way?

     Of all my books, ever, this was the one I had to rewrite the most extensively.  My editor, Margaret Ferguson at FSG, kept telling me, correctly I’m afraid, that the story ran the danger of being too much the story of Cooper’s mother, rather than Cooper’s story.  All the changes I made from my original version of the manuscript were in the service of making this be Cooper’s story. The first thing I did was to kill off Cooper’s father, who had been fairly distant and ineffectual, anyway.  Now Cooper and Carly are alone with their mother as she becomes progressively more ill.  Then (and this broke my heart to do!), I killed off Cooper’s lovely, warm, caring grandmother and turned his lovely, warm, caring grandfather into someone more like his distant, ineffectual father had been – before I killed him off.  Now the peril of Cooper’s situation is intensified, because he doesn’t have the refuge of a concerned, available family member in whom he can confide.  Finally, I changed the book from third person (the voice of almost all of my books) to first person, so that Cooper himself is telling us the story.  So I’ll be eager to hear what readers say now: have I succeeded in making this Cooper’s story?  I hope so!

What else are you working on?

     Next year FSG is publishing the sequel to my chapter book, 7 x 9 = Trouble!, titled Fractions = Trouble!, in which poor Wilson Williams, who struggled so with learning his times tables in the first book, now has to try to master the fiendish difficulty of fractions – worse, with the help of a math tutor.  Wilson is convinced he’s the only kid in the history of Hill Elementary School to have a math tutor – and he’s determined that nobody else ever finds this out.  And I’ve also been working on a humorous series for Random House, about a curmudgeonly boy and his hyper-enthusiastic best friend (sort of a friendship between immovable object and irresistible force).  The first book, Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters, is coming out in March.

Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?

     Years ago, I read somewhere this pithy thought about writing: “You don’t have an idea until you have two ideas.”  That really came alive for me in writing One Square Inch.  When all I had was the idea for the imaginary world of Inchland, I didn’t yet have a full-fledged idea for a book.  It was when I combined that idea with the idea of writing about a family burdened with mental illness that I could proceed with writing the book.  So: you don’t have an idea until you have two ideas.  Whoever first said that was right!

Claudia's BIO:

Claudia Mills grew up in New Jersey, with her one-year-younger sister. Together they dreamed up the magical kingdoms of Bladen (perfectly round), Maloone (shaped like a star), Socker (shaped like a sock), and Moo (shaped like a cow), ruled by princesses with names like Candleceina and Moonerette. So they had a lot in common with Cooper and Carly in One Square Inch.

In addition to being a children's book author, Claudia is a professor in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the mother of two almost-grown-up sons. One Square Inch is her 43rd book for young readers. [Yes, this is Claudia's 43rd book! Hope some of her magic rubs off on us!]

Her magic is sure to rub off on one of you, because she has graciously donated a signed copy of an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) to one of you who writes in and leaves a comment. You can congratulate Claudia on her new book, or for more fun, add what you would call your make believe Inchland if you had those Quaker Oats Certificates.

Claudia's web-site link again--be sure to check out her inspiring blog about a writer's day to day life when you're over there:  www.claudiamillsauthor.com

The lucky winner will be selected by random.org on September 1, 2010!


Thursday, August 19, 2010


Dear Readers,

Thanks so much for stopping by this past week to celebrate with Pamela Jane about her ghoulishly good book, A VAMPIRE COMES TO DINNER! TEN RULES TO FOLLOW   Special thanks to everyone who shared a RULE they would make if a vampire was coming to their house for dinner. It really added to the fun for Pamela and me! If you haven't checked out her web-site yet, here's the link again: http://www.pamelajane.com 

I know you're all eager to find out just which of you is the LUCKY WINNER, but first, a reminder of what's coming! I'm really excited about my fall lineup.

Next week, we'll be celebrating another BOOK BIRTHDAY! Claudia Mills will be sharing about her new middle grade book, One Square Inch. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB) wrote this: "Won't someone think of middle-graders? Fortunately, Claudia Mills does. . .with continued perception, humor, and sympathy."  Claudia is donating an autographed copy of the book! Exciting!

In September, Lindsay Barrett George, will be here with her new book, Maggie's Ball. She writes and illustrates, and she'll be sharing about that. Plus, she has an extra special giveaway for readers along with a copy of the book.

In October, Hilary Wagner will be our guest! Have you seen previews of her new book? Exciting. And she's donating an autographed copy! A mystery guest will stop by for Halloween!

Other author guests will be Melissa Wyatt, Linda Oatman High, and, as a wrap up for the year, K.L.Going and a YA writing contest sponsored by yours truly.

And the WINNER of A Vampire is Coming to Dinner! Ten Rules to Follow is: Kimberly Lynn

Kimberly, please e-mail me (claragillowclark(@)gmail(dot)com) with your home address and your autographed book will soon be be on its way!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What would YOU do if. . .

What would you do if a vampire came to your house for dinner? Author Pamela Jane has the perfect solution! She's written a book for youngsters that is sure to tickle their funny bones and she's stopped by to share the inspiration for writing, A Vampire Is Coming to Dinner! Ten Rules to follow. Penguin Books for Young Readers, Aug 2010.

Here's what Pam has to say about The Ultimate Book on Vampire Etiquette:

"Believe it or not, I had no idea vampires would become so wildly popular when I first conceived of the idea for A Vampire is Coming to Dinner! 10 Rules to Follow. The book had its genesis in a tickling fame I used to play with my daughter, when she was little. She would come home from school, flop down on the bed, and beg me to tickle her.

'Please?' she would say. 'Just for a minute?'

So we'd play the vampire tickling game. I'd try to tickle her neck and tell her a vampire was coming to dinner and he would be very hungry. Or thirsty. And was hiding her neck a polite way to treat a thirsty vampire?

It was a silly game, and I never dreamed I'd write a book based on the idea. But I love lists (thus the 10 rules), especially lists I write that tell me what I'm supposed to be doing. And while all the picture books I've published have been rhyming books, I've always wanted to try writing a "concept" book. So I got the idea of the list of rules the boy in the story writes to get himself through the scary, ultimately silly, confrontation with a vampire. As you'll see, he breaks every single one! Pedro Rodriguez's modern, imaginative illustrations add the perfect vampire-ish touch.

I hope you'll enjoy reading A Vampire is Coming to Dinner! and discovering what mischief lurks behind each "lift the flap" frame. And that, like a little boy at a school I recently visited, you'll think 'The Vampire book really rocks.'"

A Vampire is Coming to Dinner! 10 Rules to Follow  by Pamela Jane, illus.by Pedro Rodriguez, Price Stern Sloan, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-8431-9964-2 After a Nosferatu-like vampire announces an unexpected visit to a boy's house. . .what follows is a list of rules. . .which appear on flaps within  antique golden picture frames. Kids will delight in lifting each flap to reveal retro-styled spreads in which the boy outwits the vampire at every turn--welcoming him with spotlights, candles, and lamps ("Make sure all the lights are off"). . .the book is a ghoulishly good time. Ages 3-up. (Aug.) Publisher's Weekly review
Order it here: http://amzn.to/9RGOXO
I know you'll want to learn more about Pamela Jane. You can do that right now by clicking on these links:
http://www.pamelajane.com (Great site, Pamela!)

It'll be more fun to look at Pamela's web-site, but let me just share that she is the author of 26 books for children, including Noelle of the Nutcracker, illustrated by Jan Brett (Houghton Mifflin) which has been optioned for a film. Her featured book, A Vampire is Coming to Dinner! 10 Rules to Follow will be released on August 12--that's tomorrow--and Ten Little Goblins is forthcoming from Harper, 2011. If you have kids, then you've seen her books in Scholastic and Weekly Reader Book Clubs, and on ALA "Pick of the Lists". 

Wait! Keep reading. We have a ghoulishly fun surprise just for you!

Pamela Jane has generously donated a copy of her featured book:  A Vampire is Coming to Dinner! 10 Rules to Follow  and will personalize it to one of the lucky readers who drop by to leave us a comment. You know how much we all love to hear from readers. You can simply write in to say that you enjoyed reading the post, or what we would really love to know is what RULE you would make if a vampire was coming to your house for dinner! Put those thinking caps on. The clock will strike at midnight on August 18The winner will be selected by random.com and maybe it will be YOU!