Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Author Kara Lareau talks about her exciting new Middle Grade series + Giveaway

Dear Readers,

So much was going on in the news this past week that I completely forgot about Newbery week. Then, just yesterday, I learned that our featured guest, Author Kara Lareau, had received great news about her previous book, The Infamous Ratsos. Her book was awarded a Theodore Geisel Honor. Congratulations, Kara! (See the book and learn more about it after her post about her NEW book, The Jolly Regina.)  Kara is donating an autographed copy of The Jolly Regina for the comment contest. So please leave a comment for Kara about her post or to congratulate her on her exciting award!

The winner of The Hollow Ground by Natalie Harnett will be revealed at the very end of the post.

Here's a little about Kara. . .

Author Kara Lareau

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and Scholastic Press. Currently, she lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband, their son, and their cat. You can learn more about Kara by visiting her website:

Follow her on twitter: @karalareau
instagram: karalareau

The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters 
 by Kara Lareau 

To be honest, I can be a little bit bland. I might not be as bland as Jaundice and Kale Bland, the protagonists of my new middle-grade trilogy, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters. But I have had my moments. Here are just a few:

1.Sometimes, I make plans to go out and take a shower and get dressed and put on makeup, then decide I’d much rather stay home.
2. I mostly drink water, or plain seltzer.
3. I like plain pizza with no toppings (just sauce and cheese).
4. My wardrobe consists of five colors: blue, black, gray, green, and tan. (And I only wear solid colors, except for the occasional muted stripe.)
5. I prefer having very short fingernails with no nail polish on them.
6. I would rather sleep than do just about anything.
7. Sometimes I write something I really like, then put it away in a drawer.

Some of these bland behaviors are harmless, or just a matter of (however-bland) taste, but that last one has been a problem for me. I kept the manuscript for THE INFAMOUS RATSOS (my new chapter book series) in a drawer for more than a year before I shared it with my agent. Why? Because I was afraid he wouldn’t like it, or wouldn’t know how to sell it, because it was different. If you think that’s bad, I hid away the manuscript for The Jolly Regina (the first book in the Bland Sisters trilogy) for waaaaay longer than that.

Jaundice and Kale might be inherently bland, but they’re also a bit too attached to what’s comfortable for them — their house, their cheese sandwiches, their dictionary — so it takes a real effort for them to get out into the world. (And in most cases, the effort is made by their parents!) Really, deep down, they’re just afraid. I relate to that a LOT — I spent my childhood (and much of my adulthood!) being afraid of many things, including (and especially) failure. That’s a tough one I still deal with now. And that’s why, for me, the challenge in being a writer isn’t in finding a good idea, or sitting down to write, or following through on a project. The hardest part is summoning the courage and the confidence to share my work with the world.

But over the past few years, I’ve had some experiences (a cancer diagnosis, having a baby) that have caused me to reexamine my life, and I’ve come to realize that everything good that has ever happened to me has happened because I stepped outside my comfort zone and took a risk. So, from here on in, I’ve been trying to be a little bit braver. I try to say YES more than I say no. So far, it’s working — THE INFAMOUS RATSOS and The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters are both on their way to becoming series, and I have more than a few other projects out on submission. I might still not like to wear nail polish or put toppings on my pizza, but if I’m going to go to the trouble of getting dressed up, or polishing up a new manuscript, you can bet neither of us is going to end up sitting around at home.

One can only hope Jaundice and Kale might learn that same lesson…eventually.

PRAISE FOR The Jolly Regina by Kara Lareau
      “LaReau serves her humor dry, adding some serious swashbuckling for good measure… Meanwhile Hill’s pen-and-ink cartoons give the book precisely the right strange and silly tone.” (Kirkus)
      “With dry humor and a touch of snark, this first book of a new series is a smart choice for readers who have mastered Bink and Gollie but aren’t quite ready for Lemony Snicket. (School Library Connection)
      “Filled with puns, intrigue, and ample evidence that women make excellent—and ruthless—pirates, it’s a promising introduction to the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters series.” (Publishers Weekly)
      “Replete with puns, gags, and life lessons, this transgressive voyage may “ketch” fans of envelope pushers like Barry Yourgrau, Alan Katz, or Roald Dahl.”(Booklist)
      “Plenty of references to booty and poop decks make for easy humor, while more subtle comedy comes from the deadpan third-person narration.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

Presenting The Infamous Ratsos! Just look at that shiny new sticker! Congratulations, Kara! 

  • If you'd like to read some behind-the-scenes stories about THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, here are a few from Kara's archives (NOTE: The contest/giveaway mentioned has already ended)...

The winner of Natalie Harnett's debut novel, The Hollow Ground is: Annette Whipple. Congratulations to you, Annette. Please claim your prize by e-mailing me with your address and for whom you'd like it personalized: claragillow(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thank you so much, dear readers, for your continued support of authors and good books! I'll be back next Wednesday to announce the winner of The Jolly Regina. We're also having a Book Birthday and another giveaway!

Have a great week!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Author Natalie Harnett shares about her journey to publication + Giveaway

Dear Readers,

Please welcome a dear friend, Author Natalie Harnett, whose debut novel and background story to publication is perfect for starting off the New Year! Natalie is generously donating an autographed copy of her novel,  The Hollow Ground--an extraordinary debut of literary fiction. For a chance to win a copy of this award winning book, please leave a comment below for Natalie. Thank you!

My Journey to Publication by Natalie Harnett

I grew up in Queens, New York and for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. I think my love for language came at a young age and was fostered by the many afternoons I spent reading early twentieth century poems to my maternal grandmother. My family’s love of made up words and my paternal grandmother’s broken English—she was an ethnic German immigrant from Slovenia—also helped.

Though I did well in school, I had a poor understanding of grammar until I taught it to myself during my first year of graduate school. Oddly enough, I think my lack of knowledge of grammar and punctuation gave me a kind of freedom with language that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt. It seems strange to say, but I’m actually glad I didn’t learn grammar until I was an adult!

During grad school I wrote a novel and then later wrote several others.  Those novels won some literary awards but never got published.  In a way, I’m grateful for that. I don’t think the writing in them is as strong as the writing in my debut, The Hollow Ground, and if they’d been published, I’m not sure how well they would have done.

Those previous novels were all in third person and were inspired largely by personal experience.  By the time I was ready to start The Hollow Ground, I knew I wanted to start something new.  I wanted to try first person and I wanted to do something that I had not personally experienced.  My mom has always said that people love to learn something when they read, so I was thinking historical fiction.  I love history.  I also always start with place when I write, and the place that my imagination kept returning to was the city of Carbondale, PA.

While I was a young child my grandfather lived in the Pocono area of Pennsylvania and through him, I became familiar with the nearby city of Carbondale.   There was something about the city’s steep, narrow streets and large old homes that called to me. From my grandfather’s neighbor I’d heard about how coal mine fires had sunk houses and poisoned people, but at that time, I’d had no intention of writing about a coal mine fire.  In fact, I didn’t even know about Carbondale’s fire until I started doing research on the city.

Gradually, as I learned more and more about that fire and the horrific conditions the residents had survived, I knew I also wanted to tell the story of the fire.  That’s when The Hollow Ground started to take shape.  Up until then, I’d thought the novel would be about a gift for healing that Brigid had inherited from her Auntie.  But the story of the fire soon overtook the story of Brigid’s healings, and I was forced to scrap the bulk of the novel I’d already written and start anew.

By that time I was pregnant and deeply concerned that I’d never manage to complete the novel once the baby was born.  As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  My baby’s first year of life was the most productive writing year of my own life!  She had colic and I’d spend hours in a rocking chair, holding her in my left arm while writing with my right.  My incredibly supportive family also did everything they could to give me time to type and rewrite.  I couldn’t have done it without them. Now my daughter is five and it’s such a pleasure to see her get a kick out of ‘Mommy’s book’ being on a library shelf.  It’s truly a dream come true.

Currently, I have two projects in the works. One is an outline for a novel about a 64 year old woman, a former child refugee, who finally learns to love. And the other is a novel set in the 1950s that is inspired by my great grandmother’s and her servant’s lives.  My great grandmother was a diamond dealer, and she came over from Amsterdam under very shady circumstances.  Her servant was a white woman who was basically her slave.  That servant was never paid a dime, never had a day off and, once she became too old to work, my great grandmother gave her away to my grandmother.
Their story has haunted me since I was a little kid, and it’s been a very powerful experience writing about them.  What’s also been a powerful experience is learning, through my research, about New York City’s significant slave history. I knew almost nothing about it and that history gets incorporated into the novel as well. Oh, and my great grandfather’s Queens speakeasy gets some mention, too.

Review: The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett (Thomas Dunne Books). In this evocative debut novel, a 12-year-old girl narrates the story of her family's life in a mining town where the very bowels of the earth are ablaze. Brigid Hawley is as unforgettable as Francie in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," and hands down this is the best novel of 2014. ~Providence Journal

Plot summary: Inspired by real-life events, the underground mine fires ravaging a Pennsylvania coal town lead eleven-year-old Brigid Howley to make a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.

Honors and Awards: THE HOLLOW GROUND won the 2015 John Gardner Fiction Book Award, the 2014 Appalachian Book of the Year Award and was long-listed for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award.

Author Natalie Harnett
Natalie S. Harnett has an MFA from Columbia and has been awarded an Edward Albee Fellowship, a Summer Literary Seminars Fellowship, and a Vermont Studio Center Writer’s Grant. Her fiction has been a finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize, the Mid-List Press First Series Award for the Novel, the Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and The Ray Bradbury Short Story Fellowship.  Her work has appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, The Irish Echo, The Madison Review, The MacGuffin and The New York Times.

Learn more about the author:

Follow her On Facebook and Twitter:

Thanks, dear readers, for stopping by to read the post and share with us in the comments below. The winner of The Hollow Ground, will be announced in about a week. (If you're new to the blog, please include a way for me to reach you if your comment number is picked by Much appreciated.)

Happy New Year!