Monthly Archives: December 2010

A few for the wish list

Sorry for the silence around here lately.

When I look at the sidebar, I realize you must be thinking, “How long is that girl going to be reading Linger? It’s been weeks!” I am able to report that I am almost done. I must be ready for the bounty o’ books I am sure to receive in a week.

There is only so much teaching / Christmas-prepping / writing / cleaning / knitting / living / sleeping a girl squeeze into the day. Oh, and baking. There has been baking. Sadly for my fella, he has had to watch all hang-dog as I package up each and every cookie to give as gifts. Yesterday, I emptied out a giant tin full of cookies into pretty gift packets, and all I left him was one. One delicious cookie, mind you, but still sort of pathetic. Yesterday I was a Match Green Tea Shortbread machine. The kitchen smelled buttery and sweet and it was like I was breathing green-tea scented perfume. Not to mention, I can’t think of a more festive looking treat. I didn’t take a picture, but I’ll let you imagine a mountain of sparkly green cookies looking generally gorgeous and tempting on my kitchen counter. And I’ll share the recipe. It’s the best. Here you go.

So, I have a few more books for the wish list.

Annexed by Sharon Dogar is a companion text to Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. Dogar imagines the story that Peter van Pels, one of Anne’s companions in the secret annex, might have told.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares brings together Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist fame, with another quirky, dual-voiced narrative. I love the sound of this premise. Lily leaves a notebook full of dares on a bookstore shelf, hoping that the right guy will find it and rise to her challenges. This starts an adventure all over the Big Apple. Plus some romance. Plus no doubt plenty of uber-clever dialogue.

Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Labalestier, brings together many of the coolest kids in the YA author club, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, and Scott Westerfeld. It’s full of stories, some about unicorns and some about, you guessed it… zombies. The idea is that by the end, readers will be ready to choose a team. Unicorn or zombie? Sounds like a fun trip.

You’ll have to wait for January for this one (maybe for the New Year’s Wish List?). The Big Crunch sounds like a love story that isn’t super sappy. Guy meets girl. They’re not perfect or perfect-looking but they find each other and fall for each other, but they don’t believe in soul mates, or swoony love. It’s by Pete Hautman, and he knows what he’s doing. It sounds like it would make a good indie movie. Every new year should start with a love story, right?

There’s still time yet to get a few more books onto my list, and to make some treats that I’m going to keep just for me and my guy.

I’m off to party-it-up, Grade 4 style, with my 26 kidlits. We have made it to The Last Day. (*general rejoicing from kidlits and teachers*)

(The book list is cross-posted today at Guys Lit Wire).

Winter Blog Blast Tour: Jennifer Donnelly

It’s the final day of the Winter Blog Blast Tour and it is my pleasure to welcome Jennifer Donnelly, author of A Northern Light and Revolution (and more!), to Shelf Elf.

Welcome Jennifer!

What helps you to keep writing everyday?

Love. I just love to write books. Even when I hate it, I love it. Just thinking about a new story idea – like I am now – makes me want to jump out of my seat and dance around. Because I get to earn my living telling stories, to spend my days with words and paragraphs and characters and books. It took me a long time to get here. A loooooong time. Lots of setbacks and rejections. So it’s never a “have-to” thing for me, it’s a “get-to” thing. I get to write books. And I still can’t quite believe it.

I’m sure that Revolution required a significant amount of research. Could you tell us a little about that process?

Significant is an understatement – boatloads of research would be closer. I read and read and read. I started out with the major, well-known historical surveys – things like Schama’s Citizens and Carlyle’s French Revolution, and then dove into various biographies, accounts, letters, and memoirs, histories of Paris, of the Terror specifically, and on and on. I spent time in museums in Paris and in archives. That was the academic stuff, but I’m also very unacademic in my research. I also spent a huge amount of time at Paris street markets, because there the cheeses still stink and the chickens still have their heads and feet. Certain types of Parisians endure – butchers, shopkeepers, fashionable women – and I sit and watch them, note their expressions and gestures, the way they move, the way they laugh. It all helps me get back to the 18th century.

Music is such an important element of the novel. Did you make a playlist as you wrote, or were there a few pieces of music that you listened to in order to help you get in the right frame of mind for your story?

Music is huge in the novel. For most of the book, it’s the one thing that sustains Andi, the main character. She’s a guitarist, so though she understands and appreciates music as a whole, she’s also specifically interested in the work of people like David Gilmour, Jonny Greenwood, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards. I listened to Pink Floyd and Radiohead nonstop – because Andi does, and also because the complexity, beauty, and darkness of their music suited my subject matter and pulled me through when the going got tough. It was impossible for me to write about the abuse of a child without sinking into a very dark place. Albums like Wish You Were Here, Animals, and Hail to the Thief kept me afloat.

What pieces of music would you name as the most significant in your life?

I don’t know if I can limit it to pieces of music. It’s more about the whole body of work of certain musicians – Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and Radiohead. Beethoven. Copland. The Who. The Decemberists. Kate Bush. Natalie Merchant. Bach. Lou Reed. Gillian Welch. To name a few. They acknowledge sorrow, loss, and darkness. They can sit in a room with it all. And I need that. I need some honest, grown-up acknowledgment of the state of things. I can’t bear too much happy horseshit.

You’ve spoken about how part of what inspired the novel was wondering how the idealism of the revolution could have broken down into something so cruel, how the world allows horrors to take place, and that you starting writing Revolution hoping to discover answers. Did you?

Yes, I did. When I started the book, I felt very much as the Duc d’Orléans does, that the world goes on, as stupid and brutal tomorrow as it is today. By the end of it it, I felt more like Andi, who comes to understand that yes, the world does go on this way, but I do not have to go along with it. Andi sees that she can’t change the world, but she can change herself. And maybe that’s enough. Enough to put her own life right. Enough to make a positive impact on a few lives around her. I like to think – to hope – that maybe that idea could become contagious.

If you had to choose 5 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?

That’s a tough question…I’m not sure I can cover the whole writing thing here, but these are 5 things that inspired Revolution:

A tiny heart in a glass urn


Shine on You Crazy Diamond

My daughter


Is there a topic or genre or historical period that you have thought you might like to try writing in the future?

Yes to all!

What is the most difficult part of writing for you, and what aspect of writing is the most fulfilling?

It’s all hard for me. All of it. Plot, characters, pacing – you name it, I struggle with it. It’s all fulfilling, too – on the days when the work is going well. The very best is those times when I’m so lost in it, that I totally lose consciousness of myself, and everything around me, and disappear into the story completely.

What part of this novel are you most proud of?

My aim is get the characters off the pages and into people’s minds and hearts and souls. If I’ve done that, I’m happy.

Semi-related question… how much do you love Paris? Of course I mean the Paris of now, not the Paris of Alexandrine’s day? What are your favourite things about Paris? (I am Paris-obsessed, so I like hearing what other Paris-lovers have to say about the city).

Blindly and insanely. The place must have a fault or two, but I surely don’t know of any. I love the street markets with their strawberries and roses. I love the unspeakably funky cheese. The handsome boys in their linen suits at Mariage Freres. The groovy girls in the 11th. Ghosts lingering everywhere. Eye contact. The butter. Poilâne bread. Whiling away an afternoon in the gardens of the Palais Royal. Hearing the beautiful, beautiful language spoken everywhere I go.

Thank you so much Jennifer! Congratulations on another gorgeous read.

Revolution is published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Be sure to stop by the other Friday interviews, wrapping up the WBBT:

Marilyn Singer at Writing and Ruminating
Ted Chiang at Shaken & Stirred
Sofia Quintero at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Snyder at Finding Wonderland

(photo credit: Doug Dundas)

Winter Blog Blast Tour: Kathi Appelt

It is a remarkable treat to be hosting Kathi Appelt today for a Winter Blog Blast Tour interview. Kathi’s latest novel, Keeper, is a magical, beguiling story of loss, love, family, and the sea. Every page is a treat. Read my review here, and then come on back for the interview.

Welcome Kathi!

How would you describe Keeper in one sentence?

Hmm . . . can she answer this in one sentence . . . okay: At ten years old, Keeper, born in the sea, believes that her real mother is a mermaid, and when trouble on the home front arises Keeper is certain that only her mermaid mother can set things aright again, so she makes the perfect plan, including setting out in a small boat all by herself and her Best Dog in search of that mermaid mother.

How’s that for a run-on clause-filled sentence?

It might be better to simply say, Keeper is about a small girl who believes in magic, but she needs a little evidence to make it so.

I think now would be the moment to pause and gaze upon the beautifully dreamy cover:

What helps you to keep writing everyday?

Years ago I made a commitment that I would write every single day, even if it was only for five minutes. I have kept that five-minute promise for well over twenty years. Some days that’s all I write. But the power of the five-minute rule is that once I sit down to write for five minutes, I usually write more. It’s the sitting down that is hard.

Keeper is such a poetic, meandering type of story, with different threads and backstories that stretch in the past. Where did the idea begin? Was it a phrase, a particular scene, or a character that came to you first?

I had an image of a small girl spinning in a wooden bowl. It came from my experience when I was very young. My grandmother had a large wooden salad bowl, and she used to let my sisters and I sit in it and she would spin us around and around on the kitchen floor. And I think it must have been my grandmother (who was a terrific spinner of tales as well as bowls) who suggested that we could sail away in that wooden bowl.

So, that image came to me early on. In fact, the very first scene that I wrote was the one where Keeper remembers being in that bowl in the water, and Meggie Marie is spinning her around and around and laughing.

I also want to say that my other grandmother lived in Galveston, so I spent a lot of time there when I was growing up. She actually owned a dog named BD (which stood for Bird Dog), and she also had a sea gull who crashed into her kitchen window during a storm. My grandmother managed to bandage the gull’s wing, and the bird and BD became chums. So that part of the story is based on a real event.

(Kathi in Galveston – photo credit for this photo & author photo: Ken Appelt)

There are three particularly fine beasts in this book: Captain, Sinbad and B.D. What’s different about creating a complex animal character compared to a human character?

When I write a dog character, I don’t want the dog to be a human-in-dog’s-clothing, even though to a certain extent there’s some of that anyways, rather I want the dog to feel dog-ish on the page. So I spend a lot of time studying dogs, their mannerisms, their sounds, their habits, the foods they eat, the ways they interact with other dogs, all of that.

I also think about the choices that my beasties have. As someone who lives with cats, those same cats only have choices within the confines of my house. They don’t go outside (except when Jazzmyn aka vixen of the cat clan darts out the door while I’m bringing groceries in or something), so the choices they make are contained. Would they run away if they could? Maybe, and that’s a choice to ponder too. With BD, he has a choice everyday. He lives on the beach, but he could easily race away, never to return. Same with Sinbad. Both of them always return to Keeper and Mr. Beauchamp, even though neither one has to. That tells me that those animals, regardless of their needs, return for other reasons besides food and shelter. Maybe they return because they enjoy the company of their humans, and perhaps they even love their humans in their dog and cat ways.

Captain’s choices have more to do with food and BD than with the people in the story.

So, with the animals, there’s always the question of what is pulling them to remain true to their humans (and to each other). Which leads to the next question: do their humans deserve the companionship of these animals? And that allows me to know something about the humans in the story. Are those same humans worthy? Or not?

So, in some ways the animal characters serve as mirrors for the humans. They tend to reflect back the best and worst of the human characters—just as they do in real life.

Which one of the animals in Keeper is your secret favourite? (We know you have one!)

I am crazy about Captain. He just makes me smile. And also, I share his love for watermelon. (Let’s just say that I totally understand his attraction for it). Continue reading

Winter Blog Blast Tour Day 1

Hooray! It’s day one of the fabulous, wintry, thought-provoking, happy-making Winter Blog Blast Tour. (WBBT for those in the know!) Prepare to be treated, all week long, to wonderful interviews all over the kidlitosphere with some of the best authors and illustrators out there. There will be two stops at Shelf Elf this week (Thursday – Kathi Appelt, and Friday – Jennifer Donnelly).

Here is the schedule for today:

Elizabeth Hand at Chasing Ray
Maya Gold at Bildungsroman
L.K. Madigan at Writing & Ruminating
Paolo Bacigalupi at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
R.J. Anderson at Hip Writer Mama

Let the blast begin!

(Are you not loving the tiny snowflakes falling all over the golden picture? Sigh. Can’t I just stay here all day long?)

(photo from stockxchng).

December is Compassion at readergirlz

December’s theme at readergirlz is Compassion. Perfect, yes? All month long, you’ll find fantastic recommended reads on this theme, with inspiring discussions at the blog. So join in.

Coinciding with the theme is a fantastic initiative that is perfect for the holidays. Readergirlz and First Book are partnering to see that more than 125, 000 new (and fabulous) books get into the hands of low-income teen readers. You can help by spreading the word, so that organizations that work with teens (schools, after-school programs, church youth groups, community centers, etc.) can benefit from this wonderful opportunity. All of the info that you need to get the word out, is right here, at the blog.

Shout it out!