This is the blog of children's book author and elementary school teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Interview with YA Author Dawn Metcalf

Dawn Metcalf has always lived on the edge between reality and magic, which explains her current profession and love of fantasy books and games. Her passions include karate, fairy tales, Victoriana and dark chocolate, often combining one or more of them in unexpected ways. Currently, she lives with her husband and family in northern Connecticut. If they had a sign, it would be: Confounding the Neighbor Children Since 1999. Visit her online at www.dawnmetcalf.com.

When did you decide to become a writer?

Age 5 or so. Honestly, I can't remember a time when I *didn't* want to be a writer.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?

Not the usual way, which includes getting an agent, having the agent find an editor and negotiating a contract. Of course, I know very few people who have gotten published that way! Me, I joined SCBWI and within a year was attending my first National Conference in New York where I participated in a Writer's Intensive, meaning I submitted 500 words of a manuscript which I then read to 7-8 other would-be writers and one professional--either an agent or editor--for feedback. What I really wanted to was hear what other people could see in the work, what needed work and what was working, and what I really wanted was to hear what that professional had to say in order to make this more publishable, and what I really, REALLY wanted was for that professional to tap me later and say, "Send me your manuscript." Which is exactly what happened. (However, that editor didn't choose that manuscript, or the next one, or the next...but a year later, was the person who got to first read what would later become my debut novel and make an offer on it before the next SCBWI-NY.)

You can read the entire hilarious saga starting here: http://dawn-metcalf.livejournal.com/1383.html

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?

Giving up writing? No. Giving up writing for publishing? Yes. It is a crazy, stressful, muse-crunching world that moves with the speed of tectonic plates and anyone who doesn't at least momentarily think of chucking the whole mess out the window is probably lying. Still, it's also houses the best, most generous, most supportive and creative people I've had the pleasure to meet online and off. It's not for everyone, but the business is changing rapidly and I think there is always room for more good books!

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?

How much promotion depends solely on me and just how much time that can take away from life and writing. We're all trying to get our names out there and be responsible members of our own business and success, but there is an awful lot that falls into the white noise category and no one really knows what is effective or not, so balancing the costs and benefits, the pros and cons, the payoffs and profits on what to invest in, how much and did it work is simply a huge, bubbling cauldron of unknowns. The truth is, no one knows if blogging, tweeting, Tumblring, YouTubing or being Pinteresting will actually sell books any more than traditional graphic design for bookmarks, postcards, paying for ads or contests or even the postage will win out in the end, but everyone is TRYING to be a good partner with our publishing houses as well as a good writer (and graphic designer and film editor and social promoter, etc.) in order to sell more books and I'm one of them. So there's that.

Both of your books, Indelible and Luminous, are fantasies where a character in our world is thrust into the strange and unusual. What attracts you to writing this type of book?

I like having my fantasy have a toehold in reality. While things like "Urban Fantasy" and "Magical Realism" are categories now, when I was growing up there was only "high" fantasy and "low" fantasy that was slowly warping under things like cyberpunk, nanotech and Terri Windling's ground-breaking Borderlands books that had elves riding souped-up motorcyles running on spellboxes. Of course there has always been books like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia or Where the Wild Things Are that launch their characters from our world into a strange, fantastic realm, but having that boom in the YA world has brought up so many cool and interesting stories that now I can hardly imagine writing anything else.

Do you have any tricks about world building you can share?

I love cultural anthropology, mythology, legends and origin tales and these are what I base a lot of my world-building and magic systems on. I like how there are elements that strike a chord as sounding "almost familiar" that lets a reader believe in what is going on or where they are in the story. Tapping into these underlying universal stories, asking a lot of "What if?" and "Why?" questions gives a world both breadth and depth. I like taking any aspect of the story and following it back--where did it begin, why, and what has this one thing affected in other parts of the culture like the food, the architecture, the holidays, the clothes? It's a fun and fascinating rabbit-hole that probably explains why I watched every single extra reel in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy!

How did you come up with the idea for Indelible?

In a rant, like many of my ideas. This one was about how the older, immortal man swooped in to show the 16-year old human girl the way to love, unlocking her heart and desire and all that makes her tick and I thought, "Really?!?" I know a lot of girls who are confident in themselves and don't need an older man to show them the way. And who says that guys have to have all the answers, anyway? Pressure much? I liked a lot of boisterous, over-confident kid-like guys like Peter Pan and Robin Hood, Tom Hanks in BIG and Brad Pitt in MEET JOE BLACK--there are lots of guys who know a lot of things but know nothing about being human or matters of the heart. Heck, Belle from Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST takes the lead and so does her reflection in ONCE UPON A TIME. I think there's a powerful message in girls being confident in themselves and their hearts and what they want. I'm proud of Joy for standing up for herself and making her own decisions, best attempts and mistakes. And I'm proud that Ink does that, too. I'm all for guys and girls being confident, honest, vulnerable and strong with themselves and one another, especially in relationships that work.

In Indelible, You have some references that I normally find in fairy books, but they also seem like something other. Are they fairies?

Joy asks this in the book as well. Are they fairies or elves? Vampires? Angels? Demons? G-ds? And while there is a lot in this story that is based on traditional fairy lore, there is also a lot based on Greco-Roman deities and other cultural myths so I'll give the same answer Ink does: they've been called many things, but none of them are one hundred percent true.

This is book 1. Any hints for what we will find in book 2?

More Ink and Joy, of course, but also more Stef. The important thing, for me, was to look at how Joy can start to make her own decisions and call upon her own resources and not depend so much on everyone else since she is now somewhat more familiar with the world of the Twixt and its people and how it works. This allows her to make some of her own triumphs and mistakes and deal with the consequences, something that also comes out in her relationship with Monica. Unlike a lot of "best friend" scenarios, I wanted to be sure that we saw their friendship as a two-way street. I think there's not enough out there about girl friendship, something that often outlasts boyfriend crushes, and our sisters are so important! I wanted to be certain that was a big part of Book Two.

Now a question from the sporty girl blogger in me. In Indelible, Joy is a former gymnast. Why did you decide to give that back-story to this character? Will we see it come out more in the next book?

Well, here's the truth: *I'm* a sporty girl and I wanted to share some of that passion and belonging with Joy but I felt that I couldn't give her my own passionate sport-of-choice, karate, because it seems like EVERY SINGLE SUPERNATURAL CHARACTER CAN DO MARTIAL ARTS! From Conan to Xena to Buffy to newly-hatched vampires and underground elves, it seems like everyone and their nanny could do martial arts and although I could bring credence to it, it smacked too close to cliche so I borrowed an old sport I enjoyed, ice skating, and brought it indoors because--let's be honest--how often could I bring up ice skating skills in a series? There is even a deeper reason I chose to give Joy gymnastics--including the rigorous schedule, the tight-knit community, and Olympiad dreams--but that's a reveal for a later book!

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?

Read, read, read & write, write, write. More practical steps might include joining a national organization such as SCBWI, RWA, SFWA, etc. that can help point you in a direction to how your corner of the publishing world works. There are also *tons* of help online from editors, agents, pub houses and more willing and able to lend a hand (and sometimes an ear) out of the goodness of their sado-masochistic hearts. You can always check my links page on my website, www.dawnmetcalf.com, where I list some of my favorites including recent updated sites and tried-and-true archives. I'm all about Paying It Forward!

Thanks so much for doing this interview. I really enjoyed the book. I hate to part with it, but I will be giving my signed advanced reader copy away to a lucky commenter. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sporty Girl Books

I am very excited about the opening of my group blog, Sporty Girl Books. 

Here's a little more about the blog and our opening rafflecopter giveaway: 
At SPORTY GIRL, we want to give all girls the chance to love, watch, play, read, and write about the sports they love. We look forward to the day when the words, "You play like a girl," is the best compliment anyone can receive. 
The blog is currently operated by four authors—Stacy Mozer, Robin Hall, Anna Boll, and Kristine Asselin. While not all of us are athletes, each of us write in a variety of genres, and all love to read and write about girls who play sports.

We are looking for ideas about content, so please visit sportygirlbooks.blogspot.com. We're celebrating our launch with a giveaway so check the blog to see the awesome prizes.

You can also follow us on twitter @sportygirlbooks or email us at sportygirlbooks@gmail.com

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why I Attend BEA

As a teacher, writer, blogger, and book lover, there are many reasons I attend Book Expo America. With only two days until I attend, I've decided to share my reasons for going with you.

As a teacher:
When I started teaching, reading was taught with class sets of books. A classroom library was nice to have, but not a necessity. I always had a nice classroom library, but it was mostly used for pleasure reading. In the past fifteen years, that has dramatically changed. If you come to my classroom now, you will see an extensive library that contains both fiction and nonfiction. At no point are more than five kids reading the same book, and that is only during book talk units. Most of the time each child is self-selecting just right novels from a leveled bin. A student may stay in the same level for three months or more, so each level has to have a wide variety. In order to confer with students successfully, I try to read the books, or at least a title in each series. 

Why do I go to BEA as a teacher? To find new books to add to my classroom library and to meet authors who will inspire them to read. I also go to find new authors and new classroom resources and materials. I also go to connect to teacher and librarian friends from around the country.

Events I hope to attend:

11:00 am - 11:30 am
Uptown Stage
11:00 am - 11:50 am
1:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Uptown Stage

As a writer:
Part of our education as writers is to understand the market. A great way to see that market is going to BEA. Publishers have booths where they show off their current and new reads. You'll also see writers, agents, and editors walking around the floor. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is not a time to pitch your book, but it is a good place to network and spend time with book people. I hope to see many friends.

Events I hope to attend:
12:00 pm - 12:30 pm
Uptown Stage

As a reader:
I will pick up middle grade reads as a teacher. I search out new YA as a reader. Many of my favorite series were first handed to me at BEA. I have a list of new and next books I hope to find. 

Events I hope to attend:
10:00 am - 10:30 am
Uptown Stage

As a book blogger:
Going as a book blogger is new for me. My new group blog, Sporty Girl Books, is launching on June 1st. As a book blogger I hope to make connections and to publicize the blog. In order to build readership, we are holding a giveaway during the month of June, ending on June 23, the anniversary of Title IX. I also hope to pick up swag that I can add to our giveaway.

Those are the reasons I go to BEA. Why will you be there? (Or why won't you?)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tips for BEA 2013

In one week teachers, librarians, writers, bloggers, and industry professionals will descend upon the Jacob Javits Center in NYC for Book Expo America. This will be my fourth time attending this event so here is my list of helpful hints.

1. Make a schedule
Book Expo provides two ways to take a look at the events, signings, and books, and create a schedule. From the website you can download the BEA app or you can sign in to My BEA Show Planner (in the box underneath the app). I've been trying out both, and I actually like My BEA Show Planner better. Not only can you create a schedule that you can print, you can also search attendees and make connections. You can also look at an interactive map that highlights all of the booths you have decided to visit. The one benefit to the app is that you can also map routes from booth to both and find your location in real time. But for those of us (which may only be me) who can only use the app in wifi, this may or may not be helpful the day of the show. In the past cell phone service was spotty, so make sure to print your schedule as well as have it on a device.

2. Wear comfy shoes
You don't have to go with sneakers (I usually pick a nice pair of sandals), but you don't want to pick a pair of shoes that you haven't already broken in. Keep in mind that you will be doing a lot of walking and standing around.

3. Dress professionally
Even though your shoes should be comfy, that doesn't mean come you should come in sweats. It is a trade show. You should also bring layers because the conference floor definitely fluctuates in temperature. 

4. Take advantage of public transportation
There are free shuttle buses running from hotels all over the city (take a look at the list), but if you, like me, are coming in from Grand Central, the best bus to take is M42. It picks up right in front of Grand Central Station on 42nd Street and drops off at 42nd and 11th Ave. The cost of the bus is $2.50.

5. Bring a rolling suitcase & a tote bag
Even if you don't go overboard, carrying all those books around on your shoulder is exhausting. It costs about $3 per day to check your rolling bag and you can keep going back to it to add new books from your tote. You will not be allowed to bring the rolling bag to the floor. 

6. Bring water and snacks
A friend of mine coming this year compared BEA to Disney World. It's a pretty accurate description. There are long lines, costumed characters, and the food is pricy (though tastier than Disney in my opinion). Having snacks and water with you helps a lot.

7. Have fun - don't pitch
Go to panels, meet authors, find out about new books, and meet other attendees who love books as much as you do. Take a look at lists and find out what is coming out on the market. You may even meet an editor or literary agent. Ask them about the books they are there to see and what's coming out. Don't make this conference about you and your writing. It's not a time to pitch, it's a time to explore.

8. Places to learn more:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Books for Boston

If you haven't already heard of Books for Boston, and haven't donated, here is a great project being run by AC Gaughen. 

She is asking for authors and non authors to donate books for children. But before you send the book, write a message of hope, courage, or resilience. 

Here is a link to the blog post and information about how to donate: http://www.acgaughen.com/blog/2013/4/25/books-for-boston.html

I think this is a fantastic project and I found that in writing my own message of hope, I felt encouraged as well. Hope you will too!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Taking the Conference Home: A Post for NESCBWI13

It is always so exciting to attend a writer’s conference. To be surrounded by like minds and to rub elbows with published professionals, even well-known published professionals. I often hear people saw how much they want these feelings to continue even after they go home.

Well guess what? You can!

Join a critique group. Critique groups aren’t just for sharing work, they are for continuing that conference experience of being surrounded by people who share your need to write and talk about children’s books.

If you meet some great people (which I know you will) and they don't live near you, start an online group. 

If you want to meet people in your area, look for ways that the conference has provided for getting you together with them. At NESCBWI13 we start the conference with a Regional Meetup on Friday night. Open Group Leaders will be wearing stickers that say, "Ask me about my group." If there are no open groups in your area, take the time to find some people who want to start one. Don't worry if none of you have ever done it before. That's why you have a person like me (Regional Critique Group Coordinator) who can give you advice. I had never attended a group when I started my first group and now I coordinate the whole region. 

If you will not be at the Friday night meetup but will be at the conference, I will be holding office hours during Saturday and Sunday's conference registration. Please come by my table, introduce yourself, fill out a Looking for a Group slip, and check out our New England open group listings. You can also see these listings at http://nescbwicritiques.blogspot.com and looking at the list in the New England NEWS. 

And if you approached me at the conference to tell me that you want to join a group or even better, run one, don’t put it off. Do it. You’ll be glad you did. It really does make the conference last all year long.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Even the Writer Can Be Surprised

The other day I was working on a story and I said out loud, "Wow, I can't believe that happened." My seven year old daughter looked up from a piece of artwork she was creating, slipped off her stool, and came over to the table when I was writing.

"Mommy," she said. "You say that all the time. But how can you be surprised? You're the writer! Don't you make the stories?"

How could I explain to my seven year old, that while that is true, I do write the story, I often find that I am not entirely in control of the plot. Matter of fact, sometimes I have no control at all. I am just the fingers that type the words down. The words themselves come from someplace deep inside.

At least I hope they do. Other wise the answer to my child really should be that mommy's just a little nutty and not to mind her.

Do you control your stories or do your stories control you? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Interview with Middle Grade Author Anna Staniszewski

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston, Mass. with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. You can visit her at www.annastan.com.

Hi Anna. Thanks so much for doing this interview on your release week for My Epic Fairy Tale FailDid you know that My Very UnFairy Tale Life would be a series when you wrote it?
I knew pretty early on that the idea had series potential, but I wanted to make the first book stand alone. Right around the time the first book came out, my agent and I sold two follow-ups. Luckily, I'd kept a larger thread in the story (Jenny's absent parents) open, so I was able to carry that through the rest of the series.

How did you come up with the idea for this twisted fairy tale series?
I was working on a dark YA and really needed a break. When I sat down to write something funny, out came a scene about a girl and a talking frog. The girl was so snarky and spunky that I knew I wanted to keep writing about her. I soon discovered she was an adventurer who solved magical problems--and she was sick of it! Once I knew that about her, it was way too much fun to throw fairy tale and fantasy themes at her and see what she would do.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
Like most publishing journeys, it was a long one. I'd been writing for years, but it wasn't until I finished grad. school that I decided to work toward getting published. A few years and maaaaaany rejections later, I finally got an agent. Another year and maaaaany more rejections later, I finally sold my first book. 

Was there ever a point that you felt like giving up?
Definitely. Every rejection--especially the kind that made me feel like I was SO close--was a struggle. There were days when I thought I would never get published, but at the same time, I knew I couldn't give up. I'd wanted to be an author since I was in elementary school, and I had to keep trying. Thank goodness I had family, friends, my unbelievably patient husband, and my awesome agent to cheer me on!

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
How amazingly generous people are! I've been blown away by how willing people have been to spread the word about my book, cheer me on, etc., even folks I haven't seen in years. I also could not believe it when I started getting emails from readers who had read my book and liked it--people I didn't know. The idea of strangers reading my book was (and still is) totally mind-boggling.

What advice would you give someone trying to get published?
Do not give up. I know you hear that advice all the time, but it's TRUE. The people I know who've gotten published are the ones who've kept going even when their dream seemed impossible.

Thanks again, Anna. Good luck with the book launch! Readers, if you want to get a peek at Epic Fail, here is the book trailer.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


It has been three weeks since I attended SCBWI NY 2013.The memories, inspiration, and experiences are still with me so I thought I'd share them with you, with some visuals to go with them.

As soon as my school day was over I hopped on the train to Grand Central Station, said hello to my wonderful agent, Linda Epstein, in the lobby, then headed to my room.
Here's the view from my window. Yes, that is the top of Grand Central Station. How cool is that?

After a wonderful evening with writer and agent friends, I went to sleep early to be ready for the full day of keynotes and workshops. As usual Lin Oliver was there to great us all and share some facts about the event. She was followed by Meg Rosoff and Shaun Tan.

The bookseller panel taught the writers in the room about the new truths of classroom books. In many districts (including mine!) each elementary teacher has a leveled library and teachers and librarians match books to readers instead of teaching with class sets. They talked about the importance of the new common core, a set of curriculum objects being adopted in 48 of the 50 states over the next two years. Writers should know about the common core and what it will mean to the school and library market. 

(There's actually a great app on the iPad/iTouch/iPhone called Common Core that anyone can download to see these new objectives.)

Lunch and the evenings were filling with conversations with writer friends. Some I met that weekend (such as all of the many New Englanders who I hope will contact me about critique groups), but many are friendships built over the years of in person conferences and online groups such as Verla Kay's Blue Boards, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo Groups, and email. 

When you go to your first conference, you are told about the importance of networking, meeting agents and editors who will help you along the way. But what's even more important is finding those people who will be part of your journey. The ones that you will celebrate with when they get their publishing contracts and who will celebrate with you in return. And they will also be there when things seem impossible to share a helpful word or give you a hug and tell you that you need to keep going and that it will happen one day, they are sure of it. Here are some of my awesome writer friends. I am thankful for all of them.

On Sunday, after award announcements from Tommy dePaola and Jane Yolen, we heard from Margaret Peterson Haddix, Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, and Mo Williems.

My weekend ended with the book signing where I had the honor of helping Margaret Peterson Haddix and Shaun Tan with their signings. Shaun Tan's line was by far the biggest at the conference and to work that line I had a detailed lesson on angles and post-it note placing from Arthur Levine himself.