Category: Authors


I am honored to be part of the Morris Blog Tour and to get to interview Morris finalist, E. K. Johnston, the author of one of my favorite books of 2014, The Story of Owen.  The Morris YA Debut Award celebrates new voices in teen literature each year.  The 2015 winner will be announced next week at the ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards ceremony.

EKJ high res story of owen

The Story of Owen is entirely unique.  Right from the beginning you know that the book is something special.  Tell us about how you came to combine modern-day Canada and dragons.

E. K.: The Story of Owen started with a picture I had in my head of a dragon slayer standing on the Burlington Skyway, fighting a dragon while people on the bridge ran away/filmed her on their iPhones. So it’s been Canada + modern day + dragons right from the beginning. I wanted to set a book in my own country, and I thought that dragons would be fun, and then it got out of control very quickly, as these things do.

Another aspect of The Story of Owen that wowed me was that you edited the world’s history to include dragons too, reweaving it so that it supported the story you were telling.  Your world building is deep and extraordinary.  Tell us about your world building process.

E. K.: My world building process was actually pretty straightforward in this case. I did it in one of two ways. The least frequent method was to take a story about a dragon and make it into Actual History (as I did with St. George, for example). The most common method I used (also the most fun), was to break every piece of world building I had into four parts, and make sure the dragon was the last quarter. Thus:

  • Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as Canada’s capital because it was far away from the American border.

became

  • Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as Canada’s capital because it was far away from the American border and also a safe distance from a Hatching ground.

You’d might be surprised at how easy it was to put together. Also, it was super fun. I think it paid off the most with Lester B. Pearson, who my editor thought I had made up whole cloth until two days before my release date when I had to tell him that Lester B. Pearson was an actual person (and Prime Minister of Canada, WWI Ace, WWII “courier”, semi-pro hockey and baseball player, Nobel Prize Peace Winner, helped to found NATO and the UN, etc).

You write fight scenes so brilliantly, letting the readers see the physicality of the fight and the beauty of the skill it requires.  Where did you learn so much about fighting dragons and battle in general?

E. K.: I learned it in high school, actually. From the real life version of Mr. Huffman, who had us do Offence/Defence Friday in his class. We never did the Panama Canal Crisis, but we did do a lot of castles, and look at a lot of battle plans from WWII. I was already quite interested in the ideas and concepts thanks to a lifelong love of fantasy novels, and then in university I studied archaeology, which is also a lot of fortification systems and weaponry and whatnot. Maps and movies filled in the gaps, so I guess it’s been a sort of accumulation since I was four, and my father read me The Hobbit.

Just as surprising as the dragons in Canada is a teen novel where there is a boy and a girl who spend time together, like one another and there is no romance.  Tell us about Siobhan and Owen and why you crafted their relationship the way you did.

E. K.: “There Will Be No Kissing” is actually the only rule I made up for myself that I didn’t break while writing The Story of Owen. They were always going to be friends, Owen was always going to end up with Sadie, and Siobhan was always going to be totally thrilled about that (even in the first draft, where I kind of forgot that people couldn’t read my mind and see Sadie’s character progression even though I hadn’t written it down). Owen is waiting for a girl that is 100% committed to dragon slaying (actual. dragon. slaying.) to avoid inflicting any kid of his with a parental situation like his own, and Siobhan has zero interest in ever parenting a dragon slayer, and, eventually, zero interest in ever leaving Trondheim, and I can’t tell you more about that because: PRAIRIE FIRE.

prairie fire

The sequel to The Story of Owen is coming out this year.  Tell us a little about Prairie Fire and what fans can expect!

E. K.: While OWEN was pretty localized, PRAIRIE FIRE covers Canada from coast to coast (almost, anyway). Owen and Siobhan are themselves a full year older than they were when we left them, and most of the supporting cast is older than they are. There are characters from Japan, the UK, and the US. There are several new kinds of dragons, all of which I took extreme delight in naming. And one possible culturally-appropriated recipe for pancakes that I took out of a cookbook a co-worker found, and showed to me because the computer had misspelled its name so badly in the system that we couldn’t shelve it (Vikings, man).

Huge thanks to E. K. for participating in the blog tour and giving us such a great glimpse into her process and a peek at the sequel!

For more Morris Blog Tour sites, head to Cinco Puntos Press where you can find links to all of the blogs on the tour.

Norman Bridwell Dies

The original, 1963 cover of Clifford the Big Red Dog. "[I] was shocked when it was accepted for publication, because I'd never written anything before," says Norman Bridwell.

The creator of the beloved Clifford series has died at age 86.  Clifford himself is over 50 years old, though one can’t see a hair of gray in his bright red fur. 

From NPR:

"Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most lovable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor," Scholastic president and CEO Dick Robinson said. "Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children – kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude."

As the AP notes, "Clifford became standard nighttime reading for countless families and a money machine for publisher Scholastic Inc. Spinoffs include cartoons with John Ritter as the voice of Clifford and future Hunger Games novelist Suzanne Collins among the script writers."

Never Be Silenced

E.E. Charlton-Trujillo, author of Fat Angie, has spoken out about a recent situation where a school in Texas cancelled her appearance just four days before it was to happen.  It is clear that someone objected to her appearance since they were not interested in rescheduling her event.

Yet something beautiful has emerged and that is the video that Charlton-Trujillo has posted exemplifying the power and the threat of silence:

Jacqueline Woodson Responds

H_WoodsonJacqueline_LG

I’ve already posted this via social media, and I want as many people to see it as possible.  This last week the children’s literature world has been taken over by one careless, thoughtless and thoroughly racist remark by David Handler at the National Book Awards.  It was directed at Jacqueline Woodson, an author I have had the pleasure to hear speak at ALA.  When you read her latest book, the one that won the National Book Award, you hear her voice on the page, in the poetry, in the powerful beauty of her words.

Now Jacqueline Woodson has responded in an Op Ed piece in the New York Times.  And she has once again put her voice on the page in words of beauty and strength.  Read it and know that as librarians and teachers we have to make sure that ALL of the people we serve can find themselves in the books we have.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder Dies

The Egypt Game (Game, #1) The Headless Cupid (Stanley Family, #1)

Author Zilpha Keatley Snyder has died at age 87, according to Publisher’s Weekly.  She won three Newbery Honors for her novels for middle graders. 

I love this quote from the Publisher’s Weekly article about her writing and her connection with middle graders:

By the early 1960s back in California, Snyder’s two children (a foster son would join the family a few years later) were in school and she found the time to begin writing in earnest. She carved out hours for writing while working around her teaching joband said in her autobiography that her time with her students “had given me a deep appreciation of the gifts and graces that are specific to individuals with 10 or 11 years of experience as human beings.” “It is, I think, a magical time – when so much has been learned, but not yet enough to entirely extinguish the magical reach and freedom of early childhood.”

The amazing Mac Barnett discusses how he makes a living lying to children.  For the librarians in the audience, he even uses a Venn diagram!  Funny, wonderful stuff.

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4) A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)

The National Book Foundation has announced that Ursula Le Guin will received their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.  Le Guin has written many books in many genres.  Readers of children’s and teen books will recognize her for her master works of The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea Cycle.

Walter Dean Myers Dies

WalterDeanMyers 318x500 Press Release: Obituary   Walter Dean Myers  (1937 2014) Fallen Angels

According to an announcement from Harper Collins, Walter Dean Myers has died at the age of 76 following a brief illness.  He is the author of more than 100 books for children and teens.  But most of all as we are starting to address diversity in children’s literature, his pioneering voice will be missed.  He wrote about African-American children and teens in a way that honored them deeply.  He will be missed on a vital level.

In library school back in the day, one of our required books in my YA Literature class was a Walter Dean Myers book, Fallen Angels.  It was a book I would never have read on my own because it deals with war and soldiers and I just don’t tend to read that sort of fiction.  But the quality of that writing kept me looking for all Walter Dean Myers books that followed.  He wrote with such humanity that it was impossible to turn away.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for the news.

Nancy Garden Dies

Annie on My Mind 

Nancy Garden, author of Annie on My Mind, died on June 23rd at the age of 76.  Garden created books that spoke to the needs of LGBT teens and families.  She wrote in many genres, but my favorite will always be Annie on My Mind.

I first encountered the book in library school, reading about diversity and completely fell head over heels for it, so much that I made sure that it was in my first library I served in as a librarian.  There, in the early ‘90s in southern Missouri, the library director decided that because an influential member of the community had complained, that Annie did not belong in our collection.

The tiger came out in me, and when I found out my director had pulled the book from the shelves, I confronted him.  I’m sure that my arguments were not very well put together, but my passion moved him.  The book returned to the shelves.  Soon after that, I got to add Heather Has Two Mommies and other important LGBT books of the time to those shelves. 

Annie on My Mind was not just an amazing read, but also an inspiring one.  I learned that even as a very young librarian, I could rescue books and make sure that families in my community had access to them.  I’ve never stopped doing that.  Thank you, Nancy Garden.

Freaky Friday Freaky Friday Freaky Friday

Mary Rodgers, author of Freaky Friday, has died at age 83.  She is also the composer of the musical “Once Upon a Mattress.”  Though Freaky Friday was her most well-known work, thanks in large part to Disney creating two movies based on it, she did write other books for children as well. 

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