Delia Sherman's THE FREEDOM MAZE—Guest Post and Giveaway!

Guest post by Delia Sherman on THE FREEDOM MAZE (which I adored and highly recommend)...

      When I began writing The Freedom Maze, back in 1987, I didn’t intend to write a book about race. I intended to write a book about time travel and a shy, bookish girl who learned that adventures are very different to read about than to live. I set it in Louisiana because I like Louisiana and had spent a certain amount of time down there when I was a child, visiting my mother’s family. I sent my heroine back to 1860 because I’m interested in societies on the edge of war, and not so much in war itself.
      Of course, that meant that I had to deal with slavery, which is an even bigger can of worms than the Civil War, but writing a novel is like that sometimes. One decision about setting or plot can lead you into places you never thought you’d go. Political places. Dangerous places. Places that make you face things that are hard to tackle. Like the history of race in America, and how the ghost of slavery still haunts our laws and customs and daily lives. Like how otherwise kind and thoughtful men and women can believe that certain classes and kinds of human beings are not as sensitive, intelligent, hardworking, worthy, human as they are themselves. Like what it must have been like to live every day knowing that you were property, barred by law from resting when you were tired, going where you wanted to go, complaining when you were unfairly treated—in some cases, from living with your own family.
      Ideally, I would have liked to talk to people who had experienced both sides of this issue, but there is no one left alive who remembers at first hand what it was like to be a slave (or a slave-owner) in the old South. There are, however, plenty of records and lists and letters and memoirs and reminiscences written by both slave-holders and slaves, many of them published in easily-accessible books, many more lurking in libraries. I visited a handful of these, and at Loyola University in New Orleans, in a yellow manila file folder stuffed with advertisements for runaway slaves, I found a notice. The advertistment was for a young slave woman. “Blond and blue-eyed,” the descrription read. “Could pass as white.”
      Could pass as white.
      Because, of course, she was, to look at, anyway. Because by the middle of the 19th century, slavery had as much to do with money and class and fear of difference as it did with skin color.
      I have long believed that racism, prejudice and oppression have their roots in class, in history, and most poisonously, in fear of difference. What I tried to do in The Freedom Maze was to demystify that difference, to make the experiences of one group emotionally accessible to everybody, to show what happens when human beings are focused on “us” and “them” rather than on everybody—not to erase differences, but to look beneath them to our common humanity.
      Oh, and to tell a good and exciting story about characters I love.
Headshot by Augusten Burroughs.

Delia Sherman was born in Japan and raised in New York City but spent vacations with relatives in Texas, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Her work has appeared most recently in the young adult anthologies The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People; Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories; and Teeth: Vampire Tales. Her novels for younger readers include Changeling and The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. She lives in New York City. Visit her website to learn more.

Candlewick is kindly giving away one free copy of THE FREEDOM MAZE to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sophie begins as a spoiled, unfocused 13-year-old and ends as a confident, self-possessed and aware 14-year-old. And the events that lead to her growth are nothing short of amazing. She goes back in time on her family's plantation and is mistaken for a slave. I can't imagine the research that went into this book to transport me, as the reader, to the time and place in a more palpable way than I've ever experienced. It seems with all the slave movies and books I'd have had a stronger sense. But this gave me the 'what it's like to wake up as a slave' experience. What was breakfast? What did you do when you had your period? And of course, what was it like to be somebody else's property. When Sophie returns to her time, I think I was as desperately eager to know what had happened to her new friends as she was. Deeply rewarding and rich, I highly recommend this book to younger readers as well as adults.

2014 SCBWI New York International Conference Wrap-up!

This was my first time to do the "big" New York City International SCBWI conference. I've done the Los Angeles one twice, and the regional New York conference held at the Society of Illustrators, but this one raised the bar on them all!
      I attended in my official capacity as Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI (Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida panhandle), which meant I had to work several sessions in various capacities - something I don't mind at all because it's fun to have something to do in the middle of such seeming chaos. (I also love New York City!) And wow were we busy!
     We barely had time to eat lunch most days and for some reason it kept creeping past midnight when we finally got to bed! (Had nothing to do with the restaurant bar which became our gathering spot.) The Grand Hyatt Grand Central had these funky statues in the lobby, which they had donned with Cat in the Hat hats for our arrival - ha! And I somehow managed to grab a quick breakfast each morning at the hotel restaurant. Can you imagine starting your day with this view every day?

      On Thursday, to kick off the event, we RTs (Regional Advisors and Illustrator Coordinators from all over the world) arrived on Thursday for a meeting and the traditional pizza and a Broadway performance ritual. We ate at John's Pizzeria and went to see MATILDA.

      I have to say, the very expensive ticket was completely worth it. The show with its amazing music, set, dancing, choreography, and fantastic child actors blew me away! If you get the opportunity, go! It was nothing short of impressive!
      Friday was the Illustrator's Intensive (there was also a Writer's Intensive). I was surprised to find it incredibly educational and illuminating - something that doesn't happen often after 13 years in the biz. It was totally worth my time.
     I was also asked to be one of seven attending illustrators (there were about 180 in total - intimidating!) to contribute sketches of my impressions of the conference for the Official SCBWI Conference Blog. I began with the intensive and Tomie dePaola. I even got him to sign the portrait I did of him. He said his nose was too big - and it is. But I can't help it. The sweet man reminds me of Santa Claus!

     Paul Zelinsky also spoke. He's one of my idols of children's book illustration who I hold responsible for making me want to do this for a living. It's so nice that we've become friends. Here's my rendering of him:

      Kathleen Bradshaw (Co-RA), Jo Kittinger (Co-RA Emeritus), and I dashed to Deluca's and Grand Central Station's food court for meals. They were also my roomies, which made for a very slumber party-like vibe for the entire trip. We had a great time! (Here I am with Kathleen being the goofs we are in Grand Central station...)

      The best event to my mind took place Friday night - the portfolio viewing/VIP party. Only 200 illustrators were permitted to show their portfolios and the party was by invitation only to local publishers, art directors, editors, etc. and all us RTs. (Ever wonder what the benefits of volunteering are? This was IT!)
     What a room! It was full of folks I've been sending postcards to for years but had never met face-to-face, as well as industry professionals who have become friends after years of mingling in the same circles. And me being the social butterfly that I am, I think I said 'hi' to almost every single one of them.
     It was also fun being on the hunt for speakers to come to our Southern Breeze conferences. I nearly got whiplash folks pulled their business cards out so fast! If you've ever been in a room full of publishers, you know it is a very odd sensation to have them trying to get your attention! SO much fun!
      (Photo credit: Patricia Wiles - click to see it larger.)

     Afterwards, a bunch of fellow Illustrator Coordinators and I gathered to talk shop and new ideas for our regions. Very cool.
      Saturday the regular portion of the conference began. The line-up of speakers was amazing - what you'd expect from an international conference in the heart of New York City. Jack Gantos and Kate Messner gave the two best talks I've ever heard at any event - no lie. And of course, I was sketching. This was a great quote from Jack:

And this was my view:

     After the morning keynotes, I helped moderate a session with Jeanette Larson, Senior Executive Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Something she said gave me an idea for a picture book, which I've been scribbling on ever since. It will have to go to her first if I can noodle it out...

     So, I fess up... I skipped the two afternoon keynote sessions to go see Leonard Marcus' exhibit at the New York Public Library: The ABC of it: Why Children's Books Matter. He was still pulling the show together when I met Leonard at the Decatur Book Festival a while back, so I got to hear some of the stories behind the amazing books and letters he gathered for the show. There was no way I was missing it when I just happened to be in New York while it was still showing! (Ironically, there was recently a great write-up of it with some photos at Carter Higgins' Design of the Picture Book Blog.)
     And me being the corrupting spirit that I am, I had a small gang with me. Here's Kathleen and me with one of the lions - anybody know the name of this one? (On the left.)

     Along with some of the first children's books in the world, there were some great photo ops in the show. Here I am with Rob McClurkan in the silhouette of a wild thing. (There were also two other guys with us - Keith Frawley and Adam Winsor - busted!)

And surely I don't have to tell you what this window is from?

     Back at the hotel, we had a gala with tables for each region so we could gather with our peeps. I had a great conversation with Justin Jones and Dennis Jolley - two amazing English teachers from Cherokee County who may very well be the answer to the booking agents soap-box I've been preaching about for the last ten years - cross your fingers - we're talking! (That's Justin then Dennis then me in the photo below.)

     There were smaller gatherings of topic-specific groups afterwards, but I slipped out to catch a cab down to south of Delancy for Michelle Knudsen's birthday party. How awesome that I was in town to help her celebrate! (We met years ago at the Savannah Children's Book Festival and I just love her something silly.)
     It was held in a speak-easy hidden behind a door that looked like a broom closet at the back of a gallery. I had to know a password to get in - "Evil Librarian"! (Or was it "Bruce Willis"? At any rate, I got in.)
     I won't tell you how old Mikki is, but it was a big birthday and ALL her friends were there - even one she'd known since she was two-years-old. How cool is that? They were all super-friendly and I had a great time. I even knew a few folks there - Rebecca Stead (Newbery winner) and Sarah Ketchersid (Candlewick editor). Here I am with Sarah:

And me hugging the life out of Mikki:

     I was still wired when I got back, but the wall was beginning to hit. (Or was I beginning to hit the wall - anyhow...)
     Sunday were more keynotes, including Kate's talk. I'm not kidding when I say how good it was. It was all about Failure and she shared some great quotes:
"A ship in harbor is safe. But that is not what ships are built for." - John A. Shedd
And her own words:
"Fear gives us the opportunity to be brave and awesome." - Kate Messner
     There was a great panel of illustrators, which included my bud Shadra Strickland. And final words from Nikki Grimes.
     Her closing talk was followed by a mad rush on the bookstore and then book signings. I was thrilled to be assigned to help Paul Zelinsky. I made sure folks had sticky notes with their names spelled correctly on the title pages, took photos, and kept the line moving. Paul and I also got to talk some more, which was awesome. Here he is in action (photo by Harold Underdown who was also at our table):

     Kathleen got assigned to the longest line in the place - Tomie dePaola and Lin Oliver who have done a sweet book of poems together. I know this photo is fuzzy - but I will treasure it always:

     And that was it! I hugged all my friends good-bye - for we have all truly become friends in this tight kidlit community. And while I miss them terribly, it is so much fun to have these events where we can connect and squeeeeeee. (Look for Ruth McNally Barshaw - her hugs are the BEST!) So, thank you, thank you to all the folks who worked hard to make this such a special event, and until next time m'dears - I wish you all happy creating!

Shanda McCloskey's Lesson #7: Go To New York
Sherry Meidell (fellow PBAA member) at Teetertottertales

These were sent in by Jo Kittinger, our Southern Breeze RAE - Regional Advisor Emeritus (well earned!)
Here is me and Jo in front of the theater and Matilda!

And me and Kathleen in Times Square.

Here's Lori Nichols winning the entire portfolio show!!!! (This is a BIG freaking deal!)

And here is our Southern Breeze table during the Saturday night GALA:

And almost our entire Southern Breeze Regional Advisor team (we missed Heather Montgomery): Kathleen Bradshaw, Co-Regional Advisor; Jo Kittinger, RAE; Claudia Pearson, Co-Regional Advisor; and Me, Illustrator Coordinator.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Opinionated Reader

     Sometimes when I'm sketching a character jumps off the page at me. I like to think this little girl is named Keisha. And while I don't know what she's reading, she seems to definitely have an opinion about it!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages and be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (They don't have to be cards - I love scribbly kids art too!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut historical fiction mid-grade, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, available NOW in eversions! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.

How to Help an Author (Beyond Buying the Book)

Jen Malone has written a great article at Writers' Rumpus on How to Help an Author (Beyond Buying the Book): Part One. One of the key points?
"To help the author the MOST, you should always pre-order the books you know you’re going to shell out cash for. Pre-ordering from a local bookstore may prompt them to order additional copies. Pre-ordering from one of the big bookstores like Barnes and Noble puts the book on their radar. A pre-order could even trigger automatic orders for additional copies, due to the formulas these companies use to calculate ordering strategies. High presales also encourage booksellers to offer extra marketing attention and prime in-store placement to those titles."
If you've enjoyed my blog, my coloring pages, giveaways, interviews, and advice—here's a great way to say thank you!

Read Part 2 of How To Help an Author (Beyond Buying the Book).

Sesame Street - Mad Painter #7

I used to adore this short when I was a kid. The wonderful texture of the paint made me want to paint too. And of course, it was just so funny that he kept losing his #7. Notice a young Stockard Channing made an appearance too!

If you have trouble viewing the embedded video, click the image below.

Thanks to The Kid Should See This for the walk down memory lane.

Giant wind-up bots attack Buenos Aires!

OMG - GREAT film clip by Black Sheep Films of wind-up bots living side-by-side with normal society in Buenos Aires. Even if this is just film trickery, I want one of these giant wind-up daddies at my house!

If you have trouble viewing the embedded video above, click the image below.

Read more about these awesome creations at Colossal.

Friday Linky List

The Writer's Room at The NY Times. We all dream of the big fancy studios, but I think for most writers the space is a spare bedroom or corner...

From the New York Times via Shel Awareness: This is What a Librarian Looks Like and it's not what you think!

From PW Children's Bookshelf and A.V. Club: Red Light, greenlit: 22 childhood games ripe for Hollywood adaptation. Hilarious.

The 2013 Cybils Awards have been announced! CLICK HERE to see the entire list of winners.

Ask Questions to Find Your Story from Writers Helping Writers (via Cynsations)

From Writer UnBoxed: Some Economic Straight Talk: The Economics of Frugality, Abundance, and Creativity (via Cynsations)

At Cynsations: Writing, Tonto & The Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is the First to Die - important read.

'Cli-fi': could a literary genre help save the planet? at The Conversation


I've wanted to feature the creators of SLEEP LIKE A TIGER written by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski since the first moment I saw this luscious picture book. I'm thrilled to have both the author and illustrator here today! Let's get straight to it...

Q. SLEEP LIKE A TIGER arrived and I am even more blown away than I thought I'd be! Mary, your words are luscious, and Pamela, I can't begin to express how much I love your work! I have questions for you both...

Mary: It seems you've written every genre of children's books! Has it always been a dream to do a picture book, and not just that, but a bed-time book?
A. While I can't say that it's been a dream forever--I have had this idea for a don't-want-to-go-to-sleep book for many years. I was an editor at the Creative Company and that's when I first thought of it. Then I taught at Hamline University's low-residency MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, and I learned so much from my fellow faculty members. I decided to give a try.

(Click on the image to see it larger in a new window.)
Mary: Did you ever picture anything like what Pamela came up with for the artwork? How did you react when you first saw it?
A. I knew Pamela's work from her previous books--but I was still completely blown away when I saw my little girl come to life and the amazing world that surrounded her, really the world of her mind. When I opened the package that brought the first galley proofs my way, it was like Christmas and my birthday all in one. A wonderful present!

Pamela: When you first read the manuscript, did the images come right to you? Can you give us a sneak peek into your method? How does that creative mind of yours work? And are there symbols that you tend to use often? (I'd love a photo of your work space!)
A. ..answering questions with words about process is always hard for me... I just draw and paint - my process is completely intuitive- but I knew-yes-absolutely- I wanted to paint this book and I could see images in as much as I can see anything in the early moments...nothing ever ends how it begins- this I find to be most true about art- any art....when I create, I go into another space mentally and come out the other side somehow changed...I enter a time warp of sorts...things happen that I can not describe with words and often I do not even feel like it was me at all that created it....

(Click on the image to see it larger in a new window.)

I can not paint or illustrate a book, if the words are not felt instantly....the images come to me much like a movie...they come in and change from frame to frame - moment to moment- images come to me in the middle of the the early morning- while I am at the grocery store...working- all times of day and night...and bit by bit . Images are not originally seen like a "picture " in my mind.... more like a feeling... I memorize the words much like an actor would memorize their part in the play, it becomes part of me - it becomes like breath-heartbeats- there all the time-subconsciously- and then I can tell its story with pictures without "thinking " about it too much. I do all my sketches in my journal...they are rough and scribbled. I go directly from scribble to a finished painting...not to lose the freedom of expression....and yes, my books are riddled with symbols....but I like to keep them mysterious a secret code to be cracked by the viewers....I don't like to describe in words - i want the viewers to feel something more than being told what is... ...because a meaning to me might not mean anything to another ...but if a viewer can create one's own meanings-that is great!!!....or if the symbols create dialog between child and adult then thats all that matters....

Mary: I love how you circle back around with your text. All the creatures show up again as the little girl goes to sleep. Was that tying up of ideas so different from writing longer works?
A. No, not really. A circular structure is very satisfying and is often used in novels and poems too.

Pamela: Your influences seem to be so eclectic. What is your inspiration?
A. LOVE of LIFE. NATURE. SPIRIT...I am inspired by the mystery of creating or the need to create itself ....

(Click on the image to see it larger in a new window.)
Pamela: You won a Caldecott Honor for SLEEP LIKE A TIGER as well as your first book RED SINGS FROM TREETOPS: A YEAR IN COLORS. You really took the industry by storm! How has that experience been for you?
A. I just want to stay grounded and try not think about it very much...I am so grateful...I really am....but I try really hard to just focus on the next thing in front of me and my love of art....

(Click on the image to see it larger in a new window.)

Both of you: My readers love to hear about paths to publication. How did you break into the publishing business? And are there any funny stories surrounding this particular story?
Mary: I feel like I often back into some of my work. What I mean by that is, I started working with children's books when I was asked to translate a number of French children's books into English. It was so much fun. Then I began editing them and now I have written one myself. My decision to write for children happened so organically, almost out of my control.
Pamela: I always knew i would do this work from as early as I can remember....luck and hard work and hard work and luck....and more hard work and practice, practice, practice...and a little more luck...

Both of you: What's in the pipeline? Will we see more picture books from you?
Mary: I sure hope so. I have a number that are simmering away. Ideas come very easily to me--it's getting them right that's the hard part. I do feel like I've learned a great secret--writing picture books is terrifically fun. In so many ways, I find I'm writing for the child in me, the child that needs comfort and encouragement, and, yes, sometimes help in getting to sleep.
Pamela: I am writing and illustrating my own story ...I will do this work for an entire lifetime-fingers crossing here......and if there are in fact other lifetimes for me then I can only hope paint in those too!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has kindly agreed to give a free copy of SLEEP LIKE A TIGER to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below. (The winner will be announced in a week.)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

SCBWI Winter Conference

Tomorrow I head to New York City for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference. This is my first time doing the New York national conference. I've done the Los Angeles one twice. If you ever wondered what the benefits of volunteering for SCBWI are - here's a prime example! I'll be in my Illustrator Coordinator role (I'm IC for the southern region of Alabama, Georgia and the Florida panhandle), so they're putting me to work watching over portfolios, helping with book signings, moderating sessions, and such. But first, there is some fun to be had...
     Thursday, fellow ICs and RAs (Regional Advisors) will meet up for dinner and a Broadway show (Matilda) - I can't wait! I talk to these folks online all the time while organizing our various regional SCBWI events, but so many I'll be meeting face-to-face for the first time.
     Otherwise, I'll be doing the Illustrator Intensive on Friday, showing my portfolio, going to sessions by fantastic speakers, and at some point I hope to make it over to the New York Public Library to see Leonard Marcus' exhibit "Why Picture Books Matter." I'll also help author Mikki Knudsen celebrate her birthday one night. It's going to be a whirlwind trip, I tell ya! I just hope the weather behaves so all the flights come and go as they should. Cross your fingers for me!
     I still have some great blog posts lined up for you while I'm gone, although I'll be slow to respond via email if you should need me before next week. Thanks for your patience.
     Click the banner to learn more!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Far Out Reads...

     I wonder if aliens have books, do you think? What we call science fiction might be their classics!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages and be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (They don't have to be cards - I love scribbly kids art too!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut historical fiction mid-grade, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, available NOW in eversions! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.

Take my class - "Creating Picture Books" at Binders Art Supply in Atlanta!

Delve into the art of creating a strong story through plot, tension, characters, and delivery. We'll discuss the difference between writing for children versus adults, and the marriage of images and text. Learn the rules of a good critique, and then evaluate manuscripts with the group. Also gain insight into the children's publishing industry. All levels welcome, but students MUST have one children's story ready for critique, 2,000 words or less. (Illustrators are welcome, I adjust the class accordingly.) I'll be teaching this class at the Buckhead Binders Art Supply. CLICK HERE for more information!


By Leslye Walton. I read an ARC for this and just adored it. I highly recommend it! And get a load of the trailer!

(Click the image below to go see the trailer on Youtube if the embed gives you trouble.)

Snow in Georgia!

So Wednesday started out with freezing rain. It did accumulate and it was pretty and white - but it was slick and wet! Here I am with our doggie Bernie on a quick (very quick) walk:

Thursday we awoke to actual snow - so pretty! Here's our backyard:

The snow stopped, but with temperatures remaining at or below freezing, that's exactly what it's all done. Which means, there are NO cars on the road and we are home-bound for the time being. That may change by the time I post this (Saturday), but I think we're snowed in at least through most of Friday. Thankfully, we still have power, chili on the stove, a fire in the fireplace, and fuzzy animals to keep us warm. :)