Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Conversation with author Holly Schindler

Holly Schindler is the author of four traditionally published books. Her work has received starred reviews in Booklist and Publishers' Weekly, and has been featured on Booklist's Best First Novels for Youth and School Library Journal's What's Hot in YA. Fifth Avenue Fidos, her first independently published book, is out tomorrow. I invited her to answer some questions about it.

But first -- a brief synopsis of this New Adult Rom-Com with "Bite."

Mable Barker, a hilarious good-natured sweetheart who is always the pal but never the girlfriend, endures nine horrendous months of unrequited love while bouncing between lackluster NYC jobs. When she meets Innis, an ill-tempered Upper East Side Pekingese, Mabel assumes her dog-walking days are numbered and she'll have to head back home with her tail tucked between her legs. Innis belongs to a veterinarian, Jason Mead, whose awkward ways around women have him dreaming about breeding Westminster champions instead of finding love for himself. When Mable and Jason meet, romance is officially unleashed. Mable could very well have what it takes to be a professional handler. As Jason and Mable get closer to putting a new twist on the term "dog lovers," outside forces threaten to come between them. Will they let their burgeoning love roll over and play dead? Or will they rally to make sure Innis emerges as the leader of the pack?

Brimming with humor and endearing characters, Fifth Avenue Fidos offers a sweet romance and modern-day fairy tale in which dogs, not dragons, rule the land...a story about the loves that help us realize our dreams.  To order the book, click here.

JK: Welcome, Holly! On your website, you say that you like to write for different age groups. Do you start with the idea and then figure out which age is most appropriate? Do you ever switch an idea to a different age group?

HS: Actually the generation of the idea usually coincides with what age group it's most appropriate for. My main character is, of course, the strongest factor in determining the age group.  But that doesn't mean my original idea always sees the light of day. Both of the books I released in 2014 were originally drafted in other age categories. Initially, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky (my MG about a young folk artist) was a picture book. I thought illustrations depicting the wild sculptures Auggie makes from found items would be wonderful! But editors thought the concept of folk art was too advanced for picture book readers, so I turned it into an MG novel. Feral began as an MG mystery. The descriptions got so dark that I knew I needed to bump it into YA. But that meant I had to ditch my original main character. She was SO thirteen. (I still love that character, though. I keep brainstorming ideas for books to put her in.)

JK: New Adult is a comparatively new category. How do you define it?

HS: I think of New Adult as the old "Friends" TV show. Young people trying to figure their way out in the adult world.

JK: What have you enjoyed most about writing for this age group?

HS: Actually I drafted this book before New Adult was a category. When it was first submitted, editors said that the book was well done. One said, "This needs to be published." But they didn't know what to do with it. It wasn't YA, it wasn't adult. Even after New Adult became a well-read age category, Fifth Avenue Fidos was continuing to break the mold. This is a sweet comedy--not overtly sexy, no graphic erotica, not about college life. Editors were hanging onto it, trying to find a place for it, and were unsuccessful.

But that's what makes Fidos perfect for the indie platform. There are books that just don't fit the traditional publishing agenda. Certain works are better suited for the independent world. Fifth Avenue Fidos is one of those books.

JK: "A Rom Com -- with bite" is such a clever description! I love using animals as characters too. Is there a difference between creating a human and an animal character?

HS: I've had animals my entire life––only spent three of my thirty-eight years without one. I have a Peke myself named Jake. He was the original inspiration for Fidos. Innis is really based on him. I drafted the book shortly after Jake came into my life eleven years ago! This is obviously a book I've long wanted to get into the world.

JK: I'm so impressed that you have published this as an indie. Do you have any advice for those who want to go this route?

HS:There are certainly benefits and drawbacks to both the traditional and independent platforms. I've just gotten my toes wet in the indie world myself, and feel as though I'm only beginning to explore what's possible. One of the earliest lessons I learned is that the independent author community is incredible. Welcoming and forthcoming about what they've tried, what their process was, what worked, what didn't. They're also quick to offer technical guidance. I'd suggest finding an online forum--through Facebook, etc.-- and jumping into the conversation.

As far as the technical aspects are concerned, I used Scrivener, which allowed me to format both .mobi and .epub files. I'm pretty in love with Scrivener--can't wait to draft my first book from start to end on it. I also recommend Ed Ditto's book on using Scrivener to format your e-book. How to Format Your Novel ... In One Afternoon

Most of all, if you're curious about the indie world, just dive in! Have fun--that's why we all came to writing in the first place, right? Because it brought us incredible joy.

JK: What's next?

HS: I'm currently writing Play It Again, the NA sequel to my YA romance, Playing Hurt. I'm delighted that I get a chance to spend more time with Chelsea and Clint! The official release date will be announced on my newsletter. To get the announcement,sign up here.

JK: Thanks, Holly! I can't wait to read these books!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Writing pitfalls -- beware the ides!

For the month of March, the middle-grade authors at  Smack Dab in the Middle are posting about writing pitfalls.

Clink on the link to see what frightens me!

Sunday, March 1, 2015


February's expedition was to the Lehman College art gallery in the Bronx.

I wanted to see a showing of some of the quilts made by the women of Gee's Bend. I had heard of the wild beauty of these quilts. They have been celebrated as modern art. I was also interested in their connection to that place and its history.

Gee's Bend is a scrap of land, five miles long and eight miles wide, isolated from the rest of southwest Alabama by a bend in the Alabama River. The land had been Gee's plantation. The descendants of his slaves stayed to work the land as poor sharecroppers. There is no bridge. There wasn't even a ferry from 1962 until 2006. Many people believe that service was discontinued to keep the residents from voting. This link will let you read more about Gee's Bend.

The poverty and the isolation were terrible for the people. Out of necessity, they made quilts to keep their children warm. Each quilt did more than fulfill that purpose; it showed its own bold vision.

"Flow Plans" Loretta Bennett 2012
Quilts are made from scraps. In this way, some use could be gotten out of the bits of a shirt or a dress that hadn't completely worn out. I have no doubt that the quilters could tell you whose clothes those used to be.

Those small pieces were transformed by the juxtaposition of color and pattern. This quilt actually vibrated when I looked at it.

"Star of Bethlehem with Satellite Stars" by Leola Pettway 1991

Another room of the Lehman exhibit contains Linda Day Clark's photographs of Gee's Bend. One shows a quilter assembling her pieces. The wall in front of her had a montage of family pictures. They looked like a different kind of quilt. I thought about how our lives are bits and pieces of memories.

Aren't we all collecting scraps? And aren't we all trying to make them into something useful and beautiful?

The quilters of Gee's Bend have certainly done that.

My husband Lee and I left the warmth of the gallery and took the subway to the western edge of Manhattan.

 The cold weeks of February had transformed the Hudson River into a different kind of quilt!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Smack Dab in the Middle

Today I joined a great group of other middle grade authors who blog on this site.

If you click on the link below, you'll find my post THE FORBIDDEN PROJECT

Each month we blog about a new topic. 

For February, it's about our paths to publication. 

I hope you check out the site.

You can find lots of great writers sharing their thoughts. 

I'll always be there on the 8th!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Step Away From That Computer!

I thought my new year's resolution was very manageable. Each month I would go to a place in New York City that I had never been. (I can't believe I almost broke my vow--it was already the last day of January!) 

After a week of polishing a manuscript, I was ready to get outside of my head and my apartment.

The weather was crisp and cold. The wind was so fierce, I almost changed my mind about going to Owl's Head park on the eastern edge of Brooklyn. But I'm glad I didn't.

At the top of the hill, I could see white caps
 on the water of New York harbor. 

Without their leaves, the trees are so exposed. 
As if they aren't trees at all, but some other kind of life form.

How long has this fellow being been standing on this spot? 
And how did he get to be so twisted?

Of course whenever I go anywhere, 
I'm always looking for a way into a new world.

Or into a new story.

I think I might have found one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Blackberry has a few questions for Jane Kelley


JK:  Yes! It's the advanced review copy. The real book will be available on July 14, 2015. Six months from today!


JK:  Her name is Mau.


JK:  Val and Lanore have been friends forever. Val expects thir relationship to stay the same. But after they start middle school, Lanora decides to reinvent herself. Her parents have split up, and she wants to rise above that. Unfortunately Lanora's choices lead her into trouble. Val hates watching her friend lose her way. She wants to rescue Lanora, but how? Val doesn't know what to do until a stray cat . . .


JK:  I beg your pardon. A SELF-RELIANT cat leads Lanora to a strange boy who lives in an even stranger bookshop. Together they embark on a quest. Will they be able to save a lost friend? Will they get lost themselves? Or will they find a way to help each other become who they want to be?


JK:  I guess you'll have to keep reading the book to find out.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When bad things happen to good characters

Last week I got to visit a school in my neighborhood to talk about my book, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya. The kids had excellent questions about parrots and muffins and writing. One boy wisely chose to email me. He knew that his question would spoil part of the story for others. And so, if you haven't read the book ...... please be advised.

SPOILER ALERT!    (I've always wanted to say that.)

With his permission, I'm going to share his emails to me and my answer.


My name is Johnny and I'm nine years old. 

I loved your book! I really loved the adventure Zeno was on and how he had to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. I also liked when Alya climbed the six steps. There was so much tension and excitement.

I was hoping Zeno and Bunny would stay friends. I know sometimes characters die in books, so I was just wondering why you chose him to die?

Thank you, 
Johnny C.
Hi Johnny,

I'm glad that you loved my book. But I'm really grateful that you asked me such an important question. I had to think a lot about why I chose to let Bunny die.

First, I wondered did any of the characters really have to die? I think the answer to that is yes. If a book is realistic, then the events that the author describes should have real consequences. I think that Zeno's dangerous journey over the ocean is more exciting because you knew that bad things really might happen. Without real risks and real dangers,  his accomplishment wouldn't mean as much.

Hawks do kill pigeons. They don't do it to be cruel. They do it because they need food. I think you can accept that the hawk would attack a bird. But you want to know why did that bird have to be Bunny?

I could have let the hawk attack a different pigeon. But Zeno is so selfish, he wouldn't have helped anyone except Bunny. All of Zeno's adventures teach him important lessons. First he learns that a friend needs to fight for a friend. But he won't really learn how important that friendship is until he loses Bunny. Zeno has to learn the hard way.

If Zeno hadn't learn those lessons, he wouldn't have been there to help Alya when she needed it. That would have been sad too.

Like you, I hoped that Zeno and Bunny would stay friends. I do know that Zeno remembers everything that Bunny taught him. And, in that way, Bunny lives on.

Thank you again for asking me such a great question.

Jane Kelley


Thank you for writing back to me. What you said made a lot of sense because Bunny was such a good friend and Zeno cared for Bunny and when Bunny died, it changed Zeno and made the story better. It was sad, but I realize why it had to happen.

I can't wait to read your other books.

Johnny C.

I am grateful to Johnny for letting me share his thoughts on my blog. I'm lucky to have a reader who is willing to journey with my characters, over the Atlantic Ocean or up the six steps to a Brooklyn brownstone. And willing to think about why those journeys are important.

I'm humbled to be reminded that my characters matter to my readers. Writing novels for kids is a privilege––and a responsibility. Sometimes bad things have to happen to good characters––but there better be a very, very, very good reason.

(Thank you, Eliza Wheeler, for your amazing drawing of Zeno and Alya.)