Saturday, February 28, 2015

Five Questions for Trent Reedy, author of BURNING NATION

(The first in a new series of brief interviews with authors of forthcoming books)

1. Tell us a little bit about your book.

Burning Nation is the second book in the Divided We Fall trilogy. It continues the story of seventeen-year-old Idaho Army National Guardsman PFC Danny Wright and his friends as they are stuck in the middle of a tense stand-off between the state of Idaho and the federal government of the United States. In the first book, Divided We Fall, Idaho has voted to nullify the Federal Identification Card Act. When Danny’s National Guard unit is sent to quell a protest/riot resulting from this nullification, he accidentally fires his rifle, which causes other people to shoot, leaving twelve dead and nine wounded. The president demands an investigation and prosecution. The governor of Idaho refuses to cooperate, saying that he gave a lawful order to the National Guardsmen under his command.

Burning Nation begins right where the first book left off, with the president sending the military to force Idaho to comply with federal law. Right from the beginning, Danny and his friends are caught up in the fight, but as the country descends into the chaos of the Second American Civil War, losses begin to take their toll. It becomes hard to understand what has been won, but easy to see what’s been lost. As the sacrifices mount and betrayals abound, Danny and his friends begin to think about the wounds they’ve suffered, inside and out.

It’s an action-packed book that continues to explore what happens when America’s current political divide widens into tomorrow’s nightmare, and it’s alarming how many real-life headlines seem to have been predicted by Divided We Fall and Burning Nation.

2. If this book had a theme song, what would it be and why?

Ten years ago, when my fellow soldiers and I were serving in Farah Province in Afghanistan, we were struck by how much the landscape resembled that featured in the movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. That movie features a song by Tina Turner called "We Don’t Need Another Hero." My fellow soldiers would joke about this song, with one man saying, “We don’t need another hero” and another replying, “We don’t even know the way home.” The video is a bit dated and cheesy, but if you listen to the words, the song really fits as a commentary on the brutality and waste of war that is very appropriate for Burning Nation.

3. Please name and elaborate upon at least one thing you learned or discovered about writing in the course of creating this book.

When I began work on Burning Nation, I was under the naive assumption that writing the book would be easier because I had already finished Divided We Fall. I knew the characters, the setting, and at least the situation that led to the events in Burning Nation. I should have known that Burning Nation would be as significant if not a greater challenge than the first book. One of the challenges came from the situation the characters face. Throughout most of Burning Nation Danny and his friends must endure a federal military occupation of their small northern Idaho town. With U.S. soldiers hunting for them all the time, their movements, and thus my options for the kinds of scenes I could include, felt rather limited. I began to feel almost as claustrophobic as Danny and his fellow soldiers.

Another challenge with writing Burning Nation was that it was the second part of a story that already had its first part on the market. I was facing a situation that was new to me, that of having public feedback on characters and other aspects of the larger Divided We Fall story, while I was writing that story’s second installment. It felt like having many, sometimes too many, advisors in my office with me while I worked. Cheryl was wise, as she usually is, when she encouraged me to stop looking at reviews and reader comments as I worked on Burning Nation.

4. What is your favorite scene in the book?

I’m really quite happy with a lot of the scenes in Burning Nation, so I’m going to cheat and list two. First, since Burning Nation isn’t merely an action/war book, but is a piece which, I hope, encourages the reader to think about the terrible nature of war and its effects on those who live through it, I’d like to point out a scene that happens after Danny Wright has been through terrible physical and emotional torture. He is out of his mind from sleep deprivation and other torments, and when his one-time rival TJ bursts into his cell to rescue him, Danny isn’t sure if what is happening is even real. He’s confused and kind of cries, “Travis?” Travis Jones realizes that Danny is seriously messed up and it’s going to be harder to rescue him than he and his friends supposed. It’s a small moment, but I hope there’s a lot of emotion in that simple question, that exhausted and near-breaking-point, “Travis?”

And since I love some good action, I’m also quite happy with a hand-to-hand fight scene near the end of the book. It’s a fight between Danny and a U.S. Army major, a desperate fight to the death where Danny has to make an important decision about how deep into the war he’s willing to go, and how much of himself he wants to save. In addition to the moral question the fight raises, I just think it’s a clear scene, a tense and suspenseful fight. And the conclusion of the scene is really quite chilling.

5. What are you working on now?

I am hard at work on the third book in the Divided We Fall trilogy, entitled The Last Full Measure. The story follows America’s further final decline into a terrible civil war, and the difficult consequences this has for Danny Wright and his friends. I’m having lots of fun working on it, and it’s on schedule for a 2016 release.

For more about this book, including an excerpt, reviews, and purchase information, visit the Burning Nation page on the Arthur A. Levine Books website. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Happy News

This appeared today in the Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf e-newsletter:

Amy Cherry at W. W. Norton has acquired Cheryl Klein’s book on writing children’s and young adult fiction. Previously self-published as Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, Klein will be revising, re-writing, and updating the book. Klein is the executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic, where she served as the continuity editor for the last two books of the Harry Potter series, and she also teaches in the publishing program at the NYU School of Professional Studies. Publication is planned for September 2016; Brianne Johnson at Writers House negotiated the deal for World English rights.

Some PAQ (Possibly Asked Questions):

W. W. Norton!

I know! The Norton Anthologies! And Michael Lewis! And Patrick O'Brian (swoon)! I am thrilled.

How will the new book be different from Second Sight?

We are still talking this through, but my goal is that it will be a more complete and fully integrated guide to writing fiction for children and young adults, with a structure that walks writers through all the major elements of fiction and the writing process, accompanied by exercises, worksheets, and practical examples to help them apply the ideas on the page. Much of the material will be new, and much of what is taken from Second Sight will be extensively revised.

So you're not self-publishing anymore. Why not?

This new project started because I wanted to revise Second Sight into the book I describe above. As I thought about what it would take for me to do that, I realized that I was (and am) at a different place in my life than I was when I put Second Sight together, and I could really use the support, structure, challenge, and deadlines provided by a traditional publisher.

When people have asked me about self-publishing in the past, I've always said that neither traditional nor self-publishing should be the universal prescription for every writer and every project -- that the choice always depends upon the nature of the book, its market, and the writer's abilities and expectations in relation to the project. This was the right book and the right time for me to switch to traditional publishing, and I'm very grateful to Brianne for encouraging me and connecting me with Amy at Norton.

What will happen with Second Sight?

Second Sight is now going into its fourth printing (also hooray!), and should remain on sale for at least the next year and a half. It is still available through Amazon, at my appearances, or by contacting me directly at asterisk [dot] bks [at] gmail [dot] com. I also remain enormously grateful to everyone who has supported the book through the years, and everyone who's told me about their experiences with it, good and bad. (Much of that criticism is informing the new draft.)

What's it like to be on the other side of the editorial desk?

Pleasant and yet extremely weird.

What will the title of the new book be?

We're still working on that, but I have faith the right title will come in time. Most titles do. (And suggestions welcome.)

Edited to add:  It arrived! The title will be The Magic Words:  Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.

Thank you for your interest!

2014 Statistics on Children's/YA Books by Race/Ethnicity

Yesterday, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin released its annual report on the number of children's/YA books by and about people of color published in 2014. I made up the following chart for use in my NYU Editing Workshop, shared it on social media, and put it up here so it has a permanent home (click for larger view):

It should be noted that the CCBC does not create or provide statistics on either the U.S. population or the number of books by white people; those are my additions for comparison's sake. The percentages are also my math, so any errors are my own. Further to the question of how many protagonists of children's books are objects or animals and thus less likely to have an obvious race/ethnicity, KT Horning, the director of the CCBC, pointed me to this blog post she wrote in 2013 on that topic.

I am delighted to see the year-over-year almost-doubling of the number of Black and Asian book creators. But still:  We can do much better, people.  

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Oh My Goodness, I Almost Missed This

Today, February 4, 2015, is the ten-year anniversary of Brooklyn Arden!

This blog took its current form one Friday night when I was home alone and lonely, and consequently decided to talk out loud to the Internet. The years I've spent talking out loud here since led directly to writers' conference appearances, new publishing projects, my website, my book, and many, many great conversations and connections. (As well as much enjoyable silliness:  See here and here.) The Internet and my life have changed enormously since I started writing in this space, and I'm a little sad I don't chatter as much here anymore. But I am also enormously grateful to this blog for the chance to "know what I think when I see what I say" for the past ten years, and to all of you for coming here, seeing it, and sometimes saying back. Thank you.