Monday, September 09, 2013

Nashville Authors Series: Tracy Barrett

I have the great fortune of living in Nashville, Tennessee. There are many things to enjoy about this city, but as a librarian, one of the things I love the most is the literary scene we've got going on down here. There's Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books, the awesome public library, and a wonderful Southern Festival of Books to look forward to every October. 

As far as Young Adult authors are concerned, we have an embarrassment of riches here in Nashville, and I wanted to do a blog series to draw attention to their work.

First up is Tracy Barrett, whose book DARK OF THE MOON was my historical fiction pick for my genre reading challenge (which I am still keeping up with even though I haven't been blogging about it).  Some of her other titles include ANNA OF BYZANTIUM, KING OF ITHAKA, and THE SHERLOCK FILES. 

Here Tracy talks about her work and why she loves Nashville.

Are you from Nashville originally? If not, what drew you here?

I grew up in New York State, lived in Illinois for three years, went to college in New England, and went to grad school in California! While I was in grad school I did some skydiving and met a handsome skydiver from Nashville. We got married and moved here "temporarily" thirty years ago. I had never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line before but I fell in love with Tennessee and we've been here ever since.

How has Nashville's literary community developed over the years?

I think there's always been a terrific literary community here, but outsiders didn't know about it. When I first came here, the Southern Festival of Books was only a few years old, and I've watched it grow into one of the most important book festivals in the country. And then when our wonderful bookstore, Parnassus, got so much media attention, people started recognizing what a book-loving city we have.Social media has made writers and illustrators able to connect with one another more easily, and I've gotten to know some wonderful people that way that otherwise I might not have met (I'm talking about you, Angela!).

What is the best thing about Nashville's authors and illustrators?

Literary people are so supportive--we swap news about what editor is looking for what kind of work, which helps our friends connect with someone who might want to publish their kind of work; we recommend our friends to our agents; we match up aspiring authors with people who can help them polish their writing. Nashville keeps getting on lists of "Friendliest Cities in the US" and that's true with the writers who live here too.Nashville also has a very active chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the largest writers' organization in the US (and we think in the world, although that's hard to figure out). I love going to the Midsouth SCBWI conference every fall--it's like going back to summer camp, where you see friends you haven't seen for a year, but it's like it was just yesterday, and everyone's excited about the same things and eager to learn and have fun.

What do you love the most about living in Nashville? 

The pace of the city is just right for me--not too fast, not too slow. I love all the new restaurants. In the summer I love the amazing produce we can get. I love the seasons--spring and fall last so long. But most of all, it's the people. Nashvilleans are terrific!

You write a lot of historical fiction. What is it that excites you about that genre? 

I've always wished for a time-travel machine, and if I had one I'd definitely go back in time, not forward. But until someone invents one, historical fiction is the best way to experience the past. I read a lot of nonfiction and enjoy it, but I like when an author really does her research and writes a novel speculating about what life in the past must really have been like--not just the historical details, although they're fascinating, but how it must have felt to live in medieval England or ancient Greece or feudal Japan or pre-Columbian Mexico. What did people eat? How did they worship? What games did they play? How did parents treat their children? A good historical novel will make you feel like you are really living in a different time and place, just like a time-travel machine.

Which historical or mythological characters would like to write about in the future?

Right now I'm fascinated by fairy tales. There's a reason there are so many retellings of the classic fairy tales: the stories are wonderful, but they're all plot. There's no character development; this character is good just because she's good, that one is evil just because she's evil. They don't grow and change. Sometimes they learn a lesson, like Beauty figuring out that you can love someone who isn't good-looking, but she's still the same Beauty at the end as she was at the beginning. For me, figuring out why someone is the way she is, and seeing how she grows and changes through the story--that's the fun part. My next book (The Stepsister's Tale, to be published by Harlequin Teen in 2014) is a Cinderella retelling in which Cinderella isn't good and virtuous all the way through, and the stepsisters aren't evil. They're all just trying to figure out how to live in a blended family with different ways of life and expectations.

Which of your books seem to resonate the most with your readers?

My best-seller is Anna of Byzantium, and that's also the one I hear from most readers about. I think people like The 100-Year-Old Secret too, maybe because it's a mixture of contemporary with historical, in that the detectives are trying to solve crimes committed a century earlier.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Show Me the Awesome: Difficult Patrons in Your Library

Difficult Patrons in Your Library

Artwork by John LeMasney,

This post is part of the Show Me the Awesome project coordinated by Kelly Jensen, Liz Burns, and Sophie Brookover.

When I was in library school, I was fascinated by articles and stories about difficult patrons in public libraries. Amazingly, it was the first time it occurred to me that people would act anything less than circumspect in a library. I remember thinking “I hope I never have to deal with these issues!”

Fast forward to today. I am working in a large suburban branch library, and our patrons are generally happy to be here, and the most common “problem patron” I might have is someone who’s having a bad day and doesn’t want to wait ten minutes to use the computer.

However, on a busy but fairly quiet Saturday afternoon in March, I was helping a patron locate an item when the sound of someone screaming and cursing at the front of the library reached my ears. Her voice was loud enough that people on the far corners of the building could hear her.

As one of the librarians in charge of the building that day, it was my job to go to the source of the disturbance. “Excuse me,” I said to the patron I was helping, “I have to go see what the screaming is about.” As I turned the corner around a shelf to head to the lobby, I saw that our children’s librarian was also headed in the same direction.

By the time we reached the lobby, the woman was in a screaming match with two other patrons. My co-worker placed herself in the middle of all of them, just in case a fight was about to break out.  I walked calmly towards the young woman who was the center of all the commotion. She was using every curse word in the dictionary and her voice was so loud it was echoing around the building.

I approached her slowly. I reached my hand towards her, (although I was very careful not to touch her at all) and whispered  “Let’s go outside.” She immediately dropped her volume, but was still trying to get some digs in at the other patrons. I repeated “Let’s go outside.” and she turned and walked out the front door with me.  I remember feeling shocked that she listened to me and followed my lead.

Once outside, she calmed down immediately and I was able to get some understanding about what had happened.  She had walked into the library while talking on her cell phone, and one of the front desk employees asked her to finish her call outside. This set her off and she started cursing at him and anyone within a ten-foot radius.  The two patrons she was yelling with were trying to get her to leave the building, too, but screaming back at her only made her more angry.

“I know it’s wrong to act that way in the library. I shouldn’t have done that. I just get so mad when people tell me what to do.” she said. We talked about how everyone has to follow the same rules in the library and that my coworker had asked her to comply with a reasonable request. I told her she couldn’t come back inside the library that day, but she could visit any other day so long as she could control her temper.  She thanked me and said “Maybe I’ll bring my little boy back one day.”

You never know if interactions with patrons are going to be positive or negative, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you can only control yourself. People may scream at you, berate you, or become upset about what you’re telling them, but your reaction to it is within your control. When I feel an interaction turning sour, I set an intention to remain calm and to maintain the dignity of both the patron and myself. It doesn't always work out as well as I'd like, but the main thing is that I keep trying to provide a positive experience for people who enter our doors.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

May's Reader's Advisory Challenge Pick: Under the Mesquite

                                                        Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Published September 9, 2011 by Lee & Low Books

Lupita and her family split their lives between Texas and Mexico. They deal with difficult times when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, and Lupita struggles with her desire to go away to school or stay and care for her family.  Winner of the Pura Belpre Author Award, a YALSA William C. Morris Finalist, and winner of the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award. 

What I liked:
It might seem too simple 
to write a novel in verse
but I'm here to tell you
it's harder than it looks

Reader’s Advisory Challenge:
Verse novels I've read and loved: Sharon Creech's Love That Dog and Hate That Cat, Sold by Patricia McCormick, Virgina Euwer Wolff's Make Lemonade series, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone. I recently made a display of verse novels in my library and was surprised not to find any in our adult fiction. Do you know of any titles? 

Check out Stacked's guide to Verse Novels.

An interview in Axon Journal with three YA verse novel authors.

I’ll be back next month with a contemporary/realistic pick.

Click to read more about the Reader's Advisory Challenge. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April's Reader's Advisory Choice Pick: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield  

Published July 5, 2012 by Dutton Children's Books

Becca can't wait to escape her small town after high school graduation, but the murder of a stranger in her town makes her question whether she is ready for such a change.

What I liked:
The sense of place in this book is phenomenal. When I read a book, I often picture my own home or my own surroundings when things are described. The writing in this book helped me picture a place I had never seen before, and I loved that. The mystery part of this book didn't really excite me, even though there was a twist at the end that I wasn't expecting. I was more interested in Amelia Anne's story than Becca's, and wished we knew more about her. I thought the subplot about the pond didn't really help the overall story.

Reader’s Advisory Challenge:
Mysteries are something that I love to read, but I usually prefer adult titles over YA.  I love reading a mystery when I can't figure out the culprit or the twist before the ending. When I was in high school, I really liked Sue Grafton and Mary Higgins Clark.

Some other Mystery picks for YA:

You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin
Heist Society by Ally Carter
The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison
The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks
Clarity by Kim Harrington
All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab
A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Blood on My Hands by Todd Strasser
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

I’ll be back next month with a verse novel pick.

Click to read more about the Reader's Advisory Challenge. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

March's Reader's Advisory Challenge Pick: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

(I love this new purple cover!) 

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman 

Published July 10, 2012 by Random House Books for Young Readers


Seraphina lives in a world inhabited by both humans and dragons, and there is an uneasy peace between the two. In her job as assistant to the royal music master, Seraphina must be careful not to reveal her true nature as a half-dragon. This becomes increasingly difficult to do as she is drawn into the mystery surrounding the murder of a prince. Rumors are swirling that he was killed by a dragon, and anti-draconian sentiment is on the rise.

What I liked:

I loved this book. Something about it really got to my emotions in a way I couldn't have predicted. I have always been squeamish about scars, rashes, and other skin maladies, so imagining her scales was a very visceral experience for me. I didn't have any problem getting into the world Hartman created, and I can't wait for the sequel(s).

Reader’s Advisory Challenge

High Fantasy is a struggle for me because I can bogged down with the maps of different lands, strange settings, names, and customs. My imagination is not very good at thinking about anything other than Earth, humans, and other familiar things. I know I can get into the stories if I'm just patient enough, but sometimes my flakiness wins out in the end. A title like Seraphina gives me hope to try some more books in this genre. 

Kimberly at Stacked wrote a wonderful guide to the (sub)genre.

I’ll be back next month with a pick for Mystery!

Click to read more about the Reader's Advisory Challenge.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February Reader's Advisory Challenge Pick - Beta by Rachel Cohn

Beta by Rachel Cohn
Published Oct. 16, 2012 by Hyperion 
The island of Demesne is a retreat away from the harsh realities of a world changed by global warming and wars fought over water supplies. The wealthy citizens who live there use clones as servants and companions. Elysia is a teen clone who is purchased by the wife of the governor to fill the emotional role of daughter and sister in the family. As a clone, Elysia should not be able to feel human emotions, but as time goes on, she realizes that she not only feels things she shouldn't, she also has memories from her First, the person she was cloned from. This puts her in a dangerous position.
What I liked:
There wasn't very much that I liked about this story, to be honest. It felt very derivative of many other books and I didn't connect with any of the characters. Add in a seriously problematic plot twist, and this wasn't a personal favorite of mine.
Reader’s Advisory Challenge
Science Fiction is the genre I read for February. It covers a huge amount in terms of sub genres (dystopians and steampunk to name a couple) and honestly, I find it all a bit confusing. The rule of thumb I'd always heard for SF was that if it could eventually come true due to scientific advancement (living on space ships or inside biodomes or something), it's science fiction.  If you add in a paranormal element, it ceases to be SF and becomes fantasy. That's a pretty simplistic explanation, but it makes sense to me.
Kelly and Kimberly at Stacked wrote a great blog post about the genre and included a ton of recommended titles.
The Andre Norton Awards are given to the best science fiction and fantasy titles in YA.
I'll be back next month with a pick for High Fantasy!

Click to read more about the Reader's Advisory Challenge.

January's Reader Advisory Challenge Pick - The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners by Libba Bray



Set in the heady days before the Great Depression, The Diviners is a feast for the senses.  There are flappers, Ziegfeld girls, Bolsheviks, and artists in Harlem. Add in the occult, government conspiracies, and young people with mysterious gifts, and you've got Libba Bray's latest creation. 

What I liked:

I felt like I was dropped into the middle of 1920s New York CIty. It's obvious that Libba Bray did a lot of research when writing this book, and the level of detail appealed to me because I felt like I was learning something as I was being entertained. And horrified. 

Reader's Advisory Challenge

I chose Horror as the genre I was going to read for January. The Diviners defies categorization, and could fall under a lot of genre headings. To me, that is one of its strengths. But horror is definitely a genre label I would apply to it. It's creepy and there is a serial killer, and blood, and murder.

However, I would still say it's Horror Lite. So, if you're a half-chicken like me when it comes to scary books and movies, you'll probably do okay with this one. Total chickens might want to avoid.

If you want more detailed reviews, check out these links and everything will be jake: 

Someday My Printz Will Come 

Reading Rants 

Other recent YA horror titles you might enjoy: 

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I'll be back in February with my Science Fiction pick!

Reader’s Advisory Challenge for 2013

As a Young Adult Librarian, I try to read what teens are reading so that I can assist them when they are in my library looking for new books to check out. However, for the last year I have been on a committee that focused my reading all on nonfiction for teens. As a result, I feel I’ve missed some great reads that were published in 2011 and 2012. 
So, for each month of 2013, I will read a 2011 or 2012 YA book in a (sub)genre or format that I normally shy away from. I want to branch out beyond my comfort zone. Here is my plan of action: 
January - Horror
February - Science Fiction
March - High Fantasy
April - Mystery
May - Verse Novel
June - Realistic / Contemporary
July - Historical Fiction
August - Graphic Novel or comic
September - Romance
October - Dystopian
November - Steampunk
December - Humor
After I read each month’s selection, I will post a review here. If you want to play along, please do! I’ll be tagging all my posts with #rac13.