Friday, June 21, 2013

Book Giveaway and Guest TeachingAuthor Interview with Melanie Crowder

Today we're taking a break from our series of posts featuring our favorite online resources to bring you a guest TeachingAuthor interview with debut novelist Melanie Crowder. At the end of the interview, you'll be able to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Melanie's recently released middle-grade novel, Parched (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). A Junior Library Guild selection, Parched is a haunting, lyrical story told from three perspectives. Here's a little about it:
Sarel has just witnessed the death of her parents. But she is not completely alone on the drought-ridden land; Nandi is the leader of a pack of dogs who looks out for her pups and for skinny Sarel-girl. Nandi knows they are all in trouble, and she knows, too, that a boy is coming—an escaped prisoner with the water song inside him.
The Wall Street Journal called Parched, "an absorbing and strangely beautiful story of valor and survival that is all the more impressive for its restraint." And Booklist said, "The direct powerful prose in this first novel dramatizes the exciting contemporary survival story. . . . Fans of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (1987) will want this."

Pretty impressive for a debut novel! If you don't know Melanie, allow me to introduce her: Melanie Crowder graduated in 2011 with an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Colorado, where she teaches English Language Acquisition at her local elementary school. When she's not writing, Melanie is most likely found outdoors—in her garden, in the mountains, or looking for the perfect swimming hole. Visit her online via Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and her website.

And now for the interview:

Melanie, would you please tell us how you became a TeachingAuthor?

First, let me say: Thank you so much for having me!

To answer your question, I have been teaching since 2001—all sorts of subjects (art, music, history, ESL)—but I have only been writing since 2005. I was in the middle of a particularly difficult school year, and I needed something outside of work to put my heart into. I decided I would write a book—it couldn't be that difficult, right? J

Well, eight years, several manuscripts and an MFA in Writing later, I finally have a book published. As it turns out, writing well is really difficult! But along the way, I learned to love the journey and delight in the challenge.

Does your experience as a classroom teacher affect your writing, and if so, how?

My students are amazing. They deal with challenges on a daily basis that would cripple most adults. Above anything else, my students remind me how resilient and brave and joyful children are. I take that as a challenge: if I am going to write for and about this age group, I had better honor those characteristics in my stories.

Tell us a bit about what inspired you to write Parched and your path to publication.

Parched began with a single image that appeared in my mind one day. It was an aerial shot, as if I were in a plane flying low over the savanna. On the ground below, a skinny girl and her pack of dogs walked along a narrow game track. I wanted to know who she was, and how she had come to be all alone in such a harsh place.

I wrote my way into the story when I was supposed to be working on other things. It was the third semester of my MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Little by little, in between drafts of my critical thesis, the story began to take shape. By the end of the semester, I had 20 pages ready. I crossed my fingers and sent it in to be considered for the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt prize for Middle Grade Literature. When it won, I received a request for the full manuscript and gleefully sent it in. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I found an editor with the vision and experience to embrace the sparse quality of Parched, while at the same time patiently working with me to draw out the emotional depth and expository breadth that readers would need. Like so many things in life, turning this academic project into the beautiful novel it is today was all about balance, and trusting that if you assemble the right players, a team can produce so much more than any individual.

You mentioned that Parched started with an image. Do all your stories begin that way? Are they images that come to mind on their own, or do you actively look for images to inspire you, and if so, where do you find them?

My stories do often begin with an image, but it’s not something I go looking for. I think I have my subconscious to thank here; they are often images I wake up with. And because they fill my mind in that hazy space between dreaming and waking, the images are endowed with emotion and sensation—the best story starter I could ever ask for!

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use your novel in the classroom?

Absolutely! I think Parched would make a great book study, either for a small group or the whole class with all of its cross-content potential. It is a slim volume, and an adventure story, so it will appeal to some of your reluctant readers, too!

Here is a link to the discussion guide for Parched; it’s a really comprehensive resource for teachers.

And check my website in the fall when school starts up again—I am putting together a field guide for Parched, where students can track and research the flora and fauna found in the book as they read.

Oh, I love the idea of a "field guide" for a novel with such a distinctive setting as yours. I hope the teachers in our audience will check it out. So tell us, what's next on the horizon for you?

My next project is a YA verse novel about labor activist Clara Lemlich. She was an amazing woman who was instrumental in reforming working conditions for women in the early 1900s. This book is completely different from my debut--and a great challenge! My editor for this project will be Liza Kaplan at Philomel, and we are working towards an early 2015 release date.

Congratulations, Melanie! We're looking forward to seeing that. Finally, would you share about a moment when you knew you were a writer?

Well, I’ll show you a picture of a time when I had all the confidence in the world about my own writing. (I must have had a good teacher!) This is a book I wrote and illustrated in 4th grade. A sequel to Julie of the Wolves:

Don’t you think the white-out dress is a nice touch?

Very clever, Melanie. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Readers, you can enter below for a chance to win an autographed copy of ParchedIf you enter via a comment to this blog post, please tell us what you'll do with the book should you win: save it for yourself of give it away? The giveaway ends on June 26. After you've entered, feel free to check out the other stops on Melanie's blog tour, which you'll find listed on her website.

And don't forget--today is also Poetry Friday. This week's round up is at Carol's Corner.

Good luck and happy writing!

If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

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SuzanneF said...

I would read it myself then share it with friends!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Suzanne. Good luck in the contest!

Anne Bromley said...

I am eager to read this and will request that my local library purchase it for many others to enjoy!

Pam said...

I would use the book and the guide to lead book discussions with middle schoolers. :)

Carl Scott said...

I know I'd enjoy it and there are plenty of kids in the neighborhood to share it with too. Thanks for the giveaway.

ABWestrick said...

I love the white-out dress, Melanie! If I win the book, I'll find a way to blog about it at my site, I blog about the craft of writing, and I met Melanie in the Vermont College MFA program.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for stopping by Anne, Pam, Carol, and AB. Good luck in the giveaway!

Margaret Simon said...

I teach gifted elementary students and would be interested in exploring this book with my older students. I am intrigued by this story.

gillian said...

What a fabulous topic! My YA in rewrite also explores the topic of lacking water in a very different environment.
If I were to win the book I would read it over and over and add it to my library. I buy many copies of books that I love and send them to children of all ages, teachers, and libraries as well as donations to charities for children.
Good luck with Parched!

kt giorgio said...

I'd read it myself first of course, but then I'd pass it along to my friend who is a 5th grade teacher. We live hours away from each other but mail each other great books!

LinWash said...

Grat interview! And I love a blog dedicated to teachers who teach writing.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for your comments, kt and LinWash.

Melanie Crowder said...

Thanks for the lovely comments, everyone! And thanks Carmela, for a great interview!