As an avid reader, I participate in various online book groups. GoodReads is one group to which I belong. As a member, I regularly participate in their giveaway competition to win Advanced Reader Copies of new books. In August, I received The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie. It is about two middle-school girls who stay in touch through email, a former librarian senior citizen, a conservative Jewish boy, a nerdish jock, and several normal characters with normal abilities, normal faults, and normal lives. I loved it, naming it one of my favorite finds of the year.
In December, author Laura Corrie-Toffler graciously agreed to both allow me to interview her and to write a guest blog. What follows is our interview. Please come back next week for her guest blog on the how-to’s of writing humor.
Allison: You grew up in New York City, which is also Amy’s hometown. What are your best and worst experiences as a New Yorker?
Laura: Actually, I grew up on Long Island, but visited the city often and lived in Greenwich Village during college. It’s a great question, though. I’ve had many of both!
Worst experience: One day on the subway, I didn‘t realize that the guy sitting next to me was kind of drunk and half asleep. When the subway screeched to a stop, however, he keeled over and his head landed, plop, right in my lap! Everyone cracked up, but I was astonished and mortified. Fortunately, the fall woke him. He sat up muttering ‘sorry,‘ but, needless to say, I quickly changed seats.
Best experience: So many, but I’ll tell you another subway story. I was on the train with these scary, rowdy boys. At each stop, people ran off, so I decided to get off too; I figured that I’d swing around into another car. But as I rushed out, one of the boys yelled, “Hey you!” I thought he was gonna mug/kill me, but he just smiled and said, “You forgot your purse.” Then he handed it to me and jumped back onto the train. It was such a nice New York moment! Unfortunately, I was so ashamed for assuming the worst of these guys, I walked the rest of the way home!
Allison: Why did you chose for Callie to move to Kansas? What knowledge or experiences of the Midwest did you draw upon?
Laura: The truth is, I have absolutely no knowledge or experiences of the Midwest, which is why I think Amy’s assumptions about Kansas are funny. She draws on images from Laura Ingalls Wilder books and her own ethnocentric feelings about being a New Yorker. I chose Kansas because it seems very far away, and I imagine it to be very different from New York city. I’m sure it’s a great place though, and I recently discovered that I have relatives there. So maybe I’ll visit one day.
Allison: Your main characters are Jewish. Why did you decide to integrate religion into your novel? Did your references to religion effect your abilities to find a publisher?
Laura: Although I’m not that religious, being Jewish is part of my identity, and Amy is a character close to my heart and personality. So she just came out that way, as did many of the other characters, who are based on some friends and relatives. The process of integrating religion developed when I discovered an intriguing, little known story about American Jewish history, and I decided to build the book’s mystery around it. Of course, once I added the character of very religious Beryl, it was fun to play with the relationship between him and Amy and their views about religion. Ironically, I never thought the Jewish element would help or hinder my chances for publication. I just hoped people would like it and feel it had universal appeal. Turns out I was right in that, even though my agent is Jewish, my editor (who liked the book enough to buy it) is not. So, go figure!
Allison: Why did you decide to write a book for the middle-school age group? What current middle school books do you like the most?
Laura: I wasn’t consciously aiming for the middle grade market at the time. Amy’s voice and the story just flowed that way, and I knew I liked the genre. There are classic MG’s I like from authors such as Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Madeline L’engle, E.L. Konisberg, Sydney Taylor. As for current books, I especially like ‘The Penderwick Chronicles,’ ‘Emma Lazarus Fell From a Tree,’ ‘Shakespeare’s Secret,’ ‘Stargirl,’ ‘Crispin, the Cross of Lead,’ and ‘Neil Armstrong is my Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man Mcginty Told Me,’ to name a few.
Allison: In your blog, ’Get to the Point,’ you referred to being told to ‘go back and revise’ and receiving offers to re-submit once you cut about 40,000 words. What wonderful scenes have we missed because of those cuts? How do you feel about the revision process?
Laura: I’m pretty certain that what was cut probably deserved to go; mostly parts about the mystery that dragged the story. There was, however, a cute play about Emus that got cut. Their names were Shmuey and Moishe. They sounded like old guys, lived on the plains and spent the day complaining and pontificating about religion. Maybe I’ll find a place for that scene one day! Regarding revision, I think that every writer fantasizes hearing ‘your work is perfect as is!‘ but I actually like the revision process. My editor is awesome. I believe that her keen eye and supportive suggestions absolutely make my work stronger.
Allison: What are you working on next?
Laura: My next book is a YA, tentatively titled, THE ACCIDENTAL SAINTHOOD OF JENNA BLOOM, and is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2011, also by Roaring Brook Press, MacMillan. It has a supernatural element but is humorous, in that it spoofs the genre a little bit.
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.