Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Author Interview: Maggie Thrash

ShelfNotes was thrilled to get the chance to interview Maggie Thrash at BEA this year for her upcoming comic/graphic novel “ Honor Girl” publishing this Fall with Candlewick Press. Maggie completely knocked us back when we saw her - she looks very much like her depicted self in the comic. Before we got to meet her, she was in a comics panel earlier on, when we asked her about it, she referred to it as the panel with “me and the dudes”, which was spot on.

Sitting down with Maggie, we felt completely relaxed and talking with her felt like a “pow-wow” with a good friend. Not only was she completely honest and open about herself, the book and the process but she was also charming and funny. When asked how she got into comics and if she had been drawing all her life, she told us that she had no art background but,

“had this really lofty goal of doing my memoirs... I had these things… I’ve been very secretive about and have been holding onto for years, and so I wanted to express these things to get some catharsis and move on.”

She then goes on to tell us how writing about herself was “abysmal” and she found trying to describe yourself very “limiting and awkward”. Her change of format can be credited to her roommate who suggested making a comic, and that she would have an easier time with it. Maggie now says,

“I’m obsessed with comics and I will never go back to prose, except for fiction.”
Comics have this way of being able to present yourself, she mentions being able to show - “this is what I look like, these are the sorts of things I say and you can watch me and be with me” and how this process is much more objective. Thinking on that, it would be really uncomfortable to have to describe yourself in that way, or even environments. Even though it might sound easier to write about yourself through a comic format, one could imagine how hard it would be to draw yourself and to convey emotion and expression. Maggie does this so well with her sparse drawings, just a circle and an eyebrow for an eye conveys so much.

Speaking of art and drawing, a look at Maggie’s website (her older one) gives you a feel for her roots. She says it’s fun to look back and see that was the best she could do then.

“If I keep doing comics, I’m going to keep evolving. That’s going to be interesting.”

When questioned if she wanted to tackle the illustrations herself, she told us a great story that had her fall into Candlewick’s lap. While Maggie was shopping around for publishers, one (who she states will remain nameless) said ‘we like this story, will she hire an artist?’ and her agent stood up for her and said, “No, we’re not even considering that.” Then Candlewick came around and Maggie describes her love for them as “just all new best friends”. I think we can all agree Candlewick is a very special press.

After a small chat about the color in the finished book (we read black and white galleys), we came to discussing the cover (which we love). Maggie admits that she can’t take credit for it, even though she did the drawings.

“I love the cover too, that they let me do this just really moody and quiet, contemplative and intense thing instead of CAMP, flowers, tents, smiles…. I love that they let me do that.”

Getting into the heart of the story, we asked Maggie what she wanted the readers to come away with. Her response was very honest and brought us back to that feeling she describes,

“I mean EVERYONE can identify with this moment when they’re a teenager, flooded with intense new feelings and how you can NEVER go back from that. In a way I think the innocence of childhood is actually just not having those emotions, like you can be confused, and you can be sad and you can be angry but you don’t have those feelings that knock you down and make you just like debilitated with emotion... like whether you’re soaring or your heart is being smashed, you’re going to spend the rest of your adult (life) looking for those feelings again because they’re so exciting, and that's… the line you draw between childhood and when childhood is over.”

Hearing this made us automatically think of the Kirkus review and how much they nailed it with this line, “She has so carefully and skillfully captured a universal moment—the first time one realizes that things will never be the same”.

We got very curious as to how her family was handling this comic with them featured in it. She said her brother has handled it well but her mom asked if she could change her name… which left Maggie a little speechless because what else could she call her but “Mom”? Her brother plays a charming part in the comic and we absolutely adored him, we can only hope they collaborate on something in the future.

The process of writing “Honor Girl” was very therapeutic to Maggie, she feels good about it now. When she first wrote about it as a webcomic, she titled it “This is a Secret” thinking that her readers wouldn’t tell anyone. Initially Maggie wanted to write this comic about being in college but realized that she couldn’t express herself fully without telling this origin story,

“this is actually where my life began. and this is the moment that haunts me, and has stuck with me.”

This left us with the big question everyone will want to know… what will the next comic be about? She hinted that it wouldn’t be college but she will be taking things a little slower and the readers will get a glimpse at her high school years (ending). We can’t wait to see where she takes us and will have grabby hands when the next one comes out.

Want to be a first to read “Honor Girl”, Armchair BEA teamed up with Candlewick Press and Maggie Thrash to give a lucky reader a copy of the ARC, a color sampler and an original drawing done by Maggie herself. Click here to be directed to the contest. 


P.S. ShelfNotes asked our signature question - What is your favorite candy? Maggie loves one of our own favorites, Nerds Rope! If you haven’t tasted this stuff, find your nearest gas station (the only place we’ve found them) and chomp away.

Thank you to Candlewick Press and Maggie Thrash for the opportunity to discuss and ultimately have a fun chat with such a talented young author. We believe she will be paving the way for the future of comics, hopefully giving the courage for other female artists/authors to try a hand in this male-heavy world of comics.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Author Interview: Pat Schmatz

Shelf Notes had the pleasure of sitting down with author Pat Schmatz (it rhymes with “lots”) the other day at BEA 2015. We got a chance to discuss her upcoming new YA novel Lizard Radio, as well as her favorite books, her writing process, and potentially dangerous adventures with aliens and Komodo dragons!

We sat down with Pat first thing on Wednesday, shortly after she had arrived in the city. She had flown in the night before, just in time to catch the Candlewick Press dinner, which she’d really enjoyed. Pat hails from Minneapolis, a city she loves for its bicycling and the students to whom she teaches writing. 

We began by asking Pat what she thought the book’s genre was, because we were stumped! It doesn’t clearly fit into any genre (YA? dystopian fiction? LGBTQ?); Pat claims she was somewhat startled herself when Kirkus categorized it as science fiction. She also doesn’t see the setting as futuristic so much as just a slight shift from our own, current world - a cracked lens, a possible other existence that is happening parallel to our own.

This world spawned from a drawing of a lizard wearing headphones that came out of Pat’s pencil point one day. She realized that lizard was trying to tell her something, so she stopped to listen. “I knew right away it was a lonely lizard, and that the lizard was trying to get a signal,” she related. “The lizard would only speak very cryptically for a long time, and maybe in poetry, but not very much else” and Pat had to figure out from there where her story was going. She says she often doesn’t know until the copyediting stage what her story is really going to mean for her, because she is telling herself the story the whole time, watching it unravel. 

What are you?

Ultimately, she realized that the story encompassed two questions for her: “What are you?” and “What if she’s not?” The former she asked of the lizard drawing as she worked to determine where the story was going. The latter has a more complicated backstory which traces its origins to Pat’s childhood. At age 12, while at summer camp, she made friends with a yellow-eyed girl who pulled her aside one day to tell Pat that she was “part of an interplanetary coalition in the war against evil”, and had been sent to recruit Pat because she would someday play a major role in this war. Pat shrugged the girl off as crazy, but always remained niggled by the little question in the back of her mind: “What if she’s not?” The book, then, tries to answer both of these questions for the author. She tries to answer them through the conflicted protagonist, Kivali, who struggles to figure out who she is and what her role is: Is she really supposed to save the world? For what, for who, in what way? 

What if she’s not?

We thought this book would resonate with young adults trying to figure their own selves out during adolescence. Kivali is ultimately trying to figure out who she is, and the author hopes that Kivali’s situation and strength will resonate with readers.

She ties Kivali’s strength into that of lizards, which are very resilient and strong creatures. In the course of writing the book, Pat did a ton of research on lizards, and became particularly fascinated with the Komodo dragon. She loves how they can do anything: climb trees, swim, run 30 miles an hour - and she loves their distinctive walk. She became so interested that she even reached out to a friend who owns a Komodo dragon, and had the opportunity to get dangerously close to the creature - they can be deadly! They are quick and their teeth contain venomous pockets which slow any bitten prey and ultimately kill them. So Pat put her life on the line in her pursuit of research for this book!

This fascination also lends Pat some great material for when she teaches writing to her own students - mostly sixth graders in the Minneapolis area. She loves to share facts with her students about lizards, as well as read them some great passages from her favorite books. One which she loves to use to teach from is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (always a favorite author), because she draws them in with the suspenseful introduction which shows the students how to describe the feeling of fear in such a real way.
And speaking of favorite authors, here are a few books that Pat mentioned loving right now (but warned that her list changes all the time!) --

(And we were thrilled to hear that she also shares a long-time love of The Outsiders!)

We finished up our interview asking Pat to name her favorite candy, and her answer was: kickshaw*! You’ll have to read the book to understand that reference, but you will understand when you do. Please don’t hesitate to immerse yourself in this incredible new world that Pat has created, complete with its own very fitting vocabulary!

Pat Schmatz signing copies of her new book

* Fascinating origin story, too: Pat tells us that “kickshaw” originates from a French word for “a sweetness or a morsel.” I looked it up, and it’s related to “quelque chose” - neat!

Monday, June 1, 2015


The lovely Maggie Thrash, author of Honor Girl, is giving away one ARC (B&W with a color sampler) and an original piece of artwork, signed!

Maggie's website
Find Honor Girl:
Official Summary:
All-girl camp. First love. First heartbreak. At once romantic and devastating, brutally honest and full of humor, this graphic-novel memoir is a debut of the rarest sort.
Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thank you all for participating! To be entered in our final prize drawing(s), you must fill out your name and email, your blog's name, and your blog URL. If you are co-bloggers, you can fill out one survey each! Also, please answer as many questions as you can to be eligible. Meaning, don't just fill out your personal information and ignore the survey.

Good luck! See you next year! :)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

LINK IT UP: Giveaways and Book To Movie Adaptions

ABEA 2015 is coming to a close! :'( Well, there's always next year. Don't forget to attend our final Twitter party! Also, there will be a closing survey going live on MONDAY! Please look out for it! We would really appreciate it if you could fill it out, and help us improve ABEA for next year. Also, there will be another prize drawing for those who fill out the survey. Thank you!

Daily Reminders

Instagram Challenge:

Best and Worst Book-to-Movie Adaptions
#BestMovieAdaption or #WorstMovieAdaption
Take a picture of books with the best and/or worst movie adaptions. Or, maybe you want to take a picture of the movie? A movie poster? It's up to you! Make sure you label which one is the best and which one is the worst in the comments.

Twitter Party
Use this nifty time zone conversion tool to see when the parties will take place in your time zone!
May 30th: 5:00 PM EST
*keep in mind that the dates vary depending on time zone. Please check out the time zone converter above!

Today's Topics

You host the giveaway on your own site and link it up here for all our participants to come and visit. Don’t forget to give Armchair BEA a little love when advertising, but you can choose your own guidelines and deadlines.

Book to Movie Adaptions

What books do you want to be made into a movie or television show? What are some of your favorites? We'll explore more about this topic, especially what works and what doesn't.  Are there any upcoming shows or movies that you're excited for? What are your recommendations?

How To Link Up

Please use the following format when linking up:

Name @ Blog Name - Daily Topic Represented 

For example: Sally @ Armchair BEA - Middle Grade OR Sally @ Armchair BEA - Advice & YA

Please use only permalinks (links going directly to the designated post) when linking up. If you link directly to your home page, your link will be removed.

Friday, May 29, 2015

LIVE FROM BEA! 2015 - Blogger Con Panel: Tactics to Create Better Content

Thank you to Kerry for taking these notes!

My thoughts: This was billed as a "Blogging at the Next Level" panel but a lot of the info was really basic or would already be known by long-time bloggers. Also, these are notes straight from the panelists--there are some things here I'm not sure I agree with, but I've included it all!

Tactics to Creating Killer Content Fast

From Kate Rados:

  • Listen to your audience
  • Decide which pieces you want to act upon; you don't have to react to every piece of input you receive
  • Think of your space as a living beta; be prepared to be agile and responsive
  • Poll your audience--and often--to get demographic information as well as input on what readers want to see on a blog. They wanted more recommendations, so we opened our recs to non-Penguin selections.
  • Use analytics to "test the waters" on ideas and follow what has worked; i.e. images of quotes, and build out on what gets most engagement
  • Make friends with fellow bloggers and see how you van share content and collaborate.
  • See links on her Twitter profile for links to resources.

From Maura Sweeney:

  • There are no cookie cutters. Need to find what works for us. My idea for cross pollination of content is not just with individuals but with various types of media.
  • The audience is a primarily written media group, but there ideas to go beyond.
  • Do a video of your choice based on what fits your personality. Can just use your phone! So simple and you're up. Taken traditional blog and found a new group of people. Send out on Twitter and embed on your blog. Can help attract a new and diff audience.
  • Or: podcasts. Completely different demographic. I do mine on my phone in my closet. Or you can get clever, adding music etc. Find a new way to find a new angle on what you do. Reference conversations about what happened in a previous blog. Add shout-outs and quote remarks. People will share their moment of fame.
  • Create your own book club or meet up. Go to events and go around like a roving reporter and use that content as part of your podcast. Invite other voices.

From Kate Tilton:

  • Other Kate mentioned listening to your audience. As a blogger you are an author in your own right--know what you do and what your audience is interested in.
  • Twitter: connect with people and also to find new content. Ie Twitter chats. Join in events and use topics to inspire blog content. Also allows you to make connections to other bloggers.
  • Pinterest: more than just photos and a black hole for your time. Join group boards, which can act like little group boards. What are readers pinning and writing about? Embed pins in blog posts. Add visual media.
  • Contests: try to use apps for giveaways (ie rafflecopter) to save time. Cross pollinate with other bloggers.

From Nina Amir:

  • Evernote: way to clip ideas and store them for future use and inspiration. Free version has options for organization and tags.
  • Create a blog plan: most bloggers struggle with the blank screen and finding ideas. Having a plan helps you find ideas to post and helps your  readers know what to expect. I use mindforge as a mind mapping tool for this.
  • Calendar: helpful to look at a calendar and see what is scheduled and how frequently content is posted. WordPress has a plugin.
  • Templates for reviews, interviews, types of posts can help make blogging faster.
  • Create visuals: more ppl buy things off Pinterest than any other social networks. Include affiliate links. Photos are 75% of content on FB worldwide and are most engaging content on the platform. Canva, pic monkey, instaquote, tweetgram easy for creating images.
  • Scribner as a tool for blogging: organize blog posts, and learn multi-markdown language. Very simple. Write with this in Scribner and then export or compile as HTML and copy-paste into blog and it is formatted in your post--no need to spend time formatting. Can also export compiled posts as ebooks.

FEATURED GIVEAWAY: ARC Prize Packs from Quirk Books

Our next FEATURED GIVEAWAY is brought to you by the AMAZING Quirk Books.  Read on to learn more about Quirk and all their awesomeness!
Quirk Books is headquartered on a quiet cobblestone street in the historic Old City district of Philadelphia. Quirk publishes just 25 books per year and every title is a labor of love. Some of our more popular recent titles include the bestselling YA fantasy novel MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, the Edgar Award-winning mystery THE LAST POLICEMAN, the legendary PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, and classroom favorite WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S STAR WARS -- plus cookbooks, children’s books, art books, gag gifts, pop culture titles, and more. Our books are distributed worldwide by Penguin Random House.

Now, for the giveaway details!

Quirk is giving away Twenty Prize Packs to Armchair BEA participants!

TWENTY WINNERS will receive four (4) ARCs and a chaplet prize pack from Quirk Books.

Titles include: 
Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio(ARC)
Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends by David Stabler(ARC)
Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen (ARC)
The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray: A Critical Appreciation of the World's Finest Actor by Robert Schnakenberg (ARC)
 Chaplet:  Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

To enter, simply fill out the form below.  All winners will be chosen using this one form.  The entry form is open until Monday, June 1 at 12:00 Midnight EST.  The winner will be contacted via email as well as announced here on the site once all featured giveaway winners are confirmed.  Winners will be required to confirm prize winnings within 48 hours, so be sure you are watching your email closely.

LIVE FROM BEA - Blogger Con Panel: Engaging Your Readers

Hi everyone,

Amber & Arianna from Shelf Notes here - and also from the floor of BEA 2015! We have done so much in the past few days already, but we wanted to share some wonderful items we picked up from the Blogger Conference with our readers. One of our favorite panels was Engaging Your Readers: Tips from Experienced Bloggers, and it featured Amanda Nelson from Book Riot as the moderator! The panel was made up of Kerry McHugh (Entomology of a Bookworm), Melody Scheiber (Melody & Words), and Emily Wilson (Books, the Universe, and Everything).

The group started off with one big tip from each panelist - my apologies that I didn’t take note of who said what, but I think all of the suggestions were very helpful:

  • Think about things in the media you engage with, and then apply them to your blog, put that in your own content - for instance, if you constantly find yourself reposting images, that is clearly something you enjoy, so share that love with others!
  • Social media is your friend, but it is also WORK. You can’t just slap up a social media profile and then just hope that everyone will flock to you. You do NOT need to be everywhere! Also - engage in interactions, but genuinely - don’t just say “I liked that book too, here’s MY review!” Auto-posting is also a bad practice if that is all you do (for instance, don’t have a Twitter account that is solely posting links to your blog updates - you need more content than that for people to engage).
  • Switch up the format of your blog and of your content, try new things, try new media - keep things interesting! And this panelist also reiterated that you should pursue what you are passionate about, and what you find yourself gravitating towards.
  • Try to open up conversation in your book reviews - if there are ways you can expand the conversation in your post, do so - ask questions of your readers, or write about something that might draw others on a more personal level. This speaker mentioned the type of feedback she experienced for her post about “how to become a Tolkien fan, for the reluctant” - she knew there was already a glut of posts out there already about the Lord of the Rings. This was a great, unique take on the matter, and a lot of readers connected.

From there, the panelists discussed further tips in a more open and conversational format. These included:

  • Don’t be afraid to write about books that aren’t new - feel free to post from your backlist! They are books the audience has probably already read, so maybe they will want to converse with you about them. Sure, posting about books before they are released can pull in some curious readers, but to engage readers often means shared emoting over how much you loved (or hated) a particular book.
  • Go beyond direct book reviews: a summary of the plot plus whether it was good or bad can be rather dry & boring - try to add more about why you chose the book, how you connected with it personally, etc.
  • Try to bring something “plus books” in - e.g., a review of the book and its movie, or a recipe that was inspired by the book.
  • Along those lines: “Your reading life is multifaceted” - it’s in the movies you like, the foods you eat, the hobbies you pursue, your family - so bring those things in! Think about how in your reading life, books inform your daily life choices (and vice-versa).
  • Sharing your personal experience (with a book, or even just a personal story) is going to make your blog more interesting to your readers.
  • Establishing a schedule will allow your readers to develop expectations - you can regularly post a “top 10” list on Tuesdays (like The Broke and the Bookish), for instance, and your readers will start to know they will see that content - if they engaged with it once, they may be more inclined to check out future lists!
  • Schedule posts in advance! This allows you to both pace your posting (spacing a few out over a week is ideal) and also gives you a breather so you aren’t forced to post when you don’t have content or don’t feel up to it.
  • Related: Never publish something you’re not proud of. Don’t just post because you feel as if you have to slap something up. One of the panelists offered the great “gut check” of: If this post went viral, would I be proud of it?
  • “At the end of the day, this is a hobby and we do it because we love it. But when it stops being fun, it stops being engaging for you and it stops being engaging for your readers. If you are not interested in what you are writing, why would anyone else be?”
  • Make friends! Go out there and meet other bloggers (online or at places like blogger conferences).
  • Reply to your comments! Don’t let them fall through the cracks or get pushed to the back burner - make a point to show that you are reading them and acknowledge that the commenters want to engage with you. (You can use a tool like Disqus to make comment management easier.)
  • TinyLetter was suggested as a tool for creating very accessible mailing lists.
  • Think about having a comment policy. One blogger found that introducing one allowed readers who had once been lurkers to feel more comfortable leaving comments because they knew they would be more protected from trolls or other aggressive behaviors. This is your blog, and you can make the rules about what stays and what goes.
  • Feeling burnt out from blogging? Take a break! Just make sure you let your readers know you will be back. They want to know you are a human being just like they are, and they will understand that you have a life outside of your blog. In fact, they might appreciate knowing you are multifaceted!
And last but certainly not least:

  • If you are only on the channels where the book lovers are, that is great but remember you might be missing out on the opportunity to engage with people outside of that realm.

LIVE FROM BEA: Author Signatures

Hi everyone! This is ShelfNotes (Amber & Arianna) live from Book Expo America, finally getting a break to give Armchair a little love. We hope things have been going great for you at home and we're excited to share some of our adventures. I was wondering what we should share with you (especially based on the feedback from last year), it seemed to me that we needed to do a little something more for those of you at home. What could we bring you that you don't already know or have heard/seen? We had a mini meeting on our Brooklyn Air B&B rooftop and thought, 'Hey, maybe some people would like to see some of the Autographs! We hope you'll enjoy this and we have enough variety to cover all genres/bases.

Tomorrow look out for two Author interviews from Candlewick Press, Maggie Thrash who is coming out with a very unique graphic novel called "Honor Girl" and Pat Schmatz coming out with a very original book called "Lizard Radio". Both of these books will be giveaways during Armchair and we have a nice giveaway surprise from Maggie Thrash for a lucky reader. We can't wait to share this with you.