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I’m “it!”

My dear friend and fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts grad, Annemarie O’Brien, tagged me to be the next stop on The Next Big Thing Blog Tour, a sort of chain letter for authors. This tour provides a chance for readers to get to know various children’s book authors and illustrators through their blogs. Google The Next Big Thing Blog Tour to see where this started and how many authors have participated. Stay tuned to meet other authors along the way.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

SPANKY COVER Final SMSince I have not formally marketed my first book or given it the attention it so deserves, I will talk about my middle-grade novel, SPANKY: A Soldier’s Son.

I had been working on a few picture books and a second middle-grade novel about a girl coming of age in 1968 when my life took an abrupt change. I became a captain as well as navigator, crew, cook, detailer and provisioner, cruising full-time with my husband on our 16-year-old trawler, FREEBIRD.

Freebird, Great Kills Harbor, Staton Island, NY

Freebird, Great Kills Harbor, Staton Island, NY

Marketing a book at the same time just wasn’t in the cards–the challenges of this adventure required my full attention. So I e-published and created a print-on-demand version of my first novel, SPANKY: A Soldier’s Son, before we departed.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

SPANKY’S story began as a simple tale about a boy who wanted to make his dad proud. But by the time I published it, the novel had evolved into a more fully fleshed out story with the multiple themes of bullies and war, facing fears, communication, friendship and the true meaning of being a hero.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Children’s Literature: Middle-Grade Fiction.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Whoa. I had to spend some time on IMDB to figure this one out! I’d pick Renee Zellweger to be Spanky’s mom, Matt Damon for his dad, Olivia Wilde as Miss Anders, Queen Latifa would make a perfect Ms. Badu and since I don’t know many child actors, I’ll opt for child versions of Naomi Cambell or Jennifer Lopez for Jazz, Mollie Ringwald or Jennifer Lawrence for Maggie, Gregory Peck for Darwin, Russell Crowe for Mack Malone, and (yeah, I know) Heath Ledger for Spanky – or I’d just recast young versions of the Breakfast Club members.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When his hero dad is shipped to Afghanistan, snake sketcher, camping lover Spanky McDougal, who must face his debilitating fears about bullies–both at school and in war, gets the girl, saves the day and ultimately becomes a real life hero.

6) Who is publishing your book?IMG_2793

When we decided to cruise for a year,
my editing company, My Climbing Tree, LLC,
e-published SPANKY and recently produced a print-on-demand copy through CreateSpace.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft? A year. But after recognizing the real story? About six years.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It is a contemporary, school-based coming of age story, with influences from Jerry Spinelli, Beverly Cleary, Robert Cormier, and probably JD Salinger, but I personally haven’t read anything that is similar. One child who wrote me said Spanky’s voice reminded her of Percy Jackson. I guess I should read one of the books in that series!

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

There were a multitude of inspirations. Many years ago, someone who must have been in a lot of his own pain told me I’d disappointed my recently deceased father. That and growing up in a neighborhood of 14 bullies ignited the idea. Aching over the news stories that covered children trying to navigate life with a deployed parent broadened the story. The encouragement of a fellow Vermont College writer, Trent Reedy, who served in Afghanistan propelled it. A Vermont College lecture on the politics of Dr. Seuss by M.T. Anderson deepened it. And realizing that there will likely always be wars against bullies of all ages, I wanted to write a school-based coming of age story that also asks questions about war, about young and old bullies without giving the answers. Ultimately, this is a story about friendship, and the importance of facing and communicating your fears.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Kirkus gave it a wonderful review, saying Spanky: A Soldier’s Son is “An endearing novel; may inspire young readers to find the hero in themselves.” But the best review I’ve received is from a young girl I’ve never met whose dad is deployed. She said, “’I love it!’ Spanky is better than any book I am reading right now! It feels real because I know how Spanky feels with his father gone. Everyone should read this book so people who are not military know how it feels to be military. Thank you Miss. Sue for writing this book!”

Thank you for tuning in. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of SPANKY: A Soldier’s Sonfor yourself or the 7-12 year old in your life. Or perhaps let me help you donate a copy to a military child. IMG_2383Contact me through my website, MyClimbingTree.com.

I want to thank Annemarie O’Brien for tagging me. Be sure to read her blog post about Lara’s Gift.

I am tagging Janet McLaughlin, the author of GET PSYCHED who just released her second book in the series.