Monday, 24 March 2014

Ninja Librarians? Yes. They exist and They're Awesome

My bosom buddy in the writing world, Jen Swann Downey, is launching her debut middle grade action adventure novel, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: THE ACCIDENTAL KEYHAND.

The Ninja Librarians

Coming from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky April 15, 2014
Twelve-year-old Dorothea Barnes can hold her own in any fake Renaissance Faire sword-fight, but she despairs of ever finding something more important to do with her sword. Then she stumbles into Petrarch's Library, the sprawling headquarters of a secret society of librarians. Ninja librarians.

The Library's wings stretch into every century that has passed since the invention of the written word. The librarians who serve it pursue an important mission: Protect those whose words have gotten them in trouble. They pull heretics off of stakes in fourteenth century Spain, track down stolen manuscripts through the wilds of ancient Persia, and maneuver always against those who prefer to control the flow of ideas and information for their own gain.

Dorrie wants nothing more than to be allowed to stay and apprentice with these unusual librarians. Some of them, however, fear Dorrie has connections to the Foundation, an old and ruthless enemy. The Library's Director of Security would like to send Dorrie home and permanently close the door on the twenty-first century behind her. When a traitor arises from within the Library, events pull Dorrie into a pivotal role. But in order to save Petrarch's Library, she may have to erase herself from its history, forever.
Check out the trailer here.
You can pre-order Ninja Librarians here.
Find Jen on facebook, twitter, and her website.
And stayed tuned because awesome Ninja Librarian swag is to follow in the next few weeks... 
Jen stopped by (virtually) for a quick interview. She looked great and smelled nice.

What inspired you to write The Ninja Librarians?

Many things! Picture a tornado with its load of cows and corrugated roofing and origami swans. (Tornados are packed with origami swans) My love for librarians, my magpie obsession with history. A picture of a girl at a Renaissance Faire. But mostly, a mental image of a sprawling library connecting up different times and places. I love libraries (as in shiver and palpitate for them) and the kid (eh-hem, and adult) in me continues to enjoy imagining exploring and sleeping and waking in an endless varied dusty shining accidental-secret-filled magical one.  
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
In my mid twenties, when I was short of rent money and sense, I tossed off some truly AWFUL picture book manuscripts, thinking that I could "you know" make a quick sale and solve my rent problem, if not my sense problem. (of which I was, naturally, entirely unaware). These manuscripts had "messages". Big fat messages with just enough story spackled between the individual neon letters to hold them together.  Terrible! There's nothing less enjoyable than a message disguised as a story. In my older humble opinion, meaning (and message) must spring out of story.
That said, if readers, along with Dorrie begin to get a palpable sense of the courage it has taken (takes) in many times and places for individuals to simply express their opinions, I won't be sad.


What was the hardest scene to write (no spoilers!)?
Well, judging from the number of times I RE-wrote the scene, I'd have to say the beginning! The whole first two chapters really. There were so many strands of the story to set in motion, clues to plant, relationships to paint, and Dorrie's state of mind to convey, all while trying to balance that against the need to get the story moving and the reader properly invited in, and settled on the edge of a seat with a mug of cocoa perched precariously on lap.
Which character do you relate to the most? Why?
Well I suppose I'm sort of split. Not to be predictable but as a first time novelist. Eh-hem. Er. Young timeless remembered me feels deeply for Dorrie's desire to have agency and a means to defend those she cares about in a world where dark threatening shadows are sensed if not seen in their detail every day.  Older, occasionally reflective me, running a family zoo, and trying to make best most responsible choices in an imperfect world probably relates most to Hypatia and her efforts to keep the immediate "family" working and functioning together and trying to make that be a good thing for the larger world. Most everyday me relates mostly to Phillip and his desire to eat the most he can of the next good thing.
Outside of family, what was the greatest support while you wrote this novel? 

Besides you? ; )  And my willing critiquing victims? (May they enjoy their freedom and peace until I'm done with the first draft of Book 2) I'd have to favorite children's authors. Whenever I felt lost or unsure of my craft, I would pick up books by Eva Ibbotson, and Dodie Smith, Lloyd Alexander, Terry Pratchett, and Betty MacDonald. Sometimes the point would be to sink with vivifying pleasure into their delicious story-telling. And sometimes I'd be studying just how they'd managed to accomplish what they did. The pacing, the conveying of character, the braiding of funny and serious, etc.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
That isn't already out there? Let's see...Always seat yourself on a thumbtack when commencing writerly work....

No, stop! Don't! My real advice?

Take your writing seriously in the good way. Give it your regular attention. Make it your work. Protect your work time, work place. Build your manuscript bit by bit, day by day.

I know some people love to jump "write" in with the drafting, and it really works for a subset of those people ; ) but, consider doing your plotting up front.
Consider giving yourself lots of extra time to plot up front. Consider, investing in an index card company. Really. Buy some company stock. Then buy some cards. Lots of cards. So that you never have to be stingy with them. So that if you wanted you could pave a mile of interstate with them.
Write out your progressions of plot points on them for various character or plot arcs. Capture your random ideas. "Oooh, her pencil should have a clown head eraser on it!". Capture your questions about character motives.
Capture all those little ideas for interactions, character tics, scraps of dialogue. Why? Because index cards can be shuffled, easily organized, easily boxed, easily arranged and re-arranged, easily pinned to foamboards, or laid out in great narrative lines on your living room floor. Be friends with index cards!

Set a word count goal for yourself every day you intend to draft. Not "I'm going to write for two hours" but "I'm going to write 750 words today".  Force yourself to meet it even if you have to hurry and some of the sentences don't exactly make sense.

Don't edit yourself as you're drafting. Think of drafting and self-editing as two absolutely distinct processes. Invite your first draft to suck. Dare yourself to let it. Play.

When you're stuck...WALK!  You'd be amazed what plot knots will unravel, and what character development revelations that will blossom when you walk. Which will be great, because your pockets will be stuffed with blank index cards, and you'll have a pen in your hand. Never leave home without them. You will only remember the tiniest percentage of what you conjured on your walk, or at the grocery store, or on the drive home if you wait until you're home to try to get it down.

When you think you're done revising and its ready to share with agents and editors, let that be a sign that its not. Give yourself at least a week away from the manuscript, preferably two. Revise. Rinse and Repeat. At least three times.

Lastly? Don't let worries about a perceived genius deficit  or "writer unworthiness" keep you from starting or finishing a book. Just be a person committing to writing a beginning, a middle, and an end. Unlike genius, its easy to tell whether you have one of each of those, or you don't. 

What did you have for supper last night?
Baked fish. It didn't go well. Never use a recipe off of the internet that calls for cooking spray.
Is there an actor who you think looks like your MC?
Well the real question I know the name of any kid actors? Or any actors under 30 for that matter! Here's a picture. I got off the internet. I had to watch a thirty second advertisement for the privilege! I'd say that's about how I imagine Dorrie....
Vanilla or chocolate?
Chocolate. Even if there was only vanilla in the world.

 As a little kid, what did you want to be be when you grew up?What didn't I want to be! But most often.....a spy.

Last book you read.
Suffrage Days: Stories from the Women's Suffrage Movement. Because in Book Two....: )

Thanks, Jen!

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