Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Braden Bell's Penumbras Blog Tour

One of my many wonderful author friends has come out with another book for middle grade readers. I've know Braden to be a skilled writer who knows how to captivate young people on the page and keep them reading. Take a minute and find out more about Braden and his writing through this interview and promotional tour of his latest book.


Q: Tell us about Penumbras.

A: Penumbras is the second volume in The Middle School Magic series. The first installment, The Kindling  came out last summer. I am currently working on the third volume, which will hopefully come out next summer.

Q: “Penumbras” is a somewhat unusual title. Can you explain it?

A: A penumbra is a vague, shadowy, area, neither fully light nor dark. The Kindling, the first book in the series was about the sparking of new and exciting powers. This particular book follows the characters as they confront the complex consequences of those initial events and confront the shadowy places in their own hearts.

Q: How did you get the idea for this series?

A: One night during a sky-splitting spring thunderstorm, my kids came home from a church activity and told me about a man they had seen driving home. He had a black cape and was walking across people’s yards in the storm. Wondering about who he was and what he was doing triggered the idea for the book. I love that triggers can come from one single event. This is what happens to me too. 

Q: What is your background?

A: I am a middle school choir and theatre director at a small private school. I’m the father of five children and the husband of one wonderful wife.

Q: Speaking of that background, is it a coincidence that a middle school theatre and choir teacher has such a prominent part in the book? How about the students and other teachers in the book? Are they based on anyone specific?

A: Well, writers write what they know! Dr. Timberi is admittedly similar to me in some ways. However, that’s not because he’s modeled on me. Rather, it’s because he is someone I would like to be. As far as the other characters, in the very beginning, I did sort of model their voices on some specific people—but that changed within a few pages of the first draft and they quickly become their own unique characters.

Q: Beyond the characters, are there any other events based on real life experiences?

A: There is a sad scene towards the end between Dr. Timberi and one of his students. While it is not an exact replication, being a theatre director means I have dealt with disappointed and/or angry students (and parents!) for many years. I tend to have a pretty thick skin. However, there are occasional times when this gets to me. This scene was actually inspired by a particularly difficult confrontation with a student of whom I was quite fond. I wrote the scene as a way of working through the incident—and ended up keeping it. The only other thing that might be based in reality is the degree to which teachers truly do care about their students. I don’t think the students often realize just how much teachers and other adult figures care about them and what they would do to protect and help them. I was a public school teacher for five years and my husband has been for over 25 years. I can relate to this very well. 


Q: What is your favorite thing to do, besides reading or writing?

A: My wife and I love to watch old movies, or adaptations of literary classics. Nearly anything by the BBC! I also love working in my yard. This is something I have in common with Braden. I love old movies and BBC, but I don't love working in my yard so much. I have a feeling from facebook posts Braden writes that we also both love Mexican food. 


BLURB:
Conner Dell didn't meant to blow up the school bus.
Or the bathrooms.
In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.
But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.
***
Conner Dell wants to be good--he really does. But he is terrified that he might be turning into a Darkhand, especially when new powers start to surface. What's worse, the Stalker is following Conner, but no one else seems to be able to see him. The Magi think he might be hallucinating, the guilt of what happened in the Shadowbox keeps weighing on him, and his relationship with Melanie Stephens is complicating things. Even for a Magi, Conner knows his life is anything but normal. 

Author Bio:

Braden Bell grew up in Farmington, Utah and graduated from Davis High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theatre from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in educational theatre from New York University. He and his wife, Meredith live  with their five children on a quiet, wooded lot outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches theatre and music at a private school. An experienced performer, Braden enjoys singing, acting, reading, gardening, and long walks with the dog. 


EXCERPT:
CHAPTER ONE
SHADOW PUPPETS
Conner Dell didn’t mean to blow up the school bus.
Or the bathrooms.
In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.
But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.
It all started on the annual seventh grade science trip to the Sea Lab at Dauphin Island, Alabama. Fifty-four thirteen-year-olds on a five-day field trip. What could go wrong?
Especially when three of them happened to be Magi.
#
For a fraction of a second, Conner thought he saw shadows slithering along the base of the cinderblock walls. Tensing, he blinked and looked again.
Nothing. He was alone in the darkness of his dorm room.
Well, except for his friend and fieldtrip roommate, Pilaf.
            Across the room, Pilaf disturbed the darkness by turning his flashlight on and digging through a giant floral print suitcase. Fishing a book out, Pilaf hunched over, tucked the flashlight under his chin, and read.
            “What are you reading?” Conner asked.
             “Sorry. Did I wake you up?” Pilaf squeaked. “I couldn’t sleep. I guess I slept too much on the bus.”
            “No worries.” Conner burrowed into his sleeping bag. He didn’t like messing with sheets on these trips. The springs of the ancient bed creaked beneath him. “I’m not sleepy either.” Lexa? Can you hear me? Conner reached out in his thoughts, wondering if his twin sister was awake in her room on the girls’s floor. Head-talking was a cool benefit of being one of the Magi—a secret group of warriors who used the power of Light to battle evil.
No answer from Lexa. Her allergy medicine must have knocked her out.
Melanie? He tried Lexa’s best friend, Melanie Stephens—also one of the Magi-in-training. Conner listened for her response, trying to ignore the backflip in his chest that came when he thought of her. No answer. Melanie had taken something for motion sickness on the bus. She must be knocked out too.
            Conner jerked up as something skittered across the ceiling right above him. No doubt this time. He grabbed his own flashlight, raking the beam across the ceiling tiles as someone whispered his name.
Coooonnerrrrrr.
            “What?” Conner pointed his flashlight at Pilaf, who looked up from his book, blinking behind his thick glasses. Pilaf’s blinks always reminded Conner of the way a light on a computer blinked when it processed data.
            “What?” Pilaf squinted back at him.
            “Why did you call me?” Conner asked.
            “I didn’t.” Pilaf looked down at his book.
            On edge now, Conner lay back down, scanning the room for more shadowy movement, his fingers ready to snap his flashlight back on at any second.
Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l.
            A whispered, hissing sort of growl sounded in his head as a flicker of movement caught his eye. He whipped his head around in time to see a shadowy tail vanish under Pilaf’s bed. Flipping his flashlight on, he investigated the space under the metal frame.
Nothing there.
            “What are you doing, Conner?” Pilaf managed to blink and stare at the same time.
Trying to protect you from slithery shadow monsters that could slurp your soul like a slushie, Conner thought. How could he keep the flashlight on without alarming Pilaf? Out loud, he said, “Uh, it’s a game. Flashlight tag. You’re it.” He shined the flashlight at Pilaf.
            “How do you play?”
            “Well . . . one person’s it and he shines a flashlight all over the room.”
            “That’s all?” Pilaf blinked until Conner wondered if he was broadcasting the telephone book in Morse code. “It seems kind of pointless.”
            “Uh, yeah.” Conner said. “You’re right. Lame. How about shadow puppets?” He slipped his hand in front of the flashlight, wiggling his fingers until the shadow resembled a horse.
            “Cool!” Pilaf shouted.
            A knock at the door interrupted them and a tired-looking science teacher poked his head in, glaring beneath tousled red hair. “What’s going on in here?”
            “Sorry, Mr. Keller,” Pilaf said. “We slept on the bus ride, so we’re not tired. Conner’s making shadows with his hands. Look, a horse!”
“Neeeiiiiggghhh.” Conner threw in sound effects as a special feature.
            Apparently unimpressed with great art, Mr. Keller frowned. “Get some sleep. We have a full day tomorrow.”
            “Yes, sir.” Conner swallowed his depression at the thought of a five-day science class. Five days of plankton, ocean salinity, salt marshes, and beach ecology. Five days of science, 24/7. At least they were close to the beach. That might be fun.
            “Do another one,” Pilaf whispered as the sound of Mr. Keller’s footsteps retreated down the hall.
            “Okay, but be quiet this time.” Conner opened his fingers, making a snake’s mouth, complete with a flickering tongue.
It seemed so real that Conner thought he heard a hiss. Unsettled, he dropped his hands, but the hissing noise continued, twisting into words.
Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l—
Trying to squash the sound, Conner raised his voice. “Here’s another one.” He cupped his hands on top of each other, stuck his thumb up, and opened his fingers slightly.
“Wow!” Pilaf yelled. “A wolf!” He giggled as Conner opened the mouth and growled. “Little pig, little pig let me come in.” Conner prayed that none of the other seventh-grade boys heard he’d been doing Three Little Pigs shadow plays. That would not be cool.
Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l—
The weird voice came louder. Conner dropped his hands away from the flashlight.
The wolf head stayed there.
Fighting panic, Conner switched the flashlight off, but the wolf head remained, darker than the darkest shadows on the wall.
It stretched and grew bigger, becoming life-sized within seconds. It turned and stared at Conner, a three-dimensional head sticking out of the wall like some kind of freaky hunting souvenir.
The wolf growled, then jumped off the wall, and sailed across the room toward Conner.




Are you intrigued by this book yet? Or have thought of a favorite young person who would enjoy it. Here's some links to find out more. 


Monday, July 22, 2013

Living Life One Mistake at a Time

We all make mistakes. It's part of learning, living, and growing. A couple of weeks ago I decided to glue a handle on a delicate teacup that belongs to my daughter. Since I do pottery, people are often asking me what a good glue is for doing these kinds of projects. And truth be told, I don't glue much of my own stuff. If it's broken, I just make another. And over the years I haven't found a glue that I've loved for repairing ceramics. Well, I decided to use the Krazy glue since I'd heard it works well. There's something about me you may not know about. I don't read instructions unless I try first and fail. I'd rather use the method of "just go for it." So using my well-developed method, I glued the pieces together and while I tried to adjust the cup handle, set my fingers down on our beautiful granite countertop. One instant later my fingers would not budge from the counter. I was glued to it. However the handle was not glued to the tea cup. Now I had one hand free and one hand glued to the counter. I could not reach my phone, so I read the instructions on the tube.

The instructions warned, "instantly bonds skin." Okay so that information might have helped me earlier. Then there was a list of things to do in case you did bond skin. Although I had all the necessary things to free myself. I could not move to get the nail polish remover or warm soapy water. Immediately my mind went to Aron Ralston. You might recall that he's the young man who cut off his own arm after being trapped by a large boulder in a slot canyon in Southern Utah. Before Aron cut off his own arm, I have no doubt that he thought of all the tools he might have brought had he known ahead that he might find himself in such a predicament: surgical tools, tourniquet, huge bandages, and high doses of pain killer. Even though I knew the consequences between Aron and I were proportionally different, we did face a similar dilemma. He had to cut off his arm to save his life. I would have to cut off my fingers to save mine. Okay that's not true, but I might have to rip my hand away and leave behind a layer of skin. Not a pleasant thought. Fortunately, my favorite man drove up the drive before I reacted in such a desperate way. It still took us about thirty minutes to free my fingers. I'd like to say that from here on out, I'll read the instructions first--but I kind of doubt it. Living life, one mistake at a time, is just the way of things.