Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

Paranormal Romance is a Winner

When it comes to books, Lisa Mangum knows her stuff. An avid reader, Lisa graduated with honors from the English program at the University of Utah. Since then she has worked in numerous editorial roles, including her current position as an editor for Deseret Books and its national arm, Shadow Mountain.

“Words were always very important to me and growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on as well as writing lots of stories,” she says. “I was an author first.” But being an editor was just as important to her as being an author.
“When people found out I was studying for an English degree, they always asked, ‘So you want to be a teacher?’” Mangum says, “I’d always answer, ‘No I want to be an editor.’ I had to laugh a little when the response was, ‘Can you do that with an English degree?’”

In the beginning, Lisa’s creative writing took a back seat to her editing career as she tried to learn all she could about publishing books, but she says, “About five years ago, some friends at work and I started a writing group together. We were all aspiring, amateur writers and together we decided to make writing a priority. We meet every other week for breakfast and to talk about our projects. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have finished The Hourglass Door without the help and encouragement from my writing group. And the deadlines didn’t hurt either.”

Lisa continues, “The same day I came up with the story of Abby and Dante I was able to pitch it to Chris Schoebinger (Shadow Mountain’s product director over YA fiction) in a rather informal setting. He was excited about what I had done and encouraged me to write it. When I was finished, I handed it directly to him for his review. Once the manuscript was in Chris’s hands, it went through the same process as any other submission Shadow Mountain reviews. Ultimately, I knew that if Chris liked it, he’d say yes. And if he didn’t, he’d say no. His decision was based on the merits of the book, not because he knew me.”

Anyone who has tried to publish a book knows that the path to publication is not always so easy. Mangum says, “Having been involved with the publishing process for so long, I can say with certainty that just as no two books are the same, no two paths to publication are the same. My path, thankfully, was pretty short and uneventful, for which I am very grateful.”

The Hourglass Door, the first book in a planned trilogy, introduces readers to Abby Edmunds, a high school senior who is hoping to be accepted into Emery College, her primary choice. Her final year in high school seems promising. She has good friends, a cute boyfriend, and she is involved with the production of the senior play, but her satisfaction with it all alters slightly when she meets Dante Alexander, a foreign exchange student from Italy.

“I always knew the story of Abby and Dante would be a trilogy,” Lisa says. “That first day when I got the idea for the story and started outlining, I knew where book one would end, where book two would start, and where book three would end. Having some of those landmark scenes already in place before I started writing proved helpful as it kept the story on track. Whenever I’d run up against a roadblock, I’d think, ‘Well, what do I have to do to get the characters to this point?’ And I’d usually find an answer pretty quickly. While I have adjusted and revised my original outline, many of those key scenes have remained the same.”

The series deals with a bit of the supernatural in that time travel is involved. Lisa says, “I have always loved fantasy and grew up reading stories where the impossible is possible. It seemed like most of the stories I read about time travel went into the past. I wondered what it might be like to have the time traveling be into the future (at least, what would be considered the future for some of the characters). That gave me the chance to keep the story contemporary and still mix in some mystery and a touch of supernatural. I’m also a sucker for a good love story, so when it was my turn to write a book, I knew I wanted to blend those elements.”

Some readers might compare The Hourglass Door to Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series, but Lisa herself worked hard to make her book unique. “I tried to write a strong female character in Abby,” Lisa says. “Someone who knew who she was and what she wanted. I wanted a character who acted more than she was acted upon; a character whose decisions and choices mattered. I also wanted to explore a unique view of time travel and how it might be accomplished and what it might mean for the people involved.

“Twilight has become the currency of conversation when people talk about YA fiction these days, a common ground and a convenient comparison point,” she adds. “So, yes, you could say my book continues the long-standing tradition of YA romance where a female character is faced with life-changing decisions, and she must choose between the divided desires of her heart. But that same formula is present in lots of other YA books, not just Twilight. The formula is part of what we love about the genre.

“Ultimately, I think what makes my book unique is what makes any book unique: the author’s voice. The story of Abby and Dante would have been different had another author written it,” Lisa says. “Good or bad, The Hourglass Door is the story as I wrote it, and I hope readers enjoy the writing style, the setting and mood and dialogue, the characters and the story.”

And as a reader, I for one enjoyed the book and The Golden Spiral.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Myers takes the reader into Iraq (not long before Saddam is taken down as the leader) and shows what it's really like to be at war. The language is sometimes strong, but the quality of story makes this a book I would highly recommend to even my junior high school students. It also allows the reader to consider the thoughts of those on the other side.

Probably the best statement I've ever heard concerning the continuation of war there comes on page 224 where a U.S. Major is talking with a sheik and the sheik says:

"Sir, the war you began is over. That war you won. It was not beautiful in the end—there were no violins, no birds singing in the sky—but it is over. What is going on now is a completely different war. In this war you merely stand on the side and hold the coats. This war is not about you or America. You are trying to stabilize a government in Baghdad. But there are others who are creating—how do the English put it? A shadow government? And which government in the end will rule the Middle East is the new war. Look around you; it is my people who are being killed in the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah. Yes, yes, I know. They kill one or two Americans to make it look good is all."

Think about it.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Can I give a book 10 stars? What a fabulous piece of historical fiction, but what would you expect when you take a former newspaper woman and turn her into a children's writer?

Haddix has well-researched this book about three women who first had roles in the attempt to unionize the New York garment industry, then had their lives shattered in the Triangle Garment Factory fire.

I've read other novels about this fire before (Ashes of Roses, which I also highly recommend) but Uprising goes into more detail, give more insight, and tells a richer story that give us not only fascinating background but the Author's Note at the end proves how we still have changes that need to be made in factory conditions around the world.

Read this book—you will NOT be disappointed, even though you might shed a tear or two.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Princess of Glass -- Jessica Day George

Despite the fact I wasn’t familiar with the fairytale used as a basis for Princess of the Midnight Ball, I loved that book and have already recommended it to many of my students. This time, youngest sister, Princess Poppy, is back in a tale of her own that is woven into the more familiar Cinderella story which made for a delightful read.

It is no wonder that Princess Poppy doesn’t want to dance with the many potential suitors she meets in the royal exchange program her father and some neighboring kings have devised, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t interested in the handsome prince who promises her friendship . . . and perhaps more. But when the penniless servant Eleanora enters the picture, Poppy must unravel where the other girl gets those fine gowns she wears when she is somehow invited to the ball.

A Season of Gifts - Richard Peck

Watch out readers—Grandma Dowdel is back, and her feisty spirit and creative way of dealing with trouble makers hasn’t gotten old, even though Grandma herself has.

In a story told through the eyes of 12-year-old Bob, the son of the new preacher and his family just moved to town, readers will enjoy yet another series of tales set in 1958 Southern Indiana.

Bob and his parents have plenty of trouble of their own, without adding Grandma Dowdel to the mix. Bob is harassed by a bunch of bullies; his older sister, Phyllis, is obsessed with Elvis, or anyone who might remind her of the King; and his younger sister, Ruth Ann, isn’t quite sure she still believes in Santa Claus, despite Grandma Dowdel’s efforts to offer proof to the contrary.

Like A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, this story will make you laugh, it may make you cry, and it will definitely touch your heart. This one will be a great read aloud for teachers to share with their students and parents will want copies for their own children as well.