Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dracula, Vampires, and Other Supernatural Powers

By Sydney Scrogham

Do you believe in miracles? Do you wish that the Twilight stories were real? What if you could come face-to-face with the supernatural and live to tell about it?

Sighisoara, Romania
Romania, as a whole, is known as Dracula’s home. On the last day of my trip, my team took a bus ride to the medieval city of Sighisoara, Romania. (Try saying that five times fast.) Stepping into the city, I felt like I was in a movie, or walking through the countries of Epcot at Disney World. Stumbling on uneven cobblestones, marveling at the pastel colors of buildings, trying to wrap my mind around how this church was built before America even existed, I tried to capture the beauty of the city on camera. I failed. There’s something about breathing the air, hearing the honking cars and screeching birds, and feeling the sun on my face with a cool breeze that a camera just can’t capture.

Dracula's birthplace
Our guide took us to Dracula’s birthplace, a bright yellow building now made into a restaurant for tourists. He told us how Vlad Dracul was known as “The Impaler,” and feared by many people. His original last name meant “Spikes,” but at some point Vlad had decided to take his father’s name from the coat of arms. The coat of arms was a dragon, and since there is no Romanian word for “dragon,” Vlad’s name simply became “Dracul.” Once the Germans heard stories of Vlad the Impaler, the truth had become twisted. As his victims were being impaled, Vlad would sit by and eat; the Germans made up the myth of Vlad Dracul drinking the blood of his victims. Voila, the legend of Dracula.

Sign outside Dracula's birthplace
As I listened to this brief snippet of history, I couldn’t help but think of all the stories on the shelves now about vampires. Why are people so fascinated with the supernatural? What is so appealing about a lover that can suck you dry before you blink? Okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but still—it’s like something deep inside of us knows there’s something bigger than us out there in the universe.

Vacation Bible School in one of Oradea's parks
Back in Oradea, Romania, I’d gotten to see a little taste of that supernatural in action. My team had just done a vacation Bible school curriculum in a local park with children who bubbled over with enthusiasm, much like American children. Now, breaking into our small groups, we moved out around the basketball court to ask people if we could pray for them.

My small group went to talk to an elderly couple. They reminded me a lot of my own grandparents, gentle faces with smiles, shaky hands, and soft voices. Our translator helped us talk to the woman, who told us her husband, Alexander, was sick with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Alexander’s face was like a stone—completely blank. We prayed for his healing once and didn’t see a change in his demeanor, but his wife thanked us anyway. We were getting ready to walk away when Jonathan, one of my teammates, suggested that we pray for Alexander again.

Trying not to feel disappointed, I laid my hand on Alexander’s shoulder one more time and started to pray. While we were praying, Jonathan began singing “How Great Is Our God.” I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that some of the girls in our small group were starting to back away from the prayer circle with overwhelming tears in their eyes. I couldn’t see Alexander because of the white baseball cap on his head, but I stepped away to offer one of the girls a tissue. When I looked back at everyone, I could see the lower half of Alexander’s wrinkled face. His lower lip was trembling violently with emotion, and a tear dripped off the tip of his nose. My heart swelled inside my chest, suffocating me, and I, too, began to cry out of love for a man I’d never met before. I could be his granddaughter; my grandfather could be dying, slowly wasting away with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

The fortress
Our prayers were cut short by one of our leaders telling us we needed to leave the park suddenly for safety reasons. We each hugged Alexander, who looked at us, his eyes taking us in for the first time, while he continued to sob. Our translator spoke to him, and he nodded. Alexander’s wife had told us that he couldn’t understand words anymore because of the Alzheimer’s, and I almost laughed, because he certainly understood now.

As we walked away from the park that evening, I knew I’d seen God heal a man and defy the laws of medicine and science. In a supernatural surge, all of us had ended up in tears. The funny thing about miracles is that they have a way of growing on everyone who witnesses them. The new books on the shelves staring vamps and werewolves and people with wings might not be too far off. I’ve seen it with my own eyes—the supernatural does exist.

Author Sydney Scrogham walking through the streets of Sishisoara 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Living the Dream: New Indie Bookstore

For our first installment of Leap Book authors reaching their dreams, we're featuring Kitty Keswick, writer of the Freaksville series. Kitty is not only a storyteller, she's also a booklover. In addition to her large personal book collection, she considered it a privilege to work in a bookstore. Now she's on the verge of realizing a lifelong dream: opening an Indie bookstore.

Leap is thrilled that she's taken this step during times when so many bookstores are shutting their doors. Instead, Kitty is infusing new life into downtown Logansport, Indiana, with her Some Kind of Wonderful bookstore. The store, which will also have a coffee shop, is slated to open on Main Street in the Greensfelder Building. This historic edifice has been renovated on the exterior; now work will be done on the interior to turn it into a haven for booklovers.

Greensfelder Building on Main St.
Kitty is the author of Freaksville and the forthcoming Furry and Freaked. For Indiana residents who would like to meet her in person, Kitty will be appearing at the library on October 1, 2011.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reaching Your Dreams

Leap is drawn to authors who lead creative lives. We strongly believe that authors who are involved, engaged, and giving bring something extra to the pages of their work. When Leap Books opened, we sent out the following opening to our press release:

Once in blue moon, a publisher comes along who does things in an innovative way. Leap Books opened their doors on the night of the blue moon, expecting something magical to happen. And it did.

We launched our debut authors in the direction of their dreams. Now we invite you to take a Leap with us. You’ll be glad you did...

Not only have we launched several first-time authors, but we've been lucky enough to help one teen author reach her dream of publication.

For all of our authors, though, publication isn't their only dream. We've found that creative people tend to dream big, so for the next week or so, we'll be featuring some of the ways are authors are living their dreams. We hope it will inspire you to reach for the stars...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Advice for Teen Writers (Part II, Bonnie J. Doerr)

Anna's back...
with Part II of her interview with author Bonnie J. Doerr, the award-winning author of eco-mysteries, including Island Sting and Stakeout

Because Bonnie's responses are so much fun and comprehensive, we've dividing the interview into two parts. Here's PART 2: 

·                     How much research goes into each of your books?
I spend several weeks each year where my stories are set—the Florida Keys. Now that I live in western North Carolina, I make this research trip during February. Yes, I hate cold weather. But, hey, many animals and people migrate to the Keys for winter. I’m simply following my sources. Honest!

Island friends connect me with sources who are experienced and knowledgeable in specific environmental issues. These dedicated people help me build realistic plots. I ask them questions that begin like this: “Is it possible that...?” “What could cause...?” “What would happen if...?” 

I also spend hours observing and interacting with my star critters. For Island Sting I toured the National Key Deer Refuge and spent time with wildlife officers who protect the tiny endangered deer. While planning Stakeout, I spent time with personnel and patients at the Marathon Sea Turtle Hospital, and participated in a nest-monitoring walk. Most recently, I fed injured pelicans and helped release rehabilitated pelicans. Wildlife volunteers and professionals are eager to provide facts, details, and personal experiences that enrich and inspire my stories.
Doerr feeding a Key deer

For me, there’s no substitute for field work. And, wow, do I take lots of notes and pictures. Thank heavens for digital cameras. But when I’m not on location, I spend many additional hours reading news articles and books about the wildlife and environment I feature. 

·                     Do you get really attached to your characters? Do you have a favorite?

On site at a pelican release
My characters do become very real to me. Once, while in Big Pine Key, Florida I nearly asked a Florida Fish and Wildlife employee if he’d recently seen his fellow officer, Mike Kaczynski. I was eager to know whether Mike and Kenzie’s mom were still an item. (Mike, Kenzie, and her mom are all characters in my books rather than real-life people.) Could have been embarrassing. In the book I’m working on now, Kenzie and Angelo are now attending school in Key West. So this coming February, I know I’ll be looking for them when I’m traipsing around town.

As for favorite characters? I think it changes from book to book. I was crazy about Fisher in Island Sting, but it was Ana who won my heart in Stakeout.

·                     How would you advise young adults who want to become published authors?

I’m going to answer this with everything I’ve got. Bet you’ll be sorry you asked.
I would tell aspiring authors (of any age) to study many genres. And I do mean study—via online courses, books, workshops, conference sessions, college programs, any and every way you can. As with any art, it’s important to first learn established rules and practice proven techniques. Then you’ll be prepared to change it all up when you’ve developed your own skills and style. 

Study and write with people who challenge and stimulate you. Then emerge from your comfort zone. Interact with a variety of real people in real life. Even if you write fantasy, your work has to connect with real people. 

Read much, listen well, and never stop learning. 

Don’t fixate on a troublesome manuscript hoping it will eventually, perfectly please everyone (including yourself). It never will. Let it go. Turn it in. Send it out. Move on. Capture that energy for the next project. You can return to that problem child later with fresh eyes.
Continually monitor and research the before-and-after aspects of all publishing options.  No one path is right for every author.

Last of all, the most challenging skill for pre- and post-published authors is learning to deal with criticism. Accept it, ignore it, or apply it, but do so with grace. Maybe I’ll paint the letters G-R-A-C-E on a pebble and carry it with me. Might help me follow my own advice.

For more information on Bonnie Doerr, her books, endangered animals, visit her at her blog, Bonnie Blogs Green, and her website for more information about her books and awards, and for lots of information about endangered species.

Here are Doerr's most recent books. Watch for PELICAN PERIL coming next.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teen Interview: Bonnie J. Doerr (Part I)

Anna Sattler
Welcome back, Anna!
Anna has interviewed author Bonnie J. Doerr, who is the award-winning author of eco-mysteries, including Island Sting and Stakeout. Because Bonnie's responses are so much fun and comprehensive, we're dividing the interview into two parts. Here's PART 1:

·                     What inspired your books?

There are many young people with huge hearts who actively care about each other and the world in which they live. A growing number of teens are involved in environmental stewardship. We never hear enough about these kids. They are my real inspiration. 

For years I lived in the fragile Florida Keys where environmental issues are impossible to ignore. Throughout this chain of islands, there are countless reports of mysterious assaults on wildlife and habitat. For example, recently a loggerhead sea turtle was found floating with a pneumatic spear-gun arrow protruding from its head. Fortunately, it was rescued and survived. My own stories are shaped from such sad tales.

I create heroic teens who investigate and solve ecological crimes and write these sleuths into fun, fast-paced, contemporary novels.How these kids manage to secretly investigate crime, nab treacherous criminals, deal with personal family problems, and engage in a bit of romance all at the same time is beyond me. They experience some scary, serious danger, but they always pull it off.

·                    What sparked your interest in wildlife preservation?

My father lit my passion for all things wild—animal or vegetable.  He was a Boy Scout leader who took our family on adventures across theUnited States. When we weren’t on the road, we spent weekends and summers lakeside in the Pennsylvania mountains. I had no siblings near my age, so I roamed alone imagining friendships with other living things—natural beings that were rooted, winged, finned, two-legged, four-legged, or had no legs at all. (I wasn’t on the best of terms with every six or eight-legged critter.)

These trips to the mountains usually ended with little Bonnie being frisked for live contraband before the drive home to suburbia. More than once, Mom realized she’d forgotten the inspection. So she’d pull off the road in the countryside, little Bonnie would be busted, and tadpoles, newts, or an occasional baby snake would be returned to the wild. 

Nature is the supreme creation. If we destroy it, we destroy ourselves. How can we not champion its preservation?

·                     When did you begin writing?

There’s a great deal of preparation before words are committed to the page. I spent most of my life in preparation.

As a child, I created plots in my mind and acted them out. Didn’t we all? Most every playdate started with the words, “Pretend that you...” Proceeded with, “Pretend that I...” And then the fun began. There was a mystery to be solved. A bad guy to run from. A thief to catch. An animal to save.

When I was alone I manipulated miniature figures and assorted props to act out stories. After I went to bed at night, I often imagined I was engaged in some exciting drama. I often woke lying sideways at the wrong end of the mattress. This after sliding off blankets folded saddle style over the foot of the bed frame. Sometimes I still had my reins in hand. (Okay, they were belts I’d attached to the bedpost for a bridle.) Dang, it was hard to stay on that horse. It seems like I’ve been creating stories forever. 

But it wasn’t until I reached high school that I began writing. I reported feature stories for the school newspaper and wrote poetry—the perfect outlet for teenage angst. As for novel writing, that came much later. After I was long established in my career, about fourteen years ago, I finally reached a point where I could carve out time to seriously study the craft.

And study it, she did. Bonnie has received several awards for her work. Visit her at her blog, Bonnie Blogs Green, and her website for more information about her books and awards, and for lots of information about endangered species.

 Here's Bonnie holding one of her awards: