Karen Fortunati: Author of THE WEIGHT OF ZERO.

With the holidays around the corner, I am reblogging posts of some excellent books to remind readers that books make great gifts.  Here’s one on the YA novel THE WEIGHT OF ZERO…an award winning debut from author Karen Fortunati.

I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Fortunati a few years ago at a writer’s retreat in Avalon NJ.  We shared critiques and bonded over writing, the beach and sharing life stories.  Her brilliant writing stood out then and has only gotten better.  Karen’s debut YA, THE WEIGHT OF ZERO (Delacorte Press), will be out this fall and has already gotten raves and literary recognition.  It is with great pleasure that I feature her on today’s post.  Here’s Karen:

What’s In A Name? by Karen Fortunati

How do writers come up with their characters’ names? Divine inspiration? Subconscious memories intersecting with imagination? Focused creativity? Or just flat out making it up as we go along? For me, it’s a combo of all these methods. Here’s a little insight on the naming of some of my characters in The Weight of Zero.

Catherine Pulaski: The main character popped into my head with her first name firmly established. She was Catherine and there were no bones about it. Since writing her story, I’ve asked myself why “Catherine?” I’m guessing it’s because of my aunt/godmother, Catherine Lonski. Like my mother, she’s been a constant, positive and inspirational influence in my life. In addition, my mom has been interchanging my name with her sister’s for so long, the name feels like mine.

My mother, Margaret Angelo, Aunt Catherine (Lonski), Aunt Marilyn (Librizzi) (l to r) and little Emmy

My mother, Margaret Angelo, Aunt Catherine (Lonski), Aunt Marilyn (Librizzi) (l to r) and little Emmy

Now my fictional Catherine didn’t come with a last name so I had to choose one. Having gone through an American Revolution obsession several years ago, I decided to use a general’s name. I choose Casimir Pulaski, a Polish citizen who became enamored with the cause for independence. Once he got to America, he turned out to be a brilliant tactician and has been called the “Father of the American Cavalry.”

http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/chron/civilwarnotes/pulaski.html

So why him? First off, I’m part Polish. Second, the Pulaski name is familiar to me. I grew up in New Jersey and worked most summers at my father’s pharmacy in Newark. My favorite landmarks for the commute to the store were Newark Airport and the Pulaski Skyway, a huge elevated structure always hulking in the distance.

http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/roads/pulaski/history.shtm

Coincidentally, my dad owned a pharmacy on Pulaski Street in Newark prior to buying the one I worked in for most of my childhood. After writing the story, I feel like I see the Pulaski name everywhere. During a summer trip, we passed signs for the Pulaski Highway in Maryland and it gave me a little thrill. On a visit to the University of Scranton, my alma mater, I discovered a statue of Pulaski in town. I don’t think I had ever noticed it before.

 

Me at the General Pulaski Monument in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Me at the General Pulaski Monument in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Now, in writing this blog post, I’ve learned of another personal connection to General Pulaski. The general died on October 11th which also happens to be the release date of The Weight of Zero. In fact, October 11th is officially General Pulaski Memorial Day. I think the coincidence is weird but in a good way, like I made the right choice in choosing “Pulask

Jody Pulaski: Another name I purposely choose was Catherine’s mother, Jody. Originally, the mother’s name was Caroline (after one of my close friends) but due to the similarity of the two names, my editor thought something different might work better. This time the name jumped out at me – Jody – after one of my oldest and dearest friends. When I needed another name, I had to choose Stephanie, after another oldest and dearest and the remaining third of our friend triumvirate.

Jody Tole, Stephanie Hadley and me (l to r)

Jody Tole, Stephanie Hadley and me (l to r)

Jane Talmadge: I knew I would be naming one of my most favorite characters after my maternal grandmother, Jane. But my grandmother’s last name didn’t feel right so I used an old author pseudonym trick my younger brother Steven had told me about well before I even considered trying to write a book: Use your middle name and street name of house you grew up in. So I choose my grandmother’s first name and the street she raised my mother and her siblings on in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Aunt Darlene:  Again, this was an easy one. I choose Darlene after Darlene Beck-Jacobson. I met Darlene at one of Kathy Temean’s Avalon Full Manuscript Writers Retreats a few months before the release of Darlene’s first book, the wonderful Wheels of Change. From the very start, she’s been a continually supportive and encouraging writing ally and I’m so grateful to have met her.

It’s funny just how much your own experiences inform your writing. In The Weight of Zero, it’s the relationships between the women in the story  – mother, daughter, grandmother, aunt, friend – that help build a supportive network for Catherine.  Looking back on the names I choose, I’m thinking that maybe my writing (and naming) was one way to honor these relationships in my own life.

BDD_WeightOfZero_FB_Cover_1P_NO_DATE

The Weight of Zero: Contemporary Young Adult, Delacorte Press

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its own living death on her again.

But Zero’s return is delayed due to unexpected and meaningful relationships that lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. These relationships along with the care of a gifted psychiatrist alter Catherine’s perception of her diagnosis as a death sentence. This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how some of the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.

GOODREADS

Website: www.karenfortunati.com

Twitter: @karenfortunati

Facebook: @AuthorKarenFortunati        WeightofZero_front cover new12.indd

 Recognition:

A SUMMER/FALL 2016 INDIES INTRODUCE SELECTION

A SHELF AWARENESS BEA2016 YA  BUZZ BOOK

A BARNES AND NOBLE 2016 MOST ANTICIPATED DEBUT 

Kirkus: “Catherine’s acerbically witty narrative voice is razor sharp and often raw, and the confessional tone of her present-tense narration makes clear how overwhelming her pain is…. An honest, informative, and ultimately optimistic novel about living with mental illness.”        re3669

Darlene’s Review of THE WEIGHT OF ZERO:

Catherine – Cat – Pulaski is a high school junior navigating the ups and downs of adolescent friendships and relationships.  She’s also preparing herself for the dreaded appearance of Zero by stockpiling medicine for its inevitable return.  Cat is bipolar and Zero is the crippling depression that makes it impossible to live a normal life.  A life that isn’t defined by her mother’s constant monitoring, therapy sessions, and a mood rating scale from 0-10.  Zero found her once right after her grandmother died.  Cat is determined not to let it get her again without a plan.

            This amazing YA debut gives an honest and true voice to the silent and often un talked about world of mental illness.  It is a story with humor, heart and hope. A story that will stay with you for a long time.  It should be required reading for all high school students.

 

 

 

 

Just One Thing from Author Nancy Viau!

When Darlene asked me to write a post about my new middle grade, I wasn’t sure what I’d say that wouldn’t give away one of the surprises within the plot. Then it hit me—KA-BOOM! I’ll give away a book, so you can see for yourself.

Here’s a bit about how Just One Thing! (illustrated by Timothy Young) came to be:

Having raised two sons (and two daughters, but that’s beside the point), I wanted to write from a boy’s point of view. So naturally, in the beginning stages, I asked them, “What were your memories of growing up?” Their answers: hanging out with friends, the traumatic move from PA to NJ, water gun fights, bikes, soccer, gymnastics, goofing off when homework was due, school projects, road trips to South Philly to visit relatives and eat cheesesteaks, and more. I also asked guys I connected with on the Blue Boards, and they chimed in with: the Booger Wall at school, whoopee cushions, playground obstacles courses, bullies, and nicknames.  (I can’t find these guys on the boards anymore, but Adam, Marcus, and Ryan, if you’re reading this, I promised you a copy for helping me, so contact me.)

Bottom line, many of these adventures became part of Anthony Pantaloni’s quest to find one thing he does well; one thing that replaces the awful nickname he got tagged with in fifth grade, and one thing he could be known for before he moves on to middle school. We all have those things that contribute to our identity. For kids, it’s more profound and constantly changing. How many of you remember that friend who was obsessed with horses, or the jokester who made funny faces behind the teacher’s back, or an amazing athlete, or extremely talented musician?

Just One Thing! is available at bookstores and online. Oh, I almost forgot! You can doodle in the book, but of course, only if it’s your copy. And only if you promise to contemplate, what’s your one thing?              just-one-thing-cover

Nancy Viau no longer worries about finding her one thing for she has found quite a few things she loves, like being a mom, writing, traveling, and working as a librarian assistant. She is the author of the picture books City Street Beat, Look What I Can Do! and Storm Song, and an additional middle-grade novel, Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head. Nancy grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA and now resides in South Jersey. www.NancyViau.com/ @NancyViau1

To win a copy of JUST ONE THING, Leave a comment on what your one thing is and how/when you discovered it.  Darlene will draw a name at random and announce the winner here on Wednesday, 12-7-16.

 

 

 

NJSCBWI Craft Weekend Rocks!

It was a joy to share workshops with fellow writers at the New Jersey Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (NJSCBWI) Fall Craft Weekend November 12-13 at the Theological Seminary in Princeton. NJ.  I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop titled SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET: HARVESTING YOUR ANCESTRY FOR STORY.  There were other workshops as well as panels of agents and editors discussing their wants in children’s books.  Here are some photo highlights:

Yvonne Ventresca, Patricia Keeler, me, Laurie Wallmark, Robin Newman: All represented by Liza Fleissig or LRA.

Yvonne Ventresca, Patricia Keeler, me, Laurie Wallmark, Robin Newman: All represented by Liza Fleissig or LRA.

 

 

We three conducted workshops on Suspense, PB's and Using Genealogy in storytelling.

We three conducted workshops on Suspense, PB’s and Using Genealogy in storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PB Author Superstar Tara Lazar

PB Author Superstar Tara Lazar

 

Editor/Agent Panel.

Editor/Agent Panel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With workshop attendee Eileen Holden

With workshop attendee Eileen Holden

 

 

With Jody Staton

With Jody Staton

Annie Silvestro with her debut PB: Bunny's Book Club.

Annie Silvestro with her debut PB: Bunny’s Book Club.

 

 

 

2015-11-13-07-16-01

 

 

 

 

Most diners raved about the chocolate dessert...I really enjoyed the edible nasturtium!

Most diners raved about the chocolate dessert…I really enjoyed the edible nasturtium!

 

 

 

       If you’d like copes of the handouts from my workshop, let me know and I’ll email them to you.

SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET: MINING YOUR ANCESTRY FOR STORY. (How to use photos,documents, diaries, etc to develop character/setting and details in a story)

Many thanks to RA Cathy Daniels and her “CREW” for making the weekend a great success!

Colleen Kosinski and Sunflowers.

Today’s post features one of my writer/illustrator friends Colleen Kosinski, who talk about her debut picture book LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS (Sky Pony Press)

I’ve been writing for many years. The journey began with picture books, then screenplays; moved on to young adult stories followed by middle grade manuscripts and returned home to picture books.
Before dipping my feet into the writing pool, I worked as a freelance fine artist.  That suited me well because it allowed me to stay home to raise my three children. As they grew older I became available to take on more challenges.  So I set down my paintbrush and picked up a pen. (Actually a computer keyboard but a pen sounds so much better. I imagine it as an ink pen complete with a feather with me dipping into an inkwell, scrawling my words by candlelight). After many years of solely writing, I combined my two passions to create picture books.      01_Lilla's Sunflowers_cover2_625h

Lilla’s Sunflowers originated like my career, through a journey of discovery. I first drew the illustration of Lilla you see on the front cover. I stared at her and realized she wanted a story. But what was her story? Why was she standing in a field of sunflowers? Was she sad when the sunflowers died? I started thinking about the seasons and how they applied to our lives. My first draft involved death. If you knew that my manuscripts for older children deal with death, reincarnation, and astral travel you’d understand why I went there first. Later in the process I thought the topic might be a tad morbid for a picture book so I had to keep thinking and sketching drawings for inspiration.

I’m not sure what particular moment it happened, but seeing videos of children and dogs being reunited with military men and women returning from service over seas, a light bulb went off in my head. The separation of a parent from child during a tour of duty is always difficult for all involved and is mirrored by the changing seasons with the anticipated return home similar to the blooming of plants in the spring and summer. It’s on this backdrop that Lilla’s strategy to stay connected with her father has wonderful unintended consequences.

Lilla’s Sunflowers shows how one small act of love and kindness can spread to people and places you’d never imagine.

http://lillas-sunflowers.colleenrowankosinski.com/trailer/

My agent submitted the book to publishers and within six months we had a contract with Sky Pony Press. I worked very hard to meet all my deadlines and now, a little over a year since signing the contract, my book is real. I can actually hold it in my arms! My first book baby. Now I’m anxious to give it some siblings!                SUNFLOWER_AUTHOR_PIC_500_WIDE

To find out more about my work you can visit me at http://www.ColleenRowanKosinski.com

Spread the sunshine!

Welcome To Boston and ILA!

This past weekend I had the fun of spending all day Saturday at the INTERNATIONAL LITERACY ASSOCIATION (ILA) Convention held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. MA.  What a great place to sign books with fellow authors, meet educators and promoters of literacy from all over the country.  It was especially fun to share the event with my daughter who happens to live in Boston.   http://www.literacyworldwide.org/conference

Here are a few of the day’s highlights in photos:

Hynes Convention Center on Boylston St. in Boston.

Hynes Convention Center on Boylston St. in Boston.

Getting ready to sign books with fellow CRESTON author Robin Newman, and author/illustrator Joann Adinolfi

Getting ready to sign books with fellow CRESTON author Robin Newman, and author/illustrator Joann Adinolfi

Hanging out with Amanda - my Boston hostess with the mostest - made it even more fun!

Hanging out with Amanda – my Boston hostess with the mostest – made it even more fun!

A photo op with the best book promoter on the planet...Scholastic's John Schumacher - Mr. Schu!

A photo op with the best book promoter on the planet…Scholastic’s John Schumacher – Mr. Schu!

Shmoozing with Calkins Creek Editor Carolyn Yoder

Shmoozing with Calkins Creek Editor Carolyn Yoder

 

 

 

Helen Chin from PGW - the amazing woman who makes it all run so smoothly.

Helen Chin from PGW – the amazing woman who makes it all run so smoothly.

 

 

NJSCBWI 2016: Rocks It Again!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of reconnecting with my writing “tribe” at our annual conference in Princeton NJ.  The NJ chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NJSCBWI) is always a great time to learn techniques for improving the craft of writing for children.  It’s also the best time to pitch projects to agents and editors who are in attendance…each specifically looking for new talent.

We got to meet many new faces and reconnect with familiar ones.

Friday evening cocktails with Robin Newman and Carol Lyndstrom.

Friday evening cocktails with Robin Newman and Carol Lyndstrom.

It was a great weekend and always leaves me re-energized to start new projects and edit old ones based on critiques gotten from those in attendance. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Jody Staton, Yvonne Ventresca, Cathy Breisacher

Jody Staton, Yvonne Ventresca, Cathy Breisacher

In KidLIt TV Land with Katya "Kat".

In KidLIt TV Land with Katya “Kat”.

 

 

 

 

 

Author book signing with Marina Cohen.

Author book signing with Marina Cohen.

Saturday Evening Social with Gigi Collins, Jody Staton, and Kathy Bakos.

Saturday Evening Social with Gigi Collins, Jody Staton, and Kathy Bakos.

With PB author Robin Newman.

With PB author Robin Newman.

With Illustrator/author Mary Zisk.

With Illustrator/author Mary Zisk.

Deborah Zemke Talks about Illustration, Writing and Her New Book.

My first picture book, The Way It Happened, came out in 1988. Though long out of print, I still read/show it during school visits to demonstrate how we “read” pictures, and also because it’s fast, fun and a good read aloud. The curious thing is that the story progresses through a narrative line and through speech bubbles, which is also how I wrote/pictured my newest book, Bea Garcia: My Life in Pictures. That didn’t dawn on me until recently when I was reading My Life to second and third graders. It’s funny how much you discover about a book when you read it aloud even after you’ve spent a year creating it. So from my first book to my last, I’ve come full circle—though maybe it’s a widening circle as My Life is a 134-page chapter book with close to 200 illustrations.     mylifecover

 

I’m thrilled that My Life has been so well received and am simultaneously at work on the second (finish art) and third books (writing/sketching) in the series. The second book is based on the first story that I wrote, though completely and utterly revised. My agent suggested I develop that story into a series and that’s when Bea Garcia truly emerged—to expand beyond a single story line meant painting Bea with a fuller brush, as it’s her humor and imagination that drive the stories. As the Kirkus reviewer noted, There isn’t anything real or imaginary that the endearing Bea cannot draw; she straddles fantasy and real life…and even more gratifying to me… Readers will find inspiration to write, draw, explore, and imagine.

 As I tell kids, I love words and pictures and what happens when you put them together. I love letters, too, and have done a series of doodle books in which letters of the alphabet are turned into pictures. It still seems like magic to me that you can turn an A into an Alligator!      mylifewishAs author and/or illustrator, I’ve produced over 40 books, from poetry to humor to picture books to drawing books. I enjoy illustrating other writers’ stories. People sometimes ask if I wouldn’t rather just do my “own” books, not understanding that these are very much my own books!  Illustrating a book is not visually depicting the words, it’s visually telling the story. Imagining other people’s words and worlds takes me places I wouldn’t go on my own. I’m currently having lots of fun sketching out the second book in Robin Newman’s Wilcox and Griswold mystery series.  

You can visit Deborah at:   carrotcake_cover03

www.deborahzemke.com

www.beagarciabooks.com

Zemke, Deborah ds

Zemke, Deborah