Saturday, September 13, 2014

Spooky Doings in Middle School: an interview with Iva Valentino

I never had any weird teachers at East Arvada Junior High.  The closest to 'interesting' I got was the one guy with a giant poster for the movie 'Rollerball' over his desk.  I had to wait until high school to meet anyoen seriously strange - starting with the science teacher who wandered the halls with chips of dry ice in his mouth, blowing smoke rings at people.  Iva Valentina's Middleton Middle School sounds like it would be a fun place to go.  I wonder if we could get Mrs Pruitt to sponsor a D&D club...

Welcome, Iva!  Please
tell us about yourself. What do you do for a living? How long have you been writing?

I’ve always had a big love of science. When I started my Biology degree at the University of Arizona, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it. Five years later, after participating in a few marine biology workshops with kids, I knew I found my calling in education. I soon obtained a Master’s degree in teaching, and began my eight-year adventure teaching middle school. 

Even though I really enjoy working with kids, something I love just about equally is books. So, I decided to combine the best of both worlds. Now, I work as a science editor at an educational publishing house. I help create beautiful nonfiction books for kids, and I write some as well. When I’m not working this amazing day job, I write humorous tween chapter books.

In my spare time, I enjoy yoga, photography, and cooking. I live in Tucson, Arizona, with my husband and our dog, Lupo. My week is not complete unless I’ve taken at least one Zumba dance class!

How did you start writing? Was there any specific event that sparked your interest?

I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid. At first, it was short stories. I loved creating fun characters and then sending them on silly adventures. I never imagined myself having a career as a writer. I took a long break from writing during college due to my hectic schedule. Once I started working as a teacher, my love of writing came back full force. Being around kids and talking with them about the books they were reading really made me realize how much I missed the writing process. This is when I started pursuing writing fiction books.

Do you have a schedule when you write or do you write whenever there’s some peace and quiet? If you have a set schedule, share it with us.

I work best when I make a schedule for myself ahead of time. I set aside blocks of time in which I make an appointment with myself to write. This means NO internet surfing or email!  The schedule will vary a bit from week to week, depending on what I have going on. For the most part I am able to carve out several hours a day. The time when I’m most productive is in the morning, so I always set time to write first thing before I do any other kind of work.

Any odd rituals that get you in the mood to write?

I recently started a daily meditation practice. I meditate right after I get up in the morning, before I write. I feel that it’s really improved so many aspects of my life!

What’s on your desk?

Usually my desk is pretty organized. I’m one of those people that normally can’t function with clutter of any sort. I just have my laptop, desk calendar, inbox (where I admit, I do sometimes toss in stuff I don’t know what to do with), and some pens/highlighters/whatnot. I also have a little figurine of a dragon that my husband recently gave me for inspiration! Oh, yes, and I can’t forget to mention all the little sticky notes I post all over my desk as I’m working and need to remind myself of other things I need to do later. I love sticky notes.

How have your family and friends reacted to your writing?

My husband thinks it’s great that I write. My dog, Lupo, spends his time sleeping under my desk while I work. All around support from friends and family!

Tell us about your new book.

Black Cats and Ballet Slippers is a humorous tween chapter book. Gemma Mayfield, the main character, is a ballerina and middle school student. She is convinced her teacher is a witch. After her crush, Trevor, has a spell cast upon him, Gemma embarks on a mission to save Middleton Middle School from witchcraft!

Where did the idea for this book come from?

The idea for Black Cats came about during my last year of teaching middle school. In the book, Gemma’s science teacher, Ms. Pruett, has a really creepy classroom. The classroom has a preproom with lots of “witchy” things, such as powdered unicorn horn and other ingredients for spells. In my classroom, I also had a big preproom. My classroom was actually very nice and not creepy at all, but over time my imagination took over. I started to envision this preproom as being Ms. Pruett’s. From there on, the rest of the storyline for Black Cats started to brew!

How hard is it to step away from characters you’ve spent time with and finally pen THE END? Do you have an impulse to continue their story?

I definitely have a hard time stepping away from my characters in Black Cats and Ballet Slippers! I’ve always envisioned this book as being the first in a series. Gemma, Izzie, and the rest of the Middleton Middle School gang will be back with more adventures!

If you were making a movie, who would you cast to play your characters?

Most of the characters in this book are middle school age. I am imagining some spunky, smart, funny young actors and actresses!

What advice would you offer to new writers?

Keep writing every day! Even if you don’t feel like it.

What’s in the workings for your next novel?
I’m currently working on a sequel for Black Cats. This next book doesn’t involve a mystery, but the entire gang will be back for some more fun at Middleton Middle School. I’m looking forward to introducing some new characters!

Where can we buy a copy of your book?

Please include links to your author page, blog, etc.


Okay, so something REALLY strange is going on. Boys are from a different planet, but right now a few of them at Middleton are acting like they’re from a different universe. (Wait. Does this make sense? Is there more than one universe? Ugh. Maybe I should have paid more attention last year in Astronomy.)
So, by the time I got to Ms. Pruett’s class, I had already worked myself into a super version of “I Don’t Wanna Go To Class Because I’m Creeped Out!” mode. I walked into the Science Laboratory, and I swear I felt the cold of Building 400 smack me right in the face. I’m not kidding.
Of course Ms. Pruett was at the door, acting like her sweet old lady self (ha ha, I know better), and was welcoming all the kids into the classroom. I just kept my head down and muttered a hello as I passed. Staying below the radar was the goal. Then I sat down at my lab table and shivered a bit.
Joey sat down at the table just a second later. Normally he is really loud and obnoxious, cracking jokes, and calling to the other Soccer Jocks across the room. Today he was quiet.
“Hey,” I said, trying to be friendly. I thought maybe we could commiserate on us both having spells cast on us. Joey responded with a “hey” but didn’t say much else. Hello? Was this the Joey I knew?
“So, Joey, are you feeling okay?” I asked. “You know, after yesterday…”
Joey didn’t say anything, but began writing on a piece of paper. He folded up the piece of paper and passed it to me. I gave him a questioning look. He gave me a weird look back that I couldn’t decipher. The note was as follows:
     Hey Gemma,
     Sorry I gave you a hard time yesterday about the “Cute Boy” list. It was kind of rude of me.
That’s when it hit me that Joey hadn’t recovered from Ms. Pruett’s spell. For me it was just temporary, like a few minutes. But Joey was acting weird. It had to be the spell.
“Um, thanks,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” I then started taking out all my school stuff so that I could look busy and not have any more awkward moments with Joey until he felt better. He was taking longer to recuperate.
After class I headed straight down toward the lunchroom. On the way there, I saw Trevor going in the opposite direction past me. Our conversation went like this:
            Me: “Hi Trevor!” (with a big smile and enthusiasm)
            Trevor: “Oh, hi Gemma.” (with zombie-like attitude)
            Me: “Okay, have a good lunch!”
            Trevor: “Okay, thanks. Bye.”
            I wondered where he was going, in the opposite direction from the lunch room when it was lunchtime. It took me another couple of moments to realize that the ONLY classroom in that part of campus was Ms. Pruett’s room. He was headed back toward Building 400!
            Yikes! I turned myself around in mid-stride and turned back the way I came. I knew there was no way possible that Trevor would be going to Ms. Pruett’s. Why would anyone in their right mind be going there by themselves?
            I didn’t want Trevor to think I was stalking him, because of course I would never do that. But just in case that’s what it appeared to be, I used as much stealth as possible. I walked in the shadows and stopped to peek out behind bushes and building walls. I saw him up ahead…just before he ENTERED MS. PRUETT’S CLASSROOM.
            My mouth fell open, and I just sort of stared at the door for a while.
            Weird things are going on here at Middleton. And I think Ms. Pruett’s behind it all!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Doing a Guest Post Today

I'm doing a guest post on Heather Greenis's blog today, interviewing David Fraser. David is the main character in 'Life With a Fire-Breathing Girlfriend' and 'The Land Beyond all Dreams'.

I wanted to talk about life as a Hero, but David had other issues to discuss. Warning, minor use of offensive language.

Stop in and enter for a chance to win a free copy of 'The Land Beyond all Dreams' and a hand-made bookmark (courtesy of Noelle Meade).