Sunday, April 3, 2016

#MMBBR #Showcase AVENGING THE OWL by @MelissaMHart



A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo avenged the destruction of an innocent planet by helping Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star. Han walked away with a gold medal and the love of his life. But when Solo Hahn—named in honor of the beloved action hero—tries to avenge the death of his gray-and-white kitten, he gets eight months of community service. Eight months of working at the local raptor center helping owls—his now sworn enemies.

For the first time in his life, Solo is labeled a troubled kid, an at-risk youth. He’d always gotten good grades, had good friends, and gotten along with his parents. He used to volunteer to read Reader’s Digest to old people at the retirement home next door, and his favorite thing in the whole wide world was to surf. He wrote screenplays for fun. But when his parents uproot him and move the family from California to backwoods Oregon, Solo starts to lose track of the person he was. Everything is upside down, and he finds himself dealing with things way beyond his understanding. He’s the new kid in town, and he’s got a bad reputation. The question is: What will he do next?

This is a story about staying true to yourself when things get tough. Solo has every reason to lash out, but he ultimately needs to find a way to cope. Avenging the Owl deals with the difficult issues of suicide and depression, but more than anything it captures the powerlessness of being a kid. It won’t be easy, but the wild beauty of Oregon, its cold, empty beaches and captivating wildlife, may be just what Solo and his family need to help them start over.

For readers 8 to 12, this is a contemporary fiction story that grapples with difficult issues for younger readers, in a very age-appropriate way. The main character is relatable and uses his screenwriting passion to convey his feelings about his father's attempted suicide and his uprooting to Oregon. With educational facts about raptors and Down syndrome, this is an important book for school classrooms and libraries and for kids who want a good, compelling story about friendship and what it means to be a family.



Melissa Hart grew up in Southern California and earned her B.A. in Literature from the College of Creative Studies at U.C. Santa Barbara. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Goddard College in Vermont.

She teaches Feature Writing at the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Advocate, Hemispheres, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mothering, Brain Child, Orion, High Country News, and numerous other publications. She's a columnist at The Writer Magazine.

Hart lives with her husband, their daughter, and three rescued cats.



Q.  What inspires your writing?

A. Often, I'll get an image in my head--an object (like the image of a volunteer holding an injured great-horned owl in a clinic) or a scene (like releasing a recovered owl into the forest) which inspires me to sit down and write. Other times, I read something in the news and get inspired. For instance, last year, Jamie Brewer became the first model who has Down syndrome to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week, and I wrote about this in relation to my brother (who is also a person with Down syndrome) and his love of fashion.

Q.  What is your favorite thing about being a writer?

A. I love being able to let people know in a creative way about the issues that are important to me (the treatment of people with developmental disabilities, the importance of birds of prey in nature, the part that nature plays in our own emotional and physical well-being. It's thrilling to get fan mail from people who write to tell me that one of my books or essays inspired them to think about a particular social issue in a new way. Some have even said that they started volunteering at their local wildlife rehabilitation center because of one of my essays or articles.

Q.  What is the toughest part of being a writer?

A. I think it's the self-doubt. No matter how many books you publish, no matter how many essays and articles you write, there's always someone publishing more than you, winning more awards, selling more books. It's easy--especially in this age of social media--to compare yourself to others. I have to remind myself that I'm doing the very best work I can do at any given moment, and be happy for everyone's literary successes . . . including my own. One thing that really helps to mitigate this is the practice of literary citizenship. I first learned about this from students at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA Program. Literary citizenship refers to all the ways we can help each other as writers. To that end, I use social media often to promote essays, books, fiction, poetry, and just general good works by other authors. This is much more fun than sitting around being envious!

Q.  If you could not be writer, what would you do/be?

A. I'd be a wildlife biologist. I'd love to get paid to work outside, studying flora and fauna with the goal of conservation. As it is, I do all this as an amateur naturalist, wandering around with my husband and nine-year old daughter and our adventurous little terrier, April.

Q.  What would the story of your life be entitled?

A. Seal Press actually published the story of my childhood/young adult life, titled Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. It's a YA/adult memoir crossover. The title's not really applicable to my adult life, however. I think I'd title my entire life, A Hoot and a Half: The Adventures of an Amateur Naturalist. I'm at my best outside discovering weird things, such as those I describe in this short essay for the magazine, High Country News.

Q.  What is your favorite book of all time?

A. That's a tough one. I adore J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey. What he does with characterization is just incredible--he's the most droll and subtle writer I know. I read both of those books once a year to remind myself of what I'm trying to do with character and social commentary. I'm also blown away by Katherine Applegate's Crenshaw, about a poverty-stricken boy befriended by a giant imaginary cat. And I love Kate DiCamillo's books for middle-grade and young adult readers, and any picture book that Kevin Henkes and Bonny Becker care to write.

Q.  Which character from ANY book are you most like?

A. I'm most like Anne from Anne of Green Gables, obsessed with the outdoors, fanciful and daydreaming, writing whenever I'm not outside exploring or getting into mischief. I've fallen off the roof attempting to fly like Mary Poppins with an umbrella. I've dyed my hair unfortunate colors and made some egregious cooking errors and otherwise humiliated myself. I love Anne!

Q.  What character from all of your books are you most like?

A. I'm finishing up a YA novel right now about a 15-year old girl living in Costa Rica. I'd say I'm most like her (her name is Paulina). She's curious and bold, happiest when she's in the ocean. She craves adventure, and she's courageous--at times to the point of stupidity. She's also really open to learning about the world around her--she's fascinated by the plight of the sea turtles, and also by the plight of the people displaced because of conservation efforts. She tries to see multiple perspectives on an issue, which is a skill that I try to cultivate as often as possible.

Q.  Which book would you love to take a weekend vacation inside of?

A. I love this question! I'd like to take a weekend vacation inside Geraldine Brooks' novel, March. It's a historical novel that blends Louisa May Alcott's March family (mostly the father) with famous Transcendental writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Louisa and her father, Bronson, also counted themselves as Transcendentalists; I'd love to hang out with them for a weekend and soak up their wisdom.

Q.  What is your favorite season?

A. I've lived in Oregon for 15 years, but I'm still a Southern California girl in terms of my love for sunshine. I adore summer in Oregon. It's magical--not too hot, and perfect for camping and hiking and kayaking and general exploring. I'm not a huge fan of the cold, although winter is beautiful in Oregon, as well.

Q.  What inspired your book cover(s)?  Or what is your favorite book cover and why?

A. Definitely, my favorite book cover is the one for Avenging the Owl. It's so cinematic, which fits beautifully with Solo's passion for writing screenplays. I love the colors, and the birds . . . it's just stunning.

Q.  Tell me something funny that happened while on a book tour or while promoting your book.

A. I haven't actually gone on book tour yet for Avenging the Owl, but I've already gotten the question from several journalists and reviewers about whether I personally own a pet owl. I think they must think I'm like Harry Potter at Hogwarts! You've got to have a special permit from the federal government in order to have an owl or any raptor. I do have screech owls in my backyard trees, and a great-horned owl sometimes nests around us. With four cats and a terrier, it's probably just as well that I don't personally possess a pet owl.

Q.  Are you working on something new?
A. I'm finishing up a novel for young adults, about a 15-year old girl on the hunt for her missing mother in Costa Rica and aided by a mysterious runaway boy. It's based on the ten weeks my family lived there--it's a strange and wonderful country with amazing animals and birds.

Q.  Anything you want to say to followers of this blog or those that are just stopping by?
A.  I got my start as a professional writer while I was still in high school. My mother, also a writer, bought me a copy of The Writer's Market and taught me how to submit my short stories and poetry to magazines. I sold a short story to a national magazine when I was fifteen, and then two poems to Cat Fancy Magazine. As a senior, I worked as a freelance writer for a senior citizens' newspaper, and got to interview notable people over the age of 65, including a paleontologist at the La Brea Tarpits and a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer. My point is that it's never too early to start taking yourself seriously as a writer. I have several really useful articles on the subject on my website (www.melissahart.com) that I've written for The Writer Magazine, on how young writers can launch their career. Several of my high school students have been published in magazines and newspapers, which is as exciting to me as my own publications!


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