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Cover Reveal for Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Hope you’re having a good start to the school year! Today, I’m really excited.

Why, you wonder?

Well, it’s because we have a cover reveal!

For those of you who follow me on social media, and by the way, if you don’t, I’m not sure why not, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, if you do follow me, you may recall that a few months ago I mentioned an anthology of Jewish stories that I helped put together, called Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories. As you might be able to deduce from the title, it’s a collection of Bar and Bat Mitzvah tales geared to a middle grade audience, and is coming out next year from Albert Whitman.

I can honestly say that it’s one of the things that I’m most proud to be associated with since I started writing kidlit. At a time when antisemitism is skyrocketing here and around the world, I feel it’s important to have Jewish stories represented in children’s books, and this anthology helps with that.

So, thanks to Henry Herz for helping me put this together and being a co-editor for this special project, my agent, Nicole Resciniti for helping find it a home, Albert Whitman for believing in it, but even more importantly, a special and heartfelt thanks to the lineup of amazing authors who all jumped aboard when asked.

Care to find out who they are?

Well, don’t fret, I’m going to tell you now!

Besides stories from me and Henry, we have ones from:

Sarah Aronson, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Barbara Bottner, Stacia Deutsch, Debbie Reed Fischer, Debra Green, Alan Katz, Nancy Krulik, Stacie Ramey, Melissa Roske, Laura Shovan, and a poem by Jane Yolen!

Thank you again to all these amazing people, and without further ado, here’s the cover for Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories!

 

Thanks for indulging me with this Mixed-Up Filers, and I can’t wait for you to be able to read it! I’d say to be on the lookout for the book, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll remind all of you at least once or twice before it happens.

So, until next time . . .

Jonathan Rosen

Interview with Author Candace Fleming + 3-Book GIVEAWAY!

I was in eighth grade when Tutmania hit New York. It hit hard, thanks to the exhibit “Treasures of Tutankhamun,” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 15, 1978. I don’t remember the day tickets went on sale, or the line that snaked down Fifth Avenue for more than a mile. But I’ll never forget walking past King Tut’s golden sarcophagus and wondering what life must have been like for the boy pharaoh who hadn’t lived to see his nineteenth birthday.

Today, Candace Fleming (right), author of THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY: UNCOVERING TUTANKHAMUN’S TOMB (Scholastic), is here to fill us in.

About the Book

During the reign of the New Kingdom of Egypt, the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun ruled and died tragically young. In order to send him on his way into the afterlife, his tomb was filled with every treasure he would need after death. And then, it was lot to time, buried in the sands of the Valley of the Kings. His tomb as also said to be cursed. Centuries later, as Egypt-mania gripped Europe, two Brits—a rich early with a habit for gambling and a disreputable, determined archeologist—worked for years to rediscover and open Tutankhamun’s tomb. But once it was uncovered, would ancient powers take their revenge for disturbing and even looting the pharaoh’s resting place? What else could explain the mysterious illness, accidents, and deaths that began once it was found…?

Q & A with Candace Fleming

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Candace. Thank you for joining us!

CF: Thanks for inviting me. I’m thrilled to be here.

MR: You have written more than 40 books for children, including biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Buffalo Bill, Amelia Earhart, and the Romanovs. What drew you to the story of the search for King Tutankhamun’s tomb and its decade-long excavation? Was it daunting to take on a subject of such epic proportions?

CF: When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to see the big Tutankhamun exhibit that came to the United States. I was awed. Mix in those black-and-white mummy movies from the 1930’s, and–voila!–a lifetime’s passion for the boy king. And yes, it was daunting to take on the subject. Let’s face it; the story has been told, and told, and told. But I had questions that hadn’t been answered before; questions about colonialism, and cultural appropriation, and where in the world that curse story originated. So I decided to tell the story again, and in doing so, I hoped to find the answers to my questions.

A Visit King Tut’s Tomb

MR: I read that you traveled to Egypt—specifically, to the Valley of the Kings, where you visited King Tutankhamun’s tomb. What was that experience like for you?

CF: Being in Egypt—literally stepping into history—changed everything I thought I knew about the story. Landscapes speak, and temples and tombs hold memories. I definitely gained a clearer understanding of ancient Egypt’s historical periods. I even learned to read hieroglyphs. But more importantly, I discovered how cool and silent it is inside a tomb, and how the rock in the Valley of the Kings crunches beneath your feet, and how the pink of an October sunset reflects on the Nile.

I climbed a summit, following a path that has been taken by Egyptians for thousands of years to look out across the vastness of the countryside. From there I could clearly see the line between the cultivated land the barren desert. For the first time, I truly understood why ancient Egyptians believed it was the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. And this is going to sound a bit crazy, but while I was there, all my senses were engaged. My imagination too. By the time I came face-to-face with Tutankahumen, I cried. I just felt this sudden, overwhelming sadness.

Questioning the Past

MR: Do you think you could have written THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY without a visit to King Tut’s tomb? 

CF: No, I couldn’t have written the book you have in your hand without taking that trip. That’s because that unexpected emotion changed how I wrote the story. Yes, it’s still an exciting story of discovery and buried treasure. It’s still the story we all know. But I also included parts of the story that are less often told—questions that deserve to be answered for young readers of the 21st century. Why were rich, white men from western countries basically allowed to treasure hunt in Egypt? Why were they allowed to literally appropriate that country’s treasures? Why didn’t the Egyptian people have any say in it? I think it’s imperative to question our past, to re-examine and reconsider it in the light of new understanding. After all, memory is a powerful force in the way society evolves. And so I thought it was time for our young readers to think about these questions.

MR: Out of curiosity, Candace, were your travel plans affected by the pandemic?

CF: Luckily, I went to Egypt before COVID. The pandemic has affected my plans for this coming October, though. I was actually invited by some of the folks I met in Egypt to help dig in the Valley of the Kings. Can you believe it? And I was getting ready—buying a new sunhat and finding a dog sitter. Sadly, those plans are on hold.

A Shocking Discovery

MR: What surprised you most while you were researching the search for and excavation of King Tut’s tomb? Did you uncover any facts or information that knocked your socks off?

CF:  The thing that blew me away–completely shocked me–was the autopsy that Carter and an anatomist named Dr. Derry performed on Tutankhamun’s mummy. They basically went on a treasure hunt, carelessly unwrapping the age-old linens in search of amulets and other treasures the ancient priests had so reverently buried within the layers. It’s really sacrilegious when you think about it. And if that isn’t bad enough, they next chopped off his hands, feet and—wait for it—head (!!!) in order to get him out of the coffin. They hid this mutilation from the public. Carter didn’t write about it in his notes or journals. Neither did Dr. Derry. And they covered up the severed neck with cotton wool before photographing it, so people wouldn’t noticed it wasn’t attached to a body. It was the 1960’s, more than thirty years before Egyptologists saw the evidence of their mutilation. Horrible.

Excavation: An Exact Science

MR: To follow up on this, the excavation of King Tut’s tomb—beginning in 1922 and lasting more than a decade—was a laborious, painstaking process. Each item had to be unpacked, catalogued, and removed with utmost precision and care by archaeologist Howard Carter and his team of scientists, engineers, and Egyptian helpers. Had the same excavation taken place today, would the methods employed differ vastly from those used in the 1920s? If so, what would be the biggest difference be?

CF: Nowadays we have CT scans and DNA tests to learn about Tutankhamun’s physical body. There’d be no need to chop his remains into pieces, as I had mentioned. That said, Carter did do an exceptional job for an Egyptologist of his time. Most of the hunters would come before weren’t interested in learning from the evidence. They were simply interested in grabbing treasure. But Carter didn’t rush. He took the time to gather every single object, no matter how small. One of my favorite stories is about him breaking a beaded necklace. Tiny faience beads bounced and scattered all over the antechamber. Instead of letting it go, he crawled around on his hands and knees for days, locating each one, then picking it up with a pair of tweezers, numbering it and cataloging it. He could be so meticulous and systematic. That’s probably why the whole autopsy thing is so shocking.

The Truth Behind the “Mummy’s curse”

MR: The occult plays a large part in the story of the excavation of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. The mummy’s curse, for instance, was thought to have killed Carter’s pet songbird as well as caused the death of Carter’s patron, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, as well as the deaths and illnesses of countless others. Although the curse of the mummy was later debunked, what is it about curses—and about superstition in general—that has such a powerful hold on us?

CF: It’s pretty simple, I think. We all love a story, especially a spooky story. The media of the day knew that. They created the curse story to sell papers. And it worked. Why? Because I believe westerners recognized, on a subconscious level, what they’d really been doing in Egypt for centuries. That, of course, was robbing tombs and stealing a nation’s cultural treasures. The curse story–the idea that something sinister would “get you” for disturbing Tutankhamun’s tomb–spoke to their internal uneasiness with doing that. I included the curse story in my book because it not only hooks kids in, but it needs to be addressed and explained. Let’s face it. Everybody knows about the curse. They’ve seen the mummy movies. But do they know where the curse really came from? That it’s just “fake news”? I worried about that.

King Tut: Rock Star

MR: During his short time on earth, King Tut was a minor pharaoh; in death he became a cultural icon, inspiring “Tutmania”—an interest in all things Egyptian, from architecture to fashion. In fact, King Tut’s image could be found on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs. And let’s not forget Steve Martin’s iconic 1978 SNL musical parody, “King Tut.” The sketch was so popular that the song was released as a record, selling more than a million copies. What is it about King Tut that causes such deep and continued fascination?

CF: It’s a lot of things; the fabulous wealth, the mystery of Tutankhamun’s life and death, the against-all-odds discovery, the timing of Carnarvon’s death. Also, Americans love an underdog, and Tutankhamun was the underdog of pharaohs. He wasn’t Rameses or Amenhotep or Seti. He didn’t have time to build anything famous or become the center of important events.  Basically, he was a nobody in the scheme of Egyptian royalty. He should barely be remembered.  And yet, he’s the only one whose tomb has been discovered relatively untouched. I think Americans especially love that. Tutankhamun goes from obscure ruler to rock star, all because of a series of coincidental events.

Writing with Oxford and Archie

MR: Mixed-Up Files readers are always curious about an author’s writing process. Could you tell us a bit about yours?

CF: I’m at my desk from 9am to 4pm every day, sometimes longer if I’m pushing a deadline. I’m never alone while I write. My 84-pound, mixed-breed dog, Oxford, lies under my desk, and my eight-month-old kitten, Archie, sleeps on the windowsill. I don’t compose on my computer. All my first drafts are written by hand–even long pieces of YA nonfiction. Needless to say, my office is FULL of paper. And I’m specific about my tools. I use wide-lined loose-leaf paper, and blue Bic pens. The smell of pens tells my brain, “We’re writing today.” And the paper reminds me that what I’m writing–these words and sentences–aren’t precious. I can scratch over them, doodle on them, crunch them up into ball and toss them to Oxford to chew up.

This process makes writing feel more like play, than work. Every time I sit down, it’s as if I’m just taking a few sentences out for a walk. No pressure to be perfect, or even good. And sometimes, I end up with something decent. Know what I else? At the end of a long writing day, I end up with blue ink all over inside of my lower arm. I love that. It’s like a badge, you know? I can hold up my arm and say to myself, “Look, I wrote today!”

Outer Space and American Cults

MR: What’s next on your authorial agenda, Candace? Care to share a bit about your latest book project?

CF: I’ve got two amazing pieces of nonfiction in the works. The first is a middle-grade nonfiction book called It Crashed from Outer Space (Scholastic) about Roswell, flying saucers, and our continued fascination with UFOs. The second is YA narrative nonfiction called American Cults (Anne Schwartz Books/Random House) that traces the history of cults in the United States starting with the Pilgrims and moving into modern day. It’s a fascinating and creepy subject, and I’ve made some wild discoveries, like, did you know that just two blocks from my house lurks the site of a famous 1930’s cult? Who knew? I certainly didn’t. Now I’m compelled to keep walking past the place, thinking, “Huh? Really? Why?”

Lightning Round!

MR: Oh! Last thing. No MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Popcorn

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Favorite item from King Tutankhamun’s tomb?

The golden Anubis statue found in the entryway to the Treasure Room

Favorite song (excluding Steve Martin’s “King Tut” 🙂 )?

This week? “Pump It Up” by Elvis Costello

Mummy’s curse: Yea or nay? Big nay!

Superpower? Time travel. I can imagine myself into the past

Favorite place on earth? Venice

You’re stranded on a desert island with only three items in your possession. What are they? A package of both wide-lined loose-leaf paper, a blue Bic pen, and the trick-or-treat-size bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Candace—and congratulations on the publication of THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY: UNCOVERING TUTANKHAMUN’S TOMB. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a chance to win a copy of THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY: UNCOVERING TUTANKHAMUN’S TOMBcomment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account. THREE winners in all!

About the author

CANDACE FLEMING is the versatile and acclaimed author of more than forty books for children and young adults, including The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, winner of the YALSA Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award; the Sibert Award winner Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera; the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction winner, and Sibert Honor Book The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of the Russian Empire; and the critically acclaimed Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Learn more about Candace Fleming on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

WNDMG Wednesday – Guest Post – Gail Villanueva: The Pitch Wars Culture of Giving Back

We Need Diverse MG Logo
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

The Pitch Wars Culture of Giving Back

by Gail D. Villanueva

I never thought I’d be a published author. I’ve always wanted to be one, but I never thought I’d actually be one.

You see, I live in a country where access to books is a privilege, not a right. In the Philippines, poverty, crime, and natural disasters are greater concerns over libraries. That’s not to say we don’t have books. We do. But the local publishing industry here is so not the same as it is in the US. There are few publishers and even fewer writing organizations. Mentorship is limited to a chosen few.

So, you can understand why being a published author was a seemingly unattainable dream for me. I just didn’t have access to resources to become one. Still, I wrote a book—a book that featured a main character who looked like me.

I have a technical background, so the Web was my go-to place for resources. Somehow, my aimless browsing landed me on the Twitter account of a sweet, kind soul named Brenda Drake. Reading through her tweets, I learned about this project she founded—Pitch Wars.

Pitch Wars Logo

 

Pitch Wars

As a newbie writer, Pitch Wars was everything I needed. It was (and still is) a mentoring program that would help me elevate my writing and had (and still has) an online showcase at the end where agents get to look at my entry. But as a Filipino author living in the Philippines, I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t think Americans would care about my story. After all, there were hardly any Filipinos featured in the books US publishers published.

My husband convinced me I didn’t have anything to lose if I tried. It wasn’t like I was expecting to be accepted anyway. The main Pitch Wars program was closed to submissions at that time. But as soon as a side event opened for subs, I applied.

To my surprise, I was selected for Pitch Madness. I had some agent interest, but none of them panned out. Still, it was the first time I felt that maybe, I wasn’t so bad a writer, that my story might be worth telling. Best of all, I became part of an amazing community. It made joining a Pitch Wars event super worth it.

I ended up shelving that book and wrote a new one. I found more people online who became my friends and mentors. I eventually signed with a rockstar agent who helped me further elevate my writing. She found my middle-grade debut a home with Scholastic, where I learned more from the team.

My Fate According to the Butterfly Cover

My writing career was, and continues to be, built on a foundation of mentoring and learning. I don’t think I’d be able to get where I am now without these generous people who helped me along the way. Giving back to the community that made me was the only way to go. So, I mentored in various programs, but Pitch Wars was my fave. Before long, I got to level up my giving-back and showcased my 20+ web design and development experience by becoming the Technology Director of Pitch Wars when the committee was formed.

Pitch Wars is a diverse group of wonderful individuals coming from wide-ranging backgrounds, cultures, and marginalization. Every one of us is shaped by our experiences as different human beings. Every mentor, every committee volunteer, every mentee.

((Like reading about Pitch Wars authors? Read this interview with Adrianna Cuevas!)) 

I think it goes without saying why such diversity is important. For starters, it addresses the need for voices traditionally not heard to be heard, and for the traditionally invisible to be seen. Varying backgrounds bring about perspectives that a lone one cannot. These multiple perspectives help in making sound decisions, may it be in writing books, mentoring authors, or running Pitch Wars.

Not gonna lie, making choices as a committee for such a visible organization isn’t easy. Our volunteers are constantly faced with the reality that we can’t please everybody. But every effort we put into them is so worth it. Because that means we get to create a safe space for mentors and mentees. We get to help mentors help writers, who may one day publish a book that will make a reader who’s like them feel seen. A book that will become a lifeline to a reader who needs one. A book that will remind a reader that they matter.

Pitch Wars is just one path—it’s not the only path—to publication. I’m totally biased when I say this, but Pitch Wars is an awesome path. It’s a path where you can have fun while learning from a great community driven to continue the cycle of giving back. And I’m truly grateful to be a part of it.

 

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Want to Know More About Pitch Wars?

The 2021 Pitch Wars Wish List blog hop launches Saturday, September 11, 2021. The blog hop highlights the Pitch Wars mentors and what they’re looking for. Learn more at www.pitchwars.org, and stay up to date by following @PitchWars on Twitter.

 

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Gail Villanueva Author Photo

Gail D. Villanueva is the Pitch Wars Technology Director and the author of Sugar And Spite (Scholastic, 2021). Her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly (Scholastic, 2019), was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, an Amazon Best Book of the Month Editor’s Pick, and a NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. Born and based in the Philippines, Gail’s daily routine includes running a web design company with her husband while trying to keep up with the shenanigans of their many pets—dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and random birds they befriend in the backyard. Learn more at www.gaildvillanueva.com.

Sugar and Spite Cover

 

Find Gail Online

Website: https://www.gaildvillanueva.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/gaildvillanueva

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gaildvillanueva

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gaildvillanueva/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/gaildvillanueva/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gaildvillanueva/