For Kids

Meet The Dark Lord Clementine by Author Sarah Jean Horwitz

I love many elements of reading and writing middle grade literature, but one of my favorites is how creative and genius the titles are! And The Dark Lord Clementine is no exception.

Let me introduce you to the girl herself. *the bugle blares

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Isn’t she amazing?!!

Here’s a little more information about Clementine’s world before we meet her wonderful creator.

The new face of big evil is a little . . . small.

Dastardly deeds aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when one hears the name “Clementine,” but as the sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor, twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be. But everything changes the day the Dark Lord Elithor is cursed by a mysterious rival.

Now, Clementine must not only search for a way to break the curse, but also take on the full responsibilities of the Dark Lord. As Clementine forms her first friendships, discovers more about her own magic than she ever dared to explore, and is called upon to break her father’s code of good and evil, she starts to question the very life she’s been fighting for. What if the Dark Lord Clementine doesn’t want to be dark after all?

Clementine is being published by Algonquin Young Readers and will meet bookshelves everywhere on October 1, 2019.

Let’s give a warm hello to the author of this wonderful book, Sarah Jean Horwitz.

It’s wonderful to have you visit us, Sarah. Now I was fortunate enough to read an ARC of this book, so I know Clementine is a strong and bold middle grade character  – loved her! – but she also has vulnerabilities that might surprise readers.

Clementine has had a very unusual and sheltered upbringing under her father, the Dark Lord Elithor. (Yes, readers, you read that correctly. He’s an Evil Overlord!)

Her upbringing is one aspect of her world that I felt very intrigued by. It drew me in.

She’s been raised with some pretty negative and unhealthy habits when it comes to interacting with others. She hasn’t learned how to trust people or foster any sort of compassion, kindness, or community. She’s been taught that she’s better than everyone else, and that the only way to survive in the world is to make people fear her. And so Clementine has a lot of privilege to acknowledge, a lot of unhealthy habits to unlearn, and a lot of healing to do as she discovers there’s a different way to be in the world.

What is your favorite part of Clementine’s world, why, and why do you think readers will relate to it?

My favorite part of Clementine’s world is the bureaucratization of the pretty traditional, Western fairytale and epic fantasy-inspired story world. For example, there’s an official Council of Evil Overlords that gives Clementine’s father his Dark Lord designation, and there’s open acknowledgement in the book of professional classifications of Heroes, Good Witches, etc. I love playing with tropes and (gently!) poking fun at genres I enjoy, and the idea of all this administration, standardization, and red tape functioning in a fairytale setting just tickles me. I hope readers will recognize all the fantasy tropes I’m playing with and get a chuckle out of it, too.

I also hope to draw a bit of attention to the ways in which evil is firmly embedded in our own institutions, and how we sometimes take that – and the suffering of others – for granted. When the oppression and pain of others is built into a system that benefits us, just as Clementine benefits from being a Dark Lord’s daughter, it can be easy to turn a blind eye, or to accept this as just “the way things are.” But just as Clementine realizes that her status quo situation is not normal and rejects the lies she’s been taught about how the world works…so must we.

This is so important! I’m glad you touched upon it.

Favorite thing about Clementine is and why? What’s your least favorite?

My favorite thing about Clementine is that despite her isolated childhood, the emotional abuse she’s been subjected to by her father, and the terrible lessons she’s internalized over the years about her place in the world…she is still able to make room in her heart for beauty, love, and forgiveness.

See . . . love her.🖤

She has to work at it, but she gets there, and she finds out a lot about herself along the way. That takes a tremendous amount of strength. Of course, my least favorite parts of Clementine are the behaviors she learned from the Dark Lord and relies on heavily in the beginning of the book – her tendency to use bullying, intimidation and snobbery to try and get her way. Fortunately, she learns those aren’t exactly the best ways to make friends!

If you were Clementine’s sidekick what sort of things would you do? Talk about?

I’m pretty scared of heights, but just once, I’d like to hitch a ride on a broomstick. That seems like an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up. I’d probably make Clementine talk about her feelings a lot, because she’s got a lot of issues to unpack…which would probably annoy her enough to get me magically transfigured into something unfortunate!

Bahhh! So true.

One question for our reading-writers out there – The book is written from different and alternating perspectives. How did you go about organizing all the information you knew readers would need to keep reading?

I make detailed outlines before I start writing any project, so that helps. Sometimes I color-code them by point of view to keep things straight. Then as I revise, I try to read as if I’m just another reader who knows nothing about the book, and that helps me see if I’ve planted enough information in the correct order. Of course, lot of stuff still slips through the cracks, and so my great critique partners and editor will point out any slip-ups I missed.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?

I learned that my sense of humor is even darker than I realized (seriously – a few jokes got cut from the book because they were just a bit too much!) and that I tend to write about characters with chosen families. I also learned a lot about the medical consequences of getting sideswiped across the face by a unicorn horn! Yikes.

*Oh, the visuals.*

What do you hope young readers take with them from Clementine’s journey?

As cheesy as it sounds, when I think of Clementine’s journey, I think of that famous Tennyson quote, “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” It’s often quoted out of context and used to talk about romantic relationships, but the poem is actually about the death of one of Tennyson’s close friends. And I just think the sentiment from those two lines is very applicable to this book. Clementine puts her heart on the line (literally, at one point!) and takes a risk by trusting people and building new relationships. And it doesn’t 100% work out! She gets hurt, and she hurts people, and none of it is perfect. But the rich rewards of opening her heart to love are worth the possible disappointments. I hope that’s something readers remember.

Sounds perfect! Thank you for stopping by and for sharing Clementine’s wonderfully fantastical story with our Mixed-Up Files readers. 

Sarah Jean Horwitz grew up next door to a cemetery and down the street from an abandoned fairy-tale theme park, which probably explains a lot. She currently lives near Boston. Find her at sarahjeanhorwitz.com.

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Dear Readers, are you ready for The Dark Lord Clementine?

Indie Spotlight: EyeSeeMe bookstore, University City MO

Two years ago, we interviewed the owners of EyeSeeMe in St. Louis(www.eyeseeme.com) which was and still is the country’s only African-American children’s bookstore. We’re returning today to celebrate the store’s unique mission and congratulate the owners on its success in its four short years.

Like many founders of independent bookstores, Pamela and Jeffrey Blair had little experience in the business when they started in 2015, just a passionate vision of what a bookstore could be. As the store’s name suggests, they wanted to provide a place where children could find stories about and by people who looked like them, stories they would feel part of and be eager to read.
But their vision was even larger. When Pamela was a girl, she treasured the wonderful stories her father told her about glorious cultural heroes of Africa. Yet her children were coming home from school saying that all they heard about in history was slavery and segregation and civil rights, with blacks mostly the passive victims. Pamela and Jeffrey wanted their children, and all children, to know the positive cultural heritage of African Americans. They knew it would not only make them eager to read, but inspire them growing up.

EyeSeeMe has a solid collection of books about slavery and civil rights of course, including those about the African-American heroes in that history. But here is a small sampling of the books you won’t find just everywhere.

How about Africa is Not a Country, by Margie Burns Knight which shows how contemporary kids live in various countries across the African continent? Or The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, by Ann Cameron? African Folk Tales, by Hugh Vernon-Jackson is a good introduction to traditional stories.

For general African American History, try 100 African Americans Who Shaped American History, by Christine Beckner or A Kid’s Guide to African American History by Nancy I. Sanders.

EyeSeeMe carries countless compelling biographies, including Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the Zora and Me books by T.R. Simon (based on the early life off Nore Zeale Hurston, and The Undefeated,
by Kwame Alexander.

Poetry books include One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, by Nikki Grimes and My Black Me: A Beginning Book of Black Poetry, edited by Arnold Adoff.

 

What Color is My World?: The Lost History of American Inventors, by Kareem Abdul Jabbar,  and Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, by Margot Lee Sheerly explore the little-recognized contributions to science  African Americans have made.

Of course for middle-graders there have to be series! One in great demand at the shop is Miles Morales, The Ultimate Spiderman, by Brian Michal Bendis.  The Robyn Hoodlum Adventure Series by Kekla Magoon cleverly reworks the Robin Hood Legend. Spy on History, by Enigma Albert is a lively historical chapter book series.  .

The store  has extended its outreach with book fairs in area schools.  Don’t live in the St. Louis area?  They also arrange on-line book fairs for groups and schools

EyeSeeMe has definitely inspired its readers.  When Sydney Keys III’s mom took him to the store, he started picking up books he couldn’t put down, and he got an idea. Why not start a boys’ book club?  So at age 11 he founded “Books and Bros,” meeting at the shop. The club started with seven members and grew into a large group of boys from the area. They now wear “Books and Bros” T-shirts and agree that reading rocks. In the process of leading “Books and Bros,” Sydney has overcome his tendency to stutter. He has also appeared on Steve Harvey’s Show, and earned on-air praise from Oprah Winfrey.

One of the things that has surprised and gratified the Blairs is the number of people who are not African American who come to  the store.  This includes parents who bring their preschoolers to story hours, wanting them to know these stories, too.

EyeSeeMe’s popularity has made it possible to move  to a newer, larger space recently.  Now they can hold more author events and classes.  They are also expanding their collections to include more bilingual books and stories about Latino, Asian, and Muslim people.

So give your hope a boost. Visit EyeSeeMe at the shop or online in the very near future!  It is a treasure for all who imagine an inclusive America where everyone can grow up proud of their own heritage and aware and respectful of the heritage of others.

 

 

Writing for TV and the movies – Interview with author Robert Cochran, and Giveaway

We’re thrilled to have Robert Cochran on Mixed-Up Files today. Robert co-created the international hit television series 24, for which he received six Emmy nominations and two wins. Before that, he had written and/or produced a number of other popular shows, including L.A. Law, Falcon Crest, JAG, The Commish, and La Femme Nikita. Prior to becoming a writer, he was a lawyer and a management consultant, careers he considers highly useful because they convinced him that he didn’t want to be a lawyer or a management consultant.  He lives with his wife in Monterey, California.

Robert talks to us about The Sword and the Dagger – his first novel and his career of writing for TV.  Be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of the post.

 

  1. How did you start your career in tv and writing in general?

From as early as I can remember, I always wanted to be a writer, though I have to say it took me a while to get started! I was a lawyer for several years, then a management consultant, but always writing in my spare time. One day, a friend of mine, a screenwriter, showed me one of his scripts. It was the first time I’d seen the screenwriting format, and I instinctively felt it was something that would come more naturally to me than prose fiction, which I’d been concentrating on previously. This turned out to be true, and after a few false starts, it eventually led to a career in television. Now, with The Sword and the Dagger, I feel I’ve come full circle back to prose fiction.

 

  1. Tell us about the first time you thought about writing for children and young adults. What made you decide that, yes, this is a story I want to write for a broader audience?

I’d come across the historical figure of the Old Man of the Mountain and found him and his era fascinating. His trained assassins were mostly quite young, and I wondered what would happen if one of them became emotionally involved with the intended victim and couldn’t bring himself to carry out the assassination. It seemed probable that the intended victim would also be young (making the bond more likely), so the main points of view were those of young people, and it just seemed natural to write the story for young people as well. You might say, I didn’t really make the decision to write for young adults — the story made it for me!

  1. Can we look forward to more novels from you in the children and young adult space? What are you excited about?

I don’t have any immediate plans for another novel — at least nothing specific. I love history, though, and if I write another young adult novel, it will probably be historical and probably again set during the Middle Ages, or perhaps a little earlier — maybe about Vikings. They did some pretty crazy things and are easy to get excited about!

 

  1. Tell us about your protagonist. How long did it take for you to figure out your main character and her motivations?

It took a while! I think you only really get to “know” your characters by writing them — your view of them changes as the story goes along. Elaine is born to privilege, but it’s privilege that feels like a cage. She’s surrounded by people, mainly men, telling her how she should behave and how she should think, and she sees no chance that this will ever change. She wants to rebel, to be free, to have adventures! And she does — she breaks free of her cage. But the adventures she has help her to understand that her privilege also carries obligations. Many people, an entire nation, will be affected by the decisions she makes. She has to find a way to be true to herself while still protecting those who depend on her, and this struggle forms her character and leads to decisions that change her life and the lives of her companions.

 

  1. How does your experience in TV affect your process of writing for young adults?

Writing for television teaches you about structure and keeping the story moving — you don’t want people changing the channel! But all adults, of whatever age, are interested in the same fundamental things: love, relationships, loyalty, courage, family, a person’s place in society, how to find purpose and meaning in life, and so forth. A story geared for young adults may tend to delve into such themes slightly less deeply than works targeted at an older audience, and while violence and sexuality aren’t ignored by any means, scenes involving them are presented less graphically. (I’d point out that there are many books and movies intended for young adults that older adults enjoy just as much, and vice-versa!)

 

  1. What advice would you give writers who want to write novels that have the potential to be made into movies or TV shows?

I actually think that just about any novel with a good story and strong characters has the potential to be made into a movie or TV show. So I would advise writers not to write with that goal in mind but just write the best novel they can possibly write. I’d also suggest, especially when you’re starting out, don’t worry too much about what’s popular or what’s selling at the moment. Write what moves you, what interests you, what you believe in, what you feel passionate about. That’s your best chance of coming up with something that’s authentic and original, and, therefore, your best chance of getting interest from film or television!

 

  1. Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?

Keep reading — then read some more! We don’t all have the time or the resources to visit different places or meet people who live different lives than ours, but the next best thing is to read about them, whether in fiction or nonfiction. Every time we experience the world through the eyes of another, we gain a little more understanding and compassion. It may sound corny, but I really believe a world full of readers is a better world.

 

Thanks, Robert! 

Want to have your own copy of The Sword And The Dagger? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on Friday, August 30, 2019 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.