Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Next Big Thing

 Today I host the Next Big Thing blog campaign. The Next Big Thing is an awareness blog campaign that began in Australia and became international. It features authors and illustrators of books for kids and young adults and their recently published books and/or those that are slated to be released this year. The way it works is each author nominated then turns around and nominates a couple of other authors, who are all given the same questions to answer about their work. So it's a great big game of "Tag, you're it." So today I'm responding to The Next Big Thing's standard questions about my forthcoming book, Zero Tolerance, and I'm tagging two of my favorite fellow kids' book authors, Denise Vega and Troy Cummings, to go next.

What is the working title of your next book? 
It’s being published under the title Zero Tolerance, but it’s had different titles along the way. My working title as I began writing was the cumbersome (and suspense-spoiling) title: Honor Student Expelled: Details at Ten! Another title I used along the way, which I still like, is No Exceptions.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
This is the only time I ever got a book idea from a news item rather than from personal experience (drawing from my own childhood memories or the tribulations of my sons and their friends as they were growing up). A middle school near Boulder, Colorado, where I have my permanent residence, had a high-profile expulsion case a few years ago, when an honor student inadvertently brought the wrong lunch (containing a paring knife) to school by mistake and found herself facing expulsion under the school’s zero-tolerance policies for weapons.

What genre does your book fall under? 
Realistic middle-grade fiction.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 
Oh, I am so out of touch with movies! I hardly ever watch any.  So I’d have to go back to movie stars of the past. Maybe I’d pick the young Natalie Wood (Susan in Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street) to play Sierra. Actually, Susan’s self-certainty and moral earnestness in that film would reflect Sierra effectively before her growth in the course of the story (though of course Susan is younger than Sierra).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she accidentally brings her mother's lunch bag to school, including a paring knife for cutting an apple, she immediately turns in the knife to the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school's ironclad no weapons policy, leading Sierra to question her understanding of herself and her world.  (Well, this was two sentences, but still. ..)

Who is publishing your book?
Margaret Ferguson Books/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
This is my longest book – 230 pages, with almost 50 pages cut from the manuscript in revision – so it took me several months working on my hour-a-day, page-a-day system.  This is also the only one of my books that I wrote without knowing how the story was going to end. I wrote every day to find out what was going to happen, and that made me write faster, as I was dying to see how it would all come out.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
One of my earlier books for middle-grade readers, Standing Up to Mr. O, also features a seventh-grade girl who is confident about the parameters of her moral universe, only to find her certainties shaken.  In that book, Maggie McIntosh faces life-changing disillusionment when the teacher she idolizes refuses to support her conscientious refusal to dissect animals in her biology class.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Because of my day job as a philosophy professor specializing in ethics, I’m always on the lookout for subjects that are morally rich, inviting opportunity for ethical reflection on the part of the reader. While I don’t think it’s difficult to make an ethical case against rigid zero-tolerance policies, more nuanced ethical questions arise about how we respond to intolerant policies without becoming intolerant ourselves.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
I had the pleasure of sharing the book, pre-publication, with a class of gifted and talented fifth graders in Greencastle, Indiana, where I am living this year, and I was pleased that they reported that the ending surprised them: “We didn’t see it coming.” Yay!

Next up on The Next Big Thing, a week from today:


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