Archive for Blood Mountain

Camping Photo, John Muir Quote: Two for the Price of None!

“In every walk with nature,

one receives far more

than he seeks.”

John Muir

 

I enjoyed a weekend of camping with my wife and daughter and our incredible dog, Echo. We brought a canoe and two kayaks. And let me tell you, it got cold at night, close to freezing! I felt a twinge of guilt staring at our big roaring fires in the verdant Northeastern woods, while those devastating wildfires out west still burn. My heart goes out to all those people and living creatures that have been displaced, their homes destroyed, landscapes (temporarily) ravaged. My wife had a childhood home burn to the ground. She’d been out at basketball practice, only to return to a worried crowd gathered outside, her father in tears. So many people must be experiencing that same tumult of emotion and loss. 

So, yes, a moment for that.

But also for John Muir, and the value of getting out into nature, feeling it, hearing those owls at night, the coyotes surprisingly close, and the ghostly calls of the loons across the lake. 

 

Like-minded readers might enjoy my middle-grade wilderness survival story about siblings, Grace and Carter, who are lost in the mountains. A 2019 Library Guild Selection.

 

The Depiction of Police in My Books: A Reflection

I realized the other day that police officers played supporting roles in my two most recent middle-grade novels. In Blood Mountain, Makayla is a Ranger with the Division of Forest Protection, a young Black woman, Brooklyn raised; she is fierce and compassionate and awesome in every way, and she searches tirelessly for the two lost hikers in the story (I wanted that idea in this book, that if you’re lost in the wilderness, we won’t stop looking for you). In Upstander (Coming in Spring, 2021), Officer Goldsworthy, a Black man, returns from Bystander and again plays a small but crucial role. He’s a local cop with two bad knees working at the middle school. A strong but quiet presence in the lives of those students. There’s a beautiful scene, a conversation between him and Mary, the book’s main protagonist. I love what he tells her, his compassion for her brother’s struggles with addiction. Anyway, no agenda, it just happened: two cops, both decent and kind and capable, doing good work. That’s what I put out into the world in those books.
Below, “Chapter 13 [Mayakla]” from Blood Mountain. The chapters in this book are very short, and this one is no exception. It’s our initial introduction to this character. By the way, it’s a truism in children’s literature that young people don’t want to read about adult characters. Yet I’ve resisted that idea, while recognizing the problems (and cliches) when adults enter these stories and fix problems. So while I maintain that it is important and acceptable to include complete, fully-formed adult characters in these books, it’s important that the young characters have agency and ownership of their actions. I’m just saying that some folks might not think you can get away with a chapter, however short, that strictly about an adult. But I give readers more credit than that. 
13
[Makayla]
Makayla Devaroix awakens in the dark of her modest cabin to the sound of the alarm. Rise and blur. But first, coffee. A strong pot. Her mind is cobwebs. Even the sun doesn’t want to get up. Makayla is twenty-seven years old, with smooth brown skin and wavy black hair. Her brows are thick and striking above gray eyes. Fit and strong, she moves with an athlete’s economy and grace. She cleans the filter, pours the water, spoons the coffee grounds without thought; she could do this in her sleep and practically does. She sits on a low stool by the coffee machine, watching as it fills. She lives alone, does not own a television. The laptop is enough for podcasts, Spotify, and the occasional romantic comedy.
Yesterday had been a long, hard day, and today looked like it would be worse. She had gotten the call sometime around 2:00 A.M. from dispatch: a kayaker had gone missing out by a string of ponds off Paradise Lake. Makayla double-checked the map. It would take an hour in her patrol vehicle just to get close. She’d meet up with another ranger at the pull-off. They’d split up and begin a basic type 1 search. There were tributaries to cover, plus the kayaker might have carried his boat, or portaged, a short distance between navigable waters. The kayaker had been alone, an experienced backpacker, but had failed to return home as expected. Probably it was nothing. Or maybe he ran into real trouble out there. No matter what, it could take a full day to find the answer. 
If the body was discovered at the bottom of the lake, which is a thing that sometimes happens to bodies out here in parkland, it would require state police scuba divers and more gear and a whole lot more coffee to close this sad chapter. Makayla never got used to the sight of hauling a body out of the water, the skin gone gray, the eyes and lips eaten away by fish. With staff cuts and slashed budgets, Makayla spends most of her week chasing emergencies: lost hikers, injured adventurers, drowned teenagers, and wildfires. It’s simple math. The park is getting more crowded than ever before, particularly in the popular parts, with fewer rangers to cover the more remote territory. More and more people come in, knowing less and less. Impossible to do the job right. She’d seen flip-flops on mountaintops, hikers shivering from frostbite wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, clueless as to how to read a simple compass. Dumb as a box of nails. Most egregious to Makayla, they failed to respect the mountains. She finished her cup with a long gulp, poured the remainder of the pot into a travel mug, laced up her boots, and headed out.
This was her dream job. The city girl who majors in environmental science and forestry in college — discovers she loves it, needs it — and decides to become a ranger. Still true, though harder, and lonelier, than she ever imagined. 

 

A Dog Leads With Its Nose

Maggie, my daughter, has an eye for photos. Especially when it comes to our sweet Echo.

This remarkable perspective, his glorious snout, brought to mind the dog Sitka in my recent wilderness adventure novel, Blood Mountain

To write about that character, a mutt lost in the mountains with two human siblings, Grace and Carter, I did some research. Though I’ve owned many dogs and have observed them closely over the years, I didn’t feel ready to write about them. I knew that I didn’t want to humanize Sitka, do a Disney treatment; instead, I wanted to honor the sheer dogginess of the creature. And when it comes to dogs, I learned, it all begins with the nose.

What follows are two brief excerpts from the book that hone close to Sitka’s own glorious snout. 

from Chapter 23 . . .

After a time, the dog moves away, climbs down off the rock face, down into the sun-stippled understory beneath the great shade-cooled umbrella of leaves. A hunger gnaws at Sitka’s belly like a twisting, tightening coil of wire. Imagine if everything a human sees — every color, shape, and texture — arrived with a specific odor. The red of that flower’s petals, the deep-rutted bark of a poplar, the light brown of a wren’s chest, the dropped acorns, the pale underside of a leaf, the shimmering sky itself: every pixel that an eye apprehends, for a dog those details come with singular odor, as different as green from red, blue from yellow. When Sitka sniffs, it is the same as Grace opening her eyes. Sitka inhales and her tail sweeps and she knows a man has passed near here some time ago, moving in an easterly direction. A mosaic of smells, each one a discovery. The creatures of this world announce themselves to her nose: I am. The dog goes to the slow-trickling stream. Movement among the ferns. Sitka stealthily moves to investigate, prodded by the ache in her belly. Plunges her nose deep into the living green world, inhales the data points, sniffs out the whiskered, stout rodent. Pounces with front paws outstretched, and again — there! success! — bites down, gulps, gone.

A huntress!

Sweet vole!

And even in that instant, the dog attends to one who lies restless in half sleep; a soft moan, she wakes. Meal in belly — hair and tail and skull — Sitka will be at Grace’s side by the time she opens her eyes. 

And from Chapter 34 . . . 

The dog smells everything, recent past and the acute present, for a mile in all directions, depending on air currents. The data overload is immense. Mind-boggling to process. But one odor comes clearest. Though Sitka has no direct experience of “mountain lion,” that named thing, something in her DNA recognizes the lurking danger, the predator prowling in the dark, unseen and unheard.

But not unsmelled.

Therefore: known.

An old enemy.

Sitka vacuums in the odors, sifts through the information. The creatures with names she cannot know: squirrel, vole, owl, mole, mouse, rabbit, hawk, raccoon. Another faint whiff troubles the dog: man. A desperate man has recently moved through this area, the aroma of stealth and haste.

And another thing: the trees themselves, hosts to so much life. Tree limbs and tree fingers, tree thoughts and tree intentions. The interconnected roots, thirsty and entangled, talking in their ancient tongues, passing along what they know to each other. This is the wild place, the space of time-before, and now the dog forgets recents pleasures of soft cushions and screen doors, fresh water bowls and proffered treats, long drives with the windows down.

Dog recalls wolf.

The time-before.

The snaggletooth. The vicious bite and muzzle shake. The primal memory of ripped flesh and the warm taste of red blood. The fresh kill.

“What do you smell?” Grace asks.

How does the dog answer?

Sitka sits alert, rumbles low, hackles raised, muscles taut. Danger, her body replies.

She senses danger. 

BLOOD MOUNTAIN: Selected as One of 10 Books to Georgia’s “Tome It List” for 2020-21 Middle Schoolers


This is an honor. I just got word that Blood Mountain was featured on the “Tome It List” for the 2020-21 school year. They only pick ten books for middle school, so that’s awfully lucky.

Here’s the list, and below that, some impressive information about the fast-growing “Tome” organization. 

 

 

 

Junior Tome It List 2020-2021 (Middle School)

  1. Blood Mountain, James Preller
  2. Each Tiny Spark, Pablo Cartaya
  3. Fire & Heist, Sarah Beth Durst
  4. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, Jonathan Auxier
  5. The Door to the Lost, Jaleigh Johnson
  6. The Memory Keeper, Jennifer Camiccia
  7. The Revenge of Magic, James Riley
  8. The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon
  9. The Storm Runner, JC Cervantes
  10. Words on Fire, Jennifer Nielsen

THE TOME STORY

Tome Student Literacy Society is a grassroots student club envisioned in 2012 by two sisters — Jennifer Parker and Rebecca Hamby — both Media Specialists in Georgia, at the time. As sponsors of their school book clubs they saw a need for an active student community promoting literacy that went beyond informal book discussions. Thus, on a trip to an educational technology conference in 2012 the idea for Tome was born. Very soon after Tome’s birth, Shelby Day, another Georgia Media Specialist and Ashley Walden, a classroom teacher, joined the founding leadership team and the four have worked diligently to make Tome an excellent resource for students and teachers across the state.

In April of 2014 Tome hosted its 1st Annual Conference with approximately 90 students and advisers present. It was a very successful capstone on Tome’s first year of operation.  Tome held its 2nd Conference in May 2015 and almost doubled the attendance from the first year.

In 2016, the official Tome Society annual conference was re-born under the moniker, TomeCon. TomeCon 2016 was held on the Gainesville campus of The University of North Georgia and had over 400 people in attendance. Author Jaleigh Johnson was the keynote speaker. ​TomeCon 2017 hosted over 750 people, and guest authors Dianne Salerni and Jackson Pearce provided Keynote Addresses. 2018 was a year of explosive growth for Tome Society and over 1,400 people attended TomeCon 2018 with over 60 authors and speakers from across the country leading teacher sessions throughout the day. The conference grew again in 2019, with over 2,200 students, teachers, and parents attending TomeCon 2019.

Tome Society currently has over 200 registered chapters across the state of Georgia and is growing exponentially each year. These chapters include public, private, and home schools, as well as public libraries. We are excited to see the number of Tome chapters and people attending TomeCon growing exponentially each year!

BLOOD MOUNTAIN Selected to Maine Student Book Award Reading List

I’m happy to see Blood Mountain listed in the Maine Student Book Award Reading List for grades 4-8.

Lists such as this bring together recommended titles, published in 2019, for students to read and evaluate. Ultimately, the readers vote to select a winner. The reality is that every book on the list gets a tremendous boost; very simply, it helps readers find them, and for a book, that’s only everything. 

Thank you, Maine Library Association and the Maine Association of School Libraries. I’m honored and grateful. Let the reading begin! 

And note: I am available and eager for school visits!

THE FULL LIST:

Allen, Kate. The Line Tender.

Andrews, Ryan. This Was Our Pact.

Athaide, Tina. Orange for the Sunsets.

Bacon, Lee. The Last Human.

Barnett, Mac and Jacoby, Sarah. The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown.

Beccia, Carlyn. Monstrous.

Bragg, Georgia. Caught!: Nabbing History’s Most Wanted.

Brown, India Hill. The Forgotten Girl.

Bunker, Lisa. Zenobia July.

Craft, Jerry. New Kid.

de Fombelle, Timothee. Captain Rosalie.

Dee, Barbara. Maybe He Just Likes You.

Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.

Gibbs, Stuart. Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation.

Heidicker, Christian McKay. Scary Stories for Young Foxes.

Horwitz, Sarah Jean. The Dark Lord Clementine.

Illustratus. Ghost: Thirteen Haunting Tales to Tell.

Johnson, Terry Lynn. Dog Driven.

Kukkonen, Janne. Lily the Thief.

McAnulty, Stacy. The World Ends in April.

McMahon, Serah-Marie and David, Allison Matthews. Killer Style.

Munda, Rosaria. Fireborne.

Nagai, Mariko. Under the Broken Sky.

Nobel, Julia. The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane.

O’Donnell, Tom. Homerooms & Hallpasses.

Pancholy, Maulick. The Best at It.

Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough.

Philbrick, Rodman. Wildfire.

Poliquin, Rachel. Beastly Puzzles.

Preller, James. Blood Mountain.

Roberts, Barbara Carroll. Nikki on the Line.

Rodkey, Geoff. We’re Not From Here.

Ritter, William. Oddmire: The Changeling.

Sloan, Holly Goldberg & Wolitzer, Meg. To Night Owl From Dogfish.

Sorosiak, Carlie. I, Cosmo.

Sumner, Jamie. Roll With It.

Venkatraman, Padma. The Bridge Home.

Warga, Jasmine. Other Words for Home.

White, Kiersten. The Guinevere Deception.

Williams, Alicia D. Genesis Begins Again.