Monday, October 10, 2011

Give Away and Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Year The Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

About The Book:  Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully—planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven—suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can't get in the way of a family that needs to come together.
Kathryn Fitzmaurice's lovely debut novel is distinctively Californian in its flavor. Her rich characters and strong sense of place feel both familiar and fresh at first meeting—and worth revisiting, again and again.  -Goodreads

First Two Lines: We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn't enough to keep my daddy drom going to jail the year I turned eleven.

One Great Line: "Frankie held anything that had to do with his mother so tight inside that it made him sick-nothing serious, but still, sick." (47)

What Others Have Said: "This first novel is peopled with three-dimensional characters whose imperfections make them believable and interesting... The well-structured plot is underscored by clear writing and authentic dialogue, and short chapters keep the story moving. The book draws a parallel with the birds of Capistrano, and a novel that encourages understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness is as welcome as the returning swallows." -School Library Journal

What I Thought: Sometimes you finish reading a book and as you close the cover your mind continues to make connections and thematic correlations. Fitzmarice has an ability to draw deeper meaning through ordinary things. I really liked the short chapters and I think they would appeal to young readers. I also found her chapter beginnings and endings masterfully executed with quick action right at the start and unsolved questions at the end. Endings are hard, sometimes they linger on too long or stop too abruptly, hers was perfectly timed with the right amount of tension. I especially liked the message of non-judgmental acceptance for others. A keenly difficult concept to convey, yet through her characters and action, the idea lights gently on your shoulder like a warm blanket.

Interested in winning a copy of the book? Simply comment on this post and tell me what Fitzmaurice's grandmother left her.

About The Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Publisher: Harper Collins

Interview: Thanks for stopping by Kathryn!
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I have taken many wonderful writing classes, but my grandmother has been the greatest influence and mentor on me becoming a writer.  The summer I turned 13, my mother sent me to New York City to visit my grandmother, who was a science fiction author.  This was in the 70’s, when science fiction was becoming very popular.  My grandmother led a very eclectic lifestyle.  I remember we never did anything until late afternoon, and then we stayed up until 2 or 3am.  Sometimes, we went to dinner as late as 11pm.  Then when we returned, she’d sit down to write until very early in the morning.  She had a collection of porcelain owls, because they were creatures of the night.  She studied paranormal events.  She helped me to write my very first story that summer, and stayed up all night typing it so I could have a real story like she had.  At thirteen, it was one of the best times I’d ever had.  

She worked very hard that summer revising a novel entitled Chrysalis of Death.  After listening to how my grandmother could make her characters into whomever she wanted, I decided that someday, I’d like to be a writer, too.  So after I told her this, my grandmother proceeded to send me books about writing techniques, books by classic authors, and literary essays for every birthday and Christmas holiday after.   One of my favorite books she sent me when I was deep into a teenage poetry stage was a volume of poetry written by Emily Dickinson.  Inside the front cover, she wrote: “Emily Dickinson is a revered poet. Perhaps the same can be said of K.H. someday. Love, Grandma Eleanor. “

When she passed away, she left me a big box with all of her unfinished manuscripts in it.  The box of manuscripts has been a huge inspiration to me.  

So because of all of the encouragement she gave me and to honor her, I decided that when I sat down to write my own novel many years later, that I would name my main character after her and give her a grandmother very much like my own.  I gave the grandmother in my story the same characteristics and even had her give a box of manuscripts to her granddaughter.  In fact, because I remember her revising Chrysalis of Death the summer I visited, I decided to include it in The Year the Swallows Came Early.  So on page 148, my main character and her best friend find this manuscript and talk about it, along with a few of her others stories.  I included her book, Chrysalis of Death inside my book.  

She never got to read even the first draft of my novel.  But I did send it to her agent a few years ago, who is still alive and working in NYC.  After reading my book, my grandmother’s agent made the comment that she liked how I included my grandmother’s books in my own books, and she thought my grandmother would have been very proud.
2) What was the inspiration for Swallows?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I wanted to write about how when the swallows return, they brought a sense of hope, and something I felt I could count on.  No matter what happened each year, there they were, returning, like a promise.  And the fact that the city of San Juan Capistrano celebrates their return each year with a weeklong festival, making it a part of our local culture, I suppose these birds are somewhat famous around here.   
3) Tell us about your process.

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I try to write most days, and find I’m much better in the morning.  I write the first draft on the computer, print it, edit in pencil, then rewrite on the computer until the story is good enough to send to my agent, Jennifer Rofe.  Then I rewrite again and again, until she says it’s good enough to send out to my editor or for sale.  This could take many months!

4) What does a typical writing day look like?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 8-12, then 1-4.  Some days, though, I don’t write at all and instead try to do something that brings me new inspiration.  Like painting one wall a new color, or reading poetry. 
5) Where is your favorite place to write?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: In my home office, with my dog, Holly.  

6) What did or do you find most challenging in creating the story and getting it published? What do you wish you would have known?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t know much when I started because I think it would have kept me from trying. When starting a new story, though, I always have a few months where I struggle with the voice of the main character and the plot.  Eventually, through revision, it comes together.  
7) What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: From my grandmother, “Write what you know.”
8) Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us about it?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I just completed a contemporary fiction MG novel about a girl who tries to change her destiny.  She’s named after a poet and is expected to become one, though she doesn’t like poetry at all.  Molly O’Neill at HarperCollins is editing it.  Our current title is DESTINY, REWRITTEN, due out winter 2013, though that may change.   
I’ve started another contemporary fiction MG novel, only five pages in at the moment, which is changing everyday as I figure it out!  
9) What advice would you give others that write for children?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I suppose I would say that timing is everything.  However, if you’re writing something you truly believe in, something that you know tells a kind of truth, sooner or later, the story will connect with an agent, or an editor.  In the meantime, what I did was to attend as many conferences and writing retreats as I could.  That’s how I met people who helped me become a better writer.

Don't forget to visit the other outstanding Middle Grade reviewers in my sidebar!!


  1. Great interview and sounds like a very nice read! I had an older woman in my life very like Kathryn's grandmother (who gave her a big box of unfinished manuscripts, what a wonderful gift!)

  2. I'm not a writer, but I hope I can have an influence like this on my grandchildren. Kathryn's gift from grandmother was a big box with all of her unfinished manuscripts. What an amazing gift. Thanks for an interesting post, Pam.

  3. Okay, now I feel like I'm cheating, because the answer is in the first two comments! But hey, what a treasure it must have been, reading those ms's. Sounds like a really sweet book.

  4. I'd LOVE to win this! Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for the review and interview as well. Katheryn's grandmother left her a box of unfinished MS's - how AWESOME!!

  5. Pam, thank you for interviewing me. I'm delighted you enjoyed the book!

  6. Pam, Just finding my way through the MMGMs out in the blogosphere. I loved your review! And I would love to win a copy of the book, especially knowing the story behind it and that Kathryn's grandmother left her a box of her unfinished manuscripts.

  7. This is a wonderful first novel for Kathryn Fitzmaurice.
    I have given it to all my son's elementary teachers (3rd-5th) and one to the school library.
    I look forward to more from her!


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