Here’s another in my series of kidlitosphere blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Colleen Mondor (abbreviated “CM” below), who blogs at Chasing Ray. Don’t miss her hilarious anecdotes about flying small charter planes in Alaska! The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent blogs in the kidlitosphere. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Colleen’s blog (link above), as well as the other children’s books resources she mentions in the interview. Thanks Colleen!
Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking/writing about children’s books?
CM: I never left my affection for children’s books behind – probably because several of them (esp Little Women and A Wrinkle in Time were so significant to me. I worked in an indy bookstore in the mid 90s and we were very involved in reading contests at the local schools (this was basically the only bookstore in Fairbanks, AK) so I kept up on new children’s and YA [Young Adult] titles as part of my job. And then my son was born in 2001 and that started me back on picture books again for obvious reasons. As a reviewer at Bookslut when I saw there was no one doing a YA column there I pitched the idea to Jessa [Bookslut editor-in-chief] and she thought it was great. And I’ve been professionally reviewing kid and YA books there ever since.
Q: How and when did you join the kidlitosphere?
CM: I started blogging in Sept 2005 after being urged to do so from a couple of blogging friends (namely Gwenda Bond at Shaken & Stirred and Jenny Davidson at Light Reading). I had been commenting at various blogs for awhile and I was ready for a place to give my own thoughts about books and reading.
Q: Tell me about the significance of the name of your blog.
CM: “Chasing Ray” is about hoping to have as eclectic a writing career as Ray Bradbury.
Q: What, exactly, draws you to Ray Bradbury and his writing?
CM: Well, first and foremost he’s good. Several of his stories (“R Is for Rocket“, “The Lake”, “The Foghorn”, etc.) are lifelong favorites. I adore Something Wicked This Way Comes and also his non-fiction collection, Zen in the Art of Writing. I especially admire though his ability to write across genres and how he makes even the most general topics (growing up in a small town) utterly magical (see Dandelion Wine). As to the person, it is his outlook on life – the way he lives it to the fullest and seems to enjoy it so much – that appeals to me. That’s something all of us could emulate.
Q: What is the content of your blog, and what are your goals for it?
CM: Primarily, Chasing Ray is about reading and writing. I rarely get political or even deeply personal. I write about all kinds of books or articles or blog posts I’ve seen elsewhere that I like. My blog is the informal place for me to say how I feel about a book – I don’t consider what I write here to be formal reviews at all. I’m more likely to say “This book rocked” or “I could not stand this thing” and leave it at that, whereas I would never be so casual in my opinions at Bookslut. It has evolved into a record of my writing pursuits and I hope it serves as a resource in that regard to other writers.
Q: What criteria do you use to evaluate the books you review?
CM: First there are the books that arrive from Booklist which obviously are assigned to me by my editor. (These are all adult non-fiction – lots of aviation and northern books as those are areas I am well versed in.) For my Bookslut column I am always thinking first about the monthly theme I’m working on (January’s is “Alt HIST/Steampunk“; February is “Nature Lovers”) and if the book would appeal to a wide range of teen readers. I look at ages 12 and up so I certainly read middle-grade books as well as YA. From there, I try to blend genres in any given column, include some fiction and nonfiction (as many teens, boys especially, prefer non-fiction), have some gender balance with the protagonists (YA gets to be pretty girl-heavy so I’m constantly looking for books with male protagonists) and I want diversity as far as race, ethnicity and sexuality. This does not mean I have a quota or that I will positively review a book simply because it has a gay protagonist but I am aware of all these things when I request a book for review. Diversity among the characters will make me give a book a long look. On top of all that I will also include books published for adults that I think will appeal to teens (like Cherie Priest’s steampunk Dreadnought) or that might be aimed at younger readers (say 9-12) but will work for reluctant teen readers (this is especially common with nonfiction).
Q: I understand that you have a strong connection with Alaska. How did that come about?
CM: I moved there in 1992 from Florida and lived there full time for ten years. My husband and son were both born there and much of my husband’s family is still there. We have a place in Fairbanks, our aircraft leasing company is based there and we remain AK residents. It’s awesome but gets crazy cold in the winter – that’s when we are in the Pacific NW.
Q: I understand you recently accepted an offer to have a book published. Congratulations! Tell me about the book, and a bit about the journey to publication.
CM: The Map of Dead Pilots is a narrative non-fiction book based on the four years I worked in operations for a Fairbanks-based commuter/charter airline that flew all over the state. It’s flying stories from Alaska about how we operate under the same rules, slightly more hazardous conditions (although there are many places in the Lower 48 with equally brutal conditions) and absolutely insane standards. Crazy stuff happens in AK because the state is so dependent on aviation – literally everything and everyone flies. The book is about what I saw and how we did the job.
It has taken three years for my agent, Michele Rubin, to sell this book (to Lyons Press). I met Michele through another agent at her agency – who I exchanged emails with after reviewing one of her client’s books. We emailed off and on over the years about YA titles and when my book was ready I asked if she knew any co-workers who might be interested in it (she doesn’t represent adult titles). She passed my manuscript to Michele and that’s how I got signed. Very 21st century!
Q: Can you share, briefly, one or two of your favorite Alaska bush pilot stories?
CM: Here’s a funny one: My friend Jen was flying a charter for a girls basketball team out of Barrow back to their home village of Anaktuvuk. One of the girls showed up at the airport with a 300 lb frozen dead seal to take home. Our station manager in Barrow knew if he didn’t get rid of the thing on the charter he would be stuck with it for who knew how long so he and his cargo guy jammed the thing into the aircraft’s belly pod. They had to brace themselves under the wing and use their feet to get it in! Once in Anaktuvuk, Jen and her co-pilot had to manhandle the thing out (they eventually got help from the people who were waiting on it) and watched as they put a rope around it and went walking into the village pulling their “sealsicle” behind them.
Later, when Jen told me this story, we were talking about the weirdest things anyone had ever flown. I thought this must be it but she had one stranger. While flying out of Kaktovik (literally the top of the world) a passenger got onboard with a box that leaked. She asked him what was inside. He said a “head”. Jen figured it was probably a musk ox but didn’t ask – she just wrote down “head in a box” on her load manifest. We joked that it could have been anything which was why, she said, she didn’t ask. So there you go – a look at the job flying in Alaska. A sealsicle one day and head in a box on another.
Q: Tell me about some of the other writing you do, or have done.
CM: Most recently I had a haunted house short story run in Strange Horizons. This is the first non-Alaskan writing I have done in years and I was thrilled to get it in such a great online publication. It’s set in Florida with a group of teens and is based on an experience from my senior year in high school. There are a lot of haunted places in Florida and I continue to write about them.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work in the Kidlitosphere?
CM: The people. I have made some of the best friends of my life through blogging about kidlit and YA. They are writers, reviewers & librarians (or some blend of all three) and all of them absolutely committed to supporting authors and books for kids. We also work very hard on literacy projects and getting books into the hands of kids who can’t afford them. The people in the “kidlitosphere” are amazing.
Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?
CM: Books can change the world and giving children access to them will change the future. I can not bang the drum loud enough for increased literacy among our young people. I would also stress that we need books for every kid – they need to read books about kids who look like them, and feel like them. And finally I would say that novels are not everything – plenty of kids love nonfiction or comic books and I think that is great too. Reading is reading – support it, encourage it, make it part of every kid’s life.
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