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Things We Love

June 01, 2017

World Building: A Look into the Making of Rickety Stitch

By Ben Costa and James Parks

Some of the best, creative advice we ever received was that we, as creators, should always endeavor to make what we know, and make what we love.

The process of making Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo really began with that notion: Make what you love. That means to be your own audience first. Run with what inspires you, makes you laugh, tugs your heartstrings, and compels you to keep creating. 

That isn’t to say you ignore the wide world around you. Of course, as a creator, you need to be aware of your outside audience at some point in the process. The moment your work leaves your hands and ends up in the hands of your readers, it no longer belongs to you. Readers own your stories in a way that you never really can. They discover nuances, assign meanings, embellish little details, and let their imaginations explore the worlds you’ve crafted. For us, that happened to be the world of Eem, a post-apocalyptic fantasy world inhabited by a talking skeleton bard and a sentient blob of goo.

World building is tremendous fun. We started working on Rickety Stitch officially in 2002. It started with stories. We’d tell each other stories for hours, getting lost in the details of places or characters, many of which were entirely unrelated to Rickety’s narrative, but seemingly crucial for us to create a tone and texture for a series of fantasy graphic novels. We’d riff in the kitchen for hours, write short stories, or carry snippets of Dungeons & Dragons adventures home with us. We found ourselves surrounded by narratives, and the next logical step was to bring them together–picking and choosing which bits would color Rickety’s quest, and which bits would be left on the table. And leaving bits on the table is one of our all-time favorite tools.

Getting lost in copious lore is natural, but so is omitting big details about the world. We are enormous fans of J. R. R. Tolkien. As far as world building goes, there are few as brilliant as Tolkien. But a common roadblock for aspiring authors is getting stuck in the world-building phase, working under the assumption that they must create a backstory for everything. It’s important to remember that mystery is a powerful storytelling tool. For example, in Rickety Stitch, we actively try to create mystery as a source of conflict. After all, Rickety’s world is sort of a ruined one, ruled by the bad guys. Much of the old world, the history, and its culture are lost, and Rickety himself is a lost soul on an epic quest to remember and discover who he is and what’s been forgotten.

From Idea to Execution

STEP 1: The Great Riff

Every Rickety Stitch story starts the same way. We get together and proceed to bang our heads against a wall for hours and hours until we have a coherent narrative. There is no easy way around this, but as a two-headed beast we’re able to constantly keep a stream of ideas flowing between us. We fill note pads, sketch pads, and may or may not indulge in several taco runs (a fun ritual we generally capture on Instagram). And at the end of our creative binge we walk away with a complete story summary.

STEP 2: Outlining

Once we’ve completed the summary, we advance to an outline. Outlining is critical. Years ago, we had the pleasure of hosting Neil Gaiman as a guest to one of our classes. He greatly emphasized the importance of an outline, and because Rickety Stitch is a graphic novel, our outlines need to be very detailed. Specifically, a beat by beat, scene by scene document in preparation of drafting a full script. It’s during this phase that details about characters and settings begin to clearly form.

STEP 3: Script Writing

We do our best to construct bullet-proof outlines, but once the script writing phase begins, holes begin to emerge. The outline is a map, and as with any journey, we tend to stray from the beaten path, and new trails present themselves. There are constant choices to be made when writing, and elements such as pacing and tone can really only be incorporated during the script writing. Characters are fleshed out through dialogue, actions, conflicts–and any jokes or gags must feel natural.

We go through a number of immediate revisions of the script, rewriting scenes that feel flat, adding missing narrative beats, and restructuring plot sequences. This revision leads directly into the creation of character designs and thumbnails.

STEP 4: Character Design & Thumbnails

Before the process of creating thumbnails can begin, the major characters of the story must be designed. This process includes dozens of iterations of characters, as well as important costumes, props, and settings with which the characters directly interact.

 
Thumbnails are sketched storyboard versions of the comic, a rough draft of the art. It’s in this stage that page and panel composition is really nailed down, making a near final decision on the pacing of the story. Oftentimes the script needs to be reworked in terms of page-by-page structure, expanding or reducing the length of the comic.

STEP 5: Final Art

Ben uses a Wacom Cintiq 22HD to draw digitally, using Manga Studio to pencil and ink, and Adobe Photoshop to color and letter. The process takes a long time, and there are many challenges to getting it just right. But seeing everything come together in the end is tremendously rewarding!

 
BOILER PLATE:

 
Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo was created and written by Ben Costa and James Parks, with art by Ben.

Ben and James became friends in 2nd grade and love fantasy. They strive to craft sprawling myths that celebrate the adventures of heroes of a different bent. Their young adult fantasy graphic novel series, Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo, comes from a strong desire to thrust storytellers into the roles of heroes, as well as explore common fantasy tropes from the perspective of uncertain outsiders. Outsiders, that in a way, represent us all.

Learn more at RicketyStitch.com.


June 01, 2017

The next book in the Witch’s Child trilogy is here!

Pick up the second book in this gripping fantasy series, or start from the beginning and get caught up on every thrilling and mysterious moment.

The heart-pounding follow-up to Julia Vanishes and next book in the Witch’s Child trilogy, Catherine Egan’s masterful world-building and fiercely flawed heroine will thrill fans of The Rose Society, Graceling, and Six of Crows.

In this compelling and action-packed novel, Julia and her allies travel to the other side of the world in their efforts to thwart Casimir’s quest for power.

They rescued baby Theo from his fortress once, but Casimir is relentless. He needs this child. Or rather, he needs the magical power that has been written into the child’s very being. And so Julia and a mismatched band of revolutionaries, scholars, and thieves journey to Yongguo, searching out the witch who worked that dark spell. They must find a way to separate the magic from Theo without killing him—a nicety that Casimir won’t bother with.

Julia is also searching for answers about herself. Her ability to vanish to a place just out of sight has grown. She can now disappear from her world so completely that it’s like stepping into another one, a dark and fiery world that that feels disturbingly like hell, where the creatures seem to recognize her—and count her as one of their own.

Caught between a web of ruthless, powerful people, and a world seemingly dredged from her nightmares, Julia must decide not just who but what she really is if she wants to survive.

Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people’s senses.

It’s a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it’s a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned that crime pays.

Her latest job is very well paid indeed. Julia is posing as a maid in the grand house of Mrs. Och, where an odd assortment of characters live and work: a disgraced professor who sends her to fetch parcels containing bullets, spiders, and poison; an aristocratic houseguest who is locked in the basement each night; and a mysterious young woman who is clearly in hiding—though from what or whom, we don’t know.

Worse, Julia suspects that there’s a connection between these people and the killer leaving a trail of bodies across the frozen city.

The more she learns, the more she wants to be done with this unnatural job and go back to the safety of her friends and fellow thieves. But Julia is entangled in a struggle between forces more powerful than she’d ever imagined. Escape will come at a terrible price.

One that will she will be paying over this book and the two to follow.


June 01, 2017

It’s Time for ALA in Chicago!

ALA 2017 • Chicago, IL • June 24–26

 Stop by the Random House Children’s Books Booth #3711 to browse our new books from summer and fall 2017, pick up a variety of free promotional materials and advance reader’s copies, and meet our staff!

ARCs to get excited about!

Look for this coupon in your “Aisle by Aisle” guide and bring it to our booth to receive an exclusive print!

Random House Children’s Books Invites You to Meet Our Authors!

All signings will take place in the Random House Children’s Books Booth #3711!

Candace Fleming

Signing: June 24, 9:00–10:00 a.m.

Nicola Yoon

    

Signing: June 24, 10:00–11:00 a.m.

Signing: June 25, 10:00–11:00 a.m.

David Barclay Moore

Signing: June 24, 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Nic Stone

Signing: June 24, 1:00–2:00 p.m.

E. Lockhart

     

Signing: June 24, 2:00–3:00 p.m.

Jared Reck

Signing: June 24, 3:00–4:00 p.m.

Jen Bryant and Boris Kulikov

    

Signing: June 25, 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Sarah Williamson

Signing: June 25, 1:00–2:00 p.m.

Lisa Mundorff

Signing: June 25, 1:00–2:00 p.m.

Chris Appelhans and Emily Jenkins

  

Signing: June 25, 2:00–3:00 p.m.

Marina Budhos

 

Signing: June 25, 3:00–4:00 p.m.

Mark Siegel

Signing: June 25, 4:00–5:00 p.m.

Albert Marrin

Signing: June 26, 10:30–11:30 a.m.

For more information about the conference, visit the ALA website: 2017.alaannual.org!


June 01, 2017

What’s new, totally wacky, and absolutely hilarious?

Answer: the highly illustrated and hilarious series from Chris Grabenstein, the New York Times bestselling author of the Mr. Lemoncello series!

Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel
Ages: 8–12 years

There’s always something wacky happening when you live at a motel, and eleven-year-old P. T. Wilkie (named after P. T. Barnum, of course!) has grown up at the world’s wackiest—the Wonderland! P.T.’s granddad Walt opened the Wonderland in St. Pete Beach, Florida, just one year before that other Walt opened his more famous resort! Like his namesake, P.T. loves a good story. So when the motel’s in trouble, he knows his tall tales can save the day. P.T. joins forces with extended-stay guest and business whiz kid Gloria Ortega, and together they launch one wild venture after another hoping to make enough money to save the Wonderland—all while trying to get to the bottom of who the strange new guests are on the second floor. Could they be the infamous jewel thieves that P.T. once saw on TV? Come to think of it . . . where did those guys hide their loot?

 

Welcome to Wonderland: Beach Party Surf Monkey
Ages: 8–12 years

P. T. Wilkie is back! When word gets out that the hottest teen idols in Hollywood (plus current YouTube sensation Kevin the Monkey) will be filming their next movie Beach Party Surf Monkey right in St. Pete Beach, P.T. and Gloria know that the Wonderland would be the PERFECT location. Now they just have to convince the producers! But when things start to go wrong (Crazed fans? Missing stars?!), it will take all of Gloria’s business genius and P.T.’s wild stories to save the day before the movie AND the Wonderland are both all washed up!

 

 

 

Interested in having the world’s wackiest celebration? Download our FREE Welcome to Wonderland Activity Kit! You’ll find a suggested timeline and script; themed suggestions for food, drink, music, and decor; activities; and so much more!

 


June 01, 2017

Teach-Alike Pairings

Purpose: Classic literary authors (Shakespeare, Miller, Hurston, Morrison, Faulkner, Austen, Hemingway, Wright, and Brontë, to name a few) have been studied in classrooms across the country for years, and for good reason: the writing is exemplary, the characters are universal yet complex, and the themes touch on all aspects of humanity. We know, however, that in addition to these canonical texts, there are many contemporary books that address some of the same themes and conflicts and are written for younger audiences. We believe these text pairings—whether for small reading groups in the classroom or as independent reading—will enhance the reader’s experience by drawing parallels with the themes and archetypes of the classics.

To help spread the word about these text pairings, we have created a Teach-Alike blog that will be posted on our website every other month. If you have any creative suggestions, requests for specific texts, or reviews of the pairs read together, we would love to hear from you! You can email us at slmarket@penguinrandomhouse.com. Enjoy, and keep reading!

    

June Teach-Alike: Liesl Shurtliff’s fractured fairy tales Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood are paired with the collection of children’s stories from the Brothers Grimm, Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

In 1812, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first collection of fairy tales called Kinder- und Hausmärchen (English translation: Children’s and Household Tales), later to be called Grimms’ Fairy Tales. While their stories have been altered to reflect the target age group—Snow White’s stepmother is no longer forced to dance to her death while wearing red-hot iron shoes—we regularly enchant young minds with the brothers’ fantastic tales of the Frog King, Cinderella, and Rapunzel.

Author Liesl Shurtliff has written spellbinding adaptations of some of our favorite fairy tales for a new generation of readers. Rumpelstiltskin—or Rump—is a young boy without a name, who must defend himself from pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a beautiful but vile-mannered queen while on a journey of self-discovery. Jack is on a quest with his overachieving little sister to save his dad and the day, and his journey will take him to the land of giants. Red Riding Hood, terrified of magic but totally nonchalant about the big bad wolf, is traveling through dwarves’ caverns and a beast’s castle to cure her Granny, with the help of a blond, porridge-sampling nuisance named Goldie! Shurtliff uses characters we know and love, but extends their plights and victories, allowing us a more thorough adventure in the world of magic.

Classroom Lesson: Read the Brothers Grimm versions of well-known fairy tales. (National Geographic has a section dedicated to the original tales.) Either read or watch modern versions of the stories, and discuss the common elements of fairy tales. Examine the development and purpose of a fractured fairy tale. (ReadWriteThink hosts some wonderful ideas, including this interactive lesson: Fractured Fairy Tales.) Then have students read Rump, Jack, and/or Red and map out the similarities and differences. Higher-level: have students re-create a different fairy tale!

Bonus Material: Download the FREE Educators’ Guide for Rump, Jack, and Red!

Praise for Rump:

★ “As good as gold.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“This captivating fantasy has action, emotional depth, and lots of humor.” —School Library Journal

Praise for Jack:

“[Jack] soars into the sky and is a delightful story of family, perseverance, and courage.” —Booklist

“With a healthy dose of honor and integrity to accompany his wisecracking ways, Jack is a winning hero, and his adventures—both unexpected and recognizable—will please those readers with rollicking spirits or a yen for tales retold.” —The Bulletin

Praise for Red:

★ “Moving and filled with hope. . . . Red retells the story of the strong-minded girl in the red riding hood as a quest for friendship and self-knowledge.” —Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

“Red’s narration is dry and sassy, her mishaps colorful, her quest eventful. Fairy-tale fun with resonant depth.” —Kirkus Reviews

Red takes readers on a wild roam through story land, with plenty of magic and danger around every corner. . . . This is pure fun for fans of classic stories cleverly retold.” —School Library Journal


May 01, 2017

Keep cool this summer with these hot YA novels!

Whether you’re in a car, on a plane, at the beach, or on a staycation, these YA titles are sure to be the hit of your summer!

The Game of Lives
By James Dashner

Ages 12 & Up

Michael used to live to game, but the games he was playing have become all too real. Only weeks ago, sinking into the Sleep was fun. The VirtNet combined the most cutting-edge technology and the most sophisticated gaming for a full mind-body experience. And it was Michael’s passion. But now every time Michael sinks, he risks his life. The games are over. The VirtNet has become a world of deadly consequences, and Kaine grows stronger by the day. The Mortality Doctrine—Kaine’s master plan—has nearly been realized, and little by little the line separating the virtual from the real is blurring. If Kaine succeeds, it will mean worldwide cyber domination. And it looks like Michael and his friends are the only ones who can put the monster back in the box—if Michael can figure out who his friends really are.

 

Windfall
By Jennifer E. Smith

Ages 12 & Up

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for the last few years, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. She and he are alike: both are outsiders, and both know tragedy. Alice lost both her parents when she was nine and now lives with her cousin. Teddy’s father abandoned the family, leaving his mother to grapple with the weight of his gambling debts and barely able to hold it all together.

Then on Teddy’s eighteenth birthday, Alice buys him a lottery ticket. To their astonishment, he wins 145 million dollars. In an instant, their lives are completely upended. But what first seemed to be a blessing soon starts to feel like a curse. As Alice and Teddy deal with the ripple effects caused by that one little ticket, they learn more than they ever could have imagined about themselves and about the unexpected ways that luck and love sometimes intersect . . . if only Teddy can see through his windfall and back to the ones who love him.

 

One of Us Is Lying
By Karen M. McManus

Ages 14 & Up

The Brain, the Beauty, the Criminal, the Athlete, and the Omniscient Narrator.

This is the story of what happens when five teens walk into detention and one drops dead.

Someone in the room is the killer—everyone has a motive, and everyone has something to hide.

 

 

Now I Rise
By Kiersten White

Ages 12 & Up

She has no allies and no throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, or even loves her. What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill, but Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence, but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself. But if he fails in Constantinople, would Mehmed ever forgive him? As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: What will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Now I Rise is the riveting second book, in which empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

 

Rickety Stitch
By James Parks and Ben Costa

Ages 12 & Up

Rickety Stitch is a walking, talking, singing skeleton minstrel, the only animated skeleton in the dungeon who seems to have retained his soul. He has no idea who he used to be when he was a living, breathing sack of meat and skin. His only clue to his former identity is a song he hears snippets of in his dreams, an epic bard’s tale that could also explain the fog covering the comical fantasy land of Eem. . . .

Oh, and his sidekick and only friend is a cube of sentient goo.

In this rollicking first volume, Rickety encounters imps, gnomes, giants, unicorns, a mysterious lady knight, and other fantasy dwellers on his quest to uncover his identity and spread his (painfully bad) music far and wide.

Trusting You and Other Lies
By Nicole Williams

Ages 12 & Up

Phoenix is not happy to be working at summer camp. Family summer camp at that. Her parents have been fighting for two years—do they seriously think being locked up in a cabin with Phoenix and her younger brother, Harry, is a good idea? Then there’s Callum, Phoenix’s training counselor who might be cute, but who is also an insufferable know-it-all about wilderness skills. But there’s no avoiding Callum. And now Phoenix isn’t sure she wants to. A pitch-perfect story about late nights, love, and learning to trust again.

New York Times bestselling new-adult author Nicole Williams delivers her YA debut in this sexy and sincere romance that’s perfect for reading beachside.