Monday, November 27, 2017

What a year!




Thank you to all the reviewers and booksellers and teachers and librarians and parents who are helping children find their way to Chasing Augustus.  It's been a wonderful year, and I am very grateful.

"God's bones!  Magnificent." - Kirkus Starred Review.

A Junior Library Guild Selection.

"Excellent" - The Providence Journal.

Random House Children's Books Rep Spotlight Pick for the Fall 2017 list.

"The writing is smooth and evocative as well as folksy, making this an easy pick for readers who enjoyed Patrone's The Higher Power of Lucky." - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

"Readers' hearts will ache along with Rosie's as she struggles to find not only her dog but also love and belonging...a heartfelt tale with a rewarding ending...a fleet of unforgettable personalities...will appeal to young fans of Kate DiCamillo..." School Library Journal.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

My story






I didn’t talk much when I was a child.

I stuttered and because of that I was incredibly shy, and this made speaking very difficult for me.

What does it mean to be a child who stutters?

For me, it meant that when it was time for our daily read-aloud sessions in school, I panicked as I waited for my turn - and for my world to explode.

I would never raise my hand in class, because no sounds would come out of my mouth other than a repeating stutter. I tried to push words through my vocal cords that dread and terror had strung tight as barbed wire. I couldn’t give oral book reports and, in a million  years, I would never join the drama club or the debate team or run for office or volunteer for anything where there was any speaking required whatsoever.

The hardest thing was saying my name and I would avoid it when I could. I was teased and made fun of and I tried to pretend that it didn't bother me.  Just like in the movie, The King’s Speech, even adults would say things like slow down, relax, take a breath, or sometimes they’d say: "What’s wrong, don’t you know you own name?" 

Or they’d look away, embarrassed, and that was the worst of all.

I was very much loved by my family and I was encouraged to be whoever I wanted to be.  Long family hikes in the mountains and weekends on the beach at Cape Cod were fun and peaceful and nourishing and restorative. But there was no speech therapy in my small school in Massachusetts and I didn't know how to stop the teasing and most people outside of my family had no idea what I was going through because I was too ashamed to tell them.

I couldn’t answer the phone, much less carry on conversations with relatives during their long-distance holiday calls, and I couldn’t order food in restaurants because I’d have to say something specific, and I couldn’t switch to an easier word, something that began with T, rather than the impossible Ms and Rs. I couldn’t speak to authority figures, like teachers and principals, and although I could manage somewhat talking one-on-one to a friend (as long as that friend was very kind and didn’t rush me or tease me and just listened) I couldn’t talk in groups.  This meant sitting with the cool girls at lunch was impossible.
  
I was filled with so much shame and I wanted to become invisible and I learned how to do that by staying very quiet. Like Philippe in my newest novel, Chasing Augustus, who hides under his big coat, I got very good at hiding.

Speech pathologists today call this the stuttering iceberg.  On the top, the very small part of ice above water, are the repetitions, blockages and prolongations. 
But underneath, is the big chunk of the iceberg, where the effects of stuttering hide: the guilt, shame, isolation, and utter hopelessness. I was this smart little kid but people started wondering about that because I didn’t talk. And some teachers who didn’t know any better stopped calling on me and although it felt better in some ways to not be called on, I sat in the back of the class and it made me even more alone and embarrassed and different than anyone else.   And everyone expected a little less of me each day.  And I expected less of me, too.

So what was the miracle that turned my life around?

Books.  Of course, I had no idea at the time what an incredible and wonderful miracle they would become in my life, but they were my solace, my escape, my greatest teachers.

I discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Island of the Blue Dolphins and Heidi and Where the Red Fern Grows and A Wrinkle in Time and Harriet the Spy.

I would check out as many books as I could carry at my town library and walk  home and head for my tree house and read the afternoon away.

I found friends in books. I found outspoken girls who weren’t afraid to speak their mind – children who knew what it meant to survive.  I  wanted to be the girl in Island of the Blue Dolphins, able to take care of herself on a deserted Island off the California coast, and I wanted to be Billy, in Red Fern, selling bait, so I could buy my own dogs.  And when I read Harriet the Spy, suddenly I knew I wanted to become a writer.  After all, writers don’t have to speak!

What I began to realize from reading all these books was that what I did was really hard – speaking was really hard for someone like me – but I could become a survivor, someone who didn’t quit.

So the second amazing and wonderful miracle that happened was that even though I couldn’t communicate verbally so well, I could communicate through writing. I started writing ALL THE TIME and the door to speech was closed but the door to writing flew wide open.
 
And the third miracle was that teachers started noticing my writing and saying I wrote like a dream and boy couldn’t this quiet little kid write, and they pushed me and encouraged me and believed in me. 

Suddenly, in the sixth grade, I had a voice! And I never stopped. I wrote fledgling short stories, tried my hand at novels, and wrote for our church literary magazine.  One of my poems was published in a national church newspaper. My high school senior English teacher loved my writing and she was so tough, but she believed in me.  And she is the one who said I really did have the talent to go college as a creative writing major, and even though I was still stuttering severely, off I went to college to write, because after so much struggle, I had finally found something I was truly good at.

And in college I also found speech therapy with an amazing private speech pathologist who applauded each step I took.  Over the next ten years she taught me how to speak fluently, and she also taught me how to walk away from the isolation and believe in myself. 

Today, it is in writing that I find my life’s meaning. I faced so much adversity as a child, struggling to speak and communicate with the outside world, and now I am able to write books about transformation, about characters like Cornelia in Tending to Grace, who stutters, and Rosie Gillespie, in Chasing Augustus, who will never give up on her dog, not ever.  They both face almost unbearable hurdles, but learn to push on, because they are strong and courageous and unsinkable.

Today I feel blessed to write for children and I hear from kids from across the US and throughout different parts of the world.   I get beautiful, uplifting, handwritten letters from children in my mailbox and each is a gift that I treasure.  Like this one from a little girl in NJ:

“Your book changed the way I see the world and taught me so many great things.  A rough start leads to a great end, and a great end throws the bad times away.  Forget about it and just walk away with a heart filled with happiness.”  Sincerely, Marie Nicole.

I've only begun to share the depths of my story over the last couple of years.   And this is because that when I am brave enough to share my own story of transformation, the young writers in the schools I visit are more willing to dig deeper to tell their own stories.

I tell them: "We all have something to overcome, to deal with, to grow through.  Sometimes it’s on the outside for the world to see, sometimes it’s hidden.  But it's universal that we all have something.  With friends and family and teachers and mentors behind us, we can begin to rise and reach our potential.  And if we reach our potential, we can help those around us.  And then we are life-givers and light-bearers."

I never knew this as a child, but looking back at my life now I see that my struggles helped shape me into the person I am today. I may not have gotten the voice I wanted when I was a young girl, but I got a much bigger voice. When I was a child, I wouldn’t have known it was even possible.

Recently, my husband said, "Kim, isn't it something that the little girl with no voice grew up to have one of the largest of all?"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Our dear Sally


This is our dear Sally, the dog that inspired CHASING AUGUSTUS.

A terrible very bad dog!


In 2012, when I finished the final draft of BEHOLDING BEE and began thinking about another book, our dog Sally was getting very old.

She was the dog of our dreams. The kind of dog that became the best friend for our four children, and she followed them everywhere they'd let her go: through the woods, down to the fishing brook, up to the old cow fields and into the piney woods.  She slept in their rooms, snoozed quietly while they built Legos for hours, waited patiently for them beneath their treehouse, and was the first to dive into the new plastic toddler pool, shredding it immediately.  She never wanted to be separated from her beloved Daniel, Matthew, Kate and Laura.

Anyone who reads my books knows that I love to write about transformation, about characters who face mountains of adversity and because they find grit and determination, are able to push on and become more than they thought they could be.

Well, the same holds true for dogs.

Sally did not start out very well. We already had one very elderly rescue dog on the day that we received a call from a dear friend on the other side of town.  She knew our big family well and thought we were the perfect home for an almost-year-old mixed breed golden retriever with an unhappy past.

Our friends knew a great dog when they saw one.This scrawny red dog might not look like much but she is smart with a lot of heart and she could really become a great family dog, they told us. 

There was plan in place that included a half dozen people to spirit her away from the house where she had been mistreated. No one wanted Sally to go back to her former owner, so one day our friends scooped Sally up, hid her in their barn, took her to the vet, and called us.

On a very cold winter day with snow on the fields in our town in rural Rhode Island, we piled into our minivan and went and had ourselves a look.
  
Well, here’s what we found:  Already in her short life, Sally had been mistreated, was malnourished and untrained. She was filthy, had been allowed to wander all over the streets of our town, and was extremely strong-willed.  Not a good combination. And yet she immediately latched onto our children with a thumping tail and dozens of kisses, and so we brought her home.

Well.  It was not all easy street. Sally was used to running off wherever she wanted to go. She didn’t like to be confined inside the house, either.  We lived in a 200 year old home with very old windows.  If we left Sally in the house when we weren't home, she simply pushed the old windows out onto the ground and jumped out. She ran around the neighborhood, and during one long escape, she got picked up by the dog officer and was taken to the animal shelter and put into what our children called "Doggy Jail." And she barked.  A lot.  Barking was a sport to Sally.

In essence, Sally was a very bad, no good, pretty terrible dog.  More than once, we thought that maybe she was too much for us.  But if you know our family, we are no quitters.  We’ve survived a house fire and lived for nearly a year in an emergency trailer on our property while a new home was being built, and we know how to push on.

Time passed and we learned how to train our unruly dog. Lots of love, lots of exercise, lots of treats, lots of firm attention, did I say lots of love? Incredible amounts of love. We installed an invisible fence and suddenly Sally had two acres to run around as fast and as often as she wanted and she decided that it was her job to keep our property free of all squirrels, birds, rabbits and anything else that crawled or slithered.  With all that exercise and four children to look after and healthy food and lots of love, she quieted down and became an incredibly good dog with a very big heart.  She became the dog of our dreams. 

Sally died halfway through the writing of Chasing Augustus. It is unbelievably sad to lose a dog you love. 

Sally lived the essence of something I try and remind myself of each day:  It's not the circumstances of your life that define you.  It's the action you take that tells the world who you are.

It turns out that we if we are brave and refuse to quit, we can always write the next chapter of our lives.

And this is true, even for dogs.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sit. Stay. Read!






Launch Day is here!

I am so excited to send Rosalita Gillespie and her dog, Augustus, into the world today.

The novel is the story of a girl who will never give up on her dog, not ever. It's a story of resilience and discovering who you are and where you belong, and finding help in unlikely places.

Here's what the reviewers are saying!

"God's bones!  Magnificent."  - Kirkus, starred

A "heartfelt tale" with "a fleet of unforgettable characters" that "will appeal to young fans of Kate DiCamillo" - School Library Journal

"Excellent" - The Providence Journal 
 

"The writing is smooth and evocative" -  The Bulletin of Children's Literature

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Random House Children's Books Indie Rep Spotlight Pick fall 2017 list

Monday, May 15, 2017

"GOD'S BONES! MAGNIFICENT"




                            CHASING AUGUSTUS by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Kirkus StarCHASING AUGUSTUS

KIRKUS REVIEW

Could Rosie’s life be much worse?
While still a baby, she was abandoned by her emotionally distant mother to the care of Rosie’s father, so she could “make something of herself.” He and her “big lug” of a dog, Augustus, were all a girl could need. But a year ago, her father suffered a disabling stroke, and her mother returned home just long enough to give her dog away. In the far-from-tender care of her grumpy, bewildered, but loving paternal grandfather—and under the threat of being taken away by her mother—Rosie has spent the past year desperately searching for her dog, thinking of little else. Her gripping, animated narrative—she’s given to employing medieval-style curses she and her papa have invented—is spun out across a dismal landscape of struggling but colorful and richly developed (though mostly default white) characters. There’s Phillippe, neglected by his mentally unstable mother, constantly hiding within a giant overcoat, and now in Mrs. Salvatore’s loud but tender foster care; Cynthia, another neglected child, who can rarely stop talking; a mute, outsider woman, Swanson, who has an undeservedly fearsome reputation; and Mr. Peterson, a teacher who could make all the difference if Rosie would let him. Ultimately, it’s Rosie’s heart and determined spirit that see her through to a hopeful, well-deserved resolution.
God’s bones! Magnificent. (Fiction. 10-14)

Friday, March 3, 2017

A new draft begins



 






With CHASING AUGUSTUS set for publication in September, I have begun writing the first draft of a new novel.  Each time I begin again I have to remind myself how difficult it is to create something out of nothing.
 
I love these wise words by the novelist Octavia Butler:
 
"First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice."
 
I agree.  An amazing amount of work can get done, one day at a time.

I tell students in the classes I visit that if you write a page a day, you can write an entire novel in a year.

Now, back to work!

 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

This dog!






Reason #157 Why An Author Should Love a Dog:

Because when the words aren't working and the sentences aren't flowing, and you wonder why you ever wanted to be a writer in the first place, your dog gently wags her tail and looks at you with those soft doe eyes and tells you:


Oh, Kim, this is so hard, BUT YOU CAN DO IT!

And then you begin again.  

Because you love a dog.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Favorite Room




    This is the spot in my home where I love to read.  I usually read several books at once, and our family room, with comfy couches, a crackling woodstove, and blankets woven from our sheep wool, is the perfect reading spot.
     When I visit schools I am almost always asked to list my favorite books, so I've been keeping a list for more than a decade. Here are my top books of 2016! (I already have many for 2017, but I'll have to wait to add them to my list...)


              The Girl Who Drank the Moon
                    by Kelly Barnhill (middle grade)
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (middle grade)
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (young adult)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (adult)
The Underground Railroad by Coleson Whitehead (adult)
Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (adult)
 
I also try and read several classics a year, and this year my favorite was a reread of:
 
 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
 

And for my writing friends, my favorite writing book of the year was:

  The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson.








Monday, January 2, 2017

A Year of Gratitude



When you are writing a novel about a girl and her dog, you need to do a lot of research!  Happy New Year everyone.  Let's make it a year of love and peace and kindness.