I am excited to have on the blog today a wonderful author and friend, Braden Bell. He recently had his 2nd middle-grade book, PENUMBRAS, come out and he has agreed to do an interview and share a little about his new book. Just a little about Braden:
Braden Bell grew up in Farmington, Utah and graduated from Davis High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theatre from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in educational theatre from New York University. He and his wife, Meredith live with their five children on a quiet, wooded lot outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches theatre and music at a private school. An experienced performer, Braden enjoys singing, acting, reading, gardening, and long walks with the dog.
So that's a little about him. Now here's a bit about the book:
Conner Dell didn't meant to blow up the school bus. Or the bathrooms. In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens. But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.
Conner Dell wants to be good--he really does. But he is terrified that he might be turning into a Darkhand, especially when new powers start to surface. What's worse, the Stalker is following Conner, but no one else seems to be able to see him. The Magi think he might be hallucinating, the guilt of what happened in the Shadowbox keeps weighing on him, and his relationship with Melanie Stephens is complicating things. Even for a Magi, Conner knows his life is anything but normal.
Can you share a little about your new book, PENUMBRAS?
Braden Bell: PENUMBRAS is the second volume in The Middle School Magic series. The first installment, THE KINDLING came out last summer. I am currently working on the third volume, which will hopefully come out next summer.
“Penumbras” is a somewhat unusual title. Can you explain it?
Braden Bell: A penumbra is a vague, shadowy, area, neither fully light nor dark. The Kindling, the first book in the series was about the sparking of new and exciting powers. This particular book follows the characters as they confront the complex consequences of those initial events and confront the shadowy places in their own hearts.
Braden Bell: One night during a sky-splitting spring thunderstorm, my kids came home from a church activity and told me about a man they had seen driving home. He had a black cape and was walking across people’s yards in the storm. Wondering about who he was and what he was doing triggered the idea for the book.
What is your background?
Braden Bell: I am a middle school choir and theatre director at a small private school. I’m the father of five children and the husband of one wonderful wife.
Speaking of that background, is it a coincidence that a middle school theatre and choir teacher has such a prominent part in the book? How about the students and other teachers in the book? Are they based on anyone specific?
Braden Bell: Well, writers write what they know! Dr. Timberi is admittedly similar to me in some ways. However, that’s not because he’s modeled on me. Rather, it’s because he is someone I would like to be. As far as the other characters, in the very beginning, I did sort of model their voices on some specific people—but that changed within a few pages of the first draft and they quickly become their own unique characters.
Beyond the characters, are there any other events based on real life experiences?
Braden Bell: There is a sad scene towards the end between Dr. Timberi and one of his students. While it is not an exact replication, being a theatre director means I have dealt with disappointed and/or angry students (and parents!) for many years. I tend to have a pretty thick skin. However, there are occasional times when this gets to me. This scene was actually inspired by a particularly difficult confrontation with a student of whom I was quite fond. I wrote the scene as a way of working through the incident—and ended up keeping it. The only other thing that might be based in reality is the degree to which teachers truly do care about their students. I don’t think the students often realize just how much teachers and other adult figures care about them and what they would do to protect and help them.
What is your favorite thing to do, besides reading or writing?
Braden Bell: My wife and I love to watch old movies, or adaptations of literary classics. Nearly anything by the BBC! I also love working in my yard.
Thank you Braden for being a part of my blog today! You can find more information about Braden and his books at: http://www.bradenbell.com/
penumbras-order.html (Discounted Price: $9.99+s&h)
Barnes and Noble: http://www.
barnesandnoble.com/w/ penumbras-braden-bell/ 1114516270
Except from the Book:
Conner Dell didn’t mean to blow up the school bus.
Or the bathrooms.
In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.
But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.
It all started on the annual seventh grade science trip to the Sea Lab at Dauphin Island, Alabama. Fifty-four thirteen-year-olds on a five-day field trip. What could go wrong?
Especially when three of them happened to be Magi.
For a fraction of a second, Conner thought he saw shadows slithering along the base of the cinderblock walls. Tensing, he blinked and looked again.
Nothing. He was alone in the darkness of his dorm room.
Well, except for his friend and fieldtrip roommate, Pilaf.
Across the room, Pilaf disturbed the darkness by turning his flashlight on and digging through a giant floral print suitcase. Fishing a book out, Pilaf hunched over, tucked the flashlight under his chin, and read.
“What are you reading?” Conner asked.
“Sorry. Did I wake you up?” Pilaf squeaked. “I couldn’t sleep. I guess I slept too much on the bus.”
“No worries.” Conner burrowed into his sleeping bag. He didn’t like messing with sheets on these trips. The springs of the ancient bed creaked beneath him. “I’m not sleepy either.” Lexa? Can you hear me? Conner reached out in his thoughts, wondering if his twin sister was awake in her room on the girls’s floor. Head-talking was a cool benefit of being one of the Magi—a secret group of warriors who used the power of Light to battle evil.
No answer from Lexa. Her allergy medicine must have knocked her out.
Melanie? He tried Lexa’s best friend, Melanie Stephens—also one of the Magi-in-training. Conner listened for her response, trying to ignore the backflip in his chest that came when he thought of her. No answer. Melanie had taken something for motion sickness on the bus. She must be knocked out too.
Conner jerked up as something skittered across the ceiling right above him. No doubt this time. He grabbed his own flashlight, raking the beam across the ceiling tiles as someone whispered his name.
“What?” Conner pointed his flashlight at Pilaf, who looked up from his book, blinking behind his thick glasses. Pilaf’s blinks always reminded Conner of the way a light on a computer blinked when it processed data.
“What?” Pilaf squinted back at him.
“Why did you call me?” Conner asked.
“I didn’t.” Pilaf looked down at his book.
On edge now, Conner lay back down, scanning the room for more shadowy movement, his fingers ready to snap his flashlight back on at any second.
A whispered, hissing sort of growl sounded in his head as a flicker of movement caught his eye. He whipped his head around in time to see a shadowy tail vanish under Pilaf’s bed. Flipping his flashlight on, he investigated the space under the metal frame.
“What are you doing, Conner?” Pilaf managed to blink and stare at the same time.
Trying to protect you from slithery shadow monsters that could slurp your soul like a slushie, Conner thought. How could he keep the flashlight on without alarming Pilaf? Out loud, he said, “Uh, it’s a game. Flashlight tag. You’re it.” He shined the flashlight at Pilaf.
“How do you play?”
“Well . . . one person’s it and he shines a flashlight all over the room.”
“That’s all?” Pilaf blinked until Conner wondered if he was broadcasting the telephone book in Morse code. “It seems kind of pointless.”
“Uh, yeah.” Conner said. “You’re right. Lame. How about shadow puppets?” He slipped his hand in front of the flashlight, wiggling his fingers until the shadow resembled a horse.
“Cool!” Pilaf shouted.
A knock at the door interrupted them and a tired-looking science teacher poked his head in, glaring beneath tousled red hair. “What’s going on in here?”
“Sorry, Mr. Keller,” Pilaf said. “We slept on the bus ride, so we’re not tired. Conner’s making shadows with his hands. Look, a horse!”
“Neeeiiiiggghhh.” Conner threw in sound effects as a special feature.
Apparently unimpressed with great art, Mr. Keller frowned. “Get some sleep. We have a full day tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir.” Conner swallowed his depression at the thought of a five-day science class. Five days of plankton, ocean salinity, salt marshes, and beach ecology. Five days of science, 24/7. At least they were close to the beach. That might be fun.
“Do another one,” Pilaf whispered as the sound of Mr. Keller’s footsteps retreated down the hall.
“Okay, but be quiet this time.” Conner opened his fingers, making a snake’s mouth, complete with a flickering tongue.
It seemed so real that Conner thought he heard a hiss. Unsettled, he dropped his hands, but the hissing noise continued, twisting into words.
Trying to squash the sound, Conner raised his voice. “Here’s another one.” He cupped his hands on top of each other, stuck his thumb up, and opened his fingers slightly.
“Wow!” Pilaf yelled. “A wolf!” He giggled as Conner opened the mouth and growled. “Little pig, little pig let me come in.” Conner prayed that none of the other seventh-grade boys heard he’d been doing Three Little Pigs shadow plays. That would not be cool.
The weird voice came louder. Conner dropped his hands away from the flashlight.
The wolf head stayed there.
Fighting panic, Conner switched the flashlight off, but the wolf head remained, darker than the darkest shadows on the wall.
It stretched and grew bigger, becoming life-sized within seconds. It turned and stared at Conner, a three-dimensional head sticking out of the wall like some kind of freaky hunting souvenir.
The wolf growled, then jumped off the wall, and sailed across the room toward Conner.