"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Former Debut: Irene Latham, Class of 2k10

I had the chance to meet Irene Latham at the Virginia Festival of the Book a few years back and immediately knew she was the kind of person I wanted to surround myself with. Irene is funny and sweet and considerate and (let's not forget) a fantastic writer. So today, I'm thrilled to feature her as my former debut.

And best of all, Irene has a brand new book out which just released yesterday, DON’T FEED THE BOY by Irene Latham (Roaring Brook, October 16, 2012)!

Congratulations, Irene!


Name: Irene Latham
Debut Group: Class of 2k10
Debut novel: LEAVING GEE’S BEND (Putnam, January 7, 2010)

 Hi, Irene! Good luck with that yo-yo!

PJHoover: Okay, so it’s been nearly two years since you graduated from your debut class. Personally, I miss the heck out of knowing what my classmates are up to. So give us the low-down.

IreneL: It’s been a busy two years! I’ve given over 150 presentations for schools, libraries and other groups in 14 different states. In 2011, I completed the Quilt a Month challenge, and created 15 quilts. Life is busy with three sons, and I’m currently teaching the 15 year old to drive. I’ve recently taken a very cool literary vacation, and yes, I’ve written lots and lots of words. I’ve got books out on submission, and my second middle grade novel DON’T FEED THE BOY (about a boy who wants to escape his life at the zoo) was released into the wild yesterday (!). Also, I have a picture book of poems coming in 2014. But the coolest thing? I recently learned to yo-yo! A character in my new book yo-yos, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s addictive.

DON’T FEED THE BOY by Irene Latham (Roaring Brook, October 16, 2012)

PJHoover: If you could summarize to a debut novelist the best part of being a member of an author group like the “Class of” groups, what would you say?

IreneL: BEA. Our class organized a whole tour around BEA, which had us signing at Books of Wonder and The Voracious Reader and giving presentations at the New York Public Library. We shared rooms and cabs and sore feet and other assorted unexpectedness. We even had t-shirts! It. Was. Awesome.

Definitely, if you are in a group like this, plan yourself some team adventures!

Serious fun with seriously awesome people!!!!!

PJHoover: Though I absolutely loved being a debut author, I’m really thrilled with all the experience I’ve gained since. What advice would you give to those who are debuting now? What do you wish you had known when you started out?

IreneL: I think ear muffs and blinders should be handed out with book contracts. It’s very easy to get caught up in the competitive frenzy: her advance was bigger! his press run was twice as much as mine! her book got starred reviews, and mine didn’t!


Protect yourself in whatever way you can. For me, that has meant putting serious limits on social media. The less I know, the better able I am to honor my creative spirit. (This, after a debilitating creative slump brought on by that sneaky wench Envy. She’s nasty, that one. Here’s some ideas on how to deal with it when she shows up at your door.)

LEAVING GEE’S BEND (Putnam, January 7, 2010)

PJHoover: In addition to writing the next mega-million bestselling novel, what do you want to accomplish in the next five years? Do you want to write five more books? Get your black belt in Kung Fu? Walk the Great Wall of China? Let’s hear it.

IreneL: In five years, we’ll be nudging our youngest son out of the nest – which means Hubby and I will finally get to take that Big Trip. (The destination changes on a weekly basis; I’ll let you know.) And I have plans to create an Art Trail and Poetry Garden in my back yard. I’m working on it now, in fact, little by little. I’ve got a list of novels to write, and oh, poems! I just want to keep doing the things that feed my soul and also get away from some of the things that don’t (like meetings. And carpool).

PJHoover: In what ways is your newest book similar to your debut?


1. Both are set in Alabama:
LEAVING GEE’S BEND - 1932 Gee’s Bend, Alabama
DON’T FEED THE BOY – current day, Meadowbrook Zoo (a fictional place modeled after Birmingham Zoo in central Alabama)

2. Both feature kids who are determined to change their lives:
LEAVING GEE’S BEND – 10 year old Ludelphia sets out to save her sick mother, even though she’s never before left Gee’s Bend
DON’T FEED THE BOY- 11 year old Whit creates adventure inside and outside the zoo with the mysterious Bird Girl, even though it’s against the rules.

3. In both stories, there’s art.
LEAVING GEE’S BEND – Ludelphia stitches her story in a quilt made from scraps she collects along her adventure.
DON”T FEED THE BOY – The Bird Girl comes to the zoo every day to escape her home life and to draw birds. Also, thanks to Millie the resident pachyderm, there’s elephant-art!

4. Both were inspired by my childhood.
LEAVING GEE’S BEND – I am the daughter of a seamstress, just like Ludelphia.
DON’T FEED THE BOY – I trained as a teen volunteer at the Birmingham Zoo and enjoyed behind-the-scenes access, just like Whit.

5. Both stories are ultimately about finding one’s place in the world. (And that’s all I can say about that without spoilers!)

PJHoover: Thank you so much for being here, Irene!


Irene Latham is the award-winning author of two novels for children, LEAVING GEE'S BEND (Putnam/Penguin, 2010) and DON'T FEED THE BOY (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2012) and two volumes of poetry, THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS and WHAT CAME BEFORE. She lives with her husband and three sons in Birmingham, Alabama.


Thanks for helping me celebrate former debuts! If you are a former debut and are interested in being featured, check out this post here


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Love this lady. Irene, I had no idea you have a picture book of poems coming out!

Irene Latham said...

Thank you so much for having me, Tricia! I have reallyl enjoyed your Former Debut series and am happy to be a part of it. And Caroline, yes to poetry! Love you too. xo

PJ Hoover said...

Yes, Caroline! She is so sweet!

Thank you for being here and for all your support, Irene!

Linda at teacherdance said...

Just an FYI-my copy of Leaving Gee's Bend is winding its way throughout our school, adults and students! They are loving it! The latest reader is so excited because she's studying sewing, and quilting!
Now I need to find a student who is studying zoos! Almost ready for the book!

PJ Hoover said...

How awesome is that, Linda! Thank you for sharing! I've always thought I'd enjoy quilting...