Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Boy King Mystery
Investigated in Tut
Investigating ancient mysteries has become a hot fiction genre over the past few years. Whether it’s Dan Brown searching for the Holy Grail in The DaVinci Code or Elizabeth Kosovo tracking down Dracula’s Tomb in The Historian, solving those puzzles has held millions of readers entranced.

iUniverse author Robin Berard, a middle school teacher in South Florida, investigates the mystery surrounding the death of King Tut in her juvenile fiction novel, Tut: The story of the pharaoh and the girl who loved him.

The story is told through the eyes of 15-year-old JoAnne Wilson, who’s bored with her school work. JoAnne gains first-hand knowledge of Tut’s fate, when her social studies teacher finds an interesting way to challenge her.

Ms Berard recently shared some insight on how she came to write the book.

How did you first become interested in the mystery surrounding Tutankhamun? What inspired you to begin writing the book?
This is a very long story, but the short version is: I had been looking for an idea, wondering if I could write a novel. I was teaching 6th grade social studies at the time (I now teach 8th grade Language Arts) and we were doing a webquest—studying whether or not King Tut was murdered or died of natural causes. One of my students commented, "Wouldn't it be great if we could take a field trip back in time and find out what really happened?" That was the moment at which the book was born.

What kind of reaction to the book have you gotten from your fellow teachers, your students and the community?
All have been very supportive. I was a bit nervous when I decided to publish the book because I didn't want people to feel that they had to say nice things; however, my whole school has been positive and supportive. We recently used the book for a book club discussion. That was very strange for me -- listening to other people interpret the book. I have received wonderful emails from people I don't know.

Are you able to incorporate the book into your class?
More for the writing than the content. I use it to show kids how I revise and so forth. Many of our sixth grade classes, who cover that content, have been able to use it. Also, the Tut exhibit is currently nearby in Ft. Lauderdale, so there are many Broward schools currently talking about the book. It also just made the middle school summer reading list (we have 40 middle schools!), so that is VERY exciting.

Who are some of your writing influences?
Another long story. I cannot claim to have had that one influential teacher -- at least not in middle or high school. When I was about 35, I went back to school to earn another degree, and that was the first time a teacher suggested that I should consider writing. Her name was Dr. Cyrene Wells at the University of Maine. Of course, I have read so many wonderful novels...

Did you seek traditional publishing prior to coming to iUniverse? Can you describe that experience?
Yes, I started to do that, but then I found out that the Tut exhibit was due in Ft. Lauderdale in a couple of months, so I decided to "get the book out there" to coincide with that event. It's important to note, however, that I've never thought of this book as valuable only in light of the exhibit. I did query a few agents; those who responded were not interested in EGYPT (politically unpopular?), and many of them did not want to handle "time travels." The publishing business is so difficult to break into... as we all know.

What is your impression of the iUniverse process? Was the editorial evaluation helpful?
My husband and I are both impressed with the iUniverse process, and we think that we got our money's worth and then some. The editorial evaluation certainly gave me a good deal of confidence as it was very positive.

How have you been marketing the book?
Lucky me to be in the school system. I feel this has been a HUGE factor, and it will continue to be a factor as summer months approach. We have notified Barnes and Noble stores and Borders stores throughout Broward that the book is on the summer reading list. Also, I have been told that the Broward Public Library system just ordered copies of the book for their collections in order to provide books to summer readers. Many of my teacher friends have passed the book to their friends in public and private schools, so there is currently a lot of buzz being generated. The museum people have been less helpful. I approached them about carrying the book in their bookstore, but they seemed wrapped up in red tape.

The end of the book strongly hints at a sequel. How's that coming along? Can you share anything about where Jo travels?
Yes, definitely a sequel—I'm thinking possibly a trilogy. I want to share a comment that a parent made to me at the recent book club discussion. She told me that the book had changed her daughter's life because she "would never view social studies the same way." Wow. That took my breath away because way back in the beginning, when I first started writing this book, I wanted kids to enjoy social studies and to understand that people who lived long ago were REAL and lived fascinating lives and fell in love... So, I love the thought of breathing life into social studies. As to the setting of Book Two (untitled, but about half done), you can probably guess the time period (if you reread the last page or two) but I'll keep LOCATION a secret for now. The research I am currently conducting is fascinating!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Vlad Heads Back to Europe!
iUniverse author Michael Augustyn and agent Judy Klein have sold the Italian rights for Augustyn's historical novel, Vlad Dracula, to Newton & Compton Editori.

Movie rights for the novel have been purchased by Our Thing Productions.