Illustrator Interview with Kristin Abbott

KristinGet to know Kristin…

I am currently designing giant sculptures that will be in a lantern festival opening in Barcelona, Spain this October. I spend most of my time thinking of funny and colorful things to make people, especially kids, happy. I love to draw places I would like to visit in the world and invent new adventurelands I wish existed. I love putting colors together especially with paint. I love to daydream in stories everyday. Hmmm… I must be an illustrator.  I have had the lovely opportunity to illustrate many children’s books and I teach illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Long ago I graduated from Stanford University and worked as a journalist for a few years until I took a different job being a Mom. That’s when I started illustrating and here we are at the beginning of my bio. For more info, visit my website 

Quirky Questions

If you ran a funeral home, what would your company slogan be?

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good bye.

What is the messiest place in your home?

The bedroom of my teenaged son.

What random act of kindness have you done in the past year?

There is a homeless man I see everyday on my way home from the ice rink. Usually I give him a few dollars but one early morning last winter I noticed that he had no gloves. I gave him mine.

If had to smell like one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Bergamot. It’s so clean and makes me think of shady green places.

What current product do you think will baffle people in 100 years?

Most exercise machines.

What is the last thing you paid money for?

A diet Dr. Pepper from the 7-11.

What do you often make fun of?

Reality shows, especially the Housewives of Anywhere.

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

Someone tidies up the bed and bathroom for me every day.

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

Working on a double salchow at the ice rink right now. I started skating as an adult and I ‘m working my way through jumps that most nine year old girls can do easily….sigh.

If you could have your mailbox shaped like an object, what would it be?

A Golden Spanish Galleon in full sail!

What healthy habit are you glad you have? Whats your worst habit?

Healthy: I love to eat my vegetables:)  Worst Habit: I forget people’s birthdays (apologies to my brothers…)

What is the biggest advantage of being tall? Biggest advantage of being short?

Tall: Can reach things on high shelves.  Short: More comfortable on long airplane flights.

What would you title your autobiography?

It’s ok if you forget me.

What topic would you like to know more about?

So many things! Any foreign language, any lost civilization around the world, shipwrecks, surfing, camping, ice dance, riparian habitat, ocean science and marine biology, meteorology, forestry, geology, brain development and neurological function, traumatic brain injury and healing, epilepsy, lyme disease, autism, beekeeping, and a thousand more things!

Knowing what you know now, what would you change about your high school experience?

I wouldn’t spend every day trying to be invisible.

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

Everyone is so different, I can’t say that I notice one same thing consistently.

If you could travel back to 1492, what advice would you give Columbus?

Take my Swiss Army Watch, it will help you navigate better.

If you were a prescription drug, what would be your main side effect?

May cause daydreaming.

What company advertisements could you model for?

Uncle Norbert’s Reindeer Burgers.

What is the worst occupation in the world?

Jihadi.

BWBinterior011Illustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I haven’t run into this problem yet!

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?

Yes.

Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?

I chose this, but I chose it accidentally.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Just before I fall a sleep.

Who or what has helped you to persevere through the challenges?

My kids.

If you were no longer able to illustrate, how else would you express your creativity?

I would write more.

What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the illustrator you are today?

There are jobs I could do that would make much more money.

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?

Just keep swimming’  — oh wait, that’s what Dory, of ‘Finding Nemo’ says…

When did you realize that you had a gift for illustrating?

I love it when kids come to my house and they see my artwork and say, “OOooOOH! I want to go there!” When the first kid said that.

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?

7:45 am – 3:30pm every school day is all mine.

What is your typical day like?

6:30-8am Ice rink (or gym). Sitting at my drawing table by 9am with KQED (NPR) on the radio. Email check, draw paint draw paint draw paint. 3:30 kid check — carpool car pool car pool. Dinner. 7pm Pay bills, send out post cards, paperwork details, promo stuff. 10pm Good night kids. 10:30 Good night husband. Goodnight. (**My kids are old enough that they do not need bath or storytime from me anymore.)

How much of your own life is reflected in your work?

Everything I do is a little part of what is inside of me.

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

Nope. Engineers, scientists, teachers or science teachers.

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

Yes! So much of my work is a reflection of me in my childhood. We lived on the edge of the woods and had all kinds of freedom to roam around and explore. National Geographic was my window to the world. I was sure I was going to be an archaeologist or explorer. Lots of my work is armchair travel for me. We had a fun neighborhood full of nice kids from huge families.

Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

There was a series I was working on, “The Sports Princesses,” published by an Australian company. I finished the Soccer Princess, The Baseball Princess and the Football Princess (The American titles). The stories had such a fun ‘girl power’ theme and there were going to be ten in the series, but the company was sold and they went out of publication. I still love the idea, the strong concept and the fun possibilities in the artwork.

How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre?

Most illustrators in children’s books want to draw little characters and nothing else. I really love to design the whole world. Complicated scenes with extra special perspective is fun for me.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

It’s time for me to change. I have gotten much faster over the years, but I would like to change my style too. What happens though is that I have a certain kind of work in my portfolio, and that is what people hire me to do — so I end up getting assignments where they want what they have seen before. I will have to create personal work in order to have the opportunity to try new styles.

When do you feel the most energized?

Putting finishing touches upon a successful painting:)

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

Absolutely. Funny, colorful, exuberant, fanciful –easy. Thoughtful, sweet, reflective — easy. I struggle to do dark, sick and twisted.

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Illustrator Interview with Bob McMahon

BobmGet to know Bob…

Bob McMahon’s work has ranged from advertising, toy concepts, and movie posters to educational art and children’s books. His latest project was the illustrations for the book Apple Days by Allison Soffer published by Kar-Ben Publishing. He lives in sunny southern California with his wife, daughter and a crazy dog named Riley. For more info, visit his website. 

Quirky Questions 

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish could make a comeback today?

I wish  illustrators could afford to work in group studios where we can all see what each other is working on and inspire each other creatively. Nowadays with the pitiful pay that artists earn you just can’t afford rent or a mortgage and the rent in a group studio.

But I have to admit that Face book is a pretty close approximation of a group artist’s studio. 

Why would somebody choose not to date you?

Probably because I’m married…. to a Judo black belt. 

What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason?’

I still have my Agfa Lupe viewer…you may have to Google that. And a Proportion Wheel. Haven’t used those in a decade + but I still keep them. I don’t know why. 

If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees?

Free beef jerky. I got a tour of the Facebook campus once and they have big baskets of free beef jerky for their employees. Of all the free thing that they offered (and there were many) that’s the one that stuck out. 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up?

Red Vines. The world is divided into two societies- one that like Red Vines and those who like Twizzlers. Twizzlers..Pftpbbrrth! 

What is the most revolutionary TV show of all time?

Twilight Zone. Great stories with a message. Or Spongebob, same thing.

If every activity in life were an Olympic sport, what would you win the gold in?

Coffee drinking! I totally rock at that!! 

What one rule do you frequently disregard?

Draw within the lines. Never did, never will.

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented?

A machine that tells an artist to start drawing and then takes the pen out of their hand when they are done.

What movie deserves a sequel?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Why was there no sequel to that? 

bombIllustrating Questions

Which of your projects gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

Projects where I’m given the freedom to come up with own ideas or my own projects where I can let my imagination go where it wants to go.

WhHow do you think you differ from other illustrators?

There are SO many great illustrators out there! I would like to think that I can come up with funny, clever little drawings that will make you smile.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

My art seems to be loosening up lately. I like to experiment with new styles and brushes and paints in Corel Painter and see where it leads.

When do you feel the most energized?

I feel most energized when I’m working on a project so intensely that I lose track of time and all the problems and distractions seem to fade away and just seem to be in my own little art world.

If you were no longer able to illustrate, how else would you express your creativity?

Strangely enough if I couldn’t illustrate I think I would like to be an archaeologist. I love history and I think working out in some long lost place digging up a former civilization sounds wonderful!

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?

Make art that makes people happy.

When did you realize that you had a gift for illustrating?

In elementary school I was told to stop drawing and do my school work. I didn’t stop. Ever.
Also I grew up loving Mad Magazine and New Yorker cartoonists so I really never considered doing anything else.

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?

It’s always a struggle I don’t think anyone has it worked out perfectly but I do put relationships with people above projects, especially my family. I want to see my daughter who is eight years old grow up and not miss anything by having nose stuck full time in my computer screen.

What is your typical day like?

I like to start my day at 5am…I know, that sounds crazy but it’s before everyone gets up and I can waste time on Facebook  guilt free. I start working by 5:30 or 6 and I work in 30 minute blocks timed by an on line countdown timer with 10 minute breaks in between.  In those 10 minute breaks I can make phone calls, pay bills and do general housekeeping stuff.
One hour for lunch and then I stop working at about 6pm and I’m in bed my 9pm.
Working in 30 minute blocks seems to work for me and it took a while to get the right work/break timing.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Sometimes you can work your way through it by just keeping your pencil moving until the creativity starts to flow and sometime you just need to walk away and do something else and give your creativity time to recharge.

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin?

Yes I do visualize my finished art before and that can be frustrating! If I can just get 70%  of what I’m visualizing I consider the artwork a great success.

Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?

All my life it felt like an irresistible force dragging me down into its swirling vortex…what that sounds like a good thing right?

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

When I sit down in my office chair first thing in the morning there a feeling inside that says “It’s Showtime!” and then sometimes nothing happens…and sometime I get a burst of creativity.

Who or what has helped you persevere when you face challenges?

I know that whatever challenges I have right now that they will pass.  There will be a day after, and that I can get through this just as I’ve always have.

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

I grew up with Mad Magazines and New Yorker style gag cartoons when all the other kids were reading superhero comics and I think that shows in my work now.

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Author Interview with Joyce Ragland

FRED-book-cover-frontGet to know Joyce…

Joyce C. Ragland, RA for Missouri 2011- 2013, is the author of more than one hundred academic publications in the form of two books, articles, reports, conference proceedings, training modules, conference papers and more. She has been editor or reviewer of publications by Prentice-Hall, McGraw-Hill, Wiley and others. In addition to academic publications, she has published short stories and poetry. She has two nonfiction books published by Paperback Press, LLC: DREAD THE FRED (November, 2013) and THROWAWAY CHILD (June, 2014) and a work-in-progress, TRAVEL IN THE SIXTIES, for her charity, the Ella Ragland Art Company. She lives in Springfield, Missouri with Bessie Jo, a short haired Border Collie rescue dog. For more info, visit her blog.

Quirky Questions 

If you could make up a school subject, what would it be?

Freelance writing.

What latest trend simply baffles you?

I’m not sure what the latest trends are. 

What bad habit will you purposely never kick?

Since I’m over 60, I’ve earned the right to be eccentric and part of that is not admitting publicly to any bad habits. 

If you had to choose, what is the most important quality in a relationship—humor, smarts, personality, looks, money, or mutual interests?

Intelligence, aka “smarts,” which is mostly related to your choice of “mutual interests” – and that also includes humor. 

If you could add one feature to your cell phone, what would it be?

My cell phone already has more features that I want or need, including several apps that don’t seem to have a delete feature. So… I want to easily delete foodball, candyland, and similar games from my phone. 

What do you consider your nicest feature? What about your worst feature?

Physical or emotional/spiritual features? I don’t know how to answer this. 

What would motivate you to run a marathon?

Turn back the clock to my twenties and someone has offered one million dollars for me to run a marathon. (You didn’t say I had to finish.) 

If you were a talk-show host, who would you want as your first guest?

Charlie Rose. 

If you were to write a song about your high school years, what would you title it?

Never My Love. 

Fill in the blank. I am so much smarter than _________.

I used to be.

What could never be considered “art”?

Environmental pollution. Child abuse. Animal abuse. Abuse in any form. 

What have you tried in life, and simply were not good at?

Most anything athletic. 

If you were to sell something at an auction, what would you sell?

Any of several antiques and collectibles, starting with some beautiful Czech glass vases. 

What are you most neurotic about?

You need to ask my friends and ex-husbands this question. I do try not to be neurotic about anything although I have been terrified of snakes all my life. And spiders. 

Can you share an embarrassing story?

I could, but won’t, thank you very much. 

What is the strongest bond you have with an inanimate object?

My laptop computer. 

48995614bd940a82390a4f.L._V367120624_SY470_Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

I write nonfiction and fiction – and had some poetry  published in college days. Writing is part of me and always has been.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My nonfiction book, Dread the FRED, published November 2013 tells the story of a small rural (underdog) school’s 2010 national robotics championship. I graduated from that high school in 1965 so know better than anyone, the challenges those students faced – and conquered.

How do you know when a book is finished?

The characters tell you; however, you must have a story arc so when you start writing you know the ending in general. But the action and dialog will end the story for you, if you’re really letting the characters tell the story.

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

Creative people must have an outlet for their “juices” or they will go stark raving crazy.

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this?

I want to write the perfect story from the outset, so have trouble getting the first words on paper – onscreen, that is. I have to make myself just put something down, then I can later go back and revise as much as needed.

Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

In nonfiction, yes, but not in fiction.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

I need to be well rested because I write best in the morning. Can’t get going if I’ve had a bad sleep.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Join writers’ groups; if there is none in your area, start one. Go to writers’ conferences. Invest in paid critiques of revised manuscripts (not first drafts) with top name editors. Then, only then, submit your manuscript to agents or publishers. 

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Annie Proulx, Ellen Hopkins, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, William Faulkner … just a few.

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

My tendency toward perfectionism is an ongoing obstacle – wanting to get the manuscript perfect from the first draft to the final edit. I’ve learned to write, get critiques, re-write several times, then after one final outside edit, go to press. The next huge obstacle for all writers, I think, is marketing the book. The competition is fierce – hundreds of thousands of good books (and some not-so-good books) flood the market.

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Illustrator Interview with Laura Jacobsen

SockPuppetsGet to know Laura… 

Laura Jacobsen has been drawing, painting, doodling, and generally making a mess her whole life. She graduated from The Columbus College of Art and Design and her work has appeared in many, many textbooks, wonderful magazines like Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, Ask, Highlights for Children and High Five, and in several picture books including My Brother Loved Snowflakes, Animal Mischief, The Best Eid Ever, A Party in Ramadan and The Boy and the North Wind.

Laura now uses her computer to create her illustrations when she is not posting on Facebook or answering e-mail. Her two dogs, Hopper and Lucy, keep her company in her studio, clean up the crumbs and alert her to every outside noise, including those audible only to them. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

What would you do if you wanted to annoy someone?

I’ve made up personalities, back stories and voices for my dogs. I’ll walk around holding imaginary conversations with them. In public.

What do you do too much of?

The internet.

What do you do too little of?

Writing, painting, drawing, any of the hundred hobbies I’ve bought all the supplies for…

If you could make up a school subject, what would it be?

General Life Skills 101. Seriously, how hard is it to break down a cardboard box so it fits in the recycling bin?

If you could own one type of store, what would it be?

An art supply store. I’d spend all day there just inhaling THAT SMELL.

What do you waste your time doing?

Again, the internet.

What is the biggest inconvenience about the place you are currently living in?

Lack of good food close by. I would love to just walk down the block and have all things spicy available.

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

Spaghetti with Italian sausage, or homemade pizza. My WASP mom learned to cook Italian like a pro.

What do you do every day, without fail?

I make the bed. It makes the feeling of Clean Sheet Day last longer.

What is something you wish you did every day, without fail?

Meditate.

What makes you want to throw up?

German chocolate cake. There was a CVI (Childhood Vomit Incident) involving it, still can’t eat the stuff.

What was the worst grade you’ve ever received? What class was it?

I got a C in Biology one semester in high school. I drew two big posters showing the insides of frogs for extra credit to bring it up to a B. I was a bit of a slacker in school and so did a lot of extra credit posters to keep the parental units happy.

What are you thinking about right now?

How gross dissecting frogs was. 

PigNeedsANameIllustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I surf the web looking at art, I read, I go out with friends. Just DOING something is always the best way to get past a block. Staring at the wall wallowing (which I have also done) never helps.

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?

Things rarely turn out like the image in my head, but yes, I usually have an idea of how I want it to look.

Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?

I feel I chose it. I was always drawing as a kid, and when I visited the art school I ended up going to, I can remember telling my mom, “I HAVE to learn how to do this.” I am still running after it yelling, “No, wait, I choose you! Get back here, I choose you!”

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

In the shower, I always get the best ideas there.

Who or what has helped you to persevere through the challenges?

Definitely my long suffering hubby. I’m not sure he knew what he was signing up for, but I could not be doing this without his support. And his computer expertise.

If you were no longer able to illustrate, how else would you express your creativity?

I’d write no question.

What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the illustrator you are today?

I don’t feel I’ve had to make any sacrifices. I’ve worked hard and continue to at something I love-no sacrifices there. I’m extremely fortunate, my life is easy compared to many. I try not to take this for granted.

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?

Don’t give up what you want most for what you want right now. The big picture might change, but one needs to always, ALWAYS keep it in mind.

If you knew that you had only one last opportunity to express yourself creatively, what message would you want to convey to others?

I like the funny, I like making people laugh. I would want to put something amusing out there.

When did you realize that you had a gift for illustrating?

I have always liked to draw and do art projects. I was lucky to have gone to a well funded public school that had art classes, so I got encouragement from my teachers to continue to pursue art, including a scholarship to art school.

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?

I don’t have children, so it is pretty easy to juggle. I really don’t know how some of my illustrator/parent friends manage.

What is your typical day like?

I have coffee and peruse Facebook and answer e-mail, then I get dressed. I try to do my hair and makeup etc., just like I’m going to a regular job most days, it is a slippery slope to wearing your pajamas for two weeks straight. Then it is into the studio to work. If I’m on deadline it’s pretty much non-stop until around four when I work-out for an hour and then start dinner. After dinner, I work more if I’m on a deadline, otherwise evenings are spent reading and binge-watching shows on Netflix with the hubs. I try and save errands and chores for a day during the week rather than the weekend. One of the perks of self-employment.

How much of your own life is reflected in your work?

Up until now, not a whole lot, but I am currently working on a picture book manuscript that has its beginnings in my own family.

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

My mom’s dad was an artist, both commercial and fine art.

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

Again, I was very fortunate. It influenced me simply because I was given all the opportunity and encouragement a child could have. I hate how we have eviscerated art education in this country and grieve the loss of all that talent. I will continue to vote for those who support strengthening and funding public education.

Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

The one I just finished, Exploring the West, Tales of Courage on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, mainly because my drawing and painting skills get better with each project, so the most recent is usually my favorite.

How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre?

I’m still casting about trying to find my niche despite being at it for awhile. I’ve always been a late bloomer.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

I’ve definitely loosened up and am trying to do so even more. As my drawing has improved, I let it show more and more. I may switch mediums eventually.

When do you feel the most energized?

Usually when I’m working on my own stories. As I mentioned, I enjoy humor, so if I’m cracking myself up, that’s a good day.

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

Some parts of it, others not as much. I think the goal is to have your work showcase the parts of yourself you most want it to. I am still working on that.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Deborah Hopkinson

DebGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for young readers including picture books, historical fiction, and nonfiction. A prolific picture book author, Deborah has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text twice, for Apples to Oregon and A Band of Angels. Other picture books include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the IRA Award; Sky Boys, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book; and Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole, winner of the Oregon Book Award.

Deborah’s nonfiction includes Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, which received a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction honor and a Robert F. Sibert Honor. Up Before Daybreak, Cotton and People in America, won a Carter G. Woodson Award Honor, and Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York 1880-1924, received an NCTE Orbis Pictus honor. Deborah’s middle grade novel, The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, won an Oregon Spirit Award.

 A native of Massachusetts, Deborah received a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Up until 2014, Deborah also pursued a career in higher education fundraising, serving such institutions as Whitman College and Oregon State University. She and her husband, winemaker Andy Thomas, live in West Linn, Oregon and have two grown children.

A frequent presenter at schools and conferences, Deborah loves history and is passionate about encouraging young readers to think like historians. Her next book, in Fall 2015, is Courage & Defiance, Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark. For more info, follow Deborah on Twitter  and visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What one commercial product are you totally loyal to?

Chobani yogurt!  I even carry it with me in my suitcase when I travel to visit schools.

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?

I think the lack of support for school library budgets may be the biggest challenge children’s authors like me face. Most of my books aren’t even carried in chain bookstores. Librarians and teachers keep my books alive. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

I was interested in history in graduate school, but really writing historical fiction and nonfiction came about primarily because I love to read about history, and enjoy learning new things. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Although I may not have been aware of the impact until much later, growing up in a historic city (Lowell, Massachusetts) had an impact. I read a lot, but the lives of ordinary women and men were not covered in children’s books as they are now. My desire to find out more has shaped my work.

How do you know when a book is finished?

Sometimes I feel books are never done – they can always get better. But at a certain point (usually when the deadline is upon me), I come to a point where I feel that at this moment in time, this is the best I can do. (That is usually after several go-rounds with my editor too!) 

Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?

Actually, for most of my writing career I have had a full time job. It was only earlier this year that I left my job in development, raising funds for higher education, to write and visit schools full time.  I feel fortunate to have learned a lot in both careers.

Deb1Who do you consider a literary genius?

Dickens, Austen, and Charlotte Bronte. 

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

I feel I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with amazing editors from the beginning.  I would have liked to write full time earlier, but on the other hand, having a day job and not traveling for school visits enabled me to spend more time with my children.  So, all in all, I have been lucky. And I don’t mind revising, which is necessary because I am a writer who rarely gets it right the first time!

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Usually I just sit down, drink coffee, and start. When I am stuck, going to the gym or taking a shower helps. 

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Just put your energies in the direction you want to go – and don’t give up. Read as much as you can and don’t pay attention to trends.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I wanted to be a writer when I was ten years old. I didn’t actually start until my early thirties, though, in part because I didn’t at first consider writing for children. But when I had my daughter and I began reading picture books to her, it struck me that this was something I could try while working full time. Now that I am writing (and visiting schools) full time I am ecstatic!  I feel incredibly lucky to have work that I love passionately. 

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Author Interview with Amber Skye Forbes

when-stars-dieGet to know Amber…

Amber Skye Forbes is a dancer and writer who prefers pointe shoes over street shoes, leotards over skirts, and ballet buns over hairstyles. She loves striped tights and bows and will edit your face with a Sharpie if she doesn’t like your attitude. She lives in Augusta, Georgia where she writes dark fiction that will one day put her in a psychiatric ward…again. But she doesn’t care because her cat is a super hero who will break her out.  For more info, visit her Facebook, Twitter, blog, Goodreads, and website.

 Quirky Questions

What question do you tire of answering?

“What is your book” about is a question I tire of answering. There are much more creative questions people can ask that give a more well-rounded review of the depth of When Stars Die. At the same time, I am still grateful for the interview.

Would you rather live in a world where there were no problems or a world where you ruled supreme?

A world where there are no problems. I would love to have a supreme rule, but it seems, no matter the person, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I might think I’m going to rule with everyone’s best interests in mind, but then you get to a point where you realize you’re going to have to sacrifice the welfare of some people to help out the welfare of others. That’s not a choice I’d want to make.

Would you rather endure a zombie apocalypse or World War III?

That’s a tough decision. The US was never used as a battleground for WWI or WWII. At the same time, those were people we were fighting against, people we were killing, ones who were simply defending their country as we were defending ours. So I guess I’d have to say zombie apocalypse. At least the undead aren’t undead because of us—mostly.

Would you rather be able to speak with all animals or all foreign languages?

All animals, assuming I can still speak English with people. I just really want to know the thoughts that go through an animal’s mind. There are just so many days where I wish I could speak to my cat.

Would you rather be deaf in one ear or only be able to use the Internet one hour per week?

Deaf in one ear. I’m starting an online college, so the internet is rather necessary for me to get stuff done. Plus, I’m an author.

Would you rather be the richest person alive or immortal?

Immortal. I just really want to see how the world changes. I also want to live to see new discoveries, especially those involving space.

Mac or PC?

PC. Compare a high-priced PC to a Mac and the PC is exponentially better in terms of power in storage space. You can only get these PCs online, but they are totally customizable to suit your needs. Macs are only useful for creative types, sans writers, where PCs work better for us. Otherwise, PCs are more flexible in terms of usage.

If you could choose to write your next book on a typewriter or with a quill pen, which would you choose?

Quill pen, with the assumption that the pen would make my handwriting super pretty.

Would you rather live in a retirement home or a mental institution?

Well, I have been hospitalized before, but I’d have to say retirement home. At least they can go out and do things. Then again, it depends on the mental institution. With the two I was at, you were pretty much locked in until you were discharged.

Would you rather have your mind serve as an iPod so you can listen to music any time or be able to watch your dreams on TV?

I would love to watch my dreams on TV. They’d probably provide excellent story fodder. I’d probably never run out of ideas for novels then.

Would you rather talk like Yoda or breathe like Darth Vader?

Talk like Yoda. His style of speech is just cool.

Would you rather be stuck in an elevator with two wet dogs or two fat men with bad breath?

Two wet dogs. For one, I can just shove them aside in the elevator. For another, depending on the breed, those wet dogs may not smell too bad.

amber-forbesWriting Questions

If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?

When Stars Die is pretty religious in nature. I hope it causes people to really reflect on their religion and the thinking that has resulted from that religion’s ideals. So, ultimately, I want religion to become more humanistic and less by the book, so to speak. I want religious people to think for themselves.

In terms of your writing, how would you like to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as someone who really understood the human experience and psychological aspects of a human being. I want to be remembered for the sensitivity I put into my writing, and the humanistic aspects that are often presented in my work.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?

I have my personal assistant basically push me and spit out different ideas. That alone motivates me—not to mention edits from my publisher.

What is your favorite accomplishment?

Simply seeing When Stars Die in publication.

Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?

Absolutely. I’m still learning to not be preachy, though, but I think I’m doing a good job of it so far. The Stars Trilogy is really about attacking religious extremists, and I’m not ashamed to say this at all. Originally I was worried about this, but I have had Christian readers, and none of them have even mentioned being offended at all, probably because the book isn’t being preachy. Religious extremists make god seem very hateful, so I took that view point and created a hateful god in my trilogy. I’m agnostic, but if there is a God, I would view him as a very loving one, a god who didn’t punish us because of the choices of two people, but a god who granted us free will. That is the best gift, after all, even if it is abused.

Do you pay attention to others’ strong reactions to your work? Does that affect what you create?

Yep. Those strong reactions can better me as a writer. Readers are sharper than we think we are, and we have to give them more credit for the criticism they raise when reading a work of fiction. Yeah, we writers have editors and critique partners to do this, but the book isn’t meant for them.

If your writing were edible, what would it taste like?

Pomegranate. Sweet, tart, and bitter, all at the same time.

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Never. It stuns me for a little bit, but then I look at the feedback given, pick myself back up, and get excited again.

What kind of jobs did you have before your career took off?

I still have this job. It’s my primary source of income, but I’m a marketing trainee for Southern Siding. It’s fun because I can work different events. While I get paid minimum wage, I have the potential to make more through commissions. I’m also going to launch my freelancing business in tutoring and editing when I graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in English lit.

What was the biggest opposing force that you encountered on your writing journey?

Worrying about sales. Once you’re published, your worries aren’t over. It’s not that I’m worried sales of When Stars Die are going to affect the chances of The Stars Are Infinite being published. It’s just that I want lots and lots of people to read it—while making money—so that way they can then all go on to buy TSAI if they liked WSD.

If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose?

The Renaissance. Being a woman would make it difficult for me to produce art, and I’d probably go largely unnoticed because of that, but at least I could take comfort in knowing writers were really appreciated during this time. We don’t have that too much in this century.

If you could interview any author (past or present), who would you choose?

John Green all the way.  

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Denise Jaden

DeniseGet to know Denise…

Denise Jaden’s novels have been shortlisted or received awards through the Romance Writers of America, Inspy, and SCBWI. The first draft of her debut novel, Losing Faith (Simon & Schuster), was written in 21 days during NaNoWriMo 2007 and she loves talking with writers and students alike about her Just-Get-To-The-End fast-drafting process. Jaden’s other young adult novels include Never Enough (Simon & Schuster) and Foreign Exchange (Evernight Teen, 2014). 

Her first non-fiction book for writers, Writing with a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction, includes a variety of clear guidance and practical exercises to help writers get to the heart of their stories. Her second non-fiction book, Fast Fiction (New World Library) includes tips on constructing a story plan that works, as well as daily inspiration to keep writers writing, regardless of when the mood strikes. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

Have you ever broken a bone? What happened?

Yes, I broke my right arm when I was about seven years old. Our neighbors had a tree swing in their backyard. We were supposed to alternate our grip to hold on, but I didn’t know that. As I went sailing over a deep expanse, my grip couldn’t hold out and I fell on my right arm. 

What have you tried in life, and simply were not good at?

Hmm, lots of things, but the one I think about the most often is video games. My husband and son love to play them, and every once in a while they convince me to play, but I seriously have no ability with them. 

What are you most neurotic about?

My writing time. If my door to my office is shut and I’m in the middle of drafting or revising a novel, I will probably growl if anyone interrupts me. I set time aside and protect it like a bear with her cub! 

What is your favorite movie line?

“I don’t think that means what you think it means.” – from The Princess Bride 

What one word describes your bedroom?

Cluttered. My husband is a pack-rat. 

FastWriting Questions

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Nope. I just sit down and write. Sometimes it starts off feeling like I don’t have a creative bone in my body, but if I keep moving forward, eventually something catches and carries me on into a flow.

Can you share some words of writing wisdom for someone just starting out?

Write a lot and read a lot. Just because you finish a story, doesn’t mean that is the one that will first be published. Keep working on new writing. The new stuff will teach you more about the stuff you’ve already written, and time off from one project will give you a lot of perspective.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I’m still not sure I’ve made that decision. I think of my writing mostly as a hobby. It’s hard to make a living in this business, and it can be soul-crushing if it’s the only thing you have going in your life. There are lots of ups and downs in publishing. Writing is only one of the things I enjoy in my life. And I believe I keep enjoying it because it is only one part.

Do you censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

I never censor myself on my first drafts, however, during revisions, I do choose things like offensive language carefully. This is not so much because it may cause offense. I once had a critique partner tell me she felt my main character was weak-minded and uncreative because she used so many expletives to describe things. That comment affected me, and so now I spend a lot of time thinking about if my character could be more creative or thoughtful in his or her word choice.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I believe my writing genre picked me. The first book I wrote was for the adult market, and was in the head of a thirty year old man (still unpublished). Every critique partner I sent the book to said, “Are you sure this isn’t YA?” I argued, told them it couldn’t be YA because it was in the head of an adult. The next book I wrote was in the head of a sixteen year old girl. It felt SO right, right from the first paragraph. It wasn’t until I finished that book that I realized the first book felt like YA because of my writing voice. (This is what I mean about writing something new in order to learn more about what you’ve already written!) 

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Interview with Award-Winning Illustrator Anna Raff

AnnaRaff_Groundhog1_810Get to know Anna…

Anna Raff has illustrated several books for children, including WORLD RAT DAY by Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis, SYLVIA’S SPINACH by Katherine Pryor, and THINGS THAT FLOAT AND THINGS THAT DON’T by David A. Adler. 

She is currently at work on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE BED, a picture book for G.P. Putnam’s Sons written by Lisa M. Bakos; SIMPLE MACHINES, a non-fiction picture book by David A. Adler; and LITTLE CARD, a picture book for Candlewick Press by Charise Mericle Harper.

Her illustrations have appeared in New York Times, The Washington Post, and Kiwi Magazine, among others; on TV on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and MTV’s “Woodie Awards.” In 2010, she created Ornithoblogical, a blog of bird-related imagery. Anna is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts Illustration Summer Residency Program. She has an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, a BA from Connecticut College, and lives in New York City, where there are reportedly four rats per human resident. To learn more, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

What is the last thing you paid money for? 

 My dry cleaning.

What do you often make fun of?

I wouldn’t know where to start.
 
What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

My boyfriend’s employee rate.

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

 Eat well.

If you could have your mailbox shaped like an object, what would it be?

 A largemouth bass.

What healthy habit are you glad you have? 

Nora Ephron once said, “If you’ve only got a finite number of meals in a lifetime, why would you have a bad one?”…or something like that. 

What’s your worst habit? 

I’m too introspective.

What topic would you like to know more about?

There are too many to chose from, but I’m reading a book about WWI at the moment.

Knowing what you know now, what would you change about your high school experience?

Get a haircut.

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

To quote Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set, “Whether the person is male or female.”

If you could travel back to 1492, what advice would you give Columbus?

Don’t be a dick.

AnnaRIllustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Long walks have become an integral part of my process, and I’m lucky to live in between two great parks in Manhattan. One of my teachers in grad school, Mirko Ilic, stressed that our time away from our desks was just as important as our time at them, and I take that seriously. What he meant was we need space to process things, and you can’t force yourself to think creatively all the time. For me, it’s a comfort to know that my down time isn’t just down time, and my walks are a subconscious way to brainstorm. So I’m actually multitasking—I’m exercising and enjoying the trees, and the birds, and the flowers, but my head is working in the background. I always go back to the drawing board more prepared to solve a problem that daunted me earlier.

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?

Usually just a few parts are very clear in my mind—the rest comes later.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Like a lot of people, I get good ideas in the shower. 

Who or what has helped you to persevere through the challenges?

Knowing I have mortgage to pay is a great motivator. 

If you were no longer able to illustrate, how else would you express your creativity?

I’d probably bake a lot of pies.

What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the illustrator you are today?

I suppose the peace of mind and stability that comes from having a 9 to 5 job. But it was my choice to pursue illustration as a career, so I’d better not be whining about sacrifices.

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?

Be genuine.

If you knew that you had only one last opportunity to express yourself creatively, what message would you want to convey to others?

Authenticity.

When did you realize that you had a gift for illustrating?

When I was a kid, I was always drawing and encouraged to draw, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it into a career, so I became a graphic designer. Shorty after I turned 40, I went back to school to get an MFA in Illustration. That was two years of a complete restart to my career, and more importantly, my working habits. About halfway through my second year I thought I might be able to pull it off.

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?

It’s a challenge, but I finally figured out that this is not the kind of job I can just turn off. In some way or another, I am always thinking about it, trying to solve some visual puzzle. That being said, I always make time for relaxation, seeing friends, vacations, etc. whenever I can.

What is your typical day like?  

At the moment, it’s pretty crazy. I’m filling in for an art director on leave, so I’m getting up really early to do some drawing before I leave for the office. My regular schedule is a bit more reasonable. Typically I work from about 7 or 8 a.m. to about midday, when finally I get out of my pajamas and break for a lunch. At that point, I’ve usually got about 2-3 good hours left in me before I need a serious break which I fill with a walk, errands, or a coffee date with friends. After dinner, I might be able to work a little more, but I’m most creative and productive early in the day. I don’t have the stamina that I used to into the wee hours, and I’ve never believed in all-nighters.

AnnaRaff_theVillage_810How much of your own life is reflected in your work?

I’d say more of my personality is reflected in my work rather than my actual day to day life. 

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

No, but they’re all graduates of excellent liberal arts colleges. Does that count?

What was your childhood like? 

I was very fortunate to grow up when and where I did; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

Definitely. Dinner time was sacrosanct in our house, and tardiness was not permitted. Only  Walter Cronkite and “The Muppet Show” had the power to delay. I think that just about sums up the values with which I was raised. 

Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

I’m pretty happy with how World Rat Day turned out.

How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre?

I hope my work is honest and unselfconscious—at least that’s what I strive for.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

“Style” is a word that makes me bristle. I was trying to explain this to my students recently.When most people talk about their illustration style, it implies some sort of external trappings used to create work that you put on, like trying on someone else’s coat. We all draw best when all that stuff falls away, and we just draw the way we draw. So I suppose that’s how my work has matured—I’m learning how to get out of my own way, and not think about it so much.

When do you feel the most energized?  

At different times—sometimes during the sketch stage, sometimes when I’m putting a finished piece together, or in the coloring stage, because I’m in as much suspense as anyone as to how it’s going to turn out. And of course, I really get a real rush when I hit “SEND.” 

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

If I’m doing my job well, I think that’s inevitable. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Illustrator Lisa Brown

Lisa1Get to know Lisa…

Lisa Brown is a New York Times bestselling illustrator, writer, and cartoonist. Her picture books for children include How to Be, Vampire Boy’s Good Night, and Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen DalyShe illustrated The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming and 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by the elusive Lemony Snicket, and co-authored Picture the Dead, an illustrated young adult novel, with acclaimed writer Adele Griffin. Lisa is the creator of the award-winning McSweeney’s humor series Baby Be of Use, has drawn the Three Panel Book Review cartoon for the San Francisco Chronicle, and is a comics contributor at The Rumpus. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

What is the strongest bond you have with an inanimate object? 

I have an old stuffed animal bunny-in-a-flowered dress named “Mrs. Rabbit” that my grandparents brought me from England when I was very small. She is very dapper. And clearly, very formal, since I never even knew her first name. 

What song could you listen to all day on repeat?

“Come On, Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. 

If you were to write a song about your high school years, what would you title it? 

“Lonely Little Goth Girl.” 

What would you do if you wanted to annoy someone?

Put on “Come On, Eileen,” all day on repeat. 

What have you tried in life, but simply were not good at?

Anything musical. 

What is your favorite movie line? 

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

In one sentence, can you describe the state of your work space? 

Solitary and neatly cluttered, filled with books and half empty coffee cups. 

What are you most neurotic about? 

The appropriate question should be “What AREN’T you neurotic about?” 

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish could make a comeback today? 

Which days were those, again? 

Why would somebody choose not to date you?

Because I’m married. 

What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason?

A dresser drawer full of cassette mix tapes. 

If you could buy one object to complete your home, what would it be? 

This weathervane 

What movie character freaks you out?

That girl from the Exorcist. I don’t ever need to see her again. 

LisaIllustrating Questions

When do you feel the most energized?

After 10 hours of sleep and 3 cups of coffee.

Which of your projects gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

My answer is always “The one I’ve just finished.”

How would you define creativity?

Making stuff.

How do you know when a project is finished?

When the deadline is upon me.

What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?

Good! I love being inspired by everything I see, whether it be online or on paper. And social media, though it’s been incredibly distracting, has also been a source of comfort and community.

Can you share some words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of illustrating?

Keep a sketchbook. Draw every day. Make up assignments for yourself…and finish them.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

Nope. I’m the same as I ever was. In my head I’m still 12 years old and obsessed with ghosties.

If your illustrations were edible, what would they be? Why?

Cookies. Because I love cookies.

Do you have family members who like to illustrate too?

My son loves to illustrate and draw comics.

Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

I was always given lots of freedom to be myself. I am sure that helped me to become the kind of person who followed her bliss. Which is certainly the kind of person who goes into the arts.

Do your illustrations reflect your personality?

People have said that all the characters I draw either look like me or like my kid. And they all look nervous and broody. So I guess, “yes.”

What drew you to a career in illustrating rather than a job that would offer more financial stability? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I went to graduate school for graphic design because I love to draw but also wanted health insurance and my husband was a novelist so he was no help on that front. But then he became a best-selling novelist and I no longer needed to provide us with health insurance, so I quit my job at the earliest opportunity. Illustrating children’s books is and has always been exactly what I wanted to do and I’m beyond lucky that I get to do it without financial stress.

How do you think you differ from other illustrators?

See the above about lacking financial stress. It’s incredibly rare and supremely lucky.

If you were no longer able to illustrate, how else would you express your creativity?

Writing. Teaching. Appreciating other people’s amazing work. All of which I do already.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Janet Wong

JanetGet to know Janet…

Janet S. Wong is the author of more than two dozen books for children and teens. She has been honored with the Claremont Stone Center Recognition of Merit, the IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, and her appointment to the NCTE Commission on Literature and the NCTE Excellence in Children’s Poetry award committee; she also is the current chair of the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society committee. A featured speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, Wong has performed at the White House and has been featured on CNN, Fine Living’s Radical Sabbatical, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

If you could invent a weight loss program, what would you name it?

The Unbelievable Potato Chip Diet. I wrote about my potato chip “expertise” in The Horn Book Magazine (Nov/Dec 2006), in an essay entitled “Alien Bunny Bots.”

If someone spied on you, what embarrassing fact would they discover?

At home I usually forget to drink my coffee until 1-2 hours after I’ve made it—especially if I’m feeling extra sleepy that day.

If you owned a professional sports team, what would be your team name?

It would be a basketball team called “The Shorties” and I would recruit short but amazing 3-point shooters. Which reminds me of a story. When I was in 8th grade, I was elected to be one of the ten basketball team captains in our P.E. class. As I stood up there with the other captains, choosing players one at a time, I wanted to choose the best athletes—but I knew that I had to choose the terribly nonathletic short friends who had just voted for me and would be “last pickings” if I didn’t choose them. So, loyal me, I picked all the worst players. Maybe camaraderie would help us win! Well, camaraderie was out the window by the time we argued over and settled on a team name, which was something like The Shorties. At the end of the season (the P.E. unit), we had the worst record of all the teams and we were furious with each other over our crummy skills. Funny how memories can resurface over a prompt as simple as “team name”!

At the end of your Chinese meal, what would you like your fortune to read?

What you ate was just a dream. You can eat your real meal now. (And yes, I have been known to eat two dinners. When you’re at a conference with a bunch of old friends who are eating early and you also get a publisher’s invitation for a late dinner, how can you skip either one?) 

Janet 1Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

I was at a one-day workshop on how to write and get published. Poet Myra Cohn Livingston was introduced. I wasn’t interested; I hated poetry starting in 4th grade. Then she read and spoke—and after 45 minutes I knew I wanted to study with her. I thought I’d study poetry just to sharpen my prose—but Myra sold my first book for me, a collection of poems, and so I became a poet.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Be flexible with your dreams. Try traditional publishing with the big houses first, if that’s what “success” is to you—but if that doesn’t work out to your satisfaction, don’t be afraid to try a different model, whether that means a smaller traditional house or artisanal publishing or self-publishing. Read Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur; in 3 hours it will teach you what it took me 20 years to learn. Study the business of writing in addition to the craft.

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is about using non-obvious approaches and finding fresh solutions, making something work with “whatever you can find.” Tinkering all day in a garage with Grandpa or a bunch of friends, building things from junk scraps and nuts and bolts and lots of duct tape—that is, in my opinion, the ultimate in creativity. I wrote about this in The Dumpster Diver and also in my poem “Tinker Time” from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science.

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

Creative people are comfortable with the uncertain, with feeling lost. When regular people get lost, they’ll whip out a map or scrutinize the directions or try some alternate search on the GPS. A creative person who is lost will drive around in circles, look for some clue, follow a promising sign, turn around at the dead end, pull into a Starbucks (just to ask), get a cup of coffee (since there were only three people in line), hop back into the car, drive on instinct down an alley, and—somehow—pull right up to the hidden VIP door.

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