Interview with Newbery Honor Author Vince Vawter

91BxJZGc5WL._SL1500_Get to know Vince…

Paperboy, a novel by Vince Vawter, has been named a 2014 Newbery Honor Book.  The book was published in May 2013 by Delacorte Press, a division of Random House. 

Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association, also named the book to its Top Ten list of books of historical fiction for young people. 

Vawter retired after a 40-year career in newspapers, most recently as the editor and publisher of the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press. He served as managing editor of The Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988 to 1995. 

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the ALA to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The ALA also named four Newbery Honor Books for 2014. 

In making the award the ALA committee called the book’s protagonist, known as Little Man throughout most of the story, “a sensitive and resilient 11-year-old boy who stutters.” Little Man “ventures beyond the familiar and finds his voice while taking over his best friend’s paper route. Set in the summer heat of 1959 Memphis, ‘Paperboy’ is a moving coming-of-age novel.” 

The middle-grade/young adult novel also has been named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. The audio version has been named a Notable Children’s Recording by the Association for Library Service to Children and an Amazing Audiobook by the Young Adult Library Services Association.

Foreign rights to Paperboy have been sold in six countries to date. 

In addition to dealing with the challenges of stuttering, the book offers glimpses into growing up in the segregated South and shows the boy’s struggles with bullying and parent relations. Much of the book is based on Vawter’s childhood experiences. He is a native of Memphis. 

In retirement, Vawter lives with his wife and two dogs on a small farm in Louisville, TN., near Knoxville. For more information, visit his website

Quirky Questions 

Would you mind sharing an embarrassing moment? 

As a person who stutters, every moment of one’s life has the potential for embarrassment. However, one incident I recall has an interesting difference. I was speaking at a high school graduation about my challenges and a young lady came up to me afterwards and said, “But you don’t stutter now, so what’s the problem?” 

What world-changing event would you like to take credit for? 

Michael Jordan and I made bald the new cool. 

Where is the worst place to be stuck waiting? 

I refuse to wait. I always have something with me to read, so I never wait. I just read. 

If you were to start a new trend and be famous for it, what would it be? 

The end of literary genres. 

What great idea did you come up with, but never followed through on? 

If I never followed through on something, it was not that great of an idea. 

What is the worst movie you’ve ever seen? 

Any movie with computer generated imagery (CGI). It’s cheating. 

What odd habit or quirk do you have? 

Extremely fast and extremely slow reading speeds. 

If there were a national holiday in your honor, what would it be like? 

Everyone would be silent and just think all day. 

How do you feel about small talk? Love or hate?

Hate to an unhealthy level. 

What celebrity—past or present—would you trust the least with a spare key to your house? 

Tom Cruise. He might jump up and down on my couch. 

What is the oldest thing you own? Where did you get it? 

A pottery shard from the Middle East. 

What do you consider your worst feature? 

Shorts arms. Too short to box with God or anybody else. 

Would you ever consider living with a tribe deep in the Amazon? Why or why not? 

No. I might spoil their world. 

If you could be a spokesperson for any product, what would it be? 

Arm & Hammer powdered vacuum enhancer. No one should vacuum without it. 

If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be?  

Soundtrack from “The Big Chill.” Fits my late 60′s youth perfectly.

What do you get most enthusiastic about? 

A sentence that doesn’t change after 100 rewrites. 

If you went to a psychiatrist, what would he/she say you suffer from? 

Delusions of reality. 

If you were a farmer, what would be your most abundant crop?

I am. Muscadine grapes. 

840822_t607Writing Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Never experienced one. My problem is over abundance.

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

Always, but it’s never correct.

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

The latter, for sure.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

On deadline. A symptom of 40 years in the newspaper business.

Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?

As in breathing, quitting is not an option. 

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

I can “think” a book.

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

Occasionally I have had to withdraw from society.

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

When in doubt, you are just where you need to be.

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

Everything is turning out just as it should.

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

I wrote my grandmother a letter when I was 4. It began: “I wish you were here.” Maybe the best sentence I’ve ever written.

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

I don’t try to separate them.

What is your typical day like?

Never had one.

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

100 percent or more.

Do you have family members who like to write too?

Yes. Wife. Son. Daughter. Granddaughter.

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

Lonely. Only child. For sure. 

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

I refuse to abide by genres.

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

Not sure how to answer. My style changes with the weather.

When do you feel the most energized?

When a phrase lasts through 100 rewrites.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Lauren Oliver

81g+WKnF7BLGet to know Lauren…

Lauren Oliver is the author of the YA novel Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of two novels for middle-grade readers, The Spindlers and Liesl & Po, which was a 2012 E. B. White Read-Aloud Award nominee. Lauren’s next YA novel, Panic, was released March, 2014 and has been optioned for film by Universal Studios. Her first adult novel, Rooms, will release in September, 2014. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU’s MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the co-founder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions

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

You will always either be working hard, playing hard, or napping. There’s no in-between! 

What company advertisements could you model for?

They should have me model for Blackberry phones, because I’m probably the last person using one!

What is your greatest phobia?

WORMS.

What is the messiest place in your home?

Well I just moved, so right now it’s every place. 

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

Hopefully cars, because we’ll just be able to teleport everywhere.

What do you often make fun of?

Myself.

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

The super comfy beds.

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

Write 1,000 words.

spindlersWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I’m so full of it that I feel like I’ll vomit if I look at it anymore.

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

I think creative people NEED to be creative in the same way that they need to eat or breathe. Even if they’re not working as an artist, they find a way to insert creativity into their life. 

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

Sometimes when I get stuck I take a shower, or sit in the tub, or go for a run. 

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

Read and write as much as you can.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Gabriel García Márquez, who recently passed away. Everyone should read everything he’s written.

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Author Interview with K.M. Walton

CRACKED_LO_48Get to know K.M….

K. M. Walton is the author of Cracked (Simon Pulse 2012), Empty (Simon Pulse 2013) and the co-author of Teaching Numeracy: 9 Critical Habits to Ignite Mathematical Thinking (Corwin Press 2011) for mathematics teachers K – 8. She is a graduate of West Chester University, with a degree in elementary education. As a former middle-school language-arts teacher she’s passionate about ending peer bullying. She gives school presentations on the topic “The Power of Human Kindness.” She lives in PA with her husband, two sons, cat, and turtle. Visit the author at her website or follow her on twitter.

Quirky Questions

If you were to start a new trend and be famous for it, what would it be?

Basic Human Decency Trend: looking people in the eye when you speak to them. Really seeing the people in your life whether you know them well or not. Taking the time to listen and find commonalities rather than judging and labeling. 

How do you feel about small talk? Love or hate?

Even though I’ve given presentations to 650 students in an auditorium I’m an introvert at heart. I’m great at small talk as long as the other person opens the conversation. I’m way too shy to start conversation, but if someone engages me then I’ll happily talk their ear off.

Would you ever consider living with a tribe deep in the Amazon? Why or why not?

NOT! I have severe arachnophobia and there are enormous spiders in that jungle. I’d never be able to sleep! 

What makes you uncomfortable?

When people judge other people. No one knows what’s going on in someone else’s life, what they’re going through at home or in their personal life, so when I see or hear someone being judged for their looks, their weight, their sexuality, the way they talk, move, eat, it makes me very uncomfortable. I believe everyone should be treated with kindness and dignity.

Writing Questions

Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?

My family. I queried for 2.5 years and piled 148 agent rejections before landing my first agent. With every rejection on a full manuscript I cried puddles. I gave up twice but my family wouldn’t let me quit. They reminded me that publication was my dream and that I’d worked too hard to quit. At 2.4 years in I was at the point where I thought doing something fun might lighten my mood and maybe inspire other frustrated writers, so I made a YouTube song parody video.

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

I used to be a teacher, and when I was out on medical leave, unable to read one more book or watch one more second of TV or kill the boredom, Dr. Rina Vassallo, a good friend who knew I’d always wanted to write a novel, sent me an email with three words: Write your book. I stared at those three words for quite some time and then opened up a blank Word document. And I got started writing my book (a middle grade novel). I haven’t looked back since.

So, write your book.

Sit down and do it. Make the time. Don’t make excuses or let the doubt monster creep in. Write your book.

When do you feel the most energized?

I’m a straight-up middle-of-the-dayer. Not a morning person, not a night person. I get my writing groove on from noon onward.

Does your writing reflect your personality?

Absolutely. Both of my young adult novels focus on the hideous effects of bullying, and ant-bullying has been a life-long passion of mine. I spent twelve years teaching in public education, ten of those years were in middle school, so I saw my fair share of kids being cruel to one another. I made “teaching my students to see each other and not the labels they’ve smacked onto each other’s foreheads” my number one goal as an educator. I weaved kindness, tolerance, and acceptance into almost every lesson I taught and never shied away from addressing cruelty I witnessed or heard about. So, CRACKED and EMPTY were natural writes for me.

Now that I’m published I have the opportunity to speak to students about kindness. I’ve given my presentation “The Power of Human Kindness” to auditoriums full of middle and high school students, university students and staff, and even at a TEDx event! Speaking to young people about kindness and tolerance is my favorite part of being an author.

walton-EMPTY

 

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Author Interview with Geoff Rodkey

9780142426623_large_Deadweather_and_SunriseGet to know Geoff…

Geoff Rodkey is the writer of the Chronicles of Egg adventure-comedy series, which bestselling author Rick Riordan described as “Lemony Snicket meets Pirates of the Caribbean, with a sprinkling of Tom Sawyer.”  

Geoff is also the Emmy-nominated writer of such hit films as Daddy Day CareRV, and the Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas. His early writing credits include the educational video game Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, the non-educational MTV series Beavis and Butt-head, and Comedy Central’s Politically Incorrect.  

The first two Chronicles of Egg books, Deadweather and Sunrise and New Lands, are available now from Putnam/Penguin. The final book in the trilogy, Blue Sea Burning, comes out in April 2014. For more info, visit his site

Let the conversation begin! 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing? 

The first things I ever wrote for an audience were humor pieces in my high school newspaper. When a piece was particularly funny, kids would come up to me in the hallway the day the paper came out and tell me how much they’d liked it. That feeling of having created something that other people enjoy was what made me want to write for a living.  

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue? 

About four years ago, I’d been writing screenplays full-time for over a decade, and I felt creatively and professionally burned out, to the point where I was considering going back to school and learning some kind of useful skill so I could get a real job. But while I’d written in a lot of different media–film, TV, video games, magazines–I’d never tried to write a book, and I figured before I threw in the towel, I should try writing a novel. By the time I was halfway through the first draft, I realized I wasn’t burned out at all on writing itself–I’d just been doing the wrong kind of writing, and what I really wanted to do with my life was write books. 

What inspired you to write your first book? 

A character popped into my head one day who was a pirate. His name was Crooked Pete, and all the other pirates thought he was cursed, so they wouldn’t let him on board their ships–and the only job he could get was working as a waiter in a pirate-themed restaurant. I thought that was pretty funny, so I started thinking about what kind of universe could accommodate both multiple crews of pirates and a pirate-themed restaurant. 

I spent about two years jotting down ideas off and on, and by the time I started to write Deadweather and Sunrise, Crooked Pete had disappeared, and there were no pirate-themed restaurants anywhere in the world that had become the setting for the Chronicles of Egg series. All that remained of the original idea was an island full of pirates and a darkly funny tone. 

In my experience, the best ideas are often like this—they start as one thing, then become something completely different as you flesh them out. 

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged. 

I’m funny. That helps. 

And working as a screenwriter for a dozen years taught me story structure, so I have a pretty good sense of how to keep a plot moving. 

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The first draft of everything is lousy. Good writing comes from rewriting–figuring out what’s good and making it better, while tossing out what’s not good. Critical readers are vital to that process–the only way you can figure out what to keep/toss/improve is by getting honest feedback from people who know what they’re talking about and aren’t afraid to tell you what’s not working. If you don’t have people like that in your life, find them. Writing groups can be helpful; so can certain teachers, if you’re in an academic setting.  

In my experience, friends and family members who aren’t writers themselves and/or just tell you what you wrote is fantastic and doesn’t need to be improved are unfortunately not helpful at all. They might gratify your ego, but that’s a lot less useful than getting your ego kicked around by feedback you don’t want to hear but desperately need. 

What books are you reading right now? 

Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, and Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  

What’s your favorite writing quote? 

“Just do it.” 

No, wait…that’s a Nike ad. It’s applicable, though. I think the hardest part of any writer’s day is just getting started. 

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Author Interview with Janet Fox

Sirens front cover.inddIntroducing Janet…

Janet Fox is a full-time resident of College Station, Texas, and a part-time resident of Montana (just outside of Yellowstone National Park). For more information, visit her website and blog.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

That’s a great question. I feel like I was born writing. I certainly loved reading from a very early age. I “wrote” my first story when I was about five, and my mom typed up my dictation. It was the feeling of satisfaction – I could tell a story, live inside my own story – that drew me to writing. But my first true desire to be a writer came in third grade, when my teacher (without telling me) sent one of my poems to the local paper and it was published. I can still picture the moment my mom showed me the paper, with my poem, with my name at the bottom. That did it. I was hooked.  

How many words do you write each day?

I try to write between five and ten pages a day. Sometimes I manage more, sometimes much less. Once I’m hopping on a revision, I can move quickly, mainly because I like revising and try to get in between five and ten full revisions before I’m satisfied and can work on nit-picking. 

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

Very much seat-of-the-pants. I often think about a new idea, a new book, for a month or more before I start writing. I doodle and free write; I make character sketches; I think about what the story means to me. I often try to “dream” a story – that is, I’ll try and fall asleep thinking about some aspect of a story – and that brings many of my best ideas to the surface. Once I start a project, I avoid outlining until I’m at least halfway through. Then I’ll use post-it notes and write two or three words to indicate scenes and lay them out on a huge piece of poster paper – but I’ll rarely follow them literally. I’ve tried both methods, and organically is the only way I can write. 

When are you the most productive?

That’s a really good question because it keeps changing! When I started writing for children full time, I would have said morning, no question. Now, after almost ten years at work, I write whenever I can. This is so helpful for a busy mom. In fact, some of my best work now comes out at night – long after dinner, long after I really “want” to be working – but my mind won’t let me quit, and (what’s really fun) I sometimes am so tired that I get very free. Then sometimes things come out that I never anticipated. I love that. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries? 

Very simple: I exercise. Well, I also read fiction (and I often read craft books in between writing projects). And chocolate never hurts. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Read. Read a lot, especially in your genre, especially contemporary works, because although the classics are important and should be read, they are not what people are reading and writing today. Remember that success requires perseverance, which often means toughing it through the boring parts. 

Describe your dream vacation.

Okay, this will sound really weird, but my dream vacation would be a writer’s retreat in a truly exotic and glamorous location (Tahiti? New Zealand? Paris?), where I could work all day with the best and most creative and talented writers in kids/young adult literature by day, and then meet up with my husband at night for fantastic food and dancing and entertainment. Wow. Best of all worlds. 

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Author Interview with Talia Jager

Dark PromiseGet to know Talia…

When Talia isn’t hiding in the bathroom from her six children munching on a chocolate bar, she enjoys hiking the red rocks in Utah or sitting on the beach with a Kindle in her hands and her toes in the ocean.

Talia has written a number of books for young adults, including Damaged: Natalie’s Story, Teagan’s Story: Her Battle With Epilepsy, If I Die Young, Secret Bloodline, Lost and Found, and The Gifted Teens Series. She also co-wrote The Between Worlds Series and Mesmerized. Connect with Talia online.

Quirky Questions 

If you could make something in life go away, what would it be?

Oh, there’s so much! Some of my books deal with real life issues teens face and I wish I had the power to take it all away. Bullying. Child abuse. Dating violence. Addiction. Bad parents.  Hate. And bees, I hate bees. I know we need them, but they scare me.

If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?

Hawaii 5-0. I wouldn’t mind hanging out on the beaches in Hawaii for a month.

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Panda Bears. They’re cute!

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?

Maybe not the dumbest, but this one ranks high up there. I skipped school and had my friend call in sick for me. Seriously? What was I thinking? My mom caught me an hour later because the school called her at work to verify and she came home. What did I do on my day off? Chilled out at home.

What’s your motto in life?

Live for today for nobody is promised tomorrow.

Do you believe in UFOs?

I believe anything is possible.

Define the worst day ever.

A day when no writing gets done and there’s no chocolate.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

I had open-heart surgery when I was four years old. I remember wanting to take a walk around the hospital, but I had forgotten my slippers. The nurses made slippers out of washcloths and put them on my feet. Then I got to walk around.

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be? And why?

Any type of house cleaning. I hate cleaning up, but I like my house clean. And with six kids, it’s very hard to keep clean! I just think there are better things to do besides spending my time cleaning.

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? 

I am deathly afraid of needles, so me getting a tattoo is not likely. But someday if there was a way to get a tattoo without needles and pain, then I’d have to do some thinking. Maybe a cross with a rose wrapped around it? Or an infinity sign with the word love written in it?

Damaged-option-1Writing Questions

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Somewhere peaceful like the ocean or the back porch of a cabin. Problem is, I don’t get to either one of those often. So if we’re talking about my house, I’d say probably sitting on my bed.

Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?

My fans. I often get emails from them telling me how much one of my books helped them. Any time I feel like giving up, I just read one of those emails.

What writing wisdom were you given that you’d like to share with others?

Write something—even if it’s just a little bit—everyday.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

If I’m not sure where to go with something I’m writing, I will close it out and start writing something else. It keeps the creativity flowing.

Can you visualize your finished product before you begin it?

Yes, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own and the finished product changes.

What is your typical day like?

I drag myself out of bed, get some of the kids off to school, get the other kids ready for the day. If I’m lucky, I get a shower. Then I spend the morning playing with the kids, reading to them, and just being Mom. Around noon we have lunch and then I put them down for their nap. Most of the time, this is my daytime writing time. I try to get at least an hour of writing, but sometimes I get up to two hours. By this time, the older kids start trickling in from school. This is both a fun time of day because I get to hear all the drama that happened at school and the busiest time because everyone is vying for my attention. I help with homework if I need to and make dinner. After dinner it’s time for baths and TV and then around eight, I start putting the kids down. If I’m really, really lucky, I get all the kids who need help going to bed asleep by nine and then I stay up until one or two a.m. writing. That’s when I get my best writing in! I always hope to get to sleep earlier, but I never do, hence the dragging myself out of bed at seven.

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

All of my books are like my children. I care for each of them and they make me proud in different ways. I can’t choose just one. They’re all special for different reasons.

When do you feel the most energized?

After the kids go to bed. I’d say from 10pm to 2am. 

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Author Interview with Mindi Scott

Live-Through-This-coverGet to know Mindi…

Mindi Rochelle Scott lives near Seattle, Washington with her drummer husband in a house with a non-soundproof basement. Freefall, her first novel, was published in 2010. Her second novel, Live through This, released in 2012 by Simon Pulse. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing? 

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but what made me decide to focus on it was that other people told me that I was good at it and that they liked reading what I had to say. 

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I am most definitely an outliner. My outlines are often 20 or more pages, describing what I am envisioning for the story scene by scene. Things change all the time, of course, but I like to have a sense not only of where I’m going, but also of how I’ll get there. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Writers write.” I don’t know if that totally qualifies as advice, but it’s something I need to be reminded of every once in a while when I’m feeling uninspired! 

Describe your dream vacation.

My dream vacation is anywhere with my husband in a warm, beachy place. We heart Hawaii!    

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Author Interview with Rysa Walker

3beb1c41d75de8852292cd4fd79aba13Get to know Rysa…

Rysa Walker grew up on a cattle ranch in the South. Her options for entertainment were talking to cows and reading books. (Occasionally, she would mix things up a bit and read books to cows.) On the rare occasion that she gained control of the television, she watched Star Trek and imagined living in the future, on distant planets, or at least in a town big enough to have a stop light.

When not writing, she teaches history and government in North Carolina, where she shares an office with her husband, who heroically pays the mortgage each month, and a golden retriever named Lucy. She still doesn’t get control of the TV very often, thanks to two sports-obsessed kids. For more info, visit her website and Goodreads page.

Quirky Questions

If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?

This is a tough one.  My first inclination would be Lost.  Two reasons here:  First, the show is set in Hawaii and I left a large piece of my soul behind at a beach along the Windward Coast of Oahu.   Second, I think if I had a month inside Lost, I could come up with answers to a few of the questions that the writers left hanging in that finale.  However, the death rate on the island troubles me.  I suspect I’d be one of those characters who mishandles a stick of old dynamite or gets a flaming arrow in the chest.

So, I think I’d spend my month on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, my favorite of all the Trek series.  It’s the one show that I’ve never really found a substitute for—political intrigue, well-developed story arcs, and several characters that I truly miss.  As an added bonus, there’s a holodeck on DS9, so I could spend some time as a character in a favorite book, or even just stretch out on that beach in Oahu without having to worry about the Smoke Monster or Benjamin Linus sneaking up while I’m catching some rays.

And yes, I know that the holodeck frequently malfunctions, but I’ll put my faith in the Federation’s top-notch engineers to rescue me in the nick of time.

If you were a cartoon, who would you be?

Belle, from Beauty in the Beast.

I should probably clarify that a bit.  I’m not married to a beast, I’m nowhere near as pretty as Belle, and the feminist side of me has some major issues with the whole Disney Princess phenomenon.

But, let’s consider the other evidence.  I’ve had my “nose stuck in a book” since before kindergarten.  I grew up in a “small, provincial town,” with a tiny, underfunded library.  The nearest bookstore was twenty miles away and I didn’t always have money for new books, so there were plenty of stories that I read over and over and over again.  In addition, a very large percentage of the guys I knew as a teenager could give Gaston a run for his money in terms of belching, spitting, and decorating with antlers.

The most important point, however, is that I completely understood Belle’s joy when the Beast showed her his library.  I experienced something similar a few Christmases back when my husband gave me my Kindle.  New books with just one click, whenever I want them?  Even if it’s two a.m. and the bookstore and library are miles away and closed for the night?  Yep.  That’s my definition of heaven.   

Do you like scary movies?

It depends.  I definitely like thrillers—movies that keep you on the edge of your seat, eyes wide open and wondering what’s coming next.

I do not, however, like slasher films or zombie films or anything where people get dismembered.  Or have their eyes gouged out.  Visual depictions of blood, gore and spewing arteries put me off my popcorn.  I don’t even like previews or commercials for that type of movie—a single television ad for some horror movies can provide material for a week’s worth of nightmares.

I’m perfectly happy to read about blood and gore, and I’ll even write about it, if the plot takes me there.  I love Stephen King’s books, even the ones like It or The Shining that are pretty much pure horror.  But I generally don’t like the movies that are made from those books. I prefer to control the level of gruesome rather than leave that decision up to a director or special effects wizard. After all, I’m the one who will have to sleep with that big pile of gruesome until it works its way out of my psyche. 

Are you a bad listener?

Yes and no.  I can be a very bad listener when someone is talking directly to me, especially if my mind is still in the story I’m writing or reading.  I’m quite proficient at nodding in the right places, so my kids and husband often think I heard everything they said, until I forget to do whatever important thing I agreed to do during said conversation.

Sorry, guys.  (Yes, this happens a lot.)

But I’m a very good listener if I’m sitting in a restaurant, or on the Metro, or at the mall in the middle of a bunch of strangers.   Other people’s dialogue just pulls me in and then I end up imagining my own ending to the snippets of whatever mini-drama I’ve just heard.  And I’ll probably keep right on imagining that story when someone else is actually talking to me.

ABNAWithCoverWriting Questions

What do you do to get into your creative zone?

1)      Close the browser window.

2)      Disable all Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or email notifications.

3)      Put on headphones. This doubles as a sign to other people in the house that Mom is working.  Unless there is a protruding bone or so much blood that you cannot staunch it with a paper towel, please do not disturb.

4)      Open Pandora and fire up my alt-rock channel.  It has been carefully trained it to include a lot instrumental versions of songs that I like, so that I’m not tempted to open the browser and track down a lyric.  You’d be surprised how many different string quartets have recorded a version of “Such Great Heights.”

By and large, these four steps work.  The only problem is that I include a lot of historical information in my writing, so there’s always something I have to check online.  While I’m doing that, I’ll stumble upon some interesting historical tidbit that has nothing at all to do with what I’m writing, but it’s really cool.  I might write about that someday, so it’s research, right?  There are some fascinating links on that site, as well.  So I follow the fluffy white bunny down the hole. And while I’m online, I should really check my email, right?

5)      Bang head on desk and repeat steps 1-4.

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

Unfortunately, yes—I still read reviews.  I’m trying to break myself of this really bad habit, but I think I may have latent masochistic tendencies.  I’ve been pretty lucky so far, but when the Review Owl drops a “Howler” into my box, I read it, internalize it, rationalize it, and generally freak out.

But I have a secret weapon.  I email the review to my sister (assuming she didn’t see it first), who will proceed to get really, really angry.  She’ll promptly email me back, listing in detail the reasons the reviewer is just plain wrong.  While she’s at it, she’ll point out interesting things about the reviewer’s I.Q., his or her lack of common sense or polite upbringing, and the position of the reviewer’s head in relation to his or her backside. She might even threaten bodily harm against the reviewer should they ever meet in a dark alley.  In the process, I always end up laughing and the review loses (most of) its sting.

So far, reviews haven’t had an impact on what I write.  The only exception to that rule might be my youngest son.  There are certain things that I know, from experience, will cause him to really, really hate a book.  He’s one of my alpha readers, so unless he outgrows those quirks, there are some storylines I’ll avoid, for fear that he’ll hurl his Kindle at my head when he reaches the end.

If your creative work were edible, what would it taste like?

A grape Tootsie-Pop.  

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

I think a society should be judged by the status of its least fortunate members.  If something I write makes people question policies or our own daily actions that treat some people as though they are disposable, then I’ll be a happy camper.

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

I’d like to be remembered as a storyteller.  If my books make someone think a bit, too, maybe question a few cherished assumptions, then that’s icing on the cake.  As a reader, I’m usually looking for escape from the mundane and ordinary.  I’m not a big fan of slice-of-life.  I want the author to take me somewhere new, somewhere I can’t go on my own.  That’s my goal as a writer—to take the reader along with me on a mind-trip.

RysaWalker1

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Author Interview with Audrey Vernick

7ba36b1c7ecae6b884bea96761708270Get to know Audrey…

Audrey Vernick writes funny picture books, nonfiction picture books and middle-grade novels. Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team was a New York Times Notable Book in 2012. Her 2014 releases are the middle-grade novel Screaming at the Ump and picture book Edgar’s Second Word, as well as the paperback release of the novel Water Balloon. A two-time recipient of the New Jersey Arts Council’s fiction fellowship, Audrey lives near the ocean with her family. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

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

Easiest question ever. I HATE problems. I hate when beloved characters in books and movies face problems. World with no problems, please.

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

Oh, all animals, without question. Well, not reptiles. And I think cats would get on my nerves before long. But yeah, there’s Rosetta Stone and classes and stuff for foreign language—but getting to talk to baby pandas and polar bears and hedgehogs and piglets? Yes, please.`

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

That’s a sick question. I think it might be good for me to only use the internet one hour a week. And I’m pretty sure I’m practically deaf in both ears, so I’ll give up my internet habit for all but one hour.

Would you rather have a free Starbucks for a year or free iTunes forever?

Oh, forever vs. a year is so mean! I have to go with the free iTunes. But if it was just for a year, I might flip the other way.

Would you rather be considered a total oddball to everyone you meet or be considered completely average with nothing particularly interesting about you?

That depends: if I could be a quirky oddball, a kind of charming, endearing total oddball, definitely. But not a smelly, repetitive, always-wears-the-same-hat oddball.

Would you rather be a one hit wonder or be an average singer for as long as you want?

I’m surprising myself with leaning toward one-hit wonder. I think it would be interesting.

Harry Potter or Twilight? Or neither?

Neither! I know!

Mac or PC?

If I had it to do all over again, I might go Mac, except it requires so much more money and I’m kind of cheap. I’m PC.

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

Typewriter. IBM Selectric, please. I think I still remember how it feels.

In your opinion, is it worse to be ignorant or a know-it-all?

What kind of worse? It’s probably personally worse—I’d be more ashamed of myself—for being ignorant. But I’m probably more tolerant of ignorance than I am of know-it-alls.

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?

Oh, can you make that happen? Dreams on TV, please. Thanks!

Would you rather be a miserable genius or a happy moron?

It’s not a reach. I’ll opt for happy moron.

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

I’m not crazy: two wet dogs!

water-balloon-webWriting Questions

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

I’d like people to mind their own business. To not have gay partners if they don’t think it’s for them. To not have abortions if they don’t feel right doing so. To not worry about the way others choose to worship or not worship. Tolerance? I guess, it’s tolerance, but I’d like for people to stop worrying about other people’s choices (within the realm of, say, not killing other people).

What made you decide to follow a creative career choice (though possibly risky) rather than something more stable?

To be frank, I can only do this because I’m married to someone who earns enough to allow me to do this. Before I had children, I held full-time jobs and wrote on the side. The writing grew a bit as my kids did, and now I’m close, in my best years, to earning a starting salary.

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

As someone who made readers laugh and cry.

How has personal experience influenced your writing?

I’m not certain how, but I suspect pretty deeply.

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

Picture books, for me, are almost always fun to work on. For novels, I use a variety of smoke and mirrors and tricks. The main one is writing in winter while sitting under the electric blanket I only allow myself to sit under when writing.

If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

I don’t think so. But I would try to worry less, to obsess less, though I doubt I’d be able to.

What do you do to get into your writing zone?

For picture books, I just sit down and get to work. For novels, it’s all about the blanket.

What is your favorite accomplishment?

I am writing this hours before the wake of Fred Acerra, one of the men profiled in Brothers at Bat. I am pleased to have published this book while three of the brothers were alive. I knew one of them had voiced a desire to “get back to Cooperstown one more time,” and we did just that, with a book release presentation and signing at the Baseball Hall of Fame that included the entire family.

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

No. But sometimes I’ll notice something in an early draft and tweak it a bit—a subtle symbol, maybe. But I never plant one on purpose.

Do you pay attention to strong reactions to your work? 

I try not to. But good reviews are really kind of crack-like—so addictive. But if you put too much stock in them, well, it’s hard to make peace with the bad ones.

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

I handled promotions for Musician magazine and public relations for a college, and then for school districts and public libraries. They were all writing-based jobs.

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

Learning which feedback to listen to and which to reject. It took a very long time.

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

Judy Glassman, my mother. She died before her middle-grade novel was published (but after it was accepted by the first publisher she sent it to). And yes, it is very bittersweet to now be doing the work she discovered her own love for shortly before her unexpected death.Audrey-Vernick-author-photo

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Author Interview with Mary G. Thompson

Final Cover EFLH (1)Introducing Mary…

Mary G. Thompson was raised in Cottage Grove and Eugene, Oregon. She was a practicing attorney for more than 7 years, including almost 5 years in the U.S. Navy, before moving to New York to write full time. She received her BA from Boston University, her JD from the University of Oregon, and her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School, and she’s now studying to become a librarian. For more info, visit her website. To experience more awesomeness, head to Teen Writers Bloc. You can also find Mary on Facebook and Goodreads.

Let the conversation begin!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published? 

The beginning of the process was surprisingly easy. Right after I finished the book, I attended the Southern California Writers’ Conference in San Diego, where I met my agent. However, after that quick start, it took about two years to actually sell the book to a publisher. I was lucky to ultimately find someone to take on something that’s so admittedly and proudly weird! 

How did you choose the genre you write in? 

I have always loved to read YA books. I read them when I was a kid, and I never stopped. The first book I ever tried to write was adult, but it wasn’t quite working for me. Then I thought of a YA story, and I immediately knew that YA is where I belong. As for why I picked sci-fi/fantasy/horror, I just love using my imagination. I often find contemporary realistic fiction boring as a reader, because I already know way too much about real life. I love speculating about “what if.” 

How do you recharge your creative batteries? 

I take a measured approach. I have a certain goal for each day. I don’t always meet it, but I usually manage to do enough so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I never write for ten hours straight or write through the night or otherwise binge. I also don’t take long breaks from writing. Slow and steady wins the race!  

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination? 

Well, obviously I don’t know anyone who’s turned into a disgusting monster, but there are definitely parts of Wuftoom that are based on real life. Evan’s town is never named in the book, but it’s supposed to be very similar to my hometown of Cottage Grove, Oregon. The house Evan lives in is my best friend’s house. I think Evan’s feelings about middle school and his social status will be relatable for a lot of people. 

Planner or a procrastinator? 

Ha. All my friends are rolling their eyes right now. I am a planner! That’s not to say that I never procrastinate, because I definitely do, but I like to know when and where things are going to happen, preferably a month in advance. People who just go with the flow drive me up the wall and down again. 

How many words have you written in one sitting? 

Literally, like one hundred. I have a terrible time sitting still, and I can’t concentrate. Nevertheless, I think I have written 4,000 words in one day, once. I am a slow and steady  person all the way! 

Are you a person who makes their bed in the morning? 

No way! Unless my mom is coming over. 

9780547859057_webOf all your books, what was your favorite chapter to write? 

There are some scenes in my third book, Evil Fairies Love Hair  that made me laugh a lot while I was writing them. The book is by far the most funny and fun thing I’ve ever done. Of course, I love writing more dramatic scenes too, but it’s a different kind of love. Then there was a scene in a draft of something I just started that almost made me throw up. I don’t know if I’ll continue with that project, but for someone who likes grossness, that was fun too! 

Do you come up with your book titles? 

So far, yes. Wuftoom just popped into my head, and I prayed no one would ask me to change it! I think it fits the book perfectly because it’s not only about the Wuftoom, but Evan is one (or isn’t he?). It encompasses the central dilemma of the book. 

How did you celebrate your first book being published? 

I had a party, and all my friends in New York came, and who could ask for more than that? 

Any advice to give to aspiring writers? 

Don’t give up. And finish your book. Even if you can’t sell the book you’re working on now, you will learn a lot that will help you sell the next one. I have several books written that haven’t sold yet, and I’ll probably keep writing books that won’t sell. But it’s worth it to finish for what you learn. 

Jacket Copy for Wuftoom:

Everyone thinks Evan is sick … Everyone thinks science will find a cure. But Evan knows he is not sick, he is transforming. Evan’s metamorphosis has him confined to his bed, constantly terrified, and completely alone. Alone, except for his visits from the Wuftoom, a wormlike creature that tells him he is becoming one of them.

Clinging to his humanity and desperate to help his overworked single mother, Evan makes a bargain with the Vitflys, the sworn enemies of the Wuftoom. But when the bargain becomes blackmail and the Vitflys prepare for war, whom can Evan trust? Is saving his humanity worth destroying an entire species, and the only family he has left?

Wuftoom-FinalSketch

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