Illustrator Interview with April Chu

Summoning the Phoenix COVER largeGet to know April…

April Chu began her career as an architect with a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, but decided to return to her true passion of illustrating and storytelling.  She recalls spending most of her childhood drawing whimsical characters in her notebook after school everyday, and she hasn’t stopped drawing ever since.  She has illustrated two children’s books: Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments (Shen’s Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, Spring 2014) and Village by the Sea (Creston Books, Spring 2015). April currently lives and works in Oakland, California. For more information, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What bad habit will you purposely never quit?

Online shopping is my weakness and a bad habit (I do it WAY too often) but I need some good retail therapy sometimes, especially after a grueling deadline. 

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

I would say personality because if I like your personality, there is a good chance that you are funny, witty, sarcastic, motivated, interesting, kind, and in general, someone I enjoy hanging out with.  It covers more ground. 

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

Remote control app for my teleportation machine. 

If you could invent one modern convenience, what would it be?

I would invent a teleportation machine because I am always late to appointments, parties, meetings, etc.  It would save me loads of time if I could just be teleported to my destination.  However, for some reason, I feel like somehow I would still be late… 

What is one thing you probably shouldn’t wear to a fancy restaurant?

My retainers.  Yes, it has been many, many years since I’ve had braces and I am still diligent about wearing my retainers at night.  But taking them out of my mouth before eating is kind of gross for me and probably for people sitting around me.

What kitchen appliance is the least useful in your life?

Surprisingly my KitchenAid mixer, which I had wanted one for so long because it seems like a staple in everyone’s kitchen.  But I hardly ever bake so now it just collects dust on my counter. 

What always gets stuck in your teeth?

It’s a tie between pulled pork and mango fibers. 

What object in your home are you the most embarrassed about owning?

My enormous shoe collection.  No one human being should own that many pairs of shoes! 

What are you thankful you’re not doing right now?

I am so glad that I am not doing kettlebell exercises.  At the beginning of the year I joined this awesome gym near my house and the training sessions seriously kick my butt every single time.  I have learned to do many cool exercises using gym equipment that I was always too afraid to try, one of them being kettlebell exercises.  The classes are brutal, but I always feel great afterwards. 

Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met?

I’ve never actually met a celebrity or someone famous.  The closest I ever came to meeting a celebrity was when I was on a business trip in North Carolina and Chris Rock was in my hotel lobby.  He seemed like he was in a bad mood so I was too intimidated to approach him for an autograph. 

If you were to act on a whim right now, what would you do?

Book a plane ticket to somewhere exotic. 

What is the greatest Christmas movie ever?

Ah!  It’s hard to choose one so I am listing two: It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf. 

How do you like to relax?

Sitting by the beach while sipping on a Mai Tai. 

Photo 2Illustrating Questions

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

I think it’s important to keep up with what your peers are doing in the industry and to gather inspiration from them and it’s so easy to do that with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media.  But sometimes I do get caught up in the whole “Should I be doing that?” or “Why am I not doing that?” mentality, and it definitely impedes my creativity.  I find the best thing to do in that situation is to shut off the Internet and remind myself that everyone’s path in this career is unique, just like how everyone’s artistic style is unique.  It’s important to stay true to myself and focus on what I enjoy doing the most, which is illustrating.

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

Not yet, but maybe someday when I work on something edgier perhaps.

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

Sometimes the best way to get the creative juices flowing for me is to remove myself from my illustration work entirely.  I love daydreaming, traveling, and spending time with my family and friends.  You wouldn’t believe some of the great ideas that sprouted over a glass of wine and a funny conversation.

What obstacles haveyou had to deal with in your career?

Finding the right opportunities.

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

The biggest challenge I’ve had so far is treating illustrating as a job where I have to wear many hats.  Not only do I have to produce work, but I also have to set goals and deadlines, market myself, and maintain a steady workflow.  It’s so difficult to peel myself away from illustrating (fun part) to do some self-promoting (not so fun part), even though I realize that it’s all part of the job.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching cartoons and animated movies after school everyday (after I finished my homework, of course!) because that’s how I discovered my love of drawing.  My parents bought me almost all of the Disney movies on VHS and I never seemed to get tired of them.  I seriously watched Disney’s Sleeping Beauty over 300 times!  While I am watching the movie, I would practice drawing the characters so that later I can create my own spin on the stories.  And I still find inspiration in animated films.  Every year if I know that the Oscar nominated animated short films are playing anywhere nearby, I am so there!

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

I am an architect by training but for the last several years I’ve been contemplating starting a career in illustrating.  I didn’t formally pursue it until January 2012 and I’ve never looked back or questioned my decision.

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

Never give up and always remember to have fun!

How do you know when a project is finished?

The ideal situation is luckily what happens most of the time.  I usually reach a point when I’m working on an illustration when I know if I continue working on it that it will actually detract or not add anything significant to what I am trying to express.  The less ideal situation is when I am somewhat forced to finish a project.  For example, when I am just tired of working on something or I am running out of time when the deadline is rapidly approaching.

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

I believe the media will always have a positive impact on my work.  One of the challenges of this profession is somehow getting your work out there so that people will notice and remember your work…so the more exposure, the better.

How would you define creativity?

Being able to look at things differently.

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

Illustrating is something I have been passionate about ever since I was young.  A few years ago, I was at a point in my life that I knew I could take the plunge and work on my illustration career.  I knew that I would regret it immensely if I didn’t take that opportunity.  I strongly believe that people deserve to pursue something that they love doing because it makes them happy.

Who do you consider a creative genius?

Again I have to go with 2 choices.  I am a huge fan of Pixar and I think John Lasseter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, is a genius.  I live close to Pixar’s office and would love to meet him one day.  My second choice is Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.  I don’t think an explanation is needed for that choice!

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Interview with Newbery Honor Author Thanhha Lai

Thanhha LaiGet to know Thanhha…

Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam and now lives in New York with her family. She is the author of Inside Out & Back Again and Listen, Slowly. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

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

Everyday, you shall have hours to do nothing.

What is the best thing about getting old?

Wrinkles telling stories on my face.

What do you do too much of?

Pluck my hair.

What do you do too little of?

Write.

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

How to sit still. 101.

Thanhha LaigWriting Questions

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

Flag in hand, you must wave it.

When do you feel the most energized?

In the morning, after a jog.

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

I would watch ants all day and something will come of it.

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

It chose me.

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

Stubborn nature.

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

Lots, so far. 

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Author Interview with Amy Dixon

marathon-mouseGet to know Amy…

Amy Dixon grew up as one of seven siblings, so the only peace and quiet she ever got was inside a book. Once she had her own kids, she rediscovered her love for picture books at the public library. It was the one place she knew all four of her kids would be happy . . . and quiet. She writes from her home in Clovis, California, where she lives with her four little inspirations and her marathon-running husband, Rob. MARATHON MOUSE is her first picture book. Her second picture book, SOPHIE’S ANIMAL PARADE, will be out from Sky Pony Press in Spring 2015. For more info, visit her Facebook.

Quirky Questions

What is the messiest place in your home? 

Definitely my room! It’s always the last place I get to when cleaning. I’ve been known to lock it from the inside when people come over because I’m so afraid someone might accidentally go in. As I tell everyone who comes to visit, it’s where we hide the bodies. 

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

POPCORN! But not the artificial butter smell of microwave popcorn…has to be the stove-top, cooked in oil, real-deal stuff. It’s my favorite smell in the world. 

What is the last thing you paid money for? 

Origami paper. My daughter’s class just read SADAKO AND THE 1000 PAPER CRANES by Eleanor Coerr, and they are attempting to make 1000 cranes together. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have? What’s your worst habit? 

Healthy habit: Running! It keeps me sane.

Worst habit: Reality TV. When you decide what to watch first off the DVR based on which show you would be most embarrassed by if someone saw your list, you know you have a problem. 

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

People say I am tall (at 5’9”) but it was never tall enough for me. I was a volleyball player and dreamed of having an unexpected growth spurt that made me 6 feet tall. It didn’t happen, so instead I married my husband who is 6’5” and prayed for tall children. So far they are pretty average heights and one of my daughters is on the short side for her age. Not sure what happened there! The advantage of her being short is that they put her in front during class performances so we can always see her. 

amyWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When my rewrites are no longer making it better, just different, then I know it’s as done as it’s going to be for the moment. I love revising, so I have to make myself stop. For me, it’s not finished until it’s gone to press with the publisher. And even then, I still see changes I might want to make!

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

I had been dabbling in writing for kids for about a year when I decided to attend a writing conference. It was just a local, one-day workshop. But when I came home from it, I told my husband, “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up!” Mind you, I was a 31-year-old mom-of-three at that point, with a Political Science degree and a past career in college ministry. So it wasn’t an expected path. But I’m 100% confident that this is where I’m supposed to be, and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

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

YES! My internal editor is loud and obnoxious. Actually, I’m pretty sure there’s more than one of them, kinda like those 2 old men on the Muppets that sit in the balcony and heckle Fozzie Bear. (Fun fact: did you know their names are Statler and Waldorf?) I have to try to silence these critics when I’m writing a first draft, otherwise the words would never make it to the paper.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

In the picture book world, I ADORE Kevin Henkes and Marla Frazee. The way they put words and art together is brilliant.

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

I think this is pretty common with writers, but my biggest obstacles are definitely internal. Even after having a story pulled from the slush pile and go to publication, I still struggle with feeling like I’m not really a writer. Maybe I just had one good idea. Maybe that agent just had a momentary lapse in judgement. Maybe I’m just a housewife pretending to be a writer. Feeling like I’m not good enough and battling fears of never writing something worth reading again are a constant.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My experiences in running and cheering at races definitely inspired MARATHON MOUSE. When my husband started running marathons, I was looking for a picture book that I could read to our kids about it. But I couldn’t find any. Then, I saw this picture of the starting line of the New York City Marathon and it got my wheels turning about that particular race.

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Look at the masses of people! What a scene! I wondered, how do the people that live there feel about the influx? And then my kidlit writing brain kicked in and ran from there…what about the animals? How would a New York City mouse feel about Marathon Day?

My next book is called SOPHIE’S ANIIMAL PARADE, and it comes out in Spring of 2015. It was inspired by a rainy-day game I played with my kids. We were telling a cumulative story…where one person starts the story and then you go around in a circle and each person adds to it. In the game, we started with a lonely little girl, and ended up with a story about a Sophie, whose drawings come to life. In the story, she tries to draw herself a friend, but ends up with a room full of crazy animals.

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Author Interview with Eileen Rosenbloom

EileenGet to know Eileen… 

Eileen Rosenbloom achieved first-publication success when she won a contest for penning her own obituary. After publication of numerous articles and short stories, her first Young Adult novel, Stuck Down, was accepted by Llewellyn Publications and released in 2005.  She currently writes a blog called Woman In The Hat for those affected by cancer and is working on a book for the cancer community. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

The publishing industry seems glamorous to the uninitiated. In truth, it can be daunting on so many levels. Yes, I’ve had my periods of discouragement but I’ve never questioned me as a writer. I loved writing from the time I knew how.

As a little girl, I was a voracious reader and loved playing with words, writing poetry in my room. My mother worried that I preferred books to people. She’d say, “Stop reading! Go outside and play!” I’d say, “Can I just finish this chapter?”

As a child, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh had a great impact on me. I wanted to be a writer, just like Harriet. This was reaffirmed in college in my English classes.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Early on in my first writing classes, it seemed that each assignment came out as a children’s story even though I hadn’t set out to write for kids. I felt the genre had chosen me, particularly writing for young adults.

I also have a well-developed sense of humor, which often comes out in my writing. I had a regular gig for a while writing for a humor website. But nothing is set in stone and life experiences can affect our writing choices.

In recent years, I suffered through cancer and as it seems to go with difficulties, they run in packs. If it’s one thing, it’s five things. They all snowball and crash into you at once, but it’s all fuel for writing. Things happen to writers because we’re the storytellers.

I’ve had a shift from writing for children and teens to writing for adults who’ve had cancer, illness or other difficult situations. There’s a depth you plunge when you experience anything in life that qualifies you to write about it from your perspective.

It allows you to write authentically from a deep place with emotion and insight. So while I felt derailed from writing for a time, it served to fill my tank with new material.

I will always love Young Adult books. I treasure the time I’ve had networking with other YA writers. I think I’m not so in touch with writing for teens like I had been. There are many other writers who I admire who write YA far better than me. At this time in my life, I feel I can make a greater impact with this new shift.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My very first writing recognition was to win second place in a contest for writing my own obituary. Obviously I pulled that out of my imagination, but my work is often based on my humor.

My writing also reflects my fascination with the spiritual and that which is unseen or unknown, as with my YA novel Stuck Down in which a dead protagonist comes back to earth. Maybe I have a fascination with death. But I digress.

In 2010-2011, while I went through cancer treatment, I kept a journal of the entire experience which I refer back to in my writing now. Certainly the impact on my life has greatly inspired my work and even brought about a change in direction.

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

Going through cancer treatment and a lengthy recovery certainly derailed my career. When I finished treating, I contacted the editor of the humor site for which I’d written a number of humor articles. I pitched a new article based on my cancer experience and got the go-ahead from the editor.

I wrote the piece and thought it was a funny, irreverent take on illness. I’m certain other patients would have chuckled, but the editor emailed me to apologize for not being able to use it. He said, “I’m so sorry, Eileen, but this is a humor site and I can’t use your article. It’s so depressing!”

But the good news is that I’ve found an outlet for such funny and depressing writing. I have a blog for cancer patients and survivors. I also have works-in-progress for upcoming books for the audience I’ve built. Sometimes an obstacle is really a detour down a different path.

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

Don’t do it! Run as fast as you can in the other direction! But if you must, if you feel that magnetic pull despite the obstacles, go for it. Take time to learn the craft. Practice and find your voice. Enjoy the journey, the writing itself. Success can be elusive. Or you obtain some modicum of success and it’s fleeting.

Enjoy the successes when they happen, but be at peace with the ebbs and flows. The great highs of publication and lows of rejection can send your emotions on a wild rollercoaster ride. If you can let go of the outcome, take a Zen approach if you will, you’ll have succeeded on a whole other level. 

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

Confucius say: Moo Shu Pork now. Food poisoning later. Heh-heh!

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Author Interview with Rhonda Patton

Thecroak500coverabGet to know Rhonda…

Rhonda is a children’s book writer, a mother, and wife. She is a children’s book reviewer. Rhonda goes to college full-time as a graphics designer. Ted and Raymond came from a story that she created from another story of her own. Rhonda encountered a little frog one day and ever since she became fascinated with collecting frogs, then writing about them. Ted and Raymond are frog friends, who loves to tell their story and help others. Rhonda hopes you will enjoy her frog friends and other stories she has to tell. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

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

No sleep. 

What company advertisements could you model for?

Barnes and Noble. 

What is the worst occupation in the world?

I believe it would be trash state worker. 

What is your greatest phobia?    

Snakes and losing people I love. 

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

A tisket a tasket come to me for your casket. Lol. 

What is the messiest place in your home?

Living room. 

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

I give people money when I can. I am always helping others when I have that spare minute or if someone needs me.  I am doing a book for a friend now. 

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

My kids. I would love to be able to smell them everyday in my life. They are my worth living for. 

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

Cell phones. 

What is the last thing you paid money for?

Water balloons. 

What do you often make fun of?

I try not to make fun of anything. 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

Getting away to relax from the realities of home. 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

I promote for others and myself. 

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

A frog. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have?

Drinking water. 

What is the biggest advantage of being short?

I am short; my advantage is reaching things closer to the floor. 

What would you title your autobiography?

My whirlwind life. 

What topic would you like to know more about?

Social media. 

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

Being more talkative to others. 

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

Their smile or eyes. 

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

Travel away from the new land. 

finalcovergrayWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

I know when a book is finished by when my main message has been told.  I love having messages in my stories.

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

I love that Kristin Davis of Sex and the City reviewed my book in a magazine.  I believe it has done well for promotions.

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

I always put off my dreams when I was younger.  Things kept coming up in my life that I could not pursue a career in writing.  I knew at a young age I wanted to be a writer and a good one.

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

I believe that everyone is creative; we all have ideas that are different whether they are a book writer or a seamstress.  Even if the person thinks they have no talent at all, they do.  They have to find in their heart what they love the most to do, and then do it.

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity?

If so, how have you dealt with this? I have.  Personal things always came up in the past.  Now, I have the tools and the research under me to make things happen.  I am in college getting my associates degree in Graphic Arts but really thinking about my Bachelors. 

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

Sometimes I do, but then I know there are others who agree with me and I do what I feel.  Someone is going to get offended about anything and everything anyways, so I just write and be happy with what I am doing for me.

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

I think always of my next adventure.  A lot comes to me at once.  I write down a title for everything I want to do, and then I make a story out of it.  I have many on the way as well.

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

Before you put your book out in print, make sure you research, get readers BEFORE your book is out, make sure everything is edited and just the way you want it before you do anything else. Keep writing, even if someone says you will never make it, prove to yourself you can.

How would you define creativity? Creativity is anything. 

Anything that you think of on your own and make.  If you make a cake and it is different than others then it is being creative.

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

I am a stay at home mom.  My husband lost his job several years ago.  I had been researching for his career and was helping him.  I wrote book years before and showed it to him.  He loves to draw so we decided to finish this book.  It is a rush to finish a book and it makes my heart filled with joy that my books may one day help a child.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

No I do not.  I do not know how to edit my own work.  I do not like English writing because it is so hard for me even still me being born here.  I wanted to make books easy for kids when they read so they do not have to get a dictionary out and look up big words just to see what I was talking about in a book.

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

Editing.  It is hard to get customers as well.  In children’s books there is a lot of great competition out there.  I know I read kid books also to give reviews back to them.  I love paying it forward to others.

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

The biggest challenge is my 4 year old.  I stay at home with him during the day and he wants my attention most of it.  I am in school fulltime as well online.  So dealing with both of these things is really hard as a writer.  My thinking level is after 5 pm when my husband comes in.

How did you pick your writing genre?

It was really easy.  I love working with kids.  It is really hard for me to write something for adults.  One, I do not know many big words, I love being simple with writing.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Being without you seem to want more when it comes to your kids.  I push myself to the limits to learn more so we can make it better for our two kids. 

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Author Interview with Amber McRee Turner

18453192Get to know Amber…

Amber McRee Turner is the author of SWAY, released by Disney-Hyperion in 2012 and CIRCA NOW, released from Disney-Hyperion in 2014. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

What has been one of your most interesting jobs?

The summer after my senior year in high school, I was part of a promotional program for a petroleum company. There were several teams of teenagers who would be stationed at local gas stations, pumping gas and squeegeeing windshields all day, every day. I thought I’d struck it rich at $5 an hour.

If you could have any question answered, what would it be?

Why mosquitos? would certainly be one of them.

If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?

Serve the peanuts. Amber McRee Turner is not a risk-taker.

What is one of the scariest things you’ve ever done?

Have you already forgotten the circus/peanut answer? Amber McRee Turner is NOT a risk taker. Despite being careful though, I did plant my face into the asphalt at high speed once when I was a kid. Knocked out my permanent teeth, cut open my lip, and broke my jaw. Let me tell you…Pureed McDonald’s hamburger from a blender is pretty durn scary.

Who’s your favorite fictional villain?

Eddie Haskell.

What vegetable do you most resemble?

My daughter says carrot. I would have said an ear of corn, or on humid days, broccoli.

How long have you gone without sleep?

A whole night here and there, but only to meet a deadline, or when I’m in need of a whopping migraine.

What is the weirdest thing about you?

I’ll pick one. Ever since chemotherapy five years ago, I’ve had a constant super-loud ringing in my ears that sounds an awful lot like Morse Code to me. I’d love to get my ex-soldier husband to decipher it for me someday, but frankly, I’m a little scared of what the message might be.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

Oh man, there are so many to choose from. For a person who doesn’t drink, I’ve fallen in front of an awful lot of people.  I spit on people a lot. Oh yeah, here’s one…When I was 9 and super shy, I took a running start and jumped on the wrong dad’s back while yelling HI-YA!

Have you ever requested a song on the radio?

Radio, no, but I did gather enough courage to skate up to the carpet-walled DJ area of the roller rink once and ask for some Journey.

What is the last movie you watched? What did ya think?

We just watched the 1959 version of Tom Thumb. It was a delight. 

9116qj-KBgLWriting Questions

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I’ve been writing for fun since I was a kiddo, always dreaming of holding my own book someday. When my daughter was born, I was afforded the opportunity of being a stay-at-home mom. That time, coupled with the fresh inspiration of having a kiddo in the house, made me think why not? What did I have to lose by sending some stories out?

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

My college fiction professor, Cary Holladay. She has a brilliant mind. She was beyond encouraging to me in my way-less-polished years.

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up?

I’ve never wanted to give up the writing part. I have taken long breaks from writing due to life circumstances…Bills. Heartache. Cancer. Petty things like that.

What’s your favorite writing quote?

Wait, let me go search one up.

Okay, for now, it’s this:

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

–Lord Byron

I’ve tried to explain this to my family and friends in a far less eloquent way. It’s hard to explain, but writing keeps me sane. (Hey look, I’m a poet too!)

What inspired you to write your first book?

SWAY was largely inspired by my mother’s childhood experience with a runaway parent. And the soaps…I’ve always been fascinated with leftover soap slivers. Oh, and those hundreds of single shoes I’ve seen in the middle of the road. Also, dozens and dozens of road trips all over the Southeast. I could draw inspiration from those roadsides forever.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I tend to do the “Southern Gothic Magical Realism” thing. As far as my life goes, it’s really all I know.

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

Well, I love the music of words, real ones and made-up. In a way, it’s also what I do worst in my writing, because I tend to get more hung up on the words than the actual storytelling.

What books have most influenced your life?

Certainly the Bible far above anything else. Also, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein, WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick, stacks of READER’S DIGEST magazines in my Grandmother’s bathroom. GO DOG GO! by P.D. Eastman.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Oh, of course I would. An author tends to assume that her first published book is going to be her last published book. It makes it tempting to “kitchen sink” that story, to put in all the ideas that might be better suited a little more spread out. If I could go back, I think I’d tell myself to hold back a bit.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?

I’d say, for me, the ideas themselves come pretty easily at this point in my life. I’m inspired by a lot of what I see and hear around me. The challenge will always be the rewrite. The making it better. Revision…in writing, and in living, is hard.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I don’t really have a favorite author, per se. I very much enjoy the wit and genius-turn-of-phrase of Lemony Snicket. I have tremendous respect for Kate DiCamillo and the strong sense of gratitude that pervades her stories. I also love the heart in Shel Silverstein’s work. Oh, and Brian Selznick, he makes me sob. Oliver Jeffers is a big fave around our house too. 

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Illustrator Interview with Wendy Myers

horse jumping wall websizingGet to know Wendy… 

Wendy was once an airplane pilot and horse trainer, but now she happily spends her time making up stories and illustrating new worlds. She has been an artist for as long as she can remember. 

Before transitioning into picture books she showed successfully in galleries throughout North Carolina, Nevada, and Oregon, and painted commissions. 

She grew up on the East Coast in a wonderful, imaginative place by the sea. She now lives with her husband, daughter, and many animals in beautiful Bend, Oregon. For more information please visit her website.                                

Quirky Questions 

What is the last thing you paid money for? 

A very large vanilla latte. 

What do you often make fun of? 

My animals. Not in a mean way, but because they are goofy. My dog fell up the stairs the other day. How do you not make fun of that? 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel? 

You don’t have to cook your meals! You can just make a phone call and food shows up. 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

Every-single-thing. I tend to be a bit driven, which can be exhausting. So I also try to nap with determination each day. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have? What’s your worst habit?

My best habit is probably that I eat healthy food. Fresh fruits & veggies, organic stuff. My worst habit is not returning friends phone calls for what seems like ages. I’m not easy to reach and they get frustrated sometimes. Also- not getting enough sleep. 

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

Tall? I have no experience with that. The biggest advantage of being short is that you can find fun, inexpensive clothes in the junior’s department. And most people don’t ask you to help carry heavy things for them. 

What topic would you like to know more about?

So many things! Whales. Seals. Eagles. The ocean. Biplanes. I could go on forever. 

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

How kind they are. Their eyes. That’s two, but they are related. 

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

May cause you to stay awake all night creating, play loud music at all hours of the day, and talk to animals. 

What is the worst occupation in the world?

Anything requiring you to slog through rotting garbage. Ick. 

What is your greatest phobia? 

Probably heights. Which is funny because my previous occupation was pilot. 

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

My Grandfather had the corniest joke whenever we passed a funeral home-“it’s so popular-people are just dying to get in there”. I guess it would have to be that. 

What is the messiest place in your home?

My studio without a doubt! 

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

I rescued a neglected puppy from my back yard (he wandered in and was terrified and hungry), and found him a new home through my local Humane Society. He was so cute. 

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

Coffee? I love it. It’s a comforting smell.

WendyMyersIllustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I really don’t have them. Sometimes I’m looking for inspiration on a particular piece, and then I’ll go back through notes from an artist workshop, or go online and browse other artist’s sites. It’s the equivalent of being around other artists- it gives me a collective, creative energy.

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

Yes. The images usually come first for me. I dream it, then try to make it real. Such a big gap from one to the other.

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

It chose me for sure. I couldn’t sleep, just constantly having images and ideas running amok in my head until I figured out what to do with them.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Riding my horse. Odd, I know. Around other artists, too, especially if we are all working together in a room.

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

There have been so many kind, helpful people I’ve met along the way. They’ve shown me the path when I didn’t know where to go next. I’d have to say my husband is my number one supporter and cheerleader. I also don’t know how to quit once I start something. It helps.

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

God help you all if I decide on singing. Interior design maybe?

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

Time. It takes a lot of time and dedication to improve your art in a field where you have no guarantees of financial success. I have a fine arts background. In that world I painted and then sold my work in galleries, or I painted commission pieces. In illustration, particularly the children’s literature market, there is so much more time put into projects that may never be “purchased”. I’m so lucky my family supports my madness!

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

Draw every day. Never give up on your goals. And don’t be shy about talking to people about what you do. I’ve met some great clients that way.

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

When people began buying my work and galleries invited me to be in shows. I was shocked.

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

If someone has an answer for this that works please contact me asap. It’s a constant tipping of the scales for me. I’ll work feverishly on a project for days or weeks, then I’ll take days off to catch up with family. Did I mention I’m terrible at correspondence? This is one of the reasons. There’s never enough time for it all.

What is your typical day like?

Define typical. There is none. When I don’t have to get up early the next morning, I’ll stay up until 2am working.  Otherwise I’ll work from 7-11am in my studio, then do other things in the afternoon, then work again from 7-11pm. But it’s not consistent at all.

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

A lot. There are horses everywhere. And dogs. Kids. Happiness. I need to do more airplanes.

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

No, but my Dad was a very talented musician.

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

Rocky best describes my childhood. In the early years we lived wild and free on the NJ coast, which was a real gift. I was given my first easel when I was about 5, and my Mom always encouraged creativity. Later on there were several creative adults in my life who were a positive influence.

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

I have not been published yet so I’ll have to report back on this one.

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

Wow, tough question. I think we are all different, thank goodness. For picture book illustration done in watercolors, my work tends to be very detailed, and often I use many layers and usually lots of color.

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

I hope so. Over the years I have challenged myself to take workshops and try styles that are out of my comfort zone. I am a tight painter, so I’ll do some studies in a looser style. Over time I’ve found it has influenced my work. I find I’m also more likely to play and try new things to get the desired effect in my work. Lately I’m working in ink and watercolor, which I haven’t done for years.

When do you feel the most energized?

At night. It’s maddening.

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

Somewhat. No deep meanings, but I am a bit of a perfectionist. So my painting style is tighter and my line work more precise. My colors are intense as well. Where’s the couch- I may need to lie down to reflect on all this. 

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Author Interview Loretta Ellsworth

unnamedGet to know Loretta… 

Loretta is a former teacher and a graduate of Hamline University in the MFA Program in Writing for Children.  She is the author of four young adult novels:  THE SHROUDING WOMAN, a BBCB Choice and Rebecca Caudill Nominee; IN SEARCH OF MOCKINGBIRD, a Teen’s Top Ten nominee, ALA and IRA Notable, winner of the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Honor Award for Children’s Literature, and named to the New York Library List of Teenage Books; IN A HEARTBEAT, a Midwest Connection’s Pick and a ALAN Pick, and UNFORGETTABLE, which received that elusive Kirkus star and was a Kirkus Critic’s Pick as well the winner of the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award in Children’s Literature. She has appeared at numerous book festivals across the nation and teaches writing to young people as well as those not so young. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

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

War.

What dead person would you least want to be haunted by?

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen?

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

I was zoned out and forgot to go through the grocery store drive-through to pick up the groceries I bought.  I’ve done this often, in fact. 

What is your earliest childhood memory?

My earliest memory is hiding with the neighbor boy under his front porch during a passing storm.  My mother was angry because she’d been looking for me, but I was too scared to try to make it home because of the lightning.  I was three.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

A student once asked if I was related to JK Rowling because he thought I looked like her.  I told him she was my sister.

unnamed (1)Writing Questions

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

I read a lot and I belong to a supportive writing community where I am encouraged and challenged to do my best.

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

I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t do anything about it until I was thirty years-old, and didn’t work seriously at it until I was forty.  I wish I’d taken that plunge earlier, but I know how hard it was to make time to write as a working mom, and I have great respect for those who manage to carve out the time for writing while juggling so many other obligations. 

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Every rejection hurts and it’s hard not to take it personally.  It doesn’t affect my desire to continue writing, but it does affect which manuscripts I decide to work on.

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

In college I had twelve W-2 forms in one year.  I did everything, from giving tours at the John Deere Engine manufacturing plant to working at a golf course.  After college, I taught middle school and high school Spanish for many years before my career took off, and now I visit schools to teach writing workshops.

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

My own fears about myself and my writing.

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

I’m reading Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal, written when she was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and I have several questions I wish I could ask her.

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

I always try to work my maiden name (Mennen) into my books to see if family members can find it.

Have you ever felt enlightened by an event in the past that has given you a new perspective on life?

I randomly chose the setting for my first book, which takes place in the 1870’s in southeastern Minnesota.  It was only after the book was accepted and I was doing revisions that my aunt gave me a copy of my great, great, grandmother’s journal.  I had no idea that she’d lived in that community during that same time and is buried there.  I used her journal in my revisions to help describe the landscape, and my aunt told me I didn’t choose the place, that it had chosen me.  It made me more aware of connections that might seem random but perhaps really aren’t.

How has personal experience influenced your writing?

Your personal experience is what motivates you to write a particular story.  I think all stories are self-exploratory in some ways, and in order to write characters with compassion you must find yourself in the story and discover why it’s important to you.

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Author Interview with Laura Gehl

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ONEBIGPAIRbookjacketGet to know Laura…

Laura Gehl is the author of AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP and HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL, both out this spring from Kar-Ben/Lerner, as well as ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR (Simon & Schuster, 2014) and the PEEP AND EGG books (Macmillan, 2016). Laura also writes about science for children and adults. She lives with her husband and four kids in Chevy Chase, Maryland. For more info, visit her website and Facebook.

Quirky Questions

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

Vague fortunes drive me crazy, so I would want something specific. “You will get two new book contracts today, followed shortly by the news that you won a big award” would do nicely. Another fortune I would like: “Your children will grow up happy and safe, find loving spouses, and provide you with healthy grandchildren.”

What is the best thing about getting old?

Not caring as much about what people think. Feeling fine about buying 99% of my clothes from L.L. Bean. Getting to spend most of my time with people whose company I truly value.

What do you do too little of?

Spending 1 on 1 time with each of my kids. It’s hard with four of them, but I know it is important.

If you owned a store, what sorts of things would you sell?

Is this a trick question??? BOOKS, OF COURSE! And maybe some coffee and chocolate to enjoy along with the books.

What book (either because of its length or subject) intimidates you?

I recently checked out a Timmy Failure book, by Stephan Pastis, from the library. My 10-year-old and 8-year-old were literally grabbing it out of each other’s hands, so I had to read it too. The book was so hilarious that I knew I could never write anything as funny. Definitely intimidating. I feel that way when I read and re-read Gordon Korman’s Macdonald Hall books too. Intimidating in the you-can-never-ever-be-this-funny kind of way.

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

I’ve always been a huge fan of the traditional Thanksgiving meal…turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce…and I still am. But I also had a bizarre fascination as a child with TV dinners and, similarly, the meals on airplanes. I just loved how there were distinct little parts of the meal in their own distinct little boxes. Unlike Thanksgiving food, I have outgrown my love of TV dinners and airplane meals.

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

Woods Walking. If all kids could spend a block of time each day walking in the woods, I think kids and teachers would be calmer, happier, and more focused. If children actually learned about nature in the process, so much the better, but just walking in the woods would be wonderful.

What bad habit will you purposely never quit?

Biting my nails. It really saves time, since I never need to trim them.

What are you thinking about right now?

I’ve already had my chocolate break, my coffee break, and my walking break. Now what do I do if I start to feel tired and unmotivated???

Hare & Tortoise Race Across Israel-1

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

By far, I prefer to write on my living room couch. Since the couch is smack in the middle of my house, this means I can only really write when my husband and four kids are all out.

When do you feel the most energized?

Right after eating chocolate. They don’t call it a sugar high for nothing…and chocolate has the caffeine kick in addition to the sugar!

Does your writing reflect your personality?

I hope so. My books are intended to be funny and kind and make the world a better place. If that reflects my personality, then…YAY!

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I like to have lots of different projects going on at any given time. That way when I feel blocked on one, I can work on another.

What is your typical day like?

Wake up, feed kids, get kids out the door, write, eat lunch, write, pick up kids, feed kids dinner, get kids to bed, write. A chocolate break is always in there somewhere, sometimes a coffee break, and on a good day a walk with a friend or a solitary run. I try to work on my most challenging project first thing in the morning, when my brain is fresh. Later in the day, my writing time might involve copy-editing or critiquing, because those tasks do not require as much focus and emotional energy.

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

I used to keep a file of positive words received from editors and agents. If I received a rejection letter that had a few positive sentences and a few critical sentences, I would take just the positive words and paste them in my file. Reading through that file helped me keep going.

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

My kids are always giving me ideas, of course. But whenever I try to write a story with a fictionalized version of one of my own children as the main character, it is a complete and utter disaster.

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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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