Author Interview with Kelly Hashway

TheMonsterWithinfinalcoverFLATcropped (2)Get to know Kelly…

Kelly Hashway grew up reading R.L. Stein’s Fear Street novels and writing stories of her own, so it was no surprise to her family when she majored in English and later obtained a masters degree in English Secondary Education from East Stroudsburg University. After teaching middle school language arts for seven years, Hashway went back to school and focused specifically on writing. She is now the author of three young adult series, one middle grade series, and several picture books. She also writes contemporary romance under the pen name Ashelyn Drake. When she isn’t writing, Hashway works as a freelance editor for small presses as well as for her own list of clients. In her spare time, she enjoys running, traveling, and volunteering with the PTO. Hashway currently resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and two pets. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

Would you mind sharing an embarrassing moment?

When I was in middle school I went to the dentist with my mother and sister. My mom was getting her teeth cleaned and I had to use the bathroom, so I told my sister I was going down the hall to the restroom. After a few minutes my sister came looking for me. I heard her call my name and yelled back to her. Then she yelled, “That’s the men’s room!” and ran back into the dentist’s office, leaving me there by myself. I’m very careful to read the signs on the restroom doors before entering now.  

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

I’ve always wanted to invent the rear horn for people who ride on your bumper. Instead of just a horn sound it would be obnoxious so people wanted to back away from you. 

What odd habit or quirk do you have?

Oh, let’s see… I have talented feet that can pick up things and even hitchhike. (Don’t ask.) I can recite the alphabet faster backwards than forwards. I have an aversion to the number three but can’t for the life of me figure out why. I love walking through cemeteries. 

Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

St. Thomas. I love the U.S. Virgin Islands. I’ve been to St. Thomas twice, and while I love Aruba more, St. Thomas is the prettiest place I’ve ever been. The mountains and Caribbean Sea are just breathtaking.

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

Adam Sandler. You know he’s going to do some weird things to your stuff. 

Would you ever consider living with a tribe deep in the Amazon?

Not even for a second. I’m terrified of snakes, and the Amazon has way too many! 

What do you get most enthusiastic about?

Seeing my daughter reading. She’s only seven, but she loves novels. She stays up late, reading in bed and I could just stare at her reading. I love to see kids appreciate books for the amazing adventures they are. 

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

I’m laughing so hard at this question because I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with me. Talking about all the voices in my head (my characters’) would be enough to have me committed BEFORE I even got to mention I’m a writer. 

What makes you uncomfortable?

Driving to places I’ve never been before. I hate driving and the thought of getting lost somewhere unfamiliar always makes me uncomfortable.

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Writing Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

If I get stuck in a particular place in my manuscript, I jump ahead. I find writing the ending will give me a clear point to get to so I can go back to where I was stuck and work my way to that ending. That or I’ll jump ahead to the climax, because the excitement of that part of the book usually gets my creativity going again.

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

Yes, sometimes too well, and that drives me to fast draft at insane paces because I can’t wait to get everything written down.

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

I really think I was born to be a writer. I can remember writing in elementary school. It’s just part of who I am.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Unfortunately, I get my best ideas in the worst places: the shower, the car (while driving), and even while I’m running. I had to buy a digital voice recorder so I don’t forget the ideas that come to me when I can’t write them down.

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

At first, giving up a steady paycheck was hard. I’m a full-time writer and that’s tough sometimes. But being home means I get to attend my daughter’s school functions, help out with the PTO, and be class mom, and that’s really important to me. So I have to say my sacrifice turned out to be a really good thing in the end.

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

Don’t be married to your words and be open to constructive criticism. Even the best writers can improve their craft.

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

I have a designated time each day to write, and that’s when my husband is at work and my daughter is at school. That gives me five and a half hours of uninterrupted writing time, so that I can be with my family when they’re home. Now, I do have to sometimes steal extra time in the evenings to meet deadlines, but I try to stick to a balanced schedule.

What is your typical day like?

I’m a morning person, so I wake up at six every day. Depending on the day, I’ll either shower immediately or go for a run first. Then it’s breakfast with my family, take my daughter to school, come home and write, pick my daughter up at 3:15, play with her until I have to cook dinner, spend time with my family until the evening, and then depending on deadlines, I’ll either watch TV until bed or write.

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

I use the emotions from my personal experiences all the time, but I try not to replicate actual events from my life. I do have one character who is a lot like me. We share a birthday and we are both very accident-prone.

Do you have family members who like to write too?

There are a lot of avid readers in my family, but aside from me, my daughter is the only other writer. She’s seven and she likes to write and illustrate her own stories.

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

I consider myself very fortunate because I had a great childhood. My parents were and still are extremely supportive and loving. I remember going to the bookstore numerous times a month and getting to pick out a new book to read. My parents definitely nurtured my love of books, and I’m sure that had a lot to do with my love of writing as well. I don’t try to replicate my upbringing in my own writing, but that’s mostly because I like to put my characters in environments that are more open to conflict both externally and internally.

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

I think it definitely has. I started out writing middle grade and was probably more plot-driven. Over the years, I’ve branched out to picture books, young adult, and new adult, and I’d say my books are more character-based now. I think I’ve tapped into my emotions more and really let those take the lead in my books.

When do you feel the most energized?

I’m definitely a morning person. I come home from dropping my daughter off at school and I’m ready to get work done. It might have something to do with the coffee I drink when I wake up. ;)

Does your writing reflect your personality?

I think it does. I’ve been told I look very quiet and sweet since I’m tiny, but once you get to know me, you find out I’m very quirky and little bit dark. That quirky/dark side seems to really show in my characters and plots.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Peg Kehret

Peg1Get to know Peg…

Peg Kehret’s middle-grade books have won more than fifty state young reader awards, as well as the PEN Center West Award in Children’s Literature, the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Award.  Abduction was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America.

Peg has two grown children, four grandchildren and a great-grandson. She volunteers with animal welfare groups, and has included dogs, cats, llamas, elephants, bears, horses, and monkeys in her books. Three of her books are co-authored by Pete the cat. 

Peg lives in Wilkeson, Washington, with her dog and two cats, all rescued animals. For more information, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

What is the best thing about getting old?

Contentment. I don’t crave more success or money or more of anything. If I never lose that last five pounds, it’s okay. What used to be called weeds are now decorative grasses. My life is good, just as it is.

What do you miss most about being younger?

I miss the people I love who have died.

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

I only make my bed when I’m expecting guests. This is not because I’m lazy; it’s because my cat likes to sleep on the bedspread. He gets it dirty, and bedspreads are hard to wash.

What favor should never be asked of someone?

I have this great idea for a book but I don’t have time to write it, so I’d like you to write it for me and then we’ll share the royalties.

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

You will bring joy to many.

What would you hate to see charging at you in the middle of an open field?

The Legion of Boom.

If you opened up a present, what would you least expect to find?

Meat. Anyone who knows me well enough to give me a gift would know that I’m a vegetarian.

Peg3Writing Questions

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

The challenges change with time. At first it was learning to write well enough to merit publication. For a while, the big challenge was having enough time. After many books, it became a challenge to stay fresh, with new ideas and untapped material.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I write in more than one genre and enjoy all of them. I had two books published this year; one is a drama book for teens, Two Voices: 54 Original Duologues for Teens, co-authored with Brett Konen. The other is a middle grade suspense novel, Dangerous Deception.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My work with animal rescue groups has been a resource many times for ideas and feelings. Also, my experience of being paralyzed from polio when I was twelve has had a big impact. The main characters in my fiction are all about that age.

How do you know when a book is finished?

I keep revising until I can’t see any other changes to make. Then I put it aside for a week or so. If I still can’t find anything to change when I read it again, the book is done.

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

Writing offers total freedom with your time, your projects, and your work space. Also no pantyhose.

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

Lots of rejections in the early years. Later, some changes in editorial staff caused difficulties. Shortly after my first novel was published, the publisher went out of business.

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

Write what you like to read. Don’t try to aim for what’s popular; write for yourself. If you write what’s meaningful to you, you’ll attract like-minded readers who will appreciate your work. Keep your sense of humor, and don’t expect instant wealth. I’ve made my living as a writer for a long time, but there were many years of way-below-poverty-level income before that happened.

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

Creative people tend to be curious, keep an open mind, and are willing to take risks.

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

I did not try writing as a career until I was in my thirties. I questioned it often in the beginning but once I began to publish, I knew I’d found my life’s work and I’ve never regretted my choice. 

Peg2

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Chris Crowe

mississippi-trial-1955-chris-crowe-paperback-495x800Get to know Chris… 

Chris Crowe was born in Danville, Illinois, and attended schools in Illinois, New Mexico, and California before his parents settled down in Tempe, Arizona, where he graduated from McKemy Junior High and McClintock High School. He attended Brigham Young University on a football scholarship (and played in the 1974 Fiesta Bowl) and earned a BA in English. He taught English at McClintock High for 10 years while attending Arizona State University part-time, earning his masters and doctorate degrees.

He is the author of several books, most notably MISSISSIPPI TRIAL, 1955, which won several awards, including the 2003 International Reading Association’s Young Adult Novel Award. His nonfiction book, GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER: THE TRUE STORY OF THE EMMETT TILL CASE, was an Jane Addams Honor book. His most recent project was a children’s book, JUST AS GOOD: HOW LARRY DOBY CHANGED AMERICA’S GAME.

Chris married his high school sweetheart, and they live in Provo, Utah, where he works in the English department at BYU. They are the parents of four children and grandparents of four more. For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions 

If you could live anywhere for one year, all expenses paid, where would you live?

That’s easy: London. 

What was the worst smell you have ever smelled? 

Rotten duck eggs.

If you could have one super human power, what would it be? 

The ability to eat whatever I want, as much as I want, without any weight or cholesterol gain.

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?

My wife, Elizabeth.  We met in our sophomore English class; she was the new girl at our school, and I was a real knucklehead.  We got married at 19, and she has been a positive influence in every aspect of my life.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? 

Retired from teaching, most likely, but still writing.  And enjoying life with my wife, children, and grandchildren. 

81nF731R-CL._SL1500_Writing Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing? 

Reading.  I’ve always loved reading, and sometime around 6th or 7th grade, it dawned on me that someone’s on the other side of the book I’m reading—and I wondered if someday I could be on that other side, the author’s side of a book.

What books are you reading right now?

Buzzkill and My Name is Africa.

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

My good writing friend, Carol Lynch Williams, has given me great advice, encouragement, and support over the years.  My next-door neighbor, children’s author Rick Walton, has also been a great friend and support. My teaching colleague, Jesse Crisler, has been a terrific reader and critic of early drafts.

What’s your favorite writing quote?

“The gun on the wall must be fired.”

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read.  Read.  Read.

What inspired you to write your first book? 

I’d written a bunch of magazine articles and a weekly newspaper column—I wanted to see if I could sustain an entire book.

What books have most influenced your life? 

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, The Hardy Boys series, most of Dr. Seuss.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 

John H. Ritter.

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

I lack the daily-grind discipline when I’m between projects.  It’s so easy for me to be distracted by almost anything.  I’m also a terrible plotter.  Revision, most of the time, comes easy to me. 

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

Mildred D. Taylor is one of my favorite authors.  She crafts beautiful sentences and characters, uses history well, and tells stories of great significance.  Jennifer Donnelly has similar qualities.  And then there’s Markus Zuzak. What a masterpiece The Book Thief is! 

ChrisCroweSpeakstoLandmarkHigh11_20_09.jpg

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Author Interview with Nicky Byma

The LetterGet to know Nicky

Growing up in NW Washington, I loved to write. Songs, poems, and stories; you name it, I wrote it. I loved writing, but never had the slightest inkling to actually publish anything I wrote. That changed in 2010 when I moved to Portland, OR and found myself overwhelmingly inspired to write my first children’s book King Boogie. After King Boogie was released, it was like a faucet of ideas was turned on and I haven’t looked back since. I love writing and cannot think of a better gift than knowing that something I wrote might bring a little joy to readers young and old. If God gives you an idea, run with it and see where it takes you: This is my philosophy, and I’m still running. For more info, find me on Facebook!

Quirky Questions 

Would you mind sharing an embarrassing moment?

Where do I start? I have probably made every goofy move in the book but, most importantly, I have learned to love my gaffs as they happen. Making a complete fool of yourself can be a great conversation starter! 

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

I’ve had lots of ideas that I haven’t followed through on but fully intend to. The way I see it, I’m going to write down every idea I have and try and develop them. If God provides the means or shows me where to take those ideas, I will. If he doesn’t, I will just look back on them one day and laugh about what could have been. 

If there was a national holiday in your honor, what would that day be like?

My holiday would be a day where everyone celebrates by anonymously doing something nice for someone else. Like a national secret Santa day where people just do good things without getting any recognition. Everyone loves getting a surprise mystery gift right? Now imagine that on a worldwide scale! 

Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

Artist Point on Mount Baker near my home town in NW Washington. It’s amazing. Your cell phone doesn’t work and you are surrounded by the most beautiful views of mountains and valleys. Things like email and traffic jams don’t matter for a minute and it’s a beautiful thing. 

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

I like it to a certain point. It’s fun to chat with people but when you reach that line of obviously not having anything else to say it can get pretty awkward!

What do you get most enthusiastic about?

New ideas. When I come up with an idea for a story or something else, it is honestly all I think about. There is something so amazing about letting your mind pour out on paper and seeing a thought grow from fleeting idea to something tangible and real. 

What would complete your outfit right now?

Shorts. Always shorts. I could be in a tux and want shorts. 

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

I doubt I would grow anything. I would just drive the tractor around all day while accomplishing nothing in the process. So, to answer the question, I would have endless crops of empty fields. 

577533_237284573097221_33837308_nWriting Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

At one point I hated them but now I just see them as chances to start another project. If I am writing a book and hit a wall, I just start writing ideas for another project and before I know it the ideas start flowing again.

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

Yes and no. I usually have a rough idea of the entire book before I start writing but I’m always ready to change that if the creative process takes me elsewhere.

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

I feel it was chosen for me. When I first thought about writing a book I laughed it off and told God that I would only do it if he showed me how. Needless to say, I’m working on my second book and just enjoying the ride.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

This is going to sound silly but I have had my most successful brainstorming sessions in the car as I drove from NW Washington to my home in Portland. There is a certain point every drive where my wife and son both fall asleep and when they do, the ideas start coming to me as I drive.

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

There have been a few moments that really inspired me on my journey. Chance meetings with people that I don’t believe were chance at all, support and feedback from friends and family etc. That and hearing stories of people taking joy from what I wrote. It’s incredibly humbling and inspiring at the same time.

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

If God gives you an idea, run with it as long and as hard as you can. It doesn’t have to be a huge success to be successful.

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

Enjoy the things today that you would be lost without tomorrow.

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

I sometimes wonder if I actually have a gift for writing in the first place, haha. I was never really good in school except for English and Creative Writing classes. I guess I’m a natural at making stuff up.

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

More than people realize. I try and put subtle life lessons I’ve learned in everything I write but always leave it open to interpretation for the reader.

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

My parents always encouraged my crazy creativity in ways I could have never imagined. They listened as I learned drums, told me my stories were great (they weren’t) and always had the time to humor my youthful whims. In retrospect, that was one of the best gifts I could have asked for.

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

My next book The Letter is the one I am most proud of so far. I feel like I had a story to tell that could be enjoyed by both kids and adults and hopefully pulled that off.

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

Absolutely! With my first book King Boogie I wrote simply to entertain with minimal thought of moral or message. With my next books I have realized that I can entertain and convey a stronger moral in the process and I hope that comes through.

Does your writing reflect your personality?

I hope so. I’m a silly, odd and philosophical guy whose two favorite things are having deep conversations about life and laughing hysterically when someone trips and falls on something.I really hope my books offer a little bit of that to the people who read them. 

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Author Interview with Carol Weis

CarolGet to know Carol… 

Carol Weis is an actor, teacher, and children’s entertainer, who once ran a restaurant kitchen, a grade-school library, and a home-baking business, and now writes poetry, essays, memoir, and children’s books. Her writing has appeared online at Salon, SMITH Magazine, Clean Sheets, and Literary Mama, in various local publications, and has been read as commentary on public radio. Her chapbook, DIVORCE PAPERS (Bull Thistle Press, 2002), led her to develop the school-touring program, ‘Poems Have Feelings, Too!’ Her children’s book, WHEN THE COWS GOT LOOSE, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2006. 

Carol is a touring author, known affectionately as the Cow-Lady, performing over 140 library, school and bookstore events since her picture book’s release. She also runs a freelance editing service, fills in for absent teachers, and works as a writer-in-residence in local elementary and middle schools, as part of the Creative Minds Initiative, sponsored by grants from the Massachusetts Culture Council. She lives with her daughter, Maggie, with whom she’s written a mother/daughter memoir. Most evenings, you’ll find Carol pedaling down the bike trail in search of the right words. 

Quirky Questions 

If the plane you were flying in was about to crash, who would you like to be sitting beside? 

My daughter. We both agree we’d want to have each other’s hand to hold in a plane crash. 

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

Cell phone service. 

What was the worst grade you’ve ever received? Best?

My worst grade was an F, in Intro to Shakespeare. The teacher was so bad I lost interest. I retook the course that summer, with an engaging professor, and got an A. Now one of my teaching gigs is at Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s summer theater camp, where there are no grades. 

What are you thinking about right now?

Doing a decent job, answering these questions.  

What one person or object best represents the 80’s?

My darling daughter, who was born in 1984. Other than that momentous event, it has to be Michael Jackson. 

What is the most shocking sight you’ve ever witnessed?

I’d have to say the half-naked guy, who was helicoptering, while passing us on the Jersey Turnpike. 

If there is life on Mars, what celebrity might resemble the Martians?

Steve Buscemi. 

What would you do if you wanted to annoy someone?

Mimic what they say. We did it as kids and drove each other crazy. 

What is a song that you could listen to all day, every day, on repeat?

Though there are many songs I dearly love, far too many to list here, there’s not one I would want to listen to all day, every day. Mostly, I like quiet, to hear what my characters are saying to me. 

What do you do too much of?

I check email and Facebook far too much. And stay up way too late… 

What do you do too little of?

I don’t eat enough chocolate. 

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

I’d love to see a course offered in kindness and compassion. As a teacher, I always try to model those behaviors whenever I can. 

What latest trend simply baffles you?

I just saw a piece on Colbert about Rollin’ Coal. Why would anyone choose to do that?

What bad habit will you purposely never quit?

Eating too little chocolate. 

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

Humor, because laughter is truly the best medicine. If you can’t laugh through hard times, you’ll be miserable much of your life. 

When theWriting Questions

Does your writing reflect your personality?

In my children’s writing, my characters are usually based on some aspect of my personality. A tad quirky, leaning towards rebellious, goofy whenever possible, always passionate, and somewhat unique. My personal writing (poetry, essays, and memoir) reflects who I am at that moment in time, or who I was in an earlier period of life.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I get on my bicycle and pedal wildly down the bike trail, or take a brisk walk. Movement helps me to get unstuck. Though, sometimes patience is the only thing that works, as I wait for the creative well to refill.

What is your typical day like?

I don’t really have a typical day, because I wear so many hats — writer, editor, teacher, touring author, writer-in-residence, are but a few. In most cases, I start my day reading a chapter of the book I’m into, and then check email and Facebook, while munching on apple slices. After a bowl of Kashi, I put on my hat-of-the-day and proceed from there. A bike ride and/or walk are essential to my day. And then, my daughter and I have dinner together, often watching the reruns of The Daily Show and Colbert Report, and I always end my day with a book in my hands.

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

I had a very different vision for the artwork in When the Cows Got Loose, but was thrilled when I saw Ard Hoyt’s whimsical illustrations. He has such a wonderful sense of humor.

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

A little of both.  My husband and I split up when my daughter was five, and I needed a way to fill the void and process the pain, so I started writing. I found it did both.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Ideas come to me when I’m soaking in a hot bath, doing deep breathing, riding down the bike trail, or taking a walk. For me, relaxation is key to keeping the flow moving and inviting in the muse.

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

I’ve had lots of cheerleaders along the way. Included in that team is my daughter, my writing group, my sister, and many other supportive friends, including countless new and old friends on Facebook. I started writing 23 years ago, and have wanted to quit at least once a year since then. But the desire to quit is always fleeting, and I never act on it. I guess you’d call me a lifer.

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

My greatest fear is running out of words or things to say. I can’t imagine not writing, but I have recently become interested in photography. And I’ve always expressed my creative side through cooking.

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

Financial security. As a single Mom, my daughter and I gave up a lot so I could write.

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

As Anne Lamott says, don’t be afraid to write a shitty first draft. Revising will help to cure that. And Susan Jeffers words always inspire me. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

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

Always be true to who you are.

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

I first started writing poetry after hearing Billy Collins recite The Best Cigarette. He was funny. I wanted to write like him. Children’s books appealed to my inner child. I started writing them when I joined a group led by Jane Yolen, one of my mentors. I also write personal essays, commentary, and memoir. I vary my style, depending on the form, and the piece of work I’m creating. Right now I’m working on a memoir and doing a lot of experimenting with structure and POV.

When do you feel the most energized?

At night. I come from a family of owls.

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

My picture book is based on the day the cows escaped the farm, down the road from where we lived. I started writing the next day, after seeing the deep hoof marks they left in our lawn. My poetry chapbook captures bits of my divorce. Writing those poems helped me get through it. Everything I write contains a morsel of my life.

Do you have family members who like to write too?

My daughter co-wrote a mother/daughter memoir with me, and I have some cousins who also write. My sister-in-law has been writing something in her head for years, which I’ve been trying to coax her to write down.

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

My childhood was difficult. When I was three, my mom was hospitalized with TB for 18 months, and for another year when I was six. We were farmed out, which deeply impacted my view of the world and how I traversed it. And yes, it shows up in my writing.

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

Everything I write fills me with a great amount of satisfaction and pride. I scored 423 in my verbal SATs. I mean, don’t they give you 200 for just writing your name? In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I’d become a writer. Let alone a published one. Sister Juanita, one of my high school English teachers, is surely rolling over in her grave.

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

It took many years to own the title of writer or to even call myself one. I got glimpses of it when my first poems were published, and fully embraced my writer-self when Simon & Schuster released my first children’s book.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Sylvia Liu

Willa-Davinci-web-2014© Sylvia Liu

Get to know Sylvia…

Sylvia Liu is an environmental attorney turned writer-illustrator. She won the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices Award and her winning manuscript, A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, will be published as a picture book. She recently completed an illustration mentorship with Caldecott winner David Diaz through the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. She is inspired by aliens, bunnies, cephalopods, and pigs that want to fly. She helps run the kidlit resource website. For more info, browse her portfolio and read her blog.

Quirky Questions 

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

When kids had the freedom and security to roam their neighborhoods for hours on end (this was the case even in Caracas where I grew up, now one of the most violent cities in the world). 

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

I may have hoarding tendencies, because I keep lots of things, but they are all for good reasons. I have things from growing up in Venezuela (taxidermied piranhas, first grade journals, my Kindergarten report card); things that might be used for art projects even though I don’t make found object art (old license plates, random plastic doodads from the kids); and one that still amazes me (a mylar helium balloon on a stick given to me when my younger daughter was born; it is still perfectly inflated over ten years later). 

If you could pass along a piece of wisdom to future generations, what would it be? 

Take care of the Earth and its oceans; enjoy the moment but have a plan for your future; and don’t regret your mistakes because they made you who you are.

Sylvia Liu 2© Sylvia Liu

Writing Questions

How would you define creativity?

The ability to take unrelated things and put them together in interesting and possibly beautiful ways. Looking at the world from a slant angle.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Some favorite authors are Haruki Murakami, Neal Stephenson, Jorge Luis Borges, and Donna Tartt. Some favorite children’s authors are Phillip Pullman, JK Rowling, Diana Wynn Jones, Kate DiCamillo, and Neil Gaiman. I am awed by their ability to create amazing, encompassing worlds and bespell their readers.

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

The usual ones that I’m sure most creative people face: self-doubt, procrastination, and writer’s/artist’s block. All of these are compounded for me because writing and illustration is my second career, so I feel that time is shorter. But on the flip side, I am very productive and hardworking when I do get to work.

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

Finding enough time to practice the craft.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Like many children’s authors, I was drawn to writing stories that my children would enjoy when they were young. I hope to have my first picture book published before my younger daughter, who is in 5th grade, finishes elementary school (at this rate, I should skip MG and YA and move straight to adult books!)

Sylvia Liu 1© Sylvia Liu
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Interview with Award-Winning Author Elizabeth Rusch

unnamedGet to know Elizabeth…

ELIZABETH RUSCH is the award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction books for young readers including Eruption!, Electrical Wizard, The Mighty Mars Rovers, For the Love of Music, and A Day with No Crayons, among others, and the new graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek (August 2014) and her newest nonfiction The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans (October 2014). Her books have been honored by the Junior Library Guild, Children’s Book of the Month Club, ALA, and the National Council of Teachers of English, and have landed on best book of the year lists compiled by SLJ, BooklistKirkus, NBC News, and the New York Public Library. Rusch speaks widely at schools and writing conferences. For more info, visit her websiteFacebook and Twitter too!

Quirky Questions 

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

A Tesla Coil. Every house needs a Tesla Coil, don’t you think? 

When do you know someone is exceptionally smart? 

When they know what a Tesla Coil is. Just kidding! I didn’t know what a Tesla coil was until I started doing research on this genius inventor Nikola Tesla, who was a contemporary of Thomas Edison’s but who has affected our lives so much more. The lightbulb, bah! We have Tesla to thank for the entire system that brings electricity to our homes, for inventing the radio, remote control, and even wireless communication. Anyone out there with a cell phone? Thank Tesla. Oh, and the Tesla coil is a transformer that produces high-voltage, high-frequency, low-current alternating current. And it looks super cool. (BTW, you can learn more about Tesla in my book for young readers called Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit up the World

The serious answer to your question is that I know someone is exceptionally smart when they ask good questions. 

If you were looking at an abstract piece of art, what would your general reaction be? 

“I see a dog.” I always manage to see dog forms in abstract art. We actually have a fair amount of abstract art in our house and I lie on the couch and stare at it and look for dogs and other meaningful things. 

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented? 

Well, I have a book for kids age 10 and up coming out in October on something that scientists and engineers are working to invent: machines that can take the motion of waves and turn it into electricity. Ocean energy has the potential to provide as much as a third of electricity used in the United States – enough to power every home in the nation. But one of the cool things about the book The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans is that this is such a new, cutting-edge field – that some young reader of my book may be the one who one day invents the best way to get energy from the oceans. 

What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of? 

One acre of mud contains roughly 1,000 pounds of earthworms! I learned that while researching mud for my new middle-grade graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. (It’s fiction, but I love research, so I end up doing research for everything I write.) 

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

Well, I am my own boss (as a self-employed freelance magazine and book writer) and I offer myself incentives all the time. Like: “If you finish writing this page, you can raid your kids’ Halloween candy.” Or “If you get this chapter revised you can print out your work and read it outside in the sun and if you doze off that’s OK.” I wish my boss would give me more days off, though. She’s tough that way. 

What is the most revolutionary TV show of all time? 

Northern Exposure. Set in Alaska with great quirky characters and a sprinkling of magical realism. Anyone heard of it? 

If you were able to change your first name, what would you pick? 

Well, my name is Elizabeth, but my family called me Lily growing up. In middle school I insisted on being called Liz, but I kind of wish I had asked for Lizzie instead. I’m not sure I should tell you this, but my kids call me Moo. Don’t ask. (I will point out that I look nothing like cow.) 

What one rule do you frequently disregard? 

Uhm, I disregard a lot of rules. I only regard the ones that make sense. Don’t tell the police. Or my parents. Or my kids for that matter. 

unnamedWriting Questions

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

Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction I write a lot of scenes. So I will make a list of scenes I know I want to write and then pick the one that seems like it will be the most fun or most satisfying to write and jump in. That gets me going. Once my creative juices are flowing it’s easier to tackle a harder scene.

Also, I run regularly on the trails in Forest Park and do some of my best thinking and writing while in the woods.

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

I know many people say write what you know. I say write about what interests or intrigues you. Your interests, passions and questions about your material will sustain you through the inevitably long writing process.

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

I’m interested in so many things – science, art, history, music, humor, mud, invention, psychology, travel – that I couldn’t choose just one area. I had to find something where I could explore all my interests.  I’m so thrilled that I get to write about just about anything I want, in just about any form I want.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Well, I haven’t really picked one. I write magazine articles and books for both kids and adults, fiction and nonfiction. I even have a graphic novel coming out this year (Muddy Max). For each project or area of interest part of the fun and challenge is finding the best form for it.

Sometimes I can write about something in more than one form. For instance I wrote both magazine articles for adults for Smithsonian magazine and children’s books on the topics of Wolfgang Mozart’s sister (For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart) and on wave energy (The Next Wave). I’ve written three volcano books for three different age ranges: Volcano Rising (ages 3-7); Will it Blow? (ages 6-10) and Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives (ages 10 and up) and magazine articles about volcanoes for Family Fun and Portland Monthly magazines. And each of those pieces of writing about volcanoes is really quite different.

How do you know when a book is finished?

Most of the time I just get a sense that the book is the best I can do. Then I read it out loud to myself and that will tell me for sure whether I’m done or not.  But sometimes I get into a rut of revising endlessly and my critique group yells at me and says “It’s DONE! Send it OUT!” I generally listen to their advice. (You can read more about critique and the writing process in our group blog www.vivascriva.com)

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

You can be creative without being artistic, I think. Many people who are not painters, or writers, or musicians are creative.  Scientists, policy makers, business owners, farmers, homemaker – in fact anyone doing anything – can be creative. Creative people pose interesting questions and look for creative ways to try to answer them. They don’t automatically do the first thing that comes into their heads but rather come up with many options, some that are not obvious at first. They search for and see interesting connections and interesting possibilities. The come up with ideas and try them out.

When I was I kid, I had a favorite quote, from Booker T. Washington. He said: “…there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” I say there can be as much creativity in tilling a field as in writing a poem, too. Creativity is about the way you approach anything you do in your life.

COVER FINAL FEB 2014

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Interview with Newbery Medal Winner Cynthia Kadohata

CynthGet to know Cynthia… 

I was born in Chicago in 1956. In the early years, my family moved around quite a bit because my father was looking for work.  I also moved around quite a bit as a grown-up.  Now I’ve pretty much settled on Los Angeles, though who knows what the future holds?  I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for fourteen years now.  I’ve had a bunch of jobs: secretary, typist, publicist, waitress. My kids’ books are Kira-Kira, winner of the Newbery Medal; Weedflower, winner of the Pen USA award; Cracker, winner of six state awards where the kids vote on their favorite books; Outside Beauty, which is for older kids; A Million Shades of Gray; and The Thing About Luck, winner of the National Book Award. For more info, visit my website.

Quirky Questions 

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

Your son will live a long, happy life.

What would you hate to see charging at you in the middle of an open field?

Anything at all.

What is the best thing about getting old?  

You appreciate life so much more.  Every day seems like a wonderful gift. 

What is a song that you could listen to all day, every day, on repeat? 

Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. 

What was the worst grade you’ve ever received? Best?  

I’m sure I received some F’s, but I never looked at the report card or the transcript.  I also got A’s.  It depended on the subject.  I was only interested in English. 

What is the most shocking sight you’ve ever witnessed?

My arm ripped to shreds after someone hit me with a car while I was walking on the sidewalk! 

kadohata-cynthia-a-million-shades-of-grayWriting Questions

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

I don’t think I really balance them exactly.  They’re both kind of mashed together.  I don’t compartmentalize very well.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative

I feel extremely creative when I’m traveling on the road, especially on a train or bus…well, I haven’t been on Greyhound in a long time, but I do ride Amtrak periodically, and I like to write while I’m sitting by the window.

How do you deal with creativity blocks? 

I just do other things, either start a new project or draw something or even wash the dishes and clean up.  Eventually the clouds clear and I can write again.  I try not to panic.

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

Wow, that would be so wonderful if I could, but no, I can’t.

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

I’d love to be an artist.  Don’t know if I have the talent, but I could try.

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

Oh, it absolutely chose me.  I had no choice at all.

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

I was always very stubborn when I was a kid, and I think I just retained that as I got older.

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

Well, you have to give up everything else in the world, all your dreams, in order to fulfill this one, huge dream of being a writer.  It’s totally worth it though.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Salina Yoon

Salina2Get to know Salina…

SALINA YOON is the award-winning creator of over 150 books for children, including her picture book series about Penguin beginning with PENGUIN AND PINECONE, her picture book series about Bear beginning with FOUND, and her latest interactive picture book, TAP TO PLAY. She also creates innovative novelty books for very young children, specializing in formats that are unique and interactive, such as ROCK AND ROLL COLORS and OPPOSNAKES. She lives in San Diego with her family. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What is the best thing about getting old?

Forgetting. When you forget things (like hiding chocolate in the freezer), it’s like finding treasure when you stumble upon it!

What do you miss most about being younger?

Not having a mortgage payment!

What would you do if you wanted to annoy someone? 

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 

What do you do too much of? 

Facebook. Worrying. Coffee. 

What do you do too little of? 

Cooking. Cleaning. Grooming. 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up? 

Bi bim bap! (Korean rice and vegetable dish) 

SalinaWriting Questions

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

Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.—George Bernard Shaw

When did you realize you had the gift of writing?

I don’t think I have a gift. I wish the words could come in a lovely wrapped package with a big satin bow on top, but it doesn’t. I struggle with it, question it, and still wonder if I’m doing it right or if it’s good enough. The gift is in the interest. When one has interest in something, they are willing to explore it, develop it, and get better over time.

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

I think the best way to balance my personal life with my creative endeavors is not to make them mutually exclusive. My sons have always enjoyed doing their school projects with me in my studio, which allows us to be creative together. And I love sharing my book ideas with my kids for their feedback. I find their gentle critiques very motivating. It’s usually, “I love it, Mom!”

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

The more creative people I meet, I find that we’re more similar than not. I used to think I was alone in the way that I am (easily distracted, difficult to focus, productive hours come in spurts—then nothing for days), but it seems it might just be the creative process. 

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

As I’ve matured, I tend to make decisions quicker. I no longer agonize over small details—like the color of a character’s shirt, for example. I go with what I think on the spot, and move on.

When do you feel the most energized?

Mornings and evenings.

Does your writing reflect your personality?

Definitely! I think there’s a part of me in each of my characters; Penguin, Bear, and even the Little Duck in my new series, Duck Duck Porcupine, releasing in 2016. There’s a piece of my heart in each one.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

By reading a stack of picture books at the library!

What is your typical day like?

Every morning starts with coffee and computer time in my studio, but after that, there is no typical day. I do what inspires me (which may be to write, to clean, to go shopping at Trader Joes, or go browsing at the bookstore)…. or do what needs to be done! (art or writing deadlines, preparing for book events, conferences, or school visits, etc.)

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

Often times, yes! But usually, it ends up looking very different from how I imagined it.

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

I chose this passion! To say it chose me is to say I had no control over it… but I did. It took a lot of risk, time, effort, patience, determination, and perseverance to write and illustrate children’s books, and I’m proud to say that I chose it as my passion, and I continue to grow it.

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

Penguin and Pinecone is my 133th published book, but it was my first narrative picture book I ever wrote. (You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!) I feel proud of this because before this book, I didn’t think I could write—not stories, anyway. I always identified as a designer first, an illustrator second, but never as a writer—even though I wrote many young board books for children. When Penguin and Pinecone was sold, it made me realize I actually could write… and it made me want to write more—and I did!

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Author Interview with Julie Rowan-Zoch

julierowanzochfrom-youre-twoGet to know Julie…

Julie is a reformed graphic designer, turned picture book maker. Originally from New York, she spent a big chunk of her life in Germany, and transplanted to Colorado in 1998. Three board books she illustrated for Bailiwick Press will be available in October 2014. For more info, visit Facebook and her blog and Facebook

Quirky Questions

What famous attraction has been the greatest disappointment?

I prefer to avoid them; too often little of the true culture of a place is revealed, but I did indulge and visited The Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Buy the postcard!

Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be? Why?

The Mermaid. Hahaha! Then Happy, I suppose, because there is no dwarf named Silly.

What TV show have you surprisingly never seen?

Dunno. I have no TV reception. A good thing, I suppose.

If you could change one thing about airlines to make your flight more enjoyable, what would it be?

Service. I would like airline staff/management to impress their desire to offer an enjoyable experience.

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

Pantster.

What irritates you the most in a social situation?

Getting stuck with a non-stop talker, a never-listener. And that moment when I realize it’s me.

What word describes the outfit you’re wearing right now?

Domestic.

If you opened the freezer right now, what would you love to find?

Dinner prepared with love by a friend.

julierowanzochfrom-You're-OneWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When my critique partners’ comments become more random, I believe I’m close. When I can no longer meddle with a manuscript, I’m ready to submit. But is there a ‘finished’? As with my art, I imagine I could always go back and change something.

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

I talked about illustrating for children’s lit for years, but I also want to illustrate my own stories. I finally started writing between three or four years ago. About a year in, knee deep in craft books and online challenges, I knew I probably would not have considered the pursuit a rational one if I had known as much as I did at that point, but I was hooked! I hope be in a better position to answer the second part of the question in a few years.

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

I believe everyone to be creative, but many have had their confidence suppressed, or did not receive the necessary support. I know many creative people who just never saw their work as creative, because the description does not fall under ‘The Arts’. One can be creative with a tennis serve, bicycle repair and haggling skills. Why stop there?

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

Maintaining integrity in the business side of work, but that has much improved recently.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Love of picture books – for the last three years I’ve read about 100 a week, but I’ve slowed down. I’m now reading more graphic novels and middle grade fiction. I like to keep an open mind!

What life experiences have inspired your work?

All of them. But I believe adjusting to life in different places, especially foreign, for extended periods has had the most influence. 

julierowanzochfrom-youre-here

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