Author Interview with Jeanette Larson

jeanetteGet to know Jeanette…

After working in libraries for about 35 years, Jeanette “took her pension” to spend time reading, birdwatching, taking photographs, and writing. Writing a book about hummingbirds opened up the world of birding for her and she now spends some time almost every day looking at birds and trying to photograph them. She also writes BirdBrainz (as the mood strikes her), a blog about birds, birding, and books. Jeanette is also crazy about her schipperke dogs, Indigo and Daisy. 

Jeanette is proud that her book, Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas, allowed her to use her anthropology degree for something other than a wall decoration. She is also the author of several books for librarians and educators, including Bringing Mysteries Alive for Children and Young Adults and El día de los niños/El día de los libros: Building a Culture of Literacy in Your Community through Día. She is currently working on a couple of picture books with her husband, James Larson, and sifting through ideas for another non-fiction book, as soon as she finishes the textbook she is writing on how to be a children’s librarian. For more info, visit her website and blog.

Quirky Questions 

What do you waste time doing?

I’m a champion time waster! I can spend hours searching for fun facts on the Internet for friends or checking Facebook. I also waste a lot of time on Ebay, listing stuff and looking at things to buy. One of my biggest time wasters is playing Words with Friends and doing crossword puzzles. 

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

I generally find some bits and pieces of common ground with almost anyone. I grew up in highly mobile military family where I met people from all walks of life with values and ideas quite different from my own. I realized a long time ago that everyone doesn’t have to agree with “the world according to Jeanette” (hmmm… maybe I’ll use that as a book title). I totally can’t agree with people who are religiously didactic. I also frequently conflict with people who believe their ideas are 100% right and disagree with everything and anything others say. 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

I recently moved from the Austin area to a small town on the Texas coast. The biggest inconvenience is lack of vegetarian restaurants. There are also only two places to buy groceries so choices are limited. But the biggest inconvenience is the lack of a Starbucks! I have to drive 20 miles for a good cup of tea. (I can buy the Tazo teabags but I truly love drinking from the Starbucks cups. The baristas take pity on me and give me extra cups for home use.) 

I also really miss the great writing community in Austin. Facebook and email help but the distance to get together with other writers is really great in the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend. I miss being able to get together with my fellow Texas Sweethearts. I’m a little afraid they will kick me out of the group because I’ve moved away from them. 

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

I can’t really say any book intimidates me. A really great book is never long enough! There are books that don’t hold my attention even though I thought I wanted to know more about the subject. I have a pile of books that I started but have never finished. Life is too short to read books I am not enjoying. I used to feel compelled to finish even when I was hating the story and the characters. It took me a long time to accept that it was not a personality flaw if I didn’t finish every book I started. 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

I always loved turkey and the vegetables and bread that go with the special times when we had turkey. Now I still enjoy all that but substitute Tofurkey for the bird. Oh, and chocolate cream pie! 

What do you think will be the next popular catch phrase?

Suck it up! 

What do you do every day, without fail?

I can’t say that there is anything other than the mundane necessities of hygiene and checking email that I do every day without fail. It is important for me to try to walk my dogs every day and do a little bird watching if I can. Oh, I absolutely read every day. Have to read the paper and I always am reading a book or two. 

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

Exercise more and write. 

If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be?

Cherry Garcia ice cream. It’s diabolical. 

What makes you want to throw up?

People being cruel to animals. Of course, it also makes me want to smack them. Oh, also people complaining about how expensive books are at the same time that they spend $50 on a video game for their kids. Really. Makes me gag.

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

There are some books, like Alamo House by Sarah Bird, that make me laugh so hard I cry. Sometimes watching the things animals do is just hilarious. Thank goodness for all those people with smartphones posting video to YouTube so we can all see a squirrel navigate a maze to get to a bird feeder or a dog dancing in a dress! 

Writing Questions

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

No. I subscribe to the idea that everything I do should offend someone somewhere. I don’t intentionally want to offend anyone but I also can’t be plain and safe to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

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

Wait until you know that you just have to write. As a children’s librarian everyone assumed I wanted to write a book. I always said I didn’t until the day came when there was a story I just had to tell. Keep notes on your ideas; they are too easy to forget. Get involved in SCBWI or another writing group. You learn a lot from your colleagues. Read. A lot.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Sarah Bird. Her books are literary in the sense that they are extremely well written but they are also fun to read. Even in a serious story like Above the East China Sea she manages to include humor. Jack Gantos is also a literary genius. He is a renaissance writer, I think, because he writes so well in so many different styles.

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

I’m essentially lazy and a procrastinator. I have to really push myself to get going, although once I start I (usually) meet deadlines and complete the job.

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

I get bored easily. I love planning and starting projects but have to really work to keep myself involved and engaged if the project goes on for too long.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I guess it has come out of being a librarian. I love research and I love reading narrative non-fiction. A friend talks about curiosity and how that impacted her writing. I’m curious about everything and have a dozen ideas a day for books.

How do you know when a book is finished?

That’s a big problem. I love researching so do way too much. I think you have to just decide it is done and send it off to the publisher who will let you know if it is finished or not.

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

For better or worse, the Internet has made it easier to share information. That has made it easier to do research and reach out to experts and other people who can help with projects.

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

I actually think we are all creative in different ways but some people don’t follow through. I think it is the perseverance to follow through on your ideas that helps creative people succeed. Ideas are easy but really creative people experiment with those ideas and take risks. 

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Brad Meltzer

Books Meltzers HeroesGet to know Brad…

Brad Meltzer is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Inner Circle, The Book of Fate and seven other bestselling thrillers. In addition to his fiction, Brad is one of the only authors to ever have books on the bestseller list for Non-Fiction (History Decoded), Advice (Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter¾collections of heroes throughout history, from Jim Henson, to Rosa Parks, to Thomas Jefferson), Children’s Books (I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln) and even comic books (Justice League of America), for which he won the prestigious Eisner Award. He is also the host of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded on the History Channel.  For more info, visit his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Quirky Questions

What food do you not eat enough of?

Count Chocula. 

What store is represented most in your wardrobe?

Homemade shirts from redbubble. 

If you were going to spend a year in complete solitude and you could only bring one book, one CD, and one movie, what would they be?

The Tenth Justice, Decoded, and a mirror. 

Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be? 

Harlan Coben. 

What one thing annoys you most at a restaurant?

All the people running up and constantly asking for my autograph.  Author fame is a bear. 

What celebrity never seems to fade away?

Brad Meltzer. 

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

Lose the people. 

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

Moments of clarity interrupted by huge hunks of frustration and insecurity.  

What irritates you the most in a social situation?

T-shirt cannons shouldn’t be used in my house. 

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

I looked down and saw that I was wearing one of our Amelia Earhart t-shirts. I love me. 

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

ICE CREAM. 

What is a lie your mom told you when you were little?

You have such a full hear of hair. 

MeltzerWriting Questions

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

Call my friends.

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

DOn’t let anyone tell you No. Never ever ever.

How would you define creativity?

Being able to listen to your soul.

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

Wait.  I’m unstable and insecure?

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Alan Moore.

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

Accepting myself for who I am.  The biggest battle you’ll ever have is the battle within yourself.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I just tell the story. Genre is a trap.

How do you know when a book is finished?

It never is. I’m just not allowed to revise anymore.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Lewis Buzbee

LewisGet to know Lewis…

Lewis Buzbee’s most recent book is Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom.  He is also the author of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, After the Gold Rush, and Fliegelman’s Desire, as well as the author of three award-winning novels for middle grade readers: Bridge of Time, The Haunting of Charles Dickens, and Steinbeck’s Ghost,  His fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in Harper’s, GQ, Best American Poetry, The New York Times Book Review, and in scores of literary journals and magazines. He has been a dishwasher, bookseller, publisher, caterer, bartender, and teacher of writing. He is a fourth generation Californian. For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions 

What do you waste time doing? 

I spend far too much time staring out the window, though not sure that qualifies as wasting time.

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

The fog. It is beautiful, no doubt, but oy, it’s the thickest in the summer here, and it’s so cold.  We don’t get short-sleeve evenings.

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your name be?

I’d go all Mexican luchador, and using my first initials would be called “El Bee,” and you can guess the costume from there.

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

Books is clearly the answer, but too easy.  So, I’d like to sell telescopes and microscopes.

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

No book will ever intimidate me.

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

A family specialty: Eggs a la Goldenrod.  Toast cut into one-inch squares, which is smothered in a milk and corn starch and chunky boiled egg-white sauce, which is in turn covered with finely grated boiled egg-yolks, with just a pinch of paprika for color.

What do you think will be the next popular catch phrase? 

I’d like it to be “Deluxe.”  This is something all the rage in my junior high for about ten minutes once.  If something was really great, or cool, we’d say “Deluxe,” pronouncing it “deeeee-luxe.”  It’s applicable in many ways.

What is the first thing that pops into your head when you think of politicians?

Money.

What do you do every day, without fail? 

Read, no question about it. 

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

See an old friend.

If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be?

Smart phones.

What makes you want to throw up?

University bureaucracies. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

Bugs Bunny cartoons.

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

My, how delicate and swan-like you are, Lewis.

Buz

Writing Questions

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

Quite the opposite.  I set my expectations high, in order to push the limits of my creativity.

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

I try hard not to.  Nadine Gordimer once said that “one must write as if one were already dead.”  Meaning that you had to write as if nothing you wrote could come back to haunt you that way, completely truthful.

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

Coffee, a little music and/or reading, staring out the window.

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

Just write one hour a day, five days a week, for six months, without looking back, and without showing it to anyone else.  Find yourself on the page first, which is the only place you’ll find yourself.

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

I’ve been writing–with the aim of being a writer–since I was 15, so I’ve had the advantage of of that naivete to push me along.  But I’ve also had tons of real, full-time jobs.  I do this, however, because it’s what I have to do.  And the more I do it, the more risks I’m willing to take to keep doing it.  But, hey, it can be done.  My wife and I are both writers, and teach only part-time–after other jobs–and somehow manage to make it work.  It’s a risk; you have to take a risk.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

So many: Faulkner, Proust, Steinbeck, Woolf, Didion, where do I stop.  L’Engle, LeGuin, Virginia Hamilton, Roald Dahl.  We’re blessed to have such mighty fine library stacks.

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

There was a period between my first and second book–16 years!–when I didn’t think I’d ever publish a second book.  Oh, I published a lot else in the meantime–poems, essays, stories, interviews, etc–but that second book.  Then my daughter was born, and I immediately understood a good deal more about what mattered in life and in writing.  And a few years later published two books in the same month.  I just never gave up.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I’ve written novels for adults and younger readers, books of nonfiction, short stories, essays, interviews, poems, and I even ghost wrote a cookbook once.  I don’t choose the books, the books choose me.

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I can’t see it anymore, when I can’t really decide if that word should be “a” or “the.”  When I really,  really hate it. 

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

I think all media affect my work.  There’s a weird assumption people make about writers–”oh, you don’t watch television.”  Wrong.  I’ve watched more TV than god.  It all goes in–life and un-life and books and all the rest.  To be curious about the big world, media has to play a role in that.

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

The word creative always makes me uncomfortable–creativity comes in so many forms.  I think, in the end, to keep one’s mind “creative,” whatever that means, requires that you always wake up in the morning wondering what it is that you don’t yet know about.  An engaged curiosity.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Kekla Magoon

How itGet to know Kekla…

Kekla Magoon is the author of five young adult novels: How It Went Down, Camo Girl, 37 Things I Love, Fire in the Streets, and The Rock and the River, for which she received the ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination. She also writes non-fiction on historical topics, including Today the World is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration 1957-58 and the forthcoming PANTHERS! The History and Legacy of the Black Panther Party in America. Raised in a biracial family in the Midwest, Kekla now teaches writing in New York City, conducts school and library visits nationwide, and serves on the Writers’ Council for the National Writing Project. Kekla holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

My hair. My hair. (It’s complicated.) 

What would motivate you to run a marathon?

Not a thing on this earth.

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

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME (and other forms of denial). 

I am so much smarter than _________.

I used to be. 

Have you ever broken a bone? What happened?

No. I am invincible. (Except for how I cut and burn and trip myself all the time. So, scratch that. I have just been super lucky.) 

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

Waterskiing. (Unless, of course, by “waterskiing,” you mean “repeatedly face-planting in the Caribbean.” I am AMAZING at that.) 

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

Something I knitted. There would be no chance it would properly fit anyone, but it would be cute. I’m confident that I could make fives—if not tens!—of dollars in this endeavor. 

What are you most neurotic about?

Neurotic? Who said anything about being neurotic? Why would you assume I’m neurotic? What did you see that made you say that? Who have you been talking to? 

Can you share an embarrassing story?

No. That would be embarrassing. 

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

Ahem. (See answer above.) 

What one word describes your bedroom?

Book-mania. 

What is the meanest thing you can say to someone?

Depends on the person. 

What celebrity/actor irritates you the most?

It’s a secret. And here’s why: If I admit such a thing publicly, someone will probably someday ask said actor/actress to star in a movie based on one of my books, and some fan will dig up this interview and tweet it to Entertainment Tonight, and there will be a hoopla, and my un-made-up face will be printed in Star magazine with a byline like AUTHOR BLASTS FILM STAR, and then I’ll be forced to apologize. It’s not worth the risk. 

If you were the personal assistant to one celebrity, who would you choose?

I would make a terrible personal assistant. 

If you could be a contestant on any game show, which would you choose?

What is: Jeopardy! 

What is one thing you could probably not lift over your head?

My mother’s 1986 Volvo station wagon. 

theriverandtherockWriting Questions

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

Yes. However, I cannot reveal trade secrets.

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

Unfortunately words of wisdom only get you so far. Eventually you have to sit down and write.

How would you define creativity?

According to Wikipedia, creativity is “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created,” a thing which can then “manifest itself in any number of ways.” According to me, creativity begins when you stop looking things up on Wikipedia. It’s a little messy, and hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

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

This may be a question meant to speak to how I feel about press coverage of my books, but I’m going to take it a different way. My editor, Noa, and I were inspired to start work on my upcoming novel HOW IT WENT DOWN because of media. We watched with distress the media storm around the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, and in the following months, I began writing this novel about a community thrown into chaos in the wake of a (fictional) controversial shooting. So I do think that when I write realistic, contemporary fiction, I consider how the issues I tackle in my fiction are dealt with in the real world, which means grappling with media representations of issues like race, gender, bias, and violence, which play a role in several of my books.

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

When I was 25. I question it all the time, from a practicality standpoint, but otherwise, no, I’m very happy to be doing what I am doing.

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

I think everyone is (or can be) creative. The trait those of us who define ourselves as creative share is the willingness to accept and embrace our natural creative energy as a defining feature of our existence.

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

I’m a perfectionist. If anything, that means that my personal expectations are higher than what I can realistically achieve. I think that’s good, though. It forces me to stretch and become better. And with a subjective thing like writing, it’s impossible to ever achieve something perfect, so there’s a good life lesson tucked in there as well, about doing your best and then letting it go.

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

No. I don’t worry about offending people. Mainly because I can’t control or predict what will offend someone. It is not my job to worry about how people will receive what I write. I do seriously consider things like whether or not to use certain language in my books, and I decide based on what I think will serve my book and my audience best. I don’t believe I am censoring myself by considering those issues while writing (or revising). Most of the time, the content in my books that a minority of people find “offensive” is bigger than the language and is often more about the themes or messages they inferred from my material, whether I intended to send that message or not.

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

Um…passion? Hope? Aspiration? A touch of the crazy?

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Genius is in the eye of the beholder. I think J.K. Rowling is a genius at storytelling and world-building. As a reader, I will follow her anywhere. I find Suzanne Collins utterly compelling, as well as the quick action and humor of Rick Riordan—they are popular for a reason. Stephen King is amazing and writes with great clarity about writing itself in On Writing. For beauty of language and overall literary quality, I love reading Jennifer Egan and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Their writing makes me want to sit down and write to the best of my ability. I find that inspiring.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I write lots of genres, for both middle grade and young adult. I write what comes naturally to me sometimes, which tends to be contemporary realistic fiction, historical fiction, and creative non-fiction. Other times I get ideas that take me out of my comfort zone and I strive to follow them and stretch myself creatively. So I am doing fantasy and sci-fi novels, short stories, essays, poetry and other new writing adventures.

How do you know when a book is finished?

The typical answer authors give here is either that you just know, or that a book is never finished. The truth is somewhere in between. Every book is “done” several different times in its life. There is the moment when you complete a first draft, the moment when you complete your revisions and it’s ready to submit, the moment when you finish the editorial process and send it to copyediting, and the moment when you realize you can’t many any more changes and it’s about to go to the printer. For me, most often, a book is done when its deadline comes around!

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Deborah Underwood

DebGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Underwood is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Here Comes The Easter Cat, The Quiet Book, and The Loud Book! Her other books include Bad Bye, Goodbye; A Balloon for Isabel; Part-Time Princess; Pirate Mom; The Christmas Quiet Book; and Here Comes Santa Cat. She co-wrote the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter book series, and she has written more than 25 nonfiction books on topics ranging from smallpox to ballroom dancing. She lives in Northern California with her feline muse, Bella. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

Soy latte dispenser. That’s probably impractical, since liquids and phones don’t mix, but I can dream, right? 

What was the worst grade you’ve ever received? 

I got a C+ on a chemistry quiz junior year in high school. As a straight-A geeky high school student till then, I was horrified. I don’t know if it was the teacher or the subject matter or both, but I just didn’t get it—it was like she was conducting the class in Portuguese. Thankfully I ended up getting into a choral ensemble that met during that period, which meant I could drop the class. So not only does music sooth the soul, but it can also save your grade point average. 

What do you do too much of? 

Two words: Candy Crush. Oy. And procrastinating in general. 

What do you do too little of? 

Exercise, meal planning, meditating, writing—all the stuff I should be doing! 

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

Some schools have had great results with mindfulness work, even with very young kids, so I’m certainly not making up the subject. But I’d like to see it in every school. I think if kids knew how to calm themselves and understood themselves better, their school experience—and their lives—would be greatly enhanced. 

Deborah Underwood 2 Writing Questions

Does your writing reflect your personality?

Ooh, interesting question! I certainly hope it does. I like to think that various aspects of myself are reflected in my work. Here Comes Santa Cat has the humor with a tiny edge that I enjoy. The Quiet Book is introspective. A Balloon for Isabel is, at its heart, about fighting injustice. Learning to accept my own negative emotions has been a long road for me, and I hope Bad Bye, Good Bye will help kids understand that it’s okay to feel angry and sad, and that those bad feelings don’t last forever.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

My problem is usually too many ideas rather than too few. But if I’m stuck at a certain point in a manuscript, I stare out my window. Or I take a walk. Or switch projects. Or call a friend and bounce ideas off him or her. Or make a list of ten or twenty possible paths the story might take, no matter how ridiculous.

What is your typical day like?

I start by having a cup of coffee or two and doing computer stuff—email, catching up with Facebook friends, etc. Lately some of my writing friends and I have been having online work sessions in the morning: checking in with each other, working for half an hour at a time, then checking back in to report on our progress. Sometimes I go to a nearby café to write. I try to get to the gym several times a week, and I like walking in the park. I take a short nap after lunch. Afternoons aren’t my most productive time, so that’s when I run errands or do busy work. Often I’ll do more writing after dinner when I feel refreshed.

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

Hm…hard to say. I took a wandering path to get here, but now that I’m writing for kids, I can’t imagine another job that would suit me as well.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

There’s something about sitting on my bed with my cat, staring out my window, and sipping coffee or tea that has proven quite fruitful for me. I try to have a window view even when I’m working in a café. Maybe there’s some deeper thing going on about windows into other people’s lives, or maybe I just like to see the sky.

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

I feel incredibly fortunate that my family and friends have supported my writing from the very start. I know not everyone has this kind of support, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to try to succeed in this challenging field without it.

Another more concrete thing: early on, whenever I got a nice rejection letter or anything that was remotely encouraging, I would print it out and put it in a special folder. I still put things in there after all these years. I don’t look in it often, but there is so much rejection and so many confidence-shakers in this field that it makes me happy knowing the folder is there in case my spirits need to be buoyed.

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

I’ve been singing since I was a kid, and I sang in a chamber choir for nearly twenty years. Recently I’ve steered away from that to focus on writing, but hope to get back to it in some form someday. And I’ve also been taking drawing classes. So if I didn’t write, maybe I’d spend more time on visual arts and music.

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

That we need to extend the circle of compassion and treat those who are different from us—including nonhuman animals—with love and respect.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Dia Calhoun

DiaAbout Dia….

The  author of eight novels for kids, Dia Calhoun was awarded the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature for her young adult novel ARIA OF THE SEA. Her books FIREGOLD, and WHITE MIDNIGHT are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. ReviewingCalhoun’s most recent book, AFTER THE RIVER THE SUN, School Library Journal wrote—“Lovers of gaming and Arthurian legends will thoroughly enjoy this one.” Calhoun is a co-founder of readergirlz which received the Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation. Her interest in inspiration and creativity led her to write the popular weekly 7:30 BELLS blog series. Calhoun offers private coaching in creative writing to kids and adults. Learn more at her blog.

Quirky Questions 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

There are not enough trees in the part of Tacoma where I live. This lack is the direct cause of shrunken soul syndrome. 

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

I would own the Poetry Candy Store and sell imagination gumdrops, metaphor bars, inspiration lollypops, and malted muses.

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

Fish and Chips from The Spud on Alki Beach. Still is. 

What do you do every day, without fail?

Breathe. 

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

Breathe deeper. 

If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be? 

Creationism. 

What makes you want to throw up?

Creationism. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

Creationism. 

What do you wish someone would give you?

More years of being alive on this great, good earth—preferably in a tree house with hot water and no internet connection.

Writing Questions

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

Only on social media.

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

When working on a project, I try to write everyday, even if only for a few minutes. That keeps the unconscious stew bubbling.

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

Make a serious investment in pencils. Two years ago, after working almost exclusively on computer for many years, I rediscovered this most remarkable tool. It never magically erases all your work, if you lose it you can replace it for a quarter, it’s the ultimate in portability, and you never have to search for an outlet on a tree to plug it in. What freedom!

How would you define creativity?

Making art about being alive that gives someone else an experience of being alive.

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

Because I was stricken by the mad, bad moonlight.

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

Talent, hard work, and commitment because they lead you to believing you might get somewhere when you really should focus on the joy of the work itself.

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

It has taken twenty years to learn that it doesn’t matter if anyone else ever enters the realm of my art. That a kingdom of one is just fine.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I haven’t picked it because it isn’t quite ripe yet.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

All of them.

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I have thrown it on the floor and stomped on it so many times, I can’t squash it any further.

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

The media? None at all. Social media? Nightmare. Every artist now “must have” a social media presence to be viable. I’m not talking about blogging or websites, but Facebook, Twitter, etc. This demand for incessant, superficial connection with barely known friends is a dire threat to the sustained solitude and attention necessary to create art. I wish social media would die, die, die a horrible death.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing?

Ever since the second grade.

What traits do you think creative people have that others don’t?

Creative people have a more direct bridge between the conscious and unconscious minds. This is also why they so often jump of off it.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Dianne de Las Casas

unnamedGet to know Dianne…

Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of 24 books, Dianne is the International Reading Association LEADER 2014 Poet Laureate, and the 2014 recipient of the Ann Martin Book Mark award. Her children’s titles include The Cajun Cornbread Boy, There’s a Dragon in the Library, The Little “Read” Hen, The House That Santa Built, and Cinderellaphant. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

Have you ever broken a bone? 

When I was a kid, I was very clumsy. I always thought I could keep up with my little brother, who was a monkey. One day, he climbed to the top of a tall rocket-shaped jungle gym. I thought I can do that! Unfortunately, I didn’t have his flexibility and dexterity. I did manage to reach the top, only to fall and break my shoulder. The only consolation was that we lived in Hawaii at the time and my mom loved to sew. She sewed me pretty slings in beautiful Hawaiian fabrics so that I didn’t have to wear the ugly army green sling the doctor gave me. 

It was the first of many broken bones including my left wrist, my right ankle, and my right pinky finger. The broken bones never deterred me from a good adventure and I am like that to this day although I am a bit more cautious. 

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

I am not very coordinated and I have exercise-induced so I never did very well in sports. I was always picked last on teams. I do love to freestyle dance and I’m pretty good at picking up dance moves at Zumba. So there is that. 

What are you most neurotic about?

I have a passion for organizing and order. I love de-cluttering, organizing, and labeling everything. Friends and family often ask me to organize their spaces for them. I’m even thinking about starting an organization channel on YouTube! 

Can you share an embarrassing story?

This is my most mortifying story ever. I was in 10th grade English when my stomach began to rumble. Something I ate did not agree with me. I had to let out some gas or I was going to implode. In retrospect, I should have asked for the hall pass and excused myself. But no… I squirmed in my chair, ever the good student. Suddenly, I felt gas escape but it was very quiet. I was soooo relieved! 

Alas, it was one of those “silent but deadly” flatulations! Students began coughing and gagging. Even the teacher couldn’t take it. She asked someone to open the window. Yes, it was THAT bad! But at least no one knew it was me… 

Then a second gas bubble escaped and this time, it was LOUD and still just as deadly. The class was too choked up to laugh but I nearly died of embarrassment. It was immortalized in my yearbook. One boy wrote, “It was great having you in class even though I needed a gas mask.” 

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

I have this clay dog I made when I was in the 5th grade. It is a two-inch sculpture of a dark gray toy poodle named Duchess, my favorite dog in the world. She died when I was 19 years old and I still have that little sculpture I made when I was 11. That was over 30 years ago! Duchess (the sculpture) sits on a shelf above me in my office. 

What one word describes your bedroom? 

Tropical.

If you were given a canvas and watercolors, what setting would you like to paint yourself into?

I would paint myself into a Caribbean beach setting. The beach is my favorite place in the world. In fact, I’ve already done it. My office is beach themed with ocean-colored walls, beach white cabinetry, and sand-colored desk tops and floors. I have shells, coral, and beach paintings that I’ve collected from around the world on display. I even have the jar of puka shells I collected on the beaches of Hawaii when I lived there as a child! 

unnamed (1)Writing Questions 

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

Do your homework. Research how to submit manuscripts. Join a writers group like SCBWI. Find a mentor. Learn the etiquette when attending a writing conference (don’t ask an established author for their editor’s or agent’s name or hound editors/agents to look at your manuscript). Write about subjects you are passionate about. Don’t just write to the trends. When you are an established writer, pay it forward and mentor someone else. 

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

Writing offers me freedom and creativity. I love being able to create my own schedule. If I want to work during the wee hours, in the quiet of the night, I can. If I want to write in comfy clothes and flip flops, I can. If I want to chaperone my daughter’s class on a field trip in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, I can. I love the flexibility of establishing my work hours.

This doesn’t mean I can skirt around deadlines. When a book is due, a book is due and books don’t write themselves! 

Who do you consider a literary genius?

In the field of children’s literature, I would have to say Roald Dahl. He is my favorite children’s book author of all time. I love how he played with language and had a great time with characters and plots. He wrote some of the most memorable, classic books of our time. 

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

It was difficult at first for my family to understand that I was working at home. They thought I could just do what I wanted, when I wanted. While I do have a lot more flexibility with my work schedule, I still have to do as Jane Yolen says, plant my “BIC – butt in chair!”

24 books later, and a pretty successful career as a writer, I think they finally get it. 

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

For sure, good reviews are great in an author’s portfolio but you can’t let reviews make or break you. I used get bent out of shape when reviewers panned my work. Now, I celebrate and shout out the good ones and ignore the not-so-good ones. I have readers and they support my work. That’s what matters to me… the readers. I don’t write for critics. I write for readers. 

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

I knew since 2nd grade that I wanted to be a children’s book writer. I even told my teachers! It was a lot of hard work to get to this place but I don’t regret it for a minute. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

I lived and traveled all over the world as a child. That influenced my career as a professional storyteller and I love collecting folktales from around the world. That, in turn, influenced my work as an author of picture books and professional development books for teachers and librarians. 

How do you know when a book is finished?

Every artist needs to know when to “put down the paintbrush,” so to speak. It’s a feeling. I know when a book “feels right.” And you have to stop at some point or you will get stuck on a plane of infinite revisions. 

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

I love participating in PiBoWriMo (Picture Book Writing Month), Tara Lazar’s creation to motivate picture book writers. It’s in November and the idea is to write a picture book idea every day of the month. It forces me to come up new ideas. I may not use them all but it certainly pushes me to be more creative and attuned with my environment.

I keep a journal in which I write down ideas. Ideas are like sands in the fingertips. They can be fleeting. If you don’t catch them – write them down and memorialize them, they tend to disappear.

Finally, I remember my life’s mantra, a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams; live the life you have imagined.” 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Alva Sachs

AlvaGet to know Alva…

Alva Sachs is the founder of Three Wishes Publishing Company. She is a former elementary school teacher with sixteen years of classroom experience and a Master’s Degree in Education. She writes stories to engage, excite, and empower young children at an early age for the shear joy of reading. She believes at the onset a child learns to read and then reads to learn.

She also serves as President on the Board of Reading Is Fundamental of Southern California, to expand her efforts to support literacy by helping to build home libraries in the greater Los Angeles/Orange County areas for underserved children while fostering literacy through the efforts of Reading Is Fundamental.  As Vice President of the Angels of the Alliance, in conjunction with, The Alliance for the Arts, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, she helps to raise funds for Title 1 schools to provide free live theatre experiences for children. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

What makes you want to throw up?

Prejudice and intolerance. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

My daughter Julie and her funny outlook on life! 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

You are doing just great! 

What do you waste time doing?

Sorting through oodles of paper work. 

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

People who have expectations and do not listen to others and put their own agendas first.

What is the first thing that pops into your head when you think of politicians?

People who are totally narcissist and don’t really care about the good of the people and put their own agenda in first place. 

What do you do every day, without fail?

Feel blessed for my family and friends. Grateful for my life and opportunities ahead. 

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

Exercise!!!  

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

Cars, cars, and more cars….

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your name be?

Shorty.

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

Books, books, and books! 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

Chicago is my home town of Vienna hot dogs, Lou Malnati’s pizza, Portillo’s Italian beefs, and White Castle hamburgers. 

alva_portrait2Writing Questions 

Who do you consider a literary genius?

So hard to answer this with the wonderful world of books out there and genius to one maybe not be genius to another. IF I had to say, it would be Mark Twain. 

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

Taking the fork in the road and going it alone trusting my instincts.

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

Facing the fact that unless you have connections or are a celebrity, you do not have much of a chance of being published with the main stream publishers no matter how good you are.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Children have always been the greatest part of my life as a classroom teacher and of mother of three. Seeing the world through their eyes puts a smile on my face. I guess that is what keeps the kid in me. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Having a son, and two daughters and being a part of watching them play, create friendships, and learn to enjoy the simplest things, as well as seeing how they figure out life as they explore inspires me. Even to this day.

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I feel the smile across my face grow and my heart is full of pride that maybe I could touch the life of just one child.

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

I think the media expects the story to tell everything and leave nothing to the imagination. Comments I have received from reviewers ask questions that should rely on the reader and the interpretation of each individuals experience with the story. Too many words can cloud the opportunity for conversation, socialization, and personal connections. Leaving space in a story can be the most important aspect. 

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

I do not write stories for children that would offend anyone, but I do write where characters may have to learn to make choices that would be positive and in the end rewarding to them and the other characters in the story.

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

I usually dream my stories for a long time and then I start to write. I begin to feel a part of the story.

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

Be sure this is what you want, be real, do not think it will pay the bills, no you are NOT JK Rowling, and be sure your heart is full of enthusiasm for the genre you write, and you fulfill your commitment to what you are doing. Be willing to take the time. 

How would you define creativity?

Free and easy like a mustang running wild in the fields.

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

My classroom full of children for 16 years surprised me each and every day. I never knew what would happen. I did a lot of writing and reading with my kids, plays, poetry, and plain old fun. They drew me to this career after I raised my own children. I just asked myself, “What do I want to do when I grow up?

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

I actually found my illustrator by accident as I sponsored her and another children’s author at an event and told her about my manuscript I had. She asked me to send it to her and Circus Fever was born! Never once questioned myself, or looked back.

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

First of all, I feel that everyone is creative in some way. For me and my genre of picture books is seeing the world through the eyes of a child. Every time you look at something, it is for the very first time and the experience is fresh, exciting, and free.

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

Having expectations only limits you, so I work hard at not going there.

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Author Interview with Kimberley Little

ForbiddenGet to know Kimberley…

I grew up in San Francisco, but now live in an adobe house on the banks of the Rio Grande with my chaotic, messy family. I think I’ve drunk so much Land of Enchantment water that some of that ancient magic got into my blood and now spurts out my pencil—I mean ergonomic keyboard. I’ve been scribbling stories since I was a kid and it’s a thrilling dream-come-true to see them on the bookstore and library shelves. I make too many cookies when I’m revising and I’ve got the best book trailers for reals! Check them out on my website or YouTube. 

I’ve stayed in a haunted castle tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland, sailed on the Seine in Paris, walked the beaches of Normandy, ridden a camel in Petra, sunbathed on Waikiki, shopped the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria. For more info, visit my Webpage / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Tumblr / Youtube. Also, my just released Book Trailer for FORBIDDEN. It’s truly stunning.

Quirky Questions 

What do you waste time doing? 

Making cookies while revising . . . but they are so  good. 

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your name be? 

Shakira. I would be the belly dancing wrestler and mesmerize my opponent with my hip rolls and shimmies.   

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

Belly dance apparel, jewelry, scarves, plus Aladdin lamps, ancient pottery and coins. You know – cool stuff! 

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

I used to be intimidated by the full-length Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – a 1200 page tome – but my son kept telling me how good it was and he’d requested an expensive leather bound edition for a Christmas gift (for the home library he’s already building when he gets his own house one day). We obliged him. I finally read his beautiful leather bound edition and absolutely LOVED it. So worth it. And I cried at the end. My new intimidation is The Book Thief . . . but I adored the movie and had a lump in my throat the entire time. It was beautiful and emotionally compelling—just like I hope my book, Forbidden¸will be to readers. Hey, I can wish! 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up? 

Strawberry waffles with whip cream. 

What do you do every day, without fail? 

Eat something sweet or chocolatey. I love it all. Brownies, cake, donuts, Milky Way bars, cinnamon rolls . . caramel/pecan Turtles. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you? 

The title of New York Times Award-Winning Author. LOL! 

Time of the Fireflies_CoverWriting 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 easy for a writer to get intimidated by their subject matter or trying to figure out *how* to execute this big, sprawling novel. We often play mind games and psyche ourselves out because we fear that we’re not up to the task.

But an interesting thing happens. Every book actually feels like this! Because we’ve never written about that subject or those characters before. The only thing you can do is to love your characters, love their story, and push through and just get the story down on paper—or computer screen.

It’s never as bad as we fear—and never as good as we hoped. Thank goodness there is something called Revision.

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

When I was first researching and writing Forbidden, I definitely worried about the censorship issue. My story contains a subplot about physical abuse by my main character’s betrothed, a man who should love and protect her, and I write about the prostitution going on at the ancient goddess temples of Mesopotamia.

I worried that the book would never sell, and it took several years, but I also felt strongly that I didn’t want to censor myself or tone things down, because I wanted the story to be true to the time period and characters.  The issues were integral to the story I was telling – to be historically accurate—and also because of the conflict my character was in. Eventually, the book did sell to a major publisher, Harpercollins, as a Young Adult trilogy, with crossover adult appeal, and in a significant deal. So all the revisions and all the rejections for years was finally worth it! 

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Two of the best YA novels I’ve read in the past two years:

Where things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Chime  by Franny Billingsly

I thought they were both brilliant and genius.

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

Um, everything. Rejection for decades. Changing agents. Changing publishers. Being orphaned. Books falling into a black hole, not sent out for review, etc. The self-esteem hit can be debilitating. Good writing friends really, really help. Plus chocolate.

How do you know when a book is finished?

That is a really good question and a very difficult question to answer. Newer writers are often deluded by their own enthusiasm and the great achievement it IS to actually sit down and finish an entire book (because more people do not finish at all but get overwhelmed at the halfway point of a draft). But those first drafts are not usually good enough to be published.

I spent YEARS writing The Healing Spell  and Forbidden, the two of my 9 published books that each took about 8 years of rewriting, restructuring, and revisions. But I finally got to a point when I *knew* deep down in my gut that I’d finally gotten it. The book “sang”, it made me cry. I got great feedback from other writers. I was pretty sure it was now publishable. So it’s a combination of Instinct, sheer craft and practice, and receiving feedback from professionals. All of those.

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

I think creative people are big daydreamers. They see Magic all around them in the world. They love to escape into books, art, music, movies. And they’re always getting “ideas” of something to create.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Shana Burg

12681103Get to know Shana…

Shana Burg is the award-winning author of two novels for young readers.  A Thousand Never Evers (Random House, 2008) was named one of the Top 10 Middle Readers by Amazon in 2008 and was the National Parenting Publications Award Gold Winner. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly said A Thousand Never Evers is “Gripping…delivers an emotional wallop.” 

Laugh with the Moon (Random House, 2012) is on the Texas Bluebonnet list for grades 3-6 and was named a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the National Council for Social Studies. This novel received a starred review from School Library Journal. Read more about her work through her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Quirky Questions

Have you been told you look like someone famous? 

I sometimes get told that I look like Molly Ringwald. I love her movies–Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. And now she’s an author in her own right, so I think it’s cool when anyone tells me that I look like her. 

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

Definitely cleaning the house. Can that count as one thing? Or is it a million things? Anyway, I hate cleaning, but unfortunately, I think so much better when I’m in an organized space. It’s a dilemma. You’d think I’d solve this by becoming a neat freak and becoming a poster woman for The Container Store, but nope. Instead, when I need to do serious work, I just go out of the house. 

What is the most vivid or realistic dream you’ve ever had?

I once dreamed that I was flying over the Mediterranean Sea. Not in an airplane, but just flying like a bird. There were these incredibly huge and colorful sea creatures–octopus, jellyfish, squid–swimming just beneath the surface and I could see them perfectly. It was so cool! Snorkeling has shown me that there’s a whole other world under the surface of the ocean. One day, I’d like to get certified to scuba dive. 

51Z3RO9FaiLWriting Questions

What is your favorite accomplishment?

Laugh with the Moon is set in one of the poorest countries on earth — Malawi, Africa. The story shows that despite the poverty, children in Malawi have lots to teach students here. 

I have partnered with BookPeople (the amazing independent bookseller in Austin, TX), Austin public schools, Random House, and World Altering Medicine to start a program called Words Across the World. Now thousands of students where I live in Texas are writing to pen-pals in Malawi. Students on both continents are reading my book, and children here are also raising funds to buy desperately-needed medicine for their peers halfway around the world. It’s thrilling to see how a story can inspire such cross-cultural learning. Here is the link to a recent PW article about the program.

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

I’ve taught sixth grade and worked for many different nonprofit organizations. One of these nonprofits teaches young people about the dangers of prejudice, another encourages youth to advocate for children’s rights, and another encourages service learning. So really, the topics I choose to write about and the places where I’ve worked share a common theme: Kids have the power to change the world!

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