Author Interview with Carrie A. Pearson

A warmGet to know Carrie…

Carrie Pearson lives in Marquette, Michigan on the sandy shore of Lake Superior. She is a former early elementary teacher and nonprofit development officer. Currently, she is the co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Michigan. Along with her husband and their three daughters (and two labradoodles), she hikes, bikes, runs, and skis in the woods, windsurfs, kayaks, stand-up paddles, and swims in the chilly water and writes about what she experiences around her. To learn more about Carrie and her writing, visit her website and blog.

Quirky Questions

What is the last thing you paid money for?

Replacement cheater glasses in the Detroit Metro airport. Aging is a cruel joke. 

What do you often make fun of?

Aging. But, it often isn’t funny. 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

I make an essential skinny mocha. My sweet husband, whose body alarm clock goes off just as the sun decides to stretch one infinitesimal beam of light over the horizon, sets out the ingredients in the kitchen — including the mug of the day. All I have to do is heat the water in the pot, toss the stuff in my mug with a splash of skim milk, stir, drink in the heavenly potion, and I’m determinedly on my way for the day. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have?  

I’m glad I habitually like to be outside. Usually I like to exercise outside, but even if my heart rate isn’t above 120, I need to feel the real temperature, smell the dirt and leaves in the woods, and take in the flora and fauna. If I’m cooped up too long at a conference or a daughter’s volleyball tournament, my teeth grow into pointy fangs. 

The Biggest advantage of being short?

Being short [5’3” on a light gravity day] means people often think I am less capable or a bit weak. I love to surprise them by hauling a heavy item – like a bag of groceries or something. 

What would you title your autobiography?

Serendipity: How Chance Favored a (Decently) Prepared Mind 

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

Their handshake. Firm, but not lingering? Dry, but not scratchy? Confident, but not dominant? Lots to learn about someone here… 

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

Sustained, appropriate euphoria. How cool would that be? 

What is the worst occupation in the world?

Wherever workers must do the same thing in the same way day after day. That’s my version of hell. 

What is your greatest phobia?    

Being trapped in a small space without light or air. Jeez, I’m creeped out now. Thanks a lot. 

What is the messiest place in your home?

The entryway. It’s the portal from the outer world to our inner happenings. Every day and night (we have three teenagers whose plans with friends all seem to gel at 10:00 PM), five people and two dogs pass through this space hundreds of times sloughing remnants of their experiences OUT THERE. The entryway is always messy and slightly dirty despite my Swiffer sweeper standing at the ready in a corner.

A coolWriting Questions

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

Be prepared to never be done. We can always be better at craft, at composition, at being brave. We are works in progress ourselves and therefore, our products will only reflect where we are now. We have to be willing to be okay with that.

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

Writing offers the ultimate flexibility. We can toil away in private or at a coffee house, among comrades, or in complete solitude. Also, to me, each book is a small business requiring a marketing and operations plan. This appeals to my entrepreneurial side.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

It sounds trite, but I pick J.K. Rowling. I’m not sure if she knew all that she was doing with that series, but the layers and subplots and underlying themes are crazy genius.

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

Learning how to wait for feedback, sales, contracts, etc. It’s not my strong suit, but I had a chance to spend some one-on-one time with Jane Yolen who said she still waits. Right then, I realized I’d better stop being bitter about waiting and just get on with it.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I actually hope I don’t pick a genre. I’d like to explore many and this is happening now. My two published books are nature nonfiction picture books, I have a middle grade historical on submission as well as two other picture books that are fiction but with strong reality underpinnings. My two works in progress are a picture book biography and middle grade animal realistic fantasy with series potential. This may not be good for my career, but it makes me a happy writer and I believe that happiness results in better books.

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

Creative people are a bit odd, I think. We see things unexpectedly. I know I am creatively odd when I reflect on a topic (“that mushroom would make a great umbrella for a deer mouse”) and my partner will respond with, “What have you been smokin’ today?” Creative people ask, “I wonder what would happen if I did this?” and they try it on. For instance, one of my picture books on submission right now explores how the living environments of city chickens and country chickens are different and it’s told through an a cappella singing contest between the two flocks. That’s a bit odd, right? But, it seems to work okay.

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

I do struggle with this a bit. I’m not worried about offending anyone, but I do want the content to be appropriate for my readers. This is part of writing for less mature audiences though and the clever part is finding a way to make it interesting for caregivers who are reading to children, too. They are the gatekeepers after all.

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

I’ve always had to clear away obligations before I can enter Happy Writing Brain. But, linking back to that earlier aging thread, I’m finding Happy Writing Brain is becoming much more insistent and downright sassafras about beingfirst. And, that’s a good thing.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Sherri Rinker

Goodnight-Construction-Site-500Get to know Sherri…

Sherri Rinker is the author of two #1 bestselling picture books, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train. Cumulatively, these two books have spent over three years on the NYT Bestseller List.

Additionally, Sherri has numerous other projects in production, including Since There Was You, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell.

Sherri is passionate about children’s literacy and has had a life-long love of books. Her exciting school presentation, “Books Are Magic!” is designed to encourage and support students on the wondrous journey of reading and writing. For more info, visit her website and Facebook.

Quirky Questions 

What company’s ads are you tired of seeing? 

Those commercials that utilize the phrase “erectile dysfunction.” Or, even worse, “feminine itching.” Ugh!!! Seriously, people?! – Some of us watch television with our kids. Or our in-laws.

Where would be the worst place to sleep for the night?

Any place that would require me to do my private business in an outhouse or in the woods. Any place dirty. In other words: I don’t camp.

What is the most amazing scientific discovery in the last twenty years?

The iPhone, Spanx and no-chip manicures. (But, the most amazing discovery of all time: The Snicker Bar, hands down.)

If you could choose any couple to adopt you at birth, who would they be? 

Off the cuff, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. Interesting, creative, brilliant, fascinating.

What one toy would you like to throw repeatedly at a brick wall?

Oh gosh – I’m torn. First, that Mouse Trap game… it takes a good week to set up the thing, and it never works — and the parts end up everywhere. I’ve thrown out at least two of those games. (That’s a board game that should have gone straight to app.) Secondly, those bowling games for little kids… where you set up the pins at one end of your hallway, your kids knock them down before you get back to the other side, you run back to set them up… ultimately, the kids get bored and begin smacking each other with the pins. The game lasts about a minute; the crying lasts a good hour. Fun times.

What do you consider the breakfast of champions?

Guinness. I love Guinness. I don’t actually have it for breakfast, but I want to.

What are you most amazed by when you look at a world map?

Huh. Really? That’s where that is? Ok, NOW that makes sense.

What occupation do you think will be extinct in the next ten years?

Restroom attendant. At least, I keep hoping. Totally weirds me out. (Apologies to all of the restroom attendants out there.)

What is one risk you are not willing to take?

Ending the evening with a round of shots. Been there, done that… but the kids get up pretty early.

What would other people be surprised to find that you enjoy? 

Bowling and shooting — though not at the same time. (I’m horrible at both, but I have more luck on the lanes.)

If you could buy one thing in bulk, what would it be?

Antique oil paintings. I have dozens, but it’s never enough.

What always takes a lot of time and never ends the way you want?

Thanksgiving dinner. I make it every year and always wish I’d done something differently.

What is the most common compliment people give you?

That I’m a good cook. And that I’m nice. (I try to be nice… I don’t really see the point of being an a-hole, but I’ve certainly known a fair number of them.)

If someone created a statue of you, what would you want it to be made of? 

Fried chicken. Who doesn’t like fried chicken?

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of camping?

Filth — followed closely by mosquitos, followed closely by overwhelming fear that I might have to go to the bathroom.

What word do you constantly misspell?

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. Thank goodness for spellcheck.

What is the ugliest article of clothing ever invented? What about the best?

Ugliest: the jog bra.

Best: Gap long-sleeved t-shirt, in black. (I live in them.)

What was your favorite book growing up? What’s your favorite book now?

Growing up: The Little House by Virginia Burton. Now? Hmmm… literature loves change daily, but I’m definitely a Bible girl — I’m a big fan.

When you look back on pictures of yourself, which age are you most embarrassed about?

Age 7-19. I call it my awkward phase.

Fill in the blank. I would like to be known as the world’s greatest:

Mom. I’m a miserable failure in that arena, but it’s the most important job I’ve been given.

What is the cutest animal on earth? Ugliest?

Cutest: My dog, Quincy-Ann. But, my niece breeds Holland Lops (bunnies), and those are pretty gosh-darn adorable. (I guess I’m drawn to floppy ears.)

Ugliest: Any snake. Or lizard. Or large, hairy bug.

What is the longest word you can think of?

Puberty. 

Sherri+Book_72ppiRGB_croppedWriting Questions

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

I work sporadically: obsessively, and then not at all. I have a full life: family, home, faith, cooking, gardening, friends: the break is always beneficial.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you’ve matured? 

I’ve grown more courageous — I’m exploring more, stepping out of my comfort level. “If you dig through the fear, that’s where the joy is hiding.” I’m embracing that idea, since it resonates with me and my experience. (Thanks, David Slonim)

When do you feel the most energized?

When I’m struck by a great idea and I’ve just sat down to write. (PS: Sometimes I’m the only one that thinks it’s great, btw.)

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

Gardening. I’ve fallen completely in love with the process, putting together colors and textures and watching them develop and change. There’s an element of time, chance and patience that I think is elusive but also compelling. I spent 25 years as a graphic designer, but designing with living things is so much more energizing — and it feels spiritual, honestly.

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

I suffered for YEARS in a job that I dreaded and detested. I think that makes me enjoy and appreciate my work and my life, even on the toughest days. I know how truly blessed I am, and I never want to take that for granted.

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

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” — Phil 4:13 

This has gotten me through some impossibly difficult times.

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

Fourth grade. Thank you, Mrs. Joan Bock.

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

Life gets hectic, but I think each side improves the other.

What is your typical day like?

Is it summer, or are the kids in school? Is everyone healthy and well? Am I traveling? Does the garden need watering, does the house need to be cleaned, is the laundry done, do I have a deadline… Does anyone have a doctor’s appointment, a sport or activity to get to, forms that need to be filled out, homework that needs to be checked, do I have a meeting today? In other words, there’s no such thing as a typical day for me. That’s ok. I have a short attention span, so it works for me.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

My problem isn’t needing an idea, my problem is finding blocks of uninterrupted time to focus.

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

Yes, and I’m always way off. The end product always surpasses my imagination by lightyears. I’ve been so fortunate to work with brilliant, talented people with amazing vision.

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

I never set out to be a writer. It kept knocking, but it took me until I was well into my 40’s to answer the door.

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

Faith. No question.

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

As a child, I longed for happiness, magic, joy and love. I like to think that those sentiments are reflected in my work.

Do you have family members who like to write too?

My grandmother wrote for the local paper in West Virginia. I love that.

Did your childhood influence the way you write today?

It was chaotic, messy, dirty, hurtful and dysfunctional on countless fronts. Many painful memories, but also some good — great, even. But, everything I’ve been and everything I’ve been through has brought me to this point, so I’m grateful for my past. And, I’m resilient and resolute because of it, and that’s a positive take-away that has served me well.

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Interview with Bestselling Author Susane Colasanti

unnamedGet to know Susane…

Susane Colasanti is the bestselling author of When It Happens, Take Me There, Waiting for You, Something Like Fate, So Much Closer, Keep Holding On, All I Need, and Now and Forever. Susane has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree from New York University. Before becoming a full-time author in 2007, Susane was a high school science teacher for ten years. She lives in New York City. For more information, visit Susane on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

Enter to win a free copy of NOW AND FOREVER!

To enter, simply comment on this Facebook post. One random winner will be selected tomorrow at 10:00 PM.

*For mailing purposes, you must be from the U.S. or Canada.

Quirky Questions 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live? 

Nothing! That’s the awesome thing about living in downtown Manhattan. Everything I need is right outside my door. I love to walk everywhere and especially love that I have both a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods four blocks away, plus I can walk to all of my gym locations easily from my place. I heart New York. 

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

Organizational paraphernalia that rivals The Container Store. As an organization enthusiast, I love boxes, bins, cubbies, drawers…anything that helps turn a messy home into a peaceful Zen retreat. 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up? 

Pasta with pesto sauce. Still is. Even better if it’s with warm garlic bread. 

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours? 

Anyone who is intolerant of groups of people based on their race, socioeconomic status, or lifestyle. Live and let live. 

What do you do every day, without fail? 

Creative visualization. I visualize a clear image of my ideal life. Then I take steps every day to turn my dreams into reality. Big dreams can come true if you carry them in your heart and work hard to manifest them. 

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

I wish I were better about waking up early. I’ve always been a night person. Staying up late is super fun. But I love the idea of waking up early to get more done. There’s always so much I want to do and never enough time to do it all. 

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

Cigarettes. Both of my grandparents died from health issues related to smoking. About half a million people in the United States die every year due to smoking-related illnesses. That is a crying shame. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks? 

My BF/soul mate’s impression of the honey badger guy. He’s even funnier than the actual guy. 

unnamed (1)Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

My internal age is 16. I’m pretty sure this will always be true. So I try to write the kinds of books I would have wanted to read as a teen. My purpose in life is to reach out to teens and help them feel less alone. Being a teen was the worst time of my life. I guess that’s why I’m 16 at heart—I’m recapturing that age in a way I never got to experience back then.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

All of them. Every experience I’ve ever had, every interaction, every observation, every heartbreak, every happy moment, every epiphany…all that I am is poured into my books. As far as specific experiences, When It Happens was inspired by my actual boy adventures and home life senior year of high school. And Keep Holding On includes a lot of things that happened to me when I was bullied in junior high and high school. My goal in writing Keep Holding On was to turn the negative experience of being bullied into a positive opportunity to reach out to teens in need.

How do you know when a book is finished?

Interesting question! I guess when I feel I’ve told all I can of the story. There’s this feeling of completion when it gets to the point where my characters are done. They can be pretty bossy when it comes to controlling the story.

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

Writing is actually my second career. I was a high school science teacher for ten years before becoming a full-time author in 2007. There is a lot to be said for job stability. Steady paychecks in consistent amounts, good health insurance, and a retirement plan are all important. But I became a teacher because that was my passion. I knew I was going to be a science teacher when I was 12. I couldn’t wait to get started. Being with my people all day was awesome, but teaching and writing at the same time was too exhausting. Thankfully I am very fortunate to have had not only one, but two jobs that I love. Being an author is my dream job and I am grateful for this opportunity every single day.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Laurie Halse Anderson. Her writing is phenomenal. When I started reading an ARC of Wintergirls at the airport, I had to put it down after almost every page in order to fully absorb the brilliance of what I’d just read. She is remarkable, both as a person and an author.

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

I remember being around 10 when I first thought about writing a children’s book. My plan was to both write and illustrate it. The drive to write a book never died. In junior high, I shifted my goal to writing a teen novel. My experiences senior year felt like something I would have liked to read about. So the idea for When It Happens began to take shape. I always told myself that if I ever wrote a teen novel, I would tell it from both the girl’s and boy’s perspectives, which turned out to be so much fun to write. Even though the odds were against me, I had a Knowing that my first book would be published. Everything after that was part of dreaming big, then turning those big dreams into reality.

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

Creative people tend to think outside the box. That is a very good thing. As John Mayer says in “No Such Thing,” They love to tell you stay inside the lines / But something’s better on the other side.

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

Going for night walks here in New York always invigorates the creative spirit. There’s something about the city lights and feeling that anything is possible that is beyond exciting. The energy of this city makes me feel alive. Just living here is pure inspiration.

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

Read. Read as much as you can. The more you read, the better your writing will become. Take a book with you everywhere you go. Read while you’re in line, on the bus, or waiting for a friend. Write what you are passionate about. If you write about what makes you feel alive, you will find your voice.

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Illustrator Interview with Nina Seven

cover - pirate boy with cutout circle brown w blueGet to know Nina…

Nina Seven is an illustrator and surface designer from beautiful Seattle, WA. She lives in a 1909 Craftsman style home with her family and a couple of crazy cats, named Scout and Zoey. The house is filled with colorful painted walls and lots of colorful art.

Ever since she was a young girl, she had a passion for creating. Working as an illustrator is a testament that dreams really can come true. (with a lot of hard work, of course!) She has illustrated several children’s books for Fabuloos Dreams, an international company that makes personalized books and stationery items. For more info, visit her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Quirky Questions

What is the worst occupation in the world?

Honey Bucket cleaner. 

What is your greatest phobia?   

I’m deathly afraid of opossums. 

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

We dig you? 

What is the messiest place in your home?

All of the closets.Out of sight, out of mind. 

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

Facebook. 

What is the last thing you paid money for?

A Starbucks coffee. I’m a hopeless coffee addict. 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

Clean, fresh sheets every day! 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

Decide to be happy, every day. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have? 

Exercising. 

What’s your worst habit?

Eating chocolate. 

What would you title your autobiography?

Seven. It’s an unusual last name, so I think it would make a great title for a book. 

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

I’d go to prom. I never went, because I thought it would be lame, but now I think it might have been a good memory to have. 

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

Their smile. 

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

Be kind to the native Americans. 

unnamed Illustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I get away from the computer and go for a walk or get a coffee. I always come back with a fresh perspective.

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

I chose it. I worked for many years as a Visual Merchandising Manager at a department store. After I left, I decided to make a career as an illustrator and I worked hard at making my dream come true.

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

My husband is so supportive of my career and has been with me through good times and bad.

If you were no longer able to illustrate, how else would you express your creativity? Photography. I love Instagram and follow a daily photo challenge, based on a word prompt. It’s so much fun!

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

Never give up and work hard!

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

My husband is a writer and so was my Mom and I have two aunts who are artists.

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

I had a great childhood, and grew up surrounded by people who loved me. I think that goes a long way in shaping who you become as you grow up. I was given the support I needed to be whatever I chose.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways? Absolutely! The more you work at something, the better you get at it. My style keeps changing as I get better with the tools that I use.

When do you feel the most energized?

Mid-morning, after a couple of cups of coffee!

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

I think so. I’m a pretty happy person and I like fun and colorful things, so I think that shows in my work.

unnamed (1)

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Author Interview with Kendare Blake

mortal-gods-kendare-blakeGet to know Kendare…

Kendare Blake is an import from South Korea who was raised in the United States by caucasian parents. You know, that old chestnut. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Ithaca College and a Master’s degree in Writing from Middlesex University in London. She brakes for animals, the largest of which was a deer, which sadly didn’t make it, and the smallest of which was a mouse, which did, but it took forever. Amongst her likes are Greek Mythology, rare red meat and veganism. She also enjoys girls who can think with the boys, like Ayn Rand, and boys who scare the morality into people, like Bret Easton Ellis. To learn more about her books, visit her website. 

Quirky Questions

Are there any stores you refuse to shop in? 

Abercrombie and Fitch. I refuse to even look in there. Every time I do, I see some half-naked sixteen year old male model and feel like I’ve committed some kind of pedo crime.

When was the last time you cried? 

I don’t know. When was the last time Marley and Me was on cable?

If you could stay one age forever, what would it be?

The age I was two years ago. Bah humbug. My life is over.

Favorite TV show?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead. Sailor Moon. Gargoyles. Fringe. And I was really into Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for a while. 

girl of nightmaresWriting Questions 

After a day of writing, how do you recharge your creative batteries?

Booze and soap operas. I don’t think it recharges anything, but it’s what I do.

What books are you reading right now?

A big stack consisting of The Nightmare Dilemma by Mindee Arnett, Three by Kristen Simmons, Anya’s Ghost because I want to get into graphic novels, Tin Star, by Cecil Castellucci, Graphic the Valley by Peter Brown Hoffmeister, Copperhead, by Tina Connolly, and The Ape’s Wife and other stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Any advice for other writers?

Write what is true to you. Write what you want to write. Don’t be boxed. Don’t be pressured. Don’t try to follow anyone’s formula but your own. This might not result in becoming a millionaire. But hopefully it will result in honest work. And interesting work.

Do you have a specific writing style?

No. I’m a slave to the story. That’s the hardest part, sometimes. Submitting to the writing. Writing something the way it wants to be written, instead of the easiest or most natural way to tell it.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Jennifer Kirkeby

Jennifer KGet to know Jennifer…

JENNIFER KIRKEBY is an actress, playwright and children’s writer. Kirkeby adapted ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas; The Far-Fetched Fable of the Frog Prince; Madeline’s Christmas, based on the book by Ludwig Bemelmans; and Dot and Tot of Merryland, all of which are published by Dramatic Publishing. Other adaptations include Nancy Carlson’s Harriet and Walt, a musical about sibling rivalry, (Samuel French); Llama Llama Holiday Drama and Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney; Aladdin and His Magical Lamp; The Mitten by Jan Brett; The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch; Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, and Giggle Giggle Quack and Duck for President by Doreen Cronin, and If You Give A Moose A Muffin by Laura Numeroff. Original plays include Midlife Madness, an adult comedy; and Eyes Wide Open, a play about eating disorders (Samuel French). Her ten-minute play, The Glass House has won numerous national awards. Several of her monologues and scenes have been published by Smith & Kraus Publishers in Audition Arsenal for Women in Their 30s and volumes 2 & 4 of Winners Competition Series. Kirkeby is a member of The Dramatists Guild of America, Inc., The Playwrights’ Center and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and SCBWI. For more info, visit her website, blog, and Facebook.

Quirky Questions 

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

Quirkalicious. 

What do you do every day, without fail?

Look forward to that first cup of coffee! 

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

Live in the present. I try, but it’s a tough one for me. 

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

Nylons. No one should be made to feel like a sausage in a casing. 

What makes you want to throw up?

Abuse and cruelty. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

I’m going to tell you, but you can’t tell my husband. We recently got new cable, and the Comcast guy explained to me that one of our remotes can change stations, volume, etc. even if you’re not in the same room as the TV. So I sometimes take that control, go upstairs, and change the channels and volume on my unsuspecting husband. He hasn’t caught on yet because I don’t do it too often. Timing is everything. I find it hysterically funny. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. He used to stand in our closet wearing a scary Halloween mask and wait for me to walk in until I destroyed it. The mask. Not the closet. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

“Your writing made me feel like there is someone in the world who truly understands and cares about me.” 

What do you waste time doing?

Facebook. 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

That’s an easy one, boy-you-betcha. Winters in Minnesota. They are inconvenient in many ways.

1. You freeze your face off, (and other important things).

2. You have to drive in very dangerous and slippery conditions. I’m from California, so this took me a while.

3. You have to shovel. Especially when your husband had hand surgery during a record-setting snowy winter so he could golf in the spring, and your snow blower was broken. Like this past winter for example. Do I sound bitter? HOWEVER, I’m convinced these pesky winters are one of the reasons we have a plethora of amazing writers in Minnesota, so there’s the upside for ya! 

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

Kirkeby the Krusher.

If you could own a store, what would you sell?  

Books for animals. Maybe it’s just my dogs, but they love it when I read to them. My daughters are in their twenties, and suddenly they think they’re too old to be read to. They actually get embarrassed when we go to Target and I head to the picture books and start reading to them. Can you believe it? So yeah, Baboon Books it is. 

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

Moby Dick. 

What was your favorite childhood meal?

Tomato soup and grilled cheese. My mom would make it for me when I was sick, and I felt comfort and love in every bite.

TenWriting Questions

Ever feel you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

No. I believe your character must be 100% authentic. Your character needs to talk the way they would talk in real life, and do the things they would do if they were living down the street. Besides, no one can pick out a poser faster than a young person, right?

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

Walking helps my creativity. Or reading a great book or blog from a writer that I admire. And here’s where my theater background comes in. I talk to my characters. I ask them lots of questions. It’s their story after all. They should be willing to pull their own weight now and then. It’s surprising what they’ll tell you if you get them at the right time. And give them chocolate.

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

Ask yourself why you want to write. Is it solely because you want to become published? Because that’s the wrong reason to write. Ask any writer you admire about that one. You have to LOVE writing. Perhaps you want to change people’s perceptions, inform or entertain, or maybe you want to release some nagging pain that you’ve been carrying around since childhood. Just know that like anything, it takes years and years and YEARS to become a good writer. Join SCBWI, take classes and read. Read as much as you possibly can.

How would you define creativity?

A glorious gossamer of amazing thoughts that magically form themselves into a work of art. Not really. I just wanted to write “glorious gossamer.” I would define creativity as a need to express and communicate with others in a fresh and unique way. It might come out of an injustice that you experienced. It could come from a hummingbird that looked right at you, and you’ll never forget that glorious moment. All I know is when I’m in the zone, there is nothing like it.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing rather than a job that offers more stability?

I’ve been involved in theater and dance most of my life, so clearly I never went for stability and security…but even before I began school, I would “write” choreography. I would map out my dance with squiggles for turns, sharp jutting lines for leaps, etc. I wrote some poetry on a dare in high school and was secretly thrilled that it was chosen for a book and published in our local paper. I was the feature editor for my college paper, and began writing plays about fifteen years ago. I’ve written for the classroom for over 30 years. It really comes down to my utter stubbornness and need to live my life in the arts in order to make sense of the world.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Hemmingway, Camus, Kafka, Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury & Libba Bray. I also think there are literary geniuses writing picture books. I’ve come to the conclusion that picture books are like Zen paintings, and you must be a master in order to be brilliant at it.

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

Rejection. My husband said something years ago that has always helped me. After finding out that I didn’t get a job I thought I had nailed, he said: “Now you’re one audition closer to getting your next job.” It’s a process. I’ve had to change the way I perceive the word “rejection.” I try not to let it be personal. Often the people who we think are judging us and our work are actually hoping we’re a fit. It makes their job so much easier if we are. I try to be the answer to their problem, always give my very best, and if it doesn’t work out, I go for a walk then start on my next project. After I cry, of course. I am human after all.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve experienced in the realm of your art?

Keeping myself motivated when there are long stretches where I feel like I’m limping along barefoot on an endless hot and sticky highway, seeing nothing on the horizon but the mirage that’s shimmering like a mean girl who won’t let me play on her team because I’m afraid of getting hit on the head with the ball, but how is that my fault when my dad said I couldn’t play ball when I was a kid because I was “just a girl”, and the black tar of the road goes on for an eternity and seems to be saying: “What’s the matter, Jennifer? Can’t take the heat?” And I really can’t sometimes, but that highway doesn’t seem to give a hoot, so I wait for the black limo that will eventually pull up, roll down its window, and someone who looks a lot like George Clooney says, “You look like you could use a ride and a cool drink. And say, are those manuscripts in your sweaty hand? How about if I look at your writing, and maybe hook you up with some of my friends?” And scene.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Currently I’m working on a musical for children, a YA magical realism manuscript and several picture books. I haven’t landed on one genre because I love so many things in each of them.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

I think being the oldest of four kids had something to do with it. I babysat a lot and loved to tell stories. Some were horrific and I have apologized multiple times to my siblings about the ghost family I told them haunted our house when they were young. And how President Washington was killed by a crocodile that came out of the drain in his bathtub. My poor brother shared that story with his class, and everyone laughed at him including the teacher. It’s amazing my siblings still talk to me…

How do you know when a book is finished?

With my plays, it’s the deadline. I complain about them, but honestly, they are the best thing for me. Otherwise, I seem to think that I’ll come up with something brilliant if I just keep on writing, but the truth is, I’m prolonging the ending which should have happened already, and now the kids are squirming in the parent’s seats, and it’s my fault because I thought that I was being amazing by adding those extra scenes, but now half the audience needs to go to the bathroom, so for the love of Pete, end it already!   

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

I remember when GPS became available. I wrote a skit about a GPS that talked to a teenage couple on a date. It told them what the other one was really thinking. Another example is when I adapted Doreen Cronin’s wonderful picture book, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type for Stages Theatre Company. We used a large screen to show the words as the cows and Farmer Brown were typing them. The kids in the audience squealed and loved seeing the words. There are so many great opportunities to work with the crazy world media is creating. But when all is said and done, it’s still great story and character that’s the most important. 

What traits do creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

Creative people are dreamers. They see things differently. They’re extremely sensitive. They’re walking microscopes and telescopes. They don’t just listen – they’re sponges. Not that other people don’t do these things, but creative people have superpowers.

I love my husband to pieces, but we have very different sensibilities in this area. When we were first dating, we were standing on a mountain. I looked around at the startling blue sky, the soft mountains that looked as if they could stand and become dinosaurs, the way the sun lit up the valleys and how the trees swayed in the breeze. I was thinking about the wonderful life that we were going to have together. I assumed he was having similar thoughts, so I asked him, “What do you think of when you look around this valley?” He looked right, and left, then pointed and said: “I never noticed the 101 freeway cuts through that mountain over there.” We still laugh about it.

Have your personal expectations limited your creativity? 

Absolutely. My expectations are often ridiculous. When I was in the first grade, we had been practicing our writing, and our teacher was ready to announce who had the best handwriting in class. I fully expected to be called. I held my pencil with robot precision, and already had calluses from trying to be “perfect.” When our teacher said, “Rocky Carzo”, I could barely hold back the tears. I wasn’t perfect. But Rocky was. Even sharing this makes me sad. That I was so hard on myself. And still am. This month I read a great blog called The Crushing Weight of Expectations by Robin LaFevers. She quotes my hero, Anne Lamott who said: “Expectations are resentments under construction.” We have to let go of the unrealistic expectations and those voices that tell us we aren’t good enough. That’s just silly. Find your voice and write up a storm. There’s nothing like it!

Twas the

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Author & Illustrator Interview with Deborah Freedman

51F4tEbkQ6LGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Freedman was an architect once, but now prefers building worlds in picture books. She is the author and illustrator of THE STORY OF FISH & SNAIL, BLUE CHICKEN, SCRIBBLE, and to-be-published (April 2015) BY MOUSE & FROG. Deborah lives in a colorful house in southern Connecticut, where she is busy at work on her next books. For more info, visit her website and Twitter. 

Quirky Questions 

If you could buy one thing in bulk, what would it be?

Artisanal chocolate.

What life-altering change have you been meaning to do?

Clean out my filing cabinets.

What is one risk you are not willing to take?

Getting rid of any book that I might want to read some day…

What one toy would you like to throw repeatedly at a brick wall?

Any toy with operating instructions. 

Illustrating Questions

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

I have finished four books, and have four kids — and no favorites among either set, for goodness sake. Though the latest work-in-progress does always seem to get the most attention.

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin?

What I visualize is generally gauzy and the-most-brilliant-thing-I’ll-ever-create! Then the finished work is, inevitably, partly a disappointment — which motivates me to try again, over and over again, by writing the next book.

Do your illustrations reflect your personality?

Three of my four books (the 4th, BY MOUSE & FROG, will be published by Viking next spring) are about messes that eventually get cleaned up. This was not intentional, but it absolutely reflects my ridiculously tangled creative process.

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

As I always show and tell children, my stories are completely made-up, but the feelings in them are true. The emotional content of my books is all mine.

How do you think you differ from other illustrators?

I admire so many other illustrators, past and present, but even when I’ve tried to emulate what they do, my work comes out as something else — so I may end up different in spite of my best efforts.

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

I honestly don’t try, consciously, to convey messages through my work. I simply hope that children will read my books and feel understood.

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

I actually think of myself as a writer first — but one who writes with both words and pictures. So if I could no longer illustrate, I would still keep on writing, keep on telling stories for children.

fish-and-snail.cover.300

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Author Interview with Dan Richards

unnamedGet to know Dan…

Dan has been writing poetry, songs and stories for as long as he can remember. He is a graduate of the University of Washington Writing For Children Program where he wrote his debut picture book THE PROBLEM WITH NOT BEING SCARED OF MONSTERS. Dan lives with his wife, two children and their golden doodle in Bothell, WA. For more information, please visit his website

Quirky Questions

What would complete your outfit right now?

A set of dancing penguins from Mary Poppins. And penguin pants. Penguin pants are cool. 

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

I like small talk though I like tiny talk better. Microscopic talk is the best. Like when I talk to ants. Or even smaller ants. 

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

I once climbed 998 steps to the top of a hill in Southern China to watch the sun rise over the rice fields. I felt like I had been transported to land of the lost. Which might explain why we couldn’t find our way back to the hotel.  

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

I have a lot of agates in my house that were collected by my mother during her lifetime. Rocks made her happy. Happy rocks. 

Writing Questions

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

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Unless you’re a writer, in which case you also have criticism, rejection and the likelihood of total failure. In my experience, as long as you are scared you’re doing something right.

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

When I realized I didn’t have a gift for art, music, drama, sculpture, architecture, woodworking, public speaking, politics, engineering, math, science or sports. It came down to sales or writing. I immediately went into sales.

Do you have family members who like to write too?

I have two children who are both excellent creative writers. Unfortunately, essays are the writing of choice in school these days. Hopefully once they finish analyzing the world to death they’ll rediscover the sense of wonder lying dormant on the other side of their brains. One can only hope.

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

THE PROBLEM WITH NOT BEING SCARED OF MONSTERS at the moment. It’s my debut picture book. I wrote the manuscript while attending the University of Washington Writing For Children Program. It helped me get my first agent. And I’ve had a blast working with Rebecca Davis, my editor at Boyds Mills Press. The book may not change the world but it sure has changed my life.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I reach into my writing tool belt, pull out my chisel of imagination and my hammer of desire and start chipping away until either the block breaks or I do. So far it’s been the block.

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

I’ve had a high need to be creative ever since I was a child. When I was little we lived where there were no other kids to play with. I don’t remember ever feeling lonely. I had all the imaginary playmates needed to do battle, go adventuring and keep myself occupied through childhood. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating either songs or stories.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Any place I find myself without a pen, paper, or computer handy. I’m pretty sure my imagination waits until I’m driving, showering or taking a nap to spring the best ideas. My imagination can be such a child.

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

None of it and all of it. I don’t know. Creativity is such strange magic. Some things seem to parallel past experiences but most of it seems to come from someplace else. I don’t write as therapy. I don’t write to change the world. But I do write to discover. And I do find writing to be a spiritual experience, even if what I’m writing seems silly or inconsequential on the surface. Somehow, something deeper always rises. I love that. And I cherish every word that makes its way onto the page. Every word matters.  

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Author Interview with C.J. Redwine

RedwineGet to know C.J….

C.J. Redwine loves fairy tales, Harry Potter, and Sherlock. She is the author of the Defiance trilogy, a post-apocalyptic fantasy from Balzer + Bray. C.J. lives in Nashville with her husband and children. If the novel writing gig ever falls through, she’ll join the Avengers and wear a cape to work every day. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

What would motivate you to run a marathon?

A pack of rabid zombies closing in behind me. Benedict Cumberbatch running in front of me. Goats. (No really. Goats. Freaky eyes, personal space issues, and a proclivity for chewing on parts of me that I’d rather remain unchewed.) 

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

Benedict Cumberbatch. 

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

Things Can Only Get Better (with the follow up hit “Girl, Step Away From That Can of Aquanet”) 

What could never be considered “art”? 

Absolutely anything that I draw, paint, or attempt to make with a glue stick. 

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

See above. Also I suck at aerobics. That crap requires coordination and focus! 

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

My Harry Potter memorabilia collection. (Actually, no. You’d have to pry that from my cold dead fingers. But it’s pretty much the only thing I own worth auctioning off.) 

What are you most neurotic about? 

Traveling by myself. Cue panic attack. The closer it gets to the day that I have to leave for a book event/speaking engagement by myself, the more I have to talk myself out of canceling. 

Can you share an embarrassing story? 

Yesterday while writing at the local book store, I tried to swallow carbonated water too fast and snot it straight up my nose instead. I don’t know how to describe the noise I made, but if there were any moose in the area looking to mate, I got their attention. 

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

I love my bed. No seriously. It’s a king-sized Sleep Number bed, and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. 

What is your favorite movie line? 

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!

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

Hogwarts. Always Hogwarts. 

What celebrity/actor irritates you the most? 

Shia LeBeouf. 

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

This will come as a shock to your readers but … Benedict Cumberbatch. 

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

Benedict Cumberbatch. But we should probably test that theory. In real life. I’m sure he’d be fine with that. 

RedwineC JWriting Questions

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

Creatives tend to see the world through a lens of highly imaginative possibilities. For example, the other day I walked out of the book store and a woman in the parking lot sneezed. I immediately wondered if she was Patient Zero and decided I should buy a can or two of baked beans in case the apocalypse was nigh.

Also creatives think big but we’re generally not the sort to expend our energy on stuff outside the stories and art we create so while I *thought* about getting baked beans in case of an apocalypse, I went through the drive through at Burger King instead.

I also think creatives tend more toward depression and what others might term “neurotic” tendencies. Maybe the parts of our brains that dive so deep into darkness and stay there are the parts that are able to process that pain into art. 

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

I don’t think my personal expectations have limited my creativity, but after I became published and had reader expectations, I floundered for a bit. It was really hard to shut out my fear that I might disappoint them and just write the story that needed to be told, but that’s what I had to learn how to do.

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

Not because I don’t want to offend anyone. I push myself to be honest and vulnerable in my art, and that’s more important to me than someone feeling like I’ve gone too far. But I do pull back when I realize that I’ve been edgy where it wasn’t needed. I don’t believe in being edgy for the sake of being edgy. I believe in being absolutely truthful to the story and the characters.

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

Because I’ve been writing stories since I was in second grade. It’s what I was made to do. And I love sharing those stories with readers. It’s so fascinating to see readers develop relationships with my characters. Often readers will see things in my characters that I didn’t see myself, and I love that art is this multi-dimensional thing that can be approached and experienced from so many different angles.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Oh man … so many names to put on this list. The short list of those who are incredible literary talents and who have strongly influenced my own writing: C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Rae Carson, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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

Books that I wrote that never sold, even after I had an agent. (I have three unsold books written after being agented.) Going for years without selling after getting an agent and having to white-knuckle my belief that I could do this. Having my personal life become difficult and time-consuming just as huge deadlines were hitting. Traveling even though it causes me severe anxiety. Having entire drafts of a book handed back to me by my editor with notes that basically meant I had to start all over again. 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve experienced in the realm of your writing?

Finding my unique voice. That takes time and a lot of writing. I had to work to discover my style, and then I had to work to accept that my ideas are often a bit out of the box and that I could either embrace them, even though they might never sell, or pull back and copy what someone else was doing. I chose to embrace them (see my note above about 3 manuscripts not selling), and I don’t regret it.

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

I have playlists created for each individual project so that it’s like a Pavlovian thing—when I hear that music, I’m back in the world of that story. But honestly, as a professional writer, I get my creative juices flowing by showing up and typing.

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

Read widely, including outside of your genre. Treat every book like it has something valuable to teach you about your craft. And write constantly. 

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

It was always in my mind, but seemed like this far off goal that I would tackle one day. But then I got very sick when I was 30, and I didn’t know if I’d make it. When I did survive, I realized that it was foolish to keep waiting around for my life to slow down or be perfectly suited for writing a book. I started writing in the small chunks of time I carved out of my hectic schedule (kids, job, life) and never looked back.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Spending hours and hours as a child who didn’t own a tv reading fairy tales and Narnia and Lord of the Rings. Also, coming from a traumatic childhood and dealing with the fallout of that. I never saw myself accurately reflected in books, and I wanted to write a character that others, who might have had similar traumas, could relate to. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Marilyn Nelson

NelsonGet to know Marilyn…

Marilyn Nelson’s books include The Homeplace; The Fields of Praise; Carver; Fortune’s Bones; The Freedom Business; A Wreath for Emmett Till; Faster than Light, and How I Discovered Poetry. The 2012 recipient of the Robert Frost Medal, she was Poet Laureate of CT for five years. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Poet-in-Residence of The Poets Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live? 

Getting anywhere requires a car. 

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

All Nelson. 

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

The Holy Koran. 

Growing up, what was your favorite meal?

Chicken & dumplings. 

What do you waste time doing? 

Email, Facebook, online interviews. 

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

Benjamin Netanyahu’s. 

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

Reboot me! 

What do you do every day, without fail? 

Make my bed.  

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

The Twentieth Century.

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks? 

Cat videos. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you? 

You light up my life. 

Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

I think it picked me.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Travel, education.

How do you know when a book is finished?

I can’t stand to read it again.

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

The media is in the air we breathe; how can we separate it from everything else?

How would you define creativity?

Open at the top.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing rather than a job that would offer more stability? 

I had a teaching career, from which I retired as a Full Professor at a major research university. Writing is my vocation, not my career.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, Mark Twain, A. A. Milne, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, August Wilson, Wislawa Szymborska.

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

Sexism and racism.

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

Maintaining enough faith in my art to be able to start a new project.

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

Since childhood. Constantly.

What traits do creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

Creative people are much more creative than people who are not creative.

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

Read everything you can, starting at the beginning. Don’t spend all your time reading your contemporaries. 

NelsonM

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