Interview with Award-Winning Author Bobbie Pyron

9780545399302_zoomGetting to know Bobbie…

Bobbie was born and raised on the Gulf Coast of Florida. As a child, she very much wished to be a mermaid when she grew up. By second grade, she had become much more practical and announced to her parents she planned to be a frog when she grew up instead. This didn’t work out so well either. Instead, when she grew up, she worked variously as a professional singer, dog trainer, outdoor wilderness instructor, gladiola harvester, and, for twenty-five years, a librarian.

Bobbie is the author of the teen novel, The Ring (Westside Books, 2009). Her middle grade novels include the award-winning A Dog’s Way Home (Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins, 2011), and the multi-star reviewed The Dogs of Winter (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2012), which was also named a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Kirkus Best Book of 2012, and Bank Street Best Book of 2012. Her next book, Lucky Strike (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) comes out in March of 2015. It is not a dog book.

Bobbie has also published short stories in Scholastic’s “Scope” and “Storyworks” magazines. Bobbie lives high up in the mountains of Park City, Utah with her husband, two cats, and two dogs. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking or skiing with her dogs. To learn more, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

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

“Georgia On My Mind” sung by Ray Charles.

What do you do too much of? 

Worry.

What do you do too little of? 

Relaxing. If I were a dog, I’d be a Border Collie.

What latest trend simply baffles you? 

Dystopian fiction. It’s so dark and violent!

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

Compassion and Kindness 101, Compassion and Kindness 102, Advanced Compassion and Kindness. 

unnamedWriting Questions

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

It’s not words but an image that inspires me. I came across it many years ago and its stuck with me, particularly in writing. It helps me remember that you’re not going to have any chance of reaching that star without taking risk. I have this image as my screen saver on my laptop.

How do you deal with creativity blocks? 

First of all, I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I think in most cases it’s just an excuse not to do the work. I have days (far too many) when I have no idea what I’m going to write that day or where it’s going, but I sit down at my computer and show up. I think showing up is 90% of being a successful writer. If I get really stuck when I’m writing, I get up and move around—I go for a walk with my dogs, do yard work, vacuum, anything to get me physically moving. That seems to get me unstuck most of the time. Also, I’m forever astonished by how often “the muse” shows up when I’m taking a shower.

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

Like a parent, I’m proud of all my “children.” But I will have to admit I’m particularly proud of The Dogs of Winter. I first read about Ivan Mishukov, the child who inspired the story, back in 2005. I knew when I read his story about living feral on the streets of Moscow with a pack of wild dogs, I had to write his story. But I was also very intimidated, though, for several reasons: one, I’d never been to Russia; two, I’d never been homeless or hungry; the research was overwhelming! I tried writing the story several times, only to get overwhelmed by what I didn’t know and by lack of confidence as a writer. I’d put the story away and worked on other things. A Dog’s Way Home was published with great success, but I never forgot Ivan’s story. Finally, in the winter of 2011, I just sat down and wrote it! It gives me great satisfaction to know how I stuck by and honored my need to write that story.

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

I think my books reflect my love of dogs, books, and nature. The setting of the book—whether it be the cold streets of Moscow, or the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, or the magic of the Gulf Coast of Florida—is almost like a separate character in my books. The natural world is very important to me. Relationships are always front and center in my books, whether it be between friends, family, or animals. That is true of my life too.

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

My childhood was pretty hard. My father died suddenly when I was seven and our lives were pretty chaotic and sad after that. As a result, my books all seem to explore loss. I think I’m still trying to figure out how you make a happy life after experiencing life-changing loss. I also am a Southerner through and through, and so is my family. Growing up, stories were a huge part of my life. Some of my few really wonderful memories from my childhood are those when we all got together over pots of gumbo and told stories—grandparents telling stories about their childhoods, uncles telling stories about the trouble they got into as kids, stories about mysterious lights, and stories about good dogs. These stories provided a continuity in my otherwise fragmented childhood that I sorely needed.

Pyron

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Joyce Sidman

Joyce SidGet to know Joyce… 

Joyce Sidman received the 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry, which is given every two years to a living American poet in recognition of his or her aggregate work. She is the author of many award-winning children’s poetry books, including the Newbery Honor-winning Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, and two Caldecott Honor books. She teaches poetry writing to school children and participates in many national poetry events. Her recent book, What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Joyce lives with her husband and dog near a large woodland in Wayzata, Minnesota. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What do you waste time doing?

Fussing with digital photographs. Cropping, adjusting contrast, etc. I’m taking a photography class and just love it. I look up and two hours have gone by. 

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

Old Mother Elephant. 

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

Children’s book art! Cards by Pamela Zagarenski. Hats. And chocolate. 

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

Any big, thick historical biography. My mind shuts down by page two. I’ve learned all my history through historical novels. 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

My German grandmother would make these blueberry pancakes fried in Crisco and sprinkled with sugar. To die for. 

What do you do every day, without fail?

Walk in the woods with my dog. 

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

Dream up a brilliant writing idea. 

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

The smart phone. No one talks to each other anymore! Of course, I don’t have a smart phone. Once I do (it’s inevitable), I’ll probably be just as addicted as anyone else. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

This is embarrassing, but I love cute animal videos, especially hedgehogs. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

I’ve already received way more than my share. 

JoyceWriting Questions

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

Oh, this happens all the time. It gets worse with any attention—awards, conferences, etc. I become afraid to fail. I have work hard to shut down the greedy, approval-seeking part of my brain and open up to wonder again. I have a quote over my desk by Gregory Ciotti: “A passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.” That’s what I strive for.

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

Read. Walk. Visit a museum. Go hear another writer/artist talk about his/her process. Art begets art.

How would you define creativity?

Oh, gosh, if we could define it, it wouldn’t be as interesting. A mysterious spark of joy? A glimmer of knowledge, and the words or images to capture it? A connection between two things that reveals insight?

Who do you consider a literary genius?

The children’s writers I really admire take chances and explore lots of genres. People like Cynthia Rylant and Kevin Henkes, who write picture books and novels beautifully (Kevin is also a Caldecott-winning artist—jeepers). Novelist Walter Dean Myers, who also wrote gorgeous poetry. They inspire me to try new things.

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

I have been very lucky in many ways. But my biggest challenge was continuing to believe in myself as a writer in the face of ten years of rejection.

How did you pick your writing genre?

It picked me. Once I started reading poetry in high school, I was hooked. That said, it took me a while to discover children’s books—having kids and reading to them was a big influence. I still feel as though I don’t write specifically for children, but for the part of me that loves to wonder and learn about things.

How do you know when a book is finished?

An interesting question. Some of it is a sense of a circle completed, an idea captured. Some of it is just the feeling of enough is enough. To quote Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem entitled “How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?” which likens a poem to a room you are rearranging:

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well
leave it that way.           

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

At age sixteen, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be a professional poet. Occasionally I wish I did something more useful. But mostly I just feel lucky.

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Author & Illustrator Interview with Paul Schmid

pet4petuGet to know Paul…

Paul Schmid is an author and illustrator of children’s picture books, including Oliver and his Alligator, A Pet for Petunia, and Hugs From Pearl. In 2010 Paul was awarded a month-long fellowship with Maurice Sendak. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Linda, and their daughter Anna. For more info, visit his website

Quirky Questions

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

Disappearing Pete.

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

Anyone who thinks you can’t tell children the truth.

What is the biggest inconvenience about the place you are currently living in?

I deeply love the Pacific Northwest. Backpacking up to an alpine lake is about an hour’s drive and a few hours walk. I relish the moody, introspective weather and the Harbor Seals that play with my kayak. I have owls hooting outside my window at night. What Seattle doesn’t have is New York City. The museums, the architecture, and the big publishing houses. Not being in the center of all that has been a hindrance, I think.

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

Paint or draw from life.

petunia5Writing Questions

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

Too well! The book I imagine is always more amazing than I am capable of executing. My hopes and vision far exceed my talent, which breaks my heart. The vision was so wonderful! 

Finishing a book up has usually been disappointing for me in that I’ve been so intimately involved with my characters. I created them! Their tribulations, emotions, the way they look. They have been my children, I miss them when I send them out into the world.

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

I have always wanted to play the musical saw. 

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

Time. Doing good work, developing your skills, takes so much time! You have to sacrifice some of the other things in life.

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

My wonderful figure drawing teacher at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, Bill Parks, often urged us to ask ourselves: “What would you dream –and do– if you knew you would succeed?” Those words have taken me far. Not always succeeding, but having a fuller life than I would have had otherwise.

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

Not well. I tend to let my work consume me. Friends and family usually have to drag me away on vacations, backpacking, a night out.

What is your typical day like?

I stall about beginning my workday until I get disgusted with myself, start on something, get really focused, and then can’t stop.

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

That depends on the book. Most of my stories were inspired by my own daughter’s antics. Yes, she wanted a pet skunk. She tried to hatch a rock which she was convinced was a dragon egg. Her friend Pearl was the hugging-est kid I’ve ever met. 

Oliver and his Alligator is the closest book I have to being autobiographical. I still remember my first day of Kindergarten, being overwhelmed by all the newness and noisy activity, and sneaking off to hide under the sink in the play kitchen.

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

I am the fourth generation artist in my family. My father, grand father and great-grandfather were all both commercial and fine artists. 

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

Each of the books I’ve worked on have aspects I both feel proud and disappointed about. For me, creating something is a process using equal measures of control and discovery. Finding a nice balance between “I know what I want to do.” and “What happens if I do this?” So each book in it’s final form has surprises I love or didn’t quite work out for me, and things I meant to control that my skill couldn’t quite hit, or hit beautifully. My greatest satisfaction with my books comes from feedback I get from kids. Knowing they’ve connected to one of my stories is the best feeling.

When do you feel the most energized?

When I’m right on the verge of an idea.

percy thinking

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Illustrator Interview with Deborah Hocking

fox-and-crowGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Hocking recently resettled in her lovely hometown of Portland, Oregon, after several years of living in Indiana and France. She shares a cozy little apartment with her husband and their kombucha scoby. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

If you could own a store, what kind would it be?

A workshop/store full of handmade items, all made by me, but following no particular theme. Whatever struck my fancy each day, that’s what I’d make! Jewelry, pottery, felt-making, hand-spun yarn, wooden peg dolls, paintings and drawings and prints of all kinds…it’d be my own little wonderland of quirky creativity. 

What do you waste time doing?

Dreaming! House design, starting an alpaca farm, or living in France or Africa are some of my favorite topics to dream about! Pinterest is my best friend…and my nemesis.

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

C. Montgomery Burns. I’m not actually a huge Simpson’s watcher, but I love to hate this character. 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

We live in a small apartment in the city, so there’s no room for a garden or chickens or goats or dogs… or alpacas! Sad! 

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

Les Miserables, unabridged. I’m quite embarrassed by this, but I started it in 2006 and haven’t finished it yet. I keep plugging away, bit by bit…Hope to finish by 2016! 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

Dutch Baby Pancakes…especially the parts with melted butter pooled on top. 

What do you do every day, without fail?

Eat butter. Sometimes all by itself. 

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

Meditate. 

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

Disposable plastic shopping bags. 

What makes you want to throw up?

Skim milk, cola, vegan cheese, and artificial coffee creamer (especially flavored). 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

This is the most amazing kombucha I’ve ever tasted! (Just made our very first batch, and I think it turned out pretty stellar!) 

newt-lake-for-webIllustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I love to soak up other people’s artwork and see how others have dealt with certain visual problems, so I’ll look through books or peruse online. If I really am having difficulty focusing, going for a walk helps me re-align.

Did you choose your passion or did it choose you?

I really think it’s both. I’ve loved being creative and making pictures since I was a little kid, and through the years the desire to make children’s illustrations kept coming back to me without me trying or “choosing” it, even though I had to put it on hold as a career for a long time. When the time was right, there was definitely a specific moment where I chose to pursue children’s illustration as my passion and vocation, over all my other interests and enjoyments…and I’m loving this path.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Paradoxically, both in big, bustling, sophisticated cities, where amazing design is front-and-center, and the creative energy is just buzzing all around, and also out in nature or in gardens, which are also places of amazing design. But in order to really get down to creative work, I definitely do the best at my desk in my little corner-of-the-living room studio. I love that place!

Who has helped you persevere through the challenges?

My husband! His unwavering belief pushes me past my doubt and insecurity, and his pragmaticism helps me get through practical obstacles. Nearly every day I have thought: “Wow, I totally couldn’t do this without him!” 

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

My artsy-craftsy shop, previously mentioned, where I would create a myriad of different things, as well as a great big garden that was designed for the eye as much as for the table, and also house design.

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

I love being creative in so many different ways, and can imagine a many different scenarios for my life and work. But choosing to focus on illustration and setting other creative pursuits aside while I develop as an illustrator has been crucial. I have a lot of creative energy, and I have to hone in, rather than letting it spin in a million different directions. I miss all those other art forms, (and I still do other things for fun here and there), but I’ve found a lot of peace, enjoyment, and increased productivity by choosing illustration as my focus.

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

That is super tricky for me. I’m really trying to keep specific work hours so that I have time when I feel completely focused on work, and also time when I can freely focus on the people in my life. I have the tendency to let things get blurred, and then I feel frustrated in both areas rather than free. It’s a constant struggle.

What is your typical day like?

My IDEAL typical day is as follows:

Wake with the dawn.

Breakfast on toast with butter and tea with milk and honey.

Go for a walk/jog.

Meditate/read/pray.

Catch up on fave internet doodads (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Remodelista, Pinterest, FB, email, news)

Work like the dickens all day: sketching, working on final artwork, more email, planning new projects, experimenting, writing, research and reading-up.

Evening could include: hanging out with people I love, going for a bike ride or walk, cooking, eating yummy food, exploring city or country, reading, doing personal artwork, watching some Parks and Rec, Downton Abbey or Arrested Development (or Battlestar Gallactica to make my husband happy).

REALITY is somewhat similar to my ideal, save for a thousand and one interruptions and distractions and errands—and the fact that I’m not exceptionally disciplined so that morning stuff often doesn’t happen!

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

I think that each of us has a different thing to offer, simply because we’re all unique individuals. I’m trying not to stress out about finding a unique style just for the sake of being different…but trust that the more I work and experience life, the more my own artistic voice will become distinctly “me.” The other day I saw an old friend, and he shared his encaustic process with me, and I began thinking about ways I could incorporate encaustic into my illustration work because it’s so beautiful and fascinating. An experience like that can send your work in such a new direction, not necessarily because you’re looking to define yourself, but because things come across your path that shape you, intrigue you, and in a natural way become a part of your experience and creative voice. I want to make art that fills me with joy and excitement, and let that drive what I do and how I do it…and I believe a unique voice will result.

When do you feel the most energized?

When I’m exposed to really great art or craft that other people are making. It makes me so excited and happy and makes me want to go make great things, too!

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

Children’s illustration lets me be creative in a whimsical, fun, simple way that feels very different to me than creating more “serious” artwork. The subject matter makes me happy and is satisfying in a way that I haven’t found in other art forms. So in that way I would say, yes, it does reflect my personality, but even more than that, I think it fulfills and enriches me as a person.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Alexis O’Neill

RR_DonnellyGet to know Alexis…

Alexis O’Neill is best known for her lively, award-winning “bully” book, The Recess Queen (Scholastic), a conversation-starter for kids across the country at the opening of each school year. She is an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and enjoys traveling around the country doing school visits and teaching writing workshops. Her one true wish is to be locked inside a bookstore all night with a flashlight, a cat, and lots of chocolate.  For more info, visit her at her website

Quirky Questions 

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

My worst feature is that I can’t remember jokes. It’s also my nicest feature, because it makes me a perfect audience. 

What would motivate you to run a marathon?

Nothing — not even with a cheetah biting at my heels. 

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

It would be a Country Western tune called, “Thank Heaven for Music, Art and Drama or Else I’d Be a Dead Student Walking.” 

Fill in the blank. I am so much smarter than _________.

. . . when I was younger. 

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

Running. If I lived on the savannah, my name would be “Dinner.” 

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

My next book. 

What is your favorite movie line?

“We knew your people, Sean,” from The Quiet Man. 

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

A cliff above Barley Cove in Cork, Ireland with an ocean in front of me and a cottage beside me filled with music, family and friends. 

What is the meanest thing you can say to someone?

I can’t say it here. It would be too mean. 

What celebrity/actor irritates you the most?

Donald Trump. 

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

Judy Schachner. I’d hang out in her studio, pet cats and laugh. 

LoudWriting Questions

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

What fun is a stable and secure job? 

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

I’ve had some speed bumps – mostly having to do with things I can’t control, like editors leaving houses, long response times, lack of responses, yadda, yadda – the usual publishing suspects. 

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

Telling the editor in my head to please be quiet while I write. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

I took a class taught by children’s author Helen Buckley and the spell was cast. 

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

Drink coffee. Play with colors. 

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

Just do it. 

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is the act of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange.  (But I didn’t invent that phrase . . .) 

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

Too many distractions testing my resolve. 

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

I became a writer after quitting a job where my boss was a bully. I haven’t looked back since! 

How do you know when a book is finished?

You really don’t.

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

Creative people play without being afraid of making “mistakes.” 

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

Not yet. 

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Author Interview with Gretchen McNeil

Get Even

Get to know Gretchen…

Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown. Her YA horror POSSESS about a teen exorcist debuted with Balzer + Bray for Harper Collins in 2011. Her follow up TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer – was a 2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, a Romantic Times Top Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth, and was nominated for “Best Young Adult Contemporary Novel of 2012″ by Romantic Times. Gretchen’s 2013 release is 3:59, a sci-fi doppelganger horror about two girls who are the same girl in parallel dimensions who decide to switch places. Gretchen’s novels have been optioned by Hollywood production companies, and have sold internationally in Chinese, Spanish, and Turkish. 

In 2014, Gretchen debuts her first series, Don’t Get Mad (pitched as “John Hughes with a body count”) about four very different girls who form a secret society where they get revenge on bullies and mean girls at their elite prep school. The Don’t Get Mad series begins September 16, 2014 with GET EVEN, followed by the sequel GET DIRTY in the summer of 2015, also with Balzer + Bray.  Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.

Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4′s Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. Gretchen blogs with The Enchanted Inkpot and was a founding member of the vlog group the YA Rebels. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd. To learn more about her books, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

Riding a bicycle. I mean, I did it all the time as a kid, and fell of with a frequency that alarmed my poor mother.  I think it was more daredevil than klutz, but I’ve pretty much been afraid to get on one of those two-wheeled death machines since I fell off and broke my arm when I was in junior high. 

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

I own a baseball signed by the 1963 New York Yankees.  I think that might be worth something… 

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

I have an unholy love for my LG G2 smartphone, though I’m not entirely sure it’s inanimate. 

What is your favorite movie line?

“Dogs and cats living together.  Mass hysteria!” – Ghostbusters

What one word describes your bedroom?

Cheerful. 

GretchenWriting Questions 

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

In my writing?  I think it’s the solitary nature of the beast.  I’m an extrovert, the kind of person who recharges by being out with others – parties, large crowds, even happy hours with friends.  The fact that the majority of my writing and revising must be done alone in a quiet place is a struggle for me. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

First off, YA picked me.  My first manuscript was an adult chick lit novel, but several of the agents who rejected it suggested that my voice sounded like YA.  Since there was no YA section when I was a teen, I checked out the wall of YA books at my local bookstore and read a few.  Lo and behold! It did sound like my voice!  Five contracted novels later, apparently it was the right choice. 

As for horror and suspense, that just happened to be my favorite genre to read when I was a teen. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My previous career as an opera singer has been wildly influential to my writing.  Basically, all those years of stage training were really teaching me how to tell a story.  I don’t think I’d be a writer now if it wasn’t for my years on the stage. 

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I’d rather bang my head against the wall than read it one more time. 

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

I find that non-fiction (television, film, and books) jump-start my imagination more than fiction.  If I’m reading a novel, it means someone else has already told that story.  But when I read a non-fiction book on, say, forgotten places, or abandoned mines of the Pacific Northwest, or female journalists, or whatever, I can feel my mind twisting reality into fiction. 

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

I’ll give you the advice the director of my opera graduate school program told us all on Day 1 – If there is anything else in this world that you can do and still be happy, do it.  This business is hard, harder than you can possibly imagine, so you’d better love it more than anything else in the world.

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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.

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