Interview with Award-Winning Author Sherry Kyle

DeliveredWithLoveGet to know Sherry…

Sherry Kyle is the award-winning author of The Christian Girl’s Guide to Style, a nonfiction book for 8-12 year old girls published by Legacy Press, as well as The Girl’s Guide to Your Dream Room. Her contemporary novels, Delivered with Love and The Heart Stone, are set along the California coast where Sherry lives with her husband Douglas and their four children. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

If you could have a remote control for anything, what would you choose?

If I could have a remote control for anything, it would probably be a stop-the-clock button for those days when I don’t have enough time to get everything done, or when I need a couple more hours of sleep. Besides carving out time to write, life is hectic with four “almost” grown kids. 

What food do you not eat enough of?

Does anyone eat enough fruits and veggies? I strive to, but it doesn’t always happen. 

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

I hate to fly. I get motion sick every time, not to the point of throwing up in that handy little bag they provide, but enough to make the flight uncomfortable. The ironic thing is that growing up my dad worked for United Airlines as a computer programmer, so our family frequented the friendly skies. Even though we flew standby, I was the child who had to sit by my mom, just in case. In college, because of my dad’s “employee passes” I flew first class all the time. Now that’s the way to fly! I haven’t sat in first class since. Personally, I think all seats need to be roomy and comfortable, don’t you?  

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

The dictionary would define my writing process as seat-of-the-pants, meaning that I write based on using intuition and experience rather than a plan or method. I write by instinct. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan, but I definitely don’t plot out every scene beforehand. 

What irritates you the most in a social situation?

When I see someone in a group not joining the conversation. It happened just last week. It makes me uncomfortable, and I take it upon myself to try to draw others in. I feel responsible to make everyone feel included and happy. 

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

A gallon of Marianne’s ice cream, especially the flavor Heaven, a vanilla ice cream with brownie chunks, swirled fudge, and peanut butter. It’s dangerous!

Christian-2BGirl-2527s-2BGuideWriting Questions

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

I have the privilege to write in different genres, so I go back and forth between writing novels and books for tween girls. It keeps me energized and focused. Other than that, I attend writer’s conferences to help me keep my writing fresh and to continue learning the writing craft. 

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Writers definitely need to have a thick skin. Everyone has an opinion, and sometimes it’s helpful and other times it hurts. I received a rejection last year that flattened me. I cried for a couple of days. After the initial shock wore off, I looked at it as a new beginning, a freedom. As writers we sometimes feel that others are in control of our future, but really the author is in charge. 

What do you do to get into your writing zone?

I grab a SoBe Life Water, preferably strawberry dragonfruit, put on my reading/computer glasses (with blue tint), sit on the corner cushion of my couch with my feet propped up on an ottoman, say a prayer for God to help me put the words on the page (I need all the help I can get!), and open my laptop to my current work-in-progress. I close my eyes one more time, take a deep breath, and plunge in. After that, the next two hours fly by in a blur.

If your writing were edible, what would it taste like?

Dark chocolate covered cherries, rich and sweet. 

If you could change one aspect of our society, what would it be?

That it’s never too late to reconnect with someone. Forgiveness is only a phone call away. Getting to that point, however, takes more energy than most people are willing to give. I want to help change that through my books.

What made you decide to follow a creative career rather than something more stable?

I ask myself that question all the time. *laughs* The conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m wired to write. It’s my passion. When I think of cutting writing from my life, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. And when God blesses me with another contract, it becomes obvious that having a writing career is what I’m meant to do. 

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Author Interview with Heather Hepler

9780803737211BGet to know Heather… 

In fourth grade, Heather was sent to the hall for reading instead of paying attention in class. She was almost kicked off her little league softball team for hiding a novel in her glove when she was supposed to be playing right field. And more than once she missed her bus stop because she was too engrossed in reading. She’s written several books for teens and tweens, including Love? Maybe. (Dial, 2012) and The Cupcake Queen (Dutton, 2009). She love fat cats, tomato soup, building with Legos, reading, and vultures. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

Scooping the cat box. I’m not entirely sure that needs any further explanation.

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

I was reading a book on my iPad in bed and I loosened my grip just enough that the iPad tipped and knocked me square in the forehead. It hurt a lot. I had a faint bruise and a lump on my head for days afterward. I’m not sure that’s the dumbest thing, but it is the latest in a long line of dumb things I’ve done over the years. 

What’s your motto in life?

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. ~Isaiah 43:18-19

This isn’t a traditional motto, but it keeps me focused on what’s important. 

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

Blow drying my hair. I just feel like it’s this huge waste of time, but also unfortunately completely necessary. 

If you were to attend a costume party, who would you be?

Seven of Nine from Star Trek. Of course with my dark hair, I would look ridiculous, but I love her.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Sitting at the top of the stairs in a long nightgown listening to a Christmas party my parents were having downstairs. I must have only been about two, so I’m not sure what I was doing out of bed. I just remember it seemed so cozy with the snapping of the fire and the lights on the tree.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Meat. I still remember my son’s face when I had to tell him what meat was. He was three at the time. That was the last time either of us ever ate meat.

scrambled_eggs_at_midnightWriting Questions

What made you decide to follow a creative career choice (though possibly risky) rather than something more stable?

I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

In terms of your writing, how would you like to be remembered?

I hope that my books are remembered – not me. I want my books to be positive and encouraging and real.

How has personal experience influenced your writing?

In every way. I always felt awkward and shy – too quiet on the outside and too loud on the inside. I write characters like that – characters I wanted to have for friends and brothers and sister.

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

I try to write every day. I make it most days. It’s like staying in touch with your friends or family. The more you know, the more connected you are and the more you care about what’s going on with them.

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

I’m not certain I really chose the path I’m on. In ways I think it chose me.

What do you do to get into your writing zone?

Make myself sit at my desk. (Laughing.) I will do just about anything some days to avoid the angst of writing, but once I sit down, I’m happy as anything to get to work.

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

Not intentionally, but people who know me are constantly seeing bits of me or even of themselves poking through.

Do you pay attention to strong reactions to your work? Does that affect what you create?

No. I used to read the reviews. Yikes. I had to stop. It was making me completely insane. I have to write for me first. If I don’t, no one else will ever like it.

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Absolutely. Because it feels like I’m being rejected – the deepest parts of me. I start to doubt everything I’m doing – not just my writing. I can’t live there for very long though. I have to shake myself and get back to it.

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

Laughing. I’m not sure my career has taken off, but I’ve done a lot of different things over the years. I’ve worked as a librarian, teacher, baker, cake decorator, lifeguard, and a swim coach. I’ve scooped ice cream, made pizza, cooked in a natural foods restaurant, and waited tables. I worked construction for a while, hanging dry wall and doing trim work. I’ve also had very brief stints as a gardener and farm hand. 

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Author Interview with Megan Frazer Blakemore

secrets_cover-744x1024Get to know Megan… 

Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of The Water Castle (Walker, 2013), Secrets of Truth & Beauty (Disney-Hyperion 2009), and, upcoming, The Spy Chasers of Maple Hill (Bloomsbury, 2014). She lives in Maine with her family. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

You are going to an island with no electricity or internet. What three items are you going to pack?

Well, books, of course. And a pen and paper. I feel like I could get a ton of writing done without electricity or the internet, especially if I’m alone on this island. The problem would be transferring it all into a digital file when I get back. For fun, I’ve been thinking about doing cross-stitch or other needle-work again, so maybe I would use my time on the island to start that. Oh, wait, scratch that, I would bring a snorkel set so I could see all the underwater animals.

If the past year of your life was a slogan, what would it be?

See what happens. 

If you had to assume a secret identity, what name would you choose, and what occupation would you claim to have?

Marian Paroo, and I would be a librarian. I was a school librarian for nine years, and worked in public libraries before that. If had to assume a secret identity, I would find a tiny town, preferably on the coast, with a quaint little library and work there. 

If you could only wear one color for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

The first color that pops into my head is orange, which I do love. But looking at my closet leads me to believe blue or pink. I look better in blue, so let’s go with blue. 

As a teenager, what was your favorite musical group?

The Beatles. I’ve listened to them so much I almost can’t listen to them anymore. There are still a few songs that get me every time, though: “Across the Universe,” “Two of Us,” and “Blackbird.” 

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Writing Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I’ve been writing all my life – little story books and poems. But I knew I wanted to be a writer in sixth grade. Our teacher read us the first half of a scary story and then asked us to write the second half. I liked my version better than the author’s. 

What books are you reading right now?

I just finished Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, a beautiful love story about an unlikely couple who fall in love over music and comics on the school bus. It makes you swoon, and breaks your heart, but leaves you hopeful. Sometimes when I love a book this much I don’t want to read another book by that author for fear of being disappointed, but I am excited to read Fangirl

Do you have a specific writing style?

I write very, very messy first drafts that are just skeletons of what they will be. I know some authors write a lot – way more than they need – and then cut back. It’s more like I build a frame, then in revision I layer on the depth and details. Which is not to say that I don’t cut a lot – I do – but I see myself more as a builder than a pruner. 

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

The challenging part is making it through the first draft. It’s a shaky thing, and it’s hard not to judge it too harshly. You have to have faith in yourself, and the process, to believe that you aren’t just creating a pile of garbage. 

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

For middle grade, writing now, it is probably Rebecca Stead. She is spare and efficient – every word matters. Yet even with this sparseness, her worlds are lush and vibrant; the characters are alive. She also is a master of tight plotting.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Barbara Jean Hicks

EPSON MFP imageGet to know Barbara… 

An award-winning author and professional wordsmith as well as a credentialed teacher in English/Language Arts, Barbara Jean Hicks, a.k.a storyteller “Barbara Jean, the Story Queen,” is the author of seven children’s picture books. Her first book for children, after having published thirteen romance novels and novellas, was JITTERBUG JAM: A MONSTER TALE, which received numerous starred reviews and children’s book awards, including honors as an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a Banks Street Book of Outstanding Merit, was translated into five languages and released in nine countries, and sold stage and audio rights. Her additional award-winning children’s books include THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY, MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, and her two most recent titles, FROZEN: A SISTER MORE LIKE ME and FROZEN: AN AMAZING SNOWMAN, commissioned by Disney Studios as tie-ins to the Oscar-winning animated feature film FROZEN. In addition to writing and teaching, Barbara has provided marketing copy and editing services as a freelancer for numerous trade publishers. She also loves speaking to teachers, librarians, parents and students of all ages about writing, the writing life, and the “stories behind the stories.” For more information, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What food do you not eat enough of?

Broccoli. Which is ironic, considering I wrote a book called Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli. I wonder what that makes me? 

If you were any animal, what would you be? 

My sister’s cat. I’d get special treats every day and always have a lap to sit on. 

What store is represented most in your wardrobe?

My Friends’ Closets. I have more hand-me-downs in my wardrobe than anything else. My friends pay a lot more for clothes than I ever have, and I’m fortunate to be on the receiving end when they grow tired of them. Thrift stores and consignment stores are favorites, too. 

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

Book: Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O’Donohue. Music: Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies with orchestration by Claude Debussy. Movie: How can I say anything other than Disney’s Frozen?! 

Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be?

Sneezy. I get sneezing fits almost every day, and my sneezes are not delicate. One former partner accused me of permanently damaging his ear drums. 

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

Seat-of-the-pantser: a writer who lets stories happen rather than planning them out ahead of time. 

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

A pint of Häagen Dazs Bourboun Pecan Praline ice cream. 

Secret Life of Walter KittyWriting Questions

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

Depending on where I am in the writing process—free writing, visualization, going for a walk, looking at paintings or photographs, reading poetry. It also helps to talk aloud to an animal. One summer I stayed with a friend in the California foothills and walked in the woods every morning with her dog Daisy, who listened well and gave marvelous feedback.

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

I have a strong need for variety, change and flexibility, and writing allows for that. I taught for several years, and I love teaching—but not everything that goes along with a teaching job. Writing and speaking in schools as a visiting author is perfect for me. I get to be creative both on the page and on the stage in ways that feel very satisfying. Plus, I just don’t like other people telling me what to do!

Who do you consider a literary genius?

At the top of the list: Will Shakespeare. In the running: Omar Khayyam, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Robert Browning, Robert Frost,H.D.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Children’s picture books are my current genre, but not my first. I wrote short stories as a kid and poetry and song lyrics when I was in high school. My first published work was traditional romance, then inspirational romance, then romantic comedy—thirteen novels and novellas in all. When a snarky reviewer commented on one of my romantic comedies that “Ms. Hicks really ought to be writing for children—no one else could appreciate such silliness,” I took it as a challenge and discovered that picture books are my favorite genre—to date. I’ve also gone back to writing poetry, but for myself, not for publication. One of the things I love about picture books is that they are very much like poetry. Imagery and language are so important in both, and the search for just the right word is something I find fun and stimulating.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Being a child, being read to as a child, having younger brothers to tell stories to, teaching, singing in choirs and pop and gospel groups, waiting tables, sailing, traveling, falling in love, falling out of love—in short, everything and anything can and does inspire and inform my writing. Also, my painful shyness ended up being a gift, forcing me to use the written word to express myself.

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

When I was in fourth grade, we studied the Oregon Trail in social studies. My teacher, Mrs. Green, gave us an assignment to research life on a westward-bound wagon train and write a diary from the perspective of a nine-year-old on the journey. I hand wrote thirty pages, single-spaced, and had never had so much fun in school—perhaps not in my life. I knew then that writing would be in my future in some form, though I didn’t know it would be as an author. I studied English Lit in college, earned a teaching certificate, and have taught writing at every level from preschool to adult education—in addition to writing for publication. It’s difficult to make a living solely as an author, and teaching has always been my “back-up” career.

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

I believe that everyone has the potential for creativity. Those who end up producing creative work—whether it’s a painting, a poem, a novel, a recipe, or a beautiful home or garden—are the ones who find so much joy in expressing their unique vision and gifts they aren’t afraid to make mistakes and they don’t care what anyone else thinks about them or their work. They are also solution oriented—they approach life challenges as opportunities to explore options and exercise their creativity.

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Author Interview with Donna Cooner

71F9m3nSoiLGet to know Donna… 

Donna Cooner is an author, blogger, speaker, and teacher currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado. A former teacher and school administrator, she is a now a professor and university administrator at Colorado State University. 

SKINNY (Scholastic/EgmontUK), her debut novel, was selected as one of five BEA young adult “buzz-worthy books of 2012” and ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her new book, CAN’T LOOK AWAY, releases on August 26. For more info, visit her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Quirky Questions

If you were a road sign, what would you be? 

Curves Ahead.  My body is (and will always be) “curvy.” It has taken me a long time to learn to love those curves. More importantly, I have also learned to respect the curves my mind takes that lead to wonderful opportunities and new stories to tell. 

What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever been to?

I love to travel, so many of my favorite restaurants are integrally connected to locations and wonderful adventures. I couldn’t possibly pick just one, so I’ll cheat a bit and tell you about a perfect day of food.  It would start with breakfast in San Francisco at Brenda’s French Soul Food and a flight of beignets. My absolute favorites are the ones filled with molten Ghirardelli chocolate, but the Granny Smith Apple ones are a close second.   Next, it’s off to New York for an amazing lunch at a Greek restaurant near Grand Central Station. The Greek yogurt drizzled with honey is simple, yet made my eyes roll at every bite.  Finally, I’d end my day with dinner at a tiny spot in Old Town Marbella in Spain where they serve piping hot paella made from fresh seafood right from the Mediterranean and seasoned with saffron from nearby Morocco. 

81lF+QQd7cL._SL1500_Writing Questions

What song best describes your work ethic?

“Home” by Philip Philips

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

Me. I am, and probably always will be, my own worst critic. That inner critical voice has stopped me from writing creatively—sometimes for years at a time. I also struggle with time management and focus, so it’s definitely me that is the biggest barrier in the journey. But the good news is I’m also the strongest positive force in this journey as well. I continue to fall in love with words and writing. That passion keeps drawing me back in and helps me overcome that inner critic.

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

I have a hard time coming up with character names, so I use friends’ names often. It’s always fun for one of your best friends to discover she’s the dead cat lady on page 121. I also feature my own pets. Roxanne, my chocolate lab, was featured in SKINNY and Stu, my shelter kitty, is in CAN’T LOOK AWAY. Here he is, waiting on his starring role. 

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Do you pay attention to strong reactions to your work? Does that affect what you create?

Reactions to my first novel, SKINNY, were powerful. Weight and body image issues were a lightning rod topic for many. The emails, web posts, and social media comments were incredibly moving, intensely personal, and sometimes heartbreaking. As a debut author, I found it overwhelming at times, but it ultimately became my inspiration for CAN’T LOOK AWAY. Some of the teen vloggers I researched for this book are constantly scrutinized by over half a million subscribers. The constant pressure to produce videos for followers, and dealing with the reactions from fans, was a formidable challenge for anyone and I wondered what kind of teen would take on that challenge.

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? 

It would have to be a sugar skull. I became infatuated with sugar skulls when researching my new book, CAN’T LOOK AWAY. For me, the skull images captured the pain of grief while also honoring the memory of the lost loved one. This particular sugar skull sits on my study shelf to remind me of my mother. Her faith was a central part of her life and she was an avid gardener, so the flowers and cross decorations are especially symbolic.

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Author Interview with Tara Lazar

Tara-Lazar-Monstore-book-coverGet to know Tara…

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that adults never find. (Like her debut, THE MONSTORE.) Whenever she’s not sawing words in half and cobbling them back together, Tara can be found creating jewelry and spending time with her family. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. If they had a dog, it would be a small, white fluffy thing named Schluffy. For free stories, giveaways, writing advice and silly stuff for grown-up kids, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What food do you not eat enough of? 

Tacos! (Honestly, slap sour cream and guacamole on anything and I’ll eat it.) 

If you could inspect one thing under a microscope, what would it be? 

My fingernail. I want to see if there’s really a miniscule universe existing there. 

What TV show have you surprisingly never seen? 

Breaking Bad. Downton Abbey. Orange is the New Black. This is embarrassing. Wait—the entire Housewives franchise. I’m proud to admit that one. 

If you were any animal, what would you be?  

A sea turtle. They live a really, really long time. And they get to swim all day long. 

What store is represented most in your wardrobe? 

This one’s easy. ModCloth.com. It’s a sickness, really. 

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

The book would be a collection of short stories, perhaps one of the “Best American Short Stories” annual anthologies. Or maybe Joyce Carol Oates’ “Heat” or “The Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor”. A good book is hard to find, y’all. 

The CD would be Live’s “Throwing Copper” because it reminds me of early days with my husband and it’s one of the few albums on which I love every song. 

The movie would be “Forrest Gump”—my favorite. It makes you laugh; it makes you cry. (“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion” is so true, although that quote is from “Steel Magnolias”.) 

If you could have a remote control for anything, what would you choose? 

OMG! A REMOTE CONTROL FOR MY KIDS! So they’d do what I ask the first time, every time! And I’d make them hug each other more! 

Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be?  

Dopey. Do I really need to explain? 

What celebrity never seems to fade away? 

Well this is a tough question because if I name her, she certainly isn’t going to fade, and I would like to contribute to the fading. (I bet you can guess who!) 

How would a dictionary define your writing process? 

(Sung to the tune of “Pick-a-Litte/Talk-a-Little” from “The Music Man”: ) Think a little, stare a little, think a little, stare a little. Think, think, think. Stare a lot; stare a little more. Write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write. 

What irritates you the most in a social situation? 

Have you ever heard of an “extroverted introvert”? That’s me. I can thrive in social situations where I know there are people with similar interests—like at kidlit conferences! In regular social situations, I never know what to say and I am very uncomfortable talking to strangers. I often sneak away from the main party group to sit in a quiet place and just be by myself. (Don’t worry, I steal a platter of food first so I won’t starve.) 

Who will you probably not receive a phone call from this weekend? 

My agent. (She typically calls on weekdays.) 

What do Martians do for fun on Mars? 

Play Quidditch. Yeah, Harry Potter has gotten around. 

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

Comfy jammies. (But that’s a given. There’s no such thing as un-comfy jammies.) 

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

Paneer Paratha! It’s an Indian bread with cheese and spices inside. I’d love one for lunch. 

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

“Ignore them. They’re just jealous.” Oh boy, they sooooo weren’t. 

bear-book-final-coverWriting Questions

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

Just write. Don’t worry about being published. It’s far too soon to fret about that. I talk to people who have a “story in them” but it never gets OUT OF THEM because they’re busy putting together a bio and designing the cover. These are not a writer’s concerns. The craft is. Read craft books, attend writing classes, find a critique group and JUST DO IT. As Jane Yolen says, “B.I.C. Butt in chair!”

How would you define creativity?

“The Pop-Rocks of the Brain.”

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

Good question, because I was not drawn to a career in writing straight out of college. I wanted to be independent, and while you can indeed be financially independent with a writing career (see Chuck Wendig’s blog post on this), I didn’t think I could be at that time. And I DID NOT want to go live at home. I didn’t want to live with roommates anymore, either. I had enough of people swiping my sour cream and guacamole!

I wanted a job in children’s publishing so I could peek behind the scenes, learn the business and make industry connections that would eventually help me land a publishing contract. Well, that didn’t happen. I got a job in publishing, but in technical computer reference books, which launched a [rather boring but well-paid] decade-long career in high-tech. It was only after I had my two children and I was stable and secure that I began writing for children.

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

I’ve got one right now. It’s called “summer”.

How did you pick your writing genre?

It picked me. (I wonder if it did “Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Mo” or “One Potato, Two Potato”?) There’s never been a question that I would write for children.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

I always think back to my childhood when I’m writing. The circumstances don’t necessarily inform what I write, but the emotions do. How did I feel when…

  • my brother threw my favorite stuffed animal in the bathtub?

  • I was snubbed for the most anticipated slumber party of 6th grade?

  • I got my first puppy?

  • my entrepreneurial neighborhood “casino” in the basement netted $16, more money than I had ever seen in my life

All the emotions are still there, just under the surface, and I scratch at them ever so gently.

How do you know when a book is finished?

I rely on my critique partners and my agent to give it the thumbs up. But really, it’s gut instinct. It’s a feeling you need to develop. And you’re not always right.

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

I was eight years old when I knew I wanted to be a children’s author. I never questioned the decision, as it was something I felt deeply and earnestly. However, I didn’t always pursue the decision because I felt it wasn’t the right time.

I believe that things happen at certain times in your life for reasons unknown and that the right time will always present itself.

Like right now…it’s the right time for a nice mug of tea. Excuse me a moment, will you?

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

I think we have the need for occasional quiet and solitude. We require reflection. Some call it “downtime”. I call it “uptime” because it recharges me.

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

Yes. Fear is my unwelcomed companion. I think this is true of every writer, yet we don’t share this fact. We try to stuff fear deep down and keep it hidden, but it’s always clawing its way to the surface. Those who are unpublished mistakenly think that the published are all fearless. Not so. We have the same concerns as every creative being: will people like this…or will they hate it? The answer is simple: yes and yes. People will like your work, even LOVE it, and people will also hate it, even DESPISE it. You must learn to live with that. Live with the fear. Embrace it. But also don’t let it stop you. Power through. Let the fear motivate you, not kill your mojo. Because I guarantee someone, somewhere is going to HATE your work. But are you going to let that one person stop you? 

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Author Interview with Marty Kelley

81tVHz7W4JLGet to know Marty… 

Marty Kelley is currently a children’s author and illustrator but has, in the past, been a second grade teacher, a baker, a cartoonist, a newspaper art director, a drummer in a heavy metal band, a balloon delivery guy, an animator, and lots of other things.  Some of his books are: Fall Is Not Easy; The Rules; Winter Woes; Summer Stinks Spring Goes Squish; Twelve Terrible Things; The Messiest Desk; and Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom. For more info, visit his website

Quirky Questions 

What company advertisements could you model for? 

I could totally model for Victoria’s Secret. It would cause the immediate and complete financial collapse of the entire company, but I could, theoretically, do it. 

What is your greatest phobia?     

Heights. I’m totally, toe-crampingly terrified of heights. 

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

We put the FUN In FUNeral.™ 

What is the messiest place in your home? 

My studio, primarily because my long-suffering, ever-helpful wife no longer dares to venture in there to help me clean up. Actually, when I work in my studio I tend to work in frenzied bursts of energy with no thought to stopping the creative process in order to clean up. Typically, I clean up at the end of the day or in the morning before I start making a new day’s mess. 

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

I make my wife’s coffee every day that I’m up before her. It’s really more an act of self-preservation than kindness, but don’t tell her that. 

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

Pizza. Because, seriously, yum. 

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

Justin Bieber. And, yes, I consider him a product. He baffles me now, I can’t imagine what people will think in 100 years. 

What do you often make fun of? 

Justin Bieber – but so does everyone else, so that doesn’t count.

People who sit at restaurants as a couple–or worse, as a family–and spend the entire meal looking at their phones. I am saddened and disgusted by that in equal parts. 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel? 

Arriving home afterward, heavily laden with free soap. 

What is one thing you do with determination every day? 

Not die. 

What would you title your autobiography? 

Marty: The Secret Life of The World’s Worst Victoria’s Secret Model 

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

I’d lose the mullet. Other than that, I am one of the few people I know who really loved high school. I had amazing friends, many of whom I am still good friends with. I also enjoyed most of my classes and generally had a great time. 

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

That person’s laugh, if they have one. If they don’t have a laugh, it’s usually a pretty short meeting. 

518Z0EQS14LWriting Questions 

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

It’s a real mixed bag with this. Most of my books have been reviewed very favorably and I can’t honestly say that that has done any good. A recent book was given a few bad reviews, however, and, while it has been very well received by the target audience, those few bad reviews over a 17 year career do seem to have made it more difficult to sell projects that were done in a similar style. 

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

I think truly creative people are not afraid of making mistakes. They are willing to takes risks and, if the risk fails, creative people learn from that mistake and improve themselves. Creative people succeed because of failure. Based on the number of mistakes I make, I should disappear in a blinding flash of perfection any day now. 

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

Every time I open my $%^#* mouth. Honestly, I have a few adult book ideas that I’ve been working on and I’m very concerned about what they may do to my reputation as a children’s author and illustrator.

I also like kids to enjoy my work and kids often like things that adults think are gross or inappropriate. I often struggle trying to find a balance between what kids genuinely enjoy and what parents or teachers (or editors and marketing people) are willing to buy. It’s always a bit of a balancing act, but I tend to side with the kids because, let’s be honest, underpants, farts, and boogers ARE funny.

I actually gave an interview to a paper once and made reference to the fact that kids think all those things are funny. The newspaper casually edited out all references to kids, boogers and farts, leaving only the baffling, slightly alarming, and totally out of context comment, “I like underpants.”

I mean, I do, but that’s not the lingering impression I wanted to leave with people. 

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

Like many other authors, I had those stable jobs. I taught second grade for several years. I liked that fact that, while it was a fairly stable job, each year was an entirely new experience. I’d go nuts if I had a job that was the same day after day after day. Now I’m in a children’s music band, I visit 50-75 schools each year and I write and illustrate. Every day is something totally new and I love it.

The things I’m drawn to: art; music; writing are inherently unstable, dynamic fields where you need to be creative and flexible. You need to be willing to test yourself and to fail often and spectacularly. 

Who do you consider a literary genius? 

P.G. Wodehouse. He’s absolutely my favorite author. He had a brilliant way with the language and was good enough to make his writing seem effortless, when it was certainly anything but. He was able to weave elaborate, complex plots around seemingly frivolous problems. I also love well written dialog in stories and Wodehouse was a master of hilarious exchanges between characters. 

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

My biggest challenge as an illustrator has definitely been, and will likely continue to be, defining a style for myself that doesn’t become limiting. I work in a wide variety of styles, from photo-realistic portraits to wacky, cartoony illustrations. It seems that more and more, art directors want you to have a brand or style. Something that is immediately recognizable as YOU. I love trying new things and seeing what works. I don’t want to feel limited by having a style that I’m stuck with – to feel like I’m not free to experiment and grow as an artist. 

How did you pick your writing genre? 

I love funny books and that’s what I write. As an author, I spend so much time with my work, I need it to be something that I enjoy. The big test for me is if I can still laugh at something I wrote even after I’ve read it a half-dozen times. And, when a teacher came up to me after a presentation and scolded me because one of her first graders had laughed so hard that he had wet his pants. That was a fairly solid sign of literary success in my genre. 

What life experiences have inspired your work? 

Every fart joke I’ve every heard. Plus, every fart I’ve ever heard.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Aaron Reynolds

chicks-n-salsaGet to know Aaron…

Aaron Reynolds is a New York Times Bestselling Author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Here Comes Destructosaurus!, Carnivores, Chicks and Salsa, and the Caldecott Honor winning Creepy Carrots! He frequently visits schools and his highly participatory presentations are a blast for kids and teachers alike. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife, two kids, four cats, and between three and ten fish, depending on the day. For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions 

What is the worst movie you’ve ever seen? 

So hard to answer…there are so many bad movies out there. I’ll narrow it down to “disappointingly bad” movies…movies for which I had high hopes and they turned out to stink. A three-way tie between The Last Airbender, Jurrasic Park 3, and Sharknado. 

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

New Zealand. I got the chance to spend five weeks traveling all over both islands, and it’s every bit as breathtaking as The Lord of the Rings depicts it to be. Only better. 

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

I really hate small talk, but have learned to get pretty good at it, due to the amount I time I spend traveling and hanging out with people I don’t know. The key is to ask lots of questions about the other person. 

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

Joe Pesci. Right? Or Steve Buscemi. Again, for obviously reasons. 

What do you get most enthusiastic about?

In this order:

1. My wife

2. My kids

3. Food

4. Books

5. Video games 

What would complete your outfit right now?

A margarita. Definitely. 

52cc21bb-aab4-49be-a299-99b9563b6c91_zps69f255c5Writing Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Just keep writing through the crap. BIC…butt in chair. Even if the writing isn’t coming, even if there’s nothing but garbage coming out. The good stuff will show up eventually. 

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

In the shower or by myself in the car. I think it’s something about the inability to multi-task combined with being somewhere that nobody can get to you that frees up the mind and lets the ideas flow. 

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

I would become a chef. I love cooking and consider it a great form of creativity in my life. I actually went to culinary school years ago when I thought that might be a career path for me, and just loved the fun of it, regardless of whether I actually would end up becoming a chef. I could do that again and be quite happy. 

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

I’m pretty ruthless about taking downtime and time to just be with my family. Having said that, I think that creativity pervades all of life and I don’t try to turn the creativity off ever. But the tasks that come with it…actively brainstorming, writing, speaking at schools, doing blog interviews…I can turn off the switch and leave those aside when it’s time to unplug, knowing that they’ll still be there waiting for me to dive back into when it’s time to work again. 

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

Well, when Creepy Carrots won the Caldecott Honor Medal, that was incredibly satisfying, especially knowing that I never in a million years saw it coming. I NEVER would had dreamed that one of my books would carry that little silver medal on the cover. So that was a good day. 

But I think the best pride or satisfaction comes from the writing itself. Coming up with an especially good idea, figuring out a story twist, making myself crack up as I write and knowing that a kid is going to love what I just wrote…these are the true satisfactions of this writing life and the reason I do it in the first place. I really have fun at what I do. If it wins awards, if reviewers like it, if it hits some bestseller list…well, that’s all gravy. 

here-comes-destructosaurus_fc_lores

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Interview with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

naked!-9781442467385_hrGet to know Debbie…

Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. Recent illustration projects include NAKED! by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume classics reissued in chapter book and middle grade format (Simon & Schuster Children’s). For Debbie’s other current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Random House, visit her website. Also, be sure to check out her blog for writers & illustrators and her Twitter page.

Quirky Questions

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

One book: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

One CD: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles

One movie: The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King

If you could have a remote control for anything, what would you choose? 

A time machine.

Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be? 

Grumpy, because he’s the most interesting Dwarf.

What one thing annoys you most at a restaurant? 

Invisible waitstaff.

If you were any animal, what would you be? 

A squirrel, because they will eventually take over the world.

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

Make the airport security process less cattle-like.

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

Angsty.

What irritates you the most in a social situation?

Having to small-talk with people with whom I’ve nothing in common and will likely never meet again.

What do Martians do for fun on Mars?

Eat Mars bars.

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

Verdant.

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

A secret doorway into an alternate dimension full of ice cream and no squirrels.

Debbie-BeckettGladney-700x467Writing Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When a deadline looms.

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

Yes, when I kept getting book contracts for illustration, not writing.

I love illustrating children’s books and will never give that up, but I also want to write them as well. And in Summer 2015, I’m getting my wish! My first picture book that I’ve written as well as illustrated, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, comes out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Very excited!

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

I think creative people tend to take more time for solitude.

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

Never. However, I don’t share everything publicly.

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

I take walks without listening to music or audiobooks, and without any errands along the way. I find that creating a quiet mental space inevitably breeds creativity.

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

Read as much as possible.

Write every day.

Set regular, specific and achievable goals.

How would you define creativity? 

Hmm, tough question. Others may differ, but here’s my attempt at a definition: Creativity is the ability to come up with new ideas and then act on them. I think that if you come up with lots of new ideas but don’t act on them, then that’s more of a case of being imaginative than creative.

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

I actually did choose a more stable and secure job in the beginning: a programmer/analyst for the head office of a bank. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) convinced me to quit when he saw how unhappy I was, and said he’d support me so I could pursue my creative dreams. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

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

Rejections. Many, many rejections. 

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

In the beginning, my main challenge was getting children’s book publishers to notice me.

Now that I’m getting book contracts and (yay) making a living at writing and illustrating, my biggest challenge is making time to play. By “play,” I mean doing regular writing and illustrating for the fun of it. It’s the only way I’m going to keep growing as an artist, by experimenting and trying new things.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Losing members of my family unexpectedly (see this link) has made me more aware of how I choose to live my life, and this has definitely affected how I work as well. I love a quote by Rose Tremain so much that I have a big decal across the ceiling in my office: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”

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Author Interview with Steven Barr

coverGet to know Steve…

Steve Barr is the ruggedly handsome, multi-talented Renaissance man who has written and illustrated 11 titles in the “1-2-3 Draw” series from Peel Productions.  Impact Books recently released his new creations, “Draw Crazy Creatures” and “Draw Awesome Animals”.

His unbelievably witty, funny and entertaining cartoons have appeared in a multitude of publications, including a huge number of the “Complete Idiot’s Guides” and “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.  He also has a thriving shop on Zazzle, where he sells t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise he’s created. 

He frequently visits schools and libraries throughout the year, where his talks are always greeted with thunderous applause and rousing standing ovations.

In spite of all of this, he remains extremely humble and never likes to brag about his accomplishments.  (Oh boy – We’re REALLY starting to regret asking him to write his own bio now, aren’t we?) For more info, visit his website and Facebook.

Quirky Questions 

Would you mind sharing an embarrassing moment?

No problem. Any time anyone wants to do something embarrassing around me, I’d be more than happy to share that moment with them!   

What world-changing event would you like to take credit for? 

Well, I’d love to take credit for winning the American Revolutionary War.  But I can’t.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even alive when it happened. 

Where is the worst place to be stuck waiting? 

I hate to be stuck anywhere, whether I’m waiting for it or not. 

If you were to start a new trend and be famous for it, what would it be? 

Living in my pajamas.  I’d wear them everywhere, all day and all night.  But I guess I should probably buy a pair first and see what they’re like.  I hear they’re fabulous, but I don’t actually own any.  I’d hate to start a trend that even I don’t  appreciate. 

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

I’m pretty sure I was the first person to come up with the inspiration to build a computer that would fit on the top of a desk.  But once I designed it, I realized we were going to need a really, really big desk.  So I abandoned the idea.  My only regret is mentioning it to Bill Gates at a party once.  And the rest, as they say, is history! 

What is the worst movie you’ve ever seen? 

It was a personal hygiene film I saw in high school.  I’ve never looked at foot fungus the same way since. 

What odd habit or quirk do you have? 

I love to eat breakfast for dinner.  Late night pancakes draped with real Vermont syrup are awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  But then, I’ve always been a radical rule breaker, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.  However, I would absolutely NEVER eat dinner for breakfast.  That would be just plain crazy. 

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

We would all take naps.  Long, wondrous naps.  Everybody.  Wherever you are.  At work, at home or out playing somewhere.  Everyone would just stop whatever they were doing at two in the afternoon and sleep for at least 3 hours.  It would probably be the most popular holiday ever. 

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

Right where I live.  The mountains of Western North Carolina.  Whenever I go outside, I feel like I’m walking through a living postcard.  

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

I absolutely LOVE small talk.  I am constantly striking up conversations with complete strangers.  But I have a confession to make.  I am listening intently for ideas.  Odd word combinations intrigue me.  I get some of my best cartoon ideas from something someone else says.  A phrase or sentence will just strike me as funny, and my brain will begin turning it into a comic. 

My mother has written proof of my fascination with conversation.  Every marking period throughout my elementary school years, I would come home with a report card that said, “Steven speaks to the other children too much.”  So, even as a child…I loved small talk so much I had it documented by the authorities! 

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

Charlie Sheen.  I don’t think I need to elaborate. 

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

My first thought was to say my 1999 Toyota Tacoma, which has over 300,000 miles on it.  But in reality, I have some extremely old things.  In my spare time, I’m a rockhound.  I collect minerals and gems.  The experts say that they formed millions of years ago, but I don’t know that for sure, since I wasn’t there at the time. 

What do you consider your worst feature? 

Sometimes my knees creak.  Which made it really difficult for me to finish my Ninja training.  It’s not easy to sneak up on somebody in the dark when your knees sound like crickets on steroids.

Would you ever consider living with a tribe deep in the Amazon? Why or why not? 

Sure.  Why not?  I always enjoy meeting new people.  And I hear the rent is cheap. 

If you could be a spokesperson for any product, what would it be? 

Nike.  Because their slogan is really easy to remember, so I probably wouldn’t mess it up.  And I could really use a new pair of shoes. 

If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be? 

My life probably doesn’t need a soundtrack.  It already has a really loud laugh track. 

What do you get most enthusiastic about? 

Breathing.  Every time I wake up and I’m still doing it, I’m thrilled.  Each new day is a gift, and if I’m breathing I have the opportunity to make the most of it. 

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

They’d probably say I suffer from an inability to pay their fees. 

What would complete your outfit right now? 

Shoes and a shirt would probably do it. 

What makes you uncomfortable? 

People trying to make me wear shoes and a shirt. 

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

If I was a farmer I doubt I’d have any sort of crop, let alone an abundant one.  I am horrible about keeping houseplants alive, so I don’t think I could grow anything on a larger scale.  If I was ever taken to court for my mistreatment of plants, the judge would probably issue a permanent injunction banning me from ever owning another one again.

unnamedWriting Questions

When did your writing career take off?

Quite a few years ago, I was in a bookstore glancing through a variety of “how to draw books” that were on the shelves.  I began to realize that many of them were simply too complicated for younger readers and absolute beginners, people who just wanted to have fun drawing.  It also struck me many of the directions for what is supposed to be a fairly simple form of art seemed to have just too many rules.

I decided that I wanted to do books that would be very easy to follow, and went home to begin working on them.  Even before I had enough material together to do a formal submission, I began a worldwide search for a publisher on the Internet.

Over the next few months, whenever I had spare time, I continued my search….with no results.  Then, one night, I was wading through an extensive on-line listing of publishers when I suddenly came across the Peel Productions website.  They specialized in “How to Draw” books.  And their page even said they were looking for books that would teach young children how to create their own cartoons!

I immediately fired off an e-mail to them, and heard back from them very quickly.  In an extremely bizarre twist of fate, it turned out that their offices were located in the same rural town as the one I live in!  They were right down the road from me!  After two days of correspondence, the publisher was sitting at my kitchen table and we signed a deal for the first three books in my “1-2-3 Draw Cartoons” series.

So it just goes to show that miracles can happen.  I searched all over the world for a publisher, and found out the people I was looking for were my “neighbors”!

How do you deal with creativity blocks? 

Although that rarely happens to me anymore, when I do get a mental block I simply walk away from everything I am working on.  I go somewhere else.  I do something that I enjoy.  I let my mind roam, but I try to force myself not to think about the project I’m in the middle of.  The minute I try not to concentrate on the task at hand, the ideas almost always begin flying into my brain.  I guess that’s just the rebel in me.  If I tell myself not to do something, I end up doing it just to prove I was wrong. 

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

Yes.  Since I’m usually doing both the illustrations and the writing, it’s fairly easy for me to visualize what I want the final product to look like.  But that doesn’t mean it actually turns out that way.  Everything evolves during the process.  My ideas change.  New inspiration hits.  And then my editor gets her hands on it. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned in this entire process is to ALWAYS give very intense consideration to any input from my editor.  A lot of writers and illustrators react harshly to even the most constructive criticism, but I’ve always seen editors as my partners.  They want to make the final product as good as I want to make it.  A second pair of eyes is never a bad thing.  And two brains are always better than one. 

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

It was a combination of both.  I was very young when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.  I chose to write and draw.  But I didn’t really have any other option.  It was just who I was, and who I still am to this day. 

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative? 

I love locking myself away in my studio for hours on end.  With my favorite music cranked up, surrounded by art supplies and my computer nearby, I’m ready to work!  And, when you’re doing something you truly enjoy, it’s not really work, is it?  Working at home, wearing comfortable clothing and pouring another cup of coffee any time I want to is completely conducive to creativity. 

There is, however, one other place where I find I get tons of ideas.  When I’m out driving, I don’t turn the radio on.  With no distractions, my mind is free to just roam.  Ideas tend to pop into my head out of nowhere in those moments, and if I was listening to music I would probably be too distracted to daydream like I need to.  When I’m in my studio listening to music, I tend to select something with no lyrics.  That way my brain can wander and resist the temptation to sing along with the latest hits. 

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

I’m just plain stubborn.  Always have been, always will be. 

I started my career at a VERY young age, which I will touch on later in this interview.  One of the biggest influences on me, a person who helped guide me along my path, was my 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Verlander.  When I started selling my work as a child, I began to think that I didn’t need to study in school any more.  I mean, for goodness sake, I was just going to make a ton of money drawing funny pictures…so why study? 

She somehow figured out what was going on with me and sat me down for a talk.  She pointed out that EVERY class I took, everything I studied, would be important later.  My clients would be editors.  Those were people who had studied English for extended periods of time.  They would not want to have to waste their time fixing all of my mistakes, so I’d need to buckle down and learn my grammar, punctuation and spelling.  I’d need to know math, because I’d have to calculate my billing and I’d have to measure proportions so my art would fit a page properly. 

She went on and on about it.  And I realized that she was a very smart cookie!  She was right.  I needed to work as hard as I could in school. 

I dedicated one of my first books to her, and we still correspond from time to time.  She had an enormous impact on me.  And I will always be grateful to her. 

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

Wow.  That’s a tough question.  I guess I would wait for winter, then go outside and make snow angels.  If you do them just right, snow angels can be very creative. 

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

I walked away from a job with great pay and excellent health benefits to concentrate on creating my books.  It has been a struggle at times, but it was absolutely worth it.  I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but I was in a situation where doing that became possible. 

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

The late, great cartoonist Gil Fox once gave me a book about his life and his work.  Inside the front cover, he scrawled a message to me.  It simply said, “Persist.  Over and over and over…” 

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

My final message would probably fit on a bumper sticker.  Or a gravestone.  It would most likely be something like “Live Every Moment to the Fullest, Because You Never Get Them Back.”  Or, “Carpe Diem”.  Life is short.  Do what you love.  And love what you do. 

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

The first time I came home with an A+ on my second grade English homework. 

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

That’s a never-ending battle for everyone in the writing and cartooning business.  Any unexpected interruption can greatly impede my thought process.  When I’m “in the zone” and really turning out the work, I need to be completely alone and closed off from the world.  It can sometimes take hours to get to that place, and if I’m snapped out of it suddenly…it can take hours to get back into that frame of mind. 

I balance my self-imposed exile by going out to dinner with friends, hiking in the mountains, searching for gems and minerals in remote mountain areas and camping whenever possible.  I take breaks during the writing process even when I’m working under tight deadlines, but as soon as I wrap up a project I head out the door for at least a few days and don’t look back! 

What is your typical day like? 

My morning commute is rather unique.  It involves rolling out of bed, strolling into the kitchen, brewing a pot of coffee and catching up on e-mails and correspondence.  Then I head into the next room, where my studio is hidden away in the back of my cabin.  Most days, I start with a morning warmup sketch, just doodling for a little bit to see what comes out of the tip of my pencil.  When I’ve got a design I like, I’ll finish it while I daydream about what I’ll write to go along with it. 

When I’ve got a book contract, the days become much more intense.  I’ve been known to pull quite a few “all-nighters” in my life.  I stay glued to the drawing table and the computer for hours on end, reworking and perfecting things until I am happy with them.  I like to get as much of the book done ahead of deadline as I can.  That gives me breathing room later on, and I can add nice little touches that I might not have thought of at first. 

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

Well, I write and illustrate drawing instruction books.  So my work and style are greatly reflected in my books.  But I do dream of authoring a book about my childhood one day.  As a kid, I was a living cartoon character and so was everyone else around me.  My life was hilarious!  I’d love to do a humorous autobiography complete with cartoons that would come straight out of my own experiences.  It would make a great movie, too.  But I doubt anybody would believe even half of it. 

Do you have family members who like to write too? 

Yes.  My younger sister writes wonderful poetry.  My mother is a talented artist.  My younger brother does wonderful wood carvings.  And my older brother struggles to draw stick figures.  But he could always kick my butt in sports.  And he still can. 

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

My childhood was idyllic in many ways.  And absolutely crazy in others.  But my home was a safe place where creativity was fostered and nurtured.  When I began writing and drawing cartoons at an early age, my parents made sure I always had plenty of pencils, papers and pens.  They encouraged me to chase my dreams.  I think they were even more amazed than I was when I sold my first cartoon to a magazine while I was still in the seventh grade.  Then I sold another one for even more money that year!  I was off and running and  I haven’t stopped since! 

My upbringing taught me that when you’re working, you never look at the clock.  You just do the task at hand.  Time becomes irrelevant.  The finished product and the satisfaction of a job well done is payment enough.  If it puts food on your table or pays the electric bill, then you did good!  My father was an extremely hard-working man, and all of his children got a very strong work ethic from him.  My mother stayed at home most of the time, and was like a cheerleading squad for all of her kids.  Mom and Dad both listened to their children when they expressed their dreams, and did their best to provide us with the tools we needed to accomplish our goals. 

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

I’m proud of all of my books for various reasons.  They all serve different purposes in their own way.  But I think I like “Draw Crazy Creatures” and “Draw Awesome Animals” the best, because I’d like to think I learned from experience.  That said, my “1-2-3 Draw” line was aimed at very young children or absolute beginners, so I tried to keep it as simple and easy to follow as possible.  With the newer books, I was aiming at a slightly more advanced level of reader. 

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

I think the one thing that is different about my books is that I always repeat my “No Rules!” mantra over and over again.  One of the things that inspired me to begin writing art instruction books was that I read many of the ones by other authors, and they all seemed to have too many rules.  I don’t want anyone to try to learn how to draw just like me.  I wanted them to develop their own style.  If my books help them create a unique look that is truly their own, my job here on earth is done. 

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

Yes.  I like to think that both my books and my cartoons have begun to flow more naturally.  Nothing is forced.  I’ve learned to be less critical of my own creations while still trying to make them the best that they can be.  When I was younger, I was highly critical of everything I did.  That was not necessarily a bad thing.  It helped me improve.  But it also slowed me down.  I reworked and reworked things for what seemed like an eternity.  Now, I just pound things out then let them sit for a little while.  I like to go back later and look at them with fresh eyes.  If I spot a problem, I throw myself into fixing it with wild abandon.  And a lot of the time, it’s just fine the way it is.  If you second-guess yourself too much, you’ll never get anything finished. 

When do you feel the most energized? 

There are two times that I feel totally energized.  One is just after my first cup of coffee in the morning.  And the other is late at night, when there are no distractions around.  Ideas just start popping into my head and I have to leap out of bed, jot them down and sometimes even begin working on them immediately.  It’s not unusual for me to glance out the window and realize that the sun is coming up again. 

Does your writing reflect your personality? 

I’d like to think so.  My art instruction books tend to be laid back and easy going.  I always like to stress that the art of cartooning has “NO RULES!”  Rules tend to cripple creativity, and that’s the last thing I’d want to do to my readers.  I stress individuality and experimentation, which is pretty much the way I’ve lived my life and approached my work.

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