Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Jay Asher

Thirteen-Reasons-WhyGet to know Jay…

Jay Asher’s debut teen novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, spent 65 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list. It has sold to over 30 foreign markets and is being made into a movie by Universal Pictures. His next novel, The Future of Us, was co-written with Carolyn Mackler and will be released in November 2011. It is being made into a movie by Warner Brothers. He lives with his wife and son in California. For more info, visit his blog

Let the conversation begin!

Was it easier to write before or after you were published?

Definitely before. Hopefully I’m a better writer now, and maybe that’s part of why it was so much easier to write before.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

After the fact, I can look back at my characters and pick out some traits of my friends or myself, but I’ve never done it consciously while writing.

Where do you get your ideas?

Similar to my answer above, I can always look back and figure out where certain ideas came from, but the main premises for stories always feel like they come out of the blue. When coming up with scenes to fill the story, I’ll look into my past to see if there’s anything I can use. If there is, it usually provides just a kernel of an idea, and then gets twisted into an unrecognizable form by the time it makes it into the story.

How many words do you write each day?

I’ve never written toward a word count because I’m too slow and precise. I can understand why people like writing for word count, knowing they’ll go back and fix things later. For me, a sloppy first draft is way too discouraging, so I don’t move on until I’m absolutely satisfied with the words I’m using. Usually I write until I’m not feeling creative anymore, but if I’m close to finishing a scene, I’ll often push through.

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

Mostly by the seat of my pants. I like to brainstorm and file away a lot of notes before I really dig into a book, but once I begin writing, I rarely look at those notes. If some supercreative idea that came to me while shopping actually belongs in the book, I figure it’ll be there when I need it. I’d rather let the characters lead the story than pull them through it.

Jay Asher PicWhen are you the most productive?

Night. After 10pm is when I feel the most creative.

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
It’s tempting to say I’d want a nice espresso maker, but it takes too long to make the really fancy schmancy drinks if you don’t have the supplies ready to go at a moment’s notice. So if money really wasn’t an issue, I guess I’d like a nice espresso maker and a barista.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I browse bookstores. For one stretch of time, I worked part-time at a small indie bookstore and part-time as an assistant children’s librarian. It was the most creative time of my life!

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?

With Thirteen Reasons Why, no one read beyond the first ten pages until I was finished. I’d never written a non-humorous book before, so I was nervous writing something completely out of my comfort zone. I didn’t want anyone making me second-guess what I was doing. With The Future of Us, Carolyn sometimes read my stuff within minutes of me typing it. That was out of necessity, but since brainstorming with her often felt like brainstorming with myself, I trusted her!

If there is one genre you’d never write, what is it? 

Before Thirteen Reasons Why, I never would’ve wanted to write a book dealing with serious issues. So now, I’m open-minded to whatever story intrigues me.

Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?

When I first began writing, I wanted a string of mainstream books. But I never imagined that my first published novel would accomplish everything I hoped to achieve with a whole string of books. So while I’m a fully satisfied writer, I still have stories I want to tell.

Do you write with music?

It depends on the scene. If the scene is sad or intense, I need just me and the words. If the scene is happy, I’ll sometimes put on something cheesy and fun. 80s music is great for that!

If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?

This sounds silly, but for years I’ve had an idea for a Christmas-themed YA novel. If I never get around to writing it, I’ll be very disappointed. So in order not to disappoint myself, that’d be it.

Do you begin with character or plot?

I always begin with a premise, and then figure out characters that will best relate the story I want to tell.

Dream vacation?

I’m fascinated by the mix of art, religion, and history, so I need to go to Rome someday. I don’t have any set plans yet, but I’ll get there eventually. And just knowing that makes me happy!

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Interview with Bestselling Author Randy Alcorn

safely-homeGet to know Randy…

Randy is a best-selling author of over 40 books including Heaven, If God is Good, The Treasure Principle and the 2002 Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home. He has written numerous articles for magazines such as Discipleship Journal, Moody, Leadership, New Man, and The Christian Reader. He produces the quarterly issues-oriented magazine Eternal Perspectives, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio and television programs including Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, The Bible Answer Man, Revive Our Hearts, Truths that Transform and Faith Under Fire. Alcorn resides in Gresham, Oregon with his wife, Nanci, and their Dalmatian, Moses. The Alcorns have two married daughters, Karina and Angela, and are the proud grandparents of four grandsons. Randy enjoys hanging out with his family, biking, tennis, research and reading. For more info, follow him on Twitter.

Let the conversation begin!

What advice would you give young writers?

Immerse yourself in God’s Word, and study sound doctrine, good theology. (One great book, for reference or to read all the way through, is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, or his abridged version of the same, called Bible Doctrine.) Our worldviews permeate both our fiction and nonfiction, and if all we soak in is popular culture, a few hours a week at church won’t be sufficient to give us depth and durability. We need to read great books by great Christian thinkers. Read Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Packer, and Piper, past and present.

You can write a novel without quoting a single Bible verse, but if God’s Word is daily at home in your heart and mind, your writing will take on a perspective, and an air of solidity and permanence it won’t have otherwise. God promises his Word won’t return unto him empty, without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). He does not promise that about OUR words, but HIS. If we want our words to have lasting value and impact, they need to be touched and shaped by His words—and that won’t happen without a daily choice to expose our minds to Scripture.

Are your characters completely fictional?

At the beginning of all novels, they have a page that says something like, “Any resemblance between the characters in this book and real-life people is completely coincidental.” Every novelist I know totally laughs at that page. The author doesn’t put in that in the novel; the publisher does, to avoid lawsuits. The only thing is, it’s just not true! A book is full of people who are inspired by real-life characters. They’re inspired by people the author knows; sometimes they’re composites of several people.

Take, for example, the character Ollie Chandler in my novel Deception. He’s part this unbeliever that I know, that unbeliever that I know, this homicide detective that I know, that police officer that I know. He’s even part me. Those who’ve read Deception might remember that Ollie likes his toast burnt, so he leaves his toaster outside on his porch. I have my own toaster that I plug in outside, because I like burnt, charcoal toast.

What initially drew you to writing?

I really enjoyed writing the term papers lots of people hated, and got encouraging feedback. I wrote my first articles for publication in the late seventies. That’s when I started thinking of myself as a writer. Then in 1983 I started work on my first book, a history of the sexual revolution and its effects on the Christian church. I’ve now written over 40 books.

How many words do you write each day?

I have no certain hours or word count as a goal. Once I get going on the writing, which is always a monumental struggle because of all the other things vying for my attention, I work until my brain shuts down, or my fingers stop moving on the keyboard. This is the sign that I’m done. Often I work very late, into the wee hours of the morning.

What are some lessons you’ve learned about writing?

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about writing is that it’s hard work. Writing is both energizing and draining, something I love to do and sometimes hate to do. Sometimes it’s a joy. Sometimes it’s like the tenth hour of chopping wood: you just want to be done. It’s never done, but eventually it has to be turned in.

I’ve learned that what’s easy to read is hard to write, and what’s easy to write is hard to read. I’m a steward of words, and I’m accountable to God for how I arrange them. That’s the best reason for working hard at rewriting: “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

I’ve learned I need honest critics and careful editors. But above all I need Christ, who said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When I work this hard at something, I don’t want it to amount to nothing. I want it to last forever. I want to hear the Audience of One say, “Well done.” No payoff could be bigger than that!

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I’ve tried outlining, and it works better with nonfiction for me, since fiction is so organic. While fiction has structure, it’s not as easy to control as nonfiction, because it has a life of its own. Your characters do tend to surprise you, and sometimes attempt insurrections. Of course you are still in charge and occasionally you must remind your characters of this. After all, they owe you their very names, which you are free to change at any time. Sometimes you must even threaten them with extinction.

Do you write with music?

I like Chris Tomlin and others, but I often listen to classical music while writing as it fuels the imagination and inspires, while not distracting me with words. When you are writing words you don’t want to be hearing them! (I don’t, anyway, though some writers are different.)

Dream vacation?

Anywhere Nanci’s with me, it’s warm, and I can snorkel for hours at a time, then read for hours at a time, then go out to eat and laugh and enjoy God’s extravagant kindness with Nanci for hours at a time. If there are some dogs around, that’s a real plus, too.

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Interview with Newbery Honor Author Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Does My Shirts - CoverGet to know Gennifer…

Gennifer Choldenko’s first novel, Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and a California Book Award winner. Her second novel, Al Capone Does My Shirts, was a Newbery Honor Book and a School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Al Capone Does My Shirts was short-listed for the Carnegie in the United Kingdom and has been on the New York Times, Booksense, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. Her most recent picture book, Louder, Lili (illustrated by SD Schindler), was published in 2007.

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, an ALA notable recording, just came out in paperback and her newest novel Al Capone Shines My Shoes—a sequel to the beloved Al Capone Does My Shirts—is a Kirkus, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best for 2009. Her newest novel No Passengers Beyond This Point is due out in February 2011. Gennifer is hard at work on the last book in the Al Capone trilogy right now. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Was it easier to write before or after you were published?

When I first started writing novels, my skills were limited. I had to make choices based on what I could pull off rather than what was the best approach for that novel. The first novel I wrote (which thankfully was not published!) was so, so, so hard because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I hadn’t yet built my writing muscles. I am now beginning my seventh novel, so my world has opened up. I get to decide the best approach for the novel, rather than the only method I can master. To answer your question more directly, I don’t think whether or not I am published comes into play. Once I close the door on my office it’s just me in there—the same me I’ve always been. The only difference is now I have a stronger skill set.

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I am both. I outline and then I write a bit then I toss that outline out as it isn’t what my characters want to do. Then I outline again and write some more then I toss that one out too. I go through maybe ten or twenty outlines until I get to the point in the novel where I don’t need an outline anymore. And then when I’m finished with a draft, I sometimes outline after the fact, because that helps me get a grip on what I’ve written. That is generally the way it works, but not always. With No Passengers Beyond This Point there never was an outline. I didn’t know where I was going until I wrote my way there.

How many words do you write each day?

I don’t do word counts, as I’ve discovered numbers get me hyped up. If I do 1000 today maybe I can do 1,100 tomorrow! And what about the next day! Then pretty soon I’ve finished an entire crappy novel because in an effort to write more and MORE! AND MORE! I took every easy, half-baked idea that came to me. What works for me is feeling my way along—as if I’m in a dark room, on a dark day, in an unknown space, in an unknown world. That isn’t to say I don’t believe in discipline. But for me, what is important is making sure I devote enough time to my writing. Five butt-in-chair hours working on a novel without Internet works really well for me.

Even so, working on a novel is often a combination of lots of endeavors. Working on a novel might mean making lists of questions I have, or reading research material, or traveling to a location which I am investigating or doing character studies, or simply combing materials in search of the right name. Yesterday, I spent two hours working on an outline, another hour and a half playing around with names and character development and two hours reading research. In the time I spent looking for names I generated long lists of possible names but none of them felt right. I would really like to check off the box that says: name for my protagonist. But you know what? I don’t have a good fit yet. I have to resist the urge to settle on a name that isn’t right, just to be done.

Do you begin with character or plot?

It depends on the book. Sometimes I start with a setting – as I did with the Al Capone trilogy. Notes from a Liar and her Dog and No Passengers Beyond This Point began with a character. The novel I’m working on now started with a piece of random information I happened to read one day—I suppose that’s the closest I’ve ever come to starting with a plot.

What one word describes you? 

Scrappy. I’m a lot tougher than I look.

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?

A window, three dogs and a cappuccino machine.

Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?

One classic. Does anyone answer a string of mainstream books?

Do you write with music?

Not at home. If I happen to be at a coffee house working, they sometimes have music. That doesn’t bother me somehow because it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me.

Choldenko

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Interview with Bestselling Author Roderick Gordon

Get to know Roderick…

Roderick Gordon was born and grew up in London. He also went to university in London where he was supposed to be reading biology but instead spent far too much time in the various student bars with his future writing partner, Brian Williams. He went on to do corporate finance in the City until 2001 when he was thrown out for excessive daydreaming. He counts a number of writers and poets among his ancestors such RD Blackmore, Philip Doddridge and Matthew Arnold, and, not least, the two paleontologists and celebrated eccentrics, William and Frank Buckland (which probably explains much). Having recently moved with his family from London to north Norfolk, he is frequently to be found on the M11 as he commutes back and forth to his garret in Islington. For more info, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

When are you the most productive?

Since I started to write back in 2003, it’s varied enormously. For around nineteen years I worked in an investment bank, and the days were long, and sometimes my weekends were blotted out if a deal was running. When I was sacked in 2001, I began to drift towards being nocturnal, I suppose as a reaction against the hours I’d been forced to keep for so long. But one of the greatest things about getting my life back was that I could take my youngest son to school in the morning. Frankie was three years old at the time, and I felt I hardly knew him because the job had kept me away from home so much. But now I could walk him to school, after which I’d write for the rest of the morning.

But these days I never write in the morning. My wife Sophie does the school run which means I’m free to work whatever hours I choose. And, at the moment, I work straight through the night, when there’s peace and quiet in the house. I usually see my family in the morning for breakfast, then retire to bed. It’s almost as if my wife and I are running shifts, and I drew the night shift! The problem comes when there’s something in the morning I have to get up for, such as a meeting or a talk on my books, and I have to quickly adjust to a more normal routine. What’s very handy though is that I never suffer from jet lag when I do book tours in America because I’m already on US time.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The short answer to that is none of them have been easy to write, but with the first one, Tunnels, I threw myself into something I hadn’t done before, and it was all incredibly new and exciting. I was swept along by a sort of naive enthusiasm. Although I’d tried some short stories in the past, and completed a book in the early nineties (which I just hid away in a drawer), I’d never really attempted to write seriously before Tunnels.

I worked on Tunnels with Brian Williams, who I’d met at university some thirty years previously, and it felt as if we were embarking on some great adventure together. Although I spoke to a few people, it was never the plan to go out and find a publisher for the finished book. Early on I decided to self-publish it, and it was released in 2005 in very limited numbers as The Highfield Mole. And quite frankly, when Barry Cunningham of Chicken House rang up and said he was interested, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Brian and I wanted to take things forward with him. But Barry has such an incredible reputation in children’s publishing, and the fact that he gave JK Rowling her start was something we couldn’t ignore. Barry and his colleague Imogen Cooper suggested that we change the name from The Highfield Mole to Tunnels, because they wanted something simpler and with a more modern feel to it.

The second book in the Tunnels series is the one that means the most to me. I wrote most of Deeper in 2005 and 2006 when I was having terrible money worries. On top of this my wife was very ill. The book was a refuge for me. I hid away in it, and in a way I really believe it saved my life. It’s why the story is so unrelenting and claustrophobic. The emotion I poured into it was very raw, and even today there are scenes I can’t look at without becoming very upset. I think Closer is my most accomplished book so far in terms of the pace of the plot and the use of dialogue to drive it forward. I’m still learning and developing as a writer, and now don’t have to experiment quite so much to get what I’m aiming at with my prose.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I was talking to the author Hanif Kurieshi, who’s been writing far longer than I have and whose canon of work I really admire, and I asked him why writing didn’t become any easier with each book. At the time I think I was working on the third of the series, Freefall, and was finding the going difficult. Hanif simply said to me, “Why would you want it to be easy?” He was right, of course. When it becomes too easy, you’re not doing your job.

Also Nina Killham, an American writer living in London, wrote a fantastic blog about the fear associated with writing. It touched on all the baggage you accumulate when you’re trying to write, such as “Who is this for?” and “How will the publisher market this?” It’s inevitable in a way because you’re isolated for such long stretches of time as you write, and your fears and doubts begin to bubble up to the surface. Nina said that you have to ignore all that, and just focus on what you love – focus on your love of writing, because that’s all that matters. I took this on board and it helped. It cuts straight across one of the “Top Tips for Beginners” you hear being bandied about, which advises Work out who your audience is before you type a word. And I say: Rubbish! You’re writing it for yourself. You can’t write effectively with someone looking over your shoulder.

Where do you get your ideas?

I really don’t know. I haven’t dreamt at all for years – or at least I have no recollection of any dreams when I wake up. I often wonder if this is because I dream while I’m awake. And, of course, the Big Ideas are vital when you’re writing, but so are all those thousands of Little Ideas that come to you when you’re sitting at the computer. They hold the whole story together like glue. Maybe wherever my ideas come from, they’ll stop turning up one day, and I’ll have to do something else!

What initially drew you to writing?

I’ve always wanted to do something creative. Way back, in my early twenties, I messed around with synthesizers and composed some music, and also thought about doing something in the movie business. But my nineteen-year career in corporate finance put a stop to all that until I lost my job in 2001. I was so disillusioned and bitter about what had happened that I didn’t make much of an effort to find myself new employment, although I certainly needed the money to cover all my outgoings. Instead, I did something completely reckless, and began to work with my old friend, Brian. Back in the early eighties when we were both at university, Brian had done an art degree at the Slade while I studied biology around the corner. We’d meet up regularly in the students’ bar and talk about writing screenplays. But that was thirty years before, when I didn’t have a family. So it was hardly a rational thing to do.

It was in late 2003 when my wife, Sophie, made the suggestion that we should consider writing a book for younger readers. Although Brian and I didn’t take it terribly seriously to begin with, the ideas came thick and fast, and Will Burrows and the Colony were born. We both threw ourselves completely into the process, as if nothing else mattered. We sometimes say that the book chose us. So I suppose all that creative energy had been building up in me and, at the age of 43, I finally found an outlet for it.

Who is your favorite author?

It’s so difficult to name just one – I have so many from different times of my life. I devoured many of the classics by the great Russian authors – Dostoevsky, Chekov, Gogol, Tolstoy, etc. – in my early twenties, and although I don’t think I’d have the patience to read them again now, they meant a lot to me back then.

Maybe if you pushed me for just one author, I’d say William Golding, for his books such as Lord of the Flies, The Pyramid and Pinscher Martin. I love his prose because it feels so clean and uncluttered, and although I’d never never dream of making any comparisons, I do try to achieve something close with my own work.

What advice would you give young writers?

People say you should read as many books as you can, and that this will help a young writer. Of course you should read, but nothing can replace the experience of trying to write yourself. So get something on paper or type it into your computer. Then begin to live the story – let it rattle around in your head – and don’t stop working on it, and don’t expect the process to be quick. I’ve often said it’s similar to making a journey, say to school. As you make the same journey again and again, you begin to notice little details on the way that you hadn’t before. And prose is a little like a journey, so put the details in, and make the scenes come alive.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

Some characters have their foundations in real people, but they very quickly develop a life all of their own. People very rarely recognise themselves in the books, which is a relief. And some of the other characters just seemed to present themselves. A couple have voices similar to actors who I’d like to play them one day. The Second Officer, a policeman in the Colony, sounds like an English actor called Ray Winstone when I write his dialogue.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I’m currently working on Spiral, the fifth book in the Tunnels series, which will be published in the UK in the fall and in the US next year. I think it’s going really well, but I do feel sorry for Will, Chester, Elliott and some of the other characters – they’ve been through so much already, and in this latest book their lives become even more difficult. I often think it would be nice to write a holiday scene for them, so they can just relax and take a break from the constant threat of the Styx. After all, authors take vacations, so why shouldn’t their characters?

Spiral will be finished as a first draft quite soon, then I’ll begin the endless editing to make sure it holds together as a book. I don’t know how many times other writers revise their prose, but I rework mine endlessly and obsessively before I’m satisfied with it. I reckon some of the chapters from my earlier books went through several hundred revisions, maybe because I was still learning how to write then.

Last year I started on a new story that had nothing to do with the Tunnels series, and I’d got about halfway with it when I had to stop because I needed to throw myself into Spiral. But as soon as Spiral’s put to bed, I’m going straight back to the other story. I can’t work on two books at the same time, and it takes me nearly a year to write a book – I wish I could go faster, but it just doesn’t happen.

Describe your dream vacation.

My dream would be that the Tunnels movie actually gets made, and I fly with my family to LA or wherever the premiere is held to watch it. And I really hope that this doesn’t turn out just to be a dream…

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Bethany Hegedus

Get to know Bethany…

Bethany Hegedus’s second novel Truth with a Capital T debuted at the 2010 Texas Book Festival. Forthcoming, with Atheneum/Simon & Schuster is the picture book Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma. Bethany’s first novel Between Us Baxters was named a Bank Street Books, Best Books of 2010 (starred) and a Top 40 Fiction Books for Young Adults by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Bethany continues to serve as co-editor of the Young Adult & Children’s page for the VCFA literary journal Hunger Mountain and will be part of the YA Diversity in Fiction Tour when it makes it’s Austin stop. A longtime resident of NYC, she now writes from her home in Austin. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I am working on a new middle grade—this one is set in a fictional town in Texas (where I now live) instead of Georgia (where I grew up.) The main character, Fancy Melody Monroe, has talked her daddy into moving, trailer and all (he stays strapped into a Lazy Boy recliner as the semi hauls their single-wide from Georgia to Texas, as he has what Fancy calls, “epidermi-no-sunitis,”a condition which causes him to never leave the trailer) to her mama’s hometown of Creation Creek, Texas. Once there, Fancy digs in the dirt—and in the past—looking for clues to where her Mama may have run off to. It’s current working title is, Flights of Fancy and I am loving getting to know Fancy and her hurts and her longings.

What advice would you give young writers?

Never take no for an answer. Keep studying. Keep trying and most of all believe in yourself. Writing takes talent, time and patience.

Who is your favorite author?

I have so many favorite authors, I can’t name just one. But, my favorite childhood author was Beverly Cleary. I thought I was Ramona the Pest and when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, read from the book each week, I was the first one sitting cross-legged on the floor waiting to see where the story would take me. I adore Ramona and one day hope to have a 7 year old character call on me and not let go, the way Ramona must have with Ms. Cleary.

When are you the most productive?

Once upon of time, I would have said the morning. I love writing in the early a.m. with a cup of coffee, still in bed using my laptop desk. But my schedule has changed. Between working at the Writers’ League of Texas, co-editing Hunger Mountain, and writing my own blog, I find I get the most work done, fiction wise, whenever I can. It may be fifteen minutes over lunch, two hours after dinner, or before the sun is up, but if I had my druthers it would be between 6:30-8:30 a.m. Not too early in the day but before I head out do anything else.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

My characters are fictional with little bits of real people and real situations sprinkled in. I’ve heard my sister say about reading my work that it is fun to see what bits of myself and my life end up in print for her and others who know me well to decode. In Between Us Baxters, there is a minor character named Stoney, and when I was a teacher I taught a student named Stoney. He was a Sheriff’s son and his name sounded so Southern to me. There is also a reference to washcloths that my best friend from VCFA picked up on.

In Truth with a Capital T, it is a place and not a name from my past that worked its way in. The Kiss-Me-Quick Bridge, which plays an important role in Maebelle discovering clues about her ancestry is a real bridge that I encountered as a child. It is outside Hallyville, Alabama where my grandfather and grandmother lived. You went open and over in a second flat and it was dubbed the “Kiss-Me-Quick” bridge either by the town, or maybe even just my mother, but there it is in Tweedle, Georgia where Maebelle and Isaac find themselves for the summer.

And, I recently admitted to my writing mentor Tim Wynne-Jones that I think of the gramps character in Truth with a Capital T in my mind, as being slightly based on him. Tim is a talent of all trades, singer, songwriter, previous architect, teacher, speaker, and wonderfully gifted storyteller. He witnessed and helped bring about an important part of my growth as a writer, and much as Gramps does with Maebelle, he pushes her to face her fears, as Tim did with me. And, when the MG novel began as a picture book Tim gave me a ton of song lyric timing help, which was still integral to the book as it morphed into a novel.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

No book is ever easy to write and I am not sure I would want one to be. I like to stretch and grow, but the one that has been the hardest to get right is a non-fiction picture book, titled Grandfather Gandhi that I co-wrote with Arun Gandhi, the “Mahatma’s” grandson. The picture book form requires skill, preciseness, and the non-fiction aspect made these feats even harder. I worked for years and years and am happy it will be forthcoming with Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

Bethany-Hegedus-2011-225x315

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Lee Wardlaw

Get to know Lee…

Lee Wardlaw is the award-winning author of more than two-dozen books for young readers. She grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, and wrote her first book in second grade. She continued to write poems, stories and plays all through elementary school. At age eleven, Lee and three of her friends formed a rock ‘n’ roll band called The Shooting Stars, with Lee playing guitar and writing many of the songs the girls performed. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

The first book I could read all by myself was P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog, Go. Wow – what a doggone grrrreat feeling it was to read that book over and over again to my little brother, Scott. I was woozy with pride! I couldn’t imagine anything better – except maybe reading a book to him that I had written myself. So, at age seven, I wrote and illustrated a story about a ‘Teena Belle, a girl just like me – skinny, brownish hair, crooked smile – only shorter. (She was one-inch tall.) She ran away from home when her mother put her in charge of diaper-changing her 14 baby brothers and 14 baby sisters. (At the time, I was the Chief Diaper Duty Assistant for my other brother, John.) I don’t remember much about Teena Belle’s adventure other than she got swept out to sea on the last page because I couldn’t think of another way to end the book.

What was your favorite book to write?

All my books have been labors of love and learning, but I do have a few favorites: First Steps (HarperCollins) – a board book about a baby learning to walk – because I wrote it about my son; Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (Holt), because it was furry fun to take on the purrsonality of a shelter cat; and 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies (Dial/Puffin, September 2011) because it made me laugh so hard in places I was almost snorting. (Much to the irritation of my cats.) When you’re writing humor, it’s important to be able to crack up at your own jokes. If YOU don’t think you’re funny, probably no one else will, either.

What advice would you give young writers?

1. Read every single day, even if it’s only for ten minutes.
2. Write every single day, even if it’s only for ten minutes.
3. Continue #’s 1. and 2. until you die.

When are you the most productive?

Morning. Early morning. What my dad would call Oh-dark-thirty. Five a.m.-ish till about 11:00 a.m. is ideal. After that, I need lunch and a nap. And chocolate. Then maybe another nap.

Where do you get your ideas?

Mostly from my own life. My young adult novel Corey’s Fire is based on my family’s experiences after our house and neighborhood were destroyed by a firestorm. The idea for Dinosaur Pizza came from my elementary school days when no one wanted to share my bologna-mustard-and-BBQ-ed-potato-chip sandwiches. (Mmmm, zesty!). My brother’s dorky Halloween costume (cowboy hat, boots, holster and underpants) led to my book The Ghoul Brothers. My first spoken word as a baby was ‘kitty’; since then I’ve shared my home with more than two-dozen cats, so it was an easy transition to writing about them in Won Ton.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I just finished the final edits on 101 Ways to bug Your Friends and Enemies, which will be published in September. In this novel, the main characters from the other two books in the series (101 Ways to Bug Your Parents and 10 1Ways to Bug Your Teacher) are experiencing first love – with all the wonder and wackiness and heart-wrenches only a first love can cause.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them on real people?

Both. My characters are often a combination of bits and pieces of people I’ve known (or eavesdropped on). Sometimes they’re based on people I’ve read about. But I also create characters whom I think would be fun or fascinating to meet in real life.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Many of my dearest friends are authors, so I’ll name some of them so that I don’t accidentally offend anyone! Thalia Chaltas, Mary Hershey, Valerie Hobbs, R.L. LaFevers, Ellen Kelley, Sherry Shahan, Wendelin Van Draanen, Dian Curtis Regan…

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Author Interview with Dian Curtis Regan

81bzRxIsW-LGet to know Dian…

Dian Curtis Regan is the author of more than 50 books for young readers. New in 2011 is The Snow Blew Inn, a picture book from Holiday House, and Rocky Cave Kids, a chapter book from Marshall Cavendish. Other titles include the updated Princess Nevermore and its sequel, Cam’s Quest, Barnyard Slam, Monster of the Month Club, The World According to Kaley, and the Ghost Twins Series. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What was your favorite book to write?

My favorite book to write is always the one I’m working on. In this case, a middle grade fantasy. (I never talk about the WIP or mention its title. See tip #3 below.)

Who is your favorite author?

I was hugely inspired by Lloyd Alexander’s books, especially the Chronicles of Prydain, (from which The High King won the Newbery Award in 1969).

I’m glad I got to meet him and tell him how much his books meant to me—even though I could not get through my thank you without tears.

What advice would you give young writers?

Take it seriously.
A friend, who’s been working on a novel for ten years, is racking up starred reviews as the publication date nears. There is a direct correlation to “working on a novel for ten years” and “racking up starred reviews.”

You can’t really ‘write fast.’ But you can ‘draft fast,’ and that’s a terrific skill to have. Yet after that is when the real work begins. That’s when your true story emerges with all of its connections, innuendos, creative language, and twists no one saw coming.

Think of yourself as an entertainer.
Give us good story, not a morality lesson or a thinly disguised author agenda. Take us on an adventure with intriguing characters. Make us feel. Or, as one writer put it: “Don’t say that your character laughed or cried. Make your reader laugh or cry.”

Stay focused.
One of the most important pieces of advice has nothing to do with writing, yet it has everything to do with it: time management.

Don’t dilute your valuable writing time by “spending it all” on blogging, Facebook, or email. These are wonderful tools, but they must take a back seat to time alone spent on your work in progress.

Present yourself well.
Put up a user-friendly webpage. Cut the bells and whistles. People just want to see who you are and find out about your books with as few clicks as possible.

Keep the page updated, as well as free from distractions such as your political or religious views, or family information.

Re-envision.
All the critique groups in the world won’t help if you balk at revising. Pretend you are an editor, reading your submission for the first time. Be brutally honest with yourself. And listen to writer friends whose work you admire.

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Interview with Newbery Honor Author Cynthia Lord

Get to know Cynthia…

I’m a children’s book writer and the mom of two adult children. My first novel, RULES, won a Newbery Honor in 2007. I’m also the author of HOT ROD HAMSTER, HAPPY BIRTHDAY HAMSTER, and TOUCH BLUE. I’m a children’s book author and mom to two teenagers. My first novel, RULES, won a Newbery Honor in 2007. For more info, visit my website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

I loved to read and tell stories as a child. I think that’s when I first started becoming a writer—I would make up new stories about the characters I loved in books.

Who is your favorite author?

I have so many! But one favorite is Barbara Robinson who wrote “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” I had the chance to meet her at a conference, and it was so exciting!

Where do you get your ideas?

My ideas often begin with my own experiences. RULES came from the fact that I have a son with autism. TOUCH BLUE came from one of my teaching experiences (a tiny school on a Maine island).

What advice would you give young writers?

Dare to keep writing your story, even if you worry your first draft is not very good. Revision is where you’ll make it good.

When are you the most productive?

I’m definitely a morning person. Though I can work in the afternoons, too.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

Sometimes I will use traits from real people, though the characters as a whole are fictional.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Find the story only you can tell and tell it in a way that only you can tell it.

What is your dream vacation?

The Lake District in England!

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Author Interview with Nicole O’Dell

Get to know Nicole…

She writes. She talks. She reads. She changes diapers. Nicole O’Dell is a mom of six–including a set of toddler triplets who may or may not be potty trained sometime in 2011. Jury’s still out on that one. She is the author of a bunch of YA books, including the popular Scenarios for Girls interactive fiction series and the upcoming Diamond Estates Series, 10/11. She’s also the host of Teen Talk Radio. You can find her books and links to all the fun social stuff on her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What one word describes you? 

Driven. I think of that word when I consider my motivations, and other people often use it to describe me. I have huge plans and work really hard to see them come to fruition. I’m like that with everything in my life, but with my writing, speaking, radio show, and anything else that reaches out to my readers and listeners, I’m even more driven because I believe lives can be changed by the truth of God’s Word and families can be healed through communication and good choices. I’m driven to bring that message to teens and parents.

When are you the most productive? 

Most productive? Morning. When do I work? Morning, noon, and night. Since I have six kids and a hubby who likes some attention, too, I fit work time in and among whatever is going on with my family. They come first, so I often have to work even during hours that wouldn’t be my first choice. It’s only for a season. One day, my kids will all be older, and I’ll have all the flexibility in the world–but I’ll be sooo sad they’re growing so fast. So it’s a trade-off.

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?

The only people who see my work while it’s still in progress are my mom and my critique partners. I have several awesome critiquers and they vary based on the work. Some are more eager to pick apart my non-fiction–others are better with the fiction. My friend, Valerie Comer, tops the list as being the final reader before anything gets submitted. She’s taught me so much by her critiques of my work. I’m so grateful to her–and to God for giving her to me!

If there is one genre you’d never write, what is it? 

Speculative Fiction. I don’t typically read it except for a select group of authors, and it’s not how my mind works. It would be a huge stretch for me to try to write it. Jill Williamson, a Christy-Award-winning, YA spec-fiction author, is sooooo good at her genre’, I figure she can have that corner of the literary world.

Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?

I’d like to say that I’d prefer to write one, great work because I think those are the books that are remembered through the ages, but it’s just not how I work. I pound out a lot of words, have a lot of ideas that I have to get on paper, and I have a contract addiction that must be fed regularly.

If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?

I would write exactly what I’m doing. I believe that the parent/teen, particularly mother/daughter relationship is so important and volatile. I would try to collect my best advice based on vast research and personal experience into one manual and just put it out there. I’d be sad to be done with publishing, though.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I’m continuing on in the Diamond Estates series and the Drama Ensues series. I’m also wondering why I named them both with DE titles? Isn’t that a strange coincidence? They’re very, very different series—I hope you check them both out. Diamond Estates deals with troubled girls in a group home, to state it very simply. The Wishing Pearl, book one in Diamond Estates, is releasing on October 1, 2011. You can check it out on my website. Drama Ensues starts its appearance in 2012. It has a different style—quirky, drama club, artsy—yet it’s compelling in its coverage of the issues.

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Interview with Newberry-Winner Sharon Creech

Get to know Sharon…

Sharon Creech is the author of the Newbery Medal winner WALK TWO MOONS and the Newbery Honor Book THE WANDERER. Her other work includes the novels HATE THAT CAT, THE CASTLE CORONA, REPLAY, HEARTBEAT, GRANNY TORRELLI MAKES SOUP, RUBY HOLLER, LOVE THAT DOG, BLOOMABILITY, ABSOLUTELY NORMAL CHAOS, CHASING REDBIRD, and PLEASING THE GHOST, as well as three picture books: A FINE, FINE SCHOOL; FISHING IN THE AIR; and WHO’S THAT BABY? Ms. Creech and her husband live in upstate New York. For more info, visit her website.

What initially drew you to writing?

There always seemed to me a certain magic in putting words together to create a ‘picture’ that others could see. The sounds of words, the rhythm of sentences, the use of poetic devices–all of these intrigued me. But also, I was aware early on that writing could bring other people pleasure, and this was a strong incentive to continue.

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?

I keep it not so much ‘secret’ as ‘private.’ The story is constantly changing, morphing, evolving, and it would only confuse me to let anyone else read it until I’ve finished a third or fourth draft. I want to be able to mold my vision of the story before anyone else weighs in on it. Then, only two people see it: my grown daughter (a great sounding board) and my editor (the wisest eye.)

If there is one genre you’d never write, what is it? 

I’d never say ‘never,’ but probably I won’t write horror (there is no appeal for me in spending my days steeped in grimness), and I am not attracted to non-fiction because I feel so restricted by the need to be ‘factual.’

Do you write with music?

No. I’ve tried, but I get lost in the music and pulled out of the fictional world.

Do you begin with character or plot?

I begin with character and/or setting and a vague idea of plot. For example, with Love that Dog, I had a clear image of a boy sitting at his desk looking at a poem, and he did not look happy. I sensed this was a story about his relationship with words, about a school year, and about a teacher, and ultimately about finding his own voice. With Ruby Holler, I began with the strong image of a beautiful holler, and then came two children who might most appreciate that beauty, and I sensed this was a story about how they came to find that place, and why they so needed it.

How many words do you write each day?

If I am working on a first draft, I hope to write five pages a day (I don’t count words, but I suppose that’s about 1250 words.) If I’m having trouble, I widen the margins and increase the font. Haha. When I am on a roll, I’ll do ten pages a day.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I’ve developed lots of ways to recharge these batteries. These include: walking (especially on the beach), napping, reading, seeing the grandchildren, kayaking, gardening, cooking, sewing. In other words: setting the writing aside and turning to something else I enjoy. Oh, chocolate—that’s good, too. And clementines. And fizzy water.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The easiest was Love That Dog because it seemed to tell itself, all in a rush, as if it had been waiting impatiently to be told. The hardest was Walk Two Moons. I was finding my way with that story, and it took a long time to get it right. I probably wrote a dozen completely different drafts over the course of three years.

Was it easier to write before or after you were published?

It was easier to write after I was published because I felt validated in my efforts, as if someone had tapped me on the head with a golden wand and said, “Okay, go!”

What advice would you give young writers?

It’s simple and it’s often repeated: read a lot and write a lot. The more you read, the more you will absorb about what makes a story, how characters and plot are developed, how dialogue is used, etc. The more you write, the more you understand about what kinds of stories intrigue you, feel natural, fire you up. You don’t need to write whole stories or long pieces—try short things—a paragraph, a page, a description, a string of dialogue. Flip them upside down. Have fun with it!

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