Interview with Award Winning Author Jennifer Valent

CatchingMoondropsGet to know Jennifer…

It wasn’t until her mid-twenties when Jennifer decided to try her hand at writing for children, but the realities of breaking into the publishing industry made it necessary for her to try other forms of writing as well. She began submitting articles to Christian women’s magazines and eventually decided to try writing a novel. A few successful freelance opportunities and the encouragement of a patient industry contact kept her writing and submitting her fiction to publishers. 

Her fourth novel, Fireflies In December - a departure from the romantic comedies she first penned – placed in the semifinals of the Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest in 2006. After some revisions, she re-submitted the novel to the 2007 Guild contest and won the prize of publication with Tyndale House Publishers. In January 2009 Fireflies in December released, followed by the sequels Cottonwood Whispers and Catching Moondrops. Jennifer’s sincerest hope is to glorify the Lord by writing quality Christian fiction that will inspire, encourage, and uplift readers of all ages. To learn more, visit her website!

Let the conversation begin!

Where do you get your ideas?

Well, for any fiction author, it starts with imagination, I would think. I’m no different. I’ve had an active imagination since childhood, which can give you trouble in school but make a career for you down the road! It’s so nice to now have a productive way to exercise my imagination. 

But imagination alone doesn’t always do the trick for me. Often it’s research that I turn to. Whether it’s reading a non-fiction book about a certain time period or place or watching a documentary – getting a feel for a way of life or a particular situation can really get ideas percolating. Because, really, fictional stories rise up from everyday life.  

What advice would you give young writers?

Be yourself! That’s in life and in writing. It’s so easy to just follow the herd; become like everyone else. But God created each of us with specific personalities and skill sets. If we give those things over to Him to use as He wishes, we’re accomplishing His will for our lives, and there’s nothing more fulfilling than that. 

And that plays into what we, as writers, transfer to the page. When you bring yourself into your work, it creates something entirely new and fresh because no one else can do exactly what you do. So no matter what you may read in your life that inspires you, don’t try to replicate it. Just let that inspiration fuel your own unique perspective. 

Are your characters completely fictional? 

My characters are primarily amalgamations. I tend to notice people; notice their personality traits and quirks. When you pay attention to those bits and pieces, it’s easy to put them together in different formulas and see what comes of them. 

It’s like music notes. There are only so many of them, but you can mix them up in so many different ways that there are millions of different songs out there.  

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest? 

The easiest to write was probably Fireflies in December, even though a dramatic story was a change of pace for me because I’d formerly only tried my hand at romantic comedies. Once I got those characters established, I really knew the general direction I wanted to go in. As I continued to write, the characters came alive, and I managed to see the story unfold at a regular pace. 

The hardest was Catching Moondrops. As the final book in the trilogy, it created several difficulties. For one thing, it was just plain sad because I knew this was the end of my journey with those characters. Also, it was the first time I’d had to write an entire novel on a deadline. That’s added pressure. And then there’s the subject matter. I had to put my characters through some pretty ugly ordeals, and although those characters don’t exist in reality, while I’m writing they feel very real to me. 

But I think the biggest difficulty was tying up so many loose ends. It wasn’t only necessary to address the plot line of that individual book; I was also having to finish up the story lines that had been woven throughout the entire trilogy. And I wanted to make sure I did it right. I had to do those characters justice! 

Who is your favorite author? 

It really depends on what genre I’m stuck on. But I’ve read everything by Victoria Holt and Helen MacInnes. In inspirational fiction I enjoy Julie Klassen, Charles Martin, Sibella Giorello and Tim Downs. 

Dream vacation? 

A month at the beach with loved ones nearby, some chocolate, a stack of good books, and the comfiest beach chair in existence. 

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Author Interview with Amy Koss

Amy KossGet to know Amy…

Amy Goldman Koss has written 14 teen novels and four picture books. But just so you know — she has had and continues to enjoy her fair share of rejections and humiliations. 

Her latest teen novel is The Not-So-Great Depression. Please buy several copies to give out this Halloween instead of candy! To learn more, visit her blog

Let the conversation begin!

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

A lovely string, like colorful beads… each one different, each some kid’s favorite book in all the world.  

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

It would probably be about friendship and powerlessness and sleepiness and love and hiccups and giggles and family and envy and sniffles and bug bites and salty snacks and the passage of time with a little sexual tension thrown in. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

I begin with restless impatience, and an idea that buzzes me relentlessly like a mosquito in the dark. 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

It’s a slippery one. 

Describe your perfect day.

I wake up younger, taller, thinner and smarter with a clear, brilliant, funny, unpredictable understanding of my work in progress.  An idea so clear and perfect that I need not even jot it down. I tear myself out of my adoring husbands sexy, sleepy arms and pad to the balcony where hot coffee and boysenberry pie await. 

Then my loyal dog and I wander through my lush garden picking peaches, blueberries and figs for the cook to bake into pie for lunch.  Before I set down to work, I survey the empire, my children’s rooms are clean, as is their bathroom.  There is no laundry waiting for me, in fact there are no demands upon my time or attention at all. 

I turn on the computer. Look! An e-mail from my agent! Yes! I’ve sold another book. The advance is quite breathtaking…  

What advice would you give to new writers?

Throw the TV out the window and write.    

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Eggs, if you think about it. 

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

A masseuse.

How long do you take to write a book?

All day and then some! 

In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

A teenager like Barbie.                

What initially drew you to writing?

The lucky triple existence of language, paper, and the number 2 pencil. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Tracy Barrett

Dark of the MoonGet to know Tracy…

Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, most recently Dark of the Moon and The Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). Tracy was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Regional Advisor for the Midsouth from 1999 to 2009 and is currently SCBWI’s US Regional Advisor Coordinator. She was awarded the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005. She lives in Nashville, TN, where she teaches (for just one more year!) at Vanderbilt University. For more information, visit her website

Let the conversation begin! 

Do you begin with character or plot?

I begin with a question, usually about a character. For example, in King of Ithaka, I saw that Margaret Atwood had written a book about Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, whose long voyage home from the Trojan War is told in Homer’s Odyssey. I thought, “Huh! I wonder what Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, was up to all that time?” The absentee father is a problem that many kids grapple with today, but that isn’t new. It goes way back, at least to Iron Age Greece, when the Odyssey was composed. 

For Dark of the Moon, my question was about Ariadne, the sister of the Minotaur. She betrayed her brother for the love of someone she hardly knew. This struck me as a weak plot-point in the myth, and I wondered if there might be more to the story than that. 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I’m researching the city of Pompeii and what life was like there around the time that Mt. Vesuvius erupted (in 79 A.D.). I’d like to write a novel set against that background. 

What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend? 

I learned that Dark of the Moon got a starred review from the hard-to-please Kirkus Reviews! See here for the review. 

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

Sharon Creech says that after she won a Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons, she worried that she didn’t write the way all the teachers and books and magazines tell you a successful writer should. She called her agent, all worried, and her agent said, “Sharon, your process is your process—honor it.” 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Seat-of-the-pantser, definitely. The few times I’ve outlined (mostly because I was required to, for one reason or another), the actual writing has felt like homework. I love discovering things as I write, and often the work takes off in unexpected directions. Sometimes that leads me down a dead end, but more often it takes me to a better place than I had originally thought of. 

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

A view of Romeout the window. I even know what neighborhood in Rome I want to live and work in. 

How long do you take to write a book?

It’s hard to tell. For now, I also have a day job, and so I fit my writing in around that. A year and a half, maybe, but the one I’m working on now that’s set in Pompeii has been around in one form or another for six or seven years. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author April Halprin Wayland

New-Year-at-the-PierGet to know April…

April Halprin Wayland is a farmer turned folk musician turned author and poet. Her picture book, NEW YEAR AT THE PIER—A Rosh Hashanah Story, won the Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for the best Jewish Children’s Picture Book of the Year, awarded by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

April’s work has been called “dazzling”, “honest, heartfelt, poignant”, and “utterly fresh and winning”.  Her critically acclaimed novel in poems, GIRL COMING IN FOR A LANDING, her picture books, and her poetry have garnered numerous awards including the Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor Award for Children’s Poetry, the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry, and MommyCare’s Book of the Year.

She’s been an instructor in UCLA Extension’s Writers Program for over a decade and teaches workshops in schools all over the world.  She lives near the beach in Southern California. Every year April takes the Poem-A-Day Challenge for National Poetry Month. Read her daily poems. For more information, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What is your favorite quote?

Only ONE? Oh, my! Here’s one of my favorites: “You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

It reminds me that I can make choices that create a red life or a pin-striped life or a turquoise life.  I really can.

What advice would you give to new writers?

1) Once you’ve worked at your craft, once you’ve published that first book, stay in the chair.  I love to teach and I think I got up from my desk and began doing school visits and teaching too soon…my published work began to dry up because I didn’t sit in that chair.  Build a body of work first, get out in the world second.

2) Get a dog.  My dog makes sure I have perspective (it’s just a book!), that I go outside for some fresh air and exercise, and that I have someone I can read my work to who always loves it.

What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?

My violin.  I took classical lessons and was in orchestras from third grade until I was a senior in high school.  In college I switched to folk music and I’ve been fiddling ever since.  Just with friends, just for fun.  My violin has opened doors, bandaged my heart after Sept. 11th, and brought music into our home.

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

I’m in a marvelous critique group—a few students of poet Myra Cohn Livingston who have been together for eons.  And though we call ourselves The Poetry Circle, we write across the spectrum: poetry, picture books, YA and adult novels; one of our members is also an illustrator.

Also, I write a poem a day and send it to my best friend, author Bruce Balan, who sails around the world in a trimaran.  Every night he makes dinner.  After dinner, when his wife is washing the dishes, he reads her my poem and together they critique it.  I am very lucky to have friends like them.

The work is done. How do you recharge?

THE DOG PARK with my dog!  Yee-haw!

April_Halprin_Wayland_

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Interview with Newbery Honor Author Jack Gantos

{1DDE3D20-4451-4E33-9256-9D1135407B6F}Img100Get to know Jack…

Jack Gantos is author of over forty books for children from the ROTTEN RALPH picture books, collections of JACK HENRY short stories, upper elementary and middle school JOEY PIGZA novels, young adult novels—LOVE CURSE OF THE RUMBAUGHS, DESIRE LINES, and a memoir, HOLE IN MY LIFE. His work can lead readers from the cradle to the grave. 

Mr. Gantos was a professor at Emerson College where he developed the Masters Degree Program in Children’s Literature, Writing and Publishing. He now spends his time writing and is an active speaker at book and literacy conferences, schools and libraries. His works have received a Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, National Book Award Finalist honor and he is the 2010 recipient of the NCTE/ALAN AWARD for his contribution to the field of Young Adult and Children’s Literature. His most recent novel is DEAD END IN NORVELT, due out the fall of 2011. Check out the video trailer. For more information on Jack Gantos, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

It would be difficult to choose between Meville’s MOBY DICK and, say, Cormac MacCarthy’s THE BORDER TRILOGY, BLOOD MERIDIAN, and THE ROAD. Regardless, quality is the standard. 

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

I cannot fully tell you because I plan to write the book. But I’m hoping that the very last book I publish will be titled HOW TO KILL AN AUTHOR: Stories from what went wrong on the road.

Do you begin with character or plot?

Character is my first stab at the paper. It is what I prefer to set first in the book. The plot and themes can be adjusted by the characters many background features. 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I can’t do that either, except to say that it is in the red ink stage of gestation.

Describe your perfect day.

I get up at 5 and feed the cats. I drink a cup of coffee and go to the gym. I have good energy and while working out kick over a few clever notions for my novel. Go home. Shower. Walk to theBostonAthenaeum. Sit down at a desk on the fifth floor and knock out three thousand words. Find a good book to read. Walk home. Everyone is happy to see me. I drink a beer. I go on the roof and grill fish. The Red Sox are playing at Fenway. When a homerun is hit the cheer drifts across the city and I hear it. 

What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend?

I had a horrid weekend. My cats fought with each other with an intensity I had never seen. It was very upsetting. I’ve had to keep them separated.  Resolving their acrimony has consumed me. I did work on my article for the Horn Book and polished up some outlandish ideas.

 Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?

I’d say I chart my course by reading books. All I want to do is write a good book. My inspiration arrives by the back door. Its called fear of writing junk. 

Where do you get your ideas?

Reading mostly. Paying attention. Being a good listener. And then not listening at all. And then when I write I do about a hundred rewrites and that is where most of my ideas come from. Layer after layer of second guessing myself.

 What advice would you give young writers?

Read more poetry and non-fiction. Prose is reverie meets inspiration. Set up good daily writing habits. 

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Don’t remind me. I think it was someone’s pet. 

What do you consider to be the most valuable thing you own?

What is my Rosebud? (I’m thinking about it) 

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

Make sure the reader is part of the story.

What one word describes you? Why?

Habitual.

Most embarrassing moment?

Wearing the Rotten Ralph cat suit that was too tight in the crotch. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Half hour on the rowing machine followed by four hours of reading. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

HOLE IN MY LIFE was both. 

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

Secret.

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Both in turns as necessary.

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

I’d hire someone who was exactly like me only smarter.

How long do you take to write a book?

One to three years per novel.

In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A criminal with a great girlfriend. 

Easier to write before or after you were published?

Both sides of that equation are a slippery slope. But I’d rather be published. 

Earliest childhood memory?

My sister wearing Mickey Mouse ears. 

What is your secret talent?

I’m an excellent liar. 

What’s one rule you’re dying to break?

I want to repeal the Second Amendment to the Constitution. 

If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?

Try not to wake up to it.

What initially drew you to writing?

Reading. 

If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be?

Graham Greene, Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson

Daily word count?

The question is ‘how much do you dislike yourself at the end of the day.’ Fortunately I have thick skin.

Jack-Gantos

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Interview with Bestselling Author Carrie Turansky

Surrendered-Hearts-OnlineGet to know Carrie…

Carrie Turansky is the best-selling author of 8 novels and novellas. She has been a finalist for the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, The Genesis, and Carol Award and winner of the Crystal Globe Award. She has been a member of ACFW since 2000. Carrie writes contemporary and historical romance for Barbour and Love Inspired. For more information, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Our family spent a year in Kenya as missionaries 1996 – 97. When we returned to the U.S. I missed Kenya so much, I decided to write a story set there as a way to relive some of those wonderful experiences. I found I really enjoyed creating the story, and that led me to want to continue writing fiction.

Favorite book to write?

I’ve been blessed to have eight books published. While I am working on a book, that one seems to become my favorite child for the time I am focusing on it. I do look back with fondness on my first full-length novel, Along Came Love. I still love that story very much. 

Favorite author?

I admire many authors and enjoy learning from them. I love the way Susan May Warren weaves spiritual truths into an exciting plot. I also admire Irene Hannon’s ability to research and create such page-turning suspense.. Jan Karon creates the most wonderful characters. And Denise Hunter captures romance like no one else.

Where do you get your ideas?

I am always on the lookout for story ideas about interesting people and locations. I find many of those in magazines and newspapers. Sometimes events or unique circumstances in the lives of my friends have been an inspiration for a story.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I am working on a contemporary romance for Love Inspired titled, A MAN TO TRUST. It’s about a young woman who dreams of playing her flute professionally, but those plans are on hold while she must help her grandmother manage a Christian bookstore. As the story progresses she must discover which dreams are worth pursuing and when it’s okay to change course in life. It includes a sweet romance and a hero who is worthy of her love.

I also have an E-book that released in April titled, Surrendered Hearts. Here is a short summary of that book: Scarred by an explosion and fire, a young actress seeks refuge at her brother’s home in Oregon where she learns faith can overcome her fear and make her truly beautiful in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the man she loves. 

Advice for young writers?

Read a lot and keep writing! Think of learning to write fiction as a 3 – 6 year process, like going to college and grad school. I’ve heard it takes 10,000 hours of working at it to bring your writing up to the level that is ready for publication. It takes a lot of perseverance, humility, and hard work. You also need to develop a thick skin so you can handle critiques and rejections and keep going.

Most valuable advice you’ve ever received?

Never give up. Keep working at it and don’t quit. Perseverance pays off.

When are you the most productive?

I am most productive in the morning after I’ve had a good breakfast and a meaningful quiet time. My heart and mind are then ready to focus and be creative. I also like to put on instrumental music to help me tune everything else out and focus.

Are your characters based on real people?

My characters are usually fictional, but occasionally I have an actual person in mind when I am writing a story. In my current book one of the secondary characters is based on a dear friend of mine.

Easiest book to write? Hardest?

The easiest book to write is the one that is already finished, and the hardest is the one I am working on at the moment. 

Dream vacation?

I would love to take a trip through Italy, Greece, and the Greek islands. I would love to take a cruise in the eastern Mediterranean with stops in Italy, Greece and the Greek Islands. I’d also love to go back to Africa and visit several countries there. 

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