Author Interview with Jo Knowles

Jo KnowGet to know Jo…

I live in Vermont with my husband and son. I’m a freelance writer, and I work on my fiction whenever I can find the time. And I read. I try to read at least one novel a week. If you want to be a writer, I suggest you try to read a book a week, too. Reading makes us better writers. I’m a firm believer in that. To learn more about me and my books, visit my website.

Let the conversation begin! 

Do you begin with character or plot? 

So far, always character. Usually a character in some sort of predicament comes to me, and the process of writing the novel involves figuring out how to get the person through it all and on to the other side. 

Best thing that happened this weekend? 

My son (12) and I volunteered at a fundraising dinner together. We worked our butts off but it was so great to do something for a good cause, and do it together. 

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

Lauren Myracle. I love that she writes what her heart tells her to, not the market. And I love how she handled the recent NBA debacle. I aspire to be like Lauren in how she approaches challenges: with humor and grace. She’s my hero. 

Advice to new writers? 

Remember why you started writing in the first place. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Jennifer Richard Jacobson says to ask yourself “Is it true yet?” whenever you think you’re done. If you can answer that question honestly, you probably are. If not, it’s time to go deeper.

The work is done. How do you recharge? 

I watch a lot of movies, read a lot of books, and hang out with my family. Sometimes, there is champagne.

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Interview with Bestselling Author Peg Kehret

KehrettGet to know Peg…

Peg Kehret’s middle-grade books have won fifty state young reader awards. She has won the PEN Center West Award in Children’s Literature, the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Henry Bergh Award from the ASPCA. Abduction was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. A volunteer with animal welfare groups, Peg has included dogs, cats, llamas, elephants, bears, horses, and monkeys in her books. Three of her books are co-authored by Pete the Cat. For more information, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The easiest was Winning Monologs for Young Actors. It was the first time I’d tried writing from a young person’s point of view and I knew immediately that I had found my true voice as a writer. Before that, I’d published two books, several plays, and more than two hundred short stories – all for adults. From then on, I only wrote books for kids.

The hardest book was my autobiography, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio, because writing it brought back many painful memories. 

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer or a veterinarian. Now I include animals in most of my books. 

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

“Don’t try to follow the fads; write what YOU want to write.”  I heard this from a speaker at a writer’s conference and I’m sorry that I don’t remember who it was.

Back when the Goosebumps books were wildly popular, I had an editor urging me to write horror books for kids. When Harry Potter first hit the scene, a different editor encouraged me to try fantasy. Instead, I kept writing the books I wanted to write and hoped they would attract like-minded readers. They did. 

peg kehretWhere do you get your ideas?

This is the question I’m asked most often by kids. Most of my ideas come from incidents that I read or hear about in the news, or from something that happens to someone I know. The idea for Ghost Dog Secrets came from a letter to the editor that I saw in a local weekly newspaper. The writer complained about a dog who was tied up for days without food or shelter. She had talked to the authorities, but nothing had been done. I began to think about what a twelve-year-old boy would do in that situation. First he’d sneak food to the dog, but as he got more attached he might decide to unchain the dog and take him. Would that be rescuing an abused animal, or would it be stealing private property? 

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress?

I keep it a secret. Years ago I joined a critique group but found I couldn’t bear to let anyone see a manuscript until I considered it finished. When my husband was living, he read each book before I submitted it but mostly that was to proof-read.

I never talk about a work-in-progress, either, unless I’m seeking information. 

Easier to write before or after you were published?

The actual writing never got easier but it was easier to be motivated once I got published. Until then, there’s that fear that you really aren’t good enough, that no eyes but your own will ever read your book. Publication validates your trust in yourself. It also makes it easier to say no to the many people who think that because you work at home you have plenty of time to drive the carpool, bake the brownies, or chair the committee. 

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

I just wrote it. I don’t know that it will be my last book, but it’s the one I’ve wanted to write for a long time. It’s a memoir called Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing and Rescue. For the past twelve years, I’ve lived on a small wildlife sanctuary. I wrote about the bear, wounded by a poacher, who sought refuge in my woods, about the many stray cats I’ve helped, and about how I’ve blended my two passions: writing and animal rescue. It will be published in the Fall of 2012 by Dutton. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Tammi Sauer

tammiGet to know Tammi…

I spent most of my first eighteen years on a farm outside the small town of Victoria, Kansas (population: 1,208). My roles included gathering the eggs when the city cousins visited and wanted to engage in novelty farm-like activities, chasing pigs back to their respective pens when they tried to make a break for it (I did this once while wearing my eighth grade cheer-leading uniform—don’t ask), and swindling my younger sister and brother out of their money.  

I graduated from Kansas State University with a B.S. in Elementary Education and married my high school sweetheart, Ron Sauer. We did not return to Victoria, causing the town’s population to plummet to 1,206. 

I have taught summer school, pre-kindergarten, and the middle school electives Creative Writing and Storytelling. I also spent two years serving as a library media specialist for a pre-k through eighth grade school.  

Each day I try to squeeze in some time for writing as writing is my passion. Most of the time, however, is spent with my family. Ron and I have a twelve-year-old daughter, Julia, who aspires to be an veterinarian and a nine-year-old son Mason who loves everything ninja. To learn more, visit my website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Receiving mail! When I was a kid, I wrote lots of letters—especially to celebrities. I used to have a huge collection of 8 by 10 glossies of stars from the early eighties, including Loni Anderson and Barbara Mandrell. By middle school, I had left the fan mail scene behind and joined a penpal club. Soon I was regularly exchanging letters with Victor from Virginia Beach, Michelle from New York, and Lindsay from Great Britain. Twenty-four years later, I’m still in contact with two of them. Victor even traveled across the country to attend my wedding!

I never set out to be a children’s book author, though. My plan was to be a third grade teacher. One of my professors at Kansas State University changed all that. After class one day, Dr. Marjorie Hancock pulled me aside and said, “Tammi, you have a gift with words. You should pursue publication.” Knowing Dr. Hancock believed in me was the push I needed to give it a try. Years later, I named a chicken after her. (Marge in Chicken Dance.)

Sauer_ChickenDanceWhat was your favorite book to write?

Oh, this is hard! If I had to pick my favorite book to write, I would go with Me Want Pet. It was so fun to incorporate caveman-speak into the manuscript! Plus, it really pushed me to write as tightly as possible—the manuscript came in at about 250 words. Me Want Pet stars a cave boy in pursuit of the perfect prehistoric pet. This book is illustrated by Bob Shea (!!!) and is scheduled for a spring 2012 release. OOGA!

Where do you get your ideas?

Most of my ideas spring from the weird things that happen in my life. One night, for example, the idea for Cowboy Camp literally knocked on my door. A kid was selling newspaper subscriptions so he could raise money to go to cowboy camp. Well, this kid didn’t look like a cowboy, act like a cowboy, walk like a cowboy…he was practically the un-cowboy standing on my porch. And it gave me the idea to write a story about a kid who goes to cowboy camp, who doesn’t fit in, who can’t do anything right, but who becomes the hero at cowboy camp anyway.

The original seed for Chicken Dance came from an annoying rooster that repeatedly interrupted my sleep during a trip to Massachusetts. The uppity character in Mr. Duck Means Business was based on my Great Aunt Florence and her love for her manicured lawn.

No matter where the idea comes from, my books all have one thing in common. I always strive to push the funny.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author April Henry

Get to know April…  

April Henry was born in 1959, in Portland, Oregon. After living in several states, her parents moved to Medford, Oregon, when she was five. She lived there until she graduated from Medford High School. A graduate of Oregon State University in Corvallis, she also studied abroad at the University of Stuttgart. 

She put herself through school using a patchwork of scholarships and odd jobs, including cook, maid, German translator, life drawing model, data entry person, and a brief stint as the girl who jumps out of a cake. 

After working for more than a decade as a health care writer, April was able to leave her day job in 2008. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. For more info, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

Do you begin with character or plot?

I’m all about plot, baby! Of course, character and plot are intertwined, so character quickly follows.  

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

It’s about a girl who grew up thinking that her dad killed her mom in the woods, dropped the girl (who was only three at the time) off at a Wal-Mart, and then became a fugitive. As the book opens, her dad’s body is found in the woods near where her mother’s was found 14 years earlier. The police realize that they are looking for one killer for both her parents – and it was the killer who took her from the scene.  The girl decides to go back to the small town where she was born and try to figure it out on her own.  I wrote the first chapter this week! 

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

I went to Threat Dynamics, where you train with Glocks that are modified to shoot CO2 cartridges and you interact with HD filmed situations like home invasion, parking lot hold ups, and active shooters. I write adult books where the characters, like FBI agents, have guns, and this kind of training helps me write more realistically.  Plus it is a total adrenaline rush.  I even wore this belt that gives you a five thousand volt shock if the you get “shot.”  (And it’s not so scary as guns with real bullets. I’ve done that with the FBI.) 

What advice would you give to new writers?

Tenacity is as important as talent.  When I started out, I had a writing class with two wonderful writers, Tom and Jane, who were much better writers than I was.  But after a few rejections from agents, they gave up.  I never gave up, and I ended up getting published. 

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

My brain. 

The work is done. How do you recharge?

I suck at recharging.  I usually just feel empty.  If I’ve put in a good day of work, I like to watch True Blood or thrillers from Netflix. 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

I have done both and anything in between.  Seat of the pants works fine for thrillers, but not mysteries, because otherwise it’s hard to leave clues about the killer.  With thrillers, the character is just trying to stay alive.  I just had to write an 85,000-word book in four months, and if I hadn’t had an outline, I would have been in trouble.  

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

I would love a treadmill desk.  I did get a standing desk. 

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

I actually thought about being a writer. I even sent a story to Roald Dahl – and he sent me a postcard. What the postcard doesn’t say is that he showed the story to the editor of a children’s magazine, and she contacted me and asked to publish it. 

What is your secret talent?

I can make my tongue into the shape of a cloverleaf. Supposedly this is genetic, but I didn’t figure out how to do it until about two years ago, when my daughter showed me she could.  

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Author Interview with Pam Calvert

PamGet to know Pam…

Pam Calvert has been writing books and stories for children for over ten years. She likes to write fairy-tales, math adventures, middle grade novels, and multicultural stories–all with a humorous twist.  She has five picture books – three with Charlesbridge Publishing and two with Marshall Cavendish.  The first one entitled, Multiplying Menace: The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin, was launched in February 2006. She’s also written many mysteries, including one entitled, Clue School: Mystery at the Ballpark. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

How many words do you write each day?

Well, I can’t write every day since I’m doing a lot of other things right now—mainly school visits and promotion (and laundry and cleaning the house!) But when I sit down, I usually write at least 2000 words. I try to carve out two to three days a week for writing. At the moment, I’m lucky to get in one day, but this is in the heart of school visit season. It’ll settle down soon. 

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

I outline! Otherwise, the writing process is like a dream—who knows where that story will go! YIPES! 

When are you the most productive?

Morning and afternoon. I like to spend time with my family when they’re at home at night. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I run. There’s nothing like a seven mile run to help me write my next scene. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Gosh, I don’t know. They’re all hard to write. The easiest book I’ve written was an early reader for five year olds. Once I got the idea, I wrote it in 20 minutes and I knew it was good. Sold instantly. But nothing usually comes that easy. Even picture books are hard. The hardest part is getting that amazing idea that will sell. 

What initially drew you to writing?

I’ve always loved to write even though I wasn’t always good at it. I remember being excited about writing a story for my sixth grade English class. I usually put off homework but not that assignment. My story was entitled, ALIEN MICE INVADE THE EARTH—I knew I’d get an A for sure. My teacher didn’t agree. She gave me a C. So, I gave up writing until sixteen years later I started a running club newsletter and won awards. Then I submitted my articles to running magazines, got paid and haven’t looked back. 

Are your characters completely fictional?

They’re mostly fictional—at least their personalities, but I will base their features off of real people. For picture books, well, that’s left up to the illustrator. 

Where do you get your ideas?

They come from anywhere—my childhood, from people giving me ideas (people love to share!), from articles, from historical sites, and one even came from a dream. I woke up with the idea of turning things into frogs and that’s why there’s so many in MULTIPLYING MENACE DIVIDES. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Never give up! Because when you’re getting a ton of rejections, it will be hard to keep going. I almost gave up about ten different times, but God always had something or someone to give me encouragement to keep writing and submitting. Prayer helps too. 

Visit Pam’s site here!

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