Interview with Award-Winning Author Sarah Weeks

Get to know Sarah…

I’ve been writing picture books and novels for kids for the past 20 years. When I graduated from Hampshire College in 1976, I moved to New York City to pursue a career as a singer songwriter. I had studied music composition in school, and went on to get an MFA from NYU writing for musical theatre. I performed in clubs with a band, spent a year singing in an Off-Broadway revue, and eventually found myself writing songs for Disney and Sesame Street. When an editor from Harper Collins heard some of those songs, she asked if I would be interested in writing picture books based on my songs. So I shifted my focus and became a children’s author.

I’ve written about 50 books so far and I absolutely love my job. I spend part of my time at home writing – sometimes without ever getting dressed or combing my hair! But I also hit the road during the school year visiting between thirty and forty thousand students every year. In the summer I move up to a little house in the Catskill mountains where I love to play with the dog, pull weeds, feed birds, do jigsaw puzzles and, when I feel like it….write.

I just finished writing a new novel, called PIE. I’m very excited to see how my readers respond to it. I think I had more fun writing this book than any other I’ve ever written. It will be available in October 2011, but if anybody wants to take a peek at it, the first chapter is posted on my website. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

I teach writing to graduate students in an MFA program at the New School University. I talk about outlining all the time, and sometimes I assign my students outlining tasks, but when it comes to my own work, I rarely outline. I find it makes me feel hemmed in. Somebody, maybe Stephen King, or maybe it was Annie LaMott said that some writers have to have a map before they get in the car and turn the key, and other writers just turn the key and GO. I love the idea of outlining, but in reality I turn the key and go. I’ve ended up in some pretty interesting places that way, but it definitely takes longer to get there.

How long do you take to complete a book?

I’m a pretty slow writer – especially in the beginning stages of a novel. I spend a lot of time writing and rewriting my opening paragraph. I think of the first line of every book as a diving board. You have to be completely relaxed and focused and calm before you can jump into the story properly.

Are your characters completely fictional?

My preferred genre is realistic fiction. The realism comes in part because I do think about things that have happened to me, and things I’ve seen other people do – but what I enjoy most about writing is making stuff up. I don’t want to tell true stories – I want to tell stories that feel true.

What one word describes you?

I am very determined. I don’t give up easily. If I did, I would probably never finish writing a book. There always comes a time in the writing process for me when I’m tearing my hair out and asking myself what I could have been thinking to have undertaken such a ridiculously impossible task, but somehow I always manage to push through.

When are you the most productive?

I am a morning person. The only time I write after dark is when I’m closing in on a final draft of something. I often start writing around 5:00am, and work until I can’t write another word. Then I make dinner, or bake cookies or answer e-mails.

Do you let anyone read your WIP?

Sometimes I share early drafts with my 93 year-old mother –because I know she’ll tell me she likes it no matter what. Sometimes I show chapters to my editor, David Levithan, because he is super smart. Sometimes I show stuff to my friend Brian Selznick, because he knows to be really, really, really gentle with me in the early stages. With PIE, I read the manuscript to a ten-year-old daughter of a friend to get her thoughts on the story before I sent it in to my editor. She had some great suggestions!

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

Can I add two things? An assistant, and a hot tub!

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I bake pies, cookies, cake, bread.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Well, no book has been exactly “easy” to write– but my newest novel, PIE was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. So B. It took the longest – four years.

Do you write with music?

Nope. Too distracting. I do like to bake with the I-pod cranked up though.

Is there a genre you avoid?

Fantasy. I don’t really enjoy reading it, and I’ve never really wanted to write it either.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I’m in the early stages of planning right now, so I can’t tell you much other than it’s set in a nail salon.


Author Interview with Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz

PennyGet to know Penny…

Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz has published more than 80 articles, 60 stories, two e‑books, a chapbook, and her stories have been included in two anthologies. She writes for both adults and children. Her fiction has appeared in numerous genre and children’s publications and non‑fiction work has appeared in a variety of writing, parenting, and young adult print magazines and on line publications. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin! 

What was your favorite book to write?

My favorite book to write was Ghost for Rent—a middle grade paranormal mystery. When I wrote it, my daughter was about the same age as the heroine and I set it in our rural Oregon community. For many years, my daughter insisted I wasn’t a “real” writer because I hadn’t written a book. (All of my magazine articles and short stories didn’t count.) Ghost for Rent was written for my daughter, but by the time it was published, she was past the age of my intended audience. Still, I had fun writing it and coming up with obstacles for my main character to overcome.  I’ve since written the sequel, Ghost for Lunch, which is scheduled for release in 2012 with 4RV Publishing. I think I had as much fun with that as with the first. 

Where do you get your ideas?

I get my ideas from a lot of different places. In my current release, A Past and A Future, there are sixteen individual short stories.  Many of these had been previously published in the small press and a couple were written for the collection. All of them came to being for different reasons.

With Love in a Different Hue, I was intrigued by the possibility of a woman who had been emotionally abused by her husband finding love with a machine.  It was an idea that was percolating in my mind and I wanted to see what would happen with it. 

Ashley of Ashland, also from the collection, came as a result of a newspaper article I read.  3-D Pictures, again from the collection, sprouted during the time when those 3-D pictures were popular. Maybe you remember them? You would stare at the picture long enough for things in the background to jump out at you. I loved them and wanted to do a story that involved someone who could actually be drawn into the picture. 

What advice would you give young writers?

I always encourage young writers to persevere. When I was younger, we didn’t have the resources young people have today for support and guidance.  My first rejections stopped me from submitting my stories for almost twenty years.  I didn’t realize when I was young, that even famous authors are rejected. I thought if I was rejected, I couldn’t write. It took me many years to learn it is more often just a case of being in the right place at the right time with the right story. Of course, writers need to hone their craft, study other writers, attend conferences, and ask questions.  But ultimately, if you don’t submit your work, you won’t get published.  If you are rejected, you simply need to try again.  If the same story is continually rejected, it probably needs some work. But, if you do the best you can, edit, and send off a professional manuscript, chances are good you will eventually find a home for your work. 

When are you the most productive?

When I worked full-time, I was most productive in the evening, because that was the only time available to me.  Now that I’m retired from my “day job,” I can write whenever I want. I find that I am most productive when I have an idea that wants to be put on paper. I tend to write when the mood strikes me, rather than at a set time each day. 

Are your characters completely fictional?

While my characters are completely fictional, I often take bits and pieces from people I know. Maybe it will be a description of someone or a characteristic they might have. Or someone I know looks like my image of what a detective looks like.  I don’t think anyone I know would recognize him or herself in one of my stories, but I think it’s almost impossible not to look to people we know for character ideas.

Describe your dream vacation.

I have two vacations I would like to take.  I have never been to Hawaii and I would like my next vacation to be a cruise around the Islands. When I was younger, I never wanted to go to Hawaii, but since I’ve lived on the West Coast, I’ve become more open to seeing that state. People tell me if one doesn’t like the weather on one part of an island, one merely needs to go to the other side of the island.

My other vacation is a trip to Russia. I’ve been interested in Russian history for a number of years and would love to see St. Petersburg and other parts of the country.  There is so much history there. I think it would be fascinating to see it.