Author Interview with Daisy Whitney

whitney_whenyouwerehere_hc-679x1024Get to know Daisy…

Daisy Whitney is a new-media producer, a reporter, and an internationally known web show creator, and The Mockingbirds is her debut novel. She graduated from Brown University and lives in San Francisco, California, with her fabulous husband, fantastic kids, and adorable dog. Daisy believes in shoes, chocolate chip cookies, and karma. The Rivals, the sequel to The Mockingbirds, is available now in bookstores. Her third novel, When You Were Here, is a standalone YA and will release in Spring 2013. To learn more about her books, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.

More than 100 rejections from agents, more than 48 rejections for first three books, two and a half years of being agented, finally sold a book!

What do you miss most about being a kid?

The way they don’t worry if they look silly while dancing. The way they eat sweets without thinking about calories. The way they want to run around all day long. 

If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like? 

Karaoke of Broadway show tunes! 

If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

Put aside money for my kids’ college, then take my family to Paris!

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

It would be about love.

mockingbirds_pbWhat is your favorite quote? 

“To riding your bike midday past the three-piece suits,” from Rent. I love it because it typifies the kind of freedom I want to have in my job. 

What advice would you give to new writers?

Be tenacious and gracious. 

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

Good health. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

A newspaper editor once told me I would never making a living as a freelance writer. Nothing ever motivated me more to make a living as a freelance writer and I have – for more than 15 years. 

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

A butler. 

How long do you take to write a book?

As long as the book needs. I wrote the draft of one novel in 21 days. For another novel it took me more than two years to get it where I want it. 

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

Spend it with my kids, doing whatever they want. 

What initially drew you to writing?

I believe in the suspension of disbelief.

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Interview with National Bestselling Author Joanna Slan

Joanna-Campbell-Slan-2Get to know Joanna…

I am the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, The Jane Eyre Chronicles, and the upcoming Southern Beauty Shop mysteries. For more info, check out my website and blog.

Let the conversation begin!

Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author. 

I grew up in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father, so I learned early that books were a great way to escape. In particular, I thought of Jane Eyre as a road map to a better life, because Jane’s education allows her to make her way in the world and eventually meet a man who respects her. 

So I managed to get into college, where I worked full-time until I graduated with a degree in journalism. I learned to write, but not how to write books. I also didn’t know anything about the business of book publishing. Two decades after I left Ball State University, I answered a request for proposals and that resulted in the opportunity to write my first book, Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience, a college textbook for people who want to captivate their audiences.

About that time, I also had a variety of essays published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Each step along the way to publication taught me more about the book business. When my son got his driver’s license, and I was freed from carpool duty, I was able to return to my love of storytelling—and I found the courage to try my hand at fiction. Drawing from my own life and my work in the crafts field, I imagined a young mother whose comfortable life is turned upside-down by the mysterious death of her husband. With no other options, she takes a job in a scrapbook store. That’s how I came to write about Kiki Lowenstein. 

slan cover with blurbOutliner or Seat-of-the-pantser? 

A bit of both. I feel very strongly that I need to set the tone in the first three chapters, so I really work hard to get the book started. Along the way, I make notes, I do exercises, I fill in worksheets, I make diagrams, I write scene ideas and plot points on sticky notes that I paste to a chart divided into three acts, and I start doing my research. At some point, when I can’t go any further, I sit down and work up a synopsis. Not really an outline, because that’s too linear. Instead, I sort of gather the bits and pieces into a chronological flow as if I were telling someone else the story. I paste this synopsis into the document with my three chapters. As I add onto those first chapters, I also add onto the synopsis. All the while I am developing a notebook with ideas, problems, character sketches, research notes, maps, floor plans, flow charts and so on. So I’m simultaneously moving forward from those beginning chapters and working on the heart of the book. Sounds complicated, but my goal is to capture good ideas while allowing the book to develop—and not to slow down during the process.

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?

Pat Conroy. I’ve met him, and he’s lovely. I even named my protagonist “Lowenstein” in homage to his book The Prince of Tides. I think he would help me take my writing to the next level.

When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?

I am addicted to Zentangle®. I also love walking on the beach and doing Zumba. It goes without saying that I love to read. But when I’m writing against a deadline, I don’t let myself read for pleasure. I try to restrict most of my reading to research. 

The best part of waking up is? 

Looking forward to another day of writing. I am the luckiest girl in the WORLD! I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do. Yipppeee!!! 

What advice would you give to new writers?

Invest in your career. Take classes. Buy books. Go to conferences. Join writers’ associations. Network. Pay to have your work edited. And put your writing first. If you don’t, you’ll never succeed. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Marilyn Singer

SingerGet to know Marilyn…

A former high school English teacher, Marilyn Singer published her first book, The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t, way back in 1976. Since then, she has published over ninety books in many genres—including the Tallulah picture books and Mirror Mirror (Dutton), for which she created the “reverso,” has garnered eighteen state, city, and international award nominations and won a Cybil Award for best poetry book of 2010. This year, Marilyn has six books coming out: A Stick is an Excellent Thing (Clarion), illustrated by LeUyen Pham; Every Day’s a Dog’s Day (Dial), illustrated by Miki Sakamoto; Tallulah’s Solo (Clarion), illustrated by Alexandra Boiger; The Boy Who Cried Alien (Hyperion), illustrated by Brian Biggs; The Superheroes Employment Agency (Clarion), illustrated by Noah Z. Jones; and A Strange Place to Call Home (Chronicle), illustrated by Ed Young. 2013 will see another Tallulah book and a new collection of reversos, Follow Follow. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author. 

When I was a kid, I used to go into my parents’ bathroom and make up stories. I’d shine a flashlight on the ceiling and create this character, Lightey the Lightning Bug. My parents thought I had an imaginary friend, but I knew it was a flashlight and my own imagination. Flash forward nearly twenty years. I’d just quit teaching high school and was writing teachers’ guides about films and also filmstrips (remember those?). One day, I was sitting in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and I recalled those Lightey stories. I wrote them down. And that inspired me to write other stories as well.  I showed them to a friend who was a published writer, and I also joined the Bank Street Writers Lab. Both the friend and fellow Lab participants encouraged me to submit the stories to publishers, so I did. Among that batch was one called THE DOG WHO INSISTED HE WASN’T. I sold it to Dutton, and it was my first published book. I was very, very lucky in that it took only about six months from the time I wrote it to getting it accepted. But things were different in the 70s—it was considerably easier to sell something over the transom. As for the Lightey stories, I eventually fashioned those into a novel, which was published, but which, I’m sad to say, bombed.  

I’ve now been a writer for nearly forty years, and it’s still something of a roller coaster ride. Sometimes I sell manuscripts, but just as often I get rejected. Sometimes my published books sell really well; other times, they don’t. Writing is not a career for the thin-skinned or easily defeated, but I really wouldn’t choose another one. I can’t—I don’t have a lot of other skills! 

Ever written a book that never got published? Ever think you’ll give it a second chance?

As I said above, you betcha! I’ve written plenty of unpublished manuscripts. But writers learn never to throw away ANYTHING.  There are manuscripts that I hadn’t sold, but then I’ve reworked them, and eureka!  There’s a YA novel I hope to revisit someday and see if I can revise it into something salable. And even if I don’t sell it, I had a good time writing it and could have an equally good one rewriting it. 

What story does your family always tell about you?

When my mom was alive, she always told anyone who would listen that I was something of a precocious child (from her, that was a compliment!).  Apparently, when I was really little, I went up to some guy and said, “I’d like to introduce you to my parents.” His response was “How old is that kid?”  I rather like that story because it shows how much I loved words even then. 

Another story my mom always told was about something that happened when we stayed at a hotel in the Catskills. We went there in the summer to escape NYC heat. There was an auditorium with a stage, and during the day, when no one except the staff were there, I’d go up and sing into a dead mike. I was maybe 3 or 4 at the time, and I really loved to sing. My big numbers were “Gimme a Little Kiss” and “Baby Face.” One night when all the guests were in the auditorium for “cartoon night” or whatever it was, the MC, aided and abetted by my parents, said, “And now we’re going to have a special treat. We’re going to have a song from Miss Marilyn Singer.” The trouble was nobody told me. And although I loved singing, I didn’t want to do it in public—at least not then. I burst into tears and ran out of the room. 

Lately, I enjoy performing (at least when it comes to reading my poetry out loud) more, but I still can get conflicted—the push/pull between wanting that applause and wanting to hide! And I always get nervous beforehand. My husband says that that story from my childhood is also about how I like things well-planned in advance, that I don’t like surprises sprung on me. It is true that I’m not keen on surprise parties, but I do like surprise gifts, such as necklaces.  And brooches. And flowers. And…well, surprise me! 

What age did you become an adult?

What’s an adult? 

alienWhat mischief did you get into growing up?

I had a good friend who lived a few houses away. We were completely nuts about The Beatles. I used to sneak out and visit her in the middle of the night so we could spin yarns about what would happen if we ever met John, Paul, George and Ringo. We actually created pretty complicated and romantic adventures. Because she lived so near, I’d dash over in my nightgown. One evening, a policeman apparently spotted me and he told my parents, who promptly asked me what on earth I’d been doing. I had to tell the truth (or part of the truth—I don’t think I bothered to mention that I’d been sneaking out for months!). I didn’t get into a lot of trouble (just a little), and I don’t think I stopped sneaking out either! 

 What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

Here are some of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older: Be as straightforward with people as you possibly can. Work hard on not envying others. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Finish what you’ve started. Own your triumphs and your failures. And, as a wise person once said to me, “Laugh and enjoy your food.” 

If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like?

I’ve already thrown my perfect party. It was for my sixtieth birthday a few years ago. It was in a Ukrainian restaurant in NYC which has a party room. My husband and I, who love to dance, hired an amazing band, as well as our dance teacher to give brief lessons in swing and cha cha. The restaurant did the catering—blintzes, potato pancakes, and other delicious comfort food. There were seventy-five guests and we ate and danced up a storm. I hope to do this again for another big birthday. It was divine! 

What’s the worst gift you’ve ever received?

There have been some humdingers, but the one my husband and I always talk about was the wedding gift we received which was a red plastic tray that spelled the word “DIP.” We returned it to the store, but it will always remain in our memory.

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Shakespeare, please! Some great lyricists such as Dorothy Fields and Johnny Mercer. And maybe Jon Stewart. 

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

Don’t try to impress everybody. Keep it simple—even when it isn’t.   And know that in all likelihood, you’re going to have to revise!

What songs are included on the soundtrack to your life?

Hoo, boy.  You struck a chord with this one. I’m a huge fan of the Great American Songbook, so here are the standards I’d include:

“You’re Not Sick, You’re Just in Love” (Irving Berlin); “I Get a Kick Out of You” (Cole Porter); “From This Moment On” (Cole Porter); “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields);  “Come Fly with Me” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn);  “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” (Steve Allen);  “Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer); “The Glory of Love” (Billy Hill);  “As Time Goes By” (Herman Hupfeld);  “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (Harlan Howard/Hank Cochran); “How High the Moon” (Morgan Lewis/Nancy Hamilton);  “The Lady Is a Tramp” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart);  “Shall We Dance?” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein); “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (Fats Waller and Harry Brooks/Andy Razaf);  “It’s Only a Paper Moon”  (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg and Billy Rose); “Comedy Tonight” (Stephen Sondheim);  “I Got Rhythm” (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin);  “You Make Me Feel So Young” (Josef Myrow/Mack Gordon); “I’m Glad There Is You” (Jimmy Dorsey/Paul Madeira); “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads” (Robert Wright/George Forrest); “I Can Cook, Too” (Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden and Adolf Green);  “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner); “When You Wish Upon a Star” (Leigh Harline/Ned Washington); “I’m Still Here” (Stephen Sondheim). 

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Jay Asher

The_Future_of_Us_pbGet to know Jay…

Jay Asher’s debut teen novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, spent two years on the New York Times bestsellers list. It has sold to over 30 foreign markets, and Universal Pictures bought the movie rights. His second novel, The Future of Us, was co-written with Carolyn Mackler and came out in November 2011. It has sold to 15 foreign markets, and Warner Bros. bought the movie rights. He lives with his wife and son in California. To learn more about his books, visit his website and blog.

Let the conversation begin!

What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

Before writing my latest book, I probably would’ve spent a lot of time thinking up an answer for this question. But now, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t give my younger self any advice. In my latest book, THE FUTURE OF US, two teens glimpse the future, which alters the present, and sends their lives down different paths. Since I like where my life’s ended up, I wouldn’t want to throw any pebbles into that pond. While giving my past self some advice would’ve saved me certain heartaches, it could’ve just created bigger problems. 

When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?

I go to bookstores. Whether I’m at home or on the road, if I have any downtime, you can usually find me wandering through bookshelves. It’s relaxing and inspiring. 

The best part of waking up is?

Seeing my son. When he notices that I’m awake, it brings a huge smile to his face. There can’t possibly be a better reaction to starting my day than that. 

If you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavor, what would it be? 

Chubby Hubby, by my good friends Ben and Jerry. If you are what you eat, this is the ice cream I’d become. 

What was the last movie or book that made you angry? Explain.

I’ve never been angry at a book or movie. When I hear people say they threw a book across the room or stormed out of a theater, I think, “Wow. Someone needs to up their dosage.” When people have extreme reactions to fiction (positive and negative), I think it says more about that person than whatever they were reading or watching. And the fact that I don’t have such extreme reactions may say something about me. 

Thirteen-Reasons-WhyEver written a book that never got published? Ever think you’ll give it a second chance?

I’ve never written any YA novels that didn’t get published, but I’ve written plenty of stories for younger audiences that went nowhere. There is one humorous middle-grade novel that I would love to get published. I’ve actually been brainstorming it a lot recently, so hopefully you’ll see it in print in the near future. 

When was the last time you were nervous?

The last time I had to speak in front of an audience. I’ve given hundreds of speeches by now, and I’ve enjoyed every one. But I still get extremely nervous right before. Extremely! Usually, it’s while watching people come into the room to take their seats. Sometimes I’ll be talking to someone as the room begins to fill, and they’ll say, “Well, I should probably leave you alone now.” And I’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s fine.” What I really mean is, “Please keep talking to me! It’s giving me something to focus on!” But once I begin speaking, I have so much fun that the nerves completely disappear. 

Ever had something happen that you thought was bad, but it turned out to be for the best?

Every time a manuscript was rejected, it was for the best. And I had twelve years of manuscripts being rejected before I finally sold a book, but I’m now thankful for all those rejections. The stories weren’t ready, and I’m glad Thirteen Reasons Why was my intro to the publishing world. 

What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

Taking my son to the park. Whether he wants me to push him on a swing, take him down the slide, splash in puddles, or just walk through the trees, it’s exactly what I want to be doing in that moment. 

Where’s Waldo?

Harold has him in a purple jail somewhere. (This question inspired this blog post).

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Author Interview with Karen Rivers

KarenRGet to know Karen…

I started writing my first novel, The Tree Tattoo, after I dropped out of school and moved back into my parents’ basement. It wasn’t exactly the high point of my life, but I labored away at it for about five years, never thinking anyone would want to publish it. Then when I was done, instead of trying to sell it, I wrote my second novel, Dream Water. Then I sold Dream Water and only THEN did I try to sell my first book. It was all a bit mixed up.

Somewhere along the line I signed with an agent and after that I just started writing and writing more and more and more until I was able to quit my crummy job and write full-time, which, as it turns out, is my dream job. I highly recommend finding your dream job, even if you stumble along the way and then it turns out that your dream job does not always come with a dream salary. It’s worth it in the end. To learn more about me, check out my blog.

Let the conversation begin!

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

Before I was published, I wrote in a very verrrry verrrrrry leisurely way. Looking back on it, it seems very luxurious and silly. I could spend six weeks making a single sentence sing! I could take months off to simply think! La la la!  Look! Something shiny! There was no pressure to complete anything because no one knew I was writing and if they had, they wouldn’t have cared.  

It took me five years to write my first novel in this way, thirty minutes here, an hour there.  I played a lot of minesweeper and solitaire and spent colossal amounts of time in AOL chatrooms. 

When my book sold, I immediately felt internal pressure to do MORE and FASTER, because I suddenly realized that THIS could be my career. It felt like a miracle. However, I’d have to produce a lot more or I’d starve. It’s hard to say if it then became easier, it certainly began to feel more like a job and less like an idle fantasy, which was very motivating. I started to feel like it mattered, like my voice mattered, I suppose like I mattered. And I do loves me some validation.

Are your characters completely fictional? 

I name horrible characters after people who have wronged me in real life. I make no secret of it! The characters don’t have anything to do with the people themselves, they are just bad guys. With bad guy names. MELODY, for example. I love doing this. It makes me happy. It rights the wrongs. Well, almost.

Where do you get your ideas?

I’ve never had a hard time coming up with ideas, honestly. I have the opposite problem. In a lot of ways, I think fiction writing is a type of mania. I always have a swirling morass of ideas, I picture it like a big swamp with huge green plants growing out of it and giant bubbles of ideas lifting into the sky. I have SO many things that I’m desperate to start writing as soon as I’ve finished this or that. I cannot wait to get to the next one. 

What advice would you give young writers?

I would tell them not to listen to advice as though “advice” can be interpreted as a set of rules. Writing is a completely unique, entirely personal, and slightly crazy process. If you start thinking it should be done in a particular way, you’ll begin to feel like you are doing it wrong. And that is the worst, most hobbling, most terrifying thing. 

There is no right or wrong way to apply YOUR voice to the page.   You have to quiet your mind, stop worrying about how someone else would tackle the same subject, and listen. To yourself. It is not always helpful to know that so-and-so writes 1000 words per day no matter what, because then when you are working on your novel, you may feel like you are failing if you do it differently. That feeling of failure can seep into your subconscious and stop you from moving forward. Period.

Separate out what is useful to you, but always understand that there is no right or wrong. Nothing is black and white when it comes to writing, except literally for the words on the page.

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

There are two particular things that I read in Bird By Bird that stuck with me. One was to hang a small picture frame over your desk, empty, and write only what you can “see” through the frame. This helped me to manage scenes that otherwise just seemed to large to ever boil down into words. The other was to take your parents’ voices and put them in a jar on your desk, and then to shut the jar. Particularly when you are young, it is hard to not imagine how shocked your mother might be by what you’ve just written.   Will she think it’s about you? (My mum always did, to be honest.)  If you worry about it too much, it can stop you from really letting your characters be themselves.  Quiet the voices! I’m a big believer in SILENCE. Shhhh, little voices.

Daily word count?

Some days I’ll write 10,000 words, other days I’ll write nothing. I don’t think it matters. (Forcing myself to write 1000 words a day — and I did try this for a while — made me produce some of the most awful 1000 word chunks in history.) I once wrote an entire first draft of a novel in three days.  

Some days I do nothing but start at the beginning and pick my way through until I feel like I’m in the story again, and then I run out of time.   The next day I do it again. Sometimes it takes me weeks to get past that and move forward. I try not to count words.   To me, that’s like counting calories. It sets me up for failure, and when I focus on that instead of focusing on how much I love what I’m doing or on simply what the characters have to say, it becomes all negative instead of positive.  

Outliner or seat-of-the-pants writer?

Seat-of-the-pants! Recently, my editor (Cheryl Klein at AA Levine) made me reverse outline a book, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a writer. That said, I can see how it is also genius in terms of the editing process. It made me see the book in an entirely different way and made it much, much, much stronger.

But for me, the first time out of the gate, if I try to write to an outline I can’t make my characters move around the page.  I am too busy making them follow my plan that they come off flat and lifeless. It doesn’t work for me. I wish I COULD work to an outline sometimes because it seems much tidier and cleaner somehow. I admire people who do it, much the way I admire people who have highly organized homes or ridiculously clean cars or absurdly good hair.

What Is Real cov altWhen are you the most productive?

Night.  I am a single mother for all intents and purposes, with really young kids and no childcare. So I write after they are asleep. The trouble with this is that sometimes I fall asleep with them. I have to remind myself that this part of their lives is so short, soon they won’t care if I’m with them all the time or not, and THEN I’ll have the luxury of daytime writing. (And then I’ll miss them and their constant need for attention!)   For now, it’s late at night, lying in my bad, laptop balanced on my legs.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I recently got a dog and we go for really long walks. The walking has been a huge revelation to me. I used to not allow myself to do ANYTHING but write if I was on a deadline or under pressure to finish for some other reason. Now I’ve found I actually write MORE, the less I’m at the computer. Being outside has saved me from myself a little bit. I also garden. Gardening and writing are very similar.  Sometimes you plant seeds and nothing comes up. Sometimes things grow in spite of you and change the way the whole landscape looks.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The easiest book I wrote was THE HEALING TIME OF HICKEYS.   I wrote it almost as a lark. I’d written a bunch of books that had dark subject matter and my mum kept saying, “Oh, write something funny already, I’m tired of all this sadness. You’re FUNNY!  People are going to think you’re so depressing!” So I took a bunch of ridiculous things that had happened to me that I knew would make her laugh, inside jokes really, and jumbled them up into a novel.   The character was based on a version of myself that I wish I was more like as a teen. I laughed more during the writing that book than any other, because I knew that everyone who knew me would know exactly which things had happened in real life.  

The hardest book I wrote was my latest, WHAT IS REAL. It was an arduous edit, more than doubling the length of the book.   During the edit, the book entirely changed. Of all the books that I’ve written, it felt like it wanted to be written a certain way, a really strange, unusual way. For a while, I fought it because I wanted it to be more mainstream. For the first time in my life, I’d sat down and thought, “I will write a mainstream YA novel!” And of course it went the opposite way, as things do when you try to plan them.    

It IS a very unique book and I’m really proud of it now that it’s done, but while I was writing it, I spent a lot of time worrying that I was doing it wrong. In the end, I wrote it the only way that I could and I love its inherent philosophy and the way it forces readers to question the difference between reality and perception. Does it really matter if something happens or if you only believe that it happened? That sort of thing.    

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

Never! Except in the case of WHAT IS REAL which was bought by the publisher after only a first draft.    

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

I wrote an adult literary novel based on real life events once.   I would never do that again. The research was so intense. Around the time I finished the novel, I read in PW that someone else had sold a novel based on the EXACT same event and people to a major publisher, rendering mine virtually unsellable. It was devastating.   The event and the people involved were so obscure, I couldn’t imagine how there came to be two of us writing the same story from the same perspective at the same time. I wouldn’t take that chance again, it took three years to write and now will likely never see the light of day.

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

I’d like a bigger audience, of course. I think everyone would. The reality is that it is hard to make a living doing this job and we all hope (I’m supposing) for at least one smash hit to buy freedom and time. Both mainstream books and classics have huge audiences, so I’m not fussy! I do want to write something that makes people say, “Wow.  I LOVED that.”

In order to become a classic, I actually think a book first does also become mainstream. But that doesn’t mean the book itself has to be in any way mundane, just something that captures the imagination of the world, something that says something unique, in a way that readers embrace. I’m thinking of TWILIGHT, specifically.  It’s not exactly what we think of as a “classic” and as writers, I think we’re meant to roll our eyes at it, but it will become a classic because it had such a huge impact on this generation of readers. It has its own brilliance.  

Do you write with music?

No! Too distracting!

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

I get panicky thinking about the answer to that question. I’m working on two books concurrently. Sometimes I get to a certain stage of writing and I start thinking, “What if I get hit by a bus before I finish this book?  Or get a brain tumor!  AM I GOING TO DIE?” I can make myself hyperventilate worrying about my poor little unfinished manuscript, languishing on my sad lonely laptop after my untimely demise.  

Is there a genre you avoid?

No.

What initially drew you to writing?

I was always a reader. Books were always a huge part of my life, more so than any other single thing. I can’t imagine not writing. It never occurred to me NOT to do it. For a long time, I thought it was necessary to also do something else, be a doctor or a lawyer. But I never imagined that I wouldn’t also be a writer.

Do you begin with character or plot?

Character.

Describe your dream vacation.

Vacation? What?

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Author Interview with Jenny Alexander

AlexanderGet to know Jenny…

Writing for children has been my bread-and-butter for nearly twenty years. I’ve written all sorts of books, both fiction and non-fiction. I’m probably best known for my books on bullying and related subjects. 

However, my secret passion all along has been my adult book about dreams. I teach creative dreaming and writing, and I’ve been working on the book every spare minute since before I was ever published. Today, I’ve finally delivered the MS to my agent. I feel bereft! To learn more, visit my website and blog.

Let the conversation begin! 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

Having delivered my dream book, I’m working on a follow-up series for my Peony Pinker books. The narrator will be a new girl in Peony’s class, who has been home-educated so has never been to school before. 

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

I never show anyone my work-in-progress – for me, that would take all the magic out of it. In fact, I don’t ask anyone to read my work except my agent. I’ve met less experienced authors who have got confused and deflated by premature feedback. 

What’s your favorite quote? 

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten, happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” –Brenda Ueland 

I love this because most people who come to my writing workshops are looking for instruction, when all they really need is to rediscover the joy playing with stories, characters and ideas.

What would you like your life to look like in ten years?

I’d like to still be writing fun, funny books for children, but also to have published several books for adults based on my creative writing and dreaming workshops. 

What advice would you give to new writers?

Writing and being a published author is not the same thing. I believe that everyone can benefit from creative writing – being able to express yourself and explore your own inner world is wondrous and empowering, and sharing in a group satisfies a really fundamental instinct to tell our stories, but it’s very hard to make a living as a writer. Putting your work into the marketplace requires more than talent – it means you have to deal with rejection, criticism and disappointment to a very high degree. I’ve blogged about it here.

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Interview with Bestselling Author Nancy J. Parra

Gluten for PunishmentGet to know Nancy…

Nancy J. Parra holds a Master’s Degree in Writing Popular Fiction, a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and has published columns and has written articles on writing, and has given workshops on writing techniques to various library and writers groups. 

Her seventh book, The Lovin’ Kind was named one of the top ten romances of 2006 by Booklist Magazine. The Bettin’ Kind, October 2005, received a starred review from Booklist Magazine. The Marryin’ Kind was heralded as “…another winner,” by Booklist Magazine, while Wyoming Wedding won a Reviewer’s Choice award. Labeled a rising star of 2002 by Booklist Magazine, Nancy is proud that A Wanted Man received a starred review in the October 2002 edition of Booklist Magazine and Saving Samantha was featured on the chapter-a-day website. To learn more about her books, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

From idea to completion, how long does it take to write a book? 

I get ideas all the time. I stash them away and it could be years before I write the book. But once I start to write a book it can take me from six to eight weeks to write a full draft then another month or so for revising. I’m a fast writer. I also love to write the book all at once and plot as I go along. Writers call this writing by the seat of your pants- or being a pantser.  For me it’s great fun to sit down that day and ask the questions-what happens next? And then How does my heroine feel about that? 

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

To me, my characters are all very real people. Many heroes suddenly appear-full fledged with all their strengths and weaknesses. One will appear in the doorway leaning against the jamb. I had one pop up on my desk once. The worst is when they start talking to you in the shower. Some privacy please, guys. So no, I don’t usually base them on real world people. The exception to that rule is the Grandma Ruth character in my 2013 Gluten-free Bakery mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime that character- and she really is one- is based on my own Grandma Ruth who was a flapper, a member of Mensa, and a complete character. 

What initially drew you to writing? 

I studied Journalism in college, but discovered it was much easier interviewing the characters in my head then real world people. Newspapers and magazines frown on making up people and quotes, but fiction editors love it. So, I found my niche. I started off writing short stories for a creative writing class, but quickly learned that I had trouble stopping with a few pages. I needed to know what happened next and so I wrote my first novel at the age of 21 and never looked back. 

What advice would you give young writers? 

A friend recently said to me, “I read a lot and thought it would be fun to write a book. What I learned is my fun hobby has turned into a lot of work.” This made me laugh because it is so true. Everyone who wants to write should write for fun. It’s not worth it if it isn’t fun, but anyone who wants to become published and make a career out of it needs to understand that it is also a lot of work-revising, editing, revising, proofing, revising. People always say persistence is key and that’s true, but be sure and stop every now and then and check to see if you’re still having fun. If you are having fun, your readers will have fun and that is the real key to success.

Tell us about the book you’re working on. 

Oh, my, I am always working on something – because I love it. A graduate professor of mine told the class that in publishing there is an 80/20 rule. Only 20 percent of your ideas/manuscripts will be published. I sat back to check my numbers and discovered she was right!

My first cozy mystery series will be out in 2013, from Berkley Prime Crime. “Gluten for Punishment” is the story of a woman who, after her mother’s death, returns to the small town she thought she’d left behind. She brings with her her gluten-free bakery and discovers it’s murder being gluten-free in the middle of wheat country.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Donna Jo Napoli

DonnaGet to know Donna…

Donna Jo Napoli is professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, mother of five, grandmother of two, and author of more than seventy books for pre-K through high school. Her work ranges from gothic horror to contemporary humor, and she loves to swim in traditional tales — religious, folk, fairy, mythological.

She has three works coming out in summer 2011: LIGHTS ON THE NILE, a novel set in 2530 BC in Egypt; THE CROSSING, a picture book about the Lewis and Clark expedition from the point of view of the baby on Sacagawea’s back; TREASURY OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY, a set of tales about gods, goddesses, and heroes, woven together in what she hopes is a coherent whole.

Interestingly enough, her novel A TREASURY OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY, (2011), along with her novel LIGHTS ON THE NILE (2011), led her to write a brand new book on Egyptian mythology, which will be released in 2013. To learn more about Donna, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.

Rocky.  But, as the saying goes, without its stones a stream would lose its song. 

Have you written any books that didn’t get published? Do you ever think of giving them a second chance?

Maybe 100.  Every now and then I pull out an old one and rework it and every now and then it gets published.  But not often. 

Ever had something happen that you thought was bad, but it turned out to be for the best?

Yup.  I wrote a picture book that a press bought.  Then the editor left and the publisher decided to cancel the contract.  I was blue.  But then another press bought it and they paired me with an absolutely fantastic illustrator, so I’m now looking forward to a beautiful book. 

What mischief did you get into growing up?

Mainly things having to do with animals.  I tried to lure them home with me.  I desperately wanted a pet, whether a lizard or a cat or whatever. 

What do you miss most about being a kid?

The ocean.  I grew up in Miami. 

If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like?

Dancing all night. 

If you could choose to stay a certain age forever, what age would it be?

I wouldn’t. 

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

Ha!  This is a devil’s question.  How about a string of classics?  We might as well shoot for the moon. 

If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

Set up a foundation for schools for deaf children. 

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

I don’t know the characters or the plot, but the setting would be a war. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

Character. 

What is your favorite quote?

You asked, so I’ll answer.  “M’illumino d’immenso” – it’s a poem by Giuseppe Ungaretti – and it means that the immensity of everything enlightens me.  It is very helpful when I feel overwhelmed. 

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

My daughter came home to visit.  She lives in Minneapolis and I haven’t seen her since Thanksgiving. 

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

Everything inspires me.  Life inspires me.  As for the second part of the question, I could go Buddhist on you and say we are all one. 

DonnaJIf you were an animal, who would you be? 

That probably changes by the day.  Today I’d be a beaver.  I feel like making a pool for everyone to swim in. 

Where do you get your ideas?

Looking, listening, living. 

What advice would you give to new writers?

Write everything.  Share it.  Listen to criticism.  Read tons. 

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Pork intestines – in Sicily.

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

I don’t own anything of value.  I don’t care about things.  All that matters to me is relationships and experiences. 

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

Write what you need to write. Lloyd Alexander told me that, when an editor told me to throw out a ms. 

What one word describes you?

Maybe energetic. People say I tire them out. 

What would you like your life to look like in ten years?

Still going. 

Most embarrassing moment?

Good grief. There are so many. But can I remember? 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

Italy.  Living there – for years, not just months. 

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

Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Tim O’Brien, but, hey, I need a fourth, Anne Tyler. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Easiest: THE MAGIC CIRCLE

Hardest: NORTH 

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

An ocean. 

How long do you take to write a book?   

However long it needs. 

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

Safe. 

Earliest childhood memory?

Sitting on the floor watching my brother play the piano. 

What is your secret talent?

Talking to animals. 

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

I think I’m about to break it.  But I’m superstitious.  So until the ms. is under contract, I won’t say. 

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

Sit somewhere with family. 

What initially drew you to writing?

Grief. 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Never outline – never never never.  That kills me.  Some people find it a wonderful support.  Not me.  I find it like a cage. 

Easier to write before or after you were published?

It’s never easy. 

Daily word count?

Nope.

Describe your perfect day.

Having breakfast with family. Writing my ass off. Taking a walk on the beach. Having dinner with family.  Reading. Going to bed and making love. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Karen E. Olson

OlsonGet to know Karen…

Karen E. Olson is the author of the Annie Seymour and Tattoo Shop mystery series. She won the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for her first novel SACRED COWS, and her book SHOT GIRL was nominated for a Shamus Award. She lives in the suburbs of New Haven, Connecticut with her husband, teenage daughter, and two fat cats. To learn more about Karen, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

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

I already broke it. They always say “Write what you know.” My tattoo shop series is all about writing what I don’t know. I have no tattoos, I’ve only been to Las Vegas three times for a total of 10 days over a period of 12 years.

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

I thrive on deadlines, so even before I was published, I would give myself deadlines so I wouldn’t slack off. I think that helped tremendously when I finally did have real deadlines imposed by my editors and I had to produce something in a set time period. Being a journalist was a huge advantage to writing both before and after I became published, too, because I couldn’t sit down in front of my computer and just stare at it and not produce anything. I don’t need a muse to inspire me. I just write. Whether I know a book is going to be published or not.

Are your characters completely fictional?

Completely fictional. Next question?

Where do you get your ideas?

Most of my plots were ripped from the headlines, so to speak, and then I twisted them around so I couldn’t get sued by anyone.

What advice would you give young writers?

Keep writing. Perseverance pays off.  It took me 15 years to get published, but I finally did.

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

Write every day and write four pages a day, because I’d have a book in three months. My friend Tom Fleming, who is a historian and novelist, gave me that advice, and he was spot on.  

OlsonKOutliner or seat-of-the-pants writer?

Definitely a seat of the pants writer. I find writing outlines and proposals are akin to sticking needles in my eyes. I usually start out knowing the crime, although I don’t always know whodunnit. Sometimes whodunnit changes halfway through the book. 

When are you the most productive?

I don’t have a particular time of day when I’m most productive. I have to snag periods of time to write in between my part time day job and my daughter’s activities. Although I do find that I get the most done between 4 and 6 in the afternoon. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I used to say before I died, I wanted to have a book published and see both Elton John and Bruce Springsteen in concert. Well, INK FLAMINGOS, coming out June 7, is my eighth book to be published. I saw Elton John in 1988. I have never seen Springsteen in concert. I guess I need to do that before he stops touring. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The Missing Ink was the easiest to write. It was the first in the tattoo shop series, and while I went into it knowing next to nothing about tattoos or Las Vegas, I finished the manuscript in two months. Maybe it was the not knowing that gave me the most confidence, and also getting to know a whole new cast of characters. I loved discovering that world.

The hardest book to write was SHOT GIRL, the fourth in the Annie Seymour series. After three books, I turned Annie into an unreliable narrator, which was incredibly challenging. But it paid off, since SHOT GIRL was nominated for a Shamus Award in 2009.

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

I don’t let anyone read what I’m writing until I’m done. Then I have a couple of people who are my usual first readers who help me see what I’ve done wrong.

Do you write with music?

I know a lot of writers who actually release their playlists after they publish a book. I don’t listen to music while I write because I don’t hear it. Working in a newsroom, where everything’s out in the open and there are people talking, phones ringing, constant interruptions, I’ve learned how to tune it all out and go into my own little zone. 

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Lauren Kate

Lauren Kate

Get to know Lauren…

Lauren Kate grew up in Dallas, went to school in Atlanta, and started writing in New York. She is the author of Fallen, Torment, the forthcoming Passion, and The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove. Her books have been translated into over thirty languages. She lives in Laurel Canyon with her husband and hopes to work in a restaurant kitchen and learn how to surf. She is currently at work on the final book in the Fallen series, Rapture. To learn more about Lauren and her books, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

What a scary thought! I imagine it’d be about the origins of love.

Do you begin with character or plot?

Always character. I have to force myself to figure out plots. I think my characters are just as bad at coming up with plot twists as I am. At this point in my writing, plot and character are two separate processes–one is intuitive, like dancing to a great song, and one is something I really have to work at, like reading music or training for a marathon.

What is your favorite quote? 

I think often about the ending of The Great Gatsby–the way that hope and defeat are symbiotic, the way that everything is determined by our past.

“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Lauren KateWhat was the best thing that happened to you this weekend? 

Hosting a BBQ at my house to celebrate the publication of a book of poems by my husband. I love cooking, celebrations with friends, and of course, the beautiful poems in this new collection.

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

When I was in the Philippines last summer I tried a small portion of balut, which is a fertilized duck egg…half embryonic duck, half over-easy egg. It was thrilling and scary and mildly traumatic and I had a whole audience of eager Filipinos watching me (with cameras) so I had to smile as I glugged down the vile stuff.  

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

I am fairly protective of my computer, for reasons that are easy to understand, but if and when something happens to it, I’ll survive. Everything I own I’m sure I could do without, though I’d be very upset to part with my wedding ring, which is a family heirloom from my husband’s great aunt.

What one word describes you? 

Evolving. I hope to always be growing by challenging the things I hold to be true.

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I want to work in a restaurant kitchen.

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

I keep it a secret until I have a first draft, at which point my husband and my agent are the first eyes on it. I talk about my writing problems with friends and family and work out a lot of things about characters during those conversations, but I don’t show specific passages to anyone until I have a full draft.

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