Interview with Award-Winning Freelancer Linda Zajac

LindaGet to know Linda…

Linda Zajac is an award-winning freelance science writer for children. She has been writing for magazines since 2002. She pursues captivating stories about scientists who use cutting edge technology to advance medicine, study wildlife, and protect the environment. As a writer of creative nonfiction, she writes science as a story, sprinkled with art. In May 2010, she was the recipient of the PEN New England Susan Bloom Children’s Discovery Award.  The same chapter also won the 2010 CNW/Florida Freelance Writers Contest. To learn more, visit her blog.

Let the conversation begin!

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

That’s easy, one classic. Since I write creative nonfiction, I believe that science can be educational and it can also be literature. I would rather have my work known for its literary merit than for its location on the best seller list, but it sure would be nice to be in both places. 

Do you write with music?

I like peace and quiet when I write. The music that suits me best is the sound of songbirds. 

Is there a genre you avoid?

I can’t see myself ever writing romance novels. I think I’d turn all shades of pink and the end result would be detrimental to my career.   

Most embarrassing moment?

I’m really talented in this area. Right now, I’m not ready to divulge my most embarrassing moment, but there was one incident in high school that was pretty embarrassing: 

My tiny 5’1” friend Theresa stepped into a gym locker.

“See, I can fit,” she said.

I’m not one to pass up a challenge and that was a challenge. Even though I was four inches taller, I managed to squash into another locker, but I didn’t realize the lock was damaged.  Theresa shut the door. I didn’t believe her when she said she couldn’t open it. She asked me to kick the door from the inside. Yeah right. I slid my foot forward a whole inch or two. She finally fetched the gym teacher who rounded up the janitor. As he worked to free me, the sound of a hammer echoed off the walls of the locker. It was like being inside a bell. He finally pried the door open. I wanted to move my face from the locker straight into a brown paper bag. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Time spent writing and researching is often balanced with time on the trail. Running helps temper frustration and I often toy with sentences while I’m out there. I regularly fluctuate between activities that are active and inactive, outside and inside.   Depending on the time of year, I may hike, climb a mountain, ice skate, cross country ski, snowshoe, kayak or garden. Other times I recharge by reading. 

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

I’m happy to share my work with my writing group. Aside from that, I don’t talk or blog about the particulars of a project. 

What is your secret talent?

I have to overcompensate in this area thanks to all my embarrassing moments. I like to cook and often experiment with new recipes and exotic ingredients. I sew, but I don’t do that as much as I used to. I’ve made everything from curtains to clothing to Halloween costumes to a fully lined wool suit. My interest tapered off that one day my daughter fled from my lap—screaming. I pierced my finger with a needle and it went all the way through. I can also whip a Frisbee forehand and backhand and you know that skill will take me places in life. 

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

I’d like to break the rule that says I have to use a real word to describe myself. 

What initially drew you to writing?

When my kids were younger, I read to them all the time. Every time I went to the library, I filled a tote bag with as many books as I could carry. I really enjoyed finding fun ways to educate my own kids as well as scout troops. I considered becoming a teacher until I had a dream I was on a school bus going in the wrong direction.  Instead, I decided to write. My first proposal was an arts and craft book.  

Are your characters completely fictional? 

Since I write mostly nonfiction, my characters had better be 100% factual or I’m in trouble. 

Where do you get your ideas?

Science is great, it’s always evolving and changing so there is a steady stream of new ideas, technology, and discoveries. I find these by reading online news sites, magazines, newspapers, adult books, or doing my own searches on topics of interest. I’ve also picked up story ideas for articles from editors.     

What advice would you give young writers?

Although it’s not necessary to write science with an advanced degree, it makes it a whole lot easier to break in. I would tell young writers to strive for better than your best, to persevere despite overwhelming obstacles, to thrive in the tough love of a critique group, and to write about topics they are passionate about. 

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

In general, I’m adventurous when it comes to sampling new food.  Once I saw an exotic looking dragonfruit at the grocery store. Since I drink dragonfruit vitamin water, I simply couldn’t resist it. I blogged about this eating adventure on 9/11/09 (it must have been a slow week for blog news!).  It was interesting that the color of vitamin water matched the vivid fuschia skin of the fruit not the bland white interior. Maybe I was supposed to eat the skin? 

What one word describes you? 

Create-ogical. “Mid-brained,” isn’t spicy enough. I am both logical and creative.  My left brain and right brain constantly duke it out.  Either I am happily immersed in my writing world or I’m questioning what I’m doing here.  

How many words do you write each day?

The amount I write daily varies for a couple of reasons. First of all, nonfiction writing requires research. I may spend time digging through reputable online sources, pulling research papers at university libraries, reading adult books on the topic, fact-checking my work or interviewing a scientist or three. Also, the speed that I write at varies.  When I’m working on a first draft the writing is slow.     

When are you the most productive?

I’m definitely more productive in the morning. Later in the day, I’ve been known to fall asleep with a captivating research paper perched on my stomach.  There was one paper that I read several times.  It was better than Nyquil.   

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

Au.  I’m going for the gold—what do you expect from someone who writes for a chemistry magazine?


Interview with Award-Winning Author Judi Curtin

Alice Again.inddGet to know Judi…

Judi Curtin was born in London and grew up in Cork. She has published three books for adults, and twelve for children. Several of her childrens books have been Irish bestsellers and one was shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. They have been sold internationally, and translated into multiple languages. Judi now lives in Limerick with her family, and her cat Domino, the only real character in any of her books. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin! 

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

Hmmm – difficult question. One classic would be an amazing achievement. Only problem is, I love writing, and am currently doing two books a year. If I’d already written my one classic, how would I spend my days? (Maybe spending the millions the classic earned me???) 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

At the moment I’m working on the (as yet untitled) third book in the Friends Forever Series. In this series, two young girls are whisked back in time, and form relationships with people they meet there. I love dealing with how the girls cope, knowing what’s going to happen next, and wondering if it’s in their power to change it. 

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

My first three books were top secret. When I wrote my first book, not only was the content a secret, but the very fact of its existence was a secret too. I feared that the notion of ‘being a writer’ was a bit pretentious, and decided to keep it to myself until it had actually happened. For a brief time, when she was the right age, my youngest daughter was allowed to read works in progress, but now she’s outgrown me, so I’m back to solitary scribbling. 

Judi Curtin 5Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Even though my books are not ‘high concept’ my outline usually consists of one line – ‘This is X and Y is going to happen to her.’ In other words, I usually know where I’m going, but don’t always know how I’m going to get there. 

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

A mountain spring trickling in the background and a cross person to tell me to switch off Facebook when I’m slacking! 

Easier to write before or after you were published?

Much easier afterwards. I had little hope or expectation of publishing my first book, and that kind of stifles motivation. Knowing there’s a good chance of an audience is what gets me to switch on my computer in the mornings. 

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

The idea that nowadays books have to be ‘high concept’. (Actually I break this rule every time I write a book.) I think there is more room for gentler, character-based novels, than publishers and booksellers would have us believe.


Interview with Newbery Honor Author Kathi Appelt

KathiGet to know Kathi…

Kathi Appelt is the award-winning author of more than thirty books for children and young adults. Her picture book, MISS LADY BIRD’S WILDFLOWERS: HOW A FIRST LADY CHANGED AMERICA (HarperCollins, 2005) was given the “Growing Good Kids Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature.” In 2003 Appelt won the Irma and Simon Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, given by the Bank Street College of Education, for her picture book BUBBA AND BEAU, BEST FRIENDS (Harcourt Brace, 2002). Her memoir, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS (Henry Holt, 2004) won the Paterson Prize for Young Adult Poetry.

Her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, a haunting story of love and survival in the pine forests of East Texas, has been described by reviewers as a “classic.” It was named a National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book, and most recently awarded the PEN USA Literature for Children Award. 

Ms. Appelt was presented with the A.C. Greene Award by the Friends of Abilene Public Library, which named her a “Texas Distinguished Author.”

In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

She and her husband, Ken, live in College Station, TX with four adorable cats, Django, Peach, Hoss and Jazz.  They are the parents of two even more adorable sons, Jacob and Cooper, musicians who both play the double bass. For more information, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

I’d gather up my family and friends and have a dance, with lots of good food and good music. 

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

That varies from book to book.  The shortest time it ever took me to write a book was about two weeks.  The longest was six years.  

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

If my writing feels “too easy,” then it’s a signal to me that I’m probably skimming the surface of the story and not digging in deeply enough.

Are your characters completely fictional?

It varies.  Sometimes I base them on real animals rather than people. 

Where do you get your ideas?

Mostly from my own life experiences, but also from things I’ve read or seen or heard about.  I’m always on the look out for story ideas.

What advice would you give young writers?

My motto is “write like your fingers are on fire,” which means to write fast and write a lot.  Write until your fingers are so hot you have to blow on them to cool them down. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Write what you think you can’t.”  MT Anderson told me that, and it’s held me in good stead for quite a while. 

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

I rather like the way my life looks now, so I’m not sure I’d change anything. 

Daily word count?

That definitely varies. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Walk. Read. Go to movies. 

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

I have a handful of readers whom I depend upon for honest feedback.  

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

Science fiction is not high on my list, mostly because I know so little about science.  

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

Why we should all be liberals. 

Is there a genre you avoid?

Politics and religion. 

What initially drew you to writing?

All those childhood books that I loved so much.

Do you begin with character or plot?

Both, but not necessarily at the same time.

Describe your dream vacation.

Beach. Books. Chardonnay.  


Interview with Award-Winning Author Donna Gephart

DonnaGet to know Donna…

Donna Gephart’s newest middle grade novel — Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen — is about a girl who will do anything to get on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy! and to visit her father, who left the family two years earlier.  Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen has received a starred Kirkus review and a blurb from Jeopardy! champ, Ken Jennings.  Her other novels for children have appeared on several state lists and garnered awards, including the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award.  Donna lives in South Florida with her family, two shelter dogs and a very vocal, twenty-year-old cat named Jasmine. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Do you begin with character or plot?

Plot comes from a character’s needs/wants/passions, so I must know my character before I know what happens to him/her. It takes a lot of tries until I get the distinct voice of my character. Once I get that, I can move forward.

What is your favorite quote? 

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” — Groucho Marx  (It’s funny and I wish I’d thought of it first.)

Where do you get your ideas?

I used to get my ideas at the Publix supermarket, near the vegetable sushi rolls and inflatable pool toys, but they stopped selling them, so now I have to get my ideas where all writers do: From fact, memory and imagination or a magical combination of those three things.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Find a rich benefactor. Barring that, read often, make writing a priority (over watching TV, cleaning and surfing the Internet) and don’t forget to get outside and enjoy life.

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Anything our oldest son concocted. He once served us smushed garlic sandwiches for dinner. Don’t ask! Let’s just say he’s not on kitchen duty anymore, so his evil plan obviously worked.

The work is done. How do you recharge?

The work is never done, so it’s a good thing I love my work. But these are some things I like to do while my subconscious mulls over story ideas: yoga, meditation, long walks (especially on the beach or in a forest), library visits, bookstore visits, bike rides, swimming and anything with my family and friends (but most especially those things that involve eating delicious vegetarian food).

how to survive middle schoolWhat book was the easiest to write? Hardest? 

Every book is challenging in different ways. Writing a book and revising it is like solving puzzles: Never easy, but often deeply satisfying.

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

A personal assistant. Preferably Paul Rudd. He could make me laugh while he fixed lunch and sorted my mail.

How long do you take to write a book?

I wrote Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in 29 days as part of NaNoWriMo. Please don’t ask me how long it took me to revise it!

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

When I was ten and wrote my first short story, I knew I wanted to be a writer. While I did a lot of other jobs to pay the bills, I’ve never really wanted to be anything other than a writer. (Except maybe a librarian. Librarians are incredibly cool in a nerdy sort of way.)

Earliest childhood memory?

Getting stuck under a table in kindergarten when I was squeezing through metal crossbars to help pick up Play-doh. It took the teacher a while to notice I was down there. I was too embarrassed to yell for help.

What is your secret talent?

I’m seriously good at the hula hoop, so much so that “the unfortunate hoola hoop incident” plays a big part in my new book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.  What is “the unfortunate hoola hoop incident,” you might ask? Well, I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Seriously, I’d definitely tell you, but I don’t want to spoil the story for you. 

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

That annoying writing rule: Write what you know. I want to write what I don’t know, so I can learn something new. Each of my books has required research because I always write what I don’t know.  Maybe we could amend the rule: Write what interests you.

What initially drew you to writing?

The public library. I was a lonely kid growing up in Philadelphia, and the public library near my home was a haven. Still is, here in South Florida. How could I read so many books over my lifetime and not become a writer?

Daily word count?

I don’t count. Math really isn’t my thing.