Interview with Award-Winning Author K.L. Going

fat-kid-coverGet to know K.L….

K.L. Going is the award-winning author of numerous books for children and teens. Her first novel, Fat Kid Rules the World was named a Michael Printz Honor Book by the American Library Association, and was included on YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults list and their list of Best Books for the Past Decade. Her books have been Book Sense picks, Scholastic Book Club choices, Junior Library Guild selections,  NY Public Library Best Books for the Teenage, and winners of state book awards. They’ve been featured by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Children’s Book Council as Best Books of the year. Her work has also been published inKorea,Italy,Japan,Germany, and theUK, and her novel Fat Kid Rules the World is soon to be an independent film! 

K.L. began her career working at one of the oldest literary agencies in New York City. She used this inner knowledge of publishing to write Writing and Selling the Young Adult Novel – a how-to book for aspiring writers, published by Writer’s Digest. She has also written short stories for several anthologies and currently has multiple picture books under contract. She lives in Glen Spey, NY where she both writes and runs a business critiquing manuscripts. She’s also a mom to the world’s cutest little boy. Her first novel, Fat Kid Rules the World, is being made into a movie. To learn more, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

When you were in grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a full-time volunteer. Yes, that’s right. I wanted to work for no money. Ha. I’d read the book Christy by Catherine Marshall where the main character goes to Appalachia to become a teacher, and I just knew that I wanted to do something similar. I stuck with that idea all through school and ended up doing several years of volunteer service after
college.

Easier to write before or after you were published?

Before. I had so much more time back then. Now, my writing competes with my first priority – my two year old son. Guess what? My writing time usually loses. Plus, I miss the freedom of writing for no one else but me.

Do you write with music?

Unfortunately, I need silence to write. I wish this weren’t so because I love music and find it inspiring in many other ways. Sometimes I’ll listen to music before I write, just to get in a certain mood.

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

Death. This is the biggest issue that every single one of us will face. And it’s unknown territory.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Fat Kid Rules the World was the easiest book to write because I had no other considerations in my mind other than entertaining myself. The Garden of Eve was probably the hardest book to write because we ended up making changes late in the editorial process and that was stressful.

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

Generally no one gets to read my work until it’s finished, but I’ve
recently made an exception and let my writer’s group read the first fifty pages of a new project. In some ways it was encouraging, but in other ways it’s made me more self-conscious about writing. Usually, I keep everything a big ‘ol secret because I’m a bit superstitious.

What do you consider the most valuable thing you own?

We have a small fireproof safe but there’s nothing of traditional value in there. No jewelry, no money… I have it because I keep journals for my son, and this is where I store them to keep them safe. To me, these memories are priceless. 

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

Definitely a seat-of-the-pants writer. I wish I could be more organized and efficient, but instead I make it all up as I go along. I think this makes the writing process more difficult, but it also makes it more fun.

When are you the most productive?

Morning. Unfortunately, I don’t get to write then. I work around my son’s schedule, so I usually write in the afternoons and occasionally at night.

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

A full-time assistant sitting at a desk beside me. It would be this
gorgeous young man’s job to do all of my marketing and bring me chocolate.

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

Spend every second with my family, and hug my son again and again. I’d stay home and enjoy my house, BBQ, soak in the glories of the every day world.

Do you begin with character or plot?

Character. This is what draws me into a story – whether I’m the one writing it or reading it.

Are your characters completely fictional?

I don’t base any of my characters directly off of real people, but I’m often inspired by particularly interesting celebrities. Generally musicians.

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

Jimmy Carter. He’s done such great things in the world. I’d never compare myself to him, but I strive to do good in small ways.

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Author Interview with Maranda Russell

Ode-to-Icky-coverGet to know Maranda…

I am a 29-year-old foster parent and children’s writer. I spend most of my time reading, writing, hanging out with my family, playing with my 5 cats and giving author talks and presentations at schools, stores, and community events around the Dayton, Ohio area. When I have extra time, I also like to dance, hike, visit art museums and browse local bookstores. To learn more about me, visit my website.

Let the conversation begin!

Outliner or Seat-of-the-pantser? 

I used to be a seat-of-the-pants writer but time and experience has taught me that it really does help to have at least a basic outline. Even if the outline is only in my head, it still helps to know what direction I am taking the story and where I hope to end it. 

What piece of advice would you give the younger you? 

Try more things, experience life fully. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. 

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

I have always considered Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson to be my literary mentors. 

What songs are included on the soundtrack to your life? 

A lot of Disney songs and music from other children’s shows and movies. My favorite songs are those that inspire me in one way or another but are realistic too. 

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose? 

Lily Evans (from Harry Potter). I would have chosen Snape instead of James though, so I guess I would have changed the story drastically. 

The best part of waking up is? 

Knowing that I can go right back to sleep or just lay in bed for a few minutes. I hate having to jump right out of bed and get going. 

What age did you become an adult? 

Sometimes I wonder if I ever did become an adult. I still feel like a kid much of the time, but I’m ok with that. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

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

Probably one of those nature movies where they get you to fall in love with an animal or a group of animals, only to have the animal get eaten or die some other kind of horrific death in the end. 

What advice would you give to new writers? 

Work hard, keep at it and don’t rush things. It is better to wait awhile and have a book you can be proud of, then to jump into publishing a piece that isn’t ready. 

When was the last time you were nervous? 

Last week when I had to give an author talk in front of an entire elementary school. I’m still not really comfortable with public speaking, although I know it is a must if you are to be a successful author. 

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Author Interview with Brian Yansky

alien_invasionsGet to know Brian…

Brian Yansky is the author of, most recently, ALIEN INVASION & OTHER INCONVENIENCES, Candlewick. The sequel, FIGHTING ALIEN NATION, will be out in 2013. He teaches writing at Austin Community College. Before that he worked in libraries, in bars, in restaurants, in gardens, on lawns,  on a golf course, on textbooks, and in a vineyard. For more information, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

Outliner or Seat-of-the-pantser?

Definitely seat-of-the-pantser. I do usually start with some kind of situation and work from there. For example, aliens invade the world and take over in ten seconds and kill off most of the earth’s inhabitants. I know the story is going to be about the survivors and how they go on. Then I start working on a character and building him/her mostly by what he/she wants and fears and what gets in the way of what he/she wants. I stumble through my first draft, often summarizing small sections. My first draft is naturally hideous, but once I have this I feel oh so much better and I can begin the process of revision. For me, most writing is rewriting. 

What advice would you give new writers?

Write what you want to write not what you think you should write or what someone else thinks you should write or what seems to be selling at the moment. Writing is wonderfully difficult, but in its many challenges are many rewards. It’s fun. It’s fulfilling. Publishing has its ups and downs though.  Writing what you want to write and love to write will help you weather the business of publishing. 

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

It wasn’t written exactly in this way but it got me to think about writing in this way. BE THERE. Be in the scene you’re writing and see it through your narrator’s eyes and that will help you make the right choices. A lot of writing is about making the right choices. 

Where’s Waldo?

He’s everywhere but he’s sleeping. Don’t wake him. There’s no telling what he might do. 

What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

Never mix tequila and gin.  Buy Apple stock.  Focus more on structure.  I think I could have found my way as a writer more quickly if I hadn’t had this ridiculous notion that story in novels was the least important element. I needed to grapple with the mysteries of structure sooner. 

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

Yoda.

brianyansky

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Lisa Yee

Warp SpeedGet to know Lisa…

Lisa Yee’s debut novel, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award. With over 1.5 million books in print, her other novels for young people include Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, So Totally Emily Ebers, Absolutely Maybe, and series about a 4th grader, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes). Lisa is also the author of American Girl’s Kanani books and Good Luck, Ivy. Her latest novel, Warp Speed, about a Star Trek geek who gets beat up everyday at school, has been named to the following lists – YALSA Best Books, VOYA Top Shelf, CCBC Best Fiction, Bank Street Best Books. Lisa is currently obsessed with Sugar Babies, but that may soon give way to Malted Milk Balls. To learn more, visit her website and blog.

Let the conversation begin!

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

Don’t just write about what you know, write about what you want to know.

When was the last time you were nervous?

The last time I was nervous was on an airline flight. Even though I fly a lot I still get anxious that there will not be enough room overhead to store my suitcase, and that I will try to force fit it and that won’t work, and all the other passengers will be mad at me because I’ve held up the flight. 

What do you miss most about being a kid? 

Warm summer afternoons with no responsibilities, a pile of library books, and a glass of fruit punch over ice. 

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

A few years ago I broke my foot (although I didn’t know it was broken for three months). My foot was in one of those clod-hopper-boot-thingys for six months and I thought it would be horrible — and it was. However, it caused me to rethink what I was doing and where I went, and I realized that I could actually save time by being more organized.  

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

I’m not sure I understand this question. What is this “free-time” you are talking about?

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Interview with Bestselling Author Maria Murnane

Honey on Your MindGet to know Maria…

A former PR executive who abandoned a successful career to pursue a more fulfilling life, Maria Murnane is the author of the best-selling romantic comedies Perfect on Paper and It’s a Waverly LifeAt many of her speaking engagements she shares the “story behind the story,” an entertaining tale of courage, passion and perseverance that has inspired audiences across the country to follow their dreams—no matter what. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin! 

Describe your journey from writer to published author.

I used to work in public relations out in Silicon Valley, and after several years I finally admitted that I hated my career choice and quit. I had no idea what I wanted to do next, so I bought a ticket to go to Argentina for a couple weeks. I’d never traveled anywhere by myself, but after two weeks I loved it so much there that I decided to accept a job offer to stay and play semi-pro soccer (true story!).

I’d always thought it would be fun to write a novel, so after a couple months down there, I decided to just do it. I started writing and writing and writing, and eventually I had the first draft of what would eventually become “Perfect on Paper.” After about a year I came back to San Francisco and was lucky enough to sign with an agent pretty quickly. She told me my book was “the one” she’d been dreaming about, and that mine was the funniest voice she’d heard in ages. She was pretty sure we’d get a two-book deal, so needless to say I was VERY excited.

But when my agent shopped the book to all the major publishing houses, the reply was unanimous—no. After that rejection, which was brutal, my agent told me she’d really done all she could do for me and basically gave me the boot. I cried for about three days, then spent about six months rewriting the book. Then I went to a writers conference and pitched it myself to several more publishing houses, and they all said it sounded great and wanted to read it. So I was so excited again and sent it to all of them. After a few months I finally heard back from all of them—thanks but no thanks.

So once again I was crushed. More tears.

Then one day my dad (perhaps the nicest man on the planet) sat me down and handed me a book on self-publishing that he had read, along with a little plan he’d written for what I needed to do to publish on my own. He told me he loved my book and that I couldn’t let it go, so he was going to help me publish it myself. It nearly made me cry.

I reluctantly self-published the book, then hit the ground running in an effortto prove the publishing houses wrong. And it worked! Within a year it attracted the attention of senior executives at Amazon, who chose it out of more than 10,000 self-published titles for the company’s venture into traditional publishing. Since then it has also been published in Hungary and by Random House in Germany, and it’s also coming out in Indonesia and Serbia. It recently reached #2 overall on Amazon for the Kindle.

The sequel, It’s a Waverly Life, was published by Amazon Publishing in November, and Honey on Your Mind, the third novel in the series, is coming out on July 24. I’ve also launched a line of products based on the books that includes witty greeting cards, T-shirts and tote bags.

I’ve been featured in USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Entrepreneur, Money, Shape, and PopSugar, and I’ve shared my “never give up on your dream” story with dozens of organizations across the country, including the Harvard Women’s Leadership Conference (twice), the Massachusetts Conference for Women, the Baltimore Book Festival, the Texas Conference for Women, the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, and Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Sometimes I find it hard to believe everything that has happened. 

Maria headshot #1 April 2012What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Tell the story you want to tell, not what you think people want to hear. 

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

Honestly, I’d love to be doing exactly what I’m doing now: writing novels. I love that I can say that.  

What do you miss most about being a kid?

I miss the days when the only thing I worried about was whether or not my soccer game was going to get rained out. 

What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

Soccer. There’s just nothing like it. It’s super social and an incredible workout. I think about 99% of my friends are people I’ve met playing soccer. 

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

Yep—getting rejected by all those publishers. If I hadn’t had to do so much marketing on my own, I don’t think I’d be anywhere close to where I am now. 

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Admitting that I hated my career choice—and then quitting a very good job. I’ve been a straight-A student, overachiever type my whole life, so to admit that I’d gone down the wrong path for so many years was incredibly difficult. 

The best part of waking up is?

I’m not a morning person, so I don’t really get this question. 

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

Bill Clinton. He’s just…cool. 

What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

Don’t try to be something you’re not just to fit a mold or please other people. No one is keeping score of your life but you, so what’s the point in faking it? 

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

Elaine from Seinfeld. Always. 

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Author Interview with Eileen Spinelli

9780802853820Get to know Eileen… 

Eileen Spinelli was born in Philadelphia. She grew up in small towns outside the city. As a kid she loved paper  dolls and books and tea parties and playing dress up. Back then her dad was a welder who studied at night school to become an engineer. Her mom was a homemaker. On summer days she and her mom would walk down to Cobb’s Creek Park and pick dandelions to make salad. Eileen’s worst subject in school was math. It still is. But –she won first prize– a fifty dollar savings bond– in a high school poetry contest. Immediately she cashed it in and bought a used typewriter and a pair of red high heels. She published in a “real” magazine when she was 18. She celebrated at the local donut shop. Along the way to becoming a full-time writer she worked as a waitress, a secretary, a deli clerk and a receptionist. She is mother to six children and “Granny” to 21 grandchildren. She is married to fellow author, Jerry Spinelli–whom she almost always beats at Scrabble. Be sure to check out her two most recent books: JONAH’S WHALE and A BIG BOY NOW. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin! 

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

Angela Lansbury.

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

I fix myself a cup of tea and then sit in my green reading chair and read as many chapters of a book as I can.

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

Wow! At least one hundred people come to mind. Can I name ten? Not necessarily my top ten—but definitely on the list. Job (from the Bible). Frida Kahlo. Abraham Lincoln. Eleanor Roosevelt. Leonardo Di Caprio. Sylvia Plath. Paul Robeson. Jane Austin. C.S. Lewis and Angela Lansbury.

When was the last time you were nervous?

When I couldn’t find my Visa card.

big boy nowWhat do you most miss about being a kid?

  • Spending time with my grandparents. They were so good at giving unconditional love.

  • Trying on cousin Joni’s glamorous prom dresses. (She was older and let me play dress-up with her clothes sometimes).

  • Building Lincoln Log towns with my cousin Mark.

  • Playing cards with my Aunt Rose Caruso.

  • Shopping for shoes with my Aunt Rose Mesi.

  • Twenty-five cent malted milkshakes at the corner drug store fountain.

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

Either a tea party or an old fashioned ice cream “social”.

What’s your favorite outdoor activity.

Puttering in my herb garden.

If you could do anything and get away with it, what would you do?

I’d invite myself to tea at Buckingham Palace.

What piece of advice would you give to the younger you?

I would tell her to just be herself. Not to ‘try’ so hard. To allow more things in her life to unfold naturally.

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

Faint!!

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Interview with Critically-Acclaimed Author Laura Wiess

LauraWGet to know Laura…

Laura Wiess is the author of the critically acclaimed MTV Books/S&S novels Such a Pretty Girl, chosen by the ALA as a Best Books for Young Adults and YALSA as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Leftovers, How It Ends and Ordinary Beauty. Her new novel Me Since You will be out in 2013. Originally from Milltown, New Jersey, she now lives in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

I inherited my love of books from my mother, who read to me when I was little, bought me books and took me to the library to indulge. We would visit once every two weeks, filling bags with as many books as we thought we could read in those fourteen days and then go home and enjoy. 

I started writing fiction around first grade (I still have some of the short stories) and in high school. Creative Writing was my one easy A. 

I never dreamed of being an author, though, of actually submitting anything I’d written to an editor at a publishing company for consideration. Never even thought it was possible until one day when I was in my twenties and writing another story for my friends and family, and suddenly I just stopped and asked myself if I wanted to go on doing it this way forever, or if I wanted to try and learn how to craft real, compelling fiction and see if I had what it took to actually get something accepted for publication by an outside source. To get real feedback, not just from people who loved me and would always tell me my writing was good but an absolute stranger who didn’t care if I ever wrote a word or not, and who would be brutally honest. 

The thought was scary but exciting so I decided yes, let’s do it.

I went back to the library and took out every book I could find on crafting fiction, on theme, characters, dialogue, revision, everything. You name it, I read it and then started writing again. And rewriting. Setting the stories aside, going back to them with fresh eyes and rewriting some more. 

I started sending them out, and receiving rejections. Landslides of them, which was frustrating and hurtful but fine too, because it meant I had more work to do and more to learn. (And it taught me to grow a tough hide and think of the rejections as a challenge rather than letting them discourage me. I mean the first time you put on skis you’re not immediately qualified to be in the Olympics, right?) So I dug in and kept at it because I loved writing and was willing to spend as long as it took – months, years – to make it happen. 

I still learn from everything I read, and write. Happily, that never ends. 

The first short story I had accepted for publication wasn’t for money but for contributor’s copies of the magazine, and I was ecstatic. I had done it, sold a story to an editor who’d liked it enough to publish it!  Talk about a dream come true. 

There was no stopping me after that. The rejections kept coming but now they were peppered with acceptances, too, and that made me even more determined. 

My first YA novel Downtown Boy was published by HarperCollins approximately five years after starting the journey of learning to write fiction. It wasn’t the first novel I’d written, it was the third, and I was over the rainbow when it was accepted. 

Next up, I wrote a ten book YA series for Kensington called Girl Friends under the pseudonym Nicole Grey, and then another YA romance called Backstage Pass for Kensington.  (I’ve written under several different names.) 

And then someone I loved died suddenly and tragically, and I just stopped writing. Couldn’t write.  Couldn’t focus. It was terrible. A very difficult and lonely time. 

What I didn’t know then was that for a writer nothing is ever wasted, no emotion, experience or occurrence, not even that necessary but painful hiatus. It’s all living and learning. 

Happily, I was given the opportunity to assist Katherine Applegate with her very popular middle grade series Animorphs, and so I helped out with three of those, which eased me back into a very welcome and sorely missed writing mindset.  

The idea for my next book Such a Pretty Girl hit while I was making dinner and listening to the news.  They were discussing a convicted child molester who was being released early from prison and going home. I stopped what I was doing and thought, Home? Home to who? Who would stay married to a child molester? And then, even more disturbing What if he had children himself? How would they feel about him coming home? And what if he had a daughter? 

That’s how Meredith from Such a Pretty Girl was born. That book sold to MTV Books/Simon & Schuster, as did Leftovers, How It Ends, Ordinary Beauty and the one I’m working on now, Me Since You, which will be my twentieth novel and is due out in 2013. 

I am so glad I decided to say yes to trying that day, and didn’t give up. 


Laura WiessHave you ever had something happen to you that you thought was bad but it turned out to be for the best?
 

One of the most delightful and intriguing things about life is how you can trip off the curb and go down in a puddle only to find a $100 bill waiting there for you. It’s like if you look hard enough, there always seems to be a consolation prize and often they turn out to be better than the original goal. I very much enjoy when that happens. 

What did you do growing up that got you into trouble? 

Read instead of doing my chores. Cut classes to be social. (I did that a lot.) Was constantly on the phone. Stayed out past curfew and got grounded. Argued and asked why incessantly. Went places I wasn’t supposed to go with people I wasn’t supposed to go with to do things I wasn’t supposed to do.

Happily, I never did anything to really hurt myself or that I couldn’t change for the better. My best friend and I got into some bizarre situations though, like the night we chased peeping toms who were actually burglars through her neighborhood in the middle of the night. Barefoot. And right into the arms of the law, thank goodness, as I have no idea what we would have done with them if we’d actually caught them.

Probably talked them to death.

It was a blast. We had a lot of fine adventures, which is undoubtedly why my parents went gray so early.  

What do you miss most about being a kid? 

The absolute freedom of summer vacation, the excitement of having the whole world spread out before you, the idea that anything is possible and everything is new and just waiting to be discovered. Two solid months of pure kid bliss. Oh yes, I miss that. 

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

I’m caught between two and they’re very different. The first is a house party in the spring or summer for the people I love, which would give us all time to relax, hang out and talk, eat, enjoy and explore the area. 

The other one would be in the evening with a wider circle of family and friends, in a packed room with a funky R&B band, great dinner and drinks, killer outfits and much laughter and sparkling spirits. Think New Year’s Eve in the summer and without the hats. 

If you could choose an age to remain forever, what would it be? 

I like where I am so I’m not sure I would if I could but if I had to pick, I’d say thirty-four. It’s old enough to have learned some really powerful life lessons and still right in the prime of life. 

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

There are so many stories to write, so many questions to ask and answers to try and find. I’ll go with a string of mainstream books. 

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

Once I rechecked the numbers to make sure I wasn’t delirious, I’d make a surprise trip home to my family to give them the good news, set aside a chunk for my future, make sure everyone I loved was taken care of and my favorite charities received their share. And then I’d hire a fabulous pet-sitter and do some serious traveling.  

So if it happens and you’re looking for me, I’m the one down in Tahiti, lounging on the silky white sand with a laptop and a new manuscript in progress, a drink in my hand and my toes dangling in the warm, turquoise waters.    

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

Besides Me Since You, which I’m working on now, it would be a YA romantic comedy exploring the delightfully quirky beauty and courage of family.

And yes, that one is also in the works. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

I’m a character-driven writer but ideas usually spark thanks to something I’ve seen or heard that fascinates me, something that makes me wonder Hmm, what if…? Such a Pretty Girl would never have been written if the main character, Meredith, hadn’t been someone I loved and cared about. She was born, lived and drove the story in answer to a question. It was her story all the way. 

What is your favorite quote? And why?

As you can probably tell by now, I have a hard time picking just one of anything, so I’ll leave you with these: 

“It’s the cracked ones who let the light into the world.”

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”

“Books. Cats. Life is good.” 

The why is because I think they speak to hope, to taking chances and making it through, to looking at things differently, and to the beauty of bravery, experience and change. The last one I love because it’s just true.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Jacqueline Jules

JJulesALAGet to know Jacqueline…

Jacqueline Jules is the award-winning author of 23 children’s books, including Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off (2010 CYBILS Literary Award for Short Chapter Book, Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Honor Book, ALSC Great Early Elementary Reads and Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award nominee), Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation (2010 Library of Virginia Cardozo Award), Benjamin and the Silver Goblet (2010 Sydney Taylor Honor Award), Duck for Turkey Day (Washington State Children’s Choice Book Awards list, TN Volunteer State Award), and No English (DE Diamonds list, TN Volunteer State Award list). A former school librarian, Jacqueline now works part-time as a writing resource teacher at K-5 elementary school. In her free time, she enjoys walking around her Northern Virginia neighborhood with a small notebook, jotting down ideas for poems and stories. To learn more about her books, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin! 

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

I began by submitting poetry to magazines and literary journals. I also did some free-lance pieces for local newspapers and published a few short stories. I am a firm believer that you have to work your way into the publishing business like in any entertainment business. Most movie stars do commercials before they get their big break. Writers should submit to magazines and get some publication credits before approaching agents and bigger publishing houses. Dream big but start small.

Outliner or Seat-of-the-pantser?

Instead of outlining, I do a question and answer free-write before I begin and whenever I’m stuck. Some of the questions I ask include: What is this character like? What is her/her problem? How will the problem be solved? What does the setting look like? Etc. Etc.  I just let my fingers bang on the computer keys, typing out every possible direction the story or characters could go. One idea leads to another and eventually I come up with a character and storyline I like.

What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

I would tell myself to be more patient. 

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

I usually exercise. I take a walk or use exercise equipment. Exercise is my pacifier. It keeps me sane.

The best part of waking up is?

I love waking up on a summer day knowing I have a full day ahead of me to write. In the summer, it is not unusual for me to start working around 8:30 a.m. and write until midnight, taking a few breaks to eat or exercise.

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

It’s been a number of years since I’ve seen this movie, but it still makes me angry when I think about it. Pay It Forward had a tragic ending I was not prepared for and it really annoyed me. I also disliked the ending of Cold Mountain. I have no use for sad endings that seem unnecessary. I am not entertained by unrelenting suffering. If I want to be depressed, I can watch the news.

What advice would you give to new writers?

In addition to the advice I gave above when describing my journey from aspiring to published author, I would advise new writers to read as many children’s books as they can, particularly titles that are similar to the ones they want to write. Knowing the children’s market is invaluable. Joining SCBWI and attending writing conferences are also tremendously helpful. I have a list of links for aspiring writers on my website here.

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

I’ve written several books that have not been published. (Far more than I’d like to admit.) I have every intention of going back to those manuscripts and giving them another try. In 2013, I have a book coming out that I worked on in different re-incarnations for about 20 years. While the final product doesn’t share any lines from the original, the idea or essence of the story is the same. Sometimes, it takes a long time to get a story right. Other times, a story’s time simply has not arrived. Once, I attended an award ceremony for a book that had been in the author’s drawer for 20 years before finding a publisher. I believe in saving all my manuscripts in hopes of being able to dust them off (and revise) when the right opportunity arrives.  

When was the last time you were nervous?

I am always a bit nervous before an author appearance. However, the more often I speak, the better I feel before a school visit. It is a privilege to be invited to talk about my books at a school assembly. I always want to do a good job. So of course I can’t help worry a little about whether or not the Powerpoint will work or the microphone or my voice, etc. 

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

Many years ago, I worked as an assistant in a private library which served adults. When my boss decided to retire, she suggested I pick up some library classes and she would recommend me for her job. I went back to school for two years. When I had almost completed the program, I found out that the job I wanted had been given to someone else. I was devastated. Afterwards, almost on a whim, I applied for a job as a school librarian. Working every day with young readers not only gave me material to write about, it made me understand what young readers enjoy reading. As a school librarian, I became a voracious reader of children’s literature. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to enrich my career as a children’s author.

What do you miss most about being a kid?

I miss having time to relax. I used to spend hours playing Monopoly or putting together jigsaw puzzles. In the summer, I spent entire days at the pool. When you are a kid, you allow yourself quiet time to think or to play. I don’t allow myself much free time. I always seem to want to accomplish something.

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

I think I’d like to stay in my mid-fifties forever. It is a good time of life. You know yourself better and have put many past mistakes and anxieties behind you. But not being quite sixty, you still feel relatively young. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Yvonne Lehman

TitanicGet to know Yvonne…

Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 copies of her books sold. She founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years and now directs the Blue Ridge“Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat held annually in October at Ridgecrest/LifeWay Conference Center in NC. She mentors students for the Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writers Guild. She earned her Master’s Degree in English Literature from WesternCarolinaUniversityand has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her recent publications include Aloha Brides (Barbour, a collection of three historical Hawaii novels), A Knight to Remember (Heartsong, April 2012), the second in a series set in Washington DC, and Let it Snow (Heartsong, December 2012), third in the DC series. Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the Titanic  is her 50th novel. To purchase her books, click on her Amazon page.

Let the conversation begin!

Tell us about your new book!

The ship of dreams vanished, disappeared as it sank into the sea. In its place emerged a nightmare. The sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic was not the end of the story for over two-thousand passengers and crew. It was the beginning of an unforgettable event that changed history, changed culture. There were only a few hundred saved in the 20 lifeboats. Not only were hundreds and hundreds of souls lost that night, but the event touched people throughout the world. Each person had family, friends, acquaintances and their lives too were touched and changed.

Some may want to compare this story with the book and award-winning movie Titanic, as I did when beginning this project. There is no comparison however. That is their story. This is mine and my desire, hope and prayer is that my readers enjoy this book, find it entertaining and filled with events and characters that come alive in their hearts and minds, and know what it means for a heart to survive. 

How do you make your readers care about your characters?

My readers might care about them because they are like people around us, some we label as noble or cowards, those lovable or unlikable, giving or selfish. The story is populated with those like us and make us wonder how we would behave in the situations faced by these people as they read the three divisions of the novel–the before, during, and after the sinking of that ship called the greatest ever built and then became known as one of the greatest tragedies.

If you were the casting director for the film version of your novel, who would play your lead roles?

If I were the director for the film version I’d find the most difficult role to cast would be Craven because he is an enigma. Since there is the movie Titanic, I think it would be great if Leonardo Decaprio were to play him. Craven is entirely different from the young man Jack in the movie. Now that Decaprio is older, I think it would be wonderful to watch him play the mature role of Craven and it would be a terrific challenge for him to convince an audience he is not Jack, but Craven.

Caroline would be someone like Annette Bening in The American President who was very likeable and yet a strong, independent person. Lydia is the most beautiful blue-eyed blonde in the world, so we’d have auditions.

What kind of research did you do?

I had done some research several years ago and made notes. After this project was accepted I read every book I could find about the Titanic, watched every movie, searched the internet. There is plenty of information about the Titanic.Nova Scotiais important to the story but I knew nothing about that area. My contact with other writers led to Janet Burrill who lives inNova Scotia. We exchanged emails almost daily and she had already researched history of the area in writing a book of her own and eagerly supplied me with invaluable information. 

Poetry, which I know very little about, is an important element in the story. I asked, and Dr. Donn Taylor who has a PhD in Renaissance literature and has 20 years’ experience teaching poetry, wrote a poem for me. Another character claims not to be a poet but wrote a poem. My son-in-law, who doesn’t claim to be a poet, agreed to let me use a poem he wrote. My agent did some research for me on a matter of concern. 

My acknowledgements in the book go into more detail on how so many people were eager to help with this project. 

Not only did I need to research everything about the ship and events of the sinking, but needed to research the people and times of the early 1900’s and the ensuing fifty years since my story covers half a century. What I enjoy writing most are emotions and reactions. That doesn’t take a lot of research because I look within myself and at other people’s experiences and life itself. 

TitaniceHow has your background influenced your writing?

In every way. This book is a composite, or culmination of all I know in craft and creativity that has developed in the thirty years I’ve been writing.  Many incidents and events in the story are based on personal experience or experience of people I know. It’s what I’ve learned as I’ve lived my life with successes, failures, negatives, positives, little faith, strong faith. My characters are who I am and what I know of myself, others, and life. 

Why do you think there’s such a fascination among the public with the Titanic?   

People are naturally fascinated with tragedy, perhaps because we all are so closely akin to it, personally or with those close to us. We tend to want the answer to why. Being a writer, I know there must always be conflict in a story. That’s what readers expect and must have in novels. It’s what we have in life. We identify with difficulties whether they’re labeled big or small. We seek answers. I think we want to know why such a thing as the sinking occurred. We care about lives lost needlessly had more precaution been taken. Lessons are learned from that tragedy. We see history and society changing. We can see the horror, feel a bit of the terror dying passengers experienced, wonder about the survivors, see how history and society is changed for the better by a horrible event. We see the best and most exquisite (the Titanic) has imperfections, and from the most tragic (the sinking) good can come. 

Who do you think would most enjoy this novel?

This is not a category novel, nor can it be put in a so-called box. It is a mainstream work that would appeal to the general audience, male and female, sixteen to one-hundred sixteen, and anyone who likes to read about adventure, mystery, tragedy, class distinction, romance, secrets, grief, loss, and survival. My endorsers range from a widely known, professional Dr/Professor/writer/teacher to a beginning novelist. Each acclaimed this work as being “master storytelling.” Anyone to whom I’ve mentioned Hearts and the Titanic show excitement and interest, therefore I can only conclude it is not restricted to age, gender, or literary preference.

If you had to describe Hearts That Survive in two or three words, what would you say?

I prefer to choose the description from what my endorsers say which includes:

“Wonderful. Chilling. Compelling.”  

How do you come up with your characters’ names in relation to your subject matter?  

My story covers fifty years, but begins in 1912 so my names are compatible with those who would be in first class on the Titanic. I also tend to visualize a person by a certain name. Lydiastrikes me as not being a stereotypical name, but that of a pretty, plucky person. Caroline is a basic trusted name of one I’d like for a friend. Craven is one who craves certain things and indeed he does. Last names depict nationalities. John is a name that is accepted, popular, and doesn’t depict anything in particular. William comes from royalty. Armand is FrenchJoAnna was a name her parents chose and I used it because it’s a playful pseudonym of a writer/friend who first suggested I write about the Titanic. 

What keeps your mind from wandering away from the discipline of staying on subject each day?

I can’t say that I always keep it from wandering. But the acceptance of this book came late because Ramona Richards wanted a Titanic novel and I had a proposal for one. I had to write the entire book in about six weeks. No time to think. The thirty years I’ve had of learning the craft and practicing the creativity kicked in. When I awoke at night, I went straight to the computer. When I had a moment of looking out my office window at my panoramic mountain views I would recall an incident that could be included in the story, such as the way my neighbor got her dog. Now that experience is in my book. If I felt an instance of concern, I went immediately to my knees at my bedside and prayed. I ate at the computer. When my mind wandered, it wandered to my characters and story. 

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Interview with Critically-Acclaimed Author Elena Yates Eulo

ElanaGet to know Elena…

Elena Yates Eulo’s internationally published novels include her critically acclaimed Civil War novel, A Southern Woman, published by St. Martin’s Press and by Presses de la Cite in France; Ice Orchids, published by Berkley Books and by Star Books in Britain; and young adult novels published by Holiday House.

In addition to writing novels and short stories, she has been a journalist, playwright, screenwriter, and ghostwriter after a brief career as an actress and professional singer. It was her creative writing class with the esteemed professor and author Sidney Offit of New York University that changed the course of her life when Professor Offit advised her to turn her attention from stage to typewriter. During her time in New York she met the actress Samantha Harper who introduced her to metaphysics. Elena was raised in Sligo, Kentucky, where her grandmother, Topsy Morgan, owned a country landmark restaurant not unlike the one in The Two Sisters’ Café. In the back room of the White Cottage she listened to colorful and poignant stories confided to Topsy by friends and neighbors and acquired an ear for authentic small town characters. To learn more about her books, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

From high school on, my teachers told me I should be a writer. In college, I burned everything I ever wrote, wanting to be something else, but there is no burning destiny. Later I wrote what I thought people would like, not what I wanted to write. No success. Then I ghostwrote other people’s work, and they had much success. In my own writing, I couldn’t hold myself to one genre, had trouble creating an identity. I wrote: ICE ORCHIDS, a sci-fi adventure; A SOUTHERN WOMAN, a Civil War drama; THE TWO SISTERS’ CAFE (co-written by Samantha Harper Macy), a fantasy; and two YA sports books. I also co-wrote a bit of TV and children’s theater plays that were produced off-off Broadway. My newest novel, traumatized girl-meets-traumatized horse, is set in a small Kentucky town during World War II and will soon be submitted to publishers by the Vicky Bijur Agency. My next novel, now in process, is set in yet another small Kentucky town, this time in the sixties, and is a character-driven mystery. Actually all my novels are propelled by my characters. In this, I am consistent.

Outliner or Seat-of-the-Pantser? 

Oh, do I try to have an outline. Oh, do I end up in outer space barely held by a thread of my raveling pants to that seat. And oh, do I pay the penalty of not being more organized in my thinking. I would not have had to do over a year’s rewrite on my recently completed book had I forced myself to be more logical in plot progression.  

What piece of advice would you give the younger you? 

Take your writing more seriously, write more, be more selective, and follow the advice of that New York agent who asked to meet you on her trip to LA. Remember what she said, younger self??? And I quote: Go to bookstores and read until you find the kind of writing you like, preferably on the bestseller’s list. You have the voice that can get you there. But you need discipline and you need to read, read, read. You need to find yourself, so LOOK! Ahem. Um . . . I’m still looking . . . 

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

I think I’d choose Alice Walker. I would ask: How do you bring life to such wonderful characters, how to you handle plots that stretch over years while your characters age and change, while never letting down the subtle momentum that keeps your readers unable to put down your books, how do you trust that you will find readers as deep and wise and wonderful as you are? 

ElanaYWhat advice would you give to new writers? 

Don’t let the drama of your own life become bigger than your writing. Instead, use it to feed your writing. Keep a pen and pad by your bed and when you wake in the middle of the night, force yourself to write something right then, right there. Don’t measure your day’s work by word count but rather by the quality of what you wrote. Don’t be easily satisfied. Be ready to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Be hard on yourself. Work hard! I remember many years ago going to a writer’s conference that Stephen King attended. No one could get over that while the rest of us socialized all day, he stayed in his room with his earphones on and wrote his eight hours. Every day, five days a week, he wrote. Do that. Maybe not eight hours. Maybe six. But do it.

What do you miss most about being a kid?

Most people have a hard time believing me when I say this, but it’s true: I remember almost my entire life, even scattered memories of myself as an infant. Certainly, I remember being potty trained, learning to tie my own shoes, choosing my breakfast in the country cafe I was raised in. Most importantly, I remember what it was like to think as a child. I so miss the clear, beautiful working of a new and un-programmed mind. Because I remember what it’s like to have that, sometimes I can write from that space. When I do, it’s my best writing. 

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done? 

That would be leaving home. I spent many years being terribly homesick. I bring many of those people and places back to life by writing them. If I could do it all over again . . . well, actually, I don’t think I could leave again. It comforts me to think that maybe I have grown in ways I could not have grown without all the pain of being on my own in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Maybe my mind has become broader, maybe I am more accepting of other people’s foibles, maybe I am not so foolish as I once was. I think I knew I was supposed to go, supposed to think past my old thoughts, supposed to wander. I guess next time I’d take a better road map with me and prepare a more organized life plot. I’d say, wait a minute, this plan needs a good outline. What happens if you get caught in the desert? (That’s what I call the middle of the book.) What if you can’t get out and die out there? Maybe you need to get a real job and just stay home. But then maybe I would still go. If it’s part of the book, you have no choice, do you?

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