Interview with Award-Winning Author Josh Berk

Get to know Josh…

Josh Berk is the author of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin (Knopf 2010), named a best book for teens of 2010 by Kirkus Reviews and Amazon.com. It was also awarded a Parent’s Choice Silver medal, a starred review from School Library Journal, and a perfect 10 from VOYA. His second comedy/mystery teen novel: Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator, will be published in 2012 (also by Knopf). He has previously been a journalist, a poet, a playwright, and a guitarist (mostly in bands known for things other than fine guitar-playing). He is a librarian and lives in Bethlehem,Pennsylvania, with his family. For more information, visit his website. For too much information, visit on Twitter

Let the conversation begin!

What advice would you give to new writers?

I always give the advice to worry a lot about your writing and a little about getting published. Focus hard on the art of it and practice just as you would practice anything else. It’s a craft that can be honed, and part of that honing is the freedom to fail and fail again. Just keep practicing and playing and refining and messing with it. Then worry about publication — like all good things it will come with time.  

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

Second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. 

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

A lot of people think scrapple is weird, but a lot of people aren’t from Pennsylvania. PA rules! Scrapple is sort of a gross mess of fried pig scraps but well I like it.

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

The entirety of ‘Bird by Bird,’ a book by  Anne Lamott. I wish I’d read it years ago and can’t recommend it enough. 

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

I want one of those really good speech-to-text computers so I could just yell books at the computer and not have to type. Also then probably I should add “sound-proof walls” because my family and neighbors might not like this.

What is your secret talent?

I’m a pretty good juggler. It’s not really a secret. I tell everyone all the time. I’m waiting for someone to be impressed.

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

I used to be obsessively secretive! Now I am less superstitious. I run stuff past my wife who always offers great advice and contributes funny lines.

Do you begin with character or plot?

I almost always begin with character, but my new book (GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR) started totally from a weird news article I saw several years back: “Plot twist: Fake crime scene, real body: High school criminology class’s field trip turns bizarre when corpse turns up.” How could you not write a book about that?? 

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

Making music with my wife and friends. We have so much fun banging on guitars and drums, being creative and getting lost in the music. That sounds really corny but I love making music and I need the release it brings. I’m such a worrier and rocking out lets me turn off that nagging part of my brain for a while. 

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

I think there is nothing better to consider as a writer than writing a classic that will be read years after you’re gone. Also I’m kind of lazy and that seems easier. 

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Author Interview with Allie Pleiter

Get to know Allie…

An avid knitter, coffee junkie, and devoted chocoholic, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction. The enthusiastic but slightly untidy mother of two, Allie spends her days writing books, buying yarn, and finding new ways to avoid housework.  Allie hails from Connecticut, moved to the midwest to attend Northwestern University, and currently lives outside Chicago, Illinois.  The “dare from a friend” to begin writing has produced two parenting books, fourteen novels, and various national speaking engagements on faith, women’s issues, and writing.  For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

I’d love to go entirely “Pantser,” but the world of category romance demands a detailed synopsis.  My favorite phrase to use is “events conspire,” which is synopsis-speak for “I have absolutely no idea how it happens.” 

What piece of advice would you give young writers?

Don’t get all whooped up because you sold your first novel to a major publishing house.  Up high is a long, long way to fall, and the true hurdle in this business is staying published, not getting published. That, and make sure you always have an extra ink cartridge in the house, especially the week your book is due. 

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

My husband and I just threw ourselves a dual 50th birthday party.  We were born a year apart, so we threw a party exactly halfway between our two 50th birthdays.  It was a grand time–mostly because I’m the one who hasn’t turned 50 yet. 

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

Mothering my son through Stage IV Hogkins Lymphoma.  Childhood cancer is one of the world’s most lamentable evils.  He’s fine now–16 and almost 6 feet tall, but it was an enormous challenge for everyone.  Pediatric oncology doctors nurses are nothing short of angels. 

The best part of waking up is?

When the Keurig machine is on!  Any flavor coffee I want in 14 seconds.  Ain’t technology grand? 

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

On my “bucket list” is meeting David Tennant, the actor who played Dr. Who. I think he’s been brilliant in every single thing he’s done, and he seems like such a genuinely nice guy. 

What age did you become an adult?

I feel like I became an adult when my father died–I was 19 at the time, and still stupid in all the ways only college students can be, but something shifts when you loose a parent that never shifts back.

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

Believe it or not, many things about my son’s illness and recovery are precious to me now.  So many adventures were given to us, we learned so much about life and love and compassion, and he’s the most extraordinary young man I’ve ever known because of what’s he’s been through.  Even he’ll tell you it frightening and very hard, but it’s given all of us gifts I don’t think you can’t get any other way.

What mischief did you get into growing up?

Nothing I’d ever own up to in a public forum!

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

Sneak backstage at the Oscars.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Ann Hood

81c837CBKyL._SL1500_Get to know Ann…

Ann Hood is the author of thirteen books, including the bestsellers THE KNITTING CIRCLE, THE RED THREAD, and SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE. Her memoir, COMFORT: A JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF was a New York times Editors Choice and named one of the top 10 books of 2007 by Entertainment Weekly. She recently launched a series for middle readers, THE TREASURE CHEST, and her new novel, THE OBITUARY WRITER. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Describe your journey from writer to published author.

One of the things I love about writers is how different our paths are. I majored in English in college, and then went to work as an international flight attendant for the now defunct TWA. My first novel, SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE, was written in the galleys of 747s while my passengers slept their way across the Atlantic. Eventually, I took writing workshops at NYU, found a mentor who sent me off to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and there met my future agent.

Best part of writing?

Best part: No boss. And I get to work in my pj’s.

What three words describe you?

Impulsive. Type A. Nomadic. I can never sit still. I’m always doing about half a dozen things at once. I can’t even read one book at a time, I always am in the middle of three or four. I am always planning a trip, or taking a trip, or thinking about where to go next. Someone told me once these traits are typical of Sagittarius, which I am. Maybe that explains it.

What were your childhood fears?

I read IN COLD BLOOD when I was about ten or eleven, and I was afraid that people would break in and murder my family like they did in the book. During the night I would wake up in a cold sweat, run downstairs to be sure the doors were locked, then hide under the covers.

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

My novel THE KNITTING CIRCLE was picked up by HBO to be made into a movie starring Katherine Heigl.

What is your favorite way to waste time without getting caught?

TV. Lots of it. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills marathons. Chopped. Gray’s Anatomy. The Amazing Race…

If you could have been told one thing that you weren’t told when you were a teenager, what would you like to have heard?

Beware of handsome men.

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it say or what would the graphic be?

Actually, I have a tattoo. It’s a little pink bell on my inside left ankle. I got it on what would have been my daughter Grace’s sixth birthday; she died that April of a virulent form of strep and I wanted to do something permanent for her birthday that year. I am considering get two more, one for each of my other children, but I haven’t yet decided what those will be.

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Author Interview with Courtney Sheinmel

PardonMe-e1349314678950Get to know Courtney…

Courtney Sheinmel grew up in California and New York. She is a graduate of Barnard College (part of Columbia University) and Fordham School of Law. After working as a litigator for several years, Courtney decided to focus on her first love: writing.  She is the author of My So-Called Family, Positively, Sincerely, All the Things You Are, and more. Watch for her new book, Stella Batts: Pardon Me, releasing July 2012. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Where do you get your ideas?

Anywhere!  Everywhere!  I think because I’m a bit of a control freak and a bit co-dependent, I hang onto stories longer than other, normal people do. This is the way I once described it to a friend: I might be walking down the street and hear a snippet of someone’s conversation. Then as I continue past them, I’m thinking of the snippet and making up a whole life story around it.  Sometimes, that’s what gets turned into a book.

Advice for young writers?

Read a lot–every day.  Write every day.  Write about what interests YOU, whatever that may be. And keep a journal.

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It wasn’t specifically writing advice, though it was advice from another writer, who happens to be a dear friend.  I was upset about something, though now I can’t remember what it was, and she said, “You just have to try and be the best Courtney.”  I think about that a lot, when I’m writing:  I just want the words on the page to be MY best.

Outliner or seat-of-the-pants?

I always start my books out in a seat-of-the-pants sort of way, but as I get toward the middle of a story, I have tons of notes about things I’ve thought up for later on.  By the time the end rolls around, I know most of what is going to happen.

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

I’m pretty obsessed with my friends–in fact I write about them all the time on my blog! I am quite certain they are the most amazing group of people in the world:  funny, kind and loyal, and also life-changing, world-changing, and all-around awe-inspiring. Being with them lifts me up and recharges my creative batteries for sure.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Ugh, they’re all hard.  I’m waiting for that book that just flows right out of me!  But POSITIVELY, about a teenager living with HIV who lost her mother to AIDS, was the most emotionally draining to write.  The subject matter was so sad, and because I have a couple close friends who are HIV-positive, it was also very personal, and the pressure was on to do right by them.

Ever let anyone read your work-in-progress? 

I don’t keep it secret–at least not from the people I know in real-life.  For the first couple books, my friends Amy and Lindsay read along, chapter by chapter, as I wrote. Now that I write full-time, and they have kids to tend to, I don’t send them quite as much material. But even if the girls aren’t reading every draft of everything I write, they always know what I’m working on, and they’re thankfully available for consultations (and to quiet the occasional bursts of hysteria).

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

I better get to write more than one more book! But there is one in particular that I’m determined to get to one day, and that is something based on my grandmother.

What initially drew you to writing?

All I know is that I always did it. I read a lot as a kid, and when I wasn’t reading, I stapled pages together and sat at my desk to write my own stories.  These days, whenever I doubt myself, I remember books were my first love, and then I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Bonnie J. Doerr

Get to know Bonnie…

Bonnie has been wild about nature from birth. When she was a child Bonnie built huge nests of mowed grass, placed basketball-eggs in them, and became an eagle. She floated, eyes only, above the lake’s surface and became an alligator. She collected weeds, seeds, and flowers to arrange on a makeshift fruit and vegetable stand. Then she designed signs to attract buyers for her harvest. Unfortunately, her scribble was legible only to the squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. When she was old enough to traipse alone in the woods and along the lakeshore near the family’s mountain cabin in Pennsylvania, she collected worms, tadpoles, newts, and the occasional garter or ring-neck snake for her friends back home. This practice was halted as soon as her parents caught on.

As she played with nature, she also played with words. She gradually learned to put words together for humans, arranging them in works from poetry to news articles. When she was forced to grow up, she attended college and graduate school to become a reading teacher so she could help others have fun with words. Having grown up much more than she would like, she now writes for children. It’s her way of playing Peter Pan. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

I’m going to engage in a shameless bit of cross promotion here by asking your readers to visit this site for that answer. And while there they can learn about my fellow Authors for Earth Day. What an amazing bunch.

How many words do you write each day?

Frankly, I don’t write everyday. At least not on my manuscripts. I don’t set a goal of so many words a day on a manuscript. Luckily, I don’t work with a publisher that pressures me in that way. (I love you Leap Books.) I do, however, spend time writing to literary contacts, supporters, and resources. I also spend hours and hours drafting marketing material and discussion guides, activities, and curriculum for book clubs and educators.

In addition I prepare presentations for schools and other groups. So though I may not be adding to the word count of my next novel, I am pounding my brain and keyboard each day for 3 – 6 hours. And because I write contemporary, realistic “sciency-fiction” that writing list doesn’t begin to account for all the reading and processing of background material that forms the foundation for my books.

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

I’m a combination of both. I’d have to say mostly an outliner though—a free form, flexible  outliner—because I now include more of a mystery element in my books. I need to know the clues and red herrings that shape the framework on which the plot hangs. But when a idea for a scene strikes me I compose it immediately even though I don’t know where or if it will appear in the draft.

When are you the most productive?

I don’t gear up to maximum productivity until after several cups of coffee in the morning, and I fizzle out in late afternoon. So I guess I have to say noon.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Spend weeks in the Florida Keys and Key West where my stories are set. There I soak up local color, authentic details, and play with the natives. Oops, I meant native wildlife. Strange, but my batteries always run down in January and February.

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

Most of my characters (human and not) are purely fictional, though they may have been inspired by a combination of people or critters I’ve observed.

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Interview with Newbery-Winning Author Jack Gantos

{1DDE3D20-4451-4E33-9256-9D1135407B6F}Img100Get to know Jack…

Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. He has written books for people of all ages, from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults. His works include Hole in My Life, a memoir that won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert honors; Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, and Joey Pigza Loses Control, a Newbery Honor book, and his latest novel, Dead End in Norvelt, which won the 2012 John Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell award. For more information, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

Your new book Dead End in Norvelt won the prestigious 2012 Newbery medal. What was your initial reaction upon getting the call?

I was surprised, as there are always a short shelf of great books published each year and I didn’t dare indulge in the overly delicious fantasy of being awarded the Newbery medal. Once I did receive the call, I felt pretty giddy and I knew that my day was soon about to change in ways I hadn’t anticipated. So I fed the cats extra treats, and my wife and I waited for the announcement to be made public and then the phone rang and the emails were nonstop and I was off to the races. 

I absolutely love Dead End in Norvelt. Can you share a scene that was particularly fun to write?

There were quite a number of fun scenes. The waxy hands. The grim reaper. The flattened Hell’s Angel. There is a lot of ‘physical’ quality to the fun in those scenes. I really enjoyed writing the obituaries as many were just descriptive fun, especially the description of the dead letters lining the walls of the ex-post mistress’ house like the scales of a fish, or when Jack is sitting in church looking up at the white screen of the ceiling and he begins to imagine what heaven must look like and all the fancy bread images come into his mind. I liked that a lot. 

What gave you the idea to write a book based on your life growing up in Norvelt? Was it harder or easier than you expected?

The moment of inspiration to write a book is actually pretty common. I always walk around thinking to myself, ‘I could write about this, or that.’ Now having written quite a number of books I know that the moment of inspiration is just a self-seduction mechanism—and the real work—both the complications and exhilaration–always begins after you have wedded your energy and commitment to the opening lines of the inspiration.

In Dead End in Norvelt, Jack yearns to be on his dad’s good side. Was that true for you?

Yes. I always wanted to be on his side. I wanted the easy  manliness which he embodied, his ability to just assume his ideas were superior to any other, and the confident way in which he went about his business—right or wrong. I was always conflicted, double thinking every thought, worrying through my life as if it were a math problem to be solved either the right way or the wrong way. I felt tested all the time, and I often came up short in his eyes. 

What was it like writing you as the main character?

Pretty smooth, really. All the ‘Jack Henry’ books of short stories are narrated by me, and ‘Hole in My Life’ is my voice, so I’m very comfortable navigating the prose and storytelling from the first person point of view. It allows me to swing smoothly from exterior narration to interior exploration. 

How long do you wait before diving into the next novel?

I suppose I wait a few weeks or more. Sometimes months as I may be busy with a speaking tour and other duties. But when I feel the need to settle into a book, I give myself over to the impulse. 

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

Nothing too dramatic after the teen years. Once I was paroled from prison I ended up at Emerson College in Boston where I enrolled in their creative writing/BFA program. This was tremendously beneficial as I found myself in a small program with a lot of other young people who charted their lives through reading and writing. Then, I met Nicole Rubel who was a painter and illustrator. She was enrolled at the school of the Museum of Fine Arts. Once we both revealed our interest in children’s books we began to collaborate on writing and illustrating books. About the first dozen of these full ‘dummy’ books were deservedly rejected, but each rejection taught us something new about the craft and we felt we were becoming wiser with each attempt and rejection. Then we came up with ‘Rotten Ralph’ and that was sold before my Junior year in college. After that book, we just kept going and as a team have always worked together on picture books. In the meantime I’ve written the ‘Jack Henry’ series, the ‘Joey Pigza’ series and other novel length books, which lead up to ‘Dead End in Norvelt.’

Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?

Learn from reading good books. But always write the best book you can. Too many books in the children’s field read like each other. The fresh air is always inside each writer. Some writers just breathe the fumes of others. It shows. 

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

Parties make me nervous. I can control the characters on the page but not the ones inside my house. I think the Newbery banquet will be a fine party. 

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

My mentors shift around on the shelf. Right now I’m reading a lot of Oliver Goldhill and I feel like a student, and rightly so. He is wonderfully erudite, facile with the language, and very, very clever. In short: when I read or meet smart and clever books and people I’m always a little bit smitten.

As for being mistaken for someone. I attempt to blend in. Even when I pass myself in the mirror I would prefer not to recognize myself. 

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

Worrying over every little thing.

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

I’m hung up between Peter Pan and Captain Ahab: the perpetual adolescent imp and the bitter, merciless avenger of death. 

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

Be a reasonably good father. 

The best part of waking up is?

The few unforced bookish thoughts which advance the present manuscript. 

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

I can’t say. 

What story does your family always tell about you?

When I enter a grocery store I vanish into the crowd no matter if I’m in China, India, Japan, Paris, Peru…I fade into the parade. They turn around and I’m gone.

What age did you become an adult?

I always tell people that I wasn’t worth spit until I was 40.

When was the last time you were nervous?

The last time I was late for an appointment. It kills me to be late. 

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

Not really. I suss ‘bad’ out pretty quickly.

What do you miss most about being a kid?

You can lie and never think twice about it. 

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

Forty five. I was finally pretty sharp.  

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

Not horizontal.  

Most embarrassing moment?

I can’t repeat it here. But it had to do with the national book award reception and what was on my hands when I shook hands with Robert Stone, a novelist I greatly admire. (‘Dog Soldiers’ being one of my all-time favorite books). 

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

Murder, of course. Then turn around and bring them back alive. I always want more power over the imaginations of others.

Dead End in Norvelt Book Blurb:
Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is the story of an incredible two months for a boy named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation adventure are suddenly ruined when he is grounded by his feuding parents for what seems like forever. But escape comes where Jack least expects it, once he begins helping an elderly neighbor with a most unusual chore—a chore involving the newly dead, molten wax, twisted promises, Girl Scout cookies, underage driving, lessons from history, obituaries, Hells Angels, and countless bloody noses. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers crack up at the most shocking things in a depiction of growing up in an off-kilter world where the characters are as unpredictable and over-the-top as they come. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Cherie Colyer

Get to know Cherie…

Cherie is always dreaming of romance and expressing her dreams in stories. She combined her passion for writing with her fascination of all things mythical to weave together a youth romance story that led to her debut novel, Embrace. She lives with her family in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Embrace is a finalist for the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. For more info, check out her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Outliner or Seat-of-the-Pantser? 

Seat-of-the-pantser. My characters’ decisions determine what they will do next and it’s not unusual for them to surprise me. 

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

I’d throw a masquerade ball. I know that sounds weird, but I think it would be fun to wear a floor length ball gown and dance the night away. I’d even take dance lessons.

The best part of waking up is? 

Starbucks in my cup. No matter what day of the week it is or what I have going on in the morning, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and hazelnut creamer is the perfect start to the day. 

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

Jamaican Almond Fudge. I’m not sure they still make this flavor, but it has coffee, sweet rich fudge and is a little nutty. 

What age did you become an adult? 

You mean I’m an adult now? 

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

I have a few books that match this description. One’s a middle grade fantasy that I know I’ll revisit one day. It’s a story I really believe in that received a lot of positive feedback when I was querying it. Then there’s a young adult novel I was actually revising when I sold Embrace. I just haven’t had time to get back to that one. The last one that comes to mind is (dare I say it) a vampire novel. I’d been in the middle of writing the first draft when Twilight came out. By the time I was done with it there were so many vampire stories available that I went ahead and shelved mine. 

What do you miss most about being a kid? 

Spending the day hanging out with my friends. When you’re a kid, you have all the time in the world. Once you get older there’s work, kids, a home to keep up with, and a million other things you have to do. Plus your friends have the same responsibilities only their schedules don’t always match yours. It’s harder to find time to just hang out. 

What’s your favorite outdoor activity? 

Hiking. I love going for long walks through the arboretum, forest preserve, state parks, just about anywhere where I’m outside enjoying the weather.  

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Author Interview with Terri Clark

Get to know Terri…

Terri Clark feels blessed to demonstrate her passion for young adult fiction as both a teen librarian and author in Colorado. Since she was a little girl she’s been fascinated with the paranormal, so it’s little wonder she’s a real life ghost huntress and her stories dabble in the dark and different. Her newest book, Hollyweird, came out May 8th with Flux Books and you can also read her in the Hunger Games related anthology The Girl Who Was On Fire from Pop Smart books. For more info, visit her website and Facebook

Let the conversation begin!

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

I adore Meg Cabot! Her Mediator and 1-800-Where-R-U series inspired me to become a young adult author. I love her writing, humor and positive energy. Her writing career is one to aspire to and I would love to have her as a mentor. I hope to meet her one day, but worry I’ll embarrass myself by being a silly, overwhelmed fangirl. 

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

There’s a country music singer with the same name so I often get fan mail emailed to me that’s intended for her.  I hope to one day be famous enough that she starts getting fan mail that’s intended for me. Lol. And then I get quite a few people telling me I resemble Katie Perry. I think it’s the dark hair and green eyes. 

The best part of waking up is?

Starbucks in my cup.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Never stop learning. Writing is a craft that can always be improved on. Read non-fiction books, take workshops, work with a critique group, join professional writers groups, attend conferences, etc. Doing all of these things will help you grow as a writer.  

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

Ha! Many. There were several romance novels and then a YA that was part of a proposed 5 book series. I had the first book written and a partial on the second. I still love those characters and would like to come back to them eventually. 

When was the last time you were nervous?

At the book signing event I held for Hollyweird. It was 100 of my closest family, friends and colleagues. I was nervous because those people mean so much to me and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. 

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

It wasn’t advice so much as a mantra that I clung to while I was trying to get published. It took me 12 years before I sold my first book. I’d come close several times, but kept falling short. Someone then told me, “It’s not a matter of IF you’ll be published, it’s a matter of WHEN.”  It got me through some rough times when I thought about giving up. But I wanted too badly to be a published author to give up. 

Most embarrassing moment?

I once had my dress pop open at a writer’s conference. I was in the café getting coffee and the top of my dress came undone, showing my bustier underneath. A very nice gentleman offered me a safety pin to fix it. I blushed down to my toes while my best friend laughed her butt off and teased me about how I’d made that man’s day. 

What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

Camping and hiking. I live in beautiful Colorado and nothing relaxes me more or makes me happier than getting outdoors. I find it very spiritual and rejuvenating. I just booked two camping trips today, in fact. Can’t wait! I only wish we had time to do it more often. 

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

Buy a new house, put aside enough money to pay for both of my kids to go to college, buy my husband a new car so my son could then have his jeep and book a tropical vacation for the whole family!

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Lee Wardlaw

WON TONGet to know Lee…

Lee Wardlaw’s first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!) and published close to 30 award-winning books for children, tweens and teens, including Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, winner of the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the enormously popular middle grade novel 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents.

Lee has a B.A. in education, and taught school for five years before deciding to write full-time. She earned her AMI Primary Diploma from the Montessori Institute of San Diego, and will receive her M.Ed. from Loyola University, Maryland, in 2013. She still enjoys teaching, and presents a variety of lively programs each year for students, educators, librarians, parents and writers at schools, workshops, and conferences.

Lee’s books, which have sold more than a million copies world-wide, have been honored by the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, the International School Librarians Association, and more. Lee is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, the Authors Guild, the California Reading Association and, yes, even the Cat Writers’ Association!

Lee lives in Santa Barbara, CA with her husband, teen-aged son, and three former shelter cats. Her newest books include 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies (ages 10-14) and Red, White and Boom! (ages 2-7). For more info, visit her website and Facebook!

Let the conversation begin! 

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

Everything between page 1 and The End (page 118) of  Art and Fear – Observations of the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  This brilliant little book is, uh, brilliant! I re-read it at least twice a year.  One of my favorite quotes:  “ …[remember that] becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”

What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?

Years ago, an editor-who-shall-not-be-named advised I remove what I thought was an important subplot in my middle grade novel Seventh-Grade Weirdo.  I balked.  She insisted. We discussed. We argued. I pleaded. She won.  Publisher’s Weekly gave the novel a scathing review, complaining it was “…scanty on plot.”  ARGH!  (The book went on to win the Florida Sunshine State Young Reader Award and was on the Texas Lone Star Recommended Reading List, so nyah, nyah, but still…I miss that subplot!  Even my readers sometimes say:  “You know, it seems like there’s something missing here…”)

Most embarrassing moment?

I’m too embarrassed to tell you!

What do you miss most about being a kid?

How loooooooong summer vacation seemed!  Three whole months. Wow. An eternity.  Now, June feels like Friday; July, Saturday; and August a quick Sunday. Pfffffft – - gone!

BUGSWhat’s your favorite outdoor activity?

I love bodysurfing in Hawaii. The waves!  The warm water!  But ten years ago, I ruptured a disc in my neck that required surgery.  Doctor’s post-op orders?  No more bodysurfing!  Now, beachcombing for sea glass is my only ‘extreme sport’.

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

Yes, yep, oh yeah!  My first contract was for Corey’s Fire, a Y.A. novel based on my family’s experiences when our home and neighborhood were destroyed in a California wildfire. A small hardcover publishing house bought the manuscript and set the pub date for the 10th anniversary of the fire. I told everyone the fantastic news –friends, family, neighbors, even the mailman (he was all-too-familiar with my SASEs!).  A local bookstore coordinated a big book launch.  Our local paper did a huge story on me. Then, a month before publication, my editor was fired.  Her replacement canceled my contract. Devastating?  Yup.  I hit the ground like a safe. My career was over before it had even started!  Fortunately, my agent resold the book to Avon/William Morrow. The novel debuted three years after the original pub date, received excellent reviews, several awards and honors, and is still in print (with a different publishing house) 22 years later!  As for the company that dumped me: it was eventually absorbed into a larger house, then disappeared altogether…

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

Dead:  Thomas Jefferson.  Alive:  Hugh Laurie. Both are fascinating Renaissance men.

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

I nap!  Napping is highly under rated.  Just ask any cat.

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

Vanilla.  No question.  See, I’m a clotheshorse.  I love wearing different kinds of outfits, colors, styles, fabric, jewelry, etc., depending on my mood.  Vanilla ice cream is similar.  It’s delicious plain – - but you can also dress it up with hot caramel sauce or fresh raspberries or a gooey, chocolate-y brownie, and voila!  Even yummier than before.

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What story does your family always tell about you?

My mom likes to relate the details of the morning I decided to visit my friend Patrick, who lived at the end of the block. This was in Erie, PA; it was seven a.m., the middle of winter, snowing, I was three years old, and wearing only a nightgown and my bare feet. I still remember Mom standing at the front door in her bathrobe, face frozen with shock, disbelief and horror as she watched me trot down the dirt road. I tried to reassure her with a wave, but…

What mischief did you get into growing up?

See above paragraph, which is just the tip of the iceberg. (I was fond of early-morning ‘adventures’.)

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

A lamp in the shape of a purse. And the purse fabric was faux tiger fur!

What age did you become an adult?

Fifty. Ish. (Still working on it.)

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

I’ve written a bunch of ‘em!  Some will never be rescued from the Black Hole (my file cabinet); others I’ve cannibalized, using bits and pieces of them in different stories.  There’s one book, though, a Y.A. mystery-romance-thriller (similar in style and tone to the old TV show “Moonlighting”) that I wrote in 1987. It’s been rejected something like 62 times! Judy Blume read and critiqued it at an SCBWI conference in the early 1990’s; she loved it and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t sold. She even graciously allowed me to use her name in my query letters.  I received one nibble after that, but the editor wanted the book to be part of a series of romantic thrillers. That sounded great, until I learned I’d have to write a new book every six weeks.  Talk about panic!  I practically had a coronary just thinking about it.  I’m not a fast writer, and tend to freeze up when faced with those kind of deadlines.  So I passed on the offer.  I revisit the novel every now and then. I still like it, and have considered turning it into a middle grade. Maybe someday…

Outliner or Seat-of-the-Pantser?

Both.  With novels, I outline.  I have to know where I’m going, how I’ll get there and with whom I’m traveling – and WHY – before I back the car out of the garage.  With picture books, though, I start out seat-of-pantsing. Then I outline. Then I SOP again.  And then I revise.

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

In the late 1980’s, I had a hairstyle similar to Princess Di’s.

My husband and I honeymooned in Barbados, which is where Di often vacationed. Boy, did I get a lot of double and triple takes!  And numerous people, especially waiters, approached me with:  “Are you….?”  or  “Has anyone ever told you, you look just like…?”  When I hit my 60’s, I would love to be mistaken for Helen Mirren.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Cat Patrick

15790886Get to know Cat…

Cat Patrick is an author of books for young adults including Forgotten (June 2011), about a girl who remembers the future instead of the past; Revived (May 2012), about a girl in a top secret government trial to test a drug that brings people back from the dead and The Originals (May 2013), about three clones living as one person in order to hide their past. Cat lives outside of Seattle with her husband and twin daughters, and is both obsessed with and afraid of zombies and America’s Next Top Model. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

From my agent: When you finish a novel, set it aside for at least one month before re-reading or sharing it with anyone else. Unfortunately books aren’t born perfect—at least mine aren’t—and weak points are a lot easier to spot with a clear head and a little distance. It’s sort of the whole “forest through the trees” thing, only applied to writing books. 

When was the last time you were nervous?

Yesterday? I get nervous a lot. In fact, I would go ahead and classify myself as a Nervous Nelly. My top two nervous-making things are flying and speaking in public. I’m always nervous before book signings and author panels, but my excitement about meeting readers/booksellers/librarians/fellow writers always seems to make it go away. 

When you have 30 minutes of free-time, what do you do?

I read, or watch a funny TV show. Right now, I’m reading the third in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, Black Heart. Some of my favorite funny shows are New Girl, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family

The best part of waking up is?

Greeting my kiddos. I have three-year-old twin daughters and they (typically) wake up in adorably sunshiny moods, telling stories about what the day will bring. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when they’re smiling at me and saying, “Mommy, I love your hair!” 

What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

Channel more of your self-confident preschooler. In high school, I definitely bullied my own reflection quite a bit. Now, as a parent of young children, I see how amazingly self-confident they are…and I want them to retain it. They tell me, “I look beautiful today!” “I’m the fastest runner!” I think it’s really wonderful to be able to see your own strengths like that. I’d love to tell Teen Me to smile at the mirror a bit more. 

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

Well, I don’t really want to be eaten, so maybe something disgusting like black licorice? I guess if I’m choosing based purely on flavors I like, I’d be mint chip or vanilla with crushed Heath bar. Yum. 

Outliner or Seat-of-the-Pantser?

Seat-of-the-Pantser. I’ve been much more successful with books that started as mental vomit on the page, and were fine-tuned from there.

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