Author Interview with Dineen A. Miller

MillerGet to know Dineen…

Dineen Miller readily admits one of life’s greatest lessons is that there’s purpose in our trials. Her years as a youth counselor, Stephen Minister, women’s ministry leader, and small group leader fuel her desire to ignite the souls of others through words of truth.

In addition to writing for Spiritually Unequal Marriage, Dineen is the co-author of Winning Him Without Words: 10 Keys to Thriving in Your Spiritually Mismatched Marriage and author of The Soul Saver.

She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, two precious daughters, and their dog Shasta, who no doubt is an angel in disguise. Be sure to check out her newest book, coming soon, titled Central Park Rendezvous. To learn more about her books, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I loved to write poetry in high school, then wrote a lot of what you might call devotionals over the years. It’s just always been a part of my life. I had periods that I didn’t write, but I’ve always been actively creative in some way. I get grumpy if I’m not. LOL!

What was your favorite book to write?

Whatever book I’m writing at the moment. Funny how it works out that way. I’m glad it does because I don’t think I’d like to write a book I didn’t feel passionate about.

Who or what inspires you?

God, the Bible, my family, my friends, seeing a person make a sacrifice for a complete stranger. Inspiration is all around us. We just have to look for it.

Where do you get your ideas?

Lots of places. From reading about the characters in the Bible, a news story, from my own life. 

Tell us about your first novel, The Soul Saver.

It’s a story of a heroine who translates into sculpture faces of people God gives her to help. Her husband is an atheist, and her latest “mission” is a pastor who has a demon for a sidekick.

I wrote this book to reflect the struggles and intense spiritual warfare that’s inherent in mismatched marriages. My own husband is an atheist so I had lost of experience to draw upon. Plus, as I was writing it, my daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We spent a lot of time at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital which is connected to the Stanford hospital grounds and university. This was all part of my setting in The Soul Saver. Amazingly, I had that in place before my daughter was diagnosed. Again, more hands-on experience to draw upon.

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

Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Early on I never felt like a real writer because I didn’t seem to fit anyone’s mold of what a writer was. Don’t compare what you do and HOW you do it to other authors and writers. Glean what you can from them, then do what WORKS for you. It’s not easy, but it’s a whole lot more peaceful.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Tantalize_CW_pbGet to know Cynthia…

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of TANTALIZE, ETERNAL, BLESSED, DIABOLICAL and TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all Harper Collins) and HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton).

Her website was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. 

Let the conversation begin!

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

I’m fond of visiting museums – history is all about story, after all. I also love to peruse random used bookstores, stuffed to bursting with out of print gems. And I can’t see enough movies—arty or summer blockbuster, it all depends on the season and my mood.

But if I have writer’s block, my go-to cure is the soundtrack from the 1980 motion picture “Xanadu,” starring Olivia Newton-John.  I highly recommend cranking the title track and dancing with wild abandon in front of your cats. 

Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?

I would go so far as to say “experiences,” but there are bits and pieces borrowed from my real life. Taking the Tantalize series, for example, I worked in restaurants as a teen, though unlike my character Quincie, I was a waitress, not the inheritor to the family business. I was fascinated by how restaurants are such great stages for drama—with thematic décor, costuming, menus…sometimes people even burst into song. I saw great fictional possibilities in all that. What else? I lived one summer in the North Dallas suburbs—with my great aunt while covering “high profile” figures and high fashion for The Morning News. That area later became home to the character Miranda, and like Kieren, I enjoy researching legends and lore from around the globe. It’s interesting how alike we all are when it comes to what scares and heals us. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Write like your fingers are on fire.” – Kathi Appelt. By that, she means to get out of your own way and let it flow. Stop being so self-conscious, and tap into your inner genius. Or at least that’s how I interpret it. 

Cynthia Leitich SmithIf you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them?

Go. I’m usually open to new experiences, and my husband is an opera fan. I even gave him antique opera glasses one year for Christmas. 

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

Yes, the first book in my new series will debut in January—we’ve yet to announce the new title, but there is one (thank heavens!). And Eternal: Zachary’s Story, a graphic novel adaptation of Eternal, illustrated by Ming Doyle, will release in February. I also have a new release, Diabolical, which is book 4 in the Tantalize series. 

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

I took four whole days off of work. 

When was the last time you did something for the first time? What was it?

I went to Utah for the first time last week. I taught a fantasy-writing workshop, and then I stayed an extra couple of days to visit various attractions in Salt Lake City. I found the mountains gorgeous, the people friendly, and the dinosaur museums first rate. 

What is your definition of a productive day?

Four hours of the business of publishing, seven hours of writing. 

What is your definition of a relaxing day?

One hour of the business of publishing, three hours of writing. 

What was your favorite thing to play with as a child? Why?

When I was very young—say, age 10 and younger—I lived in a Spanish-style ranch in a middle-class subdivision that bordered a large field owned by I-have-no-idea-whom. This was in the Missouri suburbs of Kansas City. I would hike and catch tadpoles and crawdads and play make-believe games with the other neighborhood children. It was my Narnia/Hundred-Acre-Wood come true. 

If you could be any animal in the world for 24 hours, which animal would you be? Why?

An eagle—I’m risk adverse enough to stay at the top of the food chain, but I’d love to know how it feels not to be afraid to fly. 

Name a turning point in your life that makes you smile.

I quit my day job at age 28 to write children’s-YA books full-time. I had law school debt, and I’d yet to put down a single word on the page. But I’d had a heart-to-heart with some ducks in Lake Michigan the day before, and they all had agreed it was the right decision for me. Ducks are wonderful listeners. 

If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?

Open your teeth and howl.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Arthur Slade

Get to know Arthur…

Arthur Slade was raised in the Cypress Hills of southwest Saskatchewan and began writing at an early age. He received an English Honours degree from the University of Saskatchewan, spent several years writing advertising and has been writing fiction full time for fifteen years. He is the author of seventeen books, including “Dust” (which won the Governor General’s award), “Tribes,” and “The Hunchback Assignments.” He currently lives in the mythical city of Saskatoon, Canada. For more information, click here.

Let the conversation begin!

Tell us what inspired you to write DUST?

The very first idea really came out of the ether. I just had an image of a boy walking along a prairie road and a truck coming towards him. Along with that image came a feeling of great foreboding. Something truly horrible was about to happen. It wasn’t until I sat down to write that I began to imagine what that horrible thing would be. 

Was there a point in the novel that you wanted to give up? Or did it flow fairly naturally?

DUST is curious because there are two versions of it. The first is a 400 page disaster that I abandoned in a drawer for three or four years. Enough time had passed that I gathered the proper amount of courage or curiosity to look at it again and discovered that there were three chapters that were good. So I used them to start an entirely new version of the book. It flowed much better. 

How did you select the time period and genre for DUST?

I grew up on the prairies and the Great Depression still has marked so many of the older people there and you can still see farm houses that were abandoned. So the effects are still there. It just seemed natural to write about it. Plus, it was a very Biblical time. By that I mean that it seemed as if God was punishing the prairies. Ten years is a long time to wait for rain and good crops. 

Did you find yourself stopping many times during the novel to research the particulars of the 1930’s?

I tend to research as I write. So I get down the bones of the story and flesh it out with historical details (and characterization and metaphors and all that other “stuff”). So I don’t so much stop as I continue writing with a research book in my hand. 

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

It takes ten years to become a professional. I didn’t believe it at the time I was told (I was 19), but I wasn’t published until I was 30. It took me a long time to realize I needed that time to grow as a writer. Of course, everyone’s journey is different. And many people are smarter than me…it might only take them ten minutes!

What is your biggest pet peeve?

When the Saskatchewan Roughriders lose a game (they’re a football team). 

Name a turning point in your life that makes you smile.

When DUST won the Governor General’s Award. A tuxedo. An award ceremony. Free food. National attention in Canada for my book. It really changed my career overnight. 

If there were a holiday in your honor, what would it celebrate?

Hobbits. Not that I am short, nor do I have particularly hairy feet. But Hobbits have lived inside me ever since I read The Hobbit. Err, I don’t mean literally, of course. That would be weird. And uncomfortable. 

If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?

Don’t give up. Ever. 

If you had to enter a competition for the Most Uselessly Unique Talent, what would your talent be?

Silent, unspoken sarcasm. 

What is your worst personality characteristic?

Spoken sarcasm. 

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

I had Eggs Benedict at an expensive hotel. I mean, it’s just a meal and I had to pay for it…but I sure like Eggs Benedict. 

How did you learn to ride a bicycle?

By jumping off a horse and landing on the bicycle as it was riding along beside us. Or was it the other way around. No, wait, neither of those are right. I think I had training wheels and learned on a gravel road. Gravel hurts. Just saying! 

If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?

Go to Mars. Or usher in World Peace. Maybe I’d usher in World Peace from Mars… 

What is your definition of a productive day?

Writing 1000 words, rewriting 2000 words, reading for two hours, and walking five hours on my treadmill desk. 

What is your definition of a relaxing day?

Writing 1000 words, rewriting 2000 words, Reading…wait…how about just reading all day. 

What was your favorite thing to play with as a child?

My Han Solo laser gun. Because that’s all he needed to take on an Empire. And Han shot first, in case anyone is wondering. 

Have you ever jumped out of a plane? If you knew you would survive, would you do it?

No and no. Why jump out of a perfectly good aircraft?

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Introducing Award-Winning Author Kathryn Erskine

Get to know Kathryn…

Kathryn Erskine spent many years as a lawyer before realizing that she’d rather write things that people might actually enjoy reading.  She grew up mostly overseas and attended eight different schools, her favorite being the Hogwarts-type castle in Scotland.  The faculty, of course, did not consist of wizards, although . . . how did the headmistress know that it was “the wee redhead” who led the campaign to free the mice from the biology lab?  Erskine draws on her life stories to write her novels including Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Mockingbird, 2010 National Book Award winner, The Absolute Value of Mike, a Crystal Kite Award winner, and the upcoming Facing Freedom (Fall 2013). For more info, check out her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

Let the conversation begin!

Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?

Write from your heart.  If you bare your soul, readers will know it.  They’ll respect you and hear you. 

What is your favorite part of the day?

Early morning.  It’s quiet, I can write, the birds start singing and I can watch the sunrise.  All with coffee, of course.

If you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them?

I would go because even though it’s not my favorite art form I like to try challenge myself to  see how I can make the experience positive.  

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

Not soon enough — next year.  It’s called FACING FREEDOM and is about a boy who has a mystery to solve to find out the truth about his family and his community. 

What is your worst scar? How did you get it? 

My worst physical scar is still very minor — a cut on my left index finger from cutting up cheese and meat for guests at a garden party we were giving when I was a teenager in Scotland.  It probably should’ve had stitches but I wrapped it in a towel and kept working.  The show must go on!  

What genre do you avoid writing?

Hmmm…I’ve avoided writing fantasy because there are so many others who do that really well and, while I like fantasy, it’s not my favorite.  I prefer realistic, either contemporary or historical.  I do want to write books for all ages of readers, though, from picture books through adult, and I’m currently working on that, with several picture books and an adult novel in progress.  I also have an idea for a graphic novel.  Would anyone like to illustrate it? 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

Take a walk, meditate, go on a trip, do something totally unrelated to writing but still often creative (e.g., cooking, making jewelry, games, puzzles), spend time with friends, watch the sunrise. 

Can you tell us about the book you’re working on? Is it coming easily or have you run into road blocks?

I’m working on a Middle Ages action adventure novel now, which is a lot of fun to write. The only thing that slows me down is the research because I want to make sure I get all the historical details correct.  I love that part, though, so I really don’t mind.  Sometimes I do wish I could clone myself so I could get more done. 

Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?

Usually, but only because a made bed makes the whole room look neat, whereas as an unmade bed makes even a tidy bedroom look like a dump.  I don’t enjoy the work part but I do enjoy feeling like things are clean and tidy. 

Do you collect anything?

My husband would say pillows.  I have the hardest time finding a pillow that feels comfortable.  I think story ideas, memories, and photos are the things I collect and hang onto the most. 

Do you come up with your book titles?

Yes, and I either know it right away or it takes a long time to come up with a title that really captures the essence of the story.  QUAKING and THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE were immediate; MOCKINGBIRD didn’t hit me until I realized that Caitlin’s voice reminded me of Scout and that there were a number of significant similarities between my story and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  FACING FREEDOM went through lots of title changes and I haven’t yet named the Middle Ages manuscript I’m working on now — but the next one, a teen road trip novel that’s only partly written, is called GLORIOUS AND FREE. 

What is the easiest part of the writing process? Hardest?

The easiest part is the creative outpouring of ideas, often in a jumble of scenes and characters, but all funny or heartwarming or beguiling.  The toughest part for me is the shaping, making it all progress in a way that makes sense.  I used to say that revision was the hardest part but now I see revision as a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth!) chance to say exactly what you mean.

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Author Interview with Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Get to know Kathryn…

Kathryn was born in New York City, but grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University. Her favorite thing to do is walk her dog, Holly, who, she says is so smart, she can practically empty the dishwasher. She also likes organizing absolutely anything, including messy garages, closets, and even cluttered junk drawers. If she could, she would eat the same thing for lunch everyday, which would be a ham, Swiss cheese, and tomato Panini, a green apple, and a chocolate soufflé. For more info, visit Kathryn’s website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

The summer I turned 13, my mother sent me to New York City to visit my grandmother, who was a science fiction author. This was in the 70’s, when science fiction was becoming very popular. My grandmother led a very eclectic lifestyle. I remember we never did anything until late afternoon, and then we stayed up until 2 or 3am. Sometimes, we went to dinner as late as 11pm.

Then when we returned, she’d sit down to write until very early in the morning. She told me she did this because the middle of the night was when people said and did things they normally wouldn’t. She had a collection of porcelain owls, because they were creatures of the night. She studied paranormal events. She discussed things like inner motivations and secret desires. She helped me to write my very first story that summer, and stayed up all night typing it so I could have a real story like she had. At thirteen, it was one of the best times I’d ever had.

She worked very hard that summer revising a novel entitled Chrysalis of Death. And one day, we met her agent for lunch, and after listening to them discuss how my grandmother could make her characters into whomever she wanted, I decided that someday, I’d like to be a writer, too. So after I announced my decision, my grandmother proceeded to send me books about writing techniques, books by classic authors, and literary essays for every birthday and Christmas holiday after.

One of my favorite books she sent me when I was deep into a teenage poetry stage was a volume of poetry written by Emily Dickinson. Inside the front cover, she wrote: “Emily Dickinson is a revered poet. Perhaps the same can be said of K.H. someday. Love, Grandma Eleanor.”

When she passed away, she left me a big box with all of her unfinished manuscripts in it. Those manuscripts have been a huge inspiration to me. One of her short stories that I found inside the box is entitled, “The Lake” and is about a group of zombies who take over a remote area of a forest next to this lake.

So because of all of the encouragement she gave me and to honor her, I decided that when I sat down to write my own novel many years later, that I would name my main character after her and give her a grandmother very much like my own. I gave the grandmother in my story the same characteristics and even had her give a box of manuscripts to her granddaughter. In fact, because I remember her revising Chrysalis of Death the summer I visited, I decided to include it in The Year the Swallows Came Early. So on page 148, my main character and her best friend find this manuscript and talk about it, along with a few of her others stories. I included her book, Chrysalis of Death inside my book.

She never got to read even the first draft of my novel. But I did send it to her agent three years ago, who is still alive and working in NYC. After reading my book, my grandmother’s agent made the comment that she liked how I included my grandmother’s books in my own books, and she thought my grandmother would have been very proud.

How many words do you write each day?

It depends on the day. Anywhere from zero to 1500.

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Both. With some books, I outline them, and others, I write as I go.

When are you the most productive?

Mornings, most definitely.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

By doing something completely out of the ordinary, something that has absolutely nothing to do with writing. Or, by reading a really well-written book.

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

It’s the same, really. Except now I know what the process is, which is very helpful.

Are your characters completely fictional?

Most of my characters are based on real people. Some of them are a combination of many people.

Advice for young writers?

To write as much as possible, and to enjoy the writing process, especially revision.

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

My grandmother told me to write what I know. This seems to work well for me.

Kathryn

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Get to know Lynda…

Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature. She is also a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Lynda has been Director of the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for six years. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat. For more info, check out her site and blog. And don’t forget Twitter and Facebook! For info on purchasing ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, click here. To view the book trailer click here.

Let the conversation begin!

Can you share a nugget of wisdom?

Readers and writers often try to define “voice.” I think “voice” is the soul of the author seeping out of the fingers and onto the page. It is this vulnerability—our being willing to share our strengths, short comings, fears, secrets, and quirks, this helps to create characters that step from the page. The difference between a lack of voice and a strong one is like the Velveteen Rabbit before and after he becomes real.

Is the glass half empty or half full? What is in the glass?

Always half full. Optimism is a vital part of resilience, I think. (And you know what?! I think that answer is going to be really swell!) 

Where do you see yourself in ten years? 

I hope that I am a children’s author with several books out and a wife and mother with a happy, healthy family—just ten years older. Also, I presently have a thin file of notes from teachers and kids who’ve told me that my new book, One for the Murphys, has made a difference to someone. I hope that file is a thick one in ten years. 

What do you miss about being a child? 

Seeing the people I love more often. Actually…seeing some of them at all. 

What is the best part of writing? Worst part?

Deadlines. These are the best part—and the worst part. 

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

It would be a memoir. 

How long have you been writing? Does it feel like yesterday?

If you include songwriting—forever. In one sense it feels like yesterday and in another sense my younger days feel like a different life all together. 

If you could snap your fingers and appear anywhere, where would you be?

Anywhere but the state of confusion. Okay, seriously…I’d go to Hawaii. I’ve wanted to go there since I was about six years old. Not very creative but truthful. 

If you could only wear one color for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Blue. Boring I know, but I could never live without blue jeans. 

What super human power would you want? 

Toplay with time—move within it at will. Not too much to ask, right? (Can I buy this online? Seems like you can find anything online these days.) 

What is the craziest (or stupidest) thing you have ever done?

I drank about a half of a cup buffalo sauce to “show off.”  A memorable lesson there. 

What is your favorite season? 

Summer! It tends to be carefree—lots more time to play with than the rest of the year. Lots more time to see my kids and travel as a family. 

What’s the best dinner you ever had? 

When my then-boyfriend (now husband) took me out to Avon Old Farms Inn for my sixteenth birthday. That story will get into a book some day!  

Who is the biggest inspiration in your life?

My brother, Ricky, who is eleven years older than me. He has always been good to me—a protector. But, he has also set an exemplary example. I remember going to his college graduation and thinking I would do the same because he did. Also, Ricky has always put the people he loves ahead of all else—I have known this first hand many times. 

Which of the seven dwarves describes you best? 

Lately?  Sleepy.  

If you were attending a Halloween party, what would your costume be?

I would be a gypsy who could “read fortunes.” I would not be recognizable, so I could go from person-I-know to person-I-know and tell them about themselves and watch their looks of shock. I did this once, actually. SO much fun!! 

Why do you write?  

Because I feel like my best self when I do. 

When are you the most productive? 

Generally, mid to late morning—after the coffee starts to kick in. 

Daily word count? 

I shoot for 1,000. Sometimes get more, sometimes less. 

What was the first live concert you ever attended?

The band,Journey, with some “nobody” named Bryan Adams as warm-up. Great concert! 

What have you done that impressed yourself? 

I broke the cycle. 


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Author Interview with Hélène Boudreau

Get to know Hélène…

Hélène Boudreau grew up on an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean but now writes fiction and non-fiction for kids from her land-locked home in Ontario, Canada. She has never time-traveled or saved an endangered bird, nor has she ever spotted a mermaid in the wild, but she believes mermaids are just as plausible as sea horses, flying fish, or electric eels. Her tween novel, Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings is a 2011 Crystal Kite Member Choice Award Finalist. For more info, visit her Twitter, Facebook and website.

Let the conversation begin!

Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom? 

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Is the glass half empty or half full?  

It’s a self-filling glass which never drops below half full every time you take a drink. 

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Going to my youngest chicklet’s high school graduation and bawling my eyes out. 

What is the worst possible name to call a child?

Something unpronounceable and French with lots of accents. *just kidding* 

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Keep writing through the yuckiness. 

What is your writing process?

I write an outline with all the major plot points to get the basic structure of my story. Then I ‘fast draft’, aiming for 1,000-2,000 words a day. I try not to self-censor and keep moving forward as I write but I usually get 2/3rds of the way through, skip to the ending then revise from beginning to end and fill in the holes along the way. There are usually 4-5 major revisions after that with the help of critiques from trusted readers, my agent, and my editor. 

How long does it take you to complete a novel?

I’m getting faster but it’s still quite an intense process for me. My latest book, REAL MERMAIDS DON’T NEED HIGH HEELS (book #3) took six months of 40-60 hr/weeks from the time I first put pixel to screen to the time I turned it into my editor. It’s still a 4-6 month process after that, which includes revision, copyediting, etc. 

Who inspires you?

My kids. I eavesdrop on their conversations, sneak peeks at their notebooks and love to know what they’re reading. They crack me up every day. 

If you could be cat or dog, which one would you be and why?

Cats are so much more resourceful, so for the sake of survival (because I would want to be wild and free)—a cat. 

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Reality shows like The Bachelorette or The Bachelor. I’m a hopeless romantic. 

Name one important characteristic you look for in a friend.

Integrity. Say what you mean and mean what you say. 

What was your favorite age and why?

Forty-two is looking pretty good. I’m doing what I love, I have a great family, lots of friends, and my health. Plus, I get to wear flip-flops to work. Does it get any better than that? 

What book(s) are you reading right now?

CITY OF EMBER (paperback) and BEAUTY QUEENS (audiobook). 

What’s one of your favorite things to do when you have a night off?

Watching a romantic comedy with my hubby with a big bowl of popcorn. 

What’s your favorite way to celebrate an accomplishment?

Eating. I love food! 

If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?

Nothing that involves heights! I would probably be most useful at the ticket booth. 

If you could be a professional at any sport, what would it be?

Archery. I used to be pretty good at it. Top girl in middle school! 

Who would you like to play your life story in a movie?

Drew Barrymore because I love her sense of humor but they’d have to get a pretty good makeup artist to scruff her up enough. 

What scares you the most?

Heights! More specifically, falling from great heights. Even more specifically, watching someone I love fall from great heights. Gah! I break into a cold sweat just thinking about it. 

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?

Something low to the ground. A shrub?

Enter to win a free copy of REAL MERMAIDS DON’T HOLD THEIR BREATH.

Entering is easy as kelp. Simply post a word associated with ocean (dolphin, seaweed, etc.) on this post or on my Facebook

One random winner will be selected tomorrow at 10:00 PM.

*For mailing purposes, you must be from the U.S. or Canada.

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Author Interview with Cynthia Chapman Willis

Get to know Cynthia…

Cynthia Chapman Willis is the author of Dog Gone, a middle grade novel for ages 8 to 13 (Square Fish, a division of Macmillan), and Buck Fever, a middle grade novel for ages 9 to 14, (Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan). In addition to writing novels, Cynthia has worked as an editor of educational books and materials for children. During her time as a textbook editor with Macmillan, Scholastic, and McGraw-Hill school publishing groups, she wrote books, articles, as well as pupil edition and teacher edition copy.  Most recently, Cynthia is working full time on her next novel while promoting Dog Gone and Buck Fever. For more info, visit her blog.

Let the conversation begin!

Are your characters completely fictional? 

My characters are fictional, but I often spend time thinking about real people I know or have encountered as I build my characters. If, for example, I am writing about a really mean antagonist, I will probably consider the behavior of a real-life person or people who are or have been nasty. I’ll recall how someone being mean looks and acts. I’ll mull over where a person’s nastiness might come from, and how this trait affects or affected others. Hopefully I’ll even connect or reconnect with the feelings associated with dealing with someone mean. In summary, considering real life people gives me some of the clay I need to mold the fictional characters in my stories. 

Where do you get your ideas?

From anywhere and everywhere. Snippets of ideas pop into my head all the time. The other day, I was driving through a wooded area with lots of lakes, all draped in this eerie fog that seemed to be crawling between the trees and over the road. I was on my way to visit a school and had my presentation in my head, but still, a story idea pushed in and took over. 

What advice would you give young writers?

My advice is always the same: Read as much as possible, write as much as possible, and if you truly believe in what you are doing, be persistent and do not give up on your dreams. 

Outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I outline in great detail. In fact, I find that I am writing more intricate outlines with each novel that I put together. This might be because I really enjoy the outlining process. It’s full of fun surprises and opportunities. Somehow, as I organize the plot and setting, figure out the mechanics of a story, and get to know the characters, I discover insights that don’t come to me when I am writing the first draft. Also, when I outline, I am less likely to tangle plot elements or overlook important points that should not be missed. I will add, though, that I always allow myself the freedom to break away from the outline when I’m writing the first draft, if that’s what the muse calls for. When this happens, my outline becomes a sort of safety net in case I drift too far off track. 

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

More room! My writing space is a spare bedroom, which has lots of advantages. For example, my three cats and the family dog love to hang out on and around the bed while I am working. This is great, but the down side of a guest room/office is that I get kicked out when friends and relatives visit. And, because the room is small and cozy, it’s a bit overcrowded with books and manuscripts and office supplies and presentation stuff. Don’t even think about going into the closet—it’s scary-overcrowded. 

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

I am lucky enough to have a group of trusted writer-friends that I rely on to read my novels once each is done—or, I think that it is done. Also, my agent reads my work and offers wonderful advice. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I find that exercising or doing something that gets me moving is a great way to boost creative energy. I love yoga. So, if those creative batteries are running low on juice, a good yoga class can revive me, clear my head, and calm many writing frustrations. If there isn’t a class available when I need it, I’ll go for a walk or a run. Somehow getting physically tired boosts my mental energy. Even meandering around the house doing a few chores can revive me if I start lagging. 

Do you write with music playing?

Sometimes. When I listen to music depends on where I am with the novel that I am working on. During the blood, sweat, and tears of writing a first draft or hacking away at major revisions, I rarely listen to anything. For me, it is too distracting. However, if I’m brainstorming, outlining, or working away at minor revisions, the subject matter of the novel dictates the type of music that I listen to. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

I always begin with plot. It is not until I start to carve out what happens in the story that the characters begin to take shape in my head. However, I do pause often while working on the story events to write about the characters. Usually, by the time I have figured out the plot, the characters are fairly well developed and ready to run free in the first draft.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Elissa Haden Guest

Get to know Elissa…

Elissa holds an MFA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and teaches classes in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Stanford University Continuing Studies. She has also taught at Pixar Animation Studios. She’s the author of numerous children’s books including the award-winning early reader series, Iris and Walter. Honors include an ALA Notable Book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of The Year, and a PEN Center USA West Literary Award. She’s written YA fiction and middle grade non-fiction. Her teleplays have been produced by NBC, Showtime and the Children’s Television Workshop. Elissa’s latest book, Bella’s Rules, illustrated by Abigail Halpin, will be published by in 2013. Elissa lives with her family in San Francisco. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What advice would you give new writers? 

Get everything down before you start editing yourself. Only share your work with someone who knows about writing and can give constructive criticism. Writing is about re-writing so don’t be in a hurry to send out your work.

Read, read read! Write down favorite quotes for inspiration. Here’s one of mine from the brilliant Maurice Sendak, “Childhood is a tricky business. Usually something goes wrong.” 

Any books on writing you’d recommend? 

Nancy Lamb’s, The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children for people who want to write children’s books. Also Ann Whitford Paul’s, Writing Picture Books

What is your secret talent?

I can burp on cue. And I can keep on burping ad nauseam. This is what comes from growing up with older brothers! 

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

I’m very lucky to have great friends who are terrific writers and critiquers. I have a monthly in-person critique group. We became friends through our group. We get together, eat lunch, critique each other’s books and have a ton of laughs. It’s invaluable for my writing and my spirit. I also have a wonderful online group that meets once a week. We all met at Hollins University’s Graduate program in Children’s Literature.  

How do you begin crafting a story?

Always with a character and often with an emotion. In my picture book Harriet’s Had Enough!  illustrated by Paul Meisel, I wanted to write about a fight between a parent and child. I was interested in the feeling of absolute fury that a kid experiences. If you’ve ever watched a two-year-old throw a tantrum or a four-year-old express pure outrage at having to stop playing you never forget it.

I have such empathy for little kids because they have these giant emotions and as Maurice Sendak said, “Children are entirely at the mercy of adults-their parents, their siblings, and their teachers.” (Caldecott & C0.  P.211) 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

I love music, reading and listening to audio books. Listening to a good story puts me into a trance. I also love watching dance rehearsals. They are much more interesting than the final performance. Oh, and I’m a huge fan of good movies and television series such as The Sopranos and The Wire, anything with great writing and acting.

Who inspires you to write?

Aretha Franklin’s voice, and writer E.B. White, Maurice Sendak, Christopher Paul Curtis, Melina Marchetta, Arnold Lobel, Lynn Hazen, Elizabeth Shreeve and Deborah Underwood to name a few.

My children Gena and Nathanael inspired my early readers, Iris and Walter.

And my father was the inspiration for the character of the grandfather in the series. 

Is crying a sign of strength or weakness?

Crying is definitely a sign of strength. 

Do you remember the first live concert you saw?

The Four Tops. They were playing in Central Park on a balmy summer night. It was thrilling. 

If I could have one super power, what would it be?

Flying. My friend Jenny and I tried to fly when we were kids. We jumped off my bedroom bureau over and over again. To this day we firmly believe that we were making headway.

Favorite season?

Fall. I love the deep blue sky and the crisp weather and of course who doesn’t love red and golden leaves? 

If you could live anywhere for a year, where would it be?

Paris. Baguettes are my weakness.

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Author Interview with Rebecca Williams Spindler

9780984805051_cov.117153156_stdGet to know Rebecca…

Rebecca has a richly diverse heritage reaching from the Appalachia Mountains region of Virginia to shores of the Philippine Islands and nesting in the Wisconsin heartland. Her short stories have been featured in books.  She is co-writing the middle grade book series “The Tale of Two Sisters” with her daughter, Madelyn, for Little Creek Books.  She is a frequent speaker on the creative writing process for students of all age.  She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Vice President of the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Anything you’d like to share with your readers?

I LOVE talking about writing. It’s wonderful to get together with a group of writers, from all backgrounds; from people just getting started to people who’ve been writing all their lives.  There are so many amazing stories that people want to tell, and I enjoy discussing how they can make their story even more amazing. 

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I’ve always had a desire to write family-oriented stories.  As a parent, wife, daughter and sister, I think the best stories told are those you’ve experienced.  People love to read about characters who seem real to the bone.  Besides writing fiction, I also write Family Feature screenplays. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

I look forward to taking writing retreats, once maybe twice a year.  It’s a long weekend spent with other writing friends.  We bounce ideas off each other about our projects, we share meals and we lock ourselves away to write, write, write.  Another way I recharge is by getting outdoors. By just taking a walk to hear the sounds of nature, it gives me a much needed break away from my laptop. 

Can you tell us about the book you’re working on? Is it coming easily or have you run into road blocks?

The middle-grade “Tales of Two Sisters” series my daughter and I worked on came pretty easily.  After our first book, Sara Jane is a Pain was published, the ideas for rest of the series moved forward.  With the recent release of the second book, Life According to Liz , we’re focusing on the final book Moving Out and Moving On which is scheduled for publication in 2013. 

Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?

It’s a mixture of real life and fiction.  Being a sister, I drew on my experiences with my own family. My daughter, Madelyn, came up with realistic scenarios from her middle school career.  There’s a lot of humor and craziness in our books, that’s where the fiction comes in. 

Planner or a procrastinator? Example?

As writers I think we all are both.  Yes, you have to plan out a project at first, make up an outline, develop characters; maybe do research on your topics.  After you get all that work done, ugh, then the real writing begins, and BOOM! That’s where the procrastination sets in.  You need to gather your strength from within and move forward with the project.  One thing that keeps me going is deadlines. I LIVE for deadlines. 

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I feel very blessed when it comes to being published.  I know this is a very difficult industry to break into. I had sent submissions all over the place. I was already feeling pretty low from all the rejections, then my Dad passed away. Months later, I happened across a publisher who was located just 20 miles from where my Dad grew up. Can you say “divine intervention”?!? My Dad was always my biggest supporter when it came to my writing aspirations. It was like he was saying, “here, try this.” So I did. I submitted a short story and three weeks later I had contract.  My relationship with my publisher has been remarkable, like I said, I feel truly blessed. 

How did you celebrate your first book being published? Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish?

With each book, I anxiously await the launch date. When the paperback copy arrives in the mail, I do a happy dance.  My whole family takes an honorary trip to Dairy Queen to celebrate.  And now that we have a Facebook Fans page, I like to share the good news with our readers and fans.  You can check us out at Fans of Spindler Writing on Facebook. 

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

Moving Out & Moving On, our final book in the “Tales of Two Sisters’ series will be coming out in 2013.

I’m also working on fiction novel entitled A Walk Beside Me. It came from a short story I had published years ago about a young woman from Appalachia who gets an opportunity of a lifetime with a full college scholarship, but she needs to find the courage to leave the only place she’s ever known, the only boy she’s ever kissed, and a family who’s endeared her to God. 

Are there certain characters you would like to return to?

Madelyn and I really like creating the story line of Liz in our book series.  Madelyn would like to write more about this character as she grows up.  Maybe later on, she will write her own books in another series. 

Any advice to share with aspiring writers?

Keep at it.  If you have the passion to write, then it’s your duty to go where that passion leads you. Be the best writer you can possibly be, and never give up.  Your talent will show through your writing, and one fine day someone somewhere till take notice. 

Do you collect anything?

Pens.  I have about 3 in my purse, 5 in my car and about 100 of them strewn around my house. 

Do you come up with your book titles?

Yes, it’s an important part of the process.  I really can’t begin a project until I have a title attached. 

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