Author Interview with Amanda Thrasher

Amanda ThrasherGet to know Amanda…

Amanda M. Thrasher, born in England, moved to Fort Worth, Texas when she was fourteen and resides there still. After leaving the corporate world to spend time with her family, Amanda started writing full time. She is the author of the Mischief series, ‘Mischief in the Mushroom Patch’ and ‘A Fairy Match in the Mushroom Patch.’ The third installment of the series is underway, ‘A Spider Web Scramble in the Mushroom Patch.’ Amanda’s intent with the Mischief series is to bring back the love of fairy tales in a brand new way. There are no scary characters to be found in the mushroom series, as in the original tales, purposely written that way.

Amanda also just finished a novel for middle grade readers, ‘The Ghost of Whispering Willow’ and it will be released in 2012. She spends many hours visiting with local schools, contributes weekly to a blog, and continues to write. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

I strive to build a legacy based on words. Like most writers, I desperately want to write ‘the piece,’ the piece, that my children’s, children’s, children, will still want to read once I’m gone. That to me would be the ultimate achievement; to write a book worthy of standing the test of time, a true classic. I haven’t accomplished it yet, and maybe I never will, but I’m working on it. I personally believe that a writer will likely have to write several, if not more, books to get there. (That’s if they ever do), mainstream or not.

Do you outline?

I begin with the plot/story line. The characters develop as I write. I typically have a general idea, but it never fails, additions or deletions are usually made along the way.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I have just finished ‘The Ghost of Whispering Willow.’ I love this manuscript! I do have pieces that are terrible, some are just ok, some are sweet, like the Mischief series, and some are boring and flat, (I file those), and  I have some that I think are good, but are for my eyes only. This piece grabbed me right away. It is a ghost story designed 5th-8th grade girls and boys. The book will appeal to both. The main characters are boys, and yet the girls in the story, are active participants as well. The ghost children are beautiful; can you believe that? The ghost children are beautiful! The plot surprised even me. I have never written a piece that has a scene/chapter that has brought me to tears; this book did that to me as I wrote a particular chapter, two of them actually. The final twist, I can honestly say, I didn’t see coming. I believe that if I love this story, this much, and I do, someone else will surely like it. That’s where it starts; someone likes your story, and they share with someone else. My little readers will be scared at the appropriate times, and in just the right amounts. Only to find a beautiful story, true to my voice, and style of writing. I can’t wait for the release of this book. This is fresh on my mind since we are in official edits. I am currently writing the third installment of the Mischief series, ‘A Spider Web Scramble in the Mushroom Patch.’ I think the title even sounds like fun; with Lilly, Boris and Jack, it surely will be.

What is your favorite quote?

“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” William Wallace (Sir William Wallace, born 1272, Scottish Knight and land owner). This is without a doubt my favorite quote! It’s so simple, and yet it speaks volumes. We will all die, this is true, but do we really embrace life daily and live? I want too; as best I can, I want to live now.

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

The person that inspires me the most happens to be a writer/author, John Grisham. I do love his work, but that’s not the reason he inspires me. It’s how hard he worked as an author before anyone knew who he was, that’s what gets me. He motivates me to take control of my own path. “’When A Time to Kill’ was published twenty years ago, I soon learned the painful lesson that selling books was far more difficult than writing them. I bought a thousand copies and hauled them in the trunk of my car and peddled them at libraries, garden clubs, grocery stores, coffee shops, and a handful of bookstores. Often, I was assisted by my dear friend Bobby Moak. There are stories we will never tell.” John Grisham.

According to him, ‘The Firm,’ was the book that changed his life. He often refers to life pre-‘The Firm’ and after ‘The Firm.’ Being with a small publisher, it’s imperative that everyone do their part. We work hard to promote and share our work with others. Knowing that Grisham and others did it too, just seems to make the journey a little easier to take.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Don’t be afraid to write a really, really, bad manuscript. You can’t possibly write a good or great one, until you write a bad one. Finish it, learn from it, file it, and start something else. Some manuscripts are just flat. That’s ok. What did you learn from that piece? I have 70-100k word manuscripts that I’d never send out. What I’ve learned over the past few years since writing them, to me, priceless. This is not the same as having a fabulous idea, manuscript, and simply reworking it until it’s perfect. Those you see through and they will come to life and take on a form of their own. It’s magical.

ThrasherCoverWhat book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Without a doubt the easiest book so far for me to write was, ‘The Ghost of Whispering Willow.’ It’s one of those that as a writer, you know, you were supposed to write. It flowed so easy, I never once struggled with plot or characters, dialog, scenes, and I loved writing it. The hardest manuscript to write is my adult novel. I’m still writing it, and have been for years. It’s not because I don’t like it, because I do, but I’m not equipped to finish it. That’s growth. When you know 150k words into a novel that you’re not equipped to finish it. I need to spend time researching certain areas; specific things that I will need to complete the story line. I know the story line. I know how it will end, but in order to make it believable, and the characters that I’ve created come to life as they should, I will need the additional information.

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

If I’m really excited about a project, I will talk about it. Occasionally I will read an excerpt. It’s not that I’m trying to keep it a secret; it’s that I’m still working it all out in my head, and that takes time. Once my story is well on its way, I might share. Usually, I’m almost finished by the time I do this.

Earliest childhood memory?

I’m adopted, and I have always said, “I have no idea who I am, but I know exactly who I’m supposed to be.” Many people have it the other way round. My mom, adopted mom, was a huge part of making me who I am today. I love this memory, and share it often with the school children that I visit. My mom had a gift; she knew how to embrace imagination, and encouraged us to do the same. She was also a fabulous story-teller. She would tell us beautiful stories. I must have been about four years old, because my sister was at school and she was two years older. I was in the garden playing, and suddenly burst into the kitchen, no kidding running into the kitchen, and startled my mom. I was talking very fast, and she slowed me down. She squatted down and looked me in the eye while I proceed to tell her, “Mummy, (mommy/English) I have just seen the fairies. They were dancing on the grass, jumping from blade to blade.” I remember she smiled, and without hesitation she said, “Were they beautiful?” NOW….years later I realized there were a million things she could have said, “Don’t be silly,” or “There’s no such thing,” “Go play,” “It’s your imagination,” etc. But she didn’t steal that from me; she knew I’d figure it out. Of course there were no fairies; but at four years old, did it matter? I will never forget the look on her face. Now as a parent, I wish my kids could lose themselves from time to time by using their imagination. They don’t; kids might make fun of them, but what a beautiful place to escape, isn’t it.

Daily word count?

I don’t set a daily word count for myself; I’ve tried, and I can meet the word count, but the words are flat. I write/create, while it’s good. Leaping off the paper with ease, flowing, making sense, and if it’s not, I don’t write that day. I may clean up what I’ve written the day before, but I do not force a word count. To me, there’s no point. I only have to go back and re-do it anyway, because, it’s flat and boring. I think this is one of the reasons that I don’t, or haven’t, (knock on wood), struggled with writers block. If I can’t write, I don’t. 

How long do you take to write a book?

Honestly, for me, as long as it takes. The Mischief books tend to take around five to six months a piece. My ghost story, took about a year. My adult novel, I’m still writing, and I’ve been working on it for years. I know exactly what the story line is, where I’m going with it, and how it will end, but I get side tracked with the children books. I love those. I go back to the adult book from time to time, but I do need to do a little more research, in order to develop my characters the way that I believe they deserve. I have other pieces that I’ll never send out, they’re boring to me. If they bore me, surely they’ll bore my little readers. Some of those pieces have taken over a year to write. After reviewing them, they a beginning, middle, end, plot, characters, etc. but they’re flat. File them. 

What initially drew you to writing?

I love words.  From a very early age I started writing things down because I couldn’t focus unless I did. To this day, I carry a common book 24/7.  I love poetry, and I love beautiful stories. Being able to write a story, that someone else loves, is amazing. Not everyone will like, let alone love your story, but the day a child says, “I read those books and I loved those stories,” it’s amazing. I want to create stories that I love to write, and that hopefully kids want to read over and over again. I don’t know if I’ve done it yet; but I will, or try really hard too. 

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

Kidnap the people I love the most, make them drop everything, and go crazy! Play, laugh, dance, eat, talk, and enjoy whatever time we had left together. Preferably by the water, beach, lake, anything like that. 

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

Jane Austen, John Grisham & C.S. Lewis….. I know, odd combination, but I admire them all!

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Author Interview with K.C. Hilton

Get to know K.C….

Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois I spent my childhood playing street games with the neighborhood kids. When I wasn’t outside, I spent much of my time reading and getting lost in adventurous worlds and whirlwind courtships. At the age of seventeen, I moved to Kentucky and eventually began to raise a family of my own.

I have always been entranced by stories of magical adventure, and though I have had to live in the practical world, running a family business as well as two of my own, I have discovered that writing is an entirely new, exciting adventure all on its own!

We have a large family and our get-togethers are so much fun! And did I mention that I’m a photographer? Yes, I take tons of photos! We also have a mini dachshund, her name is “Roxy” she only weighs 10 pounds but is a huge part of our family. She’s so spoiled!

In my spare time, I can be found updating my website or blog, finding great books to read or watching videos. Most days I crave Diet Coke, pizza and chocolate, in no particular order. I don’t read scary books or watch horror movies… I’m way too scared! For more info, visit my website

Let the conversation begin!

What is your worst scar? How did you get it? (Mentally or physically)

Mentally: Fear of horror movies. My father watched them on television; after my brother and I went to bed (we were little). I could hear the scary music and the screams through the walls. This tormented me as a kid, but my father’s hearing wasn’t very good, so he couldn’t turn the sound down. 

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I enjoy writing in the children’s genre. I love writing happy stories and I want the reader to be happy reading them.

What genre do you avoid writing?

I won’t write horror or read it. I’m too scared! Waking up from a nightmare is bad enough; I couldn’t imagine wanting write about scary stuff too. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

Doing anything that gives me time to think, without interruption, really helps (painting the walls, staining the deck, driving with the radio turned off, or sitting by the pool). 

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

I’m currently working on two books, Saving Finkleton and My Name is Rapunzel (YA). Things are going really well with them. The only road blocks are things, other than writing, that need attention. I work a full-time job and we have a large family. 

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

In the Finkleton series and My Name is Rapunzel, pure imagination. I’m sure my imagination is influenced from life experiences, but I get a ton of ideas from my dreams. 

How many words have you written in one writing session?

I’ve written 8,000 before taking a break, then I went back to write more. I had a deadline and wanted plenty of time to rewrite. When I write, I tend to get lost in my own little world. It’s a wonderful place to be! 

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

Yes. I call it ‘closing the bed’. I don’t want to make it easy for spiders. 

What is your very favorite part of the day?

After supper, when everyone is settled for the evening, including our dog (Roxy), I either read a book or write. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Read, read and read. Books are the best tools for a writer. When I read a book, I pay attention to grammar, punctuation and dialogue. 

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

I’d go! I’ve never been to an opera, so it would be a new experience and it sounds like fun. Oh, I’d need to buy a new dress and shoes! 

5.5"X8.5" Post Card TemplateWill you have a new book coming out soon?

Yes. I’m currently working on the last book in the Finkleton series, Saving Finkleton. I’m also working on a YA book, My Name is Rapunzel. Soon, I’ll turn into a little hermit and shut the world out. When I get to a certain point writing, I stay away from the phone and internet. I always give my family and friends advanced warning, so they’ll understand when I don’t call or send emails. 

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

Our family took a two week vacation. The first week we visited Disney World and it was awesome! The second week we visited the beach. It was the best relaxation time I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t want it to end! I can’t wait for next year. 

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

I painted my office/library with something called Sandstone paint. I’ve never painted with this type of paint before. It was a learning experience and it turned out really nice. 

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

Time travel is at the top of my list. To be able to travel back in time and see how life was first hand would be great. Traveling to the future would be awesome to! 

What is your definition of a relaxing day?

I haven’t had many of these days, but when I can, I choose to relax and read all day long. Some people call it being lazy, I call it relaxing. I’d choose reading a book over watching television. 

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

I’d like to be a bird and soar through the sky. Who wouldn’t want to fly? It would be so awesome! 

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

No, I’ve never jumped out of a plane nor would I ever want to jump out of a plane. I’d be too scared! 

Can you share your journey from writing to author?

I never thought I’d be an author. I use to have nightmares as a child and I was told to write my dreams down in a journal. As a child, I thought closing the diary would make them go away. Eventually, the nightmares went away, but something happened several years ago (not sure what), but I started having bad dreams again. So, I did what I learned as a child and wrote them down. One dream in particular, wouldn’t leave my mind, although I wrote it down. Something was telling me to do something with it. But what? So, I took the notes from that dream and started writing more details. Soon, it was a full story, then an entire book. I never anticipated it actually being published. 

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

The day my husband and I were married on the beach; it changed my life. 

If you were to be on a reality TV show, which would it be and why?

“A Date with My Mom”, this way I could choose a boyfriend for my daughter, lol. 

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

My website and my book covers.

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Author Interview with Ethan Coffee

Get to know Ethan…

Ethan Coffee left California for a few years to study at Purdue University, but is now back in the Golden State. His series, Fables of the Flag, chronicles Jack Preston’s journey through time as he meets famous figures in American history. The second installment, Fables of the Flag: The Surveyor’s Tale, was released July 1st. Check out his website, the Fables Facebook Page and follow him on Twitter. 

Let the conversation begin!

What book are you reading right now?

A few, actually. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Divine Comedy by Dante (finally!), and Invictus by John Carlin. At some point I developed a huge backlog, so I’m doing my best to get through everything now.

Do you keep a writing journal?

This is one of the things that has helped my writing the most. I can’t tell you how many story ideas I’ve come up with, declined to write down because I thought “I’ll never forget that!” and then promptly forgotten. My journal doesn’t have any real format, it’s more of a place for me to clear my thoughts before I actually set to writing. A lot of it is drawings as well; maps of where story locations are in relation to each other, timelines, certain objects, etc.

Coffee or Tea?

Obviously, I’m a bit biased overall towards coffee, but in general, coffee in the morning and tea (Tejava, mostly) later in the day.

When are you the most productive?

Just before lunch. I find that if I get through all my emails and other business early in the morning, it frees my brain up to be a lot more creative than if I’m constantly thinking of when I’ll get to all those other random tasks.

Daily word count?

I usually do right around 2,000. Anything less is probably a day where I did work outlining and anything more is where I felt particularly inspired. Most times, I start a scene right before I stop for the day, to set up the next session, but occasionally I have to get through the whole thing.

As a teenager, what was your favorite musical group?

I liked a lot of pop-punk bands like Blink 182 and Green Day. Please don’t judge me, my musical tastes are much more developed now.

What is the best part of writing? Worst part?

The best part is definitely the freedom that comes with being able to take a very personal idea and build an entire world around it. Once you get used to that idea, it’s intoxicating.

The worst, at least for me, is when there’s a big fork in the story and I come up with two possible branches, both of which I like. It’s kind of like anti-writers block, where it could legitimately go either way and I have to decide which route will make a more interesting story, which means I have to discard something else.

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

Most likely about an author who is forced against his will to write his last book.

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

Some beach in Hawaii. Clichés develop because they’re true!

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Author Interview with Jeff Gerke

Get to know Jeff…

Jeff Gerke has been called the de facto gatekeeper of Christian speculative fiction. After writing his own speculative fiction and spearheading the launch of a fiction imprint dedicated to Christian speculative fiction at a major Christian publishing company, Jeff branched out on his own to launch Marcher Lord Press, an Indie publishing house whose several major awards lend credence to its claim of being the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. His fiction how-to book The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction is available through Amazon or Marcher Lord Press, and Plot Versus Character, his first craft book from Writer’s Digest Books, released in 2010. His new WD fiction craft book, The First 50 Pages, released in late 2011. Jeff lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, teenage daughter, 10-year-old son, and 3-year-old adoptive daughter from China. To learn more, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

I’ve always been making up stories, even back when it was my G.I. Joes getting attacked by the Jungle Jims and Army Men. I liked to imbue story into anything I could. Then I got into role-playing games, mainly because I loved the idea of making up stories on the fly and with friends in a fantasy world. My first serious attempt to write anything was a “module” I wrote and sent to the people at TSR to see if they’d publish it for D&D. (Of course they didn’t.) Throughout my life I’ve had stories coming to me. Not characters, so much, but always stories. Which explains why my first characters were so flat. LOL. Finally, I wanted to write because no one was writing the kind of novel I wanted to read. So I figured I’d better do it myself. 

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

Probably romance, because I’m no good at it. (Ask my wife.) When I do write romantic scenes in the novels I’ve published, the guys all like them, but the women who read them say, “I can tell this was written by a man.” [grin] I can’t stand the Jane Austen style of will-he/won’t-she stuff. I call that Pride and Prejudice style “Angst and Repressability.” I couldn’t imagine writing a whole novel like that.

Do you write with music?  

Not either option, really–though if I had to choose I’d probably say one classic. If one thing I published (or wrote, or both) lasted for generations, that would be great. In the meantime, the string of financially successful but not classic books sounds pretty good. But what I’d rather do is what I’m doing–continue to publish exactly the books I think are great and I enjoy. That’s why I launched MLP in the first place. The beauty of the small press is that you don’t have to worry about finding big sellers. You can concentrate on quality, story, and your vision.

Do you begin with character or plot?

Definitely plot. I believe (and my first Writers Digest book is based on this belief) that all novelists are either plot-first or character-first writers. If plot ideas come to you first, as they do to me, your characters are usually flat and stereotypical. If character ideas come to you first, you usually struggle to find anything interesting for your wonderful characters to do. But the last novel idea I wrote down (yesterday, actually) was both. It was a great plot idea but it had the main character’s transformation at the heart of it.

Daily word count?

When I’m on a roll, 5,000+ words a day. I used to be happy with over 2,000, but now I’m not satisfied if I haven’t gotten at least 4,000. When I was writing my second Writers Digest book, I had one day where I was 91 words short of 10K. And one day a few years ago I sprinted to the end of a novel I was writing and I got 11,000 words in one day.

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

I like to outline enough to capture what I thought was cool about an idea, but then I leave the blanks to be filled in later. Once, years ago, I plotted out a novel so thoroughly (hundreds of index cards all over the floor) that I realized I’d sucked all the joy out of the process. All the discovery had already been done and put on those cards. All that was left was the drudgery of actually writing a really long book. So now I save lots of discovery to enjoy as I go, like chocolates along my trail ahead. But I get down the main points so I know where I’m going.

How do you recharge after a day of writing?

Usually doing my 3D art (I render with Daz Studio and Vue), play acoustic guitar, and/or playing games on the PS3. Plus movies. Lots of movies.

What advice would you give young writers?

Young writers need to write, write, learn, write, read, and write some more. I have another book and system that might help. The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction is a great book alone (if I do say so myself!), but students might especially benefit from the 1-semester curriculum we put together to go with it. Link.

Dream vacation?

A cruise…no children with me…nothing but my laptop and endless time to write my own fiction.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Nan Marino

Get to know Nan…

Nan Marino writes middle grade books, lives in New Jersey and eats way too much candy. Her debut novel, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me (Roaring Brook, 2009) received a 2010 Golden Kite Honor Book, was a 2009 Bank Street Best Book, and made the Chicago Library Best Books list and the New York Public Library Best Books for Reading and Sharing. Her second novel Hiding Out At the Pancake Palace will be out in April of 2013. Nan lives with her husband and a very large dog near the Jersey shore, where she works as a librarian. For more info, visit her website and blog.

Let the conversation begin!

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I’m not sure I write in any one genre.  My first book was historical fiction. My next book is contemporary with a fantasy element. No matter what I write, my audience is always middle graders. I never intentionally set out to write children’s books, but every main character I think of happens to be between the ages of ten and fourteen. When I was in library school, I came across a table filled with children’s books.  I picked up the book, Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan and that hooked me forever on middle grade literature. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

I live near the Barnegat Bay so I do a lot of staring out at the water. I love to drive, especially if I can manage to get lost or find a road I’ve never been on. 

Any advice to share with aspiring writers?

Dig deep. Tell the story that only you can tell.

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

There are always stops and starts. It’s part of my writing process. Right now, I’m in the middle of a first draft. I got the idea for this next book while getting stuck in traffic. By the time I got home I raced to the computer and started writing. Pages flowed but I had no idea why certain things were there. For example, there’s a fishing net in the story and it seems to be very important to every single character, but I’m not sure why yet.  I might need to go for another long drive to see what happens. 

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

My first book Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me took place in the town where I grew up. There were things in that book that I took straight from my childhood–a neighbor who sings, the family who had extravagant parties, the feeling of closeness in a neighborhood. My next book is more made up. 

Planner or a procrastinator? Example?

I’ll answer this question. . . later. 

How many words have you written in one writing session?

I never count words. It’s all about moving the story along. Some days are more productive than others. But I try to tell myself that those days where I spend time staring at the computer or undoing what I already wrote are important too. Although it’s a much better day when you notice that the page count is growing larger. 

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

Right now I only have one book out in the world, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle And Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me. When it came out in 2009, my sister was a 5th grade teacher and we had a book launch party with the fourth and fifth graders in her school. Also at the library where I work, they threw a surprise launch party for me too. The book takes place in 1969 and the party had a 1960s space-aged theme. It was amazing.

So many doors have opened up because of being published.  I’ve met some great kids and their teachers through school visits and Skype. I’ve had dinner with authors that I’ve admired. Not to mention I’ve had the opportunity to work on a second book with my amazing editor. It’s been so much fun. 

A few weeks ago, some students and teachers from an elementary school book club drove almost an hour to meet me for lunch at the library where I work.  We ate sandwiches and chatted about writing, favorite books, school, and even car tires. It would be impossible not to be excited about being published after listening to a bunch of kids talk about your book characters like they are real people. 

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

Neither. I’d give them away. Not sure who’d they go to, but I’d try to find someone who wanted to be there. 

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

Yes! I have a middle grade book, Hiding Out At the Pancake Palace, (Roaring Brook Press) coming out in the beginning of 2013.  I’m really excited about it. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl named Cecilia who discovers that the boy who traveled into her tiny town in the middle of the night is actually a famous musical superstar named Elvis Ruby. During a televised talent show, Elvis froze on stage. Now, he’s hiding out in the Pinelands of New Jersey to escape the paparazzi.  A national celebrity magazine has offered a ten thousand dollar reward for news of his whereabouts, but Cecilia’s not interested in the money. She’s been searching the Pinelands for a mythical song and hopes the talented musician can help her find it. While the two go on their search, one by one people in the town learn the secret of the boy’s true identity. By the way, the Jersey Devil, a prominent figure in Pineland’s folklore, makes an appearance in the book too. 

I did research on secrets for this book. Did you know that most people keep a secret for about 72 hours? It’s a hard thing to keep. There was a study where researchers took two groups of people: one group was told a secret and the other group wasn’t. When they showed both groups a hill, the ones who knew the secret believed the hill to be steeper. People really feel burdened by them.

Are there certain characters you would like to return to?

I get asked a lot about what happened to the best friend of the main character in Neil Armstrong is My Uncle.  She’s never in the book. She moved away in the beginning of the story. I’ve never done a class visit without someone wanting to know. It would be fun to tell her story. 

Ever participated in a parade? What did you do?

This is not a happy memory. When I was in Brownies in second grade, I was chosen to carry the American Flag down the main street in our town. Right as we got to the most crowded part of the street, my shoe slid off.  I was afraid to stop and get it because I was holding the American flag. The girls in the rows behind me tried kicking it back in my direction, but it’s hard for eight-year-olds to kick a shoe and march at the same time. Our troop would never break its marching formation so I walked down the crowded street holding the American flag wearing only one shoe while two boys on bicycles pointed and smirked and followed us. Adults shouted from the sidewalks but the scout leaders were oblivious. Finally when we got to the end of the block, they noticed. To this day, I check my shoelaces whenever I hear a John Philip Sousa song.  

Do you collect anything?

Rocks. Not fancy rocks. I collect rocks with words on them and I have a bunch that I picked up from special places. Vacations. Important days. Sad days. Happy days. Sometimes friends have given me rocks from their moments too. I love to hear their stories.

It started when I was 12 and played hooky from swim team practice.  I stood outside pool building, watching through a window on a November day while my team did their laps. The afternoon was long and cold, and I spent the hours alternating between wanting to go into the practice and enjoying the time by myself.  I remember picking up a small rock and deciding to keep it as a memory of that day. I still have that rock. And many, many others. 

Do you come up with your book titles?

My first book was originally called One Small Step but my publisher already had a book with that title. My editor and publisher came up with Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me.

For my next book, I got title suggestions from the people who I work with at the library.  They’re the ones who came up with Hiding Out At the Pancake Palace.

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Interview with Newbery Honor Author Kirby Larson

Get to know Kirby…

Kirby Larson went from history-phobe to history fanatic while writing the Newbery Honor book, Hattie Big Sky and has continued that focus with The Fences Between Us and The Friendship Doll, as well as other titles in the pipeline. 

A collaboration with Mary Nethery has resulted in two award-winning nonfiction picture books: Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival (illustrated by Jean Cassels) and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle. 

Kirby has shared her passion for writing with thousands of kids and adults, in nearly twenty states and as far away as Germany,Lebanon and Qatar. She lives in Kenmore,Washington with her husband, Neil. When she’s not reading, writing, or walking Winston the Wonder Dog, Kirby enjoys gardening, bird watching, traveling, or drinking lattés with friends. For more info, visit her website and blog

Let the conversation begin!

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

I imagine it would be just like all my other books – a story which explores what it means to be a decent human being. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

Character! I’m a wretched plotter. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Dear Young Writer: Read as much as you can and honor the fact that there are stories only you can tell. So tell them!

What one word describes you?

Stubbornly optimistic. How else could I keep writing?

Most embarrassing moment?

When I drove my son to early morning band practice and my car broke down in the school driveway, blocking the incoming and fully loaded buses. Did I mention I was still in my nightgown at the time? Of course, there was also the time I told an editor about a book I really didn’t like, unaware that he had edited said book. And then there’s the time.  .  . you may sense a theme here. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

Three things: Going to Turkey, calling Car Talk and learning to perfectly poach an egg just like Julie did in Julie and Julia

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I walk – with Winston the Wonder Dog, preferably on a beach. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The nonfiction picture books that I wrote with my friend, Mary Nethery (Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle) seemed easier because the work and stress and worry were split in two. And the joy at the successes of those books is doubled. I would highly recommend collaborative writing. 

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

First drafts are kept close to the vest. Revisions are read by my critique group (Bonny Becker, Kathryn Galbraith, Sylvie Hossack and Dave Patneaude) and my writing friend, Mary. 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Seat of pantser first, then scene outliner. 

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

More bookshelves!

How long do you take to write a book?

A little too long. 

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

A bareback circus performer or a spy. Or both. 

Easier to write before or after you were published?

Neither! Writing is hard. Good hard, but hard. 

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

Karen Cushman, Barbara O’Connor, and Mary Nethery. And I would love to have a dinner party with M.T. Anderson, Rodman Philbrick, Karen Hesse, Frances O’Roark Dowell and Jennifer Holm, who would keep things lively. 

Daily word count?

Right now, for a first draft, 2000 words.  

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Karen White

Get to know Karen…

After playing hooky one day in the seventh grade to read Gone With the Wind, Karen White knew she wanted to be a writer—or become Scarlett O’Hara. In spite of these aspirations, Karen pursued a degree in business and graduated cum laude with a BS in Management from Tulane University. Ten years later, after leaving the business world, she fulfilled her dream of becoming a writer and wrote her first book. In the Shadow of the Moon was published in August, 2000. This book was nominated for the prestigious RITA award in 2001 in two separate categories. Her books have since been nominated for numerous national contests including two more RITAs, the SIBA (Southeastern Booksellers Association) Fiction Book of the Year, and has twice won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Learning to Breathe and On Folly Beach.

Karen currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—southern women’s fiction—and has recently expanded her horizons into writing a bestselling mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina. Her 2011 releases, The Beach Trees and The Strangers on Montagu Street were released in trade paperback by New American Library, a division of Penguin Publishing Group, and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number fifteen and fourteen respectively.

Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London and has a BS degree from Tulane University. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children, and a spoiled Havanese dog (who appears in several of her books), Quincy. When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking.

Her fifteenth novel, Sea Change, was published in June, 2012 and she is currently contracted with Penguin for four more novels. For more info, visit her website!

Let the conversation begin!

How long does it take you to write a book? 

Since I’m writing two books a year now, deadlines determine how long it takes me to write a book. My first book took me 4 years. The Strangers on Montagu Street took me 6 months! 

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

I don’t think it ever gets easier, but there is a building sense of self-confidence one gets after having been published successfully multiple times. 

Are your characters fictional? 

My main characters are always fictional and exist only in my head. But I also stick friends and family members in my books for fun.  

What advice would you give young writers? 

Read, read, read, read! Reading is the best way to prepare yourself to be a writer. Read everything–just make sure it’s engaging–to spark your own imagination. And then sit down in a chair and start writing. Nobody ever sold a novel that wasn’t written. 

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

Just do it! Seriously, there are a million reasons out there why I don’t have time to write. I generally tend to ignore all of them. 

Daily word count? 

I try to write 5 pages a day (Times New Roman 12-point). I guess that’s about 1,250 words?  But that’s rare–and really depends on where I am in the story (easier to write more towards the end of the book) and how close my deadline is! 

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

Definitely seat-of-the-pants. I approach writing a book the same way I approach reading a book: I don’t want to know how it ends or what’s the point? 

When are you the most productive? 

Definitely the morning–before my brain is cluttered with demands for my time or my endless to-do list.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries? 

That’s an easy one. Read! 

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

I have two critique partners who are terrific–both are authors and we critique each other’s work.  Their opinions are invaluable to me.  Couldn’t imagine sending anything to my editor without them looking at it first. 

Do you begin with character or plot? 

I always begin with my protagonist and her internal conflict, and then the setting. The plot evolves from those elements.

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Interview with Bestselling Author Peg Kehret

Author InterviewGet to know Peg…

Peg Kehret’s middle-grade books have won fifty state young reader awards; all were voted on by students.  Abduction was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. She has also won the PEN Center West Award in Children’s Literature, the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Henry Bergh Award from the ASPCA.

A long-time volunteer with animal welfare groups, Peg has included dogs, cats, llamas, elephants, bears, horses, deer and many other animals in her books.  Her new memoir, Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue, is a Fall 2012 selection of the Jr. Library Guild.  For more info, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish?

The excitement never wears off. Each step of the process – acceptance, contract, advance, finishing the manuscript, and the long-awaited actual book – is a thrill. 

How many words have you written in one writing session?

I don’t keep track anymore. I used to aim for five pages (1250 words) a day, and I usually managed that. Toward the end of a book, I write faster and do more words each day than I do at the beginning, mainly because I’m eager to find out what’s going to happen. 

What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

“Don’t write a novel for children. They are impossible to sell. Write another how-to book instead.” This advice was from my first agent, who had just sold a how-to book for me. I did not take her advice. Instead I wrote Deadly Stranger which she sold to the first publisher who read it. Not long after that, she and I parted company. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?  

“Don’t follow the fads. By the time your book is published, the fads will have changed.”  I heard this at a writer’s conference, but don’t remember who said it. 

Are there certain characters you would like to return to?

I especially enjoyed writing from the cat’s viewpoint in the three books that I co-authored with Pete the Cat. 

What has been the toughest blow to your professional career?  

Post-polio syndrome. I’ve had to give up school visits, can no longer travel to most conferences, and can write for a shorter time each day. 

Of all your books, what was your favorite chapter to write?

The chapter in Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio where I went back to my first hospital and walked for Dr. Bevis, the intern who had been so kind to me. (Note that the worst blow and the best chapter came from the same experience.)

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

Besides the basics of website, Facebook page, and blog, I use postcards to answer fan mail. The cards have a book cover on the front and a short list of some of my other titles, and my website, on the back. I go through about a thousand cards a year. At library and book store events, I give away bookmarks which list some of my titles. I have a glossy brochure and a multiple-book poster that I give away at conferences. These items are my personal investment in my career, and I believe it’s been money well spent. For those of us who write for children, I think school visits are the best promotion of all.

One word of caution: It’s easy, via the Internet, to over-promote. I enjoy receiving notices of new books – but I only need to be told once. I also like to hear about local author events and I try to attend or to tell someone who might be interested. I buy a lot of books, but I don’t like to be nagged. One acquaintance sent me so many emails, blog links, and mailings about her new book that I was sick of hearing about it before the book ever came out. I didn’t buy that one. 

The ghost'sDo you collect anything?

My house is full of an eclectic jumble of my enthusiasms: autographed books, 1940s Raggedy Ann & Andy dolls, miniature dog figurines, log cabins, antique advertising mirrors, vintage automatic musical instruments, Elsie the Borden cow, polio memorabilia, special pens and pencils (including one that declared a Peg Kehret Week in Putnam, Oklahoma) and much more.  

Do you come up with your book titles?

Many times I know the title at the beginning of the book. Other times it comes during the writing when I realize that a phrase I’ve written would be a perfect title. I was asked to change the title of Cages because the publisher didn’t think it had enough appeal. I spent three days experimenting with other titles and, in the end, refused to change. Cages fits the book perfectly. 

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

The easiest is revising, especially after I get any editorial comments. The hardest is the first draft. I envy writers who can work in a white-hot heat to get the first draft done. I struggle. 

Ever participated in a parade? What did you do?

To get from my home to anywhere else, it is necessary to drive down the main street of tiny Wilkeson,WA. One summer day my granddaughter and I left my house and when we got to Wilkeson, the street was blocked off because a parade was about to start. We watched it, and then pulled in behind the last entrant, to drive out of town. The people lined up on the sidewalk thought we were part of the parade. They clapped and waved. A few even cheered. Of course, we waved back, pretending that we were celebrities. 

Any advice to share with aspiring writers?

Write what you care about. Put your heart into your work. If you let yourself and your feelings shine through your words, you will attract like-minded readers. 

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

It depends on whether or not there is a sleeping cat who doesn’t want to be disturbed. 

What is your very favorite part of the day?

I have two favorites. The first is early morning, when I walk my dog down my long driveway to get the newspaper and then sit with a cup of coffee and watch the birds have their breakfast. The second is when I read in bed, which I do every night no matter how late it is. 

Would you rather plan a party or attend one? 

I am not a party person, although I love to plan get-togethers for my family. I can speak easily to an audience of hundreds, but I’m shy in social settings and rarely attend large gatherings. 

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Author Interview with Sheila Turnage

Get to know Sheila…

Sheila Turnage lives on a North Carolina farm with her husband, a blind dog and an ill-tempered cat. A native North Carolinian, she’s spent most of her life surrounded by the poetry and humor of rural NC.  She writes books, articles and poems, and enjoys writing about the South in general and NC in particular. Her books include Compass American Guides: North Carolina and Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Three Times Lucky is her first novel for kids. It’s set in the fictitious town of Tupelo Landing, NC – population 148 minus one (murder). To learn more, visit her website and Facebook.

Let the conversation begin!

How did you choose the genre you write in?  

It’s funny about that. Three Times Lucky is an MG novel but believe it or not, I didn’t start out to write a novel for kids. It’s just that this scrappy, eleven-year-old girl in plaid sneakers kept kicking at the door of my imagination and saying things like, “Hey, I’m Mo LoBeau.  You got a minute?  I got a story to tell.”  

And boy did she.  

A murder, a kidnapping, a lost mother, a dog named Queen Elizabeth II.  I started writing.  As I followed her story, I met her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III and the other residents of Tupelo Landing. Mo’s stand-in parents: the flamboyant Miss Lana and the amnesiac Colonel.  The melt-down gorgeous racecar driver Lavender, who Mo hopes to go out with in just eight more years.  Mo’s arch enemy, Atilla Celeste…  

I thought Mo’s story was great, but I didn’t know it was a novel for kids until my agent told me.  

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

Three Times Lucky is set here in easternNorth Carolina, where I live.  But it takes place in the imaginary town of Tupelo Landing.  

As I wrote the book, many elements of my world – small town cafes, slow dark-water creeks, hurricanes – morphed into Mo’s world.  The rhythm of the language here moved from my world to hers, too.

Specific characters aren’t based on anyone in particular, though.  And the plot is way more exciting than my day-to-day life!  I don’t have a detective agency, for instance.  And I haven’t solved a murder.  So Mo and Dale are way ahead of me in that regard.  

What is your very favorite part of the day? 

Early morning. I love sunrise, and waking up with the sound and color of a new day.    

Are there certain characters you would like to return to? 

Sure! I’d like to return to Mo and Dale, the main characters of Three Times Lucky. They’re vivid, engaging characters and to me they’re flat-out funny. Plus they’re fun to write.  I’d also like to meet more of Mo’s friends… 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received? 

Don’t wait to feel inspired – write! After all, I can always rewrite. And really, if it goes badly what’s the worst that can happen? I can always start a fire in the fireplace… 

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Ellen Hopkins

Ellen HGet to know Ellen…

Ellen Hopkins is the award-winning author of eight NY Times bestselling young adult novels-in-verse. Her first adult novel, Triangles, published last year and her upcoming YA, Tilt (September 2012) is a companion to that book, contrasting adult and teen POVs. Her second book for adults, Collateral, publishes November, 2012. Ellen lives with her family near Carson City, Nevada. Learn more about Ellen on her website and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter

Let the conversation begin!

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

Like most writers, I think, it started with reading and falling in love with the idea of becoming a storyteller. I’ve been writing ever since I learned how to put words on paper. Published poetry throughout school and into college, where I studied journalism. Then I took a big detour to get married, raise a family and start a couple of businesses. After a divorce and finding new love, I decided it was time to live my dream. 

I moved into freelance journalism, and from there into children’s nonfiction, where I published twenty books, largely for the educational market. But always, I wrote poetry and fiction. I thought I’d write horror. Then I thought I’d write picture books. Neither, it turned out, was where I belonged as an author. A personal story brought me to YA fiction. That story became CRANK, which I sold with only 75 pages completed, through meeting an S & S editor at a writers’ conference. 

What three words describe you?

Honest. Funny. Driven.

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

It would be a luau. A real one, on a tropical beach. With hot beach boys serving mai tais and cooking Kahlua pork over rocks in a pit and cutting up tropical fruit. Except mangoes. No mangoes. I’m allergic. 

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

Stephen King. I think he’s a master of character, and character is everything. I’d love to learn how he builds such realistic characters to plunk into the middle of genre fiction. Plus, he’s just so quirky and smart and weird. It would be fun to hang out with him. 

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

This is kind of funny, and I don’t get mistaken for her on the street, but I often get email meant for Ellen Degeneres. I don’t know if there’s a website with celebrity email addresses that lists mine for hers or what. And I have no clue if she gets mine, too. 

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

Fortunately, my time is mostly my own, at least when I’m home. So I can create 30 minutes of free time for myself whenever. If that’s all I have, though, I often putter around in my garden, which is my real relaxation. I love creating beauty, and that includes the kind I can look out my window and enjoy. 

11133791If you could do anything and get away with it, what would you do? 

This probably sounds boring, but I’d hide away somewhere for a week or so and just write. Like, not even my family would know where I was. Of course, I’d have to know everyone was okay, and I’d be worried that someone would need me. So that would be hard. 

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

I feel like I have won the lottery, as there’s a gambling element to trying to become a published author. And, you know, having lived in Nevada for almost 25 years, real gambling has lost any sort of draw. I never play the lottery. 

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

There was a time when I had to do the tough love thing with one of my children and make her leave the house. She was a danger to everyone living at home, and all our lives were in turmoil. 

The best part of waking up?

I’m always the first one up, usually very early in the morning. I love the silence. 

What age did you become an adult?

Sixteen. My dad passed away and my mom melted down, so largely I became the adult taking care of things for a year or two. The problem with becoming an adult is you can’t go back to being a kid again. Except maybe in your heart. You can always be a kid there. 

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

Water for Elephants. I can’t stand animal cruelty.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Challenge yourself. No great story is easy, and if it feels like it was easy to write, it’s probably not good enough. Be patient. Hone your craft. Write the story that speaks to your heart, and belongs only to you. And write bravely. 

What mischief did you get into growing up?

As a younger child, not much. But in high school, I was a 70s rebel, which should tell you everything you need to know. 

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

Forty-five, although that ship has sailed. At that age, you are wise, and beyond the idea that how you look means everything. But you’re also young enough to enjoy new experiences, great health, etc. At least, as long as you take care of yourself. 

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

To not read reviews. And I don’t. You can have 100 great ones and the one bad one still hurts like hell. Better to avoid that hurt. 

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

Just like it does now.

Can you share a recent traveling highlight?

In March, I was invited to speak at the American School in Warsaw, and one of the students was a huge fan. She took us on a tour of her city, and her enthusiasm made it a very special afternoon. On that same trip, we stayed at a little resort in the Tyrol Alps, and one afternoon caught a bus with several teens who had just gotten out of school. They texted and joked and irritated each other just like American teens would, and both experiences were great reminders that people around the world are more alike than not. And that includes teens.

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