Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author April Henry

Get to know April…

When APRIL HENRY was 12, she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children’s author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children’s magazine.

Her dream of writing went dormant until she was in her 30s, working at a corporate job, and started writing books on the side. Now she’s a New York Times bestselling author who makes a living doing what she loves. She has written thirteen novels for teens and adults, with four more under contract. Her books have gotten starred reviews, been picked for Indienext, optioned for TV and film, translated into seven languages, and short-listed for the Oregon Book Award.

April’s books for teen include Girl, Stolen and The Night She Disappeared, both from Henry Holt. Girl, Stolen is on the American Library Association’s lists for Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and Best Books for Young Adults, and is a finalist for many state awards. The Night She Disappeared is a Junior Library Guild selection. Her other YA books are Shock Point and Torched, both from Putnam.

April also reviews YA literature and mysteries and thrillers for the Oregonian, and has written articles for both The Writer and Writers Digest. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Can you share some writing wisdom?

Good writing is re-writing.  You can always edit crap; you can’t edit nothing.

When are you the most productive?

When I turn off the Internet.

What was the first live concert you ever attended?

Heart.

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

Water, because it’s plain and refreshing and necessary for life. I always see the glass as half-full. I joke that my husband looks at that half-glass and says, “Who in the hell drank my water?”

What do you miss about being a child?

I think I work better as an adult. 

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

I’ve been writing for a long time. I started looking for an agent in the late 1980s, and got published about 10 years later. It helps having been through everything at least once. 

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

The Cinque Terra, Italy.

What specific thing have you done that impressed yourself?

Taking martial arts and passing a belt test.  I am not the most coordinated person.

What Internet site do you surf to the most?

New York Times. 

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

Purple or teal. I love rich vibrant colors.   

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

Hitchhiked.

Watch my teenager go out the door for the evening. (She still lives here. At least on paper.)

What is your favorite season?

Fall.

What’s the best dinner you ever had?

My mom’s pot roast with milk gravy. She has a way of cooking the carrots where they turn black and garlicky and sweet. And my last meal would be those carrots and the potatoes and the gravy. I don’t care so much about the meat, although it does flavor everything.

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Author Interview with Marissa Burt

Get to know Marissa…

Marissa Burt was forever getting notes sent home from teachers about reading novels during class. She grew up in Oregon, and drifted eastward through Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, and South Carolina before coming back to the Pacific Northwest. She now lives in the Seattle area with her husband, three sons, and heaps of books. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Do you enjoy speaking engagements? 

Absolutely! I tend to think of speaking engagements as simply an excuse to get together with other bookish people and talk about books and writing! One of the best things about writing is getting to know other book-lovers, and people who come to author events are definitely committed readers.   

Have you ever had a reoccurring dream?  

No, although I love that moment when I wake up from an especially vivid and fantastic dream. I’ve always been a bit disappointed that I never dream about flying.  For some reason, I feel like flying should be a birthright of dreaming.  

What was your nickname growing up or now? 

I went on a Louisa May Alcott spree in middle-school, and I remember trying to go by “Jo” (my middle-name is JoAnn), but it never stuck.  When I was a little girl, my family and friends called me “Missy”. Believe it or not, there was another girl named “Missie” in my sixth grade class, so, ever since then, I’ve just been “Marissa”.    

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

Courageous people inspire me. I love reading biographies of historical figures that spent their lives well by investing in things that made the world a better place. I think one of the reasons I admire that kind of bravery so much is because I’m not like that at all, but oh how I aspire to be courageous! 

If you had to be a flower, which one would you be?

What a question! I’d probably have to pick a daisy. Not only are they some of my favorite flowers, but I appreciate their ordinariness.  Daisies aren’t showy. I think they might even be categorized as weeds, but they bloom nearly anywhere and are so cheerful and bright. I’d like that to be true of me – joy and growth in any environment. 

What was your favorite childhood toy? 

I was a big My Little Ponies fan.  In fact, I still have quite a few boxed up somewhere, testament to my parents’ ever-hopeful wish that my husband and I might have a girl someday – ha! But I’d have to say my absolute favorite childhood toy is my stuffed bear named “Ho-ho.”  (Don’t laugh.  I know your stuffed animals sport equally ridiculous names.) I believe that – in a spark of originality – I named him after his long-lost Christmas scarf which read “Ho-ho-ho.”  Ho-ho is one of those stuffed-animals: matted fur, tear-stains, and a little bit of kinship with his Velveteen cousin. 

What is your biggest pet peeve? 

Oh, there are too many of these to answer. Cell phone use in public.  People who don’t have their parcels addressed by the time they get up to the front of the post-office line.  Allergies when the weather is fine. Now that I’m a parent, my biggest pet peeves often have to do with how other adults relate to children: talking down to them, speaking harshly, placating them. But then again I’ve heard that the things that most irritate someone are pieces of their own personality. Oh, dear. What was that about the pot calling the kettle black?   

What commercial annoys you the most?  What is your favorite commercial? 

All commercials annoy me. I don’t really watch TV or listen to the radio, so whenever I chance across commercials, they are extra-obnoxious since I’m not used to them. And, yes, I realize this makes me an official fuddy-duddy. 

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

I’ve had so many turning points!  I’ve often felt like my life was this twisty path, criss-crossing and turning in on itself with plenty of out of the way pit-stops.  Each turn seemed to be a detour at the time, but looking back, it’s clear how these little surprises were meant to be part of my story all along.  My favorite turning point would have to be when I met my husband and, against my “better” (silly me!) judgment at the time, began dating him. 

What is your worst personality characteristic? 

It’s a tossup between my two bitter enemies: indecisiveness and fear. 

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

This isn’t particularly unique, but, on the whole, I think it’s kind of useless.  I have a talent for doing things incredibly quickly – whether it’s adding up math problems, typing, or speed-cleaning.  There are some perks to this, of course, but a lot of downsides as well, and it doesn’t mean I do things better.  Just faster.    

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

You mean besides the release of my debut novel STORYBOUND Well, oddly enough, I’d have to say it was a bit of a dark time that I’ve been through several months back.  Though incredibly difficult, that season forced me to choose courage in ways I wouldn’t otherwise and has helped me to reflect and re-evaluate my life.

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Author Interview with Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Get to know Lauren…

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 20 books for adults, teens and young children, the most recent of which are the YA Victorian suspense novel The Twin’s Daughter and the latest volume in The Sisters 8 series for young readers that she created with her husband and daughter, Book 7: Rebecca’s Rashness. You can read more about Lauren’s life and work here

Let the conversation begin!

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

It’s a tie: “Show, don’t tell” and “Write what you know.” Seriously, I hate all that stock advice that’s handed out like candy and that too many would-be writers take far too literally. ‘

Are your characters completely fictional?

Not wanting to get sued, I do not base characters on real people. I do, however, steal anecdotes from real life all the time. In one of my adult books, a limbo contest is recounted that actually happened to my brother in real life. And yes, my mother did once decorate the support pole in the garage in what I refer to as “TV Guide Style” – meaning she taped covers from TV Guide all over it, just like the mother does in A Little Change of Face.

Where do you get your ideas?

The Idea Fairy! I’m not even kidding about that. A few times a year I see or hear something that makes me think, “Hmm…I’ll bet there’s a 250- to 450-page book in that.”

What advice would you give young writers?

Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on, because you can’t be a good writer without being a good reader first, and always remember: The only person who can ever really take you out of the game is you.

What one word describes you?

Resilient. It took me nearly eight years and seven books written before I sold the sixth by myself as part of a two-book deal. You can’t make it very far in this business unless you learn how to withstand rejection and keep moving forward.

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

I’d like to still be writing but I’d like to be worrying about money just a little bit less. Also, I hope “GeneralHospital;” doesn’t get cancelled.

Daily word count?

It depends on the project I’m working on, anywhere between 1000 words and several thousand words. I’m pretty sure my most productive day still stands at 43 pages and I hope not to repeat that anytime soon. It was insanity.

Outliner or seat-of-the-pants writer?

Both, all project-dependent.  

When are you the most productive?

Morning, before self-doubt has had a chance to set in. But if I’m working on a novel, I’m pretty much living it in my head 24 hours a day and will work on it anytime I can.

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

A window. No, that would be too distracting in my basement cave. (“Ooh! Squirrel!”) I’ll say a bigger TV so I can see “GeneralHospital” better. Are you sensing a theme here???

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Watch “GeneralHospital”!

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The Sisters 8 series for young readers is the easiest to write because I get to do it with my husband and daughter. I don’t know about the hardest in terms of actual writing but the hardest in terms of restraint was The Twin’s Daughter. The book is broken down into 44 chapters and I would not let myself write more than one chapter a day even if the urge was there to surge forward.

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

I’m not superstitious about my writing so I’m not at all secretive about it but I produce too much in a year to expect anyone else to read all of it. I do have a weekly writers group that I’ve hosted in my home for years so they get to hear one or two books a year.

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

I’ve never written epic fantasy – so involved! So ambitious! So much world-building! That said, I do have an idea…  

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Author Interview with Donna Cooner

11958583Get to know Donna…

Donna Cooner is an author, blogger, speaker, and teacher currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado. A former teacher and school administrator, she is a now a professor and university administrator at Colorado State University.  Donna is the author of over twenty picture books and was a founding member of the Brazos Valley Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators. She also wrote children’s television shows for PBS and textbooks for future teachers. SKINNY Scholastic/Egmont UK) is her debut novel for young adults. You can listen to her read the first chapter of SKINNY with her very own Texas accent. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

How did you choose the genre you write in?

The story itself seems to dictate the form for me. As a 20 year old kindergarten teacher all alone in the basement of a 100 year old school, I LOVED picture books. I especially loved the repetitive, patterned text that had my five year old audience chiming in at every page turn, so that’s the kind of book I started to write.  When I came back to writing for children after several years away, I was facing a life event that was incomprehensible. My beloved mother had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. There was no stage five. I spent a great deal of time in hospitals and doctor’s offices trying not to think of the unthinkable. I saw family after family torn apart by the diagnosis that someone-child, mother, father, grandparent- was facing cancer, and slowly I started to write about something that definitely wasn’t picture book material.  It was the basis for my first piece of writing for an older audience and a contemporary story about very real problems.  I knew young adult books were the perfect format for this kind of story and that’s what I started to write.  It didn’t take long until I felt just as passionately about reading and writing young adult books as I did about picture books. 

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

My debut novel, SKINNY, will be released on October 1, 2012.  It’s about a girl whose obesity and negative thoughts stand in the way of her dreams of becoming a singer and finding love, until she begins a long, hard journey of self-discovery and reinvention culminating in gastric-bypass surgery, only to find that love and her own self-worth was never dependent on her size. 

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

The main character in SKINNY, Ever Davies, is definitely based on my own experience.  Obesity rates for adolescents have nearly tripled in the last 20 years. Knowing statistics, however, is not the same as living it. For me, there is a much more personal story to tell. I’ve struggled with being overweight my whole life.  I know first-hand the mental and physical impacts, especially in a culture where the media bombards young people every day with the message their value depends on the way they look. About ten years ago, at my top weight of 302 pounds, I made the decision to have gastric bypass surgery. I lost over a hundred pounds in one year and the surgery was a positive experience for me, but it wasn’t a magic wand. I will always struggle with weight and body image issues.  SKINNY is about that struggle, but even more importantly it’s about trying to overcome the negative self-criticism that keeps so many of us from achieving our dreams.  

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

This has been such an amazing year, it’s very difficult to select the “best” thing.  A great problem to have, right?  As a debut author, I experienced so many wonderful things throughout SKINNY’s journey to publication, but attending BEA was definitely near the top.  When I received the news SKINNY would be featured on the BookExpo of America (BEA) Young Adult Buzz panel, I had no idea what to expect.  I’d never attended, but always heard BEA was completely overwhelming (so true). It was a HUGE trade show with long lines of people sitting on the floor, just waiting to get inside.  Books were everywhere.  Big books, celebrity books, children’s books, crazy books…  It’s like book heaven. My first event was the editor’s YA Buzz Panel.  The room was a large ballroom and it was packed!  The authors for the five chosen books sat in the audience and the editors talked on stage about each book.  My editor at Scholastic, Aimee Friedman, went first and she was amazing.  I looked down at the table the whole time to keep from bursting into tears. After the panel, I went to the autographing session and actually had a line (SO EXCITING for a debut author to actually have a line and to sign my very first ARCs!)  Even more meaningful than the presentations or autograph lines were the many touching, personal comments from readers. Connecting with readers –it’s what we all dream of when we’re sitting at our solitary desk, typing out a manuscript we have no idea if anyone will ever see. 

What is your definition of a relaxing day?

On any given day I can take a short drive up the canyon toRockyMountainNational Parkand be surrounded by the some of the most beautiful scenery in theUnited States.  I am lucky enough to have seen the park in every season, so spending time in the mountains is definitely a favorite relaxation.  The one thingColoradodoesn’t have, however, is an ocean.  I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Texas and spending a day at the beach is still my absolute favorite way to spend a day. It has all my required ingredients for the perfect vacation — sand, waves, sunsets, and always the potential for great conversations.   

Planner or a procrastinator? Example?

Recently my horoscope said, “Puttering around is part of your creative process. So don’t fret if it takes you a few hours of wandering from room to room to get comfortable. This is just what you do before you finally settle into work.” I’m not a big follower of horoscopes, but I couldn’t have described my writing process any better. So what does it look? 

Today is Saturday. Time to write. Ahhhh…sitting down in front of the computer. Open manuscript? Not yet. Open Facebook. Read. Post. Open Twitter. Read. Open online news. Check email. Check celebrity fashions. Nice shoes. Shop for shoes online. Now, I’m ready to open the manuscript and get down to business. Cat jumps on desk. I tell cat to get down. Cat doesn’t (repeat several times). Pet cat. Notice cat hair on shirt. I should really wash that. Do a load of laundry. Ok, back in front of the computer. Open manuscript! Look at word count. I need more words. Plot out word count on calendar beside my desk. Stare at screen. Time for lunch. Ok, back in front of the computer. Now, I’m really doing it. Write a sentence. Read the sentence. Change the sentence. This is going sooooooo sllllloooooowwwwly. You know what would help? Listening to music. Go on ITunes. Look for song that I can’t remember the title for… email fellow writer for title. Download song. Listen. Would sound better with some good speakers. Shop for speakers online. They’ll come in the mail in a week or so. I should check mail. Walk to mailbox. Sun feels really good…warm. Sit outside and promise God I’ll go inside and write when the sun goes behind that cloud over there. Ok, I’m back.  

Is all of this bad for the process or just part of it? Who knows? Maybe, I’m not procrastinating. Maybe, it’s something different. Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, calls it composting: 

Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. But this does not come all at once. It takes time (p. 14). 

So, I choose to believe I’m not a planner or a procrastinator.  I’m a composter. 

What is your worst personality characteristic?

My father was a star high school athlete and later a coach. Not the Saturday morning kind of volunteer coach, but a football/basketball “does-it-for-a-living” kind of coach. Growing up inTexas, that was serious and, as a result, competition is hard wired into my nature. I can’t help it. When I was barely able to hold a glove, my dad was playing catch with me in the front yard. That led to a passion for playing fast pitch softball. I was a catcher, a not-so-glamorous position that required a high tolerance for pain. I spent many a summer day, with broken fingers taped together inside my glove, catching a ball thrown toward me at amazing speeds. I didn’t endure all that just for the love of the game. I played to win. That passion for competition has, for the most part, served me well. Especially in the world of writing and publishing. I’m often approached by people who want to write books, but few actually take the journey. I try to compete with myself to reach the next step in the process and rejoice in the “wins” along the way. I celebrate finishing a manuscript, completing the edits, finding an agent, or going out on submission. And now I’m especially celebrating the publication of my first novel.  

I know the odds to this game, but each time I reach one of those milestones, I know I’m joining a smaller and smaller percentage of writers out there. Competition surely has a dark side, but it helped me accomplish things I never thought I could, both personally and professionally.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Nikki Grimes

Nikkie GrimesGet to know Nikki…

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include ALA Notable book What is Goodbye?, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, the novels Jazmin’s Notebook, Dark Sons, and The Road to Paris (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books). Creator of the popular Meet Danitra Brown, and the award-winning Dyamonde Daniel chapter book series, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California. Her most recent title is the novel, Planet Middle School, a Junior Library Guild Selection. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I write in several genres, and for all ages. I’ve done biographies, historical fiction, fiction, chapter books, verse-novels and poetry.  My first love, though, is poetry. My fascination for language, and my love of word-play drew me to it. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

When I need to recharge, I declare a mental-health day, and I spend it painting, or making handmade cards, journals, or books, or I take in a gallery or two, or maybe head for the theater. Surrounding myself by, or indulging in, art stimulates me to create. 

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

I’m working on three books, alternately.  The picture and chapter books are moving along nicely. The MG/YA novel, however, is testing my resolve! I do have a vision for it, though, so I’m pressing ahead. My trick for dealing with troublesome manuscripts is to treat them like jigsaw puzzles. I concentrate on one piece at a time. That way, I don’t become overwhelmed. There’s plenty of time to figure out how the pieces fit together, later. 

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

My books are frequently a mix of the real and the imagined.  If I do my job well, the reader can’t tell which is which. So far, so good! 

What is your favorite part of the day?

Morning is golden. That’s when I have the greatest clarity. Nothing has yet come into my day to distract me!

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

I treated myself, and a good friend, to dinner at a French restaurant! I remember it well.  I can still taste the duck in orange sauce. Yum! Nothing quite matches the excitement of that very first book, but I still tingle a little when holding my newest book-baby! 

Best writing advice you ever received?

My first mentor told me to never compromise in the area of your giftedness. Do work with integrity so that, when you look in the mirror, you like what you see. James Baldwin taught me that, years ago. I was about 17-18 years old at the time, and I’ve never forgotten it. 

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

I would go! I got turned on to opera when I lived in Sweden. There, the arts are subsidized so that even students can afford to attend the symphony, the ballet, or the opera. My first introduction to opera was Wagner. Every other opera is a piece of cake after that! 

What is your worst personality characteristic?

Impatience. No contest! 

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

I got into my first art exhibit, and one of my watercolors won second place! It was very exciting. 

What is your definition of a productive day?

Any day I get work done on a manuscript is a productive day.  Everything else is gravy. 

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

Absolutely nothing in me wants to jump out of a plane.  I make my living full-time as a children’s and YA author. That is daredevil enough for me!

nikki-grimes

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Author Interview with Tammi Sauer

tammiGet to know Tammi…

Tammi Sauer has sold over a dozen picture books to major publishing houses. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. Cowboy Camp was developed into a musical in Katy, Texas. Mostly Monsterly was selected to be a part of the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. And Chicken Dance was released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. For more info, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

My favorite way to recharge my creative batteries is to read. This reading is not limited to picture books. I am a huge fan of young adult novels. I also listen to audio books when I am alone in my car—especially autobiographies. I was actually listening one of those when I came up with the idea for one of my upcoming picture books.  Thank you, Kristin Chenoweth!

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

Most of my books get their starting points from a real life situation. Oh, Nuts!, illustrated by Dan Krall, is one such example.

The real life experience:

I take my kids to the zoo a lot. We always try to figure out the best thing we saw that day. These best things have ranged from hearing a lion roar so loudly we felt it in our feet to watching the moose play in the sprinkler to viewing countless baby zoo animals doing incredibly adorable things. On one of our visits, my daughter noticed a squirrel. She dropped a walnut near the squirrel. He grabbed it, raced to the base of a tree, frantically dug a hole, dropped in the walnut, buried it, then flopped down on it starfish-style. We felt like we were watching a cartoon. He did the same act again and again, and that frenetic squirrel was truly the BEST thing we saw at the zoo that day.

The book:

Cutesy, Blinky and Bob live in the zoo. But does anyone pay attention to them? No! All the zoo-goers are too busy gawking at gorillas, clicking cameras at the koalas, even staring at the sloth! That is, until these chipmunks concoct a full-on campaign to become the most popular animals in the zoo. But it won’t be easy. No matter what our heroes try, it’s hard to upstage exotic creatures like zebras and wallabies and poison dart frogs. And when this fame-hungry trio finally achieves the stardom they’ve been dreaming of, they may discover it’s not all it was cracked up to be. Oh, nuts!

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

Yup. Unfortunately, I’m the only person in the family who has this urge.

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

When I first started writing picture books, I thought I would come up with a brilliant idea on Monday, write the story on Tuesday, and get five offers by Friday. I was clueless. I wrote terrible stories that I thought were wonderful. Eventually, my writing got better. When I wrote Cowboy Camp, I had a really good feeling about that manuscript. I researched lots of publishing houses and sent Cowboy Camp to some carefully selected slush piles. That manuscript ended up going to acquisitions at three houses. Oh, the joy! But no takers. Oh, the agony! Eventually, I found the perfect fit for Cowboy Camp at Sterling. Yeehaw!

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

My best writing advice came from an interview I read on Cynsations back in 2006. It completely captures what I feel needs to go into every picture book manuscript I write:

“My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”—Lynn Hazen

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

Um, I would sell them. BUT I’d be happy to trade them in for free tickets to a musical.

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

Yes! This has been a crazy year. I have five titles debuting in 2012:

Me Want Pet!, illustrated by Bob Shea (Paula Wiseman Books/S&S, March 2012)

Bawk & Roll, illustrated by Dan Santat (Sterling, April 2012)

Oh, Nuts!, illustrated by Dan Krall (Bloomsbury, September 2012)

Princess in Training, illustrated by Joe Berger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2012)

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma, illustrated by Victoria Hutto (Sterling, October 2012)

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

My family found out my mom’s cancer treatments are working!!!!!!!

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

My sister and I really enjoyed building forts. We’d drag all of our dolls and stuffed animals underneath the dining room table, set up a fan, and pretend there was a tornado whirling just behind our walls of blankets. Ooh, the drama!

What is your biggest pet peeve?

It really freaks me out when people clip their fingernails in public. A few months ago, I was on an airplane and suffered my most horrific public nail-clipping encounter. The lady across the aisle from me clipped her nails, her son’s nails, and her daughter’s nails into her Sky Mall then tucked the catalog into the seat pocket in front of her. It was painful.

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

You can never say thank you enough.

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Interview with Bestselling Author Gregory Mone

Get to know Gregory…

Gregory Mone is the author of three novels and a work of nonfiction about the science of Santa Claus. Fish, his first children’s novel, was a Scholastic Book Fairs bestseller and a recipient of the Carol Otis Hurst award for the best in children’s writing by a New England author. His latest book, Dangerous Waters, is a Children’s Book of the Month Club selection, and he is also a contributing editor at Popular Science magazine. He is married, with three children, and in a former life he was a nationally-ranked competitive swimmer. Now he’s slow. Check out his blog here

Let the conversation begin!

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

I’ll stick with the physical scars, since I like to reserve the mental ones for my books. The worst one is on my index finger. I crushed it in a window in a 9th grade Earth Science class, then insisted I was fine and tried to walk to the nurse on my own. Halfway down the hall I fainted. 

I fainted often as a kid, in fact, which is why my protagonists are always passing out. When I thought about how I’d feel if I were working in Titanic’s boiler rooms, for example, I figured I’d faint, so that’s what happens to the main character in Dangerous Waters. Sometimes I have to stop myself from making my characters faint. It’s just so natural. 

How did you choose the genre you write in? 

I don’t really think about genre. I think about the story and what makes the most sense for that story and its characters. The first draft of my first novel, The Wages of Genius, was probably science fiction, since it involved a massive, improbable earthquake that eliminated the middle of America and crunched the two coasts together. But as I really dug in and tried to understand the story and characters, I dropped the earthquake, and it became a literary office novel in which almost nothing happens. 

I’m writing for kids now because my nieces and nephews asked me to write a treasure-hunting story. At the time, I was floundering in an effort to write a big IMPORTANT novel, and once I started in on adventure for kids, I fell in love with the genre. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries? 

Exercise, espresso, aimless walks. And honestly, I play with my kids. That might sound cheesy, but it works, and I’m not trying to say it makes me a good parent. In fact, I start playing, and then my mind drifts back to the story, and my kids get frustrated. “Daddy, you’re doing your stare face again!” they say. 

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

Road blocks? Ha. Mountains, impassable rivers, gorges, armies of invading forces standing in my way preventing me from proceeding. I have a list of upcoming projects here, but this one novel I’m working on is a great example of the ups and downs. When I’m writing and editing, I think it’s brilliant. And you have to believe that – you need that confidence in the creative phase. Tolstoy referred to this as the energy of delusion, a belief in the importance of your task, and it’s really critical. Then, as I reflect and edit, I drop that delusion and attack the work-in-progress from every angle. It’s really manic.   

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

Plenty of people have written books set on Titanic, but I doubt very many have actually been on a sinking ship. I can’t say that my experience – I was on a 24-foot fishing boat that collided with a larger vessel and sank – directly fed into my novel Dangerous Waters, but I certainly drew some intensity from the experience. 

Planner or a procrastinator? Example? 

Both. I’m procrastinating right now. I should be working on a manuscript about the life cycle of soda bottles, a book due out in 2013 or so. Instead I’m enjoying answering this A very famous writer called letter writing a great form of procrastination, but I won’t cite his name, or the quote, because then I’ll come across as someone who’s always citing famous writers to try and raise himself up. 

How many words have you written in one writing session? 

I might have reached 5,000 at one point, but whenever I climb that high, the quality suffers. Now I can’t get past 1,200 before my wrists and thumbs start aching. 

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

No, I’m the type who straightens the cover so the bed looks made. What does that mean? Goodness. I’m heading into a psychological tailspin now trying to understand the grander ramifications… 

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

Ah, two days have passed since the bed-making question, but I’m better now. Anyway, the first official-type person who read my manuscript told me I showed very little promise and that I should consider another career. 

What is your very favorite part of the day? 

In the morning, in the dark, in the quiet, with coffee nearby.

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

“Jump. It’s not that far down.” 

How did you celebrate your first book being published? 

When I found out my first novel was going to be published, everyone I knew was at work, and it was the middle of the week, and it felt kind of strange to have a celebratory drink, so I bought a Kaliber non-alcoholic beer and slugged one of those. 

Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish? 

It’s still exciting, but far more nerve-wracking. When I was 27, I didn’t care if my book succeeded or failed. 

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

I’d dust off my tux and take my wife. Then we’d leave at intermission, saddened by the fact that we’re not cultured enough to enjoy opera, and go find a good Guinness somewhere. 

Will you have a new book coming out soon? 

My latest, Dangerous Waters, just came out a few months ago. The critical reception has been great, and my dad actually liked it, which means a great deal to me. 

Are there certain characters you would like to return to? 

Fish! He’s the main character in my first children’s novel, the aforementioned treasure hunting story. 

What has been the toughest blow to your professional career? 

There are so many small ones. I’d say I’ve endured forty or fifty effective jabs rather than a single powerful uppercut. 

Any advice to share with aspiring writers? 

Write the book that only you could write. 

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

The very last chapter of Fish. The first draft is essentially the same as the final. Everything about it just felt right. 

Do you collect anything? 

If I had the capital, I’d collect surfboards. I have three, but that’s hardly a quiver.

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

I’m terrible at marketing. I’ve focused almost entirely on writing for the past ten years. I should be soliciting advice on this front, not giving it. 

When was the last time you went bowling? Was it fun or total disaster? 

One month ago. I placed last among a group of septuagenarians with terrible arthritis. 

Do you come up with your book titles? 

Yes, but the publishers never use them. I still think my first novel, The Wages of Genius, should be called The Generalyst

If today was your last day to live, what would you say? 

Crap.

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Author Interview with Adele Griffin

Get to know Adele…

I was born the oldest (and continue to be the oldest) daughter of a family that has scattered to: Johannesburg, London, Berlin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. I have one dashing husband, one pre-K year-old daughter, and one stately shih-tzu named Edith. I’ve written fifteen Young Adult novels plus two middle grade series. My YA titles include Where I Want to Be, Tighter, Picture the Dead, The Julian Game, and, this fall, All You Never Wanted. Find me on my website. Or in a coffeeshop.

Let the conversation begin!

How did you get your start in the writing/publishing world?

I worked there. Macmillan, Clarion, Hyperion. Mostly washing dishes and making beds. But I learned a lot. 

My writing wisdom:

I love to read YA by first-time novelists. I think it’s especially valuable and interesting (though sometimes it makes me feel old!) to learn about young adult literature through adults who have recently exited that phase of life. I love the raw energy of a new writer who’s just smacked that first one out of park.

What was your favorite character to write?

The characters that I get flack for—my “unlikeables” are really fun. Jamie in Tighter was an intriguing complexity since she was so mentally fragile. Thea Parrott in All You Never Wanted is a horror and a handful. 

Which is your kryptonite, plot or character?

Plot. Specifically last fifty pages. I overwrap it up and try to run. I’m working on this by holding onto drafts longer, not racing to hand it in, taking my time. 

Do you read your work out loud?

Yes, in a British accent with a microphone.But sometimes just at my kitchen table. 

What do you keep in the trunk of your car?

I keep my worst dread secret—that I don’t know how to drive. 

What is your favorite Christmas memory?

Presenting my mother with a sachet made from crushed dandelions and wrapped in damp toilet paper. Beautiful. 

What is the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?

Flying in a helicopter. 

If you were in the Miss America talent competition, what would your talent be?

Tap dancing, no doubt. 

Two truths and a lie. Go.

I’m little bit shy, and a little bit showoffy. I hold grudges. 

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up? 

The Muppet Show when Elton John hosted because I was so madly love with him. 

What is your favorite children’s story?

The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Synder. So secret, so poignant. That’s a favorite in an enormous list of favorites. 

If you could spend 15 minutes with any living person, who would it be and why?

This is a bad question for me because the people I’d choose would make me very nervous and sweaty and overly excited. Can you speak through a wall? 

What article of clothing most closely describes your personality?

My bright pink silk parachute skirt. 

How many rings before you answer the phone?

It’s straight into voice mail before I touch that phone. I’m strictly textly. 

What is the first thing you think of when you wake in the morning?

First I remember that my home does not have an in-room dining room service option, and I am sad. Then I think: coffffeeeeeee. 

If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?

I’d ask Elton John to sing at my birthday. Yes, the torch burns on. 

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

My gym teacher, Mrs. White. She told me she’d never seen such optimism in the face of so little athletic ability.

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Author Interview with Trudi Trueit

Get to know Trudi…

Trudi Trueit dreamed of being a writer ever since writing, directing, and starring in her first play in the fourth grade. Since then, she’s worked as a newspaper journalist, TV news reporter and weather forecaster, public relations specialist, and now, children’s author. Trudi has published 80 fiction and nonfiction books for kids, from pre-k through middle school. Trudi’s fiction work includes the Julep O’Toole series (Penguin) and the Secrets of a Lab series (Simon & Schuster) - both for middle grade readers. Look for her new tween novel, Stealing Popular (Simon & Schuster) in the fall of 2012. Her nonfiction books cover everything from Storm Chasing to Video Gaming. Her new nonfiction hands-on project series for kids, Backyard Safari (Marshall Cavendish), debuted in 2011, with Caterpillars and Butterflies, Birds, Squirrels, Spiders, Frogs and Toads. A second series will be released in the fall of 2012. Trudi was born and raised in Seattle, WA, and still lives there with her college sweetheart, Bill. She has never met a cupcake she didn’t like. Read more about the author here.

Let the conversation begin!

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

I have always been a writer, in one form or another. As a kid, I was making up stories before I had the skills to write them down. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Zielinski, saw my creative fire and fanned the flames. Back then, I envisioned myself as a playwright (I had the appropriate long, red scarf and sunglasses). Mrs. Z. allowed my friends and me to stay in from recess to rehearse the plays I wrote. She also let us perform the plays for the class and sometimes, for the whole school. Looking out into the audience and seeing kids captivated by something I had written was pure exhilaration. I knew then that I had to be writer. Of course, I had to make a living at it, so I steered toward a career in journalism, majoring in broadcasting in college. After graduation, I became a TV news reporter and weather forecaster (telling other people’s stories). I enjoyed that aspect of it, but I had always thought about writing fiction (telling my own stories), and in my spare time began writing and submitting my work to editors and agents. It was a looooong road. For six years, I kept getting rejection after rejection. Finally, I thought, ‘I will just write what I know.’ And what I knew was weather. I wrote a weather book for kids and sent my manuscript to Grolier, who was, at the time, being purchased by Scholastic. Scholastic gave me a four-book contract to write a series of weather book, and after that, just kept feeding me work. I wrote about weather, earth science, health, holidays, nature—you name it. Within a year of getting my first nonfiction contract, an editor at Penguin that had long rejected my work, finally, said, “yes!” She offered me a contract for my middle grade series, Julep O’Toole. And since I didn’t want to choose between fiction and nonfiction, I decided to write both (80 books published, so far!). So I guess you could say my imagination led me to write fiction and my life led me to write nonfiction. 

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

Constantly! Almost every bad thing that’s happened has opened the door to something good. Here’s just one example. After I finished writing Julep O’Toole, I wanted to do another series—this time, one for boys. I wrote the first book in the Secrets of a Lab Rat series, and turned it into Penguin (I had been assigned a new editor when my editor for Julep had left her job to be a full-time mom). But this new editor was less than enthused. She passed on the series. It hit me hard. I thought, “What if I’m a one-hit wonder? What if no one likes anything else I do?” My agent said, “There are a lot of fish in the sea. Before you pack it in, let’s try somewhere else. Give me a little time.” I thought she meant a few months! Within two weeks she had sold the series to Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin books. I have written three books for the Lab Rat series and have a middle grade novel for girls coming out this fall for Aladdin’s MIX imprint called Stealing Popular (Sept, 2012). I adore my editors, Liesa Abrams and Alison Heller. The entire team at Simon and Schuster has been an absolute delight to work with. But if I hadn’t been turned down by Penguin, it would never have happened. Truly, I think the only ‘bad’ thing that can happen to a writer is if you give up. As long as you are writing, submitting, and absorbing constructive feedback then everything you go through, even the ugly stuff, is a learning experience. And that can’t be bad. 

Growing up, what mischief did you get into?

Not much I’m afraid! I was the shy-awkward-straight-A-always-did-her-homework kid with her head in a book. Wouldn’t you know it? 

What do you miss most about being a kid?

Spending time with my Mom and Dad! One Saturday a month, we would jump in the car and just drive. On the road, we would randomly choose an exit that looked interesting. I never knew where we’d end up – hiking at Mount Rainier or dipping our toes into the Pacific Ocean. I loved the adventure of exploring the world without a destination. And honestly? It didn’t matter where we found ourselves at the end of the day, because the joy was in the journey. It’s been a good life lesson! (see my answer to the last question!) 

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

Ten! I loved being ten and it’s probably why I enjoy writing for middle graders. Ten is the age where you are imagining all the things you can be when you grow up. At ten, the world is full of wonder, hope, and possibilities. Nothing is beyond your imagination or off limits. Plus, it’s the first time you are in double digits, which is pretty cool. 

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

When I think of a classic, I think of a book that stands the test of time and that is a beloved favorite you love to return to again and again. So a classic, definitely.  However, I need to make a living and I love writing so the thought of producing just one book is rather sad. The other day I heard that a boy stayed in from recess because he was deep into reading one of my books. That touched my heart. That’s all I want – whether classic or mainstream, I want my work to be read and enjoyed so much that recess doesn’t matter. 

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

I have promised my cats if we hit the big-time they get the fancy, gi-normous, expensive cat tree that really looks like a tree. 

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

Me. Naturally, there is something of myself in everything I write, but it’s usually just a piece here and a piece there woven into the tapestry of the story. Fitting the whole mosaic together to reflect nothing but me would be a daunting, yet intriguing, task. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

Typically, I start with the seed of an idea and the characters blossom to fit the story I want to tell. Yet, there have been times when I have been working on a project and a character will step forward, tap me on the shoulder, and say, “I’m here. I need you to listen to me.” And so I, literally, interview that character. I will ask about their dreams, hopes, problems, fears, etc. and get it on paper so that, later, I can craft a story to fit them. Regardless of how I begin, I am a huge believer in letting my characters drive the story. Authenticity is my watch-word. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to let the character be who he/she was meant to be, especially when it doesn’t fit into your pretty plot outline. But if you force a character to do something that goes against their nature, their very soul, your book will suffer for it. It won’t ring true. You’ll know it isn’t right. Worse, your readers will know it isn’t right. 

What is your favorite quote? And why?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s a great reminder that the fundamental choice to determine who we are and what will be lies within ourselves. It is the lesson that every great protagonist must learn. 

What advice would you give to new writers?

Many new writers ask, ‘How can I get published?” I understand the motivation; because that’s the goal they are climbing toward. But I have been to that summit and the real question they should be asking is, “How can I best express myself?” So my advice would be to tell the story your heart longs—aches—to tell. If you are true to yourself, your uniqueness will shine, and publication will come. 

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

I would make my office into a solarium. I would love to write in the sun surrounded by orchids and butterflies. Could we fit in a spa tub, too? 

If you were an animal, who would you be? And why?

A giraffe. They are such regal, beautiful, and serene animals. Plus, I wouldn’t have to kill another animal and eat it. 

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

Learn how to plot, because it is a craft. Listen to your characters. Listen to yourself. Don’t take a bad review too seriously. Don’t take a good review to seriously. And try to avoid people who want to give you writing advice.  

What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?

The quilt that my grandmother made for my mom and dad’s wedding. Every stitch is filled with love, and it’s a treasure that links me to the circle of strong, loving, creative women in my family. 

Easier to write before or after you were published?

After. Without a doubt, after. I put so much pressure on myself to write the ‘great American novel’ before I was published. I listened to too many people tell me what I should be writing, instead of searching within to find out what I wanted to write. Once I realized, all I had to do was pay attention to expressing what I was passionate about, I could relax and write.

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

Occasionally, in exchange for chocolate (peanut-butter filled Dove bites, if you must know), I will let my guard down and allow a trusted friend into the super-secret inner sanctum of my writing lair deep beneath the streets ofSeattle. But usually not. A work-in-progress is a delicate thing, and I keep it close to my heart for as long as I can. If I let someone read it, then they are going to share their opinion of what I should add, revise, reconsider, or cut. There is a time for constructive criticism, but for me, it isn’t while the ideas are still swirling inside my head and working their way onto the page. That’s the time when I am coming up with all the options for the story, twisting and pulling characters and plot like taffy. If I let someone read my work, it’s too easy for me to be swayed, to have doubts, to second guess my decisions, and worse, to slow down creatively. Plus, there is something pure about those early drafts where you are writing merely for the love of creating, where you are writing for no one yourself. It is magic!

Enter to win a signed book below!

Tired of the social injustices of middle school, twelve-year-old Coco Sherwood is on mission to take from the have-it-alls’ and give to the wanna-be’s. But to succeed, this modern day Robin Hood will have to go head-to-tiara with the most popular girl in school! Find out if Coco’s grand dream turns into her worst nightmare in Trudi’s new tween novel, Stealing Popular (Simon and Schuster/Aladdin MIX).

To celebrate the release of the book, we’re giving away a signed copy of Stealing Popular. To enter, leave a comment below. One random winner will be selected on September 7 at 10:00 PM. *For mailing purposes, you must be from the U.S. or Canada.

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Author Interview with Michelle Kidwell

Get to know Michelle…

I have had seven books published over the past eight years, the first two collections of poetry, the third With a Little Help was a collaboration with Karen Vidra and Karla Dorman which was published in 2006,  followed by A Sister’s Justice:  Marishka Tanya Alexei Mystery published in 2009, Deception Beneath: A Marishka Tanya Alexei Mystery book two published in 2009, Buried Truths: A Marishka Tanya Alexei Myster book three published in 2010, and Shadows from Our Past A Marishka Tanya Alexei Mystery book four published in 2011.  I have always had a passion for the written word, but did not get my first book published until I was in my twenties. 

Let the conversation begin!

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

I began writing when I was fourteen in 1991-92, I know I am aging myself here, but I had a wonderful English Teacher my Freshmen year who encouraged me, and in 2003 I had my first book of poetry published.  I have a total of seven books out at the moment, and am working on publishing more. 

What piece of advice would you give the younger you? 

I would say to a younger me to persevere, the journey may not always be easy, but it is well worth it. 

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

Aparty with CountryMusic, probably line dancing. 

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

I have a wonderful mentor in Sister Ruth, but I would say Lorena Mccourtney has also been a mentor because she encouraged me in my early days as an author. 

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

Grab my Kindle and read a good book, or do a little writing. 

What songs are included on the soundtrack to your life?

I’m a Survivor Reba, 3:42 A.M MercyMe, Circle of Friends, Point of Grace.

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

Hmm…probably Jo from Little women, because she is a strong Character, or Ziva From NCIS because she kicks behind, or Daphne from Switched at Birth because she is a strong young adult character! 

Hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Said goodbye to my friend who was called home to the Lord in 2007. 

The best part of waking up is? 

Days spent with family and friends, enjoying life, a lot of wonderful things.

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

Helen Keller because she was such an amazing women! 

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

A Grandma dress, ugly shade of Navy with ugly lace. 

What story does your family always tell about you? 

I was coming home from Fairfield, my Dad was in the airforce at time, I was like two and I had a total fit because I couldn’t take a C-5 Galaxy home never mind that the thing would have covered my entire town. 

What advice would you give to new writers? 

Read a lot, write a lot, do not be afraid to rewrite, have passion about what you are writing, believe in the subject matter because it will reflect in your writing. 

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

Yes, a young adult book entitled Four Words to Freedom, and yes I would love to, but I would need to do some rewrites first. 

When was the last time you were nervous?

Ever had something happen that you thought was bad, but it turned out to be for the best? Yes I recently ended a friendship it hurt at first, but I feel so much better for doing it now. 

What mischief did you get into growing up?

Typical stuff.  Not really a lot though. I was kind of the good kid!

What do you miss most about being a kid? 

The innocence.

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

That’s a hard one, because each age is a gift.  I like where I am at now though…I know I would not want to live through the awkward teenage years again.

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

Write about something you care about. 

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

A house in the country, more books, a husband, three children.

What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

Going for walks on beautiful days. 

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

Go to Verona andsee where my ancestors came from, and go to Israel to walk where Jesus walked. 

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

By my family and closest friends a house, and give to a respectable charity.

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