Author Interview with Cheryl Rainfield

91qN2ZPWkUL._SL1500_Get to know Cheryl…

I love to read. Books nurture me, helped me survive the abuse I endured as a child and teen. I also love to write. I write fantasy books and edgy, realistic fiction for teens.

My fantasy books often hold hope that I need, and feel others might need, too, while my realistic fiction is gritty, intense, and emotional. All of my books have fragments of the abuse I experienced. I write about some of the harsh things teens go through…things that I think shouldn’t be hidden. But I also write about healing, hope, and love, and finding courage and strength.

In SCARS (West Side, 2010), Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself before it’s too late. It’s my arm on the cover. There’s a lot of me in SCARS; like my main character, Kendra, I am an incest survivor, I used self-harm to cope, and I’m queer. In my teen paranormal fantasy/dystopian, HUNTED (West Side, Oct 2011), Caitlyn is a telepath in a world where that is illegal, and she must choose between saving herself or saving the world. Like Caitlyn, I know what it’s like to have my life threatened, to face oppression, to experience torture, and to break free from cult or from a group of oppressors. And I know what it’s like to have to decide between hiding my true self or being who I am, even if that means danger to myself. I drew on my experience with cults and ritual abuse in creating the world that Caitlyn lives in.

In STAINED, my upcoming YA novel from Harcourt (2013), Sarah, who has a port wine stain and some body image issues, is abducted and must find a way to rescue herself. Like Sarah, I was often imprisoned for long periods of time as a child, had my life threatened, and had to rely on my own strength to survive.

Books were my survival during my childhood, and my journey into myself. Books give me hope. I hope mine will give you hope, too, or something that you need. Check out her site here.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Writing was my voice, my way of communicating with others as well as with myself. My abusers used to tell me that they’d kill me if I talked, so writing was my safe way of talking. And books also helped me survive the abuse and torture I endured; they were an escape as well as positive voices for me and letting me know I wasn’t alone. So I was naturally drawn to writing.

What was your favorite book to write?

Hm. I think Scars, because it’s got so much of me in it–bits of my soul and my experiences–and was my first big break. But I also feel that way about Hunted.

Who is your favorite author?

I have so many! Lois Duncan, Ellen Hopkins, Alex Flynn, Nancy Werlin, Gail Giles, Tamora Pierce, Suzanne Collins, Wendy Orr, Jean Little, Alexander Key…and so many, many more.

Where do you get your ideas?

I draw a lot on my own life, my pain and my hopes and healing experiences. Since I’m survivor of extreme abuse (incest and ritual abuse), I have quite a lot to draw on. I only put fragments of my abuse experience into each book; I don’t want to overwhelm readers. I also have a rich imagination that helps me with fantasy. Fantasy (reading it, writing it, trying to escape into it in my mind) was one of my ways of survival as an abused child.

What advice would you give young writers?

Write what you care about. Find what works for you. Read a LOT–as much as you can. The reading will help you as a writer; you’ll absorb good writing and technique, and it will feed your soul and creativity. Read books on writing technique, or take a course (or both!). Find a good critique group and get regular feedback on your writing; that can help so much.

Are your characters completely fictional? 

My characters are often a mix of fictional and real. Especially with my main characters; they have a lot of me in them.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Scars was both the easiest and hardest book to write. When I wrote it, I was still in the pain that I was writing about, so sometimes it would really flow, and other times it felt hard to write some scenes. It became especially hard in the last few years before I was published, when I kept receiving personalized rejection letters with editors and agents telling me they loved my writing but…. I felt despairing, like I’d never be published. I submitted Scars over 30 times over a 10 year period. So when I finally got an offer (two offers at the same time from different publishers), it was also the happiest moment for me. And then all the success of Scars afterward has felt so healing.

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Author Interview with Dawn Metcalf

Get to know Dawn…

The role of Dawn Metcalf will be played by the tall brunette in the off-the-shoulder, floor-length leather straight-jacket. Makeup by Clinique, buckles by Jada Pinkett-Smith, hair by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

I have no good excuse for the way I write. I lived in a normal, loving, suburban home, studied hard, went to college, went to graduate school, got married, had babies, and settled down in northern Connecticut. Despite this wholesome lifestyle, I’ve been clearly corrupted by fairy tales, puppet visionaries, graphic novels and British humor. As a result, I write dark, quirky, and sometimes humorous speculative fiction. Check out her official site and blog!

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Books. I love reading. And I don’t remember NOT writing. I wrote when the words wouldn’t come aloud and I write every day. It’s like brushing your teeth, but is more fun and takes longer.

Do you still have the same passion you had when you first began?

The passion is different. Before, I was writing for me and the dust bunnies and it didn’t matter what I wrote or how long it took or what I did next. Now I’m aware that I’m writing for other people, including people who are willing to pay for it, so I’ve become hyper-aware of things I once took for granted. That’s a different kind of pressure and it changes how you think about writing, mostly due to things called “edits” and “deadlines.”

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

I write. In fact, I remember when my children were infants and they’d finally take a nap, I’d think to myself: “Okay, I have 30 minutes. Do I eat, shower, or write?” I’d write. It’s a very good thing that writing is a solitary activity!

If you had to be a teacher of something, what would you teach?

Self-esteem or Cultural Anthropology. I have degrees in both and love these things with unabashed passion.

What did you like best about your hometown?

Their commitment to the Arts. My hometown is quite famous for it, actually. My favorite thing about high school (besides my group of friends) was that every other year the school suspended classes for the week and instead we got to take electives in the Arts; you can take a creative writing class, learn about film editing, sign up to audition for a stand-up comedian, watch a piece of modern dance or classical ballet, meet an author, help paint a mural, take theater direction from someone in the business–it’s open to the public and is an incredible opportunity for everyone to think creatively outside the box.

Something interesting you might not know about me is:

I first learned to belly dance when I was two and I’ve always wanted to play the harmonica.

What’s your favorite sport?

Karate.

Which member of your family has had the greatest influence on your current way of thinking?

My mother. Given that I’m a carbon copy of her, it’s not a huge surprise, but she’s also my best friend, confidante, co-conspirator and cheerleader.

What punctuation mark best describes your personality? Why?

? (If you met me, this would be obvious.)

If you could plan your ultimate vacation, where would you go?

I love Hawaii and Italy and Greece, but have yet to go to New Zealand and Australia, so it would be a toss up of faves vs. new adventures!

What is something you have that is of sentimental value?

My entire house is filled with such things. I am a sentimental person and also a pack-rat. But one interesting thing is a plastic pull-tab from an orange juice carton that sits inside a ring box. My boyfriend-now-husband tore it off of a juice box after we’d gone shopping and slipped it over my finger and asked me to marry him. I said “yes.” We laughed. That wasn’t the actual proposal (which was quite a story), but I saved the little white plastic ring.

Listener or talker?

Talker. I talk when I’m nervous.

Can you comfortably eat in a restaurant by yourself? Go to movie?

Yes, although I prefer to go with someone because I’m a big believer in a shared experience. I think the best things in life are collaborative and co-created.

What was the first car you drove?

A blue Chevy van.

What is one modern convenience you cannot live without?

Contacts/glasses and possibly allergy meds.

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Author Interview with David Lubar

Get to know David…

David Lubar has written twenty-seven books for young readers, including  Hidden Talents, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, Beware the Ninja Weenies, and Flip. His novels are on reading lists across the country, saving countless students from a close encounter with Madam Bovary.  His short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Boy’s Life, READ, and Nickelodeon. He has also designed and programmed many video games, but he’d much rather spend his time writing books and hanging out with teachers and librarians.  In his spare time, he takes naps on the couch. He lives in Nazareth, PA. Check out his site!

Let the conversation begin!

Describe your journey from writer to published author.

Straight out of college in 1976, I set out to break into print.  I collected 100 or so rejections for everything from light verse to stories to magazine-article pitches before making any sales.  My first publication was a poem in the “Metropolitan Diary” feature of the NY Times.  This was followed by some one liners I sold to humor services, some light verse, and finally, in 1978, a short story sale to Highlights for Children. 

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

I’m going to cheat a bit and answer a slightly different question, because it represents an important lesson.  The best thing I learned is that there are a lot of scammers out there.  Early in my career, I entered a writing contest sponsored by an “agency” that ran a full-page ad on the back of a writing magazine.  (I’m still appalled at the sleazy ads some writing magazines run.)  I was told that they felt my story could be sold after a bit of editing.  That editing cost me $300.  They accepted my second story without any editing, but felt the third one I sent could also use their services.  They never made any sales for me.  I realized the markets they sent the stories to paid far less than the $300 they’d scammed out of me.  I definitely learned my lesson.  When I speak at schools, and kids ask for one piece of advice for anyone who wants to get published, I tell them, “Writers don’t pay.  Writers get paid.” 

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

In my designing/programming days, I once worked 16-hours a day, seven days a week, for two straight months, creating Frogger 2 for the GameBoy. That was brutal.  

What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

Set aside your ego and listen to experts, especially in areas where you have acquired that dangerous level of a little learning.  

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

I have scads of unpublished books.  I’ve been writing novels since 1976.  My first five novels are in a file cabinet, safely kept in the darkness where they belong.  I’m still capable of writing unpublishable books now and then. Fortunately, I turn out a keeper often enough to put food on the table. 

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

Take all the politicians who have ever started unnecessary wars, give them all rifles, tell them only one person gets to come back home, and drop them into the jungle. 

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

Pay off all the student loans for my friends’ kids.  

Outliner or Seat-of-the-Pantser?

Pants, albeit comfortable ones.  I love to dive in and see where things go.  But if I stall, I’ll outline what I’ve written in the hope that this will give me a running start to hurdle the gap and keep going. 

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

I’m never mistaken for anyone, but I’ve been told I look like Richard Dryfuss.  

Where’s Waldo?

Ask Robert Heinlein.

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Author Interview with Robin Mellom

Get to know Robin…

Robin Mellom is the author of DITCHED: A Love Story, a teen romantic comedy, as well as THE CLASSROOM: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid, the first book in her series for middle grade readers, both from Disney-Hyperion. She has taught grades five through eight and has a master’s degree in education. Robin lives with her husband and son on the Central Coast of California. For more information, visit her site.

Let the conversation begin!

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

There were several times I wanted to give up in my path to publication, but it was the advice from other writers, agents and editors that kept me going.

I remember being a conference once and an author said, “If you’re getting good feedback on your writing, do the work and then wait in line for your turn.”

I really think that’s true. While we’re waiting for our turn, we have to do the work. Write the book. And then write another one. And then…yes…write another one. 

My first book that sold, DITCHED, was actually the sixth book I’d written. And I don’t regret writing those other books for one moment. They helped me develop my skills, find my voice and develop the confidence to take a concept like the one I came up with for DITCHED and do it in the way it deserved. I wasn’t ready to write that novel ten years ago. However, the gravy for this story? The very first book I wrote  (yep, ten years ago!)  is now being re-imagined and will be published as THE CLASSROOM in June. So you never know if something sitting in that drawer might season up nicely for the future.  

Can you share your journey from writing to author?

I was the type of little girl who would write stories on folded up paper and make title pages and draw a cover and then NEVER let anyone read them. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but first I became a teacher. Middle schoolers are my favorite people on the planet (seriously!) and the subject I adored teaching them most was creative writing. I would give them an assignment and then write along with them. Over the years, I’ve also worked as a social worker for children with autism and a news assistant at a newspaper. It took over eight years of serious writing “on the side” before I got my first book deal.

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

When I was in fourth grade, I won the school-wide spelling bee, beating out a seventh grader. A seventh grader! My winning word? Believe. 

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

The invention of coffee that never gets cold. 

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

The release of both of my teen book and my middle grade book. It’s been like giving birth to babies. My little book babies! 

What is your definition of a productive day?

Getting my word count done by noon, going for a run, eating, showering, and picking the kid up from school on time. Everything after that is all gravy! 

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

No. And no. I just don’t think jumping from a plane is super necessary for my happiness. Honestly, I find Zumba class to be exhilarating enough. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Mary Sullivan

Get to know Mary…

Mary Sullivan will publish her first YA novel Dear Blue Sky (Penguin) on Aug 2, 2012.  She is the author of Ship Sooner and Stay, and has ghostwritten for the Beacon Street Girls series.  Her awards include the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant, the Rona Jaffe Foundation Award and a St. Botolph’s Award for Literature.  She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four young children. Check out her site here.

Let the conversation begin!

What is your very favorite part of the day? 

Morning.  I get up between 4 and 5 to work because it is the only time our house is quiet (I have two kids home with me and two in school).  Even if I have to listen for someone waking early, I am so free during these early hours.  If I sleep late, I’m usually grouchy for the rest of the day. 

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

When I was thirteen, I wanted a horse so badly I would have done anything.  I found a Morab (1/2 Morgan, 1/2 Arabian) gelding, Rookie, to take care of for 3 years while the owner went on military leave.  But Rookie was very green (not properly trained).  One afternoon when I went out to get him from the field, he cantered toward me with his ears flat, turned, spun and kicked.  I have a long scar on the top of my head from his hoof. 

You win a million dollars and you give half to a charity. Which charity do you pick, and what do you do with the rest of the money?

With half the money, I would buy meals for poor families for months, give to World Vision, Food for the Poor, Wildlife Federation, and Veterans.  With the other half I’d get a driveway, a patio, a clubhouse for the kiddos, buy prepared food from Whole Foods so I didn’t have to cook, and give a big chunk to my mother.  Then a trip to Niagra Falls would be in order, and for that we may need a new car.  Shall I go on? 

You are planning a dinner party. Which three celebrities or historical figures would you invite to keep the dinner talk interesting? 

Emily Dickinson, Cormac McCarthy, and Jesus Christ.  

If you were blind for the rest of your life, what would you miss seeing most?  

My children’s faces.   

What chore do you hate the most?  

Organizing the storage area of the basement where I throw everything I don’t want to deal with. 

Crunchy Peanut Butter or Smooth?

 Definitely crunchy. 

When have you laughed the hardest?  

Most recently, watching America’s Funniest Videos.  I love slapstick. 

If you were a pirate, what would your name be? 

Tyrone.  I often play pirates with my two-year old who is in love with the Backyardigans.  He is always Tasha (he wears a skirt to dance) and I am Tyrone, and I say, waving my hands, “Who goes there?” and we clank our swords together.  

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Interview with Bestselling Author Amy Axelrod

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Get to know Amy…

Amy Axelrod lives in the Hudson Valley region ofNew York. She’s published 11 picture books, including the best-selling Pigs Will Be Pigs Math Series, 1 Middle-Grade novel, and is currently at work on her first Young Adult novel (to be co-authored with her son, David). For more information on Amy, check out her website

Let the conversation begin!

Do you begin with character or plot?

Always character. I might have a very loose idea of plot, but I think my strong point is voice, so I let it lead the story. I once read that Charles Dickens would practice reciting characters’ dialogue in front of a mirror. I admit I’ve done that once or twice, but always when I’m home alone! 

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

I can’t recall a specific food, but I do have a “weirdest experience”. Several years ago my husband and I traveled toMongolia. We spent an afternoon in the countryside outside of the capital city ofUlaanbaatar. Our group stopped for an authentic Mongolian Barbecue lunch at a remote hotel. We were each served a plate with potatoes, meat (yak) and stones. Stones? What were we supposed to do with them? Everyone at the table looked at each other and shrugged shoulders. Our guide told us that the stones keep the plate warm, but that wasn’t the whole story. Somebody opened their Mongolia guidebook and read that the animal being roasted is put on a spit with stones filling the abdominal cavity. That way the meat is well-cooked, inside and out. It was strange, but I have to admit that roasted yak is quite tasty! 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Outline? I’d never written an outline for myself or an editor until this summer. It was for a “yet-to-be-written” Young Adult novel. It was tough! It took three revisions of the outline/proposal before we went to contract. 

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

That’s easy! I wanted to be a fashion designer. I used to sit in class and sketch fashion designs on math paper (my least favorite subject). I wanted to create beautiful clothes for Barbie and Jackie Kennedy. I saved all of these sketches and paper dolls and several years ago I had the idea to write a novel based on my childhood. Your Friend in Fashion, Abby Shapiro, I’m proud to say, is my debut novel illustrated with all of those paper dolls.        

What is your secret talent?

My kids would probably say it’s making enormous chocolate chip cookies. Each one is about the size of five cookies. However, there is something for which I have zero talent…. I make the world’s worst rice. I’ve tried a rice cooker, stove method, microwave, you name it. My rice stinks!

Daily word count?

I have no idea because I have never been concerned with daily word count. I try to start writing in the morning and put in a full day of work with several breaks. But some days are productive and some are not. I have learned not to push it. If my writing is sloppy, or boring, or if I’m repeating myself, I shut down the computer and do something else, like pleasure reading or exercising on my spinning bike. If the same thing happens the following day, I won’t attempt to write at all. My feeling is that if the words aren’t right, I’ll just be spending more time down the road on the re-write process. 

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

I never allow anyone to read my work-in-progress. I don’t think it’s a matter of keeping it a secret, but more of a disruption. When I’m in the thick of things, I don’t want anyone’s input or criticism. Every writer works differently, but for me it wouldn’t be productive. Maybe I feel this way because I’ve never been a member of a writer’s group. I have many friends who feel that sharing their work in progress is invaluable, and that’s a good thing for them.  

What advice would you give to new writers?

Never give up. I always tell “not-yet-published” authors (don’t like to say aspiring, because if you are writing, you are an author) that I received more than 250 rejections before I signed my first contract. I just kept plugging away because I was very determined to have my voice be heard. My first published book, Pigs Will Be Pigs, was a slush pile find, and 17 years later, is still in print in hardcover and paper. Just hang in there and if you get a lot of rejections on one manuscript, put it away for a while, start something new, and then you’ll be able to bring fresh eyes back to that manuscript and possibly make changes for the better which will lead to an acceptance. 

How long do you take to write a book?

However long it takes for it to be right. But I’ve learned that when you think you’re done, you’re not. Never be impulsive to send a manuscript to an editor until you’ve let it sit and “ferment” a while. 

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

I’m thinking it would be nice to have a personal masseuse nearby to massage my sore neck and shoulders from hunching over the laptop.  

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

The whole notion of a bucket list is something that’s been under discussion lately with my friends. We are all of the age where our children are grown and are on their own, so we talk a lot about adventures. We re-named the Bucket List the Wish List because it sounds so much nicer. The first item on my list is to see The Northern Lights, but not from upstate NY or fromMichigan. I’m thinking more along the lines ofFairbanksorIceland. I’ve had a fascination with the Aurora Borealis since first grade when I found photographs in the A volume of The World Book Encyclopedia. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Jennifer Armstrong

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Get to know Jennifer…

The winner of numerous awards for both fiction and nonfiction, Jennifer Armstrong has written more than 100 books for all ages, from pre-school through young adult. Growing up in South Salem, New York, Armstrong knew by the time she was six that she was going to be an author. As a child she spent countless hours outside, making up adventure stories and acting them out.

After graduating from Smith College in Massachusetts, Armstrong worked as a ghostwriter for a bestselling teen series and began to write her own books. She has since written picture books, easy readers, chapter books, young adult novels, and nonfiction. History has been a recurring theme in both her fiction and nonfiction. Visit Jennifer Armstrong here!

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing? 

That answer is lost in the mists of time. I can’t remember a time when I did not make up stories, and when I was old enough to write I began writing them down. 

Daily word count? 

I generally write anywhere between 500 and 2500 words a day. In the old days (when I was writing a lot of fiction) I liked mapping out where I was going. Lately I’ve gotten a little less organized, but it still works out okay. When writing nonfiction I generally have to have a pretty clear idea what my plan is, because when you’re trying to convey information it’s useful to have an idea of how to manage that information.

When are you most productive? 

I’m most productive early in the morning. I’m an early riser and I like a quiet house.

Are your characters completely fictional or based on real people?

When I write fiction I suspect that all of my characters are projections of myself. How could they not be? I’m not sure how to imagine something that is completely outside my experience — and by that I don’t mean the experiences of a life, but the emotions or motivations of a life. I may never have fought in a battle, or been a homesteader on the prairie, but I have felt fear and I have felt loneliness, as well as exaltation in a natural place. That being said, yes, I do sometimes take actual experiences from my life or other people’s lives — little incidents or events — and rework them for my own purposes.

Where do you get your ideas? 

I don’t know, I suppose they come from a fertile mind. I’m a fairly eclectic reader, so my mind is a jumble of science and history and politics and classic literature. I actually make a concerted effort to stay away from what I would call, for lack of a better word, fluff. I know fluff has a place, but I don’t want to make space for it in my head. Every time I see yet another headline about Lindsey Lohan I flee—I’m not really sure why people seem to be so interested in her and I don’t care. My blog co-writer teases me by leaving People magazine at my house. I suppose it makes me a snob, but I don’t apologize for that. So — the fertile mind has a lot of interesting seeds in it. Those are the ones I cultivate. 

What advice would you give young writers? 

At first glance, my advice will sound discouraging, but bear with me. Writing is very hard. It always will be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and keep trying. There’s no secret to it, nothing that you will finally “get” at a conference or a workshop that will finally make it all easy. So don’t be daunted by the task—it’s not your failure that you are seeing; on the contrary, it is your continued effort to do a difficult thing that you have evidence of. So keep at it. Be brave. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries? 

By playing games and doing puzzles. Not a very dramatic answer.  

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

It’s from E.M. Forster. I’d been struggling in a novel with transitions — how to get characters from one scene to the next and one chapter to the next. I was reading a Forster novel at the time — it might have been Howard’s End—and one chapter began “Several weeks passed.” And I thought, “That’s it? You can say that?” It was such a relief!

Describe your dream vacation.
 

Sitting in a comfy chair by a lake with a lot of books. Sometimes I’d jump in the water. Sometimes I would walk inside for a snack. But mostly I’d be reading in the shade. Dickens, probably. Maybe the Iliad. Seriously. 

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Author Interview with Stephanie Burgis

Get to know Stephanie Burgis…

Stephanie Burgis is an American-born writer who lives in Wales with her husband (web and ebook designer Patrick Samphire), their son, and their crazy-sweet border collie mix, Maya. Her first book, Kat, Incorrigible, was chosen by Bank Street College of Education for its Best Books of 2012 list, and her second book, Renegade Magic, was named a “New and Notable Book for Teens” by Kirkus. You can read the first three chapters of both books on her website

Let the conversation begin!

Coffee or Tea?

I choose them both! I start every morning with a cup of loose-leaf Earl Grey, followed soon after by a delicious latte. Mmm.  

Why do you write?

Because nothing else makes me feel so right. On days when I don’t write, I feel grouchy and irritable and restless. When I do write, even on hard, frustrating writing days, I feel like I’m doing what I was meant to be doing with my life. 

When are you the most productive?

In the mornings. I love the days when I can dive into writing as quickly as possible after breakfast. 

Daily word count?

I have to divide my days between freelance writing work and my own novel-in-progress, so this changes depending on what day of the week it is! I try to hit 2,000 words a day on my freelance projects (which come pre-outlined), but my own novel moves more slowly – I aim for 1,000 words a day but don’t always hit it. 

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

Blue. It’s been my favorite color ever since I was in preschool! 

As a teenager, what was your favorite musical group?

I was a total classical music geek as a teenager (I was training to be a classical musician, too, at that point!), so, y’know, I’m going to have to say the Cleveland Orchestra. I was training to play the French horn professionally at that point (there have been a lot of twists and turns since then!), and theirs was my favorite horn section. 

Is there a story behind your name? What is it?

I was named after my great-aunt, but unfortunately, it didn’t go quite as planned. Since that side of my family is Croatian, her name was actually spelled “Stefanie” – but the nurse at the hospital where I was born, in Lansing, Michigan, decided to rewrite that as a more Americanized “Stephanie” (sigh). Since it had been a rough delivery, my parents were in no state to notice the spelling change until it was too late and the birth certificate had already been issued!

I spent a lot of my childhood defiantly spelling my name “Stefanie”, the way it was originally supposed to be spelled, but by the time I turned 18, I’d given up and resigned myself to “Stephanie” forever (although some of my closest relatives do still spell my nicknames Steff or Steffi, the Croatian/German nicknames for Stefanie). 

If you could live anywhere for one year, all expenses paid, where would you live?

Stockholm! It’s full of beautiful eighteenth-century architecture, palaces, and it’s all built on a series of islands, so it’s physically breathtaking. It’s also full of fabulous cafés and it includes the best science fiction/fantasy bookstore I’ve ever been to in my life! My husband and I have visited Stockholm together twice and both agreed that it would be a dream city to live in, if only we could afford it. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was seven years old. However, I figured out early on that I would also need a day job, and I went through a lot of different options there – lawyer, actress, marine biologist…by the time I was a teenager, I settled on musician, and I did my first degree in French horn performance. Now, though, I’m a fulltime writer, just like I always dreamed of being. 

What was the worst smell you have ever smelled?

The smell of the sulfurous spa waters in both Harrogate and Bath. Aauugh. A total aroms of rotten eggs! Sadly, there was no way to get out of drinking that water for research for my second novel, Renegade Magic (set in Bath)! So when you read the description of my heroine, Kat, drinking that awful water, please spare a compassionate thought for her writer, who did the same. (And you can see the photographic evidence here.)

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

The craziest thing I ever did was probably when I got on a plane with my dog and flew to Europe to be with my long-distance boyfriend, with no job prospects or guarantee that I wouldn’t have to fly right back in defeat in another few months. I’d applied to several British PhD programs (in music history), but I didn’t know yet whether I’d get into any of them, or whether I’d even be able to afford to attend if I was accepted! Luckily, I did get into a British PhD program with a full scholarship – and I’m now happily married to that boyfriend! – so it was a crazy move that paid off in gold. 

What is your favorite season?

Back when I was living in America, it was spring – I loved watching everything come back to life, and spring was the one season when the temperature was perfect for me, never too cold or too hot. Now that I live in Wales (which has a very different climate from the American Midwest), my favorite season is summer, because that’s when the temperature is most like a Michigan spring! 

What’s the best dinner you ever had?

My wonderful British publishers took me out to an amazing dinner at an all-vegetarian Italian restaurant (Zilli Green) in London last year. Since I’m vegetarian and Italian is my favorite type of food, this would have blown my mind anyway – but the food was so mouthwatering, it went beyond fantastic. I LOVED it. Even the vegan tiramisu (!) was luscious, believe it or not. 

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

I think that’s actually a really good guiding question for any writer to ask her/himself when they’re picking the next book to write! Luckily, I’d definitely say the book I’m writing now, a screwball 30s roadtrip with ghosts and gangsters which includes a bunch of my own personal family history. 

What’s your passion?

I can’t narrow that down to just one thing! My biggest single passion since I was seven has been writing, but my passion for parenting has been just as strong ever since I had my son. So: writing and parenting, together. They’re both incredibly satisfying in very different ways, and I couldn’t do without either of them anymore.

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Author Interview with Augusta Scattergood

scattergood gloryGet to know Augusta…

Augusta Scattergood spent most of her career as a school librarian. Although she never stopped loving, reading, and recommending kids books, in 2001 she gave up being a librarian to follow her writing dream.  

Her first novel, GLORY BE, was sold to Scholastic Press in 2010. It has been named one of Amazon’s Top Twenty Middle Grade Books of 2012, a Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book, and is on both the Mississippi and the Pennsylvania state lists of outstanding children’s books for this year.  

She reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor, Delta Magazine, and avidly blogs about writing and books. She’s now editing her next novel, coming from Scholastic in the fall of 2014. For more info, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

How did you choose the genre you write in? 

It chose me. I’ve always loved reading middle-grade fiction. It seemed like a no-brainer when a young girl turning twelve whispered in my ear. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

Long walks. Talks with friends. Traveling. Reading. Especially reading. 

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

I’ve been playing around with a character whose names seems to be Azalea. I see her clearly and the first chapter just poured out. I suspect when I sit down and ask her to tell me a story, the roadblocks might vanish. Right now, the character seems to be seriously in search of her plot! 

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

Much of GLORY BE is based on things that happened in the South in the 60s. I did a lot of research but I’ve always been fascinated by what went on in my own backyard, so to speak. 

True= I’ve visited Elvis’s house in Tupelo.

True= I know a lot about libraries and even worked in a similar situation to Miss Bloom’s library.

True= I was in the Pep Squad.

True= My college roommate knew how to twirl a fire baton.

False= The swimming pool in my town didn’t close.

True= Many others did. 

How many words have you written in one writing session?

I don’t really do the word count thing. 

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

If nobody’s looking? Actually, I do make the bed. Sometimes not the minute I jump out of it. 

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

The biggest problem I had was not realizing it wasn’t quite a “book” yet. The newbie’s error. Submitting it before it was ready. Once it was close to ready, I found the perfect agent and we worked some more. When she submitted it to the perfect editor, things went very smoothly. 

What is your very favorite part of the day?

Early morning. Hands down. 

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

  • Don’t write from the point of view of a boy.
  • Kids don’t read historical fiction so it’s a hard sell. Give it up. 

How did you celebrate your first book being published?

I feel a little like I haven’t stopped celebrating! I started with a Book Launch Party at Inkwood Books in Tampa, a delightful little independent bookstore. Followed quickly by the Miami SCBWI conference- my first. I got to be on the First Books Panel, meet the amazing folks at Books and Books, and rub elbows with some of my most admired people. And that was all in the first month. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Lately I’m leaning toward The Internet is the Enemy of First Drafts. 

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

You’re kidding, of course. I would be there in a heartbeat. (Unless it was Wagner. I’m not a fan. I know, heresy.) 

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

My second novel, also historical middle-grade but set in a little town in Florida and told by a boy, will be published by Scholastic in Fall, 2014. We just announced that news, and I’m excited to share it.

Are there certain characters you would like to return to?

Right now, no. But I get a lot of kids at school visits asking what happened to Frankie and Glory’s friendship after the book ended. 

Who was the hardest character to develop?

I think it was Brother Joe. At first, he was mostly an absentee father, appearing only to disappear. He needed fleshing out, so I had to do a lot of work on him. 

Ever participated in a parade? What did you do?

Glory’s sister, Jesslyn, is in the Pep Squad at her high school. This is based entirely on real events. I marched in the home football game parades, after school on many Fridays. I can still do a pivot left, on a dime. 

Would you rather plan a party or attend one?

Attend. I don’t like planning parties. I don’t really love attending them, though once I’m there, I realize what fun parties can be! 

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

Perhaps the chapter in Glory Be where the sisters end up in Tupelo, at Elvis’s house. It started out being a lot of fun, a way to add humor to a serious topic. By the time I’d finished, it had many layers. I like that about a book. 

Do you collect anything?

I’m not a serious collector really. But I have way too many autographed books.  Silver baby cups from family. Shells. Postcards. 

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

I love the editing process. I hate the first draft thing. Although I enjoy getting to know my characters, I don’t love digging to find out what they are up to. 

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Author Interview with John Claude Bemis

Bemis-Medicine-ShowGet to know John…

John Claude Bemis is the author of The Clockwork Dark, a fantasy adventure trilogy that takes place in a mythical America. The first book, The Nine Pound Hammer, was described as “a steampunk collision of heroes, mermaids, pirates, and good old-fashioned Americana” by Booklist and was a New York Public Library Best Children’s Book 2009 for Reading and Sharing. The continuing trilogy in The Wolf Tree and The White City were called “original and fresh” and “a unique way of creating fantasy.”  His newest book, The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, was an Amazon Best Book of the Month.  John lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his wife and daughter. For more info, check out his website

Let the conversation begin! 

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I find the world a wondrous place. Even difficulties have a way of illuminating the beauty of our lives. To me, fantasy literature best captures this lens for the world.  Fantasy, myth, and legends are the original genres of storytelling. While some discredit fantasy as escapist, to me fantasy allows storytellers to explore the nature of life through metaphor. Who are we? Are we destined for something great?  How do we decide our moral path?  How do we confront adversity?  I find all this endlessly fascinating as a fiction writer. I’m not looking for answers to offer. I simply enjoy puzzling over the questions and seeing how my characters handle their own lives.

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

Taking long walks in the woods. There’s an old NASCAR speedway near my house that was abandoned in the 1960s.  Today the grandstands and track are completely overgrown by the forest. It’s an inspiring place. I often walk around there to think out story ideas or to clear my head.  It’s where I first thought of the idea for my latest novel The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, an animal fantasy that takes place in a forest-covered post-apocalyptic world.  Ideas often arise when I look at a place or object that I’ve seen every day and wonder something new about it. Walking and recharging my batteries helps me have these sorts of insights.

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

I don’t know if it’s the musician in me or the teacher, but I like to put on performances to launch a new book. When The Nine Pound Hammer came out in 2009, I held a 19th century-style medicine show in keeping with the book. I had an old-time band with a washtub bass. A friend dressed up as a snake-oil salesman and did a hilarious routine selling tonics. I organized some local kids to act out the legend of John Henry. All just tons of fun!

And to answer the second part of your question, I suppose the excitement has not worn off.  I celebrated the release of The Prince Who Fell from the Sky with the fourth of these performances. No medicine show. More futuristic with giant puppet bears and rocket ships and a rock band. I love doing something that brings out hundreds of kids and hopefully provides a lasting memory.

12452491Any advice to share with aspiring writers?

Write the book that nobody else possibly could, because they don’t have your unique perspective on the world. When Maurice Sendak lamented to his editor Ursula Nordstrom that he wasn’t Tolstoy, she replied “You may not be Tolstoy, but Tolstoy was no Sendak either.” By bringing your quirky (and sometimes downright weird) interests, perspectives, and passions into your stories, you are creating something that is original and reflects your singular voice.

Are there certain characters you would like to return to?

I spent nearly four years writing The Nine Pound Hammer and developing the epic world of the Clockwork Dark. I’m very proud of how it came together. My goal was to bring to life a magical long-ago America that felt ripe with our country’s myths, history, and folklore. There was a lot of backstory that I developed that gets alluded to but never deeply explored in the trilogy.  In particular, the relationship between the legendary John Henry (who is dead at the start of the first book) and many of the adult characters like Peg Leg Nel, Li’l Bill, the steamboat pirate Lorene, and the blind gunslinger Buck.  They’re old (or have lost their way) in the Clockwork Dark trilogy, but I often imagine what they were like as youngsters.  Maybe one day, I’ll get a chance to do a prequel and we’ll find out.

Who was the hardest character to develop?

Probably the unnamed boy who is the titular character of The Prince Who Fell from the Sky.  Since this book takes place in a future where no humans on earth, I wanted the animals to be able to talk to each other, but not to understand human speech.  When the bear Casseomae discovers the sole survivor of a crashed spaceship, she wants to protect this boy and to raise him as her cub.  Her challenge and mine as the writer was that she has no easy way to communicate with him. The reader couldn’t know anything about the boy (what he thinks or says, where he comes from) that the animals didn’t know.  But I needed readers to connect emotionally with him. It was sort of like narrative miming. I had to get the boy to express himself through his actions, not through his words. It was a fun and often frustrating puzzle to get this character to work.

Do you come up with your book titles?

Sometimes. In general, I’m terrible at coming up with titles. The Nine Pound Hammer was originally “The Medicine Show Train.”  A horrible title! Three nouns together. “Medicine” has zero kid appeal.  My editor at Random House, Jim Thomas, said we need a title that is visual, appealing, and evocative of action. He was the one who suggested naming the book after John Henry’s legendary weapon.  I did come up with The Wolf Tree and The Prince Who Fell from the Sky (not too bad if I say so myself), but if I remember correctly, The White City was originally “The Pitch Dark Machine” until Jim came up with the better title. 

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

In The White City, one of the last chapters (Ch. 24 “The Crossroads”) was such an emotional chapter to write. It was a bit heartbreaking to put these characters I loved so much and had followed through the three books—Conker and Si—through such anguish.  However they prove themselves not only as heroes but also as the most loyal of friends.  All the work I had put into building their relationship across the trilogy came together in a big way in that chapter. 

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

I love in-person events where I get to talk to actual readers. I do lots of school visits, as well as conferences where I can meet teachers and librarians. I’m a people-person, so I try to take advantage of this strength. And as a musician, I feel like I know how to entertain a crowd. 

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

Sitting around waiting for a new book to come out. 

What is the hardest part of the writing process?

Sitting around waiting for a new book to come out.

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