Author Interview with Sandra Alonzo

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Introducing Sandra…

Sandra Alonzo grew up in a mountainous region near Los Angeles with two younger brothers. As a child and teen she loved exploring the local trails on horseback, reading, and experimenting with photography. Ms. Alonzo, her three small dogs, and her horse currently reside in central California not far from the Sierra National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

Alonzo is the author of Gallop-O-Gallop, a poetry collection/picture book about horses. Riding Invisible, with cool graphics by Nathan Huang, is her first novel for young adults. For more info, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

Where do you get your ideas?

My first novel, RIDING INVISIBLE, is based on events from my life. The novel is about mental illness, and how it affects relationships in the contemporary family. I grew up with a younger brother who has childhood onset schizophrenia, and have firsthand information about living with a severely disturbed sibling. Not only was I able to write from the heart about Yancy and his brother Will, I was able to relate to Yancy’s harrowing adventures when he runs away on horseback, because I’ve owned horses most of my life.

What advice would you give young writers?

Keep writing, keep trying, work to improve your craft, and submit your work whenever possible. Believe in yourself. Do not give up!!!

Editorial Review for Riding Invisible from Booklist

Alonzo’s first novel features the sort of likable, embattled narrator that brings to mind Arnold Spirit from Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007), but instead of being tormented by negative stereotypes and poverty, 15-year-old Yancy’s primary source of misery comes from his nearly sociopathic older brother, Will. The story is told entirely in diary form, complete with a handwriting-styled font and plenty of cartoony drawings (again reminiscent of Alexie’s book). After Will, who suffers from conduct disorder, violently threatens Yancy’s horse, teen and horse take off into the California desert. There, they encounter a kind Mexican worker, who helps Yancy begin to size up the challenges of living with his brother and the toll that it is taking upon the entire family. Alonzo skillfully handles teetering family dynamics, equestrian details, and the undertones of immigration and class, which add realistic depth. The resolution leaves a bevy of challenges and plenty of food for thought about family dysfunction. Grades 7-10. –Ian Chipman

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Does My HomeworkIntroducing Gennifer…

Gennifer Choldenko’s first novel, Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and a California Book Award winner. Her second novel, Al Capone Does My Shirts, was a Newbery Honor Book and a School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Al Capone Does My Shirts has sold more than a million copies worldwide. It has been on the New York Times, Booksense, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. Her most recent picture book, A Giant Crush (illustrated by Melissa Sweet), was published in 2011. If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, an ALA notable recording, just came out in paperback and her newest novel Al Capone Shines My Shoes—a sequel to the beloved Al Capone Does My Shirts—is a Kirkus, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best for 2009. Her first fantasy novel, No Passengers Beyond This Point was called “a fast-paced mind bender” and a “Wonderfully imagined adventure story.” Her newest novel, Al Capone Does My Homework, the last book in the Al Capone trilogy, will be available in August 2013. Gennifer’s books have been translated into thirteen languages. For more info, visit her website

Let the conversation begin! 

What was the most interesting fact or anecdote that you learned while researching for Al Capone Does My Homework? 

Here’s one of my favorite weird Alcatraz stories. This one came from James Albright, who was a guard on Alcatraz. Since there was no commissary or money system on Alcatraz, convicts used cigarettes as money. At night, there was just one convict per cell and lockdown after dinner was at five thirty, which meant that the convicts didn’t come out of their cells again until seven in the morning.  One of the ways they transported cigarettes to each other was via cockroach. A convict would tie a cigarette around a cockroach’s back with thread, and the convict who was receiving the cigarette would put out a crust of bread, he’d taken from dinner.  The cockroach would then scuttle down to get the bread and deliver the cigarette. 

If you lived on Alcatraz in 1935, what is one thing you’d miss about modern conveniences? 

I would miss having a telephone in my house. In 1935, there was one telephone on Alcatraz outside of 64 building. If you wanted to talk on the phone, you had to wait your turn.  And it wasn’t like there was a telephone booth either.  Your conversation could be heard by anyone, who was in line, or hanging around or just walking by. 

Out of all your Alcatraz characters, who are you most like? 

Moose and Theresa. 

I’m like Theresa because I have a lot of experience being the little sister.  I’m like Moose because I was the youngest of all my cousins and when we did something we weren’t supposed to do, I was always the one who got in trouble. And there’s an element of that in Moose. He’s the one who doesn’t want to go along with the scheme, yet he’s always the one who gets blamed. 

7740753Out of all your Alcatraz characters, who are you the least like? 

I put myself inside of all of my characters, otherwise I can’t make them come to life. Do I like some of the things they do? No. I really hated the way Bea and Darby Trixle behaved in Al Capone Does My Homework.  But I tried hard to make them right some of the time. Even though from Moose’s point of view they were never right. 

When you first got the idea to write about Alcatraz, did you foresee the books being a trilogy? 

When I first got the idea for AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS, I’d had one picture book published and my agent was trying to sell my novel, NOTES FROM A LIAR AND HER DOG. A week after I read about kids who grew up on Alcatraz when there was a working penitentiary on the island, I signed up to be an Alcatraz docent to research the book.  The more I found out, the more certain I became that there was more than one book in the material, but I didn’t want to commit to writing a trilogy of unpublished books. I wanted to see if one would sell first. 

You were working on Al Capone Does My Homework when you got the idea for No Passengers Beyond This Point. What was it like to transition from writing a historical novel to a fantasy? 

Writing a fantasy was challenging, but so fun. I believe, when you try something outside of your comfort zone, it makes you a better writer.  With every book I write, I try to up my game.  I don’t think I can control how much creativity I have but I do think I can control skill acquisition. 

If you were to write another historical trilogy, what historical event or time period would you want to tackle? 

I’m in the process of revising a historical novel right now. In fact, the editorial letter is due on Monday. I don’t like to talk about my works-in-progress too much because you can talk away the excitement of a project. Is there more than one book in this idea?  Possibly. 

628x471You mentioned that Natalie’s autism reminded you of Alcatraz Island, the way it’s isolated. Do you remember when that metaphor came to you? 

As I said, I worked as a docent on the island. Every time I rode the boat across the Bay to Alcatraz, I found myself thinking about my sister, Gina, who had autism. That seemed odd. I always knew I would write a book with a character who had autism, but I didn’t think it would be that book. I thought the Alcatraz book would be a boy’s adventure book.  I didn’t understand why Gina kept popping into my head.  But as a writer, I follow my instincts and I began to develop the character of Natalie.   

I’m amused by the tension between Moose and Piper. Was that planned or did you discover their tiffs while writing? 

The relationship between Moose and Piper was not planned.  My editor, who likes to psychoanalyze, wanted to know why Moose picked Piper.  We decided it was because Moose didn’t have a good relationship with his mom.  Piper is demanding the way Moose’s Mom can be.  

Did you try to get out of homework when you were a kid? 

I was a good kid, I didn’t actively try to get out of homework. But then, I didn’t have as much homework as my children do.  Even so, I loved school. School was orderly, and I always knew what I needed to do to excel; whereas, my home was chaotic and I could never figure out how to please my mother.     

Did you have a specific teacher who brought life to a subject? 

Oh yes. Many of them. One in fifth grade really encouraged my writing. Her name was Mrs. Rosenthal and I just loved her. She really made me believe I could write. 

What do you think are the top three qualities a writer must possess in order to enjoy a fulfilling writing life? 

  1.  Do not give up.  You have to really want it.  Very few people have a writing life handed to them. Perseverance is absolutely number one.

  2. Enjoy the process. I know there are wonderful writers who hate to write, but I’m not one of them.  I think if you hate writing, you should become a car mechanic. Life is short. Why would you want to spend your entire life doing something you hate?  Writing feeds me in a way nothing else does.

  3. Look at the big picture. Read a lot of books, be curious about the world of children’s literature, not just your own little place in it.515nizjtAJL._SL500_SS500_

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Jo Knowles

17262306Introducing Jo…

Jo Knowles is the author of Living with Jackie Chan, See You At Harry’s, Pearl, Jumping Off Swings, and Lessons from a Dead Girl. Some of her awards include a New York Times Editor’s Choice and Notable Book of 2012, Amazon’s Best Middle Grade Books of 2012, An International Reading Association Favorite 2012 Book, an American Library Association Notable of 2012, two SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards, the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award, and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son. For more info, visit her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter

Quirky Questions

If you were a cartoon, who would you be? And why?

The Roadrunner. Because he gets to say “meep,” race around happily, and he always manages to avoid falling objects and dynamite.

Have you been told you look like someone famous?

I used to be told I look like Pam, from The Office all the time. Someone even came to a talk I was giving because she thought I was Pam. I think she was pretty disappointed. 

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? Why?

I think about this a lot and still have NO idea.

Crayon or paintbrush?

It depends what I’m trying to make. 

Name one thing that drives you crazy.

Unsolicited advice that is actually really terrible.

Name one thing you can’t live without.

My family.

As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?

A veterinarian, a teacher, a policewoman, a social worker, a psychologist and an actor.

What’s your motto in life?

Be the kind one. 

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

It’s too embarrassing. 

What’s the naughtiest thing you did in school?

I’m not ready to share the NAUGHTIEST. But one naughty thing I did was climb through the window on the second floor of my school with my friends Jeff and Marcie. It led to a lower roof and we used to sneak out during chorus practice and sit out there and “have deep talks.” 

Do you believe in UFOs?

I believe in a future with UFO’s. 

What is one quality you really appreciate in a person?

Acceptance. 

What is your favorite board game?

Balderdash or Quelf. I can’t decide. Basically if it involves being goofy I’m all in. 

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Pork rinds.

Jo-Knowles-of-Hartland-with-Fred-left-and-GeorgeWriting Questions

What books are you reading right now?

Doll Bones, Bridge to Terabithia, and Ironmom

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

My writing partners, Debbi and Cindy.

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?

It took about ten years to sell my first book and there were a lot of days when I decided being published must just not be in the cards for me. But little (and big) things kept me from not giving up: A strong reaction from a critique partner, winning a contest or grant), and the constant reassurance from my agent that it was only a matter of time. And of course, I think I was stubborn, too. It’s hard to give up on a dream. 

What’s your favorite writing quote?

“Is it true yet?” – Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Ask yourself the above question and don’t submit your work until you can answer ‘yes’. 

What inspired you to write your first book?

When I was in graduate school, I thought writing a novel would be easier and way more fun than writing a master’s thesis so I asked if I could try. I was sooooooo wrong. But it was the best learning experience I could have asked for. Hard. But extremely rewarding—and educational!

Which writer would you consider a mentor?

Robert Cormier. Whenever I need to be brave, I look to his work as a reminder of what his books meant to me as a teen reader and why. 

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Author Interview with Marcia Trahan

Introducing Marcia…

Marcia Trahan is a freelance editor and teacher based in Vermont. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars’ MFA program, Marcia has published work in literary journals such as Fourth GenreFull CircleAnderbo, and Clare. Another essay on illness and recovery is slated for the upcoming LaChance Publishing anthology, Women Reinvented. She is working on the final draft of a memoir in essays, The Most Livable City. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Lots of reading from an early age! I grew up in a small town in Vermont, where we were fortunate to have a wonderful library. I still recall the children’s floor of that library as a magical place. You had to walk up a long, winding staircase to reach it, and it made me feel like a princess in a tower. I wrote my first story in second grade about a talking toad. I just turned forty last month, and talking about this reminds me that I’ve been writing for over thirty years. Apparently, I just can’t stop.

How many words do you write each day?

I don’t keep track of how many words I write at a sitting. And I don’t write every day, unless I’m driven to do so. Every time I’ve tried to impose a schedule on myself, writing becomes a chore–about as appealing as washing the dishes. Many people feel they need a schedule or a daily goal, and I definitely respect that. Everyone has his or her own way of approaching creativity. I beat myself up for NOT writing daily until I realized that the being-mean-to-myself approach wasn’t working. It was only after I accepted my idiosyncratic rhythms that I finished my first book, a memoir. As I neared the finish line, I was writing daily–because I felt compelled.

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

Seat-of-the-pants. In my mind, outlines are for term papers, not storytelling. I did map out my book chapters, but that just meant listing them and scribbling notes next to each title. I needed to get a feel for how the book would appear to the reader, to get some distance from what I was immersed in for so long. 

When are you the most productive?

I’m a night person. Unfortunately, I’m most productive when it’s very late and I need to go to bed!

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I might read something that’s so terrific, it sends me straight to the computer. Sometimes it’s a competitive urge, but more often, something in that writer’s voice or experience has evoked a thought or memory of my own, and I feel an urgent need to sketch that idea or scene before I lose it. (This is a frequent just-before-bedtime occurrence.)

What advice would you give young writers?

If you’re meant to be a writer, you’ll be a writer. You don’t have to worry about making it happen. It either will or it won’t. Yes, you’ll have to work very hard at it. Yes, it’ll break your heart. But it’s infinitely more painful to push writing away. Several times in my own life, I tried to deny that writing was my true calling. It was too hard, it was impractical, I wasn’t good enough; the list of excuses went on. Every time, writing called me back.

I think that when things get tough, many writers ask, “Why couldn’t I just be happy as an accountant, a plumber, a circus clown–anything but this?” I think it’s important to tell young writers that they will have doubts, struggles, dark nights of the soul. That’s normal. Why not be prepared for it? I grew up with a rather silly, glossy ideal of what being a writer meant. Let’s just say the reality doesn’t exactly match my girlish dream!

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

Never, never, never give up.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Nikki Grimes

41huPqESXnLGet 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, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

What’s your motto in life?

If I had a motto, it would be probably be “Go for it.”  Life is short, as they say, and tomorrow is not promised.  That said, you should decide what you really want to do in your life, and then go for it.  Don’t allow fear to stop you.  Everyone wrestles with fear, but you don’t have to let it consume or overpower you. Focus on your goal and beat fear back.  Make your life count!

Who was your favorite teacher? 

Mrs. Evelyn Wexler, in high school.  She taught me to acknowledge the challenges of my life, as a teen at risk, while refusing to allow those challenges to limit me in any way. She also believed in my writing talent and went out of her way to nurture it. 

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person? 

Integrity.  It’s the one quality I look for in the people closest to me, whether in business, or in my personal life. 

What is your favorite board game? 

Scrabble!  Hands down. I don’t win as often as I’d like, but I always enjoy the challenge. 

Name one thing that drives you crazy. 

Tardiness! I hate it when people are late to a meeting or a planned event.  I cannot tolerate lateness. As far as I’m concerned, if you value me, and you value my time, you’ll be on time. If for some reason you can’t, then you pick up a phone and call.  Period. 

As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up? 

An author.

Crayon or paintbrush?  

Paintbrush. 

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Potato chips. They are simply too tempting, and too addictive!

barack-obama-cover-nikki-grimesWriting Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing? 

I could not not write, so I had to figure out a way to make a living at it, for one thing.  Besides, reading and writing were my survival tools, growing up, and I believed I had stories to tell that would possibly be that for other readers, particularly young readers. 

What books are you reading right now?

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher, and re-reading Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt.

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

There were several people, but two come to mind, right now: My childhood friend, Debra Jackson, who has encouraged my writing since we met in our early teens; and cellist Akua Dixon Turre.  We met early in our careers, and we collaborated whenever the opportunity arose.  She was always a great support. 

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue? 

Oh, once a week, at least!  Writing is in my blood, though, so I keep coming back to it.  My muse owns me!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write in the style that comes naturally to you.  There is no wrong or right way to write a book, there is only what works for you!  Learn to trust your own process, and learn to be  patient with your writing.  Good writing cannot be rushed. 

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

Combining poetry and prose.  It comes to me fairly naturally, but it is also a skill I have intentionally honed.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? 

Prose novels.  They are especially hard for me.  

What comes easily?

Writing poetry comes most easily.

Who’s your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

One of my favorite authors is Gary Schmidt.  For one thing, he has an amazing gift for restraint.  For another, he manages to weave classical art and literature into his work for young readers in ways that are totally age-appropriate, and in a manner that never feels intrusive, or academic.  Gary is a scholar, but it is never the voice of the scholar that you hear.  I’m not sure how he achieves this, but he does so brilliantly.  That restraint of his, though, that’s something I’d like to master someday!

nikki-grimes

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Kathryn Erskine

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Introducing Kathryn… 

Kathryn Erskine spent many years as a lawyer before realizing that she’d rather write things that people might actually enjoy reading.  She grew up mostly overseas and attended eight different schools. Erskine draws on her life stories and world events to write her novels including Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Mockingbird, 2010 National Book Award winner, The Absolute Value of Mike, a Crystal Kite winner, and Seeing Red, a novel set immediately after the Civil Rights era that questions who we were then and who we are now. For more info, visit her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter

Let the conversation begin! 

If you were a road sign, what would you be? Why?

“Rotorua 20 km” because I’d love to visit New Zealand.  Rotorua has great geothermal sites nearby but I’d travel all over the North and South islands, touring and visiting friends (hi, Liesbeth!). 

Which is worse, being in a place that is too loud or too quiet?

Too loud, definitely.  I can’t think with loud noise, especially competing noises like TV and videos.  

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person? 

Honesty.  That’s the basis of trust.  I don’t like two-facedness or betrayal.  I’ll be writing about that someday, I’m sure. 

What is your earliest childhood memory? 

My big sister getting to attend a party while I was stuck in my crib.  I knew it was her because my bedroom door had a rippled glass insert and the short shadow running back and forth in front of it was hers.  Everyone was chatting and laughing while I was stuck in the dark alone. 

Quaking_comp_smallWhat would you rather have: a nanny, a housekeeper, a cook, or a chauffeur? 

Housekeeper!  I can do the other jobs just fine but cleaning house is tiring, time consuming, and thankless, although I really do like a clean house so I spend more time than I’d like keeping it that way. 

What do you think you do best in your writing? 

Developing characters.  My novels are character driven because it’s the people in books that always draw me into the story and keep me coming back.  I love creating characters and giving them quirks, good points, bad points, and thinking about the way they talk and think. 

Name one entity that supported your writing journey outside of family members. 

The Highlights Foundation.  From the Heart of the Novel workshop I took with Patti Gauch to the writing workshops at Chautauqua — now held at their own beautiful facility in the woods in cabins (modern, with all the amenities — I’m not into camping) — it’s a completely supportive, caring community.  You leave feeling encouraged, enlightened, and as if everyone fully believes you’ll succeed, because they do believe it.  I highly recommend it whether you’re starting out or would like to find a group of like souls.  You may end up creating a writing group with them after you leave, and will almost certainly leave with new friendships.  Facetime-erskine_2

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Cherie Colyer

9110414492_9e2be8ed8dIntroducing Cherie…

Cherie Colyer is the author of  YA paranormal thriller/romance, EMBRACE (available now), and HOLD TIGHT (August 2013), from Omnific Publishing. Check out her website and blog for news on her books and bonus material. Follow Cherie on Twitter and/or Facebook for updates on writing, book and special offers. 

Quirky Questions 

If you were a cartoon, who would you be? 

Candace from Phineas and Ferb. She’s fun, determined, and doesn’t take herself seriously.  

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be? 

I answer this at the risk that my boss or co-workers may read this, but my pesky day job. It’s not that I don’t like the people I work with or because I dislike the job, but if I didn’t have a day job, I’d have more time to write.

Crayon or paintbrush?

Crayon.

Name one thing that drives you crazy.

People who don’t use their turn single. The blinking light is there for a reason!

Name one thing you can’t live without.

Coffee, I’m addicted.

As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?

A witch or a world traveler. Actually, I wanted to be a witch so that I could twitch my nose and transport myself anywhere in the world and to a few fictional places too.

What’s your motto in life?

You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.

What’s the naughtiest thing you did in school?

Skip class.

Describe your ideal day.  

A day with no agenda so that I can do whatever whim strikes me at the moment.

What song best describes your work ethic?

Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.

If you were a road sign, what would you be? 

A detour sign—you can find the coolest things by taking a different route.

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?

Compassion.

9108188491_3d5afdc46cWriting Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

My honey. We’d go for long walks and I’d start talking about ideas I had. One day he said, why don’t you write it down? Actually, he said this several times. Finally, I did.

What books are you reading right now?

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare, and Hold Still by Nina LaCour

What’s your favorite writing quote? 

“What would ten-year-old Tony want that old Tony can now make?” Tony Diterlizzi at the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Never give up. Read everything. Join a critique group. Revise, revise, revise.

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

I think I do a good job showing instead of telling. I’m able to paint a clear picture of where my characters are and what they are doing without actually saying things like “we walked over the frozen grass” or “her expression turned sad”. I also think my teen voice is strong. I know I don’t use a lot of slang in my novels, but I do that on purpose. Slang changes too quickly and can date a book.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

A few reviewers have felt that there is an instant love in Embrace, and that’s not what I meant to convey. It was supposed to be an instant attraction, and there is a very good reason for it which the reader learns later in the book. If I were to revise that novel now, I’d reword a few sentences at the beginning of the book, toning down some of Madison’s internal thoughts.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? And what comes easily?

It’s always a challenge to explain the rules of the supernatural creatures in my stories without using an info dump, and I’ve noticed I have a habit of making the rules a bit too complicated. I end up going back and cutting anything that turned out to be unimportant to the plot. Thankfully this isn’t too hard to do, although sometimes I chop scenes or unique abilities that I really liked.

As far as what comes easy, being back with the cast of Embrace was like returning home after a long vacation. I already knew most of the characters and their world, so I was able to jump right into the story. 

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Interview with New York Bestselling Author Kathi Appelt

TLA_13_16Introducing Kathi…

Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than thirty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, was named a National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book, and the PEN USA Literature for Children Award.  That was followed by KEEPER, which was named an NCTE Notable Children’s Book and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Her memoir, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS (Henry Holt, 2004) won the Paterson Prize for Young Adult Poetry.  Ms. Appelt was presented with the A.C. Greene Award by the Friends of Abilene Public Library, which named her a “Texas Distinguished Author.” 

Her newest novel, THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP, has received starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. 

In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

She and her husband Ken live in College Station, TX with six adorable cats, Django, Peach, Hoss, Mingus, Chica and Jazz.  They are the parents of two even more adorable sons, Jacob and Cooper, musicians who both play the double bass. For more information, check her website. 

Quirky Questions 

If you were a cartoon, who would you be? 

I think I’d be a Fabulous Furry Freak Brother.  Why?  Because I love saying Fabulous Furry Freak Brother, and also because they have a fabulous furry cat. 

What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?

One day I played a game of “chicken” with a friend of mine.  I was driving my father’s car up and down the country road that he lived on, and my friend stood out in the middle of the road, right in front of me.  I knew that he’d move, so I sped up.  But he didn’t move and I slammed on the brakes just in time.  I still have nightmares about that.  Both of us acted extremely stupid, and both of us were extremely lucky that the brakes were good.

What’s your idea of a good time?

A porch, a glass of wine, my husband playing his guitar, friends at hand, the cats.  It doesn’t get better than that.

Have you been told you look like someone famous?

I’ve been told that I look like Senator Elizabeth Warren.  I consider that a compliment.  She’s a hero of mine.

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be? 

I don’t really have a daily schedule.

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? 

April Lurie has the most beautiful tattoo I’ve ever seen.  It’s the tree of life and it runs on the inside of her arm.  I think it’s gorgeous.  But it looks far better on her than it would on me.

Crayon or paintbrush?

Either.

Name one thing that drives you crazy.

The Tea Party.  Right up there with the NRA.

Name one thing you can’t live without.

Coffee.

As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?

A cowgirl.

What’s your motto in life?

Be kind.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

Oh gosh, where do I begin?  

Who was your favorite teacher? 

Professor Elizabeth Neeld. She taught me the truth about writing, about being honest, and about letting it lead me to where I needed to go.  She’s now one of my best friends.

Describe your ideal day.

Coffee, cats, a long walk, a good book, maybe a movie.

Do you believe in UFOs?

Of course.

What song best describes your work ethic?

I don’t know why, but “Puff, the Magic Dragon” comes to mind.

If you were a road sign, what would you be? 

“Slow traffic keep to the left.” Because I like taking my time, and also because I lean to the left. 

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?

Generosity and also a sense of humor. 

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Riding in a car with my two sisters.  I have no idea where we were going, all I know is that we spent a lot of time in the backseat of a car.  At least that’s what I remember.

What is your favorite board game?

Scrabble.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Cucumbers.

Underneath by Kathi AppeltWriting Questions

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

My first grade teacher told me that she believed that I would grow up to be a writer.  I’ve never forgotten that.  Other teachers encouraged me, but she was the one who planted the seed.

What books are you reading right now?

Because I’m teaching picture books at Vermont College, I’m reading a lot of picture books right now.  How great is that?  Aside from those, I just finished Jerry Spinelli’s beautiful new novel, Hokey Pokey.  I loved it.  I’m in the middle of Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven.  I think it might be better than One Crazy Summer  if that is even possible.  I also just finished Falcon in the Glass by Susan Fletcher, which is drop-dead gorgeous.  And on my bedside is Uma Krishnaswami’s newest, The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic. So many great books!

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

I’ve had so many supportive friends and acquaintances, but there are a handful who have been there all along:  Elizabeth Neeld, Debbie Leland, Donna Cooner, Marian Dane Bauer, Alison McGhee and Holly McGhee.  What would I do without them?  I also have my home team:  Dinny Linn, Rose Eder and Janet Jones.

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?

A few years ago, I felt very “stuck.”  I had a crisis of faith moment in which I felt like I needed to do something drastically different, or find a new occupation.  What helped me continue was a question that my agent, Holly McGhee asked me:  “Where do you want to go with your writing?”  I don’t think anyone had ever asked me that, and it made me sit down and really consider my hopes and dreams for my work.  Holly asked me to write it all down.  Seeing it there, on paper, gave me the impetus to move on.

What’s your favorite writing quote?

From Ray Bradbury:  “Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My writing motto is “Write like your fingers are on fire.”  In other words, write fast and write a lot.  It’s the best way to get there.

What inspired you to write your first book?

My grandmother’s elephant collection.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I think I have a particular rhythm to my work that underlies most of my writing.  But I hope that each book has its own “voice.”

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

I think I’m pretty good at endings.

What books have most influenced your life?

Gone with the Wind; Black Beauty; The Jungle Book; The Old Man and the Sea; Moby Dick; Missing May and a thousand others.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Marion Dane Bauer.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?

Sitting down and doing it.

Who’s your favorite author and what strikes you about their work?

I love the poet Mary Oliver.  I love the clarity of her lines and the honesty that runs through every poem.  I simply love her work.

keeper

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