Interview with Award-Winning Author Elizabeth Atkinson

Elizabeth AtkinsonGet to know Elizabeth…

Elizabeth was raised in the town of Harvard, a cozy New England village in central Massachusetts. In 1983, she earned a BA from Hobart & William Smith Colleges (Geneva, NY) and in 1995 completed her Masters in Liberal Studies at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH). In addition to working as a freelance writer for the past 20 years, Elizabeth has taught English Literature, as well as held positions as a children’s librarian and co-executive director of a local arts foundation.

Her debut middle grade novel, FROM ALICE TO ZEN & EVERYONE IN BETWEEN (Lerner Books), was published in 2008 and has been included in the Bank Street College of Education’s BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS (100th Anniversary) 2009 edition. Her latest tween book, I, EMMA FREKE (Lerner Books), was a 2011 SSLI Honor Book, won a gold medal Moonbeam Award for Pre-Teen Fiction, earned a starred book review in School Library Journal, and was released on audio by Recorded Books. International rights have been sold to a French and a Turkish publishing company. It has also been included in the “Bank Street College of Education’s BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS” 2011 edition and featured in Scholastic Book Club flyers.

Elizabeth divides her time between the north shore of Massachusetts and the western mountains of Maine. To learn more about Elizabeth, feel free to contact her! For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?

“Portlandia” – it’s eclectic, very funny, and Portland looks like a great city.

 What’s your favorite zoo animal?

I can’t pick a favorite zoo animal because I’m uncomfortable seeing animals imprisoned in zoos for human entertainment. Circuses are even worse.  The way we treat animals greatly disturbs me….

What’s the funniest prank ever played on you?

At my 20th high school reunion, a husband of one of my childhood friends – a man I had never met – was the first one to run over and hug me and pretend we were long lost friends. He was so sweet and sort of resembled a couple guys I had grown up with, but I couldn’t place him. He was such a good actor and didn’t say his name (and wasn’t wearing a nametag) so I completely believed him – I asked about his family, where he was living now, etc  – and then he stopped me and told me he was just goofing with me, that we had never met. I was completely pranked – it was very funny!

What’s your motto in life?

My motto in life changes depending on my needs of the day, but one motto is a constant for me: “Honor your connections.” Family and true friendships need to be nurtured and treated with great care. I think we often take each other for granted and, in the end, it’s all about our connections to one another. It’s the reason I’m so drawn to telling stories… I love the emotional connections.

Do you believe in UFOs?

I don’t believe in UFOs literally, but I believe there is “life” out there in the universe and probably within our galaxy.

What song best describes your work ethic?

Songs of self-empowerment and integrity best express my work ethic, and I always choose a song to represent each story I’m working on – I will sometimes play it before I begin writing to get me “in the zone” and bond with the characters. For instance, when I was working on a sequel to I, EMMA FREKE (which my publisher decided they didn’t want) I would play “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles, which can be interpreted different ways.  I was recently told of an I, EMMA FREKE book trailer on youtube which uses the song, “Who Says?” by Selena Gomez, which works too.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

My earliest childhood memory is taking a bubble bath (with Mr. Bubble) when I was 3 years old – I remember being so excited by the mountains of bubbles up to my chin.  I have loved bubble baths ever since.

Have you been told you look like someone famous?

People tell me I resemble Dana Delaney, the TV actress, but I was told that more often when we were both younger.

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

I would have to say I would eliminate dealing with food. Over the summer, I taught English Literature in Hangzhhou, China for a month. Having every meal prepared for me made me realize how much time I spend buying food, storing it, making it, and washing up afterward! 

19550_1280401262651_1825690_nWriting Questions

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

We own a cottage in western Maine (the foothills of the White Mountains) in the woods up a dirt road near a gorgeous lake. This is where I love to write.

Who or what has helped you persevere and not quit?

The one person who has always supported my writing and motivated me to pursue it as a career is my mother.

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass on to others?

Over the years I’ve learned from talking to other authors that there is no “right way to write.” In other words, do what works for you. If you like to write one entire day, just once a month, then do that. If you prefer to write with a crayon on little pads of paper, go for it. The classic image of a writer – getting up at the crack of dawn to write in an office until noon every day – isn’t as common as you think, and it doesn’t make you a better writer. 

I’ve also been surprised and relieved over the years to hear other writers confess how difficult writing is for them, that it can be painful! What we all strive for is the final product, that which gives us joy. Some writers relish the writing process much more than others do – I prefer revising to writing. Kids are always surprised to hear me say that.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I have developed many ways of dealing with creativity or writer’s block, which I experience often, but the best way for me to overcome a block is to take a long walk in a quiet place. I tuck a pen and a piece of paper in my back pocket in case I feel the need to take notes.  And then I talk out loud as I walk, reviewing the story from the beginning – I have a chat with myself and hopefully no one hears me! It always helps.

What is your typical day like?

I don’t have a typical day, which is why I say there is no right way to write. I often plan which days I’m going to write, scheduling them on my calendar. I like everyday to feel different, so I really don’t have a typical day!

Does your writing reflect your personality?

I think my writing definitely reflects my quirky, sensitive personality. I write what I would’ve liked to have read in middle school. Almost everyone has experienced deep insecurities, especially during the tween years – it’s nice to read about a character who shares and overcomes insecurities similar to your own. 

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Author Interview with Stasia Kehoe

TSOLG9780670015535_Soun_13BB9689largeIntroducing Stasia…

Stasia Ward Kehoe grew up dancing and performing on stages from New Hampshire to Washington, DC. She now writes books for young adults and choreographs the occasional musical. She is the author of AUDITION (Viking/Penguin, 2011) and a contributor to DEAR TEEN ME (Zest Books, 2012). Her latest book THE SOUND OF LETTING GO will be available February, 2014. She tours the US with her live author appearance group, Stages on Pages and hangs out virtually on her website and on Twitter.

Let the conversation begin!

Why do you write?

I think all art—literary, performing, visual—is a grasp at immortality.  An effort to prove you were here on this planet, that you made a mark of some kind.  And I would be lying if I said that wasn’t part of why I write. But, it is not the only reason.  After my first book came out, I found myself in that scary place of wondering whether I could do it all again. Did I want to go through the agony of seeing another novel through the editorial and publication process? I realized then that I would keep writing even if I was certain I’d never sell another book. Writing is an end in itself, an act of faith, and a part of who I am. 

When are you the most productive?

I try to be at my desk working on a manuscript for about four hours every day but, honestly, 1:30-3:00 in the afternoon is the magic time. 

Daily word count?

I consider 500 words a solid day.  Sometimes I get more. Sometimes I find myself deleting more than I write. Sigh. Writing is hard! 

What do you miss about being a child?

I wrote a long reply and deleted it.  I guess the thing I miss is the chance to become a prodigy at anything.  (RE the word count question, I probably gave you 200 words and now it’s only 40-ish. Sigh.) 

What is the best part of writing? Worst part?

Best: Writing those breathless scenes of new discovery, and just spending time alone with words. 

Worst: Generally, pages 150-200 of any manuscript.  Also, the promotion of books which is stressful and really so out of your control. 

What was the first live concert you ever attended?

Elvis Costello.  I much prefer concerts in smaller venues, where you can feel a kind of personal connection to the songs and the artists.  I try to avoid those big stadium events. To me they are the Disneyworld of music, mostly about selling t-shirts.  Whatever. 

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

Every time I sit down to write, I try to put my whole heart on the page. The exact topic doesn’t matter to me nearly so much as the truth I am trying to put into words, so I can’t really answer that beyond saying every page I write feels like I’ve completely emptied the well in a certain way. 

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

I started writing poetry in eighth grade, plays in high school, novels after college. It seems like a minute and a very long time, too. 

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

The Abbey Theater in Dublin, Ireland, just as the curtain is about to go up. Ideally with my kids, as I love taking them to see good theater. 

If you could date any celebrity, who would it be and why?

My husband always teases me because I have a thing for old dudes.  I feel a little guilty because these guys are taken but I think Ciaran Hinds is amazing and who doesn’t have an intellectual crush on Neil Gaiman? 

What specific thing have you done that impressed yourself?

I’m a terrible housekeeper and sometimes not super-social so I’m always impressed when I spiff up the place and have a big party. 

Where do you write?

My computer is in the corner of my kids’ playroom. I’ve discovered that if I’m nearby, instead of holed away in the bedroom, my kids let me work longer. So I write to a “soundtrack” of kids clicking together Legos and running around with Nerf toys. 

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?

I very much admire Agatha Christie, Angela Lansbury and Julia Child–intelligent, driven women who forged their own paths with passion and dignity.  They are role models.  My four sons are inspirations in that I want them to be able to say they were raised by a woman who was both a loving mother and a person who had her own dreams, her own career.  They keep me motivated on days when this path I’ve chosen just seems so hard.

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Author Interview with Mike Jung

geeks_girls_cover_lo-resGetting to know you…

When Mike Jung meets people face-to-face for the first time, they sometimes say “wow, you’re tall!” Which is interesting, because he’s not THAT tall. Mike plays the ukulele with debatable skill, proudly owns a stuffed zombie doll that Ellen Oh’s daughters picked out for him, and is the author of the middle-grade novel GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2012). He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife (who’s taller and blonder than Mike), his daughter (who’s faster and more energetic than Mike), and his son (who’s nicer and a much better communicator than Mike). For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions 

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

Flight, without a doubt, and not just because Eleanor in Eleanor & Park picked it too. It would be an incredible sensory and conceptual experience to fly. I’d also save money on gas and parking. 

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

I once lived in Central America for a year. I contracted a stomach parasite pretty much the moment I stepped off of the plane, and lost 15 pounds in my first month living in Honduras. I followed a girl down there – the genesis of many a half-baked act, am I right? The truly half-baked part was how that girl became first my wife, then my ex-wife – the decision to get married may not have been, err, thoughtfully made. Years later I got married to the right person, which was possibly the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but then I decided to write a book, which is possibly the most masochistic thing I’ve ever done. 

Writing Questions 

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

No idea, which is kind of great. Over the past two decades I’ve learned that ten years is long enough for a teeming swarm of life-changing events to take place, so I’m gonna wait it out and see. I feel optimistic, though; I think there are more good things in my future. 

What books are you reading right now?

Jaclyn Moriarty’s A CORNER OF WHITE, Malcolm Gladwell’s WHAT THE DOG SAW, Tony Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA, and the new Billy Collins poetry collection AIMLESS LOVE, among other things. I’m not reading all of those at the same pace, you understand… 

What’s your favorite writing quote?

The answer to all writing, to any career for that matter, is love.

- Ray Bradbury 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

There’s so much advice out there that I feel compelled to try and say something different, which I’ll undoubtedly fail at because there’s so much advice out there! So I’ll just cough up a few brief things: invest a lot of time and energy into developing your own unique creative process; accept that pursuing a career as a published author is phenomenally difficult and fraught with risk; celebrate every milestone and achievement, no matter how small; and if we ever meet in person, feel free to buy me a doughnut. 

dear-teen-me-coverWhat do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

I can handle myself around dialogue, and I’m told that I’m also good at describing physical gestures, but the thing people generally comment on the most (and is therefore the most obvious answer) is humor. I think the real answer is bigger than that, however. Humor is highly subjective, but when I’ve been able to provoke a laugh in my readers, I believe it’s because I’ve found some nugget of recognizable emotional truth and portrayed it honestly and well. There are many ways to portray emotional truth, of course, and humor’s probably the way I do it best. 

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

Tricky question, because I think mentorship is so, so much about the quality of the actual, personal relationship, and you can’t know what that will be like until you’re really in it. I’m gonna cheat a little bit, because while my editor is known far and wide as an editor, he’s also an author. Arthur Levine is, hands-down, the best mentor a person could ask for on this earth. He edited and published my book, obviously, but he’s also provided a wealth of insight into the intricacies of communicating emotional experience via the written word, and I’ve never felt less than 100% certain that his investment in wringing every last molecule of quality out of my manuscript is equal to mine. Arthur’s intelligence, experience, and commitment to partnering with his authors has helped me improve my writing to a staggering degree.

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

I can’t remember exactly where I read it, but somewhere on the interwebz there’s an interview of Aimee Bender (author of THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE and THE COLOR MASTER) in which she was asked if she ever wished she could edit her early work. She essentially said that she believes artists should honor the intent, effort, and creative integrity in all of their work, even if their skills and understanding of their art form have evolved over time. I like that, and believe it as well. I hope that five, ten, and twenty years from now I’ll be able to perceive my debut novel with the same deep feelings of happiness and accomplishment that I have now. No, I wouldn’t change a word. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Todd Mitchell

backwardsGet to know Todd…

Todd Mitchell is an award-winning author, teacher, and speaker. He’s the author of the young adult novels The Secret to Lying (Candlewick Press, Colorado Book Award Winner) and Backwards (just released October 2013 from Candlewick Press), as well as the middle grade novel The Traitor King (Scholastic Press, Colorado Book Award Finalist). He’s also a writer for the graphic novel A Flight of Angels (Vertigo, YALSA Top 10 Pick for Teens). When Todd’s not writing, he enjoys jumping out of planes, surfing with sharks, kayaking rapids, and visiting elementary, middle, and high schools (among other less-advised activities). Currently, he directs the Beginning Creative Writing Teaching Program at Colorado State University. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his wife, dog, and two wily daughters. For more info, visit his website

Quirky Questions 

What dead person would you least want to be haunted by?

Edgar Allen Poe. It’s not that I think he’d be so horrific. It’s that I think if anyone has mastered the fine art of annoying others, it would be him. Either that, or Hemingway. All those short, terse sentences haunting me –no thanks.

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

Going online. It’s mental crack that in the end leaves me scatter-brained and dissatisfied. Nevertheless, here I am.

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

I’ve got several tattoos, but I’m always game for more if folks have any suggestions.

What’s your motto in life?  

“Our risk is our cure.”

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

I was a very criminally advanced 4th grader. I once blew up a girl’s Cabbage Patch doll with an M-80 because I hated how she was nicer to the doll than to people (I always had my moral justifications for the things I did). 4th grade was also the year my friend Dave and I got busted for covering the slides on the playground with glue right before recess (thus turning dozens of kids into sticky, sandy messes). And that was the year I was caught by David Hasselhoff urinating on the front left tire of his black Ford Bronco. (It’s a long story, but these are the words he spoke to me: “Todd, please do not urinate on my vehicle.” He wasn’t very good with kids).

secret_to_lyingWriting Questions

If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?

It’s my hope that my books can help readers become more aware of the harm we do to ourselves, and how it doesn’t need to be this way. Honestly, many of the biggest problems we face are human caused. Things like social inequality, starvation, war, nuclear proliferation, climate change —these might seem like problems that are insurmountable, but it’s not like we’re being attacked by aliens here. We’re causing these problems for ourselves.

The good news is that human-caused problems have human solutions, and often, the first and most important step toward solving such problems is recognizing how we’re causing them, and how things can change. I believe we can solve most of the devastating problems we face, if only we can find the courage and vision to choose to do so.

What is your favorite accomplishment?

The last book I finished took me six years to write. It’s the story of a teenage artist who sees supernatural beings through his art, and ends up falling in love with a demon he drew. For some reason, this story wouldn’t let me go. I wrote over twelve different versions of it (and it’s long, more than 400 pages). I have a stack of double-sided drafts that’s over three feet high (no exaggeration, I have pictures to prove it). There were several drafts that got rejected, and many days when I thought writing this book was crazy and I should give up. But I didn’t give up, and now I feel proud that I finally unearthed the story that called to me all those years ago. Whether this book ever finds an editor or readers who like it as much as I do is another matter. But even if it never gets published, and ends up just being a fool’s journey, I’m proud that I stuck with it.

Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?

All the time. Happy hunting.

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Rejection is part of writing, perhaps more than any other art form. It’s hard not to get discouraged by it.

I tend to think of the purpose of criticism as being to elevate a text and help others see what is good or wondrous or valuable in something. Unfortunately, a great many critics and editors approach texts looking for things to dislike. With every text, we have this choice — to focus on what’s good, or what’s not good. And with every text, you can find significant flaws. To revise, you need to be aware of those flaws. But to keep writing, you need to focus more on what’s good.

For me, it all comes down to this: even if I never published anything, and no one ever read or liked what I did, I would still keep writing. A monk doesn’t mediate to show the world that he’s the best damn meditator out there. He meditates to clarify his vision, experience truth, and transform his self. Perhaps that’s why we write, too. The more rejection you get, the less you worry about pleasing others. And maybe that’s a good thing.

What was the biggest opposing force that you encountered on your writing journey?

Doubt. I struggle a lot with doubt. Yet without doubt, there can be no faith. So I try to embrace my writing doubts, and keep on. I will be a foolish dreamer until the bitter end.

If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose?

1920’s Paris. To be part of the Lost Generation would be amazing. Then again, it didn’t turn out so well for many of them. But it sure makes for a good story now.

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Author Interview with Suzanne Selfors

downloadGet to know Suzanne…

Suzanne Selfors lives on an island near Seattle where it rains all the time, which is why she tends to write about cloudy, moss-covered, green places. She’s married, has two kids, and writes full time. Her favorite writers are Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Dickens, and most especially, Roald Dahl. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?

I’d choose The Daily Show. I’ve got a mad crush on John Stewart.

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Snowy Owl.

What dead person would you least want to be haunted by?

Jack the Ripper.

What’s your motto in life?

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

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

Dip.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Hiding under the dining room table on Halloween. Casper the Friendly Ghost was at the door.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Cow Liver.

selfors smellsWriting Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I leave the computer behind and go for a walk. My best ideas come to me while moving around.

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?

Before I start writing, I always know how my story will begin and how it will end. And I know which character will be telling the story. But I have no idea how long the book will be, or what kind of twists will happen along the way. That’s the adventure.

Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?

I’ve been a storyteller my entire life. I inherited the skill from my father, a Norwegian fisherman who loved to tell tall tales. Creating stories is a compulsion for me. And now that I’ve been doing this professionally for almost ten years, I don’t think I’ll ever stop.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

I like to write in coffeehouses. I find it’s better if I leave my house behind and go to a place where I’m surrounded by people and lots of white noise. I write most of my rough drafts when I’m away from my office. But the line edits and the nit-picky stuff gets done in my office.

Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?

My stubborn nature. Sure, my family has always encouraged me, and friends have been supportive. But when it comes right down to it, I’m the only one forcing my butt into the chair and doing the work, so I want to give myself some credit. 

If you were no longer able to write, how else would you express your creativity?

I’d draw cartoons.

What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the author you are today?

I’m not getting the exercise I should. It’s always the last thing on my list. Spending so much time sitting and writing, I need to make exercise more of a priority.

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?

The truth about this writing career is not one that many beginning writers want to face is that you have to have patience. Nothing happens in this industry overnight. You have to do the work, write, write, write. You have to wait for editors to read. You have to wait for the book to be produced. This is why so many beginning writers turn to self-publishing. They don’t want to do the waiting. But it’s part of the process.

If you knew that you had only one last opportunity to express yourself creatively, what message would you want to convey to others?

I guess it’s the theme that appears in all of my books, one that I don’t set out to write, but always finds its way into my stories—be true to yourself.

When did you realize that you had a gift for writing?

I’ve always known. It just took me 39 years to work up the courage to put my words out there.

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?

Don’t get me started.

What is your typical day like?

I’m under three contracts, writing three different series, so honestly I can’t remember what  I did yesterday, or the day before. I know it involved a lot of writing. And more writing. And then I cooked a meal, did some laundry, and fell into bed.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Ingrid Law

51VhBdPktfLGet to know Ingrid… 

Newbery Honor recipient, Ingrid Law, is the New York Times bestselling author of two novels for young readers, SAVVY and SCUMBLE. Ingrid’s books have been placed on over 25 state reading lists and have earned accolades from Publisher’s Weekly, Oprah’s Reading List, the Today Show’s Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids, and Smithsonian. Ingrid lives in Lafayette, Colorado, where she writes full time and is currently working on her next novel, SWITCH, coming Summer 2015. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What is the most vivid or realistic dream you’ve ever had?

Not long ago I dreamed that I found the meaning of life in a pink velvet hat topped with a pink peacock, pink silk roses, and lots and lots of rhinestones. In the dream, it just felt so RIGHT. Maybe life, in the end, is all about a great hat. 

If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?

Dr. Who.

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Prehensile porcupines.

What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever been to?

When I was in Chicago to accept my Newbery Honor at the ALA Youth Media Awards in 2009, my editor and I treated ourselves to a celebratory dinner at a restaurant called Alinea, where the (molecular gastronomy) twenty-two course meal was served suspended on wires, flaming, cushioned on pillows of lavender air, and plated directly on the table. It was a feast for the senses! 

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

Face to face with Neil Gaiman, I told him that I’d been having recurring nightmares about him chasing me. 

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

I actually have a partial-sleeve tattoo on my left forearm. It’s mostly pretty flowers. I like pretty flowers.

580096_4154666701000_432305674_nWriting Questions

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Rejections–dozens and dozens of them–are what inspired me to try harder, to write better, to make my work as exciting and original as I could. Rejection is what inspired me to write Savvy. If my other work hadn’t been rejected, my first published book wouldn’t have been as good.

What was the biggest opposing force that you’ve encountered on your writing journey?

Self doubt. It’s still a huge problem.

If you could interview any author (past or present), who would you choose?

Lucy Maud Montgomery.

What is your favorite accomplishment?

I raised an awesome child.

Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?

Hidden “connections” might be a better term for what I occasionally do. For instance, there are a number of subtle connections to the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind in my second book, Scumble. But not many people are too familiar with that movie anymore. And I’ve never run across anyone who has made those connections on his or her own.

If your writing were edible, what would it taste like?

Cookies with funny, but delicious ingredients. I think I’d call them “gooey-chewy mega-chip sardoodlesnaps.” (My favorite word is “sardoodledom.”) Mmm… someone should invent those and bake them for me!

In terms of your writing, how would you like to be remembered?

Joyfully. My happiest moments as a writer come when a young person tells me that my books turned him or her into reader. I think we all remember the first book or author who did that for us. For me, it was the book Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland. For my own child, it was the author David Almond. What an honor to fill that roll for another person! I couldn’t ask for anything more.

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