Interview with Newbery Honor Author Margarita Engle

91HGteCT56L._SL1500_Get to know Margarita…

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many young adult verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to any Latino. Her books have also received multiple Pura Belpré Medals and Honors, as well as three Américas Awards, and the Jane Addams Peace Award, among others. 

Margarita’s most recent verse novel is Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal, and her newest picture book is Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish, both published by Harcourt. Helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness K-9 search and rescue programs inspired her recent middle grade book, Mountain Dog, and the picture book, When You Wander, both published by Holt. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish would make a comeback today? 

Horses and buggies. Also, eye contact during conversations, instead of trying to talk to people who are peering into “smart” phones. 

When do you know someone is exceptionally smart? 

When they are smart enough to think independently, instead of parroting old ideas taught by others. 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up? 

Ice cream! Frozen yogurt is an acceptable compromise, but I won’t completely give up sweets. 

What one thing is unfortunately true? 

Most Americans don’t read enough poetry to give their lives a true sense of peace of mind. 

If every activity in life were an Olympic sport, what would you win the gold in? 

Reading. 

What do you never leave home without? 

Paper and a pen. 

If you could pass along a piece of wisdom to future generations, what would it be? 

Treasure nature. No matter how inventive people are, we can’t create a substitute for lost wilderness. 

Surrende Tree NotableWriting Questions

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Daydreaming, walking, praying, reading poetry.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Relax! Let the first draft flow. Save the difficult changes for later.

How would you define creativity?

Imaginative honesty.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing versus a job that would offer more stability and security?

I was a teniored Associate Professor of Agronomy when I took a life-changing graduate creative writing seminar from the great Tomás Rivera. I had already experienced stability and security. I decided to give rejection and insecurity a try, in exchange for the euphoria of daydreaming on paper. 

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

The difficulty of finding publishers for biographical picture books about people who are not considered “famous enough.” This is my pet peeve, because minorities have been left out of history. How will great Latinos ever be famous, if we can’t write about their forgotten accomplishments? 

How did you pick your writing genre?

Trial and error. For ten years, I struggled to write The Poet Slave of Cuba in prose, but Juan Francisco Manzano was a poet, so telling his life story didn’t work, until I experimented with the verse novel form. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Childhood travels to visit my extended family in Cuba, and the subsequent loss of travel rights after the Missile Crisis. 

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I reach the true end, there is a sense of hope.

What traits do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

The persistence of a childhood sense of wonder that is never lost, because the love of exploration keeps it alive. 

Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

In general, I avoid the extremes of post-Revolutionary Cuban historical topics, because I don’t want to be a persona non grata in either Miami or Cuba. My childhood memoir, Enchanted Air (Atheneum, 2015) is an exception. I risk angering relatives on both sides of the Florida Straits.

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Author Interview with Artie Bennett

belchess_cvr_forppt_lrGet to know Artie…

Artie Bennett is the executive copy editor for a children’s book publisher and he writes a little on the side (but not the backside!). He would be hailed as “the Dr. Seuss of your caboose” for his much-acclaimed The Butt Book, his first “mature” work, which published in 2010. His “number two” picture book, fittingly, was entitled Poopendous! What more fertile topic could there be but poop! His third picture book, Peter Panda Melts Down!, an adorable storybook but a departure from butts and poop, published in February 2014. Artie gets right back on track, however, with the uproarious Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!, which disgorges in August 2014.

Artie lives deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, where he spends his spare time moving his car to satisfy the rigorous demands of alternate-side-of-the-street parking and shaking his fist at his neighbors. He is pleased to share the visionary promise of The Butt Book, Poopendous!, Peter Panda Melts Down!, and Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My! with a wider audience.

The Show Me Librarian says: “Bennett’s use of rhyme is excellent; his stanzas flow and exude joviality in a manner that few writers since Dr. Seuss have truly mastered. Simply put, these books are a joy.” For more info, visit his website . . . before someone else does! 

PeterPanda_CVRQuirky Questions 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up? 

Few know this about me, but in this no-holds-barred interview, I will reveal all. It pains me to fess up to a grave addiction. But I have a major ice cream habit—we’re talking twelve-step caliber!—and I require three scoops of the glorious stuff before lights-out. It’s a terrible thing this Chunky Monkey on my back, but it’s my only vice (“vice cream”?). My cholesterol has risen too high—and my doctor and I know precisely the reason why. But I’m no longer in denial. I’m now proactive! And to keep from ballooning beyond the bounds of our apartment, I now alternate my daily intake of dairy ice cream with soy-milk, coconut-milk, almond-milk, rice-milk, even hemp-milk-based (what will they think up next?) ice cream. This way I can indulge my habit in a guilt-free and gluttonous fashion. And as soon as I complete this interview, I’ll be three scoops to the wind! 

What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of? 

In researching the rather ripe subject of Poopendous!, I stumbled upon the curious fact that wombats, alone in the animal kingdom, have cube-shaped poop, described as resembling rather pungent dice. No one knows for certain why this adaptation came about, but one scientist speculated that because their poop is square, it won’t roll away in the wind—perhaps off a cliffside—and alert some passing predator to the vulnerable wombat just above. I put this fact to good use in a chant verse: “Rabbit pellets, raccoon tubes, owl whitewash, and wombat cubes!” Now, had the wombat, which is native to Australia, not been a prolific producer of peculiar-shaped poop, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I would’ve been left with three-quarters of a great verse—and despondency! Also, wombats proved the perfect solution. They’re a two-syllable animal, with the stress right where it was needed. And it’s a fun word to say. Go ahead. Try it. Amazingly, the Creator gave wombats cubic poop—and gave me the tail end of a fun and informative couplet!

What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason? 

I keep a shoebox full of old baseball cards from my boyhood, a lifetime ago. It’s not so much that they have great sentimental value, though perhaps they do. But my hope is that someday their desirability will skyrocket and I’ll be offered buckets of money to part with them. I mean, who doesn’t need a Joe Pepitone rookie card! 

What is the most revolutionary TV show of all time?

We don’t have cable and, therefore, don’t watch as much TV as we should, but I can’t get enough of The Simpsons. After twenty-five years, the adventures of the original dysfunctional family and the good citizens of Springfield, USA, are still fresh and hilariously funny. The show ushered in a new era of adult animation. Just look at all the cartoons that have followed! We know the characters now, in all their complexity, so thoroughly that they almost feel like neighbors. And we see ourselves in their experiences. The mere fact that the show has survived so long is unprecedented—indeed revolutionary—itself. The colorful characters have left their mark on popular culture and shaped our language, contributing such catchphrases as “D’oh!” “Don’t have a cow, man!” and “Eat my shorts!” It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s still very good—in fact, as the plutocrat Mr. Burns would say, “Ex-cel-lent.” 

What one thing is unfortunately true? 

That ice cream is fattening! But seriously, folks, that children—and adults—are reading fewer books than ever. This is distressing news. And that’s why it gratifies me so when librarians and educators tell me that my books show children how much fun a book can be—and jumpstart a lifelong love of reading. After all, it’s only a small step from The Butt Book to Dostoyevsky. 

What do you never leave home without? 

Pen and paper. I’m constantly jotting down scraps and snippets of verses. Ideas assail me, wherever I go. They enter my head regularly and I’ve got to capture them before they evaporate. Also, I never leave home without my trusty water container, to stave off imminent dehydration. 

What movie deserves a sequel? 

One of my all-time favorite movies is Casablanca. It has patriotism, romance, high adventure, nail-biting suspense, a great theme song, and bursts of humor. And it’s filled with memorable quotes, such as when former antagonists Rick Blaine and Vichy captain Louie Renault walk off down the fog-shrouded runway, and Rick (Humphrey Bogart) says, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” What a magical ending to a sublime film! What makes this quote so powerful is that Rick’s and Louie’s backs are to the camera, so we never see Rick utter these words, as the music begins to swell. But now that I think about it, Casablanca is a perfect film. And a sequel would never rise to its level.

Perhaps my all-time favorite film is The Wizard of Oz. Growing up, I would await its return every spring with rapt anticipation. In fact, my forthcoming picture book, the hilarious Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!, which publishes this August, is my homage to this cinematic gem. The title is, of course, a zany tribute to the song “Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh My!),” which Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow break into upon hearing a frightful roar as they conjure up what horrors may await them on their journey to see the Emerald City. 

If you were looking at an abstract piece of art, what would your general reaction be? 

My response would be exactly what my Old World grandmother would have said when confronting a Kandinsky or a Klee: “From this, he makes a living?” 

If every activity in life were an Olympic sport, what would you win the gold in? 

Gymnastics features an event with the parallel bars. I would add the sport of parallel parking. I’m definitely Olympic timber, able to squeeze my Dodge Neon into the narrowest of parking spaces on my first attempt. 

What expression or cliché do you find yourself saying a lot? 

I avoid clichés like the plague, but I do come with pet expressions. One that I employ, perhaps a bit too much, is “Too much!” I love its pithiness and brevity—and its widespread application. There’s also a quote from Shakespeare that I’m prone to utter. Upon seeing the ghost of his murdered father, Hamlet tells Horatio, his skeptical friend, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” How true. How very, very true. 

unnamed (1)Writing Questions 

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art? 

One of my biggest challenges is self-imposed. I write exclusively in verse and am burdened with a perfectionist streak, which causes me to agonize over every single syllable. I tweak and revise endlessly until I get things just right. And then I tweak and revise some more. It’s important that my rhymes be stout and true. I abhor lazy rhymes. But perhaps even more important is that the cadence of the verses be fluid. If the stress happens to fall on the wrong syllable, the verse will jar the ear. And since I’m going to be reading it aloud, I can’t have jarring, discordant verses. They would catch in my throat. Audiences would hiss and boo. And that would never, ever do.

In my latest picture book, Peter Panda Melts Down! (which was published in February), charmingly illustrated by the virtuoso Seattle-based artist John Nez, I took on a new challenge. I felt the story needed a refrain, so I composed one—“Uh-oh. Here it comes. Here comes that frown. Peter Panda melts dowwwnnn!” In putting it together, I had to order “Rewrite!” multiple times until I had a refrain that I was fully pleased with. It gives the book a playful musicality, even beyond its being in verse. The repetition provides comfort, because children know that it’s coming. Reading it aloud is now that much more fun, for youngsters eagerly recite the refrain. And I generate some joyous surprise when I add an unexpected, jocular twist or two to the familiar refrain. 

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing? 

Exercise. I’m a great exponent of regular exercise. I believe it’s the one true panacea. Exercise can unblock your blocks and spur creativity. And for me, exercise means getting in the swim of things. I come up with some of my choicest verses while doing my laps. I swim every weekday, faithfully, before work, though it entails getting up before the chickens. But it’s worth it. After I dry off, I expeditiously jot down any verses I may have just conjured before they slip back into the pool. And if I’m stuck on a particular verse and not content with its rhyme or rhythm, I often come up with solutions while I’m swimming. I find that swimming clears my mind, opening it up to inspiration. And while I often dread other physical activities—oh no, not the treadmill!—I never balk at my morning swim. Now, not everyone is a swimmer, so I’d recommend you unblock your blocks via your preferred sport or activity, be it motocross, marbles, or mumblety-peg! 

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Dr. Seuss is certainly a literary genius and he’s been a great inspiration to me. I wrote The Butt Book with his wacky anatomical books in mind—The Foot Book, The Eye Book, The Tooth Book, The Eyetooth Book, etc. I loved these books as a lad, and I still do. In fact, I dedicated Poopendous! to him (“to Dr. Seuss, my meuss”—I think he might’ve enjoyed that little pun). His books informed my childhood and taught me the joy of wordplay. They shaped my personality. I remember how my excitement could not be contained whenever I’d bring home a new Dr. Seuss book from the library, for I knew it would take me to the outer reaches of the imagination. To my bottomless delight, several reviewers have compared me, favorably, with the good doctor. It’s enough to give me a swell head! 

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision? 

My father worked in construction. He’d come home exhausted by the rigors of his work. But late at night, after everyone was tucked away in bed, he’d take out his composition book and write. And he wrote feverishly. Poems, short stories, novellas would pour from his pen. My dad never had the good fortune in his too-short life to see his work in print. He accumulated a drawerful of rejection slips, which arrived with great regularity. But my dad was undeterred. He kept writing, for he had something to say.

I was so proud of his doggedness. And it gave me an early regard for the power of words and the majesty of books.

My sister and I inherited my dad’s itch to write. She’s currently beavering away on her memoir, which I hope she completes soon because my porous memory is in need of refreshment. And she’s even promised to portray me in a favorable light.

When The Butt Book was published by Bloomsbury in January 2010, I was officially an author—and I couldn’t have been prouder. And when I see the smiles and hear the titters and guffaws of youngsters at my events, I’m filled anew with an unquenchable joy.

One side note has been that reviewers have mentioned how helpful Peter Panda Melts Down! can be for parents of tantrum-tossing children. And how it can introduce a discussion about difficult emotions in an easy, light-hearted way. It gladdens my heart to hear such things. And I’ve never questioned my decision to write. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

There’s a juvenile delinquent lurking somewhere deep in my soul, urging me to write my superfun picture books. So I answered that still, small voice. 

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

I would tell aspiring writers to read as much as they can. It will help them find their own unique voice and give them an appreciation for a well-turned sentence. And when it comes to getting published, the watchword is “persevere,” especially in the face of rejection. Every writer experiences rejection, some more than others. All the greats had drawers crammed with rejection slips. But if you have an original voice and you have something to say, you’ll eventually find your way. Who knows? You could be the next . . . Artie Bennett! 

How do you know when a book is finished?

It was easy with The Butt Book. It concludes with a flurry of wordplay, leading to “The End.” Here is the stirring finale: 

So respect your butt and listen, folks.

It must not be the butt of jokes.

 

Bottoms up! Hip, hip, hooray!

Our useful butts are here to stay.

 

Don’t undercut your butt, my friend.

Your butt will thank you in  . . . The End 

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Author Interview with Michael Buckley

9781419708572Get to know Michael…

Sometime after college Buckley moved to New York City to start an internship with the Late Show with David Letterman, then moved into a television production job where he worked on documentaries.[2] His books are published by Harry N. Abrams.

Recently, Buckley and his writing partner, Joe Deasy, created a new animated series for Cartoon Network called Robotomy. Buckley and Deasy executive produced as well as wrote the first season that starred Patton Oswalt and Dana Snyder (Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force). The series aired in CN’s prime time block.

He is currently writing the screenplay for a N.E.R.D.S. animated feature developed by Elton John’s Rocket Pictures.[3]

Michael Buckley is married to Alison Fargis, a literary agent and co-owner of Stonesong Press, and they have a son, Finn.

Quirky Questions 

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

Kanye West.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen?

I worked on a documentary about Sideshow performers and saw a man shove bicycle spokes through his arms and legs.

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

NOBU – the best sushi ever.

What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen someone do?

I think all those people who got to Walmart on Thanksgiving night and fistfight for toasters and towels are clearly a lost cause.

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

Narrowing it down would be impossible.  I’ve done a lot of very dumb things.  I’m sure I’ll do plenty more.  It’s only 10 am here so I have a whole day of dumb stuff ahead of me.

If you were a cartoon, who would you be? 

Mr. Peabody.  I think it would be fun to be a super-genius dog with a pet boy and a time machine.

What’s the funniest prank ever played on you?

Those who were foolish enough to play pranks on me were never seen again.

Do you believe in UFOs?

I think I do.  I recently read that scientists believe there is a planet circling every star in the sky.  That’s a lot of planets so I have to think that one of them has people on it who may be a little further down the road than we are.

Define the worst day ever.

Any day where I have to get up before 7 am is the worst day ever.  I like to sleep and I rarely get to do it.  Tax day kinda sucks, too.   

What song best describes your work ethic?

“Everyday I Write the Book” by Elvis Costello.

What’s your motto in life?

“You’re going to like the way you look.  I guarantee it.”

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

I dreamed I was a child on a beach building a sand castle when a crowd of people walked out of the ocean.  They had weapons and bizarre armor and I could see their feet as they walked passed.  It was so powerful I wrote it down and now I’m writing a novel about it.

If you could make something in life go away, what would it be?

Oh, I think the annoying things are important, really.  They make life interesting.  They make great stories, too.  It’s the frustrations in life that give it so much flavor and in my experience the really annoying things and people come and go pretty fast.  I wish Miley Cyrus would stop sticking out her tongue but she’ll be gone in a year or two so I just have to be patient.

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

Scenic Route Ahead.

If you were to attend a costume party, who would you be?

I love Halloween, it’s easily my favorite holiday and I dress up with my son every year.  I don’t know how long I have until he finds this embarrassing so I’m trying to squeeze in the fun stuff while I can.  Right now I’d love to go as Gene Simmons from Kiss – I want the boots and the fire breathing and the whole bit.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

I remember my parents bought me a Smokey the Bear stuffed animal.  It had a forest rangers cap and a hard, plastic badge on its chest and I loved it.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Mayonnaise.  I hate it.  It’s also insanely bad for you – just a big jar of fat that people spread on everything.  I would love for that to go away.  I hate going to deli’s for sandwiches and having to watch the guy making my food because all the fatties love this stuff and everyone uses it.  I’ve had to send sandwiches back four or five times because slathering that nastiness was so part of the routine he couldn’t stop himself.  I also hate picnics and events because everyone loves macaroni and potato salad.  It’s amazing people’s heart don’t just explode at church picnics. 

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

I was a delightful, angelic child!!!!

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

The New Girl – I laugh out loud at that show.  I truly think its one of the funniest sitcoms on network TV.

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Gotta go with the monkeys.

Have you been told you look like someone famous?

I get Bill Clinton a lot but my favorites were Richard Gere and Simon Le Bond and there was a guy on Gray’s Anatomy I used to hear.  I don’t see any of them when I look in the mirror.  I think I look like Yosemite Sam.

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

Doctor’s appointments.  I hate going to the doctor and waiting in their overbooked offices.  You’re trapped there – unsure of whether they have forgotten you, then they rush you in to see the doctor who gives you ten seconds because he’s got twenty other people in those little rooms waiting too.  Being a doctor must suck and they don’t make it any easier on us.

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

I have a few already – one of a rocket and one of Saturn.  I want more.  I really like them so I’ll keep you in the loop.

N-E-R-D-S-nerds-by-michael-buckley-21015428-1125-1700Writing Questions

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

I would love to fire all the old ladies who keep funny books out of the hands of reluctant readers.  The one’s that turn their noses up at Captain Underpants and Wimpy Kid.  Those people do an incredible disservice to children and should be fired.

What made you decide to follow a creative career choice (though possibly risky) rather than something more stable?

I wasn’t good at anything else.  I tried other things but this was the one that I loved.  I’ve been fired from almost every job I ever had.

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

I would like to be known as a writer who tried to grow as a writer, who didn’t do the safe thing by writing the same kinds of books over and over again.  I get bored and want to grow and challenge myself.  It’s going to lead to a very eclectic body of work.

How has personal experience influenced your writing?

Writing is all personal experiences.  Most of the best stuff I’ve done is rooted in a very personal moment or feeling I’ve had.  If you want to bring truth to what you do there has to be some truth you have seen and felt and heard and smelled and tasted.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?

I keep cashing the checks the publisher sends and spending the money.  Nothing motivates you like having to deliver something.  Seriously, I have a huge imagination so I’m never short for ideas and really, when you can have the best job in the world what other motivation do you need?

If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

I’m always starting over.  I’ve written two series and I’m working on a third.  Each is wildly different than the last and the newest thing is even more out of left field.  I don’t believe in formulas or doing what’s easy.  You have to start over every single time you start a new project or you are failing at what you do.

What do you do to get into your writing zone?

I have no idea.  Sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not and there isn’t a thing I can do about it.  It’s frustrating but completely out of my control.

What is your favorite accomplishment?

Being on the NY Times bestseller list the first time was pretty awesome, but I’d say marrying my wife and having our little boy together are the things I most cherish.

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

Oh, there are plenty of jokes in there for specific people in my life and moments that I’ve shared with friends.  Sometimes a character is named after an old buddy, sometimes an old bully, too.

Do you pay attention to others’ strong reactions to your work? Does that affect what you create?

Well, yeah.  I pay attention because I’m a glutton for punishment.  I’m the kind of person that can get a thousand good reviews but will only remember the one that was bad.  But it never changes what I do.  I just keep doing it.  I’m hoping to win that guy over eventually.

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

Hmmm – I think it might be a ice cream that had a sort of special touch.  It’s sweet and fun but there would be something in it that would surprise you – something you wouldn’t expect in the ice cream, like bacon.  You would eat it expecting this delicious treat and there would be a flavor that would make you think – why didn’t I think this would be good.  Bacon is yummy in ice cream.  BTW – a little bit of salty bacon in ice cream is really pretty great.

Have you ever felt enlightened by an event in the past that has given you a new perspective on life?

Everyday.  Really, it happens every day.  Last night I saw a Irish play and it was hilarious and sad and scary all at once and I was stunned that a story like that could come from one person.  It makes me want to write better.

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Not really.  It just makes me mad and makes me work harder.  I feel like the people who truly succeed in this business are people who feel they have a lot to prove.  I feel like there’s a lot of people in my life that need to be reminded how wrong they were about me.  Each success I have is my way of kicking them in the pants.

What kind of jobs did you have before your career took off?

What didn’t I do?  Ugh, Taco Bell and Olive Garden and I worked in TV and advertising and coffee shops.  I even waited tables in a comedy club I had performed in a hundred times.  Everyone should have to wait on tables – it teaches you a lot about people and what they need.

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

My fourth grade teacher told me that I would never be a writer because I wasn’t a good speller.  There has never been anything in my life that I’ve heard that was more wrong than that – sadly, I believed it.  You believe grown ups – especially teachers.  Turns out, she had no idea what she was talking about.  Thank God I discovered it for myself.

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

I would have loved to live in NYC during the late sixties and seventies – during the birth of punk rock.  I would love to have been able to write about that.

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

Moses – I’ve got a lot of questions about his editing process.

If you could choose a theme song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles.  It’s a song about hope and a reminder to get out of bed and get some work done.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Jane Yolen

how-do-dinosaurs-say-goodnightGet to know Jane…

Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” (Newsweek) and the “Aesop of the Twentieth Century” (N.Y. Times) is the author of well over 360 books, including OWL MOON, THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT. Her work ranges from rhymed picture books and baby board books, through middle grade fiction, poetry collections, nonfiction, and up to novels and story collections for young adults and adults. She has also written lyrics for folk rock singers and groups, several animated shorts, and done voice over work and talk radio.

Her books and stories have won an assortment of awards–two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, the Golden Kite Award, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among many others. She has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. She is also the winner (for body of work) of the World Fantasy Assn. Lifetime Achievement Award, Science Fiction Poetry Association Grand Master Award, the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, the Kerlan Medal from the University of Minnesota, the 2012 du Grummond Medal, the Smith College Alumnae Medal, and the New England Pubic Radio Arts and Humanities Award in 2014. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates. 

Also worthy of note, she lost her fencing foil in Grand Central Station on a date, fell overboard while white water rafting in the Colorado, and her Skylark Award–given by NESFA, the New England Science Fiction Association–set her good coat on fire. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish would return today? 

When editors could just chose a book they wanted and not what they could convince a committee of marketing folks could be bestsellers. 

What is the weirdest thing about your relatives? 

They are all great storytellers which means I never know if they are telling me the truth about family stories or just exaggerating (wonderfully) for effect! 

Why would somebody choose not to date you? 

Beats me. I’m smart, funny, and engaged in the world. Of course, I am also old, not particularly pretty, and can’t cook. 

What item have you kept over the years for no good reason? 

My sanity. 

If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees? 

I AM the boss at my work, and my daughter is my PA. I let her have time off whenever she needs it and still pay her.  

If you could buy one object to complete your home, what would it be? 

A new roof and new paint job. Oh wait, you mean an actual item? I am at an age where I am trying to give away objects, not add to them! 

If you were caught sleepwalking, where would we find you? 

Opening the fridge. 

If you talked in your sleep, what kinds of things would you say? 

First lines to new novels or a stanza of a new poem. 

What is the first thing you do when you get out of bed in the morning? 

Fifteen years ago, I would probably have said, do a happy dance. Now I would say: Take a pill.

Tell us about a time that you were incredibly lazy. 

I am never incredibly lazy. 

What is the most physically painful thing that has ever happened to you? 

Passing a gallstone. Having progressive spinal stenosis. 

What profession have you always admired but could never do?

Musical comedy and Broadway. 

Fill in the blank. If I had a pet robot _____. 

It would make all my meals. 

What are your nightmares generally about?

My husband’s death.

What is the most childish thing about you?

I read children’s books. 

What expression do you normally have on your face? 

I can’t see my face most of the time so haven’t a clue. 

What is the most annoying thing about computers? 

They try to help too much when all I want is a super fast typewriter. 

If money wasn’t an issue, what would you love to own? 

First class seats on every airplane I fly. 

If you could bring someone famous back from the grave, who would it be? 

Emily Dickinson to discuss poetry and eat some of her famous cakes.

What is the key to happiness? 

Infinite available dark chocolate without any bad health reactions. 

0399214577.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Writing Questions

How do you know when a book is finished? 

When you have nothing left to say. 

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision? 

When I was young. Since both my parents were writers, I assumed all adults were writers, no matter what other jobs they held. 

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

We live more in our heads. We feel very alive when we are working. And often we are totally pissed off when we are interrupted. I will probably yell at Death when it comes for me, because it will be the most final and definitive of interruptions.

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this?

Go on to something else.  

Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? 

Nope. If they take offense, that’s their problem, not mine. 

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Wake up in the morning. 

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing? 

Don’t quit your day job, or marry well. 

Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security? 

That wasn’t the choice.  

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Shakespeare, Dickinson, Yeats, Isak Dinesen,  Ursula Le Guin, 

How did you pick your writing genre?

They picked me.

What life experiences have inspired your work? 

All of them. 

Jane.Yolen_

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Author Interview with Stephanie J. Blake

98c1a00d9b30a5e34e9a4ae6c6faa339Get to know Stephanie…

Stephanie J. Blake, author of THE MARBLE QUEEN (Two Lions, December 2012). A Colorado Book Award finalist. Stephanie J. Blake loves black jellybeans. She is scared of the dark. She reads lots of books. She’s a terrible driver. Her favorite color is blue. She eats chocolate. A lot. Sometimes she has déjà vu, and she likes it. Her middle name is Jane.

When she’s not in front of the computer, she can be found in her backyard in Colorado with her husband, their three boys, and a cocker spaniel named Rocky. If she weren’t a writer, she’d be a country singer. Or maybe a pastry chef. The Marble Queen is her first book. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What is one place you want to visit before you die?

PARIS! 

If your life was a book, what would it be titled? 

Always the Bride, never a Bridesmaid. (I’ve been married three times. It’s a long story.) 

What’s something that drives you crazy?

Do I have to pick one thing? I can’t stand crumbs on the countertops. 

What’s one thing you can’t live without?

The internet. I’m hopelessly addicted. Also, Chapstick. 

What’s the silliest thing you’ve heard people say about you?

That I am so outgoing and funny. I am really shy and weird. My heart pounds ridiculously hard when I have to talk to people I don’t know very well. 

What’s your motto in life?

Never surrender. 

If you were to attend a costume party tonight, who would you be? Why?

I would probably be a scary witch complete with green makeup and warts. I love witches. One of my favorite books (and movie) is Practical Magic

Writing Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I started writing in high school. I have always been a writer. When I was home with my boys, I started to get serious about it. I wrote several bad picture books. In 2006, I started submitting a middle grade novel. 

What books are you reading right now?

I just finished Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. It was delicious. 

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?

I gave up in late 2009. I went back to school and learned how to draw blood. I was working in a hospital in June 2010, when I got “the call” on my manuscript for THE MARBLE QUEEN. It is a slushpile success story. I might give up again, soon. Giving up is kind of what you have to do to break-in. 

What’s your favorite writing quote?

“I hate writing, I love having written.” Dorothy Parker 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Query widely. Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t take silence for an answer. Don’t be too realistic. Don’t sleep with a viable manuscript in the house. Read everything. Be generous with your advice and praise. 

Do you have a specific writing style?

Basically, I write and revise as I go. It has to be perfect before I can move on. This takes forever. I don’t recommend it. I also have to have a title or I can’t work on it. 

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

I think I am pretty funny. I enjoy making people laugh. I am also pretty tuned in when it comes to what kids think.

What books have most influenced your life?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a favorite. Ellen Tebbits is the go-to book that I read over and over. I also love anything by Kate DiCamillo, Barbara O’Connor, Alice Hoffman, and Jerry Spinelli. 

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?

Writing is so hard. Revising is hard. It is all really hard work. Just getting to type THE END is such a celebration. 

What comes easily?

Well, I am an idea factory. I have a notebook full of great ideas. I get them constantly. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Lori Mortensen

9780547239934Get to know Lori…

Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than six dozen books, and over 350 stories and articles. When she’s not removing her cat from her keyboard, she enjoys putting her green thumb to the test in her garden, whipping up culinary delights, and working on all sorts of new projects filled with extraordinary people and quirky characters that delight her writing soul. 

A member of SCBWI, Lori is a frequent speaker at schools, SCBWI conferences, and has worked as a writing instructor for the past eight years at the Institute of Children’s Literature. Recent picture book titles include Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, (Clarion, 2013), Cindy Moo (HarperCollins, 2012), Come See the Earth Turn – The Story of Léon Foucault (Random House, 2010), and In the Trees, Honey Bees! (Dawn, 2009). To learn more about Lori and her upcoming books, visit her website or read her blog.

Quirky Questions 

What is guaranteed to happen tomorrow? 

“The sun will come out tomorrow, tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun. . .” (Oops! That’s what popped into my mind!) 

What simple thing are you unable to do? 

Well, I’ve always been a miserable finger snapper. I go through the motions, but instead of producing a nice resounding SNAP! mine always sounds like an anemic thwap. 

What is one thing you always wanted as a kid, but never got? 

When I was little, my older sister used to wear a striped, pink and green play top with an ice cream soda applique on the front. It looked so cool. None of our other clothes had appliques on them–it was the one and only–so I remember staring at it longingly and wishing I had one too. 

What event or decision is proof that you have finally “grown up”? 

When we moved from our “starter” home, into our “raise the family” home, I went out and bought a white dinnerware set from Target with a raised leafy design on the edges. Somehow having a matching set meant that the picture of adulthood was complete. These days, those plates are stacked in the back of the cupboard somewhere. Instead, I love to browse around thrift stores and pick out unique, individual plates. When we eat, each plate is as wonderfully unique as everyone around the table.  

9780062043931Writing Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I just keep pressing ahead. Keeping an idea book is helpful, so when an idea does pop into my mind, I can jot it down and get back to it when I’m ready to write it. Sometimes getting away from a project is helpful. If I release my mind from the frustration and do something else, sometimes new, better thoughts and ideas present themselves. 

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

I always start with an idea in mind, but I may not know where I’m going which can be frustrating. However, as I find my way, usually all the pieces fall together and I make fun new discoveries.  

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

I didn’t start writing for children until I was a stay-at-home mother of three. However, I always loved reading. So when I became reacquainted with children’s literature with my own children and sold my first magazine story to The Friend, I couldn’t wait to see what else I could do. I knew I was on the brink of an exhilarating literary journey.  

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

Each success has given me confidence to press ahead until the next success. After a while, I realized if I kept at it, my writing would improve. Manuscripts do get better. Writers do get better ideas. Manuscripts that have been rejected multiple times by others are purchased by editors who love them as much as I do.

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

I’ve recently taken up bird photography and it’s been another terrific avenue for self-expression. Up until then, I hadn’t paid much attention to birds. But once I started looking, a whole new world opened up and I had no idea about the variety of bird life that was literally in my backyard and beyond.

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

I wouldn’t call it a sacrifice. I feel as if I’ve been able to do everything I’ve wanted to do. My stay-at-home priority was raising my children and volunteering in their classrooms and at church. When time allowed, I focused on writing, which was a wonderful separate thing from my role as mom and wife. As my children became more independent, I devoted more time to writing. Like anything, you have to put in the time to succeed, and doing what I love has never felt like a sacrifice.

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

Many years ago, I attended an SCBWI writing conference where the writing team of Judith Enderle and Stephanie Gordon spoke. One of them said, “If you only knew how many times we’ve been rejected.” For some reason, that really struck a chord with me and within that one sentence was a world of knowledge. To me, it said that they generated a lot of manuscripts to be rejected so many times. It said that even successful authors are rejected. It said that if you keep writing, you will succeed. I’m a firm believer that persistence pays off.

What is your typical day like?

When my kids were little, it was catch as catch can. Now that my children are grown and off on their own, I spend a lot of time at the keyboard. (Too much!) When I’m not writing, I go on walks, photograph birds, dig in the garden, and tackle fun culinary projects as occasions arise.

Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

I love aspects about all of my books because each of them contains bits and pieces of what I thought was exciting to share with readers. I’m especially pleased with my latest release, Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg because it was so fun to write. (And who wouldn’t want to soak sweet beneath the moon and warble out a cowpoke tune?) I’m excited about the sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg that’s on the way called Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range. I can’t wait to see Michael Allen Austin’s new ootin’ tootin’ illustrations.  

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Shutta Crum

coverDozens2012Get to know Shutta…

Shutta Crum is the author of thirteen picture books, two novels, and many poems. She is also a storyteller, a public speaker and a retired librarian. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, and her articles about teaching and writing have appeared in several professional journals. Her book, THUNDER-BOMER! (Clarion) received four starred reviews and was an Amer. Library Assoc. and a Smithsonian Magazine “Notable Book,” as well as an SLJ “Best Book” of the year. MINE! (Albert A. Knopf) garnered four starred reviews and was listed in the New York Times as one of the best board books of the year. Her newest book, DOZENS OF COUSINS (Clarion) came out to glowing and starred reviews in 2013, including an extensive review in the NY Times. In 2010 she was invited to tour American military base schools across Japan and talk to children about writing. In 2005, she was honored by being one of eight authors invited to read at the White House for the Easter Egg Roll. And in 2002 she was awarded the Michigan Library Association’s Merit Award as the State’s youth librarian of the year. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Polar bears. I’m fascinated by how graceful they are—especially under water. I LOVE to go to places where I can view them through glass as they swim by.  To go to Churchill in Canada and see the polar bears is one of the top destinations on my “bucket list.”  And now there are great concerns about their future. Very sad. My book CLICK! is about polar bears. It is one of my two books published by a Canadian publisher. And, of course, Phillip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS series is a favorite due to the presence of polar bears and their cold world.

Have you ever felt enlightened by an event in the past that has given you a new perspective on life? 

Years ago I was traveling in England and I was coming back into London via train. We were going through a dark tunnel. Suddenly there was a bright spot of light. As we drew closer I saw that it was a fire in a large metal drum. But what was so startling was that the sole person staying warm by this fire was a small boy of about 5 years dressed only in a t-shirt. He was naked from the waist down. I will never forget how my heart leapt up and I cried out. And in a flash we had zipped right past him. I wanted to scream out to stop the train—and I couldn’t, of course. His image has stayed with me many, many years. And when I speak to children I often mention him. Who was he? Why was he alone? Who had built the fire for him? When was the last time he’d eaten, or been held by someone who loved him? What has happened to him?

I’ve never been able to write about him specifically—but that image haunts me and one day I will write of him. 

Do you believe in UFOs?

Not sure if I believe we have been visited from afar. But I do believe in life on other planets. How could there NOT be? The universe is so vast and we are so insignificant in comparison.  But I used to live on a farm on a road where UFOs were sighted in the 1960s, so I wrote a poem about it. You may reprint it if you wish. 

 

In a House above which UFOs were Sighted in 1966

(First published in AAR2.) 

 

The rumble of a jet reverberates off low clouds.

I close my eyes and strain to hear, cloaked within—stealthier sounds.

 

At my side there is the sound of your breathing.

First the sibilant intake, then the buffalo-ing exhale.

And there—that’s the cat alighting between us.

He takes two turns across the foot of our bed

complaining about his arthritis. Not a perfect landing.

 

Not . . . say . . . like the shimmery touch

of silver sliding through soy beans.

 

And surely that—Listen! That’s just the maple tree

dropping a branch upon the roof, don’t you think?

Or the house planting itself deeper into the soil—

into land settled by honest Lutheran farmers.

Big, solid men. Plain-speakers who offer travelers a beer.

 

By my bed lies the newspaper clipping.

It was forty years ago the lights touched down.

Washington experts said it was swamp gas.

 

Surely “the experts” know how swamp gas graces

a German farmer’s fields like gossamer and rises again

in a fantasy of colored lights flickering against moon-lit metal?

The farmers shook their heads. They know what they saw

—plain as weather.

 

Tonight, the jet’s rumblings have flattened out and moved off.

I stare out the bedroom window into the scintillescent dark.

Fireflies are bejeweling the maple tree as though expecting royalty. 

 

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

I once participated in soaping a store’s windows on Halloween. We were caught, of course, and we had to wash it off.  My first foray into getting my work out to “my public.”  Hah! 

tumblr_lprqsrJpfm1qk4j3pWriting Questions

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?

I read, read, read.  I am always so amazed at the techniques other authors use to achieve a depth of feeling in their books. It invigorates me when I read a really great book.

What kind of jobs did you have before your career took off?

I was a youth librarian for 24 years, and prior to that a library director. I LOVED working in a public library. The kids and families that came in were a joy to serve. And, of course, I was surrounded every day by wonderful literature! How could I not want to see one of my own books on those very same shelves one day? (And I did!)

What is your favorite accomplishment?

I was given the Michigan Library Association Award as youth librarian of the year for the State of Michigan in 2002. A real highlight in my library career.

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

Well . . .  it would have to be an investigation into who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. But as to who to interrogate?  The actor, Shakespeare, certainly. And maybe Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon, as well. 

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

To always choose kindness. I know that sounds trite.  But kindness goes a long way toward understanding. And when we understand each other we begin to appreciate our differences and to celebrate them, as well. I hope my readers sense the “heart” in my stories and that the basis of that feeling is a deep appreciation for the differences among us. How boring it would be if we all thought and felt alike!

How has personal experience influenced your writing? 

Any creative person is influenced by his or her life.  In my case storytelling was in my family’s blood long before I was born. I was born in Kentucky. And it was fortunate for me that I happened to be born in the mountains where telling “whoppers” and listening to tall tales long into the night is part of the Appalachian heritage. In those dark and scrawny hollers (narrow valleys) I’d cling to my father’s tall legs and stare wide-eyed as I listened to the hair-raising tales my relatives told. We are all big talkers in our family, and stories are the cement of generations.

What was wonderful was that no matter your age, if you had a story to tell you were given “the stage,” as it were. And everyone listened, young and old. The important thing was the story.  This still happens in our family, despite the appearance of electronics and other attention-grabbing intrusions. When someone starts telling “a good one,” all eyes switch over and a kind of holy silence descends until the (usually) uproarious conclusion. What better place to nourish a writer?

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Author Interview with Patrick Matthews

dragon-runGet to know Patrick…

Patrick Matthews is a multiple award-winning game designer, a novelist, a newspaper columnist, and a web developer. His first novel, Dragon Run, is a middle grade fantasy adventure, published by Scholastic in March of 2013. For more information, visit his website.

Quirky Questions

If you were going to spend a year in complete solitude and you could only bring one book, one CD, and one movie, what would they be?

This sounds suspiciously like a Kobayashi Maru scenario, so I’m going to take the traditional approach and cheat. My book would be a blank spiral notebook with a lot of pages (I’m guessing I’m allowed a pencil). My CD would probably be a CD that my wife made for me a while ago. It’s filled with a wide variety of songs (rock, reggae, jazz, and country) from our relationship. 

The movie’s the toughest choice. I could see going with Galaxy Quest (“Never give up. Never surrender.”) or the Princess Bride. How To Train Your Dragon has a serious appeal, as well. Probably, though, it would be Serenity. Yes, I’m a browncoat. I admit it. 

If you could have a remote control for anything, what would you choose?

I’m good with life the way it is. More control would mean less adventure, and where would the fun be in that? 

What one thing annoys you most at a restaurant?

Televisions. I realize this makes me sound like a fud, but when I go out to eat, it’s to spend time with people, not to watch television. I get that televisions have their place. Sports bars and fast food places are great examples. Where I live, though, more and more regular restaurants have started hanging televisions in the corners. It drives me crazy. I have a 9-year old and an 11-year old, and it’s hard for them to ignore a television and focus on the conversation. 

What food do you not eat enough of?

Not eat enough of? Vegetables. I’m not sure that’s going to change any time soon. What food do I want more of? Chocolate lava cake. You can always eat more chocolate lava cake. 

If you were any animal, what would you be?

I have to admit that I’ve always been fascinated by wolves. I’m not talking about the scary rip-your-throat-out image in movies and fiction, but the reality of them. I read Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat, when I was a child. I’ve been interested in them ever since. Reading about them in the context of Native American folklore has only intrigued me more. One of these days, I’d love to write a book involving wolves, but I don’t yet feel like I could do them justice. 

…and I just realized that your question was what animal I would be. I think I’d go with a falcon of some kind, because the allure of flying is just too appealing to pass up. 

What irritates you the most in a social situation?

I’m not sure if this exactly answers the question, but I had a truly awkward moment at a gathering earlier this year. I was at a party when a guy I’d never met before introduced his wife to me. “Hey,” he said. “This is my wife. She’s been trying to write a book for three years now. I bet you could help her.” Then he walked away. 

The woman and I looked at each other, kind of stunned. Finally, I said, “Actually, it took me longer than three years.” 

What do Martians do for fun on Mars?

Hang socks to dry on the Martian Rover, just out of view of its cameras.

If you opened the freezer right now, what would you love to find?

Ice cream Snickers bars. I love those things.

pat_headshotWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I think a book is finished, I send it out to five readers, five fresh pairs of eyes that have never seen it before. When I hear back from those five, I examine their feedback. After examining their feedback, I make edits. Hopefully, those edits are small enough, that I’m able to send it to another five. I repeat this cycle until I end up with the whole team agreeing that it’s done.

What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?

I’m not sure about its impact on my work, but I definitely see it elsewhere. I think the most important aspect of the media is how it influences people’s expectations and sensitivities. For example, thirty years ago, the idea of seeing a corpse sliced open on a television show would have horrified a lot of people. Now, it’s pretty common. 

Those sorts of changes in expectations can lead an author into the trap of thinking that scenes have to be bigger and splashier in order to reach today’s reader. The better technique, I think, is to focus on the tone and experience of the book, so that the reader feels the impact of the scene regardless of what they’ve seen on television. 

Rikki Tikki Tavi is a great example. The scenes of the mongoose fighting the snake are absolutely riveting. The reader is completely engaged. It doesn’t matter that it’s just a mongoose and a snake. As a writer, we don’t have to always have the fate of the world hanging in the balance. We don’t have to pile up the dead bodies or write crazy violence. We can be better than that. 

There’s a scene in Dragon Run where a character steals clothes and food from some abandoned houses. By today’s standards, that seems minimal. The guy is poor and starving, and the houses are empty. Why not take what he needs? While speaking at schools, though, I’ve had more than a few kids question me about that specific scene. Some have been angry. Others have been wrestling with it, trying to figure out the “good” and the “bad” and decide where they stand. 

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

Organic, probably. I start every writing block by editing the previous day’s work. I edit my way through it, and by the time I get to the new stuff, I’m in full-on writing mode and ready to roll. All that editing, though, means that I do a lot of “well, that didn’t work, let me try this.” 

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was twelve, when I realized that a novel is not a one-sided conversation. Sure, the writer puts the words on the paper, but every reader experiences the story differently. It’s an unspoken conversation between two people who have never met, and that has always seemed to me to be the craziest kind of magic. 

As far as pursuing a career in writing, though, that didn’t happen until five or six years ago, when I decided to get serious about my writing.

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

It has been my experience that everyone is creative. Even people who say “I’m not very creative” or “I could never do that” invariably are doing something creative. They just don’t think of it that way. They don’t realize that they’re being creative with the jokes they tell, or the way they raise their kids, or how they make an otherwise dull day interesting. It’s all in perception. 

With that in mind, I think that “creative” people are the people who recognize their creativity and focus it on tangible results, like writing a book or designing a game. 

It’s easy to look at a book or a painting or a sculpture and say “wow, that’s creative.” It’s not so easy for a person to look at his or her own life and recognize the same level of creativity. It’s worth doing, though.

Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

Nah. I write for kids. There’s no need for me to censor anything, because I’m writing for the audience I want to be writing for. I was at a conference once where a writer told the panel that he wanted to use some inappropriate words in his middle grade book, and he challenged them to tell him why that wasn’t okay. The answer was obvious: if he was using those words, he wasn’t writing for middle grade. The fix was simply to target the book to an older demographic. 

I think, generally speaking, that the need to censor arises from a disconnect between the writer and the audience. If you feel like you’re being too constricted, change your audience. There’s an audience for everything. Just find the one that matches your writing. 

I did have one person email me a complaint about Dragon Run’s content. The main character in the book believes he was created by dragons. It’s a belief that is challenged on more than one occasion, and the e-mailer said I was encouraging kids to question their creator, and that I shouldn’t do that. Honestly, I was okay with upsetting her. I like the idea that Dragon Run might inspire people to ask more questions about their life.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Adventure! I adventure wherever and whenever possible. I do new things, go to new places, try to keep my eyes wide open. My creative juices get the most charge out of a mix of excitement and observation. There’s nothing like the rush of a new experience to generate ideas.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

I have four bits of advice. First, write without excuse or pause. Do it every day and don’t apologize for it. Second, share what you write. Find people who appreciate your writing and can give you skilled feedback. Writing in a vacuum is very much like singing in the shower: it always sounds good. Third, honor your work. When you show it to someone, don’t tell them that you didn’t have much time or that it’s not that good. Stand behind what you do. Finally, never throw anything out. Keep it all. You never know when something will be of value.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Hmm… There are so many answers to this one. Anyone could rattle off the names of famous authors. My list would include names like Mark Twain, Tolkien, Hemingway, Robert Louis Stevenson, Isaac Asimov, and Andre Norton. Of these, Andre Norton has probably been the biggest influence on me. 

Honestly, though, the biggest and most influential literary geniuses in my life have been the folks in my writing groups. Becky Stanborough comes to mind, and not just because she’s an amazing writer. She’s also the one who taught me how to critique. Linda Dunlap, Julie Compton, Geri Throne, Terri Chastain, and Dawn Rosner are all other writers that I work with. Every time I walk away from a meeting, I feel like I’ve just been to a Masters class in craft and technique. I realize that some of these names (maybe even most) won’t mean anything to your readers. Hopefully, though, my point is relevant. We don’t have to look to the heavens for geniuses. Most of the time, they’re working just as hard as we are, and are happy to work with us.

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?

When it comes to writing novels, the biggest challenge is to stay confident in what I’m producing. It’s easy to get consumed with worrying about whether or not something will be published. And if it won’t, the inner dialog goes, then why am I writing it? That’s my biggest inner demon. I don’t do things for the love of process. I have to believe in what I’m creating to stick with it, and when that belief wavers, the craft becomes difficult.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I’m not sure I picked it, so much as it picked me. I think I write for kids because my brain is still very much in kid-mode. I sit on the floor when I watch television. I love root beer floats. When I’m walking up stairs, I can’t help but stomp my feet and try to make a beat with the echo. I love discovering the quirky, funny bits of life, and am completely mystified by the “been there, done that” attitude so many adults get.

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Author Interview with Jason Chin

gravity coverGet to know Jason…

Jason Chin is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed books Gravity, Island: A Story of the GalapagosRedwoods and Coral Reefs.  His other work includes illustrations for Where Do Polar Bears Live? and Simon Winchester’s The Day the World Exploded.

Jason grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, and studied illustration at Syracuse University.  In 2001 he moved to New York City and found a job at a children’s bookstore in Manhattan.  It was through co-workers at the store that Jason found his way to his current publisher, Roaring Brook Press.

Jason’s latest book, Gravity has just been published.  His previous book, Island: A Story of the Galapagos, won the 2013 Gryphon Award from the Center for Children’s Books.  The New York Times called it “a remarkable introduction to the Galapagos,” and said that the “science is gracefully combined with superb illustrative art”.  Island has also received starred reviews from The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School and Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish could make a comeback today? 

I wish there were more independent book-sellers in business. 

Why would somebody choose not to date you? 

I’m married. 

What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason? 

A two dollar bill.  I’ve had it in my wallet for twenty years, and I’m not really sure why. 

If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees? 

A nap room. 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up? 

Ice cream. 

What one thing is unfortunately true? 

Global climate change caused by human activities is destroying life all over our planet, and it will lead to increased human suffering in the future.  The tragic thing is that we could mitigate the damage, but so far we have chosen not to. 

What one rule do you frequently disregard? 

Ending a sentence with a preposition. 

What do you never leave home without? 

My pants. 

If you could pass along a piece of wisdom to future generations, what would it be? 

Practice empathy every day. 

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented? 

A singular gender neutral third-person pro-noun. 

What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of? 

There is an animal called the water bear that can survive in the vacuum of space. 

islandWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When the deadline arrives (or has passed). I usually revise and revise and revise until it’s time to hand the book in. Then I resign myself to the fact that I’ve done the best that I can in the time allotted.  I’ll never hand in something that I don’t think is good, but there’s always something that I wish I had done better.

When I get the book in hand a year later, however, I’m able to look at it with fresh eyes and usually the things that bugged me don’t bug me so much anymore. When I handed in GRAVITY, I was really worried that the art wasn’t good enough, but now I’m quite happy with it.

What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?

I’m not sure how it impacts my creative process, but I’ll tell you a little story about GRAVITY. When I was making the cover, I mocked up a design to show my publisher. After I painted the cover, my editor decided to use the same typeface that I had used in the mockup.  A few months later I was sent a picture from my editor with the message “Have you seen this?” It was the movie poster for a new movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney called Gravity!  The similarities were uncanny: an astronaut floating above the earth with the sun rising in the background – and they had used the exact same typeface (or something extremely similar)!

I don’t know how all the media surrounding the movie will affect my book’s chances (if it affects them at all), but I’m pretty sure I’ll spend the rest of the year explaining that my book has nothing to do with the movie.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue a career in art, and I was drawn to children’s books for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is that I had a mentor in high school who was a children’s book illustrator. I didn’t think I would be an author, too, but after illustrating several books I decided to try writing my own picture book. Luckily, people liked REDWOODS, so I was given the opportunity to do more.  CORAL REEFS, ISLAND and GRAVITY followed and I’m not planning to stop writing any time soon.

Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

No.  If I want to tell the reader something, I won’t take it out of the book for fear of offending someone.  An example is at the end of CORAL REEFS, where I talk about how the burning of fossil fuels is destroying reefs.  This will probably make readers sad, but I felt I would be doing a disservice to the reader if I didn’t include it. That’s not to say that I don’t consider my audience when I make my books.  I think a lot about the reader and this informs the creative process.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

I read a lot, which tends to help and I always think about my books while exercising.  I never know when a good idea is going to arrive, so I just try to be ready to catch it when it does.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Read a lot and write every day.  The same goes for illustrating: look at a lot of art and draw (or paint, or do whatever you do) every day.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Philip Pullman.

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

All things considered, I’ve had an easier time than most. That’s not to say it’s been easy, but I’ve had a lot of help along the way and have had a lot of lucky breaks.  I wouldn’t feel right talking about obstacles when mine have been small compared to what so many authors have had to overcome.

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?

The biggest challenge is overcoming self-doubt.  Luckily, my books have been well reviewed, so that helps a lot.  But when I’m making a book, there is always a point where I’m frustrated and I think I’m doing a terrible job.  It happens every time, and it’s just something that I have to work through.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I just write about what I like to read about. I wrote my first book after reading an article that really captured my imagination and I thought it would be cool to share what I had learned with kids.  REDWOODS was a success, and I’ve been writing about science and nature since then.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

I mentioned before that I had a mentor in high school who was a children’s book illustrator.  Knowing her was transformative.  She showed me what the life of an illustrator was like, she taught me about art and about being an artist.  One of the most important things she told me to do was to read, and that changed my life and my art.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Laura Resau

whatTheMoonSawGet to know Laura Resau… 

Laura Resau is the award-winning author of seven highly acclaimed young adult and children’s novels–What the Moon Saw, Red Glass, Star in the Forest, The Queen of Water, and the Notebooks series (Delacorte/Random House). She draws inspiration from her time abroad as a cultural anthropologist, ESL teacher, and student. Loved by kids and adults alike, her novels have garnered many starred reviews and honors, including the IRA YA Fiction Award, the Américas Award, and spots on Oprah’s Kids’ Book Lists. Praised for its sensitive treatment of immigration and indigenous people’s issues, Resau’s writing has been called “vibrant, large-hearted” (Publishers’ Weekly on Red Glass) and “powerful, magical” (Booklist on What the Moon Saw). Resau lives with her husband, young son, and beagle in Fort Collins, Colorado. She donates a portion of her royalties to indigenous rights organizations in Latin America. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What’s your idea of a good time?

Traveling to new places, discovering new foods, bumbling through new languages, meeting new people.  The unfamiliar stimulates my creativity.  Exploring makes me feel alive, even though it’s not always easy or even pleasant (especially when it involves politely nibbling at goat innards). 

Name one thing that drives you crazy. 

Those insanely loud electric hand dryers that are invading public restrooms everywhere like evil, shrieking hyenas.  *shudder*  (Thanks for letting me vent about that!) 

Name one thing you can’t live without.

A notebook.  I carry one everywhere.  There’s one in nearly every room in my house.  My notebooks contain the seeds of all the stories I’ve written.  They’re like a non-mushy extension of my brain. 

What’s your most embarrassing moment? 

Oh, how to choose?!  Well, when I was in Ecuador to research The Queen of Water, my co-author, Maria Virginia, convinced me to dress up in her indigenous Otavaleña clothing for a night on the town.  She wrapped the skirt fabric around me really tightly, then tied a strip of cloth around the waist, which nearly cut off my circulation.  At the restaurant, before I dug into a giant plate of chicken and potatoes, I begged her to loosen the fabric a little so that I could fit food inside my stomach.  She agreed, but warned me, “Laurita!  Listen, this is very important!  Before you stand up, you must tighten the skirt up again.  Or else it will fall right off!”  So, I devoured my dinner, and then… you can probably tell where this is headed… I stood up and started walking.  And there, in the middle of the restaurant, the skirt unspooled and fell into a heap at my feet.  (And I wasn’t even wearing my nice underwear.) 

Who was your favorite teacher? 

I spent my junior year of college abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France.  And there, I had a class called something like 18th Century Fantastical French Literature.  It was taught in the cave (basement) of a building that was even older than the stories we studied (and it really did feel like an actual cave down there).  A small, bouncy, white-haired man with a neat, white triangular beard taught the course, and he was bursting with enthusiasm. On one of my creative writing assignments, he wrote, “Tu devrais etre écrivaine.”  You should be a writer. And oui!–he tapped into what I wanted more than anything, to be a writer.  He was the teacher who recognized that passion in me (even with my flawed French) and stated my path, quite simply. 

What is your earliest childhood memory

Hanging out under tables that felt like secret little worlds.  Oh, don’t you miss that? 

The-Jade-Notebook-cover-high-resWriting Questions

What’s your favorite writing quote? 

There are so many! I have them copied into my notebooks, taped around my writing space, drifting around on scraps of paper.  Different quotes speak to me more at different times, but one that often comes to mind is this:  “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” – Jack Gilbert, poet.  When I’m writing, I often have the feeling that I’m diving down deep and searching for magical treasures to bring back to the surface.  And it’s helpful to remember that the treasures themselves are rooting for me to succeed in this mission. I frequently struggle with self-doubt and anxiety, and this quote itself gives me courage. 

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

I see writing as a dance between your dream mind and your rational mind.  The material emerges from that deep, mysterious place… then you use a more analytical part of your brain to shape it into the story it wants to be.  I try to let the dream mind lead this dance—it’s much wiser! 

What inspired you to write your first book? 

Oaxaca. 

Do you have a specific writing style? 

I love to weave the sensual and spiritual and socio-cultural together in my stories.  I can’t resist adding sprinkles of magic and humor and romance, too. 

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? 

I’ve struggled with anxiety all my life, so it’s not surprising that insecurities and self-doubt creep into my writing process.  It feels like the anxiety is a shape-shifting monster that’s always disguising itself in new forms.  I’ve learned to just briefly acknowledge the latest monstrous form, and then let it go so I can get on with my writing.  I try not to even engage with the latest monster.  I say, “Oh, hi, I see you, monster, and I know what you are and I don’t need you. Bye.”  And I turn away.  (Easier said than done, of course.) (And I don’t say it out loud in public because I’m not quite that crazy.) 

What comes easily?

I pretty much have to write at least a few times a week if I want to be in a decent mood. I feel yucky, emotionally and physically, if I go too long without writing– I feel grouchy and head-achey and un-alive.   So I’ve learned to make writing an essential part of my daily routine. And usually, I do love writing, especially that stage where I feel like I’m swimming deep and encountering a whole mother lode of sparkling treasures… 

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