Interview with Bestselling Author Royce Buckingham

The-Terminals-–-Royce-Scott-BuckinghamGet to know Royce…

Royce Buckingham is a Washington writer from Bellingham with an English degree from Whitman College and a Law degree from the University of Oregon. Royce worked hard for 13 years before he sold his first novel, DEMONKEEPER. When DEMONKEEPER debuted, Royce made reading lists, had his novel published in more than ten countries and hit the bestseller list overseas. He has now sold ten books, including DEMONEATER and DEMONOCITY, available on Kindle. His latest hardback in the U.S. is THE DEAD BOYS, a ghost story set in the nuclear town of Richland, WA, where Royce grew up. His German novel, DIE KARTE DER WELT, has been on the German bestseller list for over three months. His first YA book, THE TERMINALS, debuts in October/2014. For more info, visit his website

Quirky Questions 

What’s your idea of a good time?

Wouldn’t you like to know! Okay, maybe some futsal or basketball followed by a pizza at Rudy’s or La Fiamma.

Ever been told you look like someone famous?

Yes, but they didn’t specify who. So I just assumed it was Tom Cruise, since he was the girls’ favorite at the time.

Name one thing you can’t live without.

My wife and my boys.

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

“You must be rich.” So not true. I’m a children’s author, for gosh sakes!

What did you wish to become when you grew up?

Professional athlete. Whatever sport. Didn’t matter, as long as I was awesome and famous. Either that or an archaeologist.

What’s your motto in life?

Never give up. Never surrender.

What’s the funniest prank ever played on you?

My friends and I drove to the cemetery in high school on the scariest night ever. I got out. They drove off. A “funny later” sort of thing.

What’s the naughtiest thing you did in school?

Wouldn’t you like to know. Okay, maybe stealing a cattle crossing sign and putting it on the sorority bathroom door. Or streaking across campus with a bunch of other stupid college kids wearing only hats, scarves, and sneakers.

Describe your ideal day.

Time with wife, time with our boys, time writing, time playing sports with friends, time watching Game of Thrones (or a really awesome new movie), and sleep.

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

“Cattle Xing”. Serves me right.

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

The shark from JAWS. It’s my favorite movie.

What’s one quality you really appreciate in a person?

Tactful honesty.

What classifies as a boring conversation? What about an interesting one?

Boring = not funny, not informative, no human connection/bonding.

Interesting = emotional, informative, makes me feel that I’ve connected with another human being.

Earliest childhood memory?

Watching my best friend from next door ride off in his station wagon when his family moved away. It turned out he was only moving across town, but it seemed like a long way when I was a preschooler.

Favorite board game?

Currently, Ticket to Ride or Munchkin. Classically, Stratego or Risk. Competitively, Scrabble.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

I dunno…kale? That or all those artificial fatty things that are killing us.

7327321Writing Questions 

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

My all-star Seattle screenwriting group. I was recruited for this elite group in the 90’s. There were maybe ten of us coming and going over the years, and I think five of us sold scripts to Hollywood eventually (including me). If you know the odds of doing that (from Seattle, no less), you can appreciate the caliber of writers I was hooked up with. Thankful to this day. In fact, we just threw a reunion party for our group at the house of one of our core members, George Wing.

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 was about to give it up after a decade of not getting published or selling a screenplay (which I was writing many of). I even told my wife. Then Microsoft asked me to make up a fantasy storyline for an Xbox video game they were designing. Uh…yes please! I quit my job as a lawyer pretty much that day. I did go back to lawyering, but that’s a long story.

Any advice for other writers?

Keep your plots focused and clear. Don’t wander. Start with a great concept. Be efficient with your words. Revise, revise, revise.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I wanted to write a medieval fantasy. Twenty years later, (in 2013), my first medieval fantasy, Die Karte Der Welt, came out in Germany…and it’s a bestseller. 

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

My plots are focused and clear. I don’t wander. I have great concepts. I am super-efficient with my words. I revise with a fine toothed comb.

What books have most influenced your life?

The Phantom Tollbooth, Conan the Barbarian, Where the Red Fern Grows, early Stephen King stuff, The Elements of Style.

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

My latest American book is THE DEAD BOYS. It’s a Sasquatch reading list nominee (and a Sunshine State list nominee). Also a junior library guild pick. So…nope. Or maybe I’d change the sales figures by adding two zeros.

Anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?

I have trouble describing things in rich detail. Don’t know why. But dang, I’m clear and efficient with words. My book THE DEAD BOYS is a super-spare middle grade ghost story that’s getting rave reviews and is on Washington’s 2014 Sasquatch Reading List. If you’re a middle grader, vote for it!

Favorite author? What really strikes you about their work?

I’m grooving on George RR Martin right now. He kills his protagonists and somehow it’s okay. I’m currently working on doing more killing. I have a YA novel coming out October/2014 called THE TERMINALS. As implied by the title, there’s lots of characters getting bumped off.

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Author Interview with Liesl Shurtliff

jackGet to know Liesl… 

Liesl Shurtliff was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the mountains for her playground. Growing up, Liesl was shy about her name. Not only did it rhyme with weasel, she could never find it on any of those personalized key chains in gift shops. But over the years she’s grown to love having an unusual name—and today she wouldn’t change it for the world!

Before she became a writer, Liesl graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in music, dance, and theater. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and three young children, where she still dreams of the mountains. Rump is her first novel. Her second novel, Jack, will release April 2015. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

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

Switzerland.

Which of the seven dwarfs describes you best?

Grumpy. I’m not mean, but my natural disposition is just a little grumpy, and sometimes I want to punch super happy people in the nose! (Okay, I’m a little mean.)

If you could have a lead role in a remake of a movie, which movie would you star in? 

Maria in The Sound of Music. I want to twirl on the top of that mountain and sing! Then again, nobody could ever trump Julie Andrews, so why bother?

Favorite fictional villain?

The Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

What vegetable do you most resemble?

An artichoke. A little tough in some spots, a bit sharp in others, but the heart is tender and delicious.

Is your glass half full or half empty? What’s inside your glass?

Half empty, and in the glass is my morning green drink. 

15766776Writing Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

Writing is something I’ve always loved, but never thought of pursuing as a career until I graduated from college. For fun, I took a course on writing for children, and had the opportunity to work with Kirby Larson. She was a fantastic mentor and I absolutely fell in love with writing. I started submitting to magazines and newspapers, and as I had more success I began to feel confident that this was something I could do for a job.  

What books are you reading right now?

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves. I love her writing and stories. I’ve been reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar to my kids, which was one of my favorites as a kid, and it’s just as delightful to read now than it was then.

Can you share a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? How did you find the motivation to continue?

Quite early in my writing endeavors I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. It was so frustrating to have what I thought were such amazing ideas, only to have them fall completely flat on the page. I didn’t have the skills necessary to execute my ideas well, and I felt like such a failure. But I hate failure, and I detest giving up, so it was my stubbornness that kept me going. I believed that I had the talent, but not the skills. I committed myself to writing every day for a year, even if it was painful. Even if it felt like everything I wrote was awful. (And lots of stuff I wrote was horrible.) But I got better. I kept going, and now I know that most great writing comes from simply sticking with it. It doesn’t make it any easier, but I know what it takes and have more confidence. 

What’s your favorite writing quote?

“Don’t listen to advice. Not even mine.” –Karen Cushman

Any advice for other writers?

If you can’t listen to the above advice, find joy in the process, even when it’s excruciating.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I’ve always been fascinated by fairy-tales and their ability to span generations and cultures. Also, they’re so quirky and bizarre! The tale of Rumpelstiltskin particularly fascinates me because although he is the title character, we know next to nothing about him. Where does he come from? How did he get his name? Why is it so important? How did he learn to spin straw to gold and why on earth does he want a baby? So I set out to write a story from his point of view and answer these questions. I went the extra mile and decided I wanted Rumpelstiltskin to be not only understood, but also loveable. I found the center and voice of his story when I shortened his name to the bare minimum. How can you not love a runty fellow called Rump?

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

I think I’m damn good at bringing together humor and emotional depth. Funny doesn’t always have to be shallow, and depth needn’t always be so serious. I think I bring the two together in a natural way. It’s nothing I’ve worked on; it’s very natural to my own character.

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

Sure. Though I love and adore my books, there are a few things I wish I could go back and change, but they’re small things and it doesn’t bug me that much. 

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

Drafting is torture! Ideas are the only things that come easily. Revising isn’t easy, but it’s satisfying. Execution is a beast. 

Who is your favorite author? What is it that really strikes you about their work?

Oh, must I choose one? This probably changes every day, but I’m going to go with Roald Dahl today. He’s such a fantastic storyteller, such vibrant plots and characters, and he’s not afraid to go overboard with the villains. Such despicable beings, and yet we love them all the more for it.  

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Author Interview with Cheryl Johnson

Mish Front Cover  120Get to know Cheryl…

Cheryl Johnson, a lifelong Maine resident, has been interested in art and writing since childhood. She graduated from the Maine College of Art in 2000. She has published eight children’s books that she wrote and illustrated, with more projects in mind. She is currently a puzzle designer for a wooden jigsaw puzzle company based in Vermont, but her first love has always been illustration. She is active in her town’s art guild and exhibits her wall art in several venues. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

What’s the biggest inconvenience about the place you’re living? 

I live in an old three story Victorian house in a small town in Maine. The biggest issue for me is in the winter time. It’s cold. My studio on the third floor has no central heating and I rely on a small electric unit to thaw me during the long winter months. My left side is tolerably warm but my right side, including my dominant drawing hand is usually frozen. I love my home, I raised 4 children there but the challenges of heating and maintenance are pretty daunting at times, given my small income. But I choose to live here. It suits me. It’s big enough to hold my dreams. 

Growing up, what was your favorite meal?

I know what it wasn’t! Pea soup. When we had a ham for Sunday dinner, I knew I was in trouble. On Monday, there would be nasty pea soup for supper and I hated it. My father was a military man and from the old school where children ate whatever was placed in front of them, even if it gagged one to death. I like being a grown up. I haven’t eaten pea soup in years.

What do you do every day without fail?

I walk three miles. I breathe deeply. I eat as healthy as I can. I find reasons to be grateful, even if the furnace breaks down or the toilet won’t flush properly. I write, draw, and listen to music. I dream every day. Anything is possible if I work hard and stay focused on my dreams.

If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be?

I would completely obliterate all weapons of war, and the thoughts and memories of them as well. People in conflict would have to talk or duke it out instead. Much more personal, much less messy.

What makes you want to throw up?

Any story, picture or audio recording of violence makes me physically sick. It’s hard for me to understand that some people consider violence a form of entertainment. I will never get it.

What was the worst grade you ever received? 

In high school, I got an “F” in Geometry. It was the only class I ever failed to get a passing mark. I failed the course even after completing weeks of extra credit and after-school help sessions. Arithmetic and I are not on friendly terms, either. I’m fine with adding and subtracting–even fractions are a piece of cake. But I’ll leave the rest to the engineers and rocket scientists.

What song could you listen to on repeat?

I am a music addict. At 18, I saved my money and flew to London to go find Donovan back in the 70′s. I loved his music so much. Still do. Never did meet him. It’s on my bucket list. But, back to the question, I suppose right now the answer would be Paul McCartney’s Venus and Mars. It makes me cry. “Standing in the hall of the great cathedral-waiting for the transport to come”. I have always felt like an alien on this earth.

If you could make up a school subject, what would it be?

Empathy. Pure and simple. It was the one trait I hoped to instill in my own children.

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

I am in direct opposition mentally and spiritually with anyone who justifies hatred as a way of being in this world. I’m not saying that I’ve never felt hate, but I immediately examine my feelings, try to understand why I am responding in that way, and start actively nurturing compassion for my so-called enemies. I don’t want anything evil happening to anyone, whether or not I agree with their choices or belief systems. It’s taken me some years to come to this place of acceptance, to learn to let things go. I believe I’m a better, happier person because of it.

Pobkin CoverIllustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I don’t get them. I never have. Well, at least not yet. Years ago when my children were little and all still at home, the brief blocks of time that I got to draw or write were few and far between. I dove on them as voraciously as a starving vulture, and filled an hour here or there with all the pent up creative energy I could. My books Mish and Pobkin were conceived and drawn in a single night of frenzy as the kids slept. Like a dam bursting. Now I have ALL the time in the world that I need and it’s a profound joy. I have a sunami of ideas coming out of me all the time, every day, every minute. I have a lot of time to make up. I hope I have some years left so I can do half of what I want to. I have no regrets having children, but they were my main focus for a large chunk of my life.

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

Yes. They are always completely done in my head when I start to draw and write. At least in theory. I do, however, add lots of details as I move through the process.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

When I’m on my daily walk, I constantly get great ideas. The last four books came to me on my walks. I should carry a pen and paper because I’ve had to scratch notes into the sides of the road’s shoulders in the sand to remember an inspiration. I get home, then go back with the car to read my note to myself. I HATE losing a great idea!

Who or what has helped you persevere through the challenges?

I’ve persevered because I’ve always believed that I have something valuable to share. Even when I wasn’t actively pursuing an artistic career, it was always on the back burner. My grandmother, mother, sister and brother, (now all passed away), were all instrumental. My mother was a third grade teacher for many years and she kept urging me to get my books published. Thirty years ago it was much more difficult, as I had no contacts and no resources. I sent Mish out to about twelve publishing houses and my book was rejected by every one. They were not looking for new authors. I wish my mom could be here now and see the eight books I’ve published since last fall. She would be so proud. 

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

I’d have to be blind to stop drawing. If I lost my right arm, I’d learn how to use my left. If I lost both arms, I’d learn to draw with my mouth or my toes. But if I were blind, I’d continue to write. I’ve ALWAYS written stories all my life. So I’d be cool with that.

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

I don’t think I’ve sacrificed anything. Maybe I’ve sacrificed the regular paycheck that I used to get working as a cake decorator or a waitress in a diner. I believe that if I follow my joy, it will work out. I believe I was created to do precisely what I’m doing. Someday I’ll make the money I need to stay warm in January and to pay off my student loans. It will be by drawing and writing, NOT by waiting tables or scrubbing pots in the kitchen of some restaurant. I don’t regret doing those jobs and I don’t think less of myself for doing what I needed to. But I want to draw. That’s truly what I want to do.

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

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” –Oscar Wilde

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

Be excellent to the earth and each other. It’s the only way.

When did you realize you had a gift for illustrating?

I realized I wanted to draw when I was around ten. There was a girl at my summer camp who could draw women and men out of fashion magazines beautifully. I remember looking at her perfect pencil sketches and thinking: “I want to draw like her! I could do that!” So I started practicing more and more. I drew the Marlboro Man off the TV guide, the Beatles, and Donovan from my older sister’s magazines. That little girl at Camp never knew how instrumental she was in encouraging my desire to be an artist. 

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

My house is messy and neglected most of the time. I’d rather draw. I do exactly what I MUST do in order to not live in total squalor. I cook, wash dishes, shop for food, do laundry, scrub bathrooms, feed the cats, change bed sheets. That’s about it. My husband is patient and supporting. I feel very guilty sometimes but not too much most of the time. I spent years cleaning, cooking, diapering, and working minimum wage jobs in order to feed my kids and keep a roof over our heads. It’s my turn to fulfill my destiny now. Someday I’ll be able to afford a maid perhaps. I like a clean house. I’ll love her to death and pay her well. Until then, I’ll draw on the dust on the coffee table as I walk by on my way to my studio.

What is your typical day like?

I get up around 7 am unless I’ve drawn until 2 am that morning. Then I may sleep til 9. I walk three miles, eat a quick breakfast, then work in my studio. Lots of music and good energy there. I’m a bit lonesome sometimes but it’s the price I pay to get my work created. I use social media to stay connected to the outside world and to share what I’m working on. I’m friends with lots of other artists so it’s like hanging out with cool coworkers. It helps relieve the sense of being alone all day. Then my husband comes home from work and we eat dinner together. It’s a good life. 

Do you have any family members who are writers or illustrators?

No one in my family history were writers. My grandmothers, parents, and even my older sister journaled, but no one chose to go any further. I had a great-great aunt who painted wonderful landscapes in the 1900′s. I never met her but I have some examples of her work and they’re lovely. I’m the first children’s book illustrator and writer. My own daughter; however, self-published two children’s books. I’d like to think it’s because of my influence.

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

I love all my books but Sidley’s Story is my favorite so far. He was born in London, and that has a personal attachment for me. He’s a survivor and proactive. I feel a significant connection and affinity to his character. I cannot converse in Latin, though, without the help of Google translator.

How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre?

I started writing and illustrating at a late age. I guess I’m the Grandma Moses of the children’s book world. It doesn’t bother me though. I’ve been waiting so long to do this. I feel like my life is just starting! I don’t know much about the in’s and out’s of this business, so everything I do is a first for me. I know I’ve made mistakes and I will certainly keep making different ones but I’m not afraid.

When do you feel most energized?

I feel very energized most of the time, but especially when I get a stupendous idea. (Or what I think is a stupendous idea). I can hardly wait to start drawing and fleshing out a new story. It’s SO exciting. Better than fireworks!

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

That would be a big YES! The images I create live in my head first, swimming in and out of my brain’s electrical  currents. I just coax them out so the rest of the world can see them.

The Three Mishkateers

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Author Interview with Sarvenaz Tash

MapmakerGhost_cataGet to know Sarvenaz…

Sarvenaz Tash was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, NY. She received her BFA in Film and Television from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. This means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, copywriting, and professional tweeting. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. The Mapmaker and the Ghost is her debut novel. For more info, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

All of the MG books I read and loved as a child, especially those by Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary and Ellen Raskin. I spent so much of my childhood getting lost in books that the bug to write books of my own infected me from very early on.

What books are you reading right now?

I’m working on Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It’s one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for a long, long time. I haven’t gotten very far yet. I can see why it’s brilliant but, man, is it a challenging read! I love switching up genres and high-brow, low-brow books on a regular basis. After this one, I plan on going through a steady diet of light romances! (In fact, I am extremely excited about the upcoming new Bridget Jones book.)

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

One of the first people outside my family to support my writing was my screenwriting professor at NYU, Lamar Sanders. He taught one of the very first classes I ever took there as a freshman. It was called Storytelling Strategies and looked at story structure through classic mythologies. It was a wonderful, wonderful class and he was so encouraging. I don’t know if I would have started the journey to believing I could really be a writer if it wasn’t for him.

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

I think the thing that comes easiest to me is dialogue. For one, I had a lot of practice with it when I was screenwriting. And, for another, my characters tend to talk to me easily. (They don’t tend to do what I want them to in order to move the plot along, but, boy, are they chatty!) A really pivotal dialogue scene, or a really funny one, are some of my favorite things to write.

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

Fantasy mentor? Without a doubt, J.K. Rowling. Not only are her books brilliant, incomparable masterpieces, but I find she is also so admirable as a human being, especially one who has been reluctantly thrust into the spotlight. Someone who is truly full of grace, talent, intelligence and generosity: what more could you ask for in a writer?

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?

There are lots of things I find challenging. Plotting is one. I usually know the beginning and end of my story, but figuring out the middle is often one of my biggest challenges. I outline to do it, but I also hate the outline process with a passion for this reason.

Another challenge sometimes is finding the motivation to sit and write at all. Especially when I’m stuck on a plot point (see above). Sometimes opening up the document on my computer is half the battle.  

Coffee or tea?

Definitely coffee, even though I’m Persian and tea is basically the 5th food group. My parents have tea 4-5 times a day. But I’ve always liked the taste of coffee, and coffee ice cream has been my very favorite for as long as I can remember.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Pete Hautman

9780763654054_e0120Get to know Pete…

Pete Hautman is the author of more than twenty novels for adults and teens, including the 2004 National Book Award winner Godless, Los Angeles Book Prize winner The Big Crunch, and three New York Times Notable Books: Drawing Dead, The Mortal Nuts, and Rash.

His “young adult” novels range from science fiction (Rash, Mr. Was, Hole in the Sky, and The Obsidian Blade) to mystery (Blank Confession) to contemporary drama (Godless, Sweetblood) to romantic comedy (The Big Crunch, What Boys Really Want.)

With novelist, poet, and occasional co-author Mary Logue, Hautman divides his time between Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Stockholm, Wisconsin. His latest book is The Klaatu Terminus, which is the final book in the Klaatu Diskos trilogy. For more info, visit his website and blog.

Quirky Questions 

Have you been told you look like someone famous?

I used to get told often that I looked like John Cusak, but John and I seem to be aging in different directions, so I don’t get that anymore.

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

It would be a single thin black line bisecting my entire body, including my face, vertically. This is why I will never get a tattoo.

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

That will forever remain a secret.

Do you believe in UFOs?

I believe some flying objects are unidentified. Do I think they are extraterrestrials? Nah.

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

A recurring magic door dream. I turned that dream into a novel called Mr. Was.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

You mean if I was the Supreme Ruler of Planet Earth? Either whale meat or Pepsi-Cola, depending on my mood.

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

Same as the dumbest thing I ever did…

71EhsADeVqL._SL1000_Writing Questions

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

I proved to be incompetent at everything else I tried.

How has personal experience influenced your writing?

In every way imaginable.

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

I do interviews for book-related websites. Excuse me, I’m feeling the urge to write…

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

Same path, but I would walk faster, and be nicer to the people I met along the way.

What do you do to get into your writing zone?

I do not have a writing zone. I don’t know what that is. Is it like the Twilight Zone? I write when I have run out of other interesting things to do. There is no zone.

What is your favorite accomplishment?

To have maintained a great relationship with the woman I love for more than twenty-five years. Yeah, I know, that’s boring. But seriously, it matters way more than the other stuff.

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

Oh yes, I certainly do! My books are filled with secrets. Most of them will never be noticed by most readers, but they are there, lurking. My recent books, the Klaatu Diskos trilogy, are filled with obscure sci-fi and literary references, but if you don’t “get” them, you would never know they are there.

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

Uni.

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

I hope so! Otherwise, what is the point of experiencing anything?

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

Laziness.

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

I am fond of Dadaist art. I would have liked to hang out with Marcel Duchamp.

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

Not me!

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

Are you asking me to choose my own earworm? No thank you!

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Author Interview with Nancy Castaldo

unnamedGet to know Nancy…

Nancy Castaldo is a former environmental educator and author of many notable nature books for children, including Keeping Our Earth Green and River Wild. Her latest, Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World has received a starred review from Kirkus and is due out from Houghton Mifflin July 2014. She is the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Eastern NY Region and a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society. Find out more about Nancy and her upcoming titles at her website

Quirky Questions 

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

Quite happy in the here and now, but I’d love a pair of strap-on roller skates with four wheels. 

What is the weirdest thing about your relatives?

I plead the 5th! 

Why would somebody choose not to date you?

Because I’m happily married. 

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

My red Parker pen. I’ve had it as long as I can remember, but I rarely use it anymore. 

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

I am the boss! That’s a perk of being a writer. But if I did work in an office setting, I would offer employees a recess time that would allow them to explore their creativity, relax, or brainstorm ideas. 

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

A greenhouse. 

When do you know someone is exceptionally smart?

By the questions they ask.  

What movie character freaks you out?

Jack Torrance in The Shining played by Jack Nicholson.  My favorite horror flick! 

What is the most revolutionary TV show of all time?

MASH  – fantastic comedy, high drama, groundbreaking issues. 

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

Talking on the phone. 

What one rule do you frequently disregard?

What Girl Scout breaks the rules? 

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

Where are the Impressionists? 

What’s the most interesting trivia tidbit you can think of?

I worked on a fact book, so I’m all about trivia these days. One of my favorites is that a tiny 8 pound Chihuahua named Midge is the world’s tiniest police dog. Isn’t that fun?

10372566_10152435732097402_1015451925766158626_nWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

I don’t think a book is ever finished, but there is a point when you need to stop working on it and let it breathe without you. 

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

I wanted to become a veterinarian when I was young, but in college I realized I could combine my love of animals and the outdoors with my passion for writing. Writing enables me to explore so many different interests – how could I ever question it?  That’s not to say it isn’t difficult. Everything worthwhile involves work. Writing, like all artistic professions, is challenging, but so worth it!

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

That’s a tough question. I think everyone is creative in some way.  It might be how they handle problems or scientific experimentation. Some of us channel our creativity into an art form like music or writing. Life affords us many opportunities to be creative. Perhaps the creativity trait is the ability to look at things a bit outside the box – stretching the usual into the unusual.

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

Going outside always jumpstarts my creativity. Getting away from the phone, daily chores, and other interruptions allows my mind to play with new project ideas and unknot any blocks I might be having with works in progress.

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

READ!!!!!  So many new writers tell me they don’t have time to read. That’s like avoiding the classes before becoming a doctor or the practices before performing in a play. Reading provides the foundation for writing. Squeeze it in to your day! And learn to read like a writer. Examine the author’s sentence structure, character development and plotting.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I write in many different genres – and I love it. Each story dictates what genre it needs to be. Some are strictly nonfiction, but often my research leads me to wonder…what if? and then a fiction project emerges.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

All our life experiences inspire our work. Sometimes we can point to something directly, but sometimes it isn’t until we’re finished with a project that we recognize where the passion may have come from. My latest book, Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World, was definitely influenced by the years I volunteered in an animal shelter that euthanized too many unwanted pets. Many of the dogs I feature in this book were saved from shelters and have gone on to become amazing working dogs.

My picture book, Pizza for the Queen, was inspired by a trip to Italy. Travel often inspires ideas!

We are the sum of our experiences and our work reflects them. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Sherry Kyle

DeliveredWithLoveGet to know Sherry…

Sherry Kyle is the award-winning author of The Christian Girl’s Guide to Style, a nonfiction book for 8-12 year old girls published by Legacy Press, as well as The Girl’s Guide to Your Dream Room. Her contemporary novels, Delivered with Love and The Heart Stone, are set along the California coast where Sherry lives with her husband Douglas and their four children. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

If I could have a remote control for anything, it would probably be a stop-the-clock button for those days when I don’t have enough time to get everything done, or when I need a couple more hours of sleep. Besides carving out time to write, life is hectic with four “almost” grown kids. 

What food do you not eat enough of?

Does anyone eat enough fruits and veggies? I strive to, but it doesn’t always happen. 

If you could change one thing about airlines to make your flight more enjoyable, what would it be?

I hate to fly. I get motion sick every time, not to the point of throwing up in that handy little bag they provide, but enough to make the flight uncomfortable. The ironic thing is that growing up my dad worked for United Airlines as a computer programmer, so our family frequented the friendly skies. Even though we flew standby, I was the child who had to sit by my mom, just in case. In college, because of my dad’s “employee passes” I flew first class all the time. Now that’s the way to fly! I haven’t sat in first class since. Personally, I think all seats need to be roomy and comfortable, don’t you?  

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

The dictionary would define my writing process as seat-of-the-pants, meaning that I write based on using intuition and experience rather than a plan or method. I write by instinct. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan, but I definitely don’t plot out every scene beforehand. 

What irritates you the most in a social situation?

When I see someone in a group not joining the conversation. It happened just last week. It makes me uncomfortable, and I take it upon myself to try to draw others in. I feel responsible to make everyone feel included and happy. 

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

A gallon of Marianne’s ice cream, especially the flavor Heaven, a vanilla ice cream with brownie chunks, swirled fudge, and peanut butter. It’s dangerous!

Christian-2BGirl-2527s-2BGuideWriting Questions

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

I have the privilege to write in different genres, so I go back and forth between writing novels and books for tween girls. It keeps me energized and focused. Other than that, I attend writer’s conferences to help me keep my writing fresh and to continue learning the writing craft. 

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Writers definitely need to have a thick skin. Everyone has an opinion, and sometimes it’s helpful and other times it hurts. I received a rejection last year that flattened me. I cried for a couple of days. After the initial shock wore off, I looked at it as a new beginning, a freedom. As writers we sometimes feel that others are in control of our future, but really the author is in charge. 

What do you do to get into your writing zone?

I grab a SoBe Life Water, preferably strawberry dragonfruit, put on my reading/computer glasses (with blue tint), sit on the corner cushion of my couch with my feet propped up on an ottoman, say a prayer for God to help me put the words on the page (I need all the help I can get!), and open my laptop to my current work-in-progress. I close my eyes one more time, take a deep breath, and plunge in. After that, the next two hours fly by in a blur.

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

Dark chocolate covered cherries, rich and sweet. 

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

That it’s never too late to reconnect with someone. Forgiveness is only a phone call away. Getting to that point, however, takes more energy than most people are willing to give. I want to help change that through my books.

What made you decide to follow a creative career rather than something more stable?

I ask myself that question all the time. *laughs* The conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m wired to write. It’s my passion. When I think of cutting writing from my life, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. And when God blesses me with another contract, it becomes obvious that having a writing career is what I’m meant to do. 

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Author Interview with Heather Hepler

9780803737211BGet to know Heather… 

In fourth grade, Heather was sent to the hall for reading instead of paying attention in class. She was almost kicked off her little league softball team for hiding a novel in her glove when she was supposed to be playing right field. And more than once she missed her bus stop because she was too engrossed in reading. She’s written several books for teens and tweens, including Love? Maybe. (Dial, 2012) and The Cupcake Queen (Dutton, 2009). She love fat cats, tomato soup, building with Legos, reading, and vultures. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

Scooping the cat box. I’m not entirely sure that needs any further explanation.

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

I was reading a book on my iPad in bed and I loosened my grip just enough that the iPad tipped and knocked me square in the forehead. It hurt a lot. I had a faint bruise and a lump on my head for days afterward. I’m not sure that’s the dumbest thing, but it is the latest in a long line of dumb things I’ve done over the years. 

What’s your motto in life?

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. ~Isaiah 43:18-19

This isn’t a traditional motto, but it keeps me focused on what’s important. 

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

Blow drying my hair. I just feel like it’s this huge waste of time, but also unfortunately completely necessary. 

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

Seven of Nine from Star Trek. Of course with my dark hair, I would look ridiculous, but I love her.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Sitting at the top of the stairs in a long nightgown listening to a Christmas party my parents were having downstairs. I must have only been about two, so I’m not sure what I was doing out of bed. I just remember it seemed so cozy with the snapping of the fire and the lights on the tree.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Meat. I still remember my son’s face when I had to tell him what meat was. He was three at the time. That was the last time either of us ever ate meat.

scrambled_eggs_at_midnightWriting Questions

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

I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

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

I hope that my books are remembered – not me. I want my books to be positive and encouraging and real.

How has personal experience influenced your writing?

In every way. I always felt awkward and shy – too quiet on the outside and too loud on the inside. I write characters like that – characters I wanted to have for friends and brothers and sister.

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

I try to write every day. I make it most days. It’s like staying in touch with your friends or family. The more you know, the more connected you are and the more you care about what’s going on with them.

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

I’m not certain I really chose the path I’m on. In ways I think it chose me.

What do you do to get into your writing zone?

Make myself sit at my desk. (Laughing.) I will do just about anything some days to avoid the angst of writing, but once I sit down, I’m happy as anything to get to work.

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

Not intentionally, but people who know me are constantly seeing bits of me or even of themselves poking through.

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

No. I used to read the reviews. Yikes. I had to stop. It was making me completely insane. I have to write for me first. If I don’t, no one else will ever like it.

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Absolutely. Because it feels like I’m being rejected – the deepest parts of me. I start to doubt everything I’m doing – not just my writing. I can’t live there for very long though. I have to shake myself and get back to it.

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

Laughing. I’m not sure my career has taken off, but I’ve done a lot of different things over the years. I’ve worked as a librarian, teacher, baker, cake decorator, lifeguard, and a swim coach. I’ve scooped ice cream, made pizza, cooked in a natural foods restaurant, and waited tables. I worked construction for a while, hanging dry wall and doing trim work. I’ve also had very brief stints as a gardener and farm hand. 

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Author Interview with Megan Frazer Blakemore

91CTv4bxZYL._SL1500_Get to know Megan… 

Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of The Water Castle (Walker, 2013), Secrets of Truth & Beauty (Disney-Hyperion 2009), and The Spy Chasers of Maple Hill (Bloomsbury, 2014). She lives in Maine with her family. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

You are going to an island with no electricity or internet. What three items are you going to pack?

Well, books, of course. And a pen and paper. I feel like I could get a ton of writing done without electricity or the internet, especially if I’m alone on this island. The problem would be transferring it all into a digital file when I get back. For fun, I’ve been thinking about doing cross-stitch or other needle-work again, so maybe I would use my time on the island to start that. Oh, wait, scratch that, I would bring a snorkel set so I could see all the underwater animals.

If the past year of your life was a slogan, what would it be?

See what happens. 

If you had to assume a secret identity, what name would you choose, and what occupation would you claim to have?

Marian Paroo, and I would be a librarian. I was a school librarian for nine years, and worked in public libraries before that. If had to assume a secret identity, I would find a tiny town, preferably on the coast, with a quaint little library and work there. 

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

The first color that pops into my head is orange, which I do love. But looking at my closet leads me to believe blue or pink. I look better in blue, so let’s go with blue. 

As a teenager, what was your favorite musical group?

The Beatles. I’ve listened to them so much I almost can’t listen to them anymore. There are still a few songs that get me every time, though: “Across the Universe,” “Two of Us,” and “Blackbird.” 

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Writing Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I’ve been writing all my life – little story books and poems. But I knew I wanted to be a writer in sixth grade. Our teacher read us the first half of a scary story and then asked us to write the second half. I liked my version better than the author’s. 

What books are you reading right now?

I just finished Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, a beautiful love story about an unlikely couple who fall in love over music and comics on the school bus. It makes you swoon, and breaks your heart, but leaves you hopeful. Sometimes when I love a book this much I don’t want to read another book by that author for fear of being disappointed, but I am excited to read Fangirl

Do you have a specific writing style?

I write very, very messy first drafts that are just skeletons of what they will be. I know some authors write a lot – way more than they need – and then cut back. It’s more like I build a frame, then in revision I layer on the depth and details. Which is not to say that I don’t cut a lot – I do – but I see myself more as a builder than a pruner. 

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

The challenging part is making it through the first draft. It’s a shaky thing, and it’s hard not to judge it too harshly. You have to have faith in yourself, and the process, to believe that you aren’t just creating a pile of garbage. 

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

For middle grade, writing now, it is probably Rebecca Stead. She is spare and efficient – every word matters. Yet even with this sparseness, her worlds are lush and vibrant; the characters are alive. She also is a master of tight plotting.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Barbara Jean Hicks

tumblr_mqlctmt9vK1qg2i2lo4_1280Get to know Barbara… 

An award-winning author and professional wordsmith as well as a credentialed teacher in English/Language Arts, Barbara Jean Hicks, a.k.a storyteller “Barbara Jean, the Story Queen,” is the author of seven children’s picture books. Her first book for children, after having published thirteen romance novels and novellas, was JITTERBUG JAM: A MONSTER TALE, which received numerous starred reviews and children’s book awards, including honors as an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a Banks Street Book of Outstanding Merit, was translated into five languages and released in nine countries, and sold stage and audio rights. Her additional award-winning children’s books include THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY, MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, and her two most recent titles, FROZEN: A SISTER MORE LIKE ME and FROZEN: AN AMAZING SNOWMAN, commissioned by Disney Studios as tie-ins to the Oscar-winning animated feature film FROZEN. In addition to writing and teaching, Barbara has provided marketing copy and editing services as a freelancer for numerous trade publishers. She also loves speaking to teachers, librarians, parents and students of all ages about writing, the writing life, and the “stories behind the stories.” For more information, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What food do you not eat enough of?

Broccoli. Which is ironic, considering I wrote a book called Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli. I wonder what that makes me? 

If you were any animal, what would you be? 

My sister’s cat. I’d get special treats every day and always have a lap to sit on. 

What store is represented most in your wardrobe?

My Friends’ Closets. I have more hand-me-downs in my wardrobe than anything else. My friends pay a lot more for clothes than I ever have, and I’m fortunate to be on the receiving end when they grow tired of them. Thrift stores and consignment stores are favorites, too. 

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?

Book: Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O’Donohue. Music: Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies with orchestration by Claude Debussy. Movie: How can I say anything other than Disney’s Frozen?! 

Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be?

Sneezy. I get sneezing fits almost every day, and my sneezes are not delicate. One former partner accused me of permanently damaging his ear drums. 

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

Seat-of-the-pantser: a writer who lets stories happen rather than planning them out ahead of time. 

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

A pint of Häagen Dazs Bourboun Pecan Praline ice cream. 

Secret Life of Walter KittyWriting Questions

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

Depending on where I am in the writing process—free writing, visualization, going for a walk, looking at paintings or photographs, reading poetry. It also helps to talk aloud to an animal. One summer I stayed with a friend in the California foothills and walked in the woods every morning with her dog Daisy, who listened well and gave marvelous feedback.

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

I have a strong need for variety, change and flexibility, and writing allows for that. I taught for several years, and I love teaching—but not everything that goes along with a teaching job. Writing and speaking in schools as a visiting author is perfect for me. I get to be creative both on the page and on the stage in ways that feel very satisfying. Plus, I just don’t like other people telling me what to do!

Who do you consider a literary genius?

At the top of the list: Will Shakespeare. In the running: Omar Khayyam, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Robert Browning, Robert Frost,H.D.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Children’s picture books are my current genre, but not my first. I wrote short stories as a kid and poetry and song lyrics when I was in high school. My first published work was traditional romance, then inspirational romance, then romantic comedy—thirteen novels and novellas in all. When a snarky reviewer commented on one of my romantic comedies that “Ms. Hicks really ought to be writing for children—no one else could appreciate such silliness,” I took it as a challenge and discovered that picture books are my favorite genre—to date. I’ve also gone back to writing poetry, but for myself, not for publication. One of the things I love about picture books is that they are very much like poetry. Imagery and language are so important in both, and the search for just the right word is something I find fun and stimulating.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Being a child, being read to as a child, having younger brothers to tell stories to, teaching, singing in choirs and pop and gospel groups, waiting tables, sailing, traveling, falling in love, falling out of love—in short, everything and anything can and does inspire and inform my writing. Also, my painful shyness ended up being a gift, forcing me to use the written word to express myself.

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

When I was in fourth grade, we studied the Oregon Trail in social studies. My teacher, Mrs. Green, gave us an assignment to research life on a westward-bound wagon train and write a diary from the perspective of a nine-year-old on the journey. I hand wrote thirty pages, single-spaced, and had never had so much fun in school—perhaps not in my life. I knew then that writing would be in my future in some form, though I didn’t know it would be as an author. I studied English Lit in college, earned a teaching certificate, and have taught writing at every level from preschool to adult education—in addition to writing for publication. It’s difficult to make a living solely as an author, and teaching has always been my “back-up” career.

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

I believe that everyone has the potential for creativity. Those who end up producing creative work—whether it’s a painting, a poem, a novel, a recipe, or a beautiful home or garden—are the ones who find so much joy in expressing their unique vision and gifts they aren’t afraid to make mistakes and they don’t care what anyone else thinks about them or their work. They are also solution oriented—they approach life challenges as opportunities to explore options and exercise their creativity.

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