Author & Illustrator Interview with Paul Schmid

pet4petuGet to know Paul…

Paul Schmid is an author and illustrator of children’s picture books, including Oliver and his Alligator, A Pet for Petunia, and Hugs From Pearl. In 2010 Paul was awarded a month-long fellowship with Maurice Sendak. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Linda, and their daughter Anna. For more info, visit his website

Quirky Questions

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your name be? 

Disappearing Pete.

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

Anyone who thinks you can’t tell children the truth.

What is the biggest inconvenience about the place you are currently living in?

I deeply love the Pacific Northwest. Backpacking up to an alpine lake is about an hour’s drive and a few hours walk. I relish the moody, introspective weather and the Harbor Seals that play with my kayak. I have owls hooting outside my window at night. What Seattle doesn’t have is New York City. The museums, the architecture, and the big publishing houses. Not being in the center of all that has been a hindrance, I think.

What is something you wish you did every day, without fail? 

Paint or draw from life.

petunia5Writing Questions

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

Too well! The book I imagine is always more amazing than I am capable of executing. My hopes and vision far exceed my talent, which breaks my heart. The vision was so wonderful! 

Finishing a book up has usually been disappointing for me in that I’ve been so intimately involved with my characters. I created them! Their tribulations, emotions, the way they look. They have been my children, I miss them when I send them out into the world.

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

I have always wanted to play the musical saw. 

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

Time. Doing good work, developing your skills, takes so much time! You have to sacrifice some of the other things in life.

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

My wonderful figure drawing teacher at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, Bill Parks, often urged us to ask ourselves: “What would you dream –and do– if you knew you would succeed?” Those words have taken me far. Not always succeeding, but having a fuller life than I would have had otherwise.

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

Not well. I tend to let my work consume me. Friends and family usually have to drag me away on vacations, backpacking, a night out.

What is your typical day like?

I stall about beginning my workday until I get disgusted with myself, start on something, get really focused, and then can’t stop.

How much of your own life is reflected in your work?

That depends on the book. Most of my stories were inspired by my own daughter’s antics. Yes, she wanted a pet skunk. She tried to hatch a rock which she was convinced was a dragon egg. Her friend Pearl was the hugging-est kid I’ve ever met. 

Oliver and his Alligator is the closest book I have to being autobiographical. I still remember my first day of Kindergarten, being overwhelmed by all the newness and noisy activity, and sneaking off to hide under the sink in the play kitchen.

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

I am the fourth generation artist in my family. My father, grand father and great-grandfather were all both commercial and fine artists. 

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

Each of the books I’ve worked on have aspects I both feel proud and disappointed about. For me, creating something is a process using equal measures of control and discovery. Finding a nice balance between “I know what I want to do.” and “What happens if I do this?” So each book in it’s final form has surprises I love or didn’t quite work out for me, and things I meant to control that my skill couldn’t quite hit, or hit beautifully. My greatest satisfaction with my books comes from feedback I get from kids. Knowing they’ve connected to one of my stories is the best feeling.

When do you feel the most energized?

When I’m right on the verge of an idea.

percy thinking

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Illustrator Interview with Deborah Hocking

fox-and-crowGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Hocking recently resettled in her lovely hometown of Portland, Oregon, after several years of living in Indiana and France. She shares a cozy little apartment with her husband and their kombucha scoby. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

If you could own a store, what kind would it be?

A workshop/store full of handmade items, all made by me, but following no particular theme. Whatever struck my fancy each day, that’s what I’d make! Jewelry, pottery, felt-making, hand-spun yarn, wooden peg dolls, paintings and drawings and prints of all kinds…it’d be my own little wonderland of quirky creativity. 

What do you waste time doing?

Dreaming! House design, starting an alpaca farm, or living in France or Africa are some of my favorite topics to dream about! Pinterest is my best friend…and my nemesis.

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

C. Montgomery Burns. I’m not actually a huge Simpson’s watcher, but I love to hate this character. 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

We live in a small apartment in the city, so there’s no room for a garden or chickens or goats or dogs… or alpacas! Sad! 

What book (either because of its length or subject) intimidates you?

Les Miserables, unabridged. I’m quite embarrassed by this, but I started it in 2006 and haven’t finished it yet. I keep plugging away, bit by bit…Hope to finish by 2016! 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

Dutch Baby Pancakes…especially the parts with melted butter pooled on top. 

What do you do every day, without fail?

Eat butter. Sometimes all by itself. 

What is something you wish you did every day, without fail?

Meditate. 

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

Disposable plastic shopping bags. 

What makes you want to throw up?

Skim milk, cola, vegan cheese, and artificial coffee creamer (especially flavored). 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

This is the most amazing kombucha I’ve ever tasted! (Just made our very first batch, and I think it turned out pretty stellar!) 

newt-lake-for-webIllustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I love to soak up other people’s artwork and see how others have dealt with certain visual problems, so I’ll look through books or peruse online. If I really am having difficulty focusing, going for a walk helps me re-align.

Did you choose your passion or did it choose you?

I really think it’s both. I’ve loved being creative and making pictures since I was a little kid, and through the years the desire to make children’s illustrations kept coming back to me without me trying or “choosing” it, even though I had to put it on hold as a career for a long time. When the time was right, there was definitely a specific moment where I chose to pursue children’s illustration as my passion and vocation, over all my other interests and enjoyments…and I’m loving this path.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Paradoxically, both in big, bustling, sophisticated cities, where amazing design is front-and-center, and the creative energy is just buzzing all around, and also out in nature or in gardens, which are also places of amazing design. But in order to really get down to creative work, I definitely do the best at my desk in my little corner-of-the-living room studio. I love that place!

Who has helped you persevere through the challenges?

My husband! His unwavering belief pushes me past my doubt and insecurity, and his pragmaticism helps me get through practical obstacles. Nearly every day I have thought: “Wow, I totally couldn’t do this without him!” 

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

My artsy-craftsy shop, previously mentioned, where I would create a myriad of different things, as well as a great big garden that was designed for the eye as much as for the table, and also house design.

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

I love being creative in so many different ways, and can imagine a many different scenarios for my life and work. But choosing to focus on illustration and setting other creative pursuits aside while I develop as an illustrator has been crucial. I have a lot of creative energy, and I have to hone in, rather than letting it spin in a million different directions. I miss all those other art forms, (and I still do other things for fun here and there), but I’ve found a lot of peace, enjoyment, and increased productivity by choosing illustration as my focus.

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

That is super tricky for me. I’m really trying to keep specific work hours so that I have time when I feel completely focused on work, and also time when I can freely focus on the people in my life. I have the tendency to let things get blurred, and then I feel frustrated in both areas rather than free. It’s a constant struggle.

What is your typical day like?

My IDEAL typical day is as follows:

Wake with the dawn.

Breakfast on toast with butter and tea with milk and honey.

Go for a walk/jog.

Meditate/read/pray.

Catch up on fave internet doodads (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Remodelista, Pinterest, FB, email, news)

Work like the dickens all day: sketching, working on final artwork, more email, planning new projects, experimenting, writing, research and reading-up.

Evening could include: hanging out with people I love, going for a bike ride or walk, cooking, eating yummy food, exploring city or country, reading, doing personal artwork, watching some Parks and Rec, Downton Abbey or Arrested Development (or Battlestar Gallactica to make my husband happy).

REALITY is somewhat similar to my ideal, save for a thousand and one interruptions and distractions and errands—and the fact that I’m not exceptionally disciplined so that morning stuff often doesn’t happen!

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

I think that each of us has a different thing to offer, simply because we’re all unique individuals. I’m trying not to stress out about finding a unique style just for the sake of being different…but trust that the more I work and experience life, the more my own artistic voice will become distinctly “me.” The other day I saw an old friend, and he shared his encaustic process with me, and I began thinking about ways I could incorporate encaustic into my illustration work because it’s so beautiful and fascinating. An experience like that can send your work in such a new direction, not necessarily because you’re looking to define yourself, but because things come across your path that shape you, intrigue you, and in a natural way become a part of your experience and creative voice. I want to make art that fills me with joy and excitement, and let that drive what I do and how I do it…and I believe a unique voice will result.

When do you feel the most energized?

When I’m exposed to really great art or craft that other people are making. It makes me so excited and happy and makes me want to go make great things, too!

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

Children’s illustration lets me be creative in a whimsical, fun, simple way that feels very different to me than creating more “serious” artwork. The subject matter makes me happy and is satisfying in a way that I haven’t found in other art forms. So in that way I would say, yes, it does reflect my personality, but even more than that, I think it fulfills and enriches me as a person.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Alexis O’Neill

RR_DonnellyGet to know Alexis…

Alexis O’Neill is best known for her lively, award-winning “bully” book, The Recess Queen (Scholastic), a conversation-starter for kids across the country at the opening of each school year. She is an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and enjoys traveling around the country doing school visits and teaching writing workshops. Her one true wish is to be locked inside a bookstore all night with a flashlight, a cat, and lots of chocolate.  For more info, visit her at her website

Quirky Questions 

What do you consider your nicest feature? What about your worst feature?

My worst feature is that I can’t remember jokes. It’s also my nicest feature, because it makes me a perfect audience. 

What would motivate you to run a marathon?

Nothing — not even with a cheetah biting at my heels. 

If you were to write a song about your high school years, what would you title it?

It would be a Country Western tune called, “Thank Heaven for Music, Art and Drama or Else I’d Be a Dead Student Walking.” 

Fill in the blank. I am so much smarter than _________.

. . . when I was younger. 

What have you tried in life, and simply were not good at?

Running. If I lived on the savannah, my name would be “Dinner.” 

If you were to sell something at an auction, what would you sell?

My next book. 

What is your favorite movie line?

“We knew your people, Sean,” from The Quiet Man. 

If you were given a canvas and watercolors, what setting would you like to paint yourself into?

A cliff above Barley Cove in Cork, Ireland with an ocean in front of me and a cottage beside me filled with music, family and friends. 

What is the meanest thing you can say to someone?

I can’t say it here. It would be too mean. 

What celebrity/actor irritates you the most?

Donald Trump. 

If you were the personal assistant to one celebrity, who would you choose?

Judy Schachner. I’d hang out in her studio, pet cats and laugh. 

LoudWriting Questions

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

What fun is a stable and secure job? 

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

I’ve had some speed bumps – mostly having to do with things I can’t control, like editors leaving houses, long response times, lack of responses, yadda, yadda – the usual publishing suspects. 

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

Telling the editor in my head to please be quiet while I write. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

I took a class taught by children’s author Helen Buckley and the spell was cast. 

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

Drink coffee. Play with colors. 

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

Just do it. 

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is the act of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange.  (But I didn’t invent that phrase . . .) 

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

Too many distractions testing my resolve. 

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

I became a writer after quitting a job where my boss was a bully. I haven’t looked back since! 

How do you know when a book is finished?

You really don’t.

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

Creative people play without being afraid of making “mistakes.” 

Ever feel you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

Not yet. 

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Interview with Bestselling Author Susane Colasanti

unnamedGet to know Susane…

Susane Colasanti is the bestselling author of When It Happens, Take Me There, Waiting for You, Something Like Fate, So Much Closer, Keep Holding On, All I Need, and Now and Forever. Susane has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree from New York University. Before becoming a full-time author in 2007, Susane was a high school science teacher for ten years. She lives in New York City. For more information, visit Susane on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

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Quirky Questions 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live? 

Nothing! That’s the awesome thing about living in downtown Manhattan. Everything I need is right outside my door. I love to walk everywhere and especially love that I have both a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods four blocks away, plus I can walk to all of my gym locations easily from my place. I heart New York. 

If you could own a store, what sorts of things would you sell? 

Organizational paraphernalia that rivals The Container Store. As an organization enthusiast, I love boxes, bins, cubbies, drawers…anything that helps turn a messy home into a peaceful Zen retreat. 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up? 

Pasta with pesto sauce. Still is. Even better if it’s with warm garlic bread. 

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours? 

Anyone who is intolerant of groups of people based on their race, socioeconomic status, or lifestyle. Live and let live. 

What do you do every day, without fail? 

Creative visualization. I visualize a clear image of my ideal life. Then I take steps every day to turn my dreams into reality. Big dreams can come true if you carry them in your heart and work hard to manifest them. 

What is something you wish you did every day, without fail? 

I wish I were better about waking up early. I’ve always been a night person. Staying up late is super fun. But I love the idea of waking up early to get more done. There’s always so much I want to do and never enough time to do it all. 

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

Cigarettes. Both of my grandparents died from health issues related to smoking. About half a million people in the United States die every year due to smoking-related illnesses. That is a crying shame. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks? 

My BF/soul mate’s impression of the honey badger guy. He’s even funnier than the actual guy. 

unnamed (1)Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

My internal age is 16. I’m pretty sure this will always be true. So I try to write the kinds of books I would have wanted to read as a teen. My purpose in life is to reach out to teens and help them feel less alone. Being a teen was the worst time of my life. I guess that’s why I’m 16 at heart—I’m recapturing that age in a way I never got to experience back then.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

All of them. Every experience I’ve ever had, every interaction, every observation, every heartbreak, every happy moment, every epiphany…all that I am is poured into my books. As far as specific experiences, When It Happens was inspired by my actual boy adventures and home life senior year of high school. And Keep Holding On includes a lot of things that happened to me when I was bullied in junior high and high school. My goal in writing Keep Holding On was to turn the negative experience of being bullied into a positive opportunity to reach out to teens in need.

How do you know when a book is finished?

Interesting question! I guess when I feel I’ve told all I can of the story. There’s this feeling of completion when it gets to the point where my characters are done. They can be pretty bossy when it comes to controlling the story.

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

Writing is actually my second career. I was a high school science teacher for ten years before becoming a full-time author in 2007. There is a lot to be said for job stability. Steady paychecks in consistent amounts, good health insurance, and a retirement plan are all important. But I became a teacher because that was my passion. I knew I was going to be a science teacher when I was 12. I couldn’t wait to get started. Being with my people all day was awesome, but teaching and writing at the same time was too exhausting. Thankfully I am very fortunate to have had not only one, but two jobs that I love. Being an author is my dream job and I am grateful for this opportunity every single day.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Laurie Halse Anderson. Her writing is phenomenal. When I started reading an ARC of Wintergirls at the airport, I had to put it down after almost every page in order to fully absorb the brilliance of what I’d just read. She is remarkable, both as a person and an author.

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

I remember being around 10 when I first thought about writing a children’s book. My plan was to both write and illustrate it. The drive to write a book never died. In junior high, I shifted my goal to writing a teen novel. My experiences senior year felt like something I would have liked to read about. So the idea for When It Happens began to take shape. I always told myself that if I ever wrote a teen novel, I would tell it from both the girl’s and boy’s perspectives, which turned out to be so much fun to write. Even though the odds were against me, I had a Knowing that my first book would be published. Everything after that was part of dreaming big, then turning those big dreams into reality.

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

Creative people tend to think outside the box. That is a very good thing. As John Mayer says in “No Such Thing,” They love to tell you stay inside the lines / But something’s better on the other side.

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

Going for night walks here in New York always invigorates the creative spirit. There’s something about the city lights and feeling that anything is possible that is beyond exciting. The energy of this city makes me feel alive. Just living here is pure inspiration.

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

Read. Read as much as you can. The more you read, the better your writing will become. Take a book with you everywhere you go. Read while you’re in line, on the bus, or waiting for a friend. Write what you are passionate about. If you write about what makes you feel alive, you will find your voice.

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