Author Interview with Kendare Blake

mortal-gods-kendare-blakeGet to know Kendare…

Kendare Blake is an import from South Korea who was raised in the United States by caucasian parents. You know, that old chestnut. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Ithaca College and a Master’s degree in Writing from Middlesex University in London. She brakes for animals, the largest of which was a deer, which sadly didn’t make it, and the smallest of which was a mouse, which did, but it took forever. Amongst her likes are Greek Mythology, rare red meat and veganism. She also enjoys girls who can think with the boys, like Ayn Rand, and boys who scare the morality into people, like Bret Easton Ellis. To learn more about her books, visit her website. 

Quirky Questions

Are there any stores you refuse to shop in? 

Abercrombie and Fitch. I refuse to even look in there. Every time I do, I see some half-naked sixteen year old male model and feel like I’ve committed some kind of pedo crime.

When was the last time you cried? 

I don’t know. When was the last time Marley and Me was on cable?

If you could stay one age forever, what would it be?

The age I was two years ago. Bah humbug. My life is over.

Favorite TV show?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead. Sailor Moon. Gargoyles. Fringe. And I was really into Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for a while. 

girl of nightmaresWriting Questions 

After a day of writing, how do you recharge your creative batteries?

Booze and soap operas. I don’t think it recharges anything, but it’s what I do.

What books are you reading right now?

A big stack consisting of The Nightmare Dilemma by Mindee Arnett, Three by Kristen Simmons, Anya’s Ghost because I want to get into graphic novels, Tin Star, by Cecil Castellucci, Graphic the Valley by Peter Brown Hoffmeister, Copperhead, by Tina Connolly, and The Ape’s Wife and other stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Any advice for other writers?

Write what is true to you. Write what you want to write. Don’t be boxed. Don’t be pressured. Don’t try to follow anyone’s formula but your own. This might not result in becoming a millionaire. But hopefully it will result in honest work. And interesting work.

Do you have a specific writing style?

No. I’m a slave to the story. That’s the hardest part, sometimes. Submitting to the writing. Writing something the way it wants to be written, instead of the easiest or most natural way to tell it.

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Author Interview with Gretchen McNeil

Get Even

Get to know Gretchen…

Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown. Her YA horror POSSESS about a teen exorcist debuted with Balzer + Bray for Harper Collins in 2011. Her follow up TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer – was a 2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, a Romantic Times Top Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth, and was nominated for “Best Young Adult Contemporary Novel of 2012″ by Romantic Times. Gretchen’s 2013 release is 3:59, a sci-fi doppelganger horror about two girls who are the same girl in parallel dimensions who decide to switch places. Gretchen’s novels have been optioned by Hollywood production companies, and have sold internationally in Chinese, Spanish, and Turkish. 

In 2014, Gretchen debuts her first series, Don’t Get Mad (pitched as “John Hughes with a body count”) about four very different girls who form a secret society where they get revenge on bullies and mean girls at their elite prep school. The Don’t Get Mad series begins September 16, 2014 with GET EVEN, followed by the sequel GET DIRTY in the summer of 2015, also with Balzer + Bray.  Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.

Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4′s Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. Gretchen blogs with The Enchanted Inkpot and was a founding member of the vlog group the YA Rebels. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd. To learn more about her books, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

Riding a bicycle. I mean, I did it all the time as a kid, and fell of with a frequency that alarmed my poor mother.  I think it was more daredevil than klutz, but I’ve pretty much been afraid to get on one of those two-wheeled death machines since I fell off and broke my arm when I was in junior high. 

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

I own a baseball signed by the 1963 New York Yankees.  I think that might be worth something… 

What is the strongest bond you have with an inanimate object?

I have an unholy love for my LG G2 smartphone, though I’m not entirely sure it’s inanimate. 

What is your favorite movie line?

“Dogs and cats living together.  Mass hysteria!” – Ghostbusters

What one word describes your bedroom?

Cheerful. 

GretchenWriting Questions 

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

In my writing?  I think it’s the solitary nature of the beast.  I’m an extrovert, the kind of person who recharges by being out with others – parties, large crowds, even happy hours with friends.  The fact that the majority of my writing and revising must be done alone in a quiet place is a struggle for me. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

First off, YA picked me.  My first manuscript was an adult chick lit novel, but several of the agents who rejected it suggested that my voice sounded like YA.  Since there was no YA section when I was a teen, I checked out the wall of YA books at my local bookstore and read a few.  Lo and behold! It did sound like my voice!  Five contracted novels later, apparently it was the right choice. 

As for horror and suspense, that just happened to be my favorite genre to read when I was a teen. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My previous career as an opera singer has been wildly influential to my writing.  Basically, all those years of stage training were really teaching me how to tell a story.  I don’t think I’d be a writer now if it wasn’t for my years on the stage. 

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I’d rather bang my head against the wall than read it one more time. 

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

I find that non-fiction (television, film, and books) jump-start my imagination more than fiction.  If I’m reading a novel, it means someone else has already told that story.  But when I read a non-fiction book on, say, forgotten places, or abandoned mines of the Pacific Northwest, or female journalists, or whatever, I can feel my mind twisting reality into fiction. 

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

I’ll give you the advice the director of my opera graduate school program told us all on Day 1 – If there is anything else in this world that you can do and still be happy, do it.  This business is hard, harder than you can possibly imagine, so you’d better love it more than anything else in the world.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Marilyn Nelson

NelsonGet to know Marilyn…

Marilyn Nelson’s books include The Homeplace; The Fields of Praise; Carver; Fortune’s Bones; The Freedom Business; A Wreath for Emmett Till; Faster than Light, and How I Discovered Poetry. The 2012 recipient of the Robert Frost Medal, she was Poet Laureate of CT for five years. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Poet-in-Residence of The Poets Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live? 

Getting anywhere requires a car. 

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

All Nelson. 

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

The Holy Koran. 

Growing up, what was your favorite meal?

Chicken & dumplings. 

What do you waste time doing? 

Email, Facebook, online interviews. 

Whose ideas totally conflict with yours?

Benjamin Netanyahu’s. 

What do you think will be the next popular catch phrase? 

Reboot me! 

What do you do every day, without fail? 

Make my bed.  

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

The Twentieth Century.

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks? 

Cat videos. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you? 

You light up my life. 

Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

I think it picked me.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Travel, education.

How do you know when a book is finished?

I can’t stand to read it again.

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

The media is in the air we breathe; how can we separate it from everything else?

How would you define creativity?

Open at the top.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing rather than a job that would offer more stability? 

I had a teaching career, from which I retired as a Full Professor at a major research university. Writing is my vocation, not my career.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, Mark Twain, A. A. Milne, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, August Wilson, Wislawa Szymborska.

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

Sexism and racism.

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

Maintaining enough faith in my art to be able to start a new project.

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

Since childhood. Constantly.

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

Creative people are much more creative than people who are not creative.

Can you share some words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Read everything you can, starting at the beginning. Don’t spend all your time reading your contemporaries. 

NelsonM

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Author Interview with Carrie A. Pearson

A warmGet to know Carrie…

Carrie Pearson lives in Marquette, Michigan on the sandy shore of Lake Superior. She is a former early elementary teacher and nonprofit development officer. Currently, she is the co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Michigan. Along with her husband and their three daughters (and two labradoodles), she hikes, bikes, runs, and skis in the woods, windsurfs, kayaks, stand-up paddles, and swims in the chilly water and writes about what she experiences around her. To learn more about Carrie and her writing, visit her website and blog.

Quirky Questions

What is the last thing you paid money for?

Replacement cheater glasses in the Detroit Metro airport. Aging is a cruel joke. 

What do you often make fun of?

Aging. But, it often isn’t funny. 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

I make an essential skinny mocha. My sweet husband, whose body alarm clock goes off just as the sun decides to stretch one infinitesimal beam of light over the horizon, sets out the ingredients in the kitchen — including the mug of the day. All I have to do is heat the water in the pot, toss the stuff in my mug with a splash of skim milk, stir, drink in the heavenly potion, and I’m determinedly on my way for the day. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have?  

I’m glad I habitually like to be outside. Usually I like to exercise outside, but even if my heart rate isn’t above 120, I need to feel the real temperature, smell the dirt and leaves in the woods, and take in the flora and fauna. If I’m cooped up too long at a conference or a daughter’s volleyball tournament, my teeth grow into pointy fangs. 

The Biggest advantage of being short?

Being short [5’3” on a light gravity day] means people often think I am less capable or a bit weak. I love to surprise them by hauling a heavy item – like a bag of groceries or something. 

What would you title your autobiography?

Serendipity: How Chance Favored a (Decently) Prepared Mind 

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

Their handshake. Firm, but not lingering? Dry, but not scratchy? Confident, but not dominant? Lots to learn about someone here… 

If you were a prescription drug, what would be your main side effect?

Sustained, appropriate euphoria. How cool would that be? 

What is the worst occupation in the world?

Wherever workers must do the same thing in the same way day after day. That’s my version of hell. 

What is your greatest phobia?    

Being trapped in a small space without light or air. Jeez, I’m creeped out now. Thanks a lot. 

What is the messiest place in your home?

The entryway. It’s the portal from the outer world to our inner happenings. Every day and night (we have three teenagers whose plans with friends all seem to gel at 10:00 PM), five people and two dogs pass through this space hundreds of times sloughing remnants of their experiences OUT THERE. The entryway is always messy and slightly dirty despite my Swiffer sweeper standing at the ready in a corner.

A coolWriting Questions

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

Be prepared to never be done. We can always be better at craft, at composition, at being brave. We are works in progress ourselves and therefore, our products will only reflect where we are now. We have to be willing to be okay with that.

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

Writing offers the ultimate flexibility. We can toil away in private or at a coffee house, among comrades, or in complete solitude. Also, to me, each book is a small business requiring a marketing and operations plan. This appeals to my entrepreneurial side.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

It sounds trite, but I pick J.K. Rowling. I’m not sure if she knew all that she was doing with that series, but the layers and subplots and underlying themes are crazy genius.

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

Learning how to wait for feedback, sales, contracts, etc. It’s not my strong suit, but I had a chance to spend some one-on-one time with Jane Yolen who said she still waits. Right then, I realized I’d better stop being bitter about waiting and just get on with it.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I actually hope I don’t pick a genre. I’d like to explore many and this is happening now. My two published books are nature nonfiction picture books, I have a middle grade historical on submission as well as two other picture books that are fiction but with strong reality underpinnings. My two works in progress are a picture book biography and middle grade animal realistic fantasy with series potential. This may not be good for my career, but it makes me a happy writer and I believe that happiness results in better books.

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

Creative people are a bit odd, I think. We see things unexpectedly. I know I am creatively odd when I reflect on a topic (“that mushroom would make a great umbrella for a deer mouse”) and my partner will respond with, “What have you been smokin’ today?” Creative people ask, “I wonder what would happen if I did this?” and they try it on. For instance, one of my picture books on submission right now explores how the living environments of city chickens and country chickens are different and it’s told through an a cappella singing contest between the two flocks. That’s a bit odd, right? But, it seems to work okay.

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

I do struggle with this a bit. I’m not worried about offending anyone, but I do want the content to be appropriate for my readers. This is part of writing for less mature audiences though and the clever part is finding a way to make it interesting for caregivers who are reading to children, too. They are the gatekeepers after all.

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

I’ve always had to clear away obligations before I can enter Happy Writing Brain. But, linking back to that earlier aging thread, I’m finding Happy Writing Brain is becoming much more insistent and downright sassafras about beingfirst. And, that’s a good thing.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Sherri Rinker

Goodnight-Construction-Site-500Get to know Sherri…

Sherri Rinker is the author of two #1 bestselling picture books, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train. Cumulatively, these two books have spent over three years on the NYT Bestseller List.

Additionally, Sherri has numerous other projects in production, including Since There Was You, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell.

Sherri is passionate about children’s literacy and has had a life-long love of books. Her exciting school presentation, “Books Are Magic!” is designed to encourage and support students on the wondrous journey of reading and writing. For more info, visit her website and Facebook.

Quirky Questions 

What company’s ads are you tired of seeing? 

Those commercials that utilize the phrase “erectile dysfunction.” Or, even worse, “feminine itching.” Ugh!!! Seriously, people?! – Some of us watch television with our kids. Or our in-laws.

Where would be the worst place to sleep for the night?

Any place that would require me to do my private business in an outhouse or in the woods. Any place dirty. In other words: I don’t camp.

What is the most amazing scientific discovery in the last twenty years?

The iPhone, Spanx and no-chip manicures. (But, the most amazing discovery of all time: The Snicker Bar, hands down.)

If you could choose any couple to adopt you at birth, who would they be? 

Off the cuff, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. Interesting, creative, brilliant, fascinating.

What one toy would you like to throw repeatedly at a brick wall?

Oh gosh – I’m torn. First, that Mouse Trap game… it takes a good week to set up the thing, and it never works — and the parts end up everywhere. I’ve thrown out at least two of those games. (That’s a board game that should have gone straight to app.) Secondly, those bowling games for little kids… where you set up the pins at one end of your hallway, your kids knock them down before you get back to the other side, you run back to set them up… ultimately, the kids get bored and begin smacking each other with the pins. The game lasts about a minute; the crying lasts a good hour. Fun times.

What do you consider the breakfast of champions?

Guinness. I love Guinness. I don’t actually have it for breakfast, but I want to.

What are you most amazed by when you look at a world map?

Huh. Really? That’s where that is? Ok, NOW that makes sense.

What occupation do you think will be extinct in the next ten years?

Restroom attendant. At least, I keep hoping. Totally weirds me out. (Apologies to all of the restroom attendants out there.)

What is one risk you are not willing to take?

Ending the evening with a round of shots. Been there, done that… but the kids get up pretty early.

What would other people be surprised to find that you enjoy? 

Bowling and shooting — though not at the same time. (I’m horrible at both, but I have more luck on the lanes.)

If you could buy one thing in bulk, what would it be?

Antique oil paintings. I have dozens, but it’s never enough.

What always takes a lot of time and never ends the way you want?

Thanksgiving dinner. I make it every year and always wish I’d done something differently.

What is the most common compliment people give you?

That I’m a good cook. And that I’m nice. (I try to be nice… I don’t really see the point of being an a-hole, but I’ve certainly known a fair number of them.)

If someone created a statue of you, what would you want it to be made of? 

Fried chicken. Who doesn’t like fried chicken?

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of camping?

Filth — followed closely by mosquitos, followed closely by overwhelming fear that I might have to go to the bathroom.

What word do you constantly misspell?

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. Thank goodness for spellcheck.

What is the ugliest article of clothing ever invented? What about the best?

Ugliest: the jog bra.

Best: Gap long-sleeved t-shirt, in black. (I live in them.)

What was your favorite book growing up? What’s your favorite book now?

Growing up: The Little House by Virginia Burton. Now? Hmmm… literature loves change daily, but I’m definitely a Bible girl — I’m a big fan.

When you look back on pictures of yourself, which age are you most embarrassed about?

Age 7-19. I call it my awkward phase.

Fill in the blank. I would like to be known as the world’s greatest:

Mom. I’m a miserable failure in that arena, but it’s the most important job I’ve been given.

What is the cutest animal on earth? Ugliest?

Cutest: My dog, Quincy-Ann. But, my niece breeds Holland Lops (bunnies), and those are pretty gosh-darn adorable. (I guess I’m drawn to floppy ears.)

Ugliest: Any snake. Or lizard. Or large, hairy bug.

What is the longest word you can think of?

Puberty. 

Sherri+Book_72ppiRGB_croppedWriting Questions

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

I work sporadically: obsessively, and then not at all. I have a full life: family, home, faith, cooking, gardening, friends: the break is always beneficial.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you’ve matured? 

I’ve grown more courageous — I’m exploring more, stepping out of my comfort level. “If you dig through the fear, that’s where the joy is hiding.” I’m embracing that idea, since it resonates with me and my experience. (Thanks, David Slonim)

When do you feel the most energized?

When I’m struck by a great idea and I’ve just sat down to write. (PS: Sometimes I’m the only one that thinks it’s great, btw.)

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

Gardening. I’ve fallen completely in love with the process, putting together colors and textures and watching them develop and change. There’s an element of time, chance and patience that I think is elusive but also compelling. I spent 25 years as a graphic designer, but designing with living things is so much more energizing — and it feels spiritual, honestly.

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

I suffered for YEARS in a job that I dreaded and detested. I think that makes me enjoy and appreciate my work and my life, even on the toughest days. I know how truly blessed I am, and I never want to take that for granted.

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

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” — Phil 4:13 

This has gotten me through some impossibly difficult times.

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

Fourth grade. Thank you, Mrs. Joan Bock.

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

Life gets hectic, but I think each side improves the other.

What is your typical day like?

Is it summer, or are the kids in school? Is everyone healthy and well? Am I traveling? Does the garden need watering, does the house need to be cleaned, is the laundry done, do I have a deadline… Does anyone have a doctor’s appointment, a sport or activity to get to, forms that need to be filled out, homework that needs to be checked, do I have a meeting today? In other words, there’s no such thing as a typical day for me. That’s ok. I have a short attention span, so it works for me.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

My problem isn’t needing an idea, my problem is finding blocks of uninterrupted time to focus.

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

Yes, and I’m always way off. The end product always surpasses my imagination by lightyears. I’ve been so fortunate to work with brilliant, talented people with amazing vision.

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

I never set out to be a writer. It kept knocking, but it took me until I was well into my 40’s to answer the door.

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

Faith. No question.

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

As a child, I longed for happiness, magic, joy and love. I like to think that those sentiments are reflected in my work.

Do you have family members who like to write too?

My grandmother wrote for the local paper in West Virginia. I love that.

Did your childhood influence the way you write today?

It was chaotic, messy, dirty, hurtful and dysfunctional on countless fronts. Many painful memories, but also some good — great, even. But, everything I’ve been and everything I’ve been through has brought me to this point, so I’m grateful for my past. And, I’m resilient and resolute because of it, and that’s a positive take-away that has served me well.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Bobbie Pyron

9780545399302_zoomGetting to know Bobbie…

Bobbie was born and raised on the Gulf Coast of Florida. As a child, she very much wished to be a mermaid when she grew up. By second grade, she had become much more practical and announced to her parents she planned to be a frog when she grew up instead. This didn’t work out so well either. Instead, when she grew up, she worked variously as a professional singer, dog trainer, outdoor wilderness instructor, gladiola harvester, and, for twenty-five years, a librarian.

Bobbie is the author of the teen novel, The Ring (Westside Books, 2009). Her middle grade novels include the award-winning A Dog’s Way Home (Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins, 2011), and the multi-star reviewed The Dogs of Winter (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2012), which was also named a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Kirkus Best Book of 2012, and Bank Street Best Book of 2012. Her next book, Lucky Strike (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) comes out in March of 2015. It is not a dog book.

Bobbie has also published short stories in Scholastic’s “Scope” and “Storyworks” magazines. Bobbie lives high up in the mountains of Park City, Utah with her husband, two cats, and two dogs. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking or skiing with her dogs. To learn more, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

What is a song you could listen to all day, every day, on repeat? 

“Georgia On My Mind” sung by Ray Charles.

What do you do too much of? 

Worry.

What do you do too little of? 

Relaxing. If I were a dog, I’d be a Border Collie.

What latest trend simply baffles you? 

Dystopian fiction. It’s so dark and violent!

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

Compassion and Kindness 101, Compassion and Kindness 102, Advanced Compassion and Kindness. 

unnamedWriting Questions

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

It’s not words but an image that inspires me. I came across it many years ago and its stuck with me, particularly in writing. It helps me remember that you’re not going to have any chance of reaching that star without taking risk. I have this image as my screen saver on my laptop.

How do you deal with creativity blocks? 

First of all, I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I think in most cases it’s just an excuse not to do the work. I have days (far too many) when I have no idea what I’m going to write that day or where it’s going, but I sit down at my computer and show up. I think showing up is 90% of being a successful writer. If I get really stuck when I’m writing, I get up and move around—I go for a walk with my dogs, do yard work, vacuum, anything to get me physically moving. That seems to get me unstuck most of the time. Also, I’m forever astonished by how often “the muse” shows up when I’m taking a shower.

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

Like a parent, I’m proud of all my “children.” But I will have to admit I’m particularly proud of The Dogs of Winter. I first read about Ivan Mishukov, the child who inspired the story, back in 2005. I knew when I read his story about living feral on the streets of Moscow with a pack of wild dogs, I had to write his story. But I was also very intimidated, though, for several reasons: one, I’d never been to Russia; two, I’d never been homeless or hungry; the research was overwhelming! I tried writing the story several times, only to get overwhelmed by what I didn’t know and by lack of confidence as a writer. I’d put the story away and worked on other things. A Dog’s Way Home was published with great success, but I never forgot Ivan’s story. Finally, in the winter of 2011, I just sat down and wrote it! It gives me great satisfaction to know how I stuck by and honored my need to write that story.

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

I think my books reflect my love of dogs, books, and nature. The setting of the book—whether it be the cold streets of Moscow, or the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, or the magic of the Gulf Coast of Florida—is almost like a separate character in my books. The natural world is very important to me. Relationships are always front and center in my books, whether it be between friends, family, or animals. That is true of my life too.

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you write today?  

My childhood was pretty hard. My father died suddenly when I was seven and our lives were pretty chaotic and sad after that. As a result, my books all seem to explore loss. I think I’m still trying to figure out how you make a happy life after experiencing life-changing loss. I also am a Southerner through and through, and so is my family. Growing up, stories were a huge part of my life. Some of my few really wonderful memories from my childhood are those when we all got together over pots of gumbo and told stories—grandparents telling stories about their childhoods, uncles telling stories about the trouble they got into as kids, stories about mysterious lights, and stories about good dogs. These stories provided a continuity in my otherwise fragmented childhood that I sorely needed.

Pyron

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Illustrator Interview with Nina Seven

cover - pirate boy with cutout circle brown w blueGet to know Nina…

Nina Seven is an illustrator and surface designer from beautiful Seattle, WA. She lives in a 1909 Craftsman style home with her family and a couple of crazy cats, named Scout and Zoey. The house is filled with colorful painted walls and lots of colorful art.

Ever since she was a young girl, she had a passion for creating. Working as an illustrator is a testament that dreams really can come true. (with a lot of hard work, of course!) She has illustrated several children’s books for Fabuloos Dreams, an international company that makes personalized books and stationery items. For more info, visit her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Quirky Questions

What is the worst occupation in the world?

Honey Bucket cleaner. 

What is your greatest phobia?   

I’m deathly afraid of opossums. 

If you ran a funeral home, what would your company slogan be?

We dig you? 

What is the messiest place in your home?

All of the closets.Out of sight, out of mind. 

What current product do you think will baffle people in 100 years?

Facebook. 

What is the last thing you paid money for?

A Starbucks coffee. I’m a hopeless coffee addict. 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

Clean, fresh sheets every day! 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

Decide to be happy, every day. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have? 

Exercising. 

What’s your worst habit?

Eating chocolate. 

What would you title your autobiography?

Seven. It’s an unusual last name, so I think it would make a great title for a book. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you change about your high school experience?

I’d go to prom. I never went, because I thought it would be lame, but now I think it might have been a good memory to have. 

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

Their smile. 

If you could travel back to 1492, what advice would you give Columbus?

Be kind to the native Americans. 

unnamed Illustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I get away from the computer and go for a walk or get a coffee. I always come back with a fresh perspective.

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

I chose it. I worked for many years as a Visual Merchandising Manager at a department store. After I left, I decided to make a career as an illustrator and I worked hard at making my dream come true.

Who or what has helped you to persevere through the challenges?

My husband is so supportive of my career and has been with me through good times and bad.

If you were no longer able to illustrate, how else would you express your creativity? Photography. I love Instagram and follow a daily photo challenge, based on a word prompt. It’s so much fun!

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

Never give up and work hard!

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

My husband is a writer and so was my Mom and I have two aunts who are artists.

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

I had a great childhood, and grew up surrounded by people who loved me. I think that goes a long way in shaping who you become as you grow up. I was given the support I needed to be whatever I chose.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways? Absolutely! The more you work at something, the better you get at it. My style keeps changing as I get better with the tools that I use.

When do you feel the most energized?

Mid-morning, after a couple of cups of coffee!

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

I think so. I’m a pretty happy person and I like fun and colorful things, so I think that shows in my work.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Joyce Sidman

Joyce SidGet to know Joyce… 

Joyce Sidman received the 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry, which is given every two years to a living American poet in recognition of his or her aggregate work. She is the author of many award-winning children’s poetry books, including the Newbery Honor-winning Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, and two Caldecott Honor books. She teaches poetry writing to school children and participates in many national poetry events. Her recent book, What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Joyce lives with her husband and dog near a large woodland in Wayzata, Minnesota. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What do you waste time doing?

Fussing with digital photographs. Cropping, adjusting contrast, etc. I’m taking a photography class and just love it. I look up and two hours have gone by. 

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

Old Mother Elephant. 

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

Children’s book art! Cards by Pamela Zagarenski. Hats. And chocolate. 

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

Any big, thick historical biography. My mind shuts down by page two. I’ve learned all my history through historical novels. 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?

My German grandmother would make these blueberry pancakes fried in Crisco and sprinkled with sugar. To die for. 

What do you do every day, without fail?

Walk in the woods with my dog. 

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

Dream up a brilliant writing idea. 

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

The smart phone. No one talks to each other anymore! Of course, I don’t have a smart phone. Once I do (it’s inevitable), I’ll probably be just as addicted as anyone else. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

This is embarrassing, but I love cute animal videos, especially hedgehogs. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

I’ve already received way more than my share. 

JoyceWriting Questions

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

Oh, this happens all the time. It gets worse with any attention—awards, conferences, etc. I become afraid to fail. I have work hard to shut down the greedy, approval-seeking part of my brain and open up to wonder again. I have a quote over my desk by Gregory Ciotti: “A passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.” That’s what I strive for.

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

Read. Walk. Visit a museum. Go hear another writer/artist talk about his/her process. Art begets art.

How would you define creativity?

Oh, gosh, if we could define it, it wouldn’t be as interesting. A mysterious spark of joy? A glimmer of knowledge, and the words or images to capture it? A connection between two things that reveals insight?

Who do you consider a literary genius?

The children’s writers I really admire take chances and explore lots of genres. People like Cynthia Rylant and Kevin Henkes, who write picture books and novels beautifully (Kevin is also a Caldecott-winning artist—jeepers). Novelist Walter Dean Myers, who also wrote gorgeous poetry. They inspire me to try new things.

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

I have been very lucky in many ways. But my biggest challenge was continuing to believe in myself as a writer in the face of ten years of rejection.

How did you pick your writing genre?

It picked me. Once I started reading poetry in high school, I was hooked. That said, it took me a while to discover children’s books—having kids and reading to them was a big influence. I still feel as though I don’t write specifically for children, but for the part of me that loves to wonder and learn about things.

How do you know when a book is finished?

An interesting question. Some of it is a sense of a circle completed, an idea captured. Some of it is just the feeling of enough is enough. To quote Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem entitled “How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?” which likens a poem to a room you are rearranging:

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well
leave it that way.           

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

At age sixteen, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be a professional poet. Occasionally I wish I did something more useful. But mostly I just feel lucky.

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